You wouldn’t expect a pro football player preparing for the playoffs to spend a significant portion of his workout in bare feet on workout pads or using a gadget called a “reformer.”
Such is the state of the Dolphins’ banged-up secondary that second-round draft pick Xavien Howard continues to rebound from knee surgery by getting massages and doing Pilates, in addition to football practice. To say he does the extra work daily doesn’t do it justice.
“Two hours a day,” he said.
Howard is one of the lucky ones. The desperate situation in the secondary was no more comforting Wednesday when cornerback Byron Maxwell and safety Bacarri Rambo were unable to practice.
Maxwell has missed the past two games with an ankle injury. Rambo — himself a fill-in for Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones — has soreness in his chest.
Maxwell did not speak to reporters Wednesday, but coach Adam Gase said both defensive backs are day to day. Rambo did not sound concerned about soreness in his chest and said he expects to practice Thursday.
“I’ll be there,” Rambo said. “I’ll be ready Sunday. That’s all that matters.”
It’s what matters to defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who lost Howard for 10 games this season … then lost Jones … then lost his other starting safety, Isa Abdul-Quddus.
“We just mixed and matched,” said safety Walt Aikens, one of the players getting extra reps Wednesday. “It’s like puzzle pieces. When someone goes down, we’ve got to put a new puzzle piece in and they’ve got to take the place and continue to do what we’re supposed to do.”
Pilates and puzzle pieces can be a tough way to keep a secondary together.
“The story of our season,” safety Michael Thomas said.
The Dolphins ranked 29th in total defense, 15th in pass defense and 30th in run defense. But they were able to keep Pittsburgh’s offense in check in their 30-15 victory in October, when Ben Roethlisberger passed for 189 yards and threw two interceptions before injuring his knee, Le’Veon Bell ran for 55 yards and Antonio Brown had four receptions for 39 yards — numbers the Dolphins would love to see repeated Sunday.
Thomas called Brown, who had 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns this season, a “dynamic” player.
“If you let him catch it with nobody around him, that’s where he shows he’s very dangerous,” Thomas said.
Too often, Patriots receivers, especially Julian Edelman, were romping unchecked through Miami’s defense last Sunday in New England’s 35-14 rout. But Aikens and Thomas said they had no issues communicating in practice Wednesday, with both safeties calling signals.
Howard returned at an opportune time, three weeks ago against the Jets, when he was credited with three passes defensed. He made six tackles against Buffalo and three against New England as he works toward being 100 percent.
“I’m just going out there every day doing a lot of recovery, doing extra work,” Howard said. “I’m trying to get my body right. I’m getting a lot of massages and doing Pilates and stuff like that to keep my quads strong so I won’t have my knee doing all the work.”
Howard agreed two hours of such work is not standard operating procedure in the NFL, especially at Week 1 of the playoffs.
“That’s unusual,” he said. “By me being a rookie, I went through a lot of injuries, so I’ve got to protect my body.”
He doesn’t consider the work particularly stressful because his body has gotten used to it. Best of all, it seems to be working.
“I’ve got confidence in my knee,” Howard said. “I’m going out there, playing. I’m not even worrying about my knee or anything like that.”