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Development of young corners could boost Dolphins' defense

DAVIE, Fla. – The Miami Dolphins secondary sprung leaks in various areas throughout the 2016 season.

First, former second-round pick Xavien Howard suffered a knee injury in the summer. Then, veteran No. 1 cornerback Byron Maxwell was inconsistent and eventually benched for one game in September. In addition, Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones suffered a season-ending shoulder injury after six games.

Overall, the group never found its footing last year. But if there is an early award for the most improved group during organized team activities, Miami’s secondary – and particularly its cornerbacks -- take the award by a landslide.

The Dolphins’ secondary is finally healthy, practicing well and with a high intensity level. Yes, that includes some trash talk with Miami’s receivers and coaches.

“Not sure they haven’t got the best of us. They’ve really done a good job so far,” Dolphins offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said this week. “But it's great work for us. ... They’ve challenged us a bunch. That matchup has been good. Receivers, they’ll tell you they haven’t been covered this camp, but there have been some guys awful close to them.”

Perhaps the biggest key to improvement for Miami’s secondary rests with Howard. Players often make a quality jump in Year 2, and Howard has been one of the most impressive players for the Dolphins during organized team activities and is a projected starter.

Howard also believes staying healthy will make a big difference.

“I couldn’t get 100 percent each time,” Howard said. “My first injury I had, I couldn’t finish OTAs. The second one came from me just jumping up in the air and catching the ball and hitting the ground. So I really couldn’t just get to the level to get to 100 percent and play. Each game, I was just playing to play; but I just really couldn’t be 100 percent and perform how I know I can.”

Tony Lippett and Cordrea Tankersley are expected to provide depth at cornerback. Lippett started 13 games last year and was one of the team’s most improved players with four interceptions. Tankersley is a third-round draft pick who likely will contribute as a rookie on special teams but has long-term potential as a starter.

Tankersley, a Clemson alum, has been a pet project for another fellow Clemson veteran in Maxwell, who is helping the rookie come along. The two have been in touch for a few years while Tankersley was in college.

“It felt like I’ve known him all my life,” Tankersley said of Maxwell. “The guys that Clemson recruits, we are all really the same. We are low-maintenance, high-character kind of guys. Even with Andre Branch, I’ve latched on to him. I’ve kind of known those guys, so just being here and seeing those guys already here has motivated me to not be overwhelmed.”