With little left to prove in this league, Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard expects to be slightly more demonstrative on the field in 2019. We saw a flash of it in workouts with the Bucs this week.
TAMPA — Xavien Howard is never going to be the type of cornerback calling himself Prime Time, like Deion Sanders.
He’ll never arrive at training camp by jumping out of an armored truck, like Jalen Ramsey.
But this week’s trip to Tampa did offer something we haven’t seen much of from Howard. It happened during a joint practice with the Buccaneers when he made a prime-time play, the kind that shows why he deserves megamillions the Dolphins are paying him.
Howard intercepted a pass from Jameis Winston and rather than simply jog some 30 yards for an easy touchdown, he pointed at Winston halfway to the end zone.
"He tried me one on one," Howard said. "He got me a couple of times one on one. I was mad, so I had to make him pay."
Howard said we can expect a slightly more demonstrative "X" — more Xpressive, you could say — in 2019. In his fourth season, with little else to prove, he figures there’s no harm in letting flashes of his personality show.
"I’ll give y’all a little bit of that," he said with a grin. "I’ve got to start celebrating, making noise. I’ve got you. Oh, yeah."
There are two reasons it will never be over the top. First, that’s not Howard.
"I’m a humble guy," he said. "People got different things they like. That’s not me."
Second, it’s impossible to envision Howard getting many opportunities for pick-6s. The Dolphins’ defense under new coordinator Patrick Graham remains under construction, with too many moving parts to count. That explains this week’s controversy over where Minkah Fitzpatrick belongs in the secondary. For some players, the lines have never been more blurry over who’s a strong safety, a weak safety, a corner and even a pseudo linebacker.
But there’s no question what Howard is: the team’s best player, a shut-down cornerback whom quarterbacks would be foolish to test when there are so many other areas worth challenging.
Howard had a career-high seven interceptions last year, which tied for the league lead. With his closing speed and ability to make acrobatic, over-the-shoulder interceptions, many were catches that would make any No. 1 receiver proud. And so Howard was rewarded with a five-year, $76.5 million contract — the NFL’s richest for a corner — was named second-team All-Pro and recently was slotted at No. 55 on the list of the NFL’s top 100 players.
"I’ll probably have less opportunities," Howard said. "I don’t know. But the opportunities, I do have, I’ve just got to take advantage of it when they come my way."
Knowing what he has in Howard, Dolphins coach Brian Flores wouldn’t mind seeing quarterbacks test him.
"It’s hard to say what other teams are going to do," Flores said. "You never know. If they feel like they’ve got a good matchup, maybe they’ll go after it. … I think within a play, sometimes there are guys who don’t know where he is. You’d hope they would."
Friday night might be one of those times Howard is tested. The Bucs feature receiver Mike Evans, who caught 86 passes for 1,524 yards last year, but the more important numbers might be 6-feet-5 and 231 pounds — Evans’ size, meaning he has 4 inches and 33 pounds on Howard.
"Mike Evans is big as hell," Howard said. "He’s a great player and we’re expecting the best of both of us when I see him Friday."
Still young at 26, Howard already has established himself as one of the best corners in Dolphins history. The only others to make the Pro Bowl are Sam Madison, Patrick Surtain and Brent Grimes.
"I’m still growing, still learning," Howard said.
"I’d say being an overall corner with tackling, interceptions, PBUs (pass break-ups). Knowing the game well and just knowing what the offense is trying to do."
More often than not, Howard can expect to be isolated against No. 1 receivers such as Evans. Which is how he likes it.
"It’s a privilege and honor to be out on that island by yourself," he said. "It’s you versus that guy, one on one. It’s really about who wants it more. You’ve got to take pride in it. You’ve got to have that confidence because teams are going to come at you when you’re on an island by yourself."
Quarterbacks coming at Xavien Howard? The Dolphins can only hope that happens often in 2019.