July 28, 2016

Examining UM's incoming class and who's best positioned to help right away; Dolphins, Marlins trade news, Shula update

 

FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN

 

With the start of fall practice a week away, UM coach Mark Richt, knowing his depth is shaky, will need to rely immediately on transfers and several members of his first Hurricanes 18-player recruiting class (16 are enrolled).

Examining who is ready to help immediately, by position:

• Linebacker: Shaquille Quarterman – having bulked up after a fabulous spring --- is the clear front-runner to start at middle linebacker, and freshman Mike Pinckney will compete with junior Darrion Owens at weakside. One UM official called that Pinckney/Owens battle a tossup.

“They have certainly made a mark,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said of linebackers Quarterman, Pinckney and Zach McCloud. “What all three kids did was not easy to do… Shaq possesses tremendous instincts and vision. He seems to feel right at home in the middle of the defense. Mike made a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage [in high school]. Zach plays with a very high motor, has tremendous range.”

Yes, growing pains are inevitable in a night road game in the ACC, when opponents are trying to fool wide-eyed freshmen. But a bunch of players are convinced Quarterman is going to be an impact player immediately.

“Shaq is going to be a great leader and he’s going to be a great player,” defensive tackle Richard McIntosh Jr. said. “The way he plays, it's unbelievable, to be an incoming freshman and [do this]. He has a high motor. And he knows his stuff. He doesn’t complain about anything. We can expect big things from those linebackers this year.”

• Defensive line: With Al-Quadin Muhammad at risk of discipline because of an ongoing luxury car rental investigation, and with Scott Patchan recovering from a torn ACL, there’s an opportunity for freshmen ends Pat Bethel and Joseph Jackson and end/tackle Tyreic Martin. UM would need a No. 4 defensive end to start the season if AQM (Miami's top defensive end) isn’t available.

Among ESPN’s top 300 prospects in the 2016 class, Bethel was No. 111 and Jackson No. 182. Jackson had six sacks and four forced fumbles at Gulliver Prep last season and “should be a dominant player” at UM, defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski said, citing his “relentless” pass rusher motor and “great speed to get around the edge.”

Kuligowski believes Bethel, who had some good moments this spring, “should be great at stopping the run and rushing the passer.”

Martin, who projects as a tackle if he puts on more weight, “has a huge ceiling,” Kuligowski said. “When you find one of those [end/tackles] that can run, that’s a neat thing.”

• Defensive backs: Adrian Colbert, the senior safety transfer from Texas, is playing cornerback for the first time since high school but predicted to Canesport: "I feel I'm going to come and be a starter this year. I came in with a whole different mentality. I refuse to do anything but start.… It's a different thing in Texas. We take pride
in being able to cover fast receivers….

“I love the position. I'm doing really well, transitioning well and I've already got the playbook down to a T. It's the same as some of the stuff we had run at Texas, just some minor tweaks to it."

Four-star former Coconut Creek alum Malek Young has an immediate chance to compete for a top five-cornerback job, because none of the young corners behind Corn Elder and Sheldrick Redwine did enough in the spring to remove doubts. Young, at 5-9, also can play in the slot and had seven returns for touchdowns in high school, including four kickoffs.

“I got emotional when Malek committed to us,” cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph said. “I know what it’s like to be committed to a team going through so much turmoil. Very natural, really good ball skills. Amazing kid, a thinker, very articulate.”

The other freshmen --- Cedric Wright (not yet cleared to enroll while awaiting high-school credits to clear),  Romeo Finley, and Jeff James --- are safeties, though Diaz said James can play some corner.

“What I love about Romeo is his physicality,” safeties coach Ephraim Banda said. “What we put a premium on here is safeties who are physical in the middle of the field….The thing that jumps out with Ced is his ability to pass rush and blitz. We blitz our safeties all the time. [And] Jeff has a natural ability to go get the ball in the air.”

• Quarterback: Jack Allison impressed everyone this spring, and Richt said he’s not reluctant to burn his redshirt if he’s the best of the four options for the backup QB job. But UM would prefer if Evan Shirreffs or Malik Rosier wins the No. 2 job and Allison’s redshirt can be maintained.

QB coach Jon Richt likes a lot about the 6-5 Allison: “Big, tall, athletic, moves very well, great arm, great accuracy.” But a UM official said he needs to get stronger and bigger in the weight room.

• Running back: It’s difficult to see Travis Homer having a significant role this season behind Mark Walton, Joe Yearby, Gus Edwards and Trayone Gray (who Richt made a point to praise after the spring game).

But UM coaches, eager to add more speed on offense, love that element of Homer’s game.

“He’s a home-running hitting tailback,” running backs coach Thomas Brown said. 

Rated a four-star prospect by ESPN, Homer ran for 3200 yards at Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach.

• Receiver: Sam Bruce and Ahmmon Richards are going to play as freshmen (though Bruce faces a potential suspension) and Dionte Mullins might, too, if he qualifies academically in August.

Special teams/tight ends coach coach Todd Hartley said he wants to give all three freshmen a look on returns.

Bruce, at 5-8, figures to get some time in the slot, because polished, productive slot receiver Braxton Berrios is also now able to play outside more.

“I can’t wait to see the Samburgini in front of me,” receivers coach Ron Dugans said of Bruce. “I hope he’s Samburgini at the U. He’s a dynamic player. He will be a good return man for us as well. I want to put the ball in his hands. I don’t think he’ll be as nervous; he’s been in the dog fight before against a lot of good players at St. Thomas. He’s not afraid of anything.”

Dugans calls Mullins “a playmaker with really good speed” and predicts Richards “is going to be a red zone threat.”

Mississippi transfer Dayall Harris also will get snaps; the former four-star Mississippi signee, who will be a sophomore, never played in a game there, but “he’s a little further along than a true freshman would be. He’ll definitely be able to help,” Richt said. “Smooth, fluid athlete.” 

• Offensive line: Tre Johnson, a three-star lineman out of Orlando, “has the size to be an elite offensive tackle,” offensive line coach Stacy Searels said. “He’s a basketball player so he can move his feet. I really like this kid a lot.”

UM doesn't necessarily need him this season, but he will have an opportunity compete, because UM wasn't thrilled with its backup offensive linemen in the spring.

• Tight ends: Michael Irvin Jr. and Jovani Haskins will compete for any remaining time behind David Njoku, Chris Herndon and Standish Dobard. (One of the two freshmen could redshirt.)

