SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
There are reasons why, as Joe Philbin might say, we’re queasy about the Dolphins. Cornerback and run defense top the list.
But at least on Sunday they welcome back a second-round rookie who coaches say will need to play a lot ASAP, after missing training camp (knee surgery) before being activated from PUP on Thursday.
There’s much to like about Xavien Howard --- his size (6-1), ball skills (nine picks and 23 pass breakups the past two seasons at Baylor) and physicality. He made a fantastic interception off Ryan Tannehill in minicamp that amazed even Adam Gase. There also are two concerns:
• At Baylor, besides allowing seven touchdowns in 2014, Howard the past two years was beaten several times on deep balls that weren’t caught, for whatever reason.
Concerns about Howard’s speed were eased after he ran a 4.41 in the 40 before the draft, but draft analyst Tony Pauline said “you have to protect him in a deep coverage” with safety help.
“He’ll lose feel for receivers at the break point,” CBS draft analyst Lance Zierlein said. “Quicker than fast with questionable long speed. Handsy and panics when he thinks he might get beat.”
• Howard had 14 pass interference and five holding penalties the past two seasons. "I need to chill out with a lot of penalties I had in college,” he said.
Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said many cornerbacks have “one redeeming quality. It could be size but not movement, but [Howard has] both. He’s a 6-foot guy with a 5-foot-10 corner’s movement skills. That’s special.”
ESPN’s Mel Kiper, by phone, said Howard “had some games with his size and physicality, that he looked like a guy who could be a shutdown corner. But there were times he wouldn’t turn properly or had an eye on the ball and couldn’t make the play. On talent, he’s a top 15 pick. He just didn’t play to that talent on a week to week basis. If they can round off rough edges, he can be a hell of a value in the second round.”
The Dolphins better hope so. With Chris Culliver working back slowly from knee surgery (could miss six regular-season games), Howard or Tony Lippett figures to start opposite Byron Maxwell Sept. 11 at Seattle. The Dolphins would love if Howard can seize the job.
Lippett didn't play well Friday, as Nat Moore noted on the broadcast.
And Howard will begin this week behind Lippett on the depth chart released Sunday. Howard said he will practice Sunday but won't play Thursday against Atlanta.
"Hopefully we can get him in a game before we hit the regular season," Gase said. "We just don't know yet. We have to see how his body feels, we have to see how his legs feel, we have to see how his movement skills are. There's a lot of little check marks we have to make before we throw him into a game."
“From college to the NFL, my game is going to improve with Vance Joseph getting me ready to be an NFL cornerback,” Howard assured me earlier this summer.
• With this draft class, Laremy Tunsil, Howard and Jakeem Grant should help immediately. The one variable is running back Kenyan Drake, who’s fifth on the depth chart and sidelined with a hamstring (his ninth injury in the past five years).
Though he caused 44 missed tackles last season on 142 offensive touches at Alabama, it seems less likely he beats out Damien Williams (or Isaiah Pead, if he sticks) for playing time as the No. 3 back early in the season.
• The Dolphins gave Grant just one snap on offense against Dallas, opting instead to play other receivers. He remained the primary returner, of course.
• This UM staff believes better teaching will help solve two huge problems from the Al Golden era: too many penalties (worst in the country last season) and poor tackling. But there’s something else Mark Richt is doing:
Safety Rayshawn Jenkins said Richt, after practice, calls out a list of players who committed penalties, missed tackles or did something coaches don’t like.
They’re then punished by having to push sleds or do “whatever hurts,” Jenkins said, adding this is different from Golden’s approach.
Jenkins believes that will help solve the problem because “people don’t want to be here doing that.”
• The perception is UM’s talent remains below FSU’s and top SEC teams. True?
“We have enough talent to be successful [but] we’re not as deep as we need to be at certain spots,” offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said. But "from a talent standpoint, the guys at the top are pretty freaking good.”
• UM is 26th (first in 'others receiving votes') in the first AP football poll released this morning. The Gators are 25th. Alabama is No. 1, followed by Clemson, Oklahoma and FSU.
• UM basketball already has made a scholarship offer to a familiar name -- Class of 2019 power forward Vernon Carey Jr., son of the standout former UM and ex-Dolphins offensive lineman. Carey averaged 13 points and 8 rebounds at University last year and has multiple offers, including from USC and Louisville.
But Carey told Canesport he has no favorites: "I'm keeping things wide open... I talked to the [UM] coaching staff when I went to visit the campus. They said they need me badly there."
• Though it was widely reported the Marlins have a $2 million team option on reliever Fernando Rodney for 2017, it has grown by another $1.5 million because of incentives met (games finished and appearances), and could potentially rise by another $750,000, with a max of $5 million total.
With Rodney erratic since being acquired, it’s questionable if Miami will exercise his option or pay a $400,000 buyout. In his defense, he has been much better since replacing injured AJ Ramos as closer...
David Phelps has been a huge help since moving into the rotation, with 2-1 record and 1.31 ERA in 20 2/3 innings.
• With the Heat’s Chris Bosh, conversations are continuing regarding potential use of blood thinners that could be out of his system by game time. It remains undecided if the Heat will be OK with that approach (they weren't when he suggested that last spring) or whether they will clear him to play.
There are mixed opinions in the medical community about whether a player who has had two clotting episodes in the span of a year (but doesn't have the gene that makes him pre-disposed to clotting) should remain on blood thinners beyond the normal six-month cycle. Bosh falls into that category.
• The Heat has been discussing potentially holding training camp in the Bahamas, which they've done once before. It's not definite, but the Heat is trying to make it happen (and there are hoops to go through for this, no pun intended).
• The Heat wants forward Derrick Williams, who shot 29.3 percent on threes (seventh-worst among the 161 players who tried at least 150 of them last season), to get back to the attacking player he was in college at Arizona.
"With us, he can come here, be aggressive with his ability to attack the paint, get to the free throw line," Erik Spoelstra said last week of a player drafted second overall by Minnesota in 2011. "We will put him in situations where he can play anywhere on the floor, much like he did in college. You didn't know what position he was in college. You just know he was a basketball player. He can guard 1 through 4. He can handle, can play off the ball, play in the post, do a lot of different things.
"A lot of times with young players like a Derrick Williams, it's about the right fit, the right place and right time in your career. And we think this really is all three things with Derrick."
• Despite repeated delays in David Beckham’s MLS stadium pursuit (Beckham continues a search for investors), Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said last week he is not yet skeptical: “Things are going on. Still hopeful” on the Overtown site.