There was some debate as to whether cornerback Xavien Howard had two or three interceptions in team drills, but what was undeniable was that he clearly was the star of practice Thursday.
It was another strong day for what has been a tremendous camp for the third-year player from Baylor.
"Obviously he's made some plays, which we're happy for," Defensive Coordinator Matt Burke said. "He's been getting his hands on balls. For us with X, it's just continuing that high-level play and keeping the consistency. He can't get lazy with his techniques or get bored, and he hasn't been. We've been really pressing him to stay competitive. We're trying to stress the consistency of play in and play out, whether the ball is coming to you or not, that you've got to play your techniques right. When the ball has been thrown his way, he's been in good position to make some plays, which obviously will be a good boost for our defense if that continues."
Howard is a low-key player not prone to self-promotion, but he didn't deny his goal of becoming the kind of shut-down cornerback that teams avoid or test at their own peril.
He's coming off a strong end to the 2017 season and is intent on taking it up a notch.
"I have to make the safeties and my defensive coordinator depend on me more that I can shut my island down outside," Howard said.
"That's what I've been working on, just playing consistent. Just doing what I do best, knowing I can be the best and really just out there just keep going each day. That's one of the biggest things is just being consistent."
Burke said the biggest difference in Howard so far in camp has been just that, improved consistency.
"I would literally say his worst day at camp was the first day and he came to me actually and was like, 'Man, that wasn't good for me. I'll be better,' " Burke said. "And kind of since then he's really sort of tried to come in day in, day out and keep that level of performance."
Howard's interceptions Thursday included one in an end-of-game 11-on-11 drill where he jumped in front of the receiver to snag the high pass. The one debatable pick came early in practice when he was defending DeVante Parker on a deep patter, tipped the ball near the goal line, and caught the deflection as he was falling to the ground, the only question being whether the ball ever bounced.
Either way, Howard earned himself bragging rights on this day, as he told reporters: "I can't wait to get in (the locker room) and talk some trash."
Corner competition: While Howard appears set as one starting cornerback, there's quite a battle on the other side between Cordrea Tankersley, Tony Lippett and Torry McTyer. All three of them have taken turns working with the first-team defense, with McTyer getting that opportunity Thursday. Burke said he's looking for one of them to separate himself from the pack. "All the guys that we're working on the other side across from X have had their days and have had their not-so-good days," Burke said. "We're rolling those groups and we're trying to see what the best combination of guys are, too. There's been, to me, a little bit of a lack of consistency. One guy will make a good play one day and then doesn't have a good day. And then we put another guy in there and it's sort of the same thing. Especially at that position, it's hard to play with an up-and-down corner. You can't pound on what's happening. We've got to get that consistency play in, play out."
Kicking battle: Special Teams Coordinator Darren Rizzi said he was happy with the progress of the two rookie kickers — Jason Sanders and Greg Joseph — while also pointing out it still is very early in the competition for the kicking job. "(It's a) work in progress, as always," Rizzi said. "You're in this early part of camp still and we've got a long way to go — over a month to go. So especially with two rookies — it's not like you have a rookie and a veteran guy with two rookies — it's a process. I think they're both progressing. We're obviously working on some things. If you've been out here every day, you've seen those guys flash and show their ability." Joseph handled the kicking duties Thursday and was 6-for-8 on field goal attempts, with a long of 56 yards.
Chase's chance: Second-year linebacker Chase Allen got the opportunity to line up with the first-team defense alongside Kiko Alonso and Raekwon McMillan. Stephone Anthony also has worked with the first-team defense. Allen played 16 games with four starts as a rookie in 2017 after making the team as an undrafted free agent from Southern Illinois University. Allen also has gotten reps at middle linebacker. "Chase came in last year and proved to us that he's worthy of giving a look," linebackers coach Frank Bush said. "He played some spot duty for us last year outside as well as inside. He's done a good job in the offseason of preparing himself. We just want to keep the competition going. We don't want anybody to get comfortable, so we're putting him back outside to make sure he and Steph have real competition out there, but meanwhile making sure that he's getting enough reps inside."
Practice report: The Dolphins practiced in full pads Thursday and did some live tackling. … Tight end MarQueis Gray joined the list of players sitting out practice. Wide receiver Isaiah Ford (shoulder) again sat out practice after wearing a red (non-contact) jersey the past couple of practices, and they joined offensive lineman Jake Brendel (calf) and tight end A.J. Derby (foot) on the sideline. … Tackle Ja'Wuan James was held out of team drills for a second consecutive day. Head Coach Adam Gase said Wednesday that James was dealing with a muscle strain. … Quarterback Bryce Petty completed a 40-yard touchdown pass to rookie running back Kalen Ballage, who got open behind the defense on a wheel route. … Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips pushed through the line of scrimmage to drop Perry for a loss on back-to-back running plays. … Actor Andy Garcia and professional wrestler "The Big Show" Paul Wight were guest at practice.
Youth is served: In keeping with their commitment to youth football, the Dolphins welcomed members of the Calvary Christian Academy to practice Thursday. After watching practice, the players got the chance to meet Dolphins players and get autographs.