Roger Harriott, Irvin’s coach at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, says it’s uncanny how much Irvin resembles his Hall of Fame father in how he catches the ball.

Hartley calls Irvin “mature beyond his years, a very gifted pass catcher.”

Haskins, a three-star recruit from New Jersey, played quarterback in high school.

But UM sees him as a tight end because, at 6-4, “he has the ability to make people miss, run over people and is extremely athletic,” Hartley said. “We think he is going to be a very special player.”

• Fullback: Four arrivals, including one on scholarship (Marquez Williams from Division 2 Mars Hill) and three walk-ons: Dewayne Washington, Zachary Lawler and UM shot-putter Gian Piero Roagnesi. They’ll compete with Gage Batten and Corey Giordano.

UM wants to use a fullback at times.

• FYI: Jack Spicer, a former UF walk-on, is walking on at UM and could succeed preseason All-ACC senior Justin Vogel as UM’s punter in 2018.

CHATTER

• With training camp beginning Friday morning, the Dolphins will demand a lot more consistency and production from a bunch of their players, and tight ends Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims are high on that list.

Adam Gase has said Sims must turn potential into results. And the front office expects Cameron to do a better job fighting for balls in the air.

There will be an overhaul at the position next spring if both don’t improve... We'll have training camp updates all day Friday and for the next several weeks.

• There has been a significant development in Don Shula's health. Please click here for that, from earlier this evening.

• The Marlins are determined to add at least one starting pitcher, and two ideally, before Monday’s trade deadline, and we hear these are three new names in whom they’ve expressed interest: Kansas City’s Edinson Volquez (8-8, 4.56 ERA, $10 million mutual option this winter), the Angels’ Matt Shoemaker (5-11, 4.17, under team control through 2020), and Atlanta’s Julio Teheran (3-8, 2.71, due $6.3, $8 million, $11 million through 2019).

They’re also still in the mix for the Phillies’ Jeremy Hellickson (7-7, 3.65), San Diego’s Andrew Cashner (4-7, 4.76), the Angels’ Hector Santiago (9-4, 4.28) and the Yankees’ Ivan Nova (7-5, 4.65) and Michael Pineda (5-9, 5.00), plus Seattle's Wade Miley (6-8, 5.23), among others.

Hellickson, Cashner and Nova are impending free agents.

• Teams keep asking the Marlins about Class A Greensboro first baseman Josh Naylor (.265, 9, 53) and Class A Jupiter right-hander Luis Castillo (7-3, 2.75). The Marlins would at least consider trading any prospect.

• Don Mattingly said the Marlins have discussed making David Phelps a starter again, with a decision pending the trade deadline. Phelps said he would talk to the Marlins about it "if it came to that."

Such a move, seen as a last resort, would require stretching him out back to starter's innings.

Phelps is 16-19 with a 4.36 ERA as a starter (mostly with the Yankees) and 7-8 with a 3.56 ERA as a reliever.

•Reliever Bryan Morris, off back surgery, said he should be ready to return to the majors by early-to-mid September.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

New names surface in Marlins' search for a starting pitcher; Don Shula health update

Quick Thursday evening update:

The Marlins are determined to add at least one starting pitcher, and two ideally, before Monday’s trade deadline, and we're told these are three new names in whom they’ve expressed interest: Kansas City’s Edinson Volquez (8-8, 4.56 ERA, has a $10 million mutual option next season), the Angels’ Matt Shoemaker (5-11, 4.17, under team control through 2020), and Atlanta’s Julio Teheran (3-8, 2.71, due $6.3, $8 million, $11 million through 2019).

Shoemaker hasn't quite been the same since going 16-4 and finishing second in American League Rookie of the Year balloting in 2014. But he still has upside and the Angels are said to be listening to offers. He generally has pitched well since May, though he allowed five runs in his last start.

MLB.com reported that it's unlikely the Braves will trade Teheran because he's signed to a longterm affordable contract.

The Marlins also remain in the mix for several names that have been mentioned previously: the Phillies’ Jeremy Hellickson (7-7, 3.65), San Diego’s Andrew Cashner (4-7, 4.76), the Angels’ Hector Santiago (9-4, 4.28) and the Yankees’ Ivan Nova (7-5, 4.65) and Michael Pineda (5-9, 5.00), among others.

Hellickson, Cashner and Nova are impending free agents.

The Marlins are open to adding short-term rentals such as Hellickson or pitchers who will be under team control for several years (such as Shoemaker).

Jeffrey Loria views this as a real chance to end baseball's second-longest postseason drought and is committed to improving the rotation.

• Teams keep asking the Marlins about Class A Greensboro first baseman Josh Naylor (.265, 9 home runs, 53 RBI) and Class A Jupiter right-hander Luis Castillo (7-3, 2.75).

The Marlins would consider trading any prospect, depending on the quality of the pitcher they're getting in return.

• Don Mattingly said the Marlins have discussed the possibility of making David Phelps a starter again and said it's certainly not out of the question, with a decision to be made after the trade deadline.

Phelps said he would talk to the Marlins about it "if it came to that." Such a move, seen as a last resort, would require stretching him out back to starter's innings.

Phelps is 16-19 with a 4.36 ERA as a starter (mostly with the Yankees) and 7-8 with a 3.56 ERA as a reliever.

• Reliever Bryan Morris, off back surgery, said today he should be ready to return to the majors by early-to-mid September. Morris began throwing this week - a few days sooner than projected - and said this is the first time in a year-and-a-half that he hasn't felt back pain while throwing.

For an update tonight on Don Shula's health, plus news that could change your holiday season plans and Dolphins chatter, please click here. And check back in a little while for lots of UM football.

July 27, 2016

6 p.m. Don Shula update; Major change for Orange Bowl; Some perspective on Dolphins contracts - the good and worrisome; More media football announcing changes

For those who have asked me how legendary Dolphins coach Don Shula is doing after being hospitalized earlier this offseason, some good news:

Shula’s wife, Mary Anne, told me that her husband getting a pacemaker three months ago “has made a tremendous difference in how he feels. He looks fantastic and is moving in the right direction. The doctor told him he can travel.”

Shula, 86, and Mary Anne will spend some time in Pebble Beach, Cal., this summer before returning in time for Miami's Sept. 25 home opener against Cleveland.

Shula was hospitalized in May because of fluid retention and sleep apnea. 

