When you’re hot: Xavien Howard trending straight up for Miami Dolphins’ secondary

Xavien Howard makes an interception against the Patriots. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

(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 2018.)

[RELATED: Don’t miss our exclusive photos from Dolphins OTAs in Davie]

CB Xavien Howard

Height, weight: 6-1, 196

College: Baylor

Age: Will be 25 this season

Experience: Third season, all with Dolphins

Acquired: Second-round pick in 2016

Contract: In third year of his $6.1 million rookie contract

Pro Football Focus rank: 92nd of 121

In 2017

Stats: Started every game; 48 tackles, one sack, four interceptions, 13 passes defensed

Notable moments: INTs came in bunches, with two vs. Broncos and two in the home game vs. Patriots

Straight talk: Can momentum that a young player has going for him late one season carry over into the next season?

The Dolphins certainly hope so.

Howard didn’t get off to the best of starts last year but displayed a key trait for a cornerback — he forgot about all that — to put up some stunning performances as the weather turned cold.

Howard recorded the first two interceptions of his career against Denver, then followed with two more against Tom Brady and the Patriots, which was even more impressive in two ways:

1. He’s the first Dolphin with multiple interceptions in consecutive games.

2. He played the Patriots game while puking his guts out on the sideline because of the flu. “I thought he was going to die,” said safety Walt Aikens, who should know because, in his words, “I was in the splash zone.”

Howard, who earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for the Patriots game, said he realized it was time to start trusting himself and taking chances when opportunities arose.

“Not thinking,” said Howard, who relied on strength and his closing ability with the ball in the air to pick off Brady. “Just going out there and playing.”

“You could tell him that I said it’s about time,” Cameron Wake said.

Of course, 1 1/2 seasons isn’t a long time for a cornerback to develop (not to mention that Howard missed half his rookie year with knee problems). While double-digit interceptions is a bit much to ask of anybody in Year 3, continued growth is realistic for Howard and if that happens, a healthy second contract will start to come into focus.

“The more he plays, the longer he plays, the tighter the coverage is going to get … the faster he’ll get as far as being able to break up some of these passes,” coach Adam Gase said. “Guys get so frustrated with young corners or the kid themselves gets down on themselves because balls are completed on them. They get better with time if you stick with them and you don’t allow their confidence to waver.”

Prospects for 2018

Howard’s confidence should be at an all-time high entering the season.

Any concerns the Dolphins may have had over his extended absence in 2016 should have been erased by what he did against New England. Keep in mind, he required two bags of IV fluids and was drinking Pedialyte but still suited up and played extremely well, worthy of the Michael Jordan seal of approval.

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