Miami Dolphins DB Walt Aikens warms up to ex-Patriot Danny Amendola

Walt Aikens had some nice battles with new teammate Danny Amendola. (Andres Leiva/The Post)

DAVIE — The Dolphins couldn’t stand Danny Amendola until they finally signed him.

He was a pest for years in New England, causing problems for Miami as a slot receiver and as a return man on special teams. Cornerback Bobby McCain, who got ejected for fighting Amendola last season, said he was his second-most hated player in the NFL (nobody will knock Tom Brady out of the top spot) prior to him joining the Dolphins this offseason.

Walt Aikens had a few clashes with Amendola, too. Most of those took place on special teams, where Aikens has been one of Miami’s best cover men.

“It wasn’t as personal as Bobby and Danny,” a grinning Aikens said after today’s Organized Team Activities practice. “Me and Amendola had some words every few punts or (kick returns).

“We actually ran into each other; it was like three years back. I think it was in New England. He tried to block me, and I made my presence be known. I like to joke with him about that one.”

Unfortunately, nothing turns up on YouTube when searching their names together, but it sounds like Aikens must have leveled him.

That’s all in the past now, of course, and Aikens has come to enjoy Amendola just like McCain has. He also likes the idea of what he can do for the Dolphins’ offense.

“He’s a good dude,” Aikens said. “He’s a nice asset to this team – a hard worker, goes out. You’re going to get the same person every day. Ultimately, he’s going to make this defense better being that he came from a system that can score and (had a) high-powered offense. He’s here now. We’re going to see what he’s got.”

In nine games against the Dolphins over the last five years, Amendola caught 31 passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns. At 32 years old, he’s coming off a season of 61 receptions, 659 yards and two touchdowns for the Patriots.

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Feud behind them, Dolphins WR Danny Amendola calls Bobby McCain his brother

Bobby McCain and Danny Amendola will square off constantly in practice over the next few months. (Andres Leiva/The Post)

DAVIE — Like most sports rivalries, the tension between Dolphins cornerback Bobby McCain and former Patriots slot receiver Danny Amendola was rooted in begrudging respect.

McCain said Amendola was his second-most hated player in the league (Tom Brady holds the top spot) and the two got into an altercation last season that pushed McCain to the point of taking a swing at him and getting ejected. But now that Amendola is with Miami, he and McCain have formed a bond.

“We’re good,” Amendola said after today’s Organized Team Activity practice. “We’re good. We’re brothers.”

He also said that there was no heart-to-heart or anything like that once he arrived and didn’t feel like they needed to discuss what happened last November.

McCain spoke about Amendola on Tuesday and cracked that, “He’s not as bad as I thought he was.” He also praised him as a major asset for the Dolphins on the field and in the locker room.

The interesting thing about McCain and Amendola being teammates is that they’ll actually go against each other much more than when they were opponents. They should be matched up often throughout OTAs, the preseason and in practice during the year.

“I have a lot of respect for Bobby,” Amendola said. “He’s a great player. He and I are cut from the same cloth. We’re some dogs out there. We like to compete. It brings the best out of both of us out there in practice. He’s getting me better. I’m competing my tail off against him and I know he’s a great player.”

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Miami Dolphins’ Andre Branch blames 2017 season on complacency

Dolphins defensive end Andre Branch during organized team activities Wednesday. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE — Two days, two defensive veterans, one conclusion.

A major reason the Dolphins’ defense didn’t set the world on fire last season was because it didn’t have much fire itself. Cornerback Bobby McCain said so Tuesday, and on Wednesday, defensive end Andre Branch seconded that narrative.

“There’s a sense of urgency now,” Branch said. “Last year was kind of complacent for us.”

Compare that to what McCain said.

“Personally, I feel like we lost a bit of fire,” McCain said. “We lost that spark to get us going. … We lost that … ‘Your back is against the wall, go get it.’ The year before, if the offense makes a turnover, OK, boom. The ball is on our own territory on the 20-yard line, let’s stop them to a field goal.’ We kind of lost that go out and get it, go out and make a stop (attitude).”

The defense ranked 16th in the league last season, which actually represented an improvement over the No. 29 ranking the year before. But it’s nowhere near what the Dolphins paid for — especially when Ndamukong Suh was around — nor is it what they need if they continue to be offensively challenged.

Branch, for one, expects coordinator Matt Burke’s unit to be much improved in 2018.