Shula is the winningest coach in NFL history (with 347 regular-season and playoff victories) and a Pro Football Hall of Famer. He is also the owner of a successful chain of steakhouses throughout the country.

Don and Mary Anne Shula live in Indian Creek Island.

 

OB NEWS

Noon update: Good news -- The College Football Playoff has relented and has moved two future Orange Bowl games off New Year's Eve.

The 2018 game has been shifted from Monday, Dec. 31 to Saturday, Dec. 29.

The 2024 game has been moved from Tuesday, Dec. 31 to Saturday, Dec. 28.

The 2021 playoff semifinal game will remain on Dec. 31, a Friday, because that day is recognized as a national holiday.

Here was the letter sent to OB committee members today, as obtained by the Herald:

Dear Fellow Member,

I trust that this email correspondence finds you well and enjoying the summer!

Earlier this year, we announced a date change to the 2016 Capital One Orange Bowl to Friday, Dec. 30 in primetime.  Consistent with this schedule revision, we have continued discussions with our partners to explore optimal dates/times for future bowl games.

In recent weeks, the OBC was presented with a unique opportunity by the College Football Playoff (CFP) and ESPN to move two of our three remaining Playoff Semifinal games off of New Year’s Eve.  After discussions with OBC leadership and our key stakeholders, I am pleased to announce changes to College Football Playoff Semifinals at the Capital One Orange Bowlin 2018 and 2024.

Specifically, these changes involve moving the 2018 CFP Semifinal game from Monday, Dec. 31 to Saturday, Dec. 29 and the 2024 CFP Playoff Semifinal from Tuesday, Dec. 31 to Saturday, Dec. 28.  The Playoff Semifinal in 2021 will remain on Friday, Dec. 31, as that is the nationally recognized holiday for New Year’s Day.

Due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter and the number of parties involved, we were respectfully asked to keep the feasibility discussions confidential among our leadership and key stakeholders, including Capital One and the Miami Dolphins. Once it was determined to be viable, we immediately brought the opportunity to our Board of Directors who voted unanimously to support the move. 

The official announcement is attached. We are excited about the moves and anticipate they will be beneficial both in attendance and television viewership.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact myself or Eric Poms at any time.

 

DOLPHINS NEWS

 

Some notes with just two shopping days left before the start of Dolphins training camp:

• Pro Football Focus rated the best and worst contracts for this season, and the Dolphins were prominently mentioned.

On the positive side:

Koa Misi’s contract (two years left, with an average cap hit of $4.2 million per) was rated the fifth-best among all NFL linebackers. Here’s why:

“Year after year,” PFF says, “Koa Misi plays between 400 and 800 snaps and grades out favorably, even though he doesn’t always post high tackle numbers. In 2015, Misi posted career-highs in snaps and stops. His 85.7 run-defense grade was 13th best among linebackers. He was able to get pressure on over 20 percent of his pass rushes, which was fourth-best for 4-3 outside linebackers with at least 50 pass rushes.

“The combination of his consistency and decent play means that Misi should be getting paid like a top-20 linebacker, while in reality he’s only getting paid like a top-30 linebacker. That isn’t a huge difference, which just speaks to the fact that there aren’t many veteran linebackers who are getting paid less money than they deserve.”

• On the negative side, PFF rated Mario Williams’ contract the worst in football among edge defenders. PFF consistently has criticized Williams in recent months because of his subpar performance (playing out of position) with the Bills last season.

Williams’ two-year deal has a cap hit of $8.5 million per season. Here’s why PFF said it ranks his contract worst in the NFL at his position:

“The Dolphins could have retained Olivier Vernon on the franchise tag for only a little more than they gave Mario Williams over two years. Williams suffered a dreadful season in Buffalo, recording the worst pass-rush grade of all edge defenders. He managed only 37 combined pressures in 507 rushes, ranking fourth from bottom in pass-rushing productivity. Williams’ 42.5 pass-rush grade helped him to 93rd in our overall edge defender rankings.

“The Bills wisely noticed the decline in Williams’ performance, cutting ties with him at the right time. The fact Miami decided to hand him $17 million over two years is baffling. Their bookend pass-rushers consist of a 34-year-old coming off an ACL surgery [Cam Wake] and a 31-year-old coming off the worst season of his career. In the likely case of another disappointing season, Williams will cost $2 million in dead money to cut. It would be a surprise if he played well enough to make the $10.5 million he’s set to earn.”

• What’s more, PFF says Jordan Cameron’s deal (one year with an $8 million cap hit) is the third-worst among all tight ends, even though he took a pay cut.

PFF’s explanation: “After two solid years as a receiving tight end in Cleveland, the Dolphins signed Cameron to a two-year contract, and the first season of that deal was a flop. Last year, his 0.97 yards per route run mark was the lowest for tight ends with at least 300 routes run. In fact, in each of the last two games of the season, fellow Miami tight end Dion Sims played more snaps than Cameron. Even at his best in 2013, Cameron recorded the second-most receiving yards for tight ends, but part of that was simply volume of targets—his receiving grade was only 15th among his positional peers that season. It doesn’t help his case that he’s graded out as a below-average run-blocker each of the last four seasons.

“After his poor performance, he took a pay cut (which saved him from getting released), but his cap hit is still the fourth-highest for tight ends in 2016. If we were just looking at worst contracts in 2016, Cameron would have topped the list, but since the Dolphins are free from his contract after the year, that dropped him to No. 3 on this list.”

• And finally, PFF ranks Earl Mitchell’s contract fifth-worst among interior defenders, even though his cap hit averages just $4 million the next two seasons. Here is PFF’s justification:

“Playing alongside Ndamukong Suh in 2015, Mitchell struggled mightily, finishing 97th among interior defensive linemen with a 64.1 overall grade. He was especially weak against the run, finishing 60th among defensive tackles with a 4.2 run-stop percentage (for an overall run-defense grade of 34.2). He didn’t grade positively after Week 8 of 2015, accumulating just three stops and four pressures during that stretch.

“Mitchell’s contract is not an onerous one for the Dolphins, as he is due—at most—$1 million in dead money were he to be cut at any point over the next two seasons. That said, Mitchell has never finished higher than 30th in overall grading among defensive tackles during any point in his career, and yet his salary is currently 16th among 4-3 defensive tackles on a per-year basis. With the Dolphins allocating significant resources to Suh for the foreseeable future, it’s probably not the best use of resources to pay Mitchell like an above-average interior defender, especially given that they’re making a similarly questionable move by paying Mario Williams $17 million over two years to replace Olivier Vernon.”

