The Miami Dolphins have come to a four-year contract agreement with their second-round pick Xavien Howard. Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph fully expects the rookie cornerback to compete for a starting role in 2016.
When asked about the possibility of Howard starting on the opposite side of Byron Maxwell Joseph said, “… He’s a second-round pick for a reason so he’s going to be in the mix. He fits our prototype, as far as corners. He’s long. He’s got good, long speed. As an off corner, he’s got good movement stuff. He’s a second-round pick, so we hope he becomes a guy that can help us win.”
Howard is a talented player and is absolutely a fit for the Dolphins, but he has a lot of work to do if he wants to start as a rookie. Howard has expressed his desire to clean up his habit of putting his hands on wide receivers on vertical routes. Howard collected 14 pass interference penalties over his last two seasons at Baylor.
Howard desperately wants to have success in the NFL and he knows improving upon his technique will help him in his efforts to draw fewer penalties. “I need to chill out with a lot of penalties, that I had in college and really my technique,” Howard said. “[I need to] get better in my technique. Not false stepping and stuff that my coach used to tell me in college. That’s really, basically it. I’m improving on everything around but I [have] good ball skills and being physical, but I [have] to clean stuff up. …”
Instead of utilizing a speed break, Howard has a tendency to t-step out of his backpedal as evidenced by the gif below.
T-stepping is essentially planting your foot outside of your center of gravity in order to change direction. With that said, t-stepping isn’t necessarily a technique that is frowned upon.
It’s a deceleration movement that allows a cornerback to recover and close on a wide receiver. Some defensive backs use speed breaks as opposed to a t-step to decelerate but there can often be false steps found in a cornerback’s t-steps which can cause other technical errors in coverage.
I asked Joseph about Howard’s propensity to t-step out of his break and he said, “That’s a small part of his game. Some guys t-step; some guys don’t. That’s a personal preference. That’s really small. He’s more of a press corner. When you’re a press corner, it’s more about lateral footwork and having long arms. He has those things.”
Given the Dolphins’ system, it appears that Howard has an opportunity to be successful in the NFL. His skill-set will be accentuated by Joseph’s defense as he will be asked to be physical with wide receivers in order to disrupt timing while keeping everything in front of him.
He’ll also have help over the top on vertical routes as the Dolphins acquired Isa Adul-Quddus who is a safety with very good range. Abdul-Quddus has run as low 4.4 in the 40-yard dash and has the instincts necessary to get off of the hashmarks and make plays on the football.
While Howard might not have been the best cornerback in the draft, the Dolphins might have very well found the best player to fill their needs at the cornerback position.