“We know what we have,” Branch said. “We can’t make excuses now. It’s time to really live up to that and put on.”

Defensive tackle Davon Godchaux was asked to compare this offseason to last year, when he was a rookie.

“This one is intense,” he said.

Godchaux attributed some of it to new line coach Kris Kocurek’s style.

“He’s big on effort and he’s big on attacking,” Godchaux said. “Last year we weren’t attacking as much.”

Now it’s a matter of carrying it through the season — and making sure players aren’t bemoaning in similar ways next summer.

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Miami Dolphins’ Bobby McCain on Danny Amendola: ‘He’s not as bad as I thought he was’

New England’s Danny Amendola scores a touchdown against the Dolphins’ Bobby McCain. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

DAVIE — Apparently, there’s hope for that United States-North Korea summit after all.

If anyone doubted there could be peace within a Dolphins locker room holding both Bobby McCain and Danny Amendola, those concerns were put to rest when McCain gave his former arch rival his strongest endorsement yet as his newest bestest buddy.

“He’s not as bad as I thought he was,” McCain joked Tuesday.

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If that doesn’t warm your heart, consider that McCain wouldn’t even say Amendola was Private Enemy No. 1 last year as a member of the hated New England Patriots.

If not Amendola, who was his enemy?

“Tom Brady,” McCain said.

But wasn’t Amendola the one McCain was sparring with when he got kicked out of the game in New England last season?

“He might have been No. 2,” McCain said. “He was up that list somewhere.”

Amendola, a receiver, earlier explained how he and McCain, a cornerback, could coexist.

“We’re brothers now,” Amendola said. “We play on the same team, so we’re going to fight together.”

So there you have it. Put two guys in the same colors and everything’s rosy.

“He’s a good guy,” McCain said of Amendola.

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Contract talks could heat up, but Bobby McCain aims to light fire on Miami Dolphins’ defense

Dolphins cornerback Bobby McCain (28) celebrates a defensive stop against the Raiders. (Andres Leiva / The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE — Cornerback Bobby McCain had some serious binge-watching planned this off-season. But when he sat down for his marathon session, it wasn’t necessarily with popcorn, but a notepad.

McCain wasn’t catching up on Game of Thrones.

More like Game of Throes.

McCain watched all 16 of the Dolphins’ games from 2017 — each more than once — and given that it was a 6-10 season, what he saw could be classified as a bit of a tragedy. And now, McCain the cornerback and McCain the critic have reached the same conclusion:

“We lost a bit of fire,” McCain said of the defense. “We lost a bit of, ‘Your back’s against the wall, go get it.’ The year before, offense makes a turnover, boom! The ball’s in our own territory, we stop them to a field goal.”

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It was more than the absence of the big plays from 2016 that helped get this team in the playoffs. What also jumped out at McCain was what happened when the defense did make a big play.

“We call it ‘put a hand on a helmet,’ ” McCain said. “Like celebrating. Having a good time. You’d see a couple of guys putting a hand on a helmet. No. We need all 11. If a guy makes a great play, we need all 11 there. We’re going to have that energy this year.”

What the tapes revealed surprised him, because in the week-to-week bustle of the NFL season, he didn’t sense it was missing, even though he knew the defense’s No. 16 ranking, and 29th in scoring, shouted mediocrity or worse.

This is where McCain comes in. He’ll be 25 when the season starts, no longer a fifth-round draft pick fighting to make the roster but a fourth-year pro whom the young guys are coming to for answers. And if that weren’t enough … 

“It’s a contract year,” he said. “It’s no secret. But me personally, I just think I go out and play ball. You go out and play ball, it’ll all end up working for you. You go and and win ballgames, everybody gets paid.”

Asked Tuesday if the Dolphins have approached him about an extension, McCain became tongue-tied in a way players sometimes get when they sense progress is being made and they don’t want to jinx anything.

“I mean … uh … uh … ,” McCain said.

Dolphins coaches have shown increasing confidence in the versatility McCain brings. Although he started only seven games last year, the Dolphins were in nickel coverage so often, it was almost as if McCain were a 12th starter. Even with the arrival of first-round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick, a safety, McCain’s goal is more playing time in 2018, whether it’s on the boundary or in the slot.

“I’m a corner,” said McCain, who’s 5-feet-11 and 192. “I want to be in the game, as everyone does. Whatever we feel is best for the team, that’s what I’m going to do, whether it’s outside, inside.”