 

MEDIA PERSONNEL NOTES

Tom Jackson is leaving ESPN by his choice, meaning the network will have an entirely new cast of analysts alongside Chris Berman on Sunday Countdown. Gone: Jackson, Mike Ditka, Cris Carter and Keyshawn Johnson. New: Matt Hasselbeck, Randy Moss, Trent Dilfer (already an ESPN employee) and Charles Woodson.

And Berman reportedly will leave ESPN's NFL host job after this season.

• Fox hired former Bears cornerback Charles Tillman to replace ESPN-bound Moss on its 11 a.m.-noon NFL pregame show that most Fox affiliates carried last season, before the main pre-game show at noon. Tillman joins Charissa Thompson, Colin Cowherd and Dave Wannstedt on that prelude to Fox's main pregame.

• ESPN assigned Dave Flemming and Jesse Palmer to Thursday night college games, a change from last year’s team of Joe Tessitore (who was promoted to Saturday nights to replace Brad Nessler), Palmer and David Pollack (will now work exclusively as a studio analyst)...

• One other note: Despite winning their division, the Panthers are getting just one appearance in a combined 106 NHL telecasts on NBC and NBC Sports Net next season. And the one appearance is in the lowest-profile of time slots: a late Wednesday night February game in San Jose, on NBC Sports Net.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

July 26, 2016

Examining Dolphins' roster battles, by position, with camp looming; Scout assesses Dion Waiters; Marlins nuggets

 

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

 

Dolphins training camp starts Friday with five legitimate starting battles: Laremy Tunsil vs. Dallas Thomas at left guard (I expect Tunsil to emerge as the starter); Arian Foster vs. Jay Ajayi at running back (Adam Gase loves Ajayi, but Foster is obviously far more accomplished); Billy Turner against a cast of thousands at right guard; Isa Abdul-Quddus vs. Michael Thomas at safety and Earl Mitchell vs. Jordan Phillips at defensive tackle.

The Tony Lippett vs. Xavien Howard cornerback battle isn’t much of one now, with Howard out potentially a few weeks after knee surgery, but expected back by the Sept. 11 opener at Seattle.

But there are also many unresolved questions about who makes the 53-man roster. Keep in mind that Adam Gase contractually has control over who makes the 53.

Where things stand:

• Defensive line: Cam Wake, Mario Williams, Jason Jones and Andre Branch will share time at end, and Ndamukong Suh, Earl Mitchell and Jordan Phillips are set at tackle. So that's seven.

That leaves potentially two jobs open among Dion Jordan if he's reinstated, Chris Jones (a former Patriots starter who was deemed expendable after missing last season with an injury), Chris McCain and Terrence Fede (both have practice squad eligibility but need a strong camp to stick on the 53), plus long shots DeAndre Coleman and Cleyon Laing, among others.

The Dolphins have a plan for Jordan if he's reinstated, and agent Doug Hendrickson has told me that the Dolphins have indicated he's in their plans. I would make Chris Jones the slight front-runner for the other job, but that job is very much open.  

If McCain and Fede outplay Chris Jones, then Jason Jones could fill the role of Miami’s fourth defensive tackle.

• Linebacker: Kiko Alonso, Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi are set as starters, and the Dolphins want to develop Neville Hewitt and Zach Vigil, though neither is assured of anything.

Miami values Spencer Paysinger for his special teams work. They might only keep six, if Gase opts for more players on offense than defense, which isn’t uncommon.

James Michael-Johnson, who appeared in three games for Miami last season, Mike Hull and undrafted rookies James Burgess, Tyler Gray and Akil Blount would need to unset Hewitt, Vigil or Paysinger and none of the three undrafted rookies made the type of offseason splash that Vigil did last year.

• Cornerback: Bryon Maxwell, Lippett, Howard and Bobby McCain are automatic.

That leaves Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, former Cowboys backup Tyler Patmon, and seventh-rounder Jordan Lucas competing for one job (backup slot, behind McCain). It’s a toss-up among those three, with Lucas a practice squad possibility if he’s cut. Unless Ekpre-Olomu regains his pre-knee injury form, Miami might find a better option on waivers on Labor Day weekend.

Howard’s injury will give more reps to Chimdi Chekwa and creates the potential need to keep a sixth corner to start the season.

Chekwa is essentially competing with every cornerback cut in the next seven weeks. Miami isn’t believed to be pursuing Antonio Cromartie, the biggest name among unsigned cornerbacks.

• Safety: Reshad Jones is automatic, Isa Abdul-Quddus and Michael Thomas presumably will stick and Walt Aikens is the clear front-runner for the No. 4 job (ahead of Shamiel Gary and AJ Hendy), because the Dolphins consider him one of their best special teams players, and because Vance Joseph says he sees Aikens developing into a good safety.

The question is whether Thomas holds onto a starting job ahead of Abdul-Quddus, who thrived as a late-season starter in Detroit.

• Running back: Gase likes Damien Williams --- and Daniel Thomas and Isaiah Pead had some moments this summer and the Dolphins aren’t opposed to keeping a fourth back behind Arian Foster, Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake. Because the Dolphins don't have a fullback, they believe that gives them the luxury to keep an extra tailback or tight end.

• Receiver: DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and Leonte Carroo are automatic and 5-7 Jakeem Grant almost assuredly will be Miami’s fifth receiver because of his return ability. What's more, the team believes he can contribute as a rookie receiver, too.

“The skills are there” for Grant to be a dangerous slot receiver, backup QB Matt Moore said. “He’s as fast as lightning. He’s getting a grasp of the offense. He’s understanding leverage on the field. Absolutely, he can be a player. There’s a future there, I think.”

If Miami keeps a sixth receiver, a case could be made for Griff Whalen, a competent possession receiver who worked well with Ryan Tannehill this offseason. This could be the last chance for Matt Hazel, entering his third year.

• Tight end: Because of his lack of in-line blocking experience, the odds are against seventh-rounder Thomas Duarte can beat out Jake Stoneburner, Dominique Jones (12 NFL games for three different teams) or a player who will become available later for the No. 3 job behind Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims.

But the Dolphins really like Duarte's pass-catching ability and he will get a long look, with the practice squad a strong possibility if he doesn't make the 53.

