Tony Lippett’s quick transition to DB for Miami Dolphins a bit of a shocker

Tony Lippett intercepts a pass intended for Tyrell Williams of the San Diego Chargers in November. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

(Note: This continues a series in Daily Dolphin spotlighting members of the team individually. In addition to reliving highlights and lowlights of the past season for each, we’ll provide analysis and criticism, plus take a look at how each player fits — or doesn’t fit — into the team’s plans for 2017.)

CB Tony Lippett

Height, weight: 6-3, 194

College: Michigan State

Age: 25 as of July 2

Experience: Entering third season, all with Dolphins

Acquired: Fifth-round draft pick in 2015

Contract: Due to earn $668,691 in 2017 as part of his four-year, $2.49 million rookie contract

Pro Football Focus rank: 74th out of 111

In 2016

Stats: 16 games, 13 starts, 67 tackles, four interceptions

Notable moments: Had five tackles, two interceptions and two passes defensed in victory at home over Jets. … Had seven tackles and two interceptions in victory at San Diego.

Straight talk: When the Dolphins drafted this Spartans wide receiver late in the 2015 draft with the idea of making him a cornerback, they couldn’t have envisioned he’d not only make the transition to the secondary, but do so as a starter in one year.

Timing seems to be everything with Lippett. As the 2016 season started, he’d gained enough confidence in coaches that when injuries struck presumed starting cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and Xavien Howard at various points, Lippett was inserted to the tune of 13 starts out of 16 games.

“That’s a shocker to you?” Lippett said.

It frankly would have shocked anyone, especially after the Bengals’ A.J. Green had 10 receptions for 173 yards in Lippett’s first career start. Not all of that could be blamed on Lippett, but enough was.

All along, coaches said with Lippett’s size and the ball skills he developed playing offense, there was real potential in this project pick. The main element lacking was experience.

They were right.

Two games stand out. In the home victory against the Jets, Lippett had two interceptions, including a fourth-down pick in the end zone against Ryan Fitzpatrick as time expired. A similar thing happened against the Chargers, when his first career interception came in the end zone against Philip Rivers with 12 minutes left. That’s two touchdown-saving plays against two veteran passers.

Lippett finished the season with four interceptions, which tied for 11th in the NFL.

“I’m still getting comfortable with everything I’m seeing out there,” he said late in the season. “That’s when I’m going to have my little bumps and bruises. But I’m going to continue to learn from that. Continue to grow as a player and continue to be there for my team the best way I can.”

Prospects for 2017

There’s no reason not to expect Lippett to continue his steady progress in the secondary, although the return of Howard will affect his playing time. Given the number of dropped interceptions we see each week in the NFL, it’s refreshing to know the Dolphins have someone back there who can make quarterbacks think twice about throwing balls up for grabs.

Best of all, packaged with Howard’s skills and the arrival of third-rounder Cordrea Tankersley, the Dolphins can hope they’ll be set at cornerback for the long haul after Byron Maxwell retires.

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