McCain clearly has respect not just from the coaching staff, but within the secondary meeting room.

“He studies and he’s a smart player,” safety T.J. McDonald said. “He’s quick. He’s a competitor and that’s the biggest thing, is his grit. Even though with his size, he’s got a great heart. That grit, that energy that he brings, it’s going to help any defense.”

And energy, McCain promised, won’t be in short supply this season.

“People say it’s on the coaches,” McCain said. “No. It’s on us. At the end of the day, we’re the ones out there playing and we’re the ones that have to get it done.”

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After rough 2017 season, Dolphins secondary aims to be among NFL’s best

How good can Reshad Jones’ crew be in 2018? (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — Few teams were easier to pass against than the Dolphins last year, and their defensive backs are insistent on changing that.

Looking around that corner of the locker room, there seems like there should be enough talent to turn things around. Miami has three promising options at safety, plus a host of good cornerbacks bent on becoming great.

The problem is that most of those players were here last year when the Dolphins finished bottom-10 in the NFL in opponent passer rating (94.8) and completion percentage (64.2). The total damage, 225 yards per game, was 16th in the league, but that number likely would’ve been worse had the team not spent most of the year trailing.

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“I think we gave up too many big plays last year,” safety T.J. McDonald said. “That’s the biggest thing you don’t want to do is let the ball get over your head. Going into this season, that’s a big emphasis for us.

“We’re just working. We want to be the best that we can be. We want to be the best in the league. We’re putting the time in right now.”
It didn’t help the secondary that the defensive line was unable to put much pressure on opposing quarterbacks and finished 26th in the league with 30 sacks. The defensive backs’ jobs will become significantly easier if Miami’s redesign up front, mainly the addition of Robert Quinn.

In coverage, the Dolphins have McDonald and Reshad Jones returning as the starting safeties along with first-round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick. They also have Xavien Howard angling to become a true No. 1 cornerback, plus Cordrea Tankersley, Tony Lippett and Bobby McCain.

They’re guided by new leadership, too, with the arrival of defensive backs coach Tony Oden and assistant Renaldo Hill.

McDonald has already seen strides from the defense in the first two weeks of Organized Team Activities.

“We’re just hungry,” he said. “Our camaraderie as a group is better, I feel like. I feel like we’re growing week by week. We’re working harder than we did last year. All the guys can feel the upping the momentum through practice. We’re setting the standard right now. That can only pay off in the future.”

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Dolphins CB Xavien Howard poised to prove himself as ‘top corner’

Xavien Howard needs to be a true No. 1 cornerback. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — Xavien Howard knows it’s time.

The Dolphins took him No. 38 overall three years ago with the thought that he’d be a star cornerback, and there are no more qualifiers as he works toward the upcoming season. There won’t be explanations that he’s still learning or doesn’t have enough game experience. He’s been around, he’s been very good at points and now he needs to put it all together.

“I believe I can be a top corner in the league just going out there and really just playing,” he said after today’s Organized Team Activity session. “So, I’d just say just going out there and doing me.”

Howard has good reason to be confident after a sophomore season that was full of promise. He stayed healthy, which was big after playing just seven games as a rookie, and had four interceptions, 13 pass breakups and 42 tackles.

The way he finished the year prompted optimism throughout the organization, and his most memorable performance came during Miami’s biggest win over the season. In the Monday Night Football upset of the Patriots, Howard played through a case of the flu and intercepted Tom Brady twice.

A big part of that progress was getting better at press coverage and jamming receivers at the line, something defensive coordinator Matt Burke has been imploring his corners to do more often.

As Howard starts to look like more of a veteran cornerback, his emergence would be a huge breakthrough for the rebuilt Dolphins defense.

“He’s getting after it,” safety Reshad Jones said. “He’s out there trying to make plays for us. He’s getting more knowledge of the game and seeing things different. He is recognizing formations and different things like that.”

Howard said he’s much quicker at reading offensive schemes than he was as a rookie and has a better understanding of how to study quarterbacks.

“Stuff that I was doing in college I can’t do in the league,” he said. “You see different receivers and stuff like that. Really, I’m just learning the game and knowing what I can do, knowing what I’m best at and just sticking to that instead of trying to do everything else.

“In college, I wasn’t really watching film and stuff like that. I was just going on my athletic ability; but in the league, it’s a different level.”