Undrafted Gabe Hughes has strong receiving skills and, like Duarte, is a candidate for the practice squad.

• Quarterback: Gase indicated he hasn’t decided whether to keep a third quarterback behind Tannehill and Matt Moore. But Brandon Doughty will have every chance to make his case if he impresses a lot in preseason, and if the Dolphins fear that he would be signed elsewhere if they try to move him to the practice squad. Zac Dysert is a camp arm, essentially.

• Offensive line: Stiffest competition on the team. Four jobs are automatic, with Branden Albert, Mike Pouncey, Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James.

Billy Turner has a good chance to stick – if not as the fifth starter, then as the backup, because there’s still upside there. Dallas Thomas, the first team left guard through minicamp, isn’t automatic but has a good chance to stick as a backup swing tackle/guard. That’s six. Then it gets interesting.

Jermon Bushrod has value as a potential starter at guard and backup at tackle and should make it unless he bombs. That’s seven. Jamil Douglas has value as a backup center and backup guard and should stick, though it's not a complete slam dunk if he’s beaten out by Kraig Urbik or Jacques McClendon for the backup center job.

I would make Bushrod, Douglas and Urbik the favorites if Miami keeps nine, with McClendon and Sam Young also in the mix. The Dolphins originally signed Young as Jason Fox's replacement as the No. 3 tackle, and he will get a look, but the subsequent additions of Bushrod and Tunsil make Young potentially expendable.

And Thomas can’t be awful in preseason, or he would be at risk.

CHATTER

• A veteran scout, on what the Heat is getting in guard Dion Waiters: “The reigning perception is he's a knucklehead, but I have heard otherwise from one of Oklahoma City’s scouts who said he wasn’t. He's a streak shooter, can get to the basket, can get his own shot. He is not bad defensively. He can get into guys. I’ve always liked his passing. He can make plays. He's got a pretty good feel.

“The reservations about him are he was such an erratic player. He had a terrific playoff [this past season] at different points. He's a good backup on a very good team. If he's starting, his warts are going to come to the forefront more.

“He’s a talent, better than Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington,  different than Josh Richardson. Richardson is the better defender. Waiters has got a got a game off the dribble. Ellington has no game off the dribble; he’s a spot up guy, end of story.”

Please see the last post here for what Pat Riley and Waiters had to say about their marriage.

• Coincidental timing: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and CEO Nick Arison got married the same day on opposite coasts on Saturday, Spoelstra at Vizcaya Village, Arison in Santa Barbara, Cal.

Congrats to both. Pat Riley attended Spoelstra’s. GM Andy Elisburg attended Arison's.

• Though Derek Dietrich has played well in his absence, the Marlins indicate Dee Gordon (ineligible for postseason) will play immediately when he comes off suspension Thursday and will play a lot.

“Dee is getting back at the perfect time,” Don Mattingly said today.

Dietrich entered tonight on an 0 for 14 skid.

• The Marlins, continuing to search for pitching in a trade, were buoyed by Jarred Cosart’s strong start Monday.

Before Monday's game, owner Jeffrey Loria told him: “When you walk in those doors, I want you to be the guy you were mentally in 2014.”

Loria and Cosart believed that would translate to on-field performance.

Cosart said "hearing that from the owner was encouraging; I owe a lot to him and this front office for getting me over in Houston."

Cosart said when he was demoted this year, “I was in a rut longer than anyone would like.”

He tinkered with his delivery at Triple A New Orleans and the change appears to have helped.

Giancarlo Stanton now has 18 RBI in his last 16 games, including a two-run triple in a 5-0 win against the Phillies tonight. Miami broke it open with four in the eighth.

• For tons of UM notes today, including Mark Richt addressing his receiver situation, recruiting, Michael Irvin Jr., and more; plus Pat Riley's comments about Dion Waiters, please click here.

Please follow me on Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

Scout analyzes Dion Waiters; Marlins buzz including Loria's message; Canes football talk

A few notes on a Tuesday night:

• A veteran scout, on what the Heat is getting in guard Dion Waiters: “The reigning perception is he's a knucklehead, but I have heard otherwise from one of Oklahoma City’s scouts who said he wasn’t. He's a streak shooter, can get to the basket, can get his own shot. He is not bad defensively. He can get into guys. I’ve always liked his passing. He can make plays. He's got a pretty good feel.

“The reservations about him are he was such an erratic player. He had a terrific playoff [this past season] at different points. He's a good backup on a very good team. If he's starting, his warts are going to come to the forefront more.

“He’s a talent, better than Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington,  different than Josh Richardson. Richardson is the better defender. Waiters has got a got a game off the dribble. Ellington has no game off the dribble; he’s a spot up guy, end of story.”

Please see the last post here for what Pat Riley and Waiters had to say about their marriage.

• Coincidental timing: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and CEO Nick Arison got married the same day on opposite coasts on Saturday, Spoelstra at Vizcaya Village, Arison in Santa Barbara, Cal.

Congrats to both. Pat Riley attended Spoelstra’s. GM Andy Elisburg attended Arison's.

• Though Derek Dietrich has played well in his absence, the Marlins indicate Dee Gordon (ineligible for postseason) will play immediately when he comes off suspension Thursday and will play a lot.

“Dee is getting back at the perfect time,” Don Mattingly said today.

Dietrich entered tonight on an 0 for 14 skid.

• The Marlins, continuing to search for pitching in a trade, were buoyed by Jarred Cosart’s strong start Monday.

Before Monday's game, owner Jeffrey Loria told him: “When you walk in those doors, I want you to be the guy you were mentally in 2014.”

Loria and Cosart believed that would translate to on-field performance.

Cosart said "hearing that from the owner was encouraging; I owe a lot of to him and this front office for getting me over in Houston."

Cosart said when he was demoted this year, “I was in a rut longer than anyone would like.”

He tinkered with his delivery at Triple A New Orleans and the change appears to have helped.

• Giancarlo Stanton now has 18 RBI in his last 16 games, including a two-run triple in a 5-0 win against the Phillies tonight. Miami broke it open with four in the eighth.

• For tons of UM notes today, including Mark Richt addressing his receiver situation, recruiting, Michael Irvin Jr., and more; plus Pat Riley's comments about Dion Waiters, please click here. And check back in a little while for a ton of Dolphins. 

