Less than a day after finding out he had been selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time, cornerback Xavien Howard was back at practice.
It was the first time at practice for Howard since he sustained a knee injury during the 21-17 victory against the Buffalo Bills at Hard Rock Stadium on Dec. 2.
“It feels unreal, but there’s more things to accomplish here too,” Howard said Wednesday. “My main focus is getting back on the field and helping my team out. First day back out there, it feels great and just moving on trying to see at the end of the how it’s going to go.”
Howard acknowledged that making the Pro Bowl has been a goal since he first entered the NFL, and winning the 2018 interception title also is a goal.
Despite missing the past two games, Howard is tied for first with Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller with seven picks.
“Man, it’s important to me,” Howard said. ‘It’s a big goal that I want to accomplish. Two more games, I want to end up on top at the end of the day.”
Head Coach Adam Gase talked about what Howard has meant to the Dolphins this season.
“He’s had some really good games,” Gase said. “He’s made some big plays in key moments for us and flipped some games for us. I think he’s done a good job, especially the last six or seven weeks. All his coverage has been tight. He’s around the ball all the time. He’s kind of preventing guys from getting the ball thrown their way. It’s hard to really think of too many guys that are really above him.”
Salute to Gore: Running back Frank Gore’s first season with the Dolphins ended on a disappointing note Wednesday when he was placed on injured reserve because of a foot injury he sustained in the game against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Gore’s streak of consecutive games played will end at 126—it was the longest streak among (non-QB) skill position players. “It’s disappointing considering the amount of games, the amount of starts that he’s had in a row,” Gase said. “I wish he could have finished this out. He’s a special person. He’s a special player. I think it’s hard to find somebody that’s really done anything comparable to him, especially the way football is now and how he’s run early in his career. To last this long and then to produce the way he has at this age is just something you just probably won’t ever see again.”
Gore encore?: With Gore now done for the season, the next obvious question is whether he played his last NFL game. Gore said more than once in recent weeks he would see how he feels once he started his offseason regimen to decide whether he wanted to go through the rigors of preparing himself to come back for what would be a 15th NFL season. As the fourth-leading rusher in NFL history (and No. 5 in all-time scrimmage yards), Gore would seem to have a spot in the Hall of Fame pretty well secure, so the motivation would be mostly love of the game. Gase was asked whether Gore had told him anything about his future plans. “We haven’t gotten there yet,” Gase said. “Right now it’s really hard for him to just really swallow at this point.”
Back to Miami: To fill the roster spot that opened up with Gore going on IR, the Dolphins signed former University of Miami defensive tackle Kendrick Norton off the Carolina Panthers practice squad. Norton was a seventh-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft, but was among Carolina’s cuts down to 53 on Sept. 1. “For us, it was somebody we were interested in the whole draft process,” Gase said. “It was a good opportunity for us, a good opportunity for him. We’re always looking for big guys, whether it’s offensive line or defensive line.”
Tunsil support: After saying he expected tackle Laremy Tunsil to be selected to the Pro Bowl, Gase explained why the 2016 first-round pick has been so valuable to the Dolphins offense. “I think he’s the best tackle in football,” Gase said. “I was shocked (he wasn’t selected) because without him, we can’t do anything. He’s on an island every play every game. And he knows it. We tell him in the meetings. Here’s what we’re doing protection-wise and I tell him, ‘You’re on your own.’ And the way he sets and the way that he punches and sits down on you, even last week he would have been fine, then one of our backs runs into the back of him and knocks him off.” The three tackles selected for the AFC team were Tennessee’s Taylor Lewan, Kansas City’s Eric Fisher and Pittsburgh’s Alejandro Villanueva. “It doesn’t matter,” Tunsil said. “It does, but it happens. They’re all great players and I wish them the best and just continue to grow from there. … At the end of the day, it’s cool, just gotta keep working.”