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Xavien Howard ready to be shutdown cornerback

NFL: Miami Dolphins-OTA Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins may have a surprise for the rest of the NFL in 2017. After the defense struggled throughout 2016, that side of the ball has been a major focal point for restructuring. A lot of that focus has been on the run defense, but it might be a member of the pass defense who breaks out this season. Second-year cornerback Xavien Howard could prove to be a shutdown cornerback in 2017.

The Dolphins moved up from the 42nd overall pick to the 38th overall selection during the 2016 NFL Draft to grab Baylor’s Howard. He was immediately slowed by a knee injury, a recurring issue that came up during the season as well. He only played in seven games as a rookie, starting six of those, recording six pass defenses, one forced fumble, and 40 tackles. When he was healthy, Howard appeared to have the skills that made Miami want to move up to select him. In 2017, Howard is healthy.

“‘X’ is a great player,” wide receiver Kenny Stills said of Howard during the team’s minicamp last month. “He’s been locking guys down on defense. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do this season.”

“I mean Xavien I think looks pretty good,” quarterback Matt Moore added. “He’s flying around. Really, gosh the defense is really hauling around out there.”

Wide receiver Jarvis Landry spoke about Howard during Miami’s organized team activities, telling the media, Well ‘X’ is a baller. I’ve seen him come off an injury and play in the Jets game and I think Brandon Marshall had one catch or two catches, and he made a couple of hell of a plays. To see his progress under Reshad [Jones] and under ‘Max’ [Byron Maxwell], the way that he’s learning and the competition behind him, even with ‘Lipp’ [Tony Lippett] and Bobby McCain. Those guys are pushing him and ‘X,’ he just continues to make plays for us, and that’s what we need out of him.”

Howard has looked ready to become a true shutdown corner during the team’s offseason workouts. Now, as training camp begins in a couple of weeks, he has to keep it up as pads come on and the speed takes that next step toward being up to regular season levels. Howard could be a great surprise the Dolphins spring on the 13 teams they will face this regular season if his breakout really does come to fruition this year.