Riley on Dion Waiters; Richt on Arian Foster pickup; Lots of news from Mark Richt

Couple quick 1 p.m. notes:

• Guard Dion Waiters today explained on Instagram why he took the Heat's $2.9 million room exception: "I didn't do it for the money. I did it for the opportunity to go out and ball and have fun. Everything else will take care of itself!!! I just felt like it was the best situation for me and my family. I could have waited and got [what] I wanted.  But I rather be happy than miserable at the end of the day!!! Meaning you can have everything and still not be happy. #heatnation let's get it. #provethem wrong." 

And Pat Riley said: "Dion is not a Room Exception player. He wanted to play for the Miami Heat and chose to forgo other more lucrative financial opportunities to be a part of our championship organization. We are very honored that he made the commitment to come to South Florida and sign with us. Dion is young, athletic and explosive, which fits in with our roster. He will add a great dimension for us at the off-guard spot. I really like the depth and versatility that we now have in our perimeter positions. Welcome aboard Dion!”

• Adam Gase, in his pre-training camp press conference, said of Arian Foster: "I just think it adds great competition to that group. I really like his skill set. I’ve been an admirer of his for I don’t know how long he’s been playing. It just feels like forever. A great opportunity for us, him still being out there. We had been in conversations with him for a while. We had brought him in on a visit and we had a really good talk and just kind of allowed him to get healthy and work to get back. It’ll be interesting when we get him out there and just to see how he kind of fits in.”

On his route running, Gase said: “I’ve always been a fan of how he does things. He’s the type of guy that he can run his route tree similar to what a wide receiver’s is. When we worked him out, I put him in a couple of spots just to see how that looked and he runs about as smooth as any running back that I’ve ever seen. I’ll be interested to see how far we can grow the running back position with him.”

• Though Xavien Howard will begin camp on PUP after arthroscopic knee surgery (Gase expects him back by the Sept. 11 opener), Gase is confident in Tony Lippett, who's the front-runner to start opposite Byron Maxwell: "I thought he did a good job. Me and Vance were talking about it the other day, as far as, as the spring went on, we saw him get more comfortable. He did a good job. He had a couple of picks there towards the back half. It seems like he did a good job, even when the ball popped up in air, he gets his hands on it. He makes sure he does a good job he comes down with the ball when he does get his hands on it. We're seeing improvement. The fact that he'll get to the line of scrimmage and press and be aggressive. We just need guys to be able to hang in there for a short period of time. That's why I love our pass-rush. That thing's coming."

MARK RICHT TALK

Lots of UM football today, on top of last night's post here about a big oral commitment for UM:

• Interesting last night to watch Mark Richt address a bunch of 3 to 14 years at Gwen Cherry Park in Miami. (Credit to Mark Walton and Chris Herndon for also attending.)

Richt told one child: "In eight years, I might be able to sign up."

Richt wants to visit local parks weekly, even during the season.  "We're just trying to love 'em up," he said, adding he didn't do this at Georgia.

• I asked Richt specifically if he envisions Al-Quadin Muhammad and Jermaine Grace being available for the opener, or are they both at risk for suspension.

“I will give you any information if it’s appropriate to give it to you," Richt said. "Right now, it’s not.”

The fact he didn't rule out a suspension confirms what we have been told: The investigation into AQM has not been closed.

As we've reported, UM has been investigating players (including AQM, Grace and Juwon Young) for possibly taking heavily discounted cars from a Miami Beach dealership (South Beach Exotic Rentals) in exchange for giving the car rental agency a stake in their professional future.

Young has been suspended and is not expected back at UM, barring a dramatic change.

• With Lawrence Cager out for the year with a torn ACL, UM is down to seven healthy scholarship receivers. Dionte Mullens would be an eight if he qualifies, as UM expects.

"It's going to be all hands on decks at that position," he said.

On Darrell Langham, who's one of several competing to replace Cager, Richt said: “We wanted him to cut to a certain weight, but the reality was he got down to a certain body fat, which was excellent; sometimes if they hit a certain body fat and they’re at a weight that maybe we didn’t think was low enough…we’re asking a guy to go lower when he already has the proper body fat.He looks good. He’s just a big man. He’s probably in the 225, 230-range. He’s plenty fast. His body, his presence is a big, strong receiver. He’ll be able to get open just by virtue of his size and his range.” 

Richt said transfer Dayall Harris is a "smooth, fluid athlete. He can help, no question.... Got great ball skills. And he’s got some experience. He played a year at Ole Miss. He played in junior college. He’s not a kid anymore. He’s a little further along than a true freshman would be. He’ll definitely be able to help. He’s going to have to.”

• Might tight ends Chris Herndon and David Njoku play some at receiver?

"They really are," Richt said. "They flex out and they can play the receiver position. Am I going to train one at the split end and train one at the flanker? Probably not. But they know the two inside slot positions. If we go three receivers, they can easily be one of the three, both of them.”

On Herndon, Richt said: "Herndon…he’s a legit tight end, he’s a legit fullback and he’s a legit receiver. I haven’t really had a guy that can really be proficient at all three and be smart enough to really pick it up. In one spring, he knew all the fullback position, he knew all the tight end position, he knew all the slot receiver position. I mean, the guy’s…like he said, he has a 3.1 and he’s a smart kid. He really cares.”

And Richt said Standish Dobard, who was the third-string tight end coming out of spring, has had "a great summer. He’s slimmer, he’s trimmer. His body fat, he cut it. He’s in better shape. I see a difference just looking at his body type and his conditioning now compared to spring. He’s showing me he really wants to play ball and he will. He will.”

Michael Irvin Jr., who hopes to get snaps at tight end as a freshman, also has impressed. 

"[Brad Kaaya] talks about his catch radius," Richt said. "He does have really good hands and he’s got good agility and mobility, good route-running. He was a little heavy, but he cut weight in the beginning. Now he’s starting to build good weight. He had a little baby fat on him. He’s trimming up and getting strong and getting lean. He’s a smart kid too. He’ll throw his hat in that competition.”

• Richt isn't sure who will back up Brad Kaaya. My sense is Evan Schirreffs is a slight front runner over Malik Rosier, but this absolutely could go either way.

"Don’t know the answer," Richt said. "I want to see if they’re on it as far as assignments and they can take the assignments from the meeting room to the field, just see what kind of accuracy and decision-making they have, get us in the right run game. Can they function and help these other skill guys do their jobs?”

• Richt, so far, has been far more successful drawing alumni back to campus than Al Golden ever was, made clear this week they will be invited to campus whenever they want.

