Dolphins rookie Howard showing some swagger at cornerback

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DAVIE, Fla. (AP) Being an aggressive cornerback, Xavien Howard interrupted an inquisitor's question Tuesday, and it went incomplete.

The subject was Howard's most eye-catching attribute, and the Miami Dolphins rookie eagerly jumped in midway through the query.

''Ball skill,'' Howard answered. ''I've been a playmaker. They got me here for a reason. I've just got to do what I did in college, and do more. Yes sir. Takeaways. Yes sir.''

Now that he's back at practice, the Dolphins' second-round draft pick is showing some swagger. Howard missed the first three weeks of camp recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, which may have spoiled his chances of starting at cornerback in the season opener.

He was activated last week from the physically unable to perform list, practiced for the third day in a row Tuesday, and could provide a significant upgrade in a shaky secondary.

''It feels good to be back out there competing again with my guys,'' Howard said.

The former Baylor star required right knee surgery after hurting his knee on the final day of minicamp in June. That temporarily took him out of the competition for the job opposite veteran newcomer Byron Maxwell.

Howard said his goal remains to win a starting job this year, and he's not fretting about the practice time missed.

''I wouldn't call it a setback,'' he said. ''I'd just say it's a learning process that I went through, and I'm just learning from it - a lot of mental reps, just seeing what the older guys were doing and learning from them.''

Before the injury, Howard received favorable reviews in offseason drills. New coach Adam Gase especially liked the knack Howard showed for deflections and interceptions.

''He gets his hands on a lot of balls,'' Gase said. ''When he does get both hands up to make a play on the ball, he usually catches it.''

Howard made nine interceptions in his final two years at Baylor, and now the Dolphins are eager to see him in an NFL game. He'll sit out Thursday against Atlanta, but expects to play in next week's preseason finale, and has no doubt he'll play in the season opener Sept. 11 at Seattle.

In Howard's absence, converted receiver Tony Lippett has been working with the first team at cornerback. Expected to join the mix eventually is veteran newcomer Chris Culliver, who has yet to practice while he recovers from a serious knee injury last Thanksgiving.

This week the Dolphins have slowly been working Howard into one-on-one and team drills.

''I wouldn't say he's far behind mentally,'' Gase said. ''He's dialed in to what we're doing. He's playing one-on-one coverage a lot of the time. That's his strength. We're going to try to lean on his strength of matching him up with somebody and letting him go.''

That sounds good to Howard. He wore an NFL uniform for the first time Friday, watching from the sideline when the Dolphins played at Dallas.

''I just couldn't explain the feeling,'' he said. ''It was my first NFL game and I was excited, cheering guys on.''

Soon he expects to have teammates cheering for him.


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