The cornerback crew of Howard, Cordrea Tankersley, Bobby McCain and Tony Lippett could develop into an above-average unit, and there’s a lot to like about safeties Jones, T.J. McDonald and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Tightening up the secondary would solve a lot of Miami’s defensive issues.

That starts with Howard, who has to be capable of handling the opposition’s best receiver. If the Dolphins can’t trust him with that responsibility, the whole plan looks shaky.

They also need some evidence from Howard that he’s worth investing in beyond the next two seasons. His rookie contract ends after 2019, which puts him in position to earn an extension after this year.

“It’s a big season for me and the team,” Howard said.

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Miami Dolphins CB Bobby McCain outlines his plan to make wins, dollars pile up

Dolphins cornerback Bobby McCain celebrates a stop. (Andres Leiva / The Palm Beach Post)

AVENTURA — Cornerback Bobby McCain had a good season last year for the Dolphins. Random people say that. Coach Adam Gase says it.

McCain doesn’t sound like a guy who wants to hear it.

“I feel like I can always be better,” McCain said at the Dolphins Cancer Challenge annual golf tournament at Turnberry Isle to benefit the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Everyone feels that way. We went 6-10, so clearly I didn’t do enough.”

McCain already has one area pinpointed for improvement. He wants to create more turnovers. Last season he had two interceptions. In his three-year career, he has had a hand in four takeaways (three interceptions, one forced fumble).

“Each and every year, I want more and more turnovers,” McCain said. “Turnovers, they keep you in the league and they get you paid. Turnovers and just being able to win ballgames at the end of the day. I don’t care what I have to do to win the ballgame. We need more wins.”

McCain became a bigger force as last season wore on.

“I don’t know why everybody always wants to replace Bobby but all he does is just consistently play probably better than everybody else,” Gase said. “He’s one of our guys that’s probably one of our top leaders that we have in our locker room. He’s a guy that we’ve counted on for two years and he just keeps getting better.”

McCain is in a contract year after being taken in the fifth round out of Memphis, so getting paid will be an issue this year.

“I feel like I haven’t played my best ball yet,” he said.

The secondary and special teams, of which he also plays a role, have undergone change this offseason, including losing Michael Thomas, the special teams captain. This week, the Dolphins brought in Saints free-agent safety Kenny Vaccaro, a former first-round pick, for a visit.

“I know he’s a good player,” McCain said. “He’s a big hitter. He’s a big body. He’s an athlete. He can cover, he can tackle, he can do it all pretty well. I watched a couple of Saints games, I know he had a good year this year after taking a little heat, but he’s a good player. I don’t know what all went down, how the visit went, but I know if he signs with the Dolphins, we’ll be happy to have him.”

The Dolphins have seen plenty of familiar faces go, including Jarvis Landry, Mike Pouncey and Ndamukong Suh. But it’s April, and if players can’t be optimistic in the spring, that’s a problem. So McCain is optimistic despite the upheaval.

“We’re going to stand strong,” McCain said. “Those guys you named, they’re really good guys. They’re good friends of mine, all of them. I hate to see them go, but unfortunately that’s the way the business is. You see guys go left and right. I know they’re going to do well in their next endeavors, and I know at the end of the day we have who we have. We’re all we’ve got at the end of the day.

“The chemistry, we’re still going to bond. We’re still close, we’re still tight.”

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War and peace: Miami Dolphins’ Bobby McCain, Danny Amendola call a truce

Dolphins cornerback Bobby McCain walks off after being ejected against the Patriots last season. (Getty Images)

AVENTURA — It’s a plot straight out of Vince McMahon’s resurrected XFL: Bobby McCain and Danny Amendola go after each other during a game, with the result being an ejection and $9,000 fine for McCain. Then, a few months later, McCain and Amendola find themselves as tag-team partners of sorts when Amendola joins the Dolphins as a free agent.

So, when McCain met with the media Friday during the annual Dolphins Cancer Challenge golf tournament at Turnberry Isle, naturally a question came up — delivered with a smirk — on whether he had met Amendola with perhaps cooler heads prevailing.

“I have, I have,” said McCain, who was ejected for throwing a punch even though replays showed it was more of a forearm. “Me and Danny, we chalked it up.”

(Smirk.)

“We chalked it up.”

(More of a smirk.)

“Yeah, we chalked it up.”

That’s McCain’s way of saying they’re giving peace a chance.