“It’s been great," he said. "I’m one of them. I’m a former alum as well and I think that’s helped. They feel like one of their own has come home. Our football alumni have been great. I have also reached out to them. I want them to be a part of this program. I
want them to feel welcome. I want them to drop by. I want them to pop in and say hello to our players…

"If they want to come to practice, I want them to come to practice. Spring game, bunch of them the sideline, I want them there. I don’t want them there trying to coach our guys but I want them there. So far the relationship has been really good. They’re hungry for success. The one thing about them is they love the University of Miami. They love that school, man. They love that team and want to see it succeed. They want to do anything they can to help. I had what I called Paradise Camp a couple days ago.

"I don’t know many came, 15 or whatever it was. We asked a few guys to come. I bet you we could have had 50. Once the word got out we were doing it, they were texting and calling, ‘I’d love to come.’ They all got there on their own. They didn’t get paid. They did it because they love the place and they want us to be great. It’s been great.”

 • Richt, on what he’s learned in recruiting in 15 years at Georgia: “The bottom line in recruiting is you’ve got to be diligent, you’ve got to have relationships, cultivate coaches and players, maybe their mother, brother, cousin, uncle. You’ve got to know everything about that kid whether they’re nearby or not.

“There’s a lot of great talent in that tri-county area. A lot of that talent is not as developed as some other places around the country. Some players aren’t used to eating the way we begin to feed them when they get to campus. They start eating and lifting a certain way, start learning how to take care of their bodies. All of a sudden, this skinny kid 175 pounds turns into 215-pound gazelle of a wide receiver. What happened to this guy?

"How many great three star players come out of South Florida? A bunch. Ray Lewis was a three-star. There are a bunch of guys who were these three-star. If that kid was in another area of the country, he would be a 5 star. There are so many great players down there, in some ways they cancel each themselves out in front of standing out…. You take some of these guys and put them in
other spots around the country, they would be the best players in the league. Four and five star guys. There are a bunch of gems in there that may not have the ratings, which I’ve never been too concerned about anyway. Fans like it.”

• Richt, on calling plays again: "On a personal level, if I am going to really enjoy it and have an energy level I think it takes to be great, calling plays and game-planning and scheming has really energized me. It’s important for the staff to see me compete. I think it’s important for the players to see me compete. Every day in practice, it’s offense vs. defense. I want the defense to make big plays. But for that moment, when I call a play, I want execution on offense.

"The players see that, my competitive juices may be different than if you are on the side watching, offense does good or defense does good, it’s good but you don’t have any emotion toward it. It’s been good for me and good for the players.” 

 Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

 

1 p.m. Tuesday: Waiters and Pat Riley explain Heat move; Gase weighs in on Arian Foster: Richt on receivers post-Cager, Michael Irvin's son, recruiting, involvement of alums, AQM and other issues

Couple quick 1 p.m. notes:

• Guard Dion Waiters today explained on Instagram why he took the Heat's $2.9 million room exception: "I didn't do it for the money. I did it for the opportunity to go out and ball and have fun. Everything else will take care of itself!!! I just felt like it was the best situation for me and my family. I could have waited and got [what] I wanted.  But I rather be happy than miserable at the end of the day!!! Meaning you can have everything and still not be happy. #heatnation let's get it. #provethem wrong." 

And Pat Riley said: "Dion is not a Room Exception player. He wanted to play for the Miami Heat and chose to forgo other more lucrative financial opportunities to be a part of our championship organization. We are very honored that he made the commitment to come to South Florida and sign with us. Dion is young, athletic and explosive, which fits in with our roster. He will add a great dimension for us at the off-guard spot. I really like the depth and versatility that we now have in our perimeter positions. Welcome aboard Dion!”

• Adam Gase, in his pre-training camp press conference, said of Arian Foster: "I just think it adds great competition to that group. I really like his skill set. I’ve been an admirer of his for I don’t know how long he’s been playing. It just feels like forever. A great opportunity for us, him still being out there. We had been in conversations with him for a while. We had brought him in on a visit and we had a really good talk and just kind of allowed him to get healthy and work to get back. It’ll be interesting when we get him out there and just to see how he kind of fits in.”

On his route running, Gase said: “I’ve always been a fan of how he does things. He’s the type of guy that he can run his route tree similar to what a wide receiver’s is. When we worked him out, I put him in a couple of spots just to see how that looked and he runs about as smooth as any running back that I’ve ever seen. I’ll be interested to see how far we can grow the running back position with him.”

• Though Xavien Howard will begin camp on PUP after arthroscopic knee surgery (Gase expects him back by the Sept. 11 opener), Gase is confident in Tony Lippett, who's the front-runner to start opposite Byron Maxwell: "I thought he did a good job. Me and Vance were talking about it the other day, as far as, as the spring went on, we saw him get more comfortable. He did a good job. He had a couple of picks there towards the back half. It seems like he did a good job, even when the ball popped up in air, he gets his hands on it. He makes sure he does a good job he comes down with the ball when he does get his hands on it. We're seeing improvement. The fact that he'll get to the line of scrimmage and press and be aggressive. We just need guys to be able to hang in there for a short period of time. That's why I love our pass-rush. That thing's coming."

MARK RICHT TALK

Lots of UM football today, on top of last night's post here about a big oral commitment for UM:

• Interesting last night to watch Mark Richt address a bunch of 3 to 14 years at Gwen Cherry Park in Miami. (Credit to Mark Walton and Chris Herndon for also attending.)

Richt told one child: "In eight years, I might be able to sign up."

Richt wants to visit local parks weekly, even during the season.  "We're just trying to love 'em up," he said, adding he didn't do this at Georgia.

• I asked Richt specifically if he envisions Al-Quadin Muhammad and Jermaine Grace being available for the opener, or are they both at risk for suspension.

“I will give you any information if it’s appropriate to give it to you," Richt said. "Right now, it’s not.”

The fact he didn't rule out a suspension confirms what we have been told: The investigation into AQM has not been closed.

As we've reported, UM has been investigating players (including AQM, Grace and Juwon Young) for possibly taking heavily discounted cars from a Miami Beach dealership (South Beach Exotic Rentals) in exchange for giving the car rental agency a stake in their professional future.

Young has been suspended and is not expected back at UM, barring a dramatic change.

• With Lawrence Cager out for the year with a torn ACL, UM is down to seven healthy scholarship receivers. Dionte Mullens would be an eight if he qualifies, as UM expects.

