Xavien Howard, Pro Bowler again, explains where he got his ball skills and toughness

Joe Schad
Palm Beach Post
Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard (25) runs the football during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Xavien Howard was named to the AFC Pro Bowl roster this week.

"I don't want to be arrogant but it wasn't surprising," Howard said Tuesday.

Howard is not arrogant, but he is confident, and he should be. Howard, a Dolphins' cornerback, leads the NFL with nine interceptions.

"Attack the ball," Howard said. "Try to make something happen for the team."

Howard's teammates and coaches were very complimentary of Howard, of course.

"He’s a real play maker," Dolphins safety Bobby McCain said. "He attacks the football. We’re in man coverage and he’s attacking the football. And that’s elite."

When healthy, Howard is as elite a defensive player as there is in the NFL. It's why he is a legitimate candidate for NFL defensive player of the year.

"It's definitely a goal of mine," Howard replied, honestly, before getting back to a message about the importance of Saturday's game against the Raiders.

Howard conceded his second Pro Bowl bid was at least as special as his first, if not more.

"After everything I've been through, with the knee surgery and everything, it means a lot," said Howard, who played only five games last season.

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Defensive coordinator Josh Boyer explained that Howard is athletically gifted, strong, diagnoses plays and doesn't panic when the ball is in the air. 

Boyer also explained that Howard is a willing, effective tackler. This makes him more of a complete player than some past corners who seem afraid of nicks and bruises.

Defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander said it would not surprise him to learn that Howard was also a receiver in high school. Howard was. 

Alexander also marveled at Howard's fearlessness.

"In the moment of truth, he plays to win," Alexander said. "He doesn't play not to lose."

Howard, 27, grew up in the tough Fifth Ward section of Houston. And so when Howard was asked Tuesday about where he developed his ball skills and toughness, it's little surprise he went right there.

"I feel like its where I come from, just being a kid in the neighborhood, playing high ball, throw the ball up and catch it," Howard said. "With some of the older guys. I wasn't afraid to play against the older guys. I always played against older guys. I feel like it made me better. That's where I got my ball skills. And that's where I learned to be a physical corner."

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 Miami has the NFL's number one-ranked scoring defense, at 18.4 points per game. Yet, somehow, Howard was the only Dolphins' defensive player named to the Pro Bowl. Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, at minimum, deserved strong consideration.

"We get overlooked, I feel like," Howard said. "Miami always gets overlooked. Anything else, some guys on a different team, they get recognized."

Howard then added that a Super Bowl would make everything better.

Miami is ahead of schedule in its dramatic rebuild, but making the playoffs in 2020 would of course be a very positive first step.

Howard is the single greatest reason Miami's defense has performed so well. It's a turnover-driven defense and nobody forces more turnovers than Howard.

"There are a lot of things that are in store for us if we just take care of everything in front of us," Howard said.

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