“We’re teammates, man,” McCain said. “We’ve got one goal in mind, that’s a championship. We’re happy to have him on Sundays — Sunday, Monday, Thursday, whatever day it is, we’re happy to have him on our sideline. We’re going to compete.”

That they are. Remember, McCain is a cornerback who should play an important role this season, and Amendola is being brought in along with Albert Wilson to fill a void at receiver left by Jarvis Landry.

So McCain and Amendola will see plenty of each other in Davie, on the practice field.

“They made practice really, really fun now, so it should be a good time and really competitive,” McCain said.

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Miami Dolphins feeling confident in cornerback situation for 2018 season

Xavien Howard is the crown jewel of the Dolphins’ cornerbacks. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

MIAMI GARDENS—No other position on the Dolphins’ roster has been a more volatile stock than the cornerbacks. From moment to moment, they go from looking like one of the deeper units on the team to one of its chief liabilities.

The group is surging, at least it appears that way, after some developments late last season gave Miami cause for optimism.

Second-year man Xavien Howard looks ready to be a No. 1 corner who can shadow the opponent’s top threat, Cordrea Tankersley held his own as a rookie and slot corner Bobby McCain is as reliable as ever. Add in the return of 2016 starter Tony Lippett, and the Dolphins look like they have what they need.

“We have a great room and we have a lot of talented guys, a lot of guys that can play good football,” McCain said at the organization’s annual Dolphins Cancer Challenge last weekend. “It’s exciting to have talent, and you can never go wrong with too many corners.”

That’s something coach Adam Gase says often, which means the idea of pursuing cornerbacks in free agency or taking one in the upcoming draft can’t be ruled out.

And even if the Dolphins do feel confident in their personnel, they have concerns. Gase and defensive coordinator Matt Burke fired defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo, who had been with the team since 2012, and replaced him with Tony Oden. Longtime NFL safety Renaldo Hill also joined the staff as Oden’s assistant.

Miami’s pass defense was mediocre or worse for most of last season, but diagnosing the problems goes deeper than analyzing the cornerbacks. A better pass rush would’ve lessened the burden on them in coverage, and they could’ve used more help behind them from the safeties.

Taking all of that into account, the Dolphins were middle of the pack in total pass defense, but that number likely would’ve been somewhat worse if not for the fact that they spent so much time trailing. Miami allowed 7.2 yards per attempt, which was tied for ninth-worst in the league.

The Dolphins also allowed a 94.8 passer rating, fifth-highest in the NFL, and managed to get their hands on a mere nine interceptions. That’s one pick every 58.7 attempts, and it was a major factor in the team’s minus-14 turnover differential. Only Denver and Cleveland were worse.

“Just being consistent and winning ballgames,” McCain said when asked what the next step for his unit is. “Doing whatever it takes—no matter if it’s turnovers or regardless of what it is. As a secondary, we’re going to have a big part in that.”

Howard illustrated the group’s potential impact beautifully with his two-interception performance in the upset of New England late in the year.

In a game in which the Dolphins held on to win by a touchdown, both of his picks were in Miami territory, taking scoring chances away from the Patriots, and they led to a touchdown and a field goal. At minimum, that was a 16-point swing in his team’s favor on a night when it was badly needed.

Howard, a second-round pick in 2016, led the Dolphins with four interceptions (coming over back-to-back games) for the year. McCain and safety Reshad Jones each had two, and McDonald added one. That was it. In 10 of 16 games, Miami did not intercept a pass.

Howard finished the year with 13 pass breakups, 48 tackles and a sack. He had a near-perfect night against Brandin Cooks to beat the Patriots, and the week before ran home with a pick-six against Denver.

“That’s my boy,” Lippett said. He stepped up a lot. He grew up this year. He made plays that we know he can make and we’ve seen him make plenty of times (in practice). I was happy for him.”

Pro Football Focus rated him the 92nd-best corner in the league for the season, but that was weighted by his inconsistency early. His overall trajectory is trending upwardly, and he’s still just 24 years old with 22 career starts.

He’ll be locked into one starting cornerback spot, and the other likely will be a battle between Lippett and Tankersley. Ideally for Miami, it’ll be a tough decision between the two, plus a few quality options behind them.

“I think we’re a good, young group,” Lippett said. “We’re gonna compete and make each other better and help each other out. We’re committed to winning. That’s the main thing.”

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