"It's going to be all hands on decks at that position," he said.

On Darrell Langham, who's one of several competing to replace Cager, Richt said: “We wanted him to cut to a certain weight, but the reality was he got down to a certain body fat, which was excellent; sometimes if they hit a certain body fat and they’re at a weight that maybe we didn’t think was low enough…we’re asking a guy to go lower when he already has the proper body fat.He looks good. He’s just a big man. He’s probably in the 225, 230-range. He’s plenty fast. His body, his presence is a big, strong receiver. He’ll be able to get open just by virtue of his size and his range.” 

Richt said transfer Dayall Harris is a "smooth, fluid athlete. He can help, no question.... Got great ball skills. And he’s got some experience. He played a year at Ole Miss. He played in junior college. He’s not a kid anymore. He’s a little further along than a true freshman would be. He’ll definitely be able to help. He’s going to have to.”

• Might tight ends Chris Herndon and David Njoku play some at receiver?

"They really are," Richt said. "They flex out and they can play the receiver position. Am I going to train one at the split end and train one at the flanker? Probably not. But they know the two inside slot positions. If we go three receivers, they can easily be one of the three, both of them.”

On Herndon, Richt said: "Herndon…he’s a legit tight end, he’s a legit fullback and he’s a legit receiver. I haven’t really had a guy that can really be proficient at all three and be smart enough to really pick it up. In one spring, he knew all the fullback position, he knew all the tight end position, he knew all the slot receiver position. I mean, the guy’s…like he said, he has a 3.1 and he’s a smart kid. He really cares.”

And Richt said Standish Dobard, who was the third-string tight end coming out of spring, has had "a great summer. He’s slimmer, he’s trimmer. His body fat, he cut it. He’s in better shape. I see a difference just looking at his body type and his conditioning now compared to spring. He’s showing me he really wants to play ball and he will. He will.”

Michael Irvin Jr., who hopes to get snaps at tight end as a freshman, also has impressed. 

"[Brad Kaaya] talks about his catch radius," Richt said. "He does have really good hands and he’s got good agility and mobility, good route-running. He was a little heavy, but he cut weight in the beginning. Now he’s starting to build good weight. He had a little baby fat on him. He’s trimming up and getting strong and getting lean. He’s a smart kid too. He’ll throw his hat in that competition.”

• Richt isn't sure who will back up Brad Kaaya. My sense is Evan Schirreffs is a slight front runner over Malik Rosier, but this absolutely could go either way.

"Don’t know the answer," Richt said. "I want to see if they’re on it as far as assignments and they can take the assignments from the meeting room to the field, just see what kind of accuracy and decision-making they have, get us in the right run game. Can they function and help these other skill guys do their jobs?”

• Richt, so far, has been far more successful drawing alumni back to campus than Al Golden ever was, made clear this week they will be invited to campus whenever they want.

“It’s been great," he said. "I’m one of them. I’m a former alum as well and I think that’s helped. They feel like one of their own has come home. Our football alumni have been great. I have also reached out to them. I want them to be a part of this program. I
want them to feel welcome. I want them to drop by. I want them to pop in and say hello to our players…

"If they want to come to practice, I want them to come to practice. Spring game, bunch of them the sideline, I want them there. I don’t want them there trying to coach our guys but I want them there. So far the relationship has been really good. They’re hungry for success. The one thing about them is they love the University of Miami. They love that school, man. They love that team and want to see it succeed. They want to do anything they can to help. I had what I called Paradise Camp a couple days ago.

"I don’t know many came, 15 or whatever it was. We asked a few guys to come. I bet you we could have had 50. Once the word got out we were doing it, they were texting and calling, ‘I’d love to come.’ They all got there on their own. They didn’t get paid. They did it because they love the place and they want us to be great. It’s been great.”

 • Richt, on what he’s learned in recruiting in 15 years at Georgia: “The bottom line in recruiting is you’ve got to be diligent, you’ve got to have relationships, cultivate coaches and players, maybe their mother, brother, cousin, uncle. You’ve got to know everything about that kid whether they’re nearby or not.

“There’s a lot of great talent in that tri-county area. A lot of that talent is not as developed as some other places around the country. Some players aren’t used to eating the way we begin to feed them when they get to campus. They start eating and lifting a certain way, start learning how to take care of their bodies. All of a sudden, this skinny kid 175 pounds turns into 215-pound gazelle of a wide receiver. What happened to this guy?

"How many great three star players come out of South Florida? A bunch. Ray Lewis was a three-star. There are a bunch of guys who were these three-star. If that kid was in another area of the country, he would be a 5 star. There are so many great players down there, in some ways they cancel each themselves out in front of standing out…. You take some of these guys and put them in
other spots around the country, they would be the best players in the league. Four and five star guys. There are a bunch of gems in there that may not have the ratings, which I’ve never been too concerned about anyway. Fans like it.”

• Richt, on calling plays again: "On a personal level, if I am going to really enjoy it and have an energy level I think it takes to be great, calling plays and game-planning and scheming has really energized me. It’s important for the staff to see me compete. I think it’s important for the players to see me compete. Every day in practice, it’s offense vs. defense. I want the defense to make big plays. But for that moment, when I call a play, I want execution on offense.

"The players see that, my competitive juices may be different than if you are on the side watching, offense does good or defense does good, it’s good but you don’t have any emotion toward it. It’s been good for me and good for the players.” 

 Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

July 25, 2016

UM gets Richt's biggest commitment to date; Heat adding Dion Waiters; Encouraging Dolphins development; Metric site's analysis of Dolphins; How UM & Kaaya finished in preseason voting; Heat notes

Sacramento defensive end DJ Johnson became the highest-rated member of UM's Class of 2017 when he orally committed tonight. Johnson, who attended Mark Richt's Paradise Camp at UM last week, is rated the 30th best player in the 2017 class by ESPN.

With the addition, UM's class moved up to 8th nationally in 247sports.com's rankings. 

Here's what ESPN had to say about the 6-5, 240-pound Johnson: "Runs well with impressive range and closing speed off the edge. Explosive first-step and is quick to penetrate and cause disruption in the backfield. Fluid pass rusher who relies on speed. Long arms and frame allow him to stay clean from blockers and stretch runs out to the sideline. Very difficult to outflank and pursue."

AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT: "Needs to be cognizant of leverage and bend; tends to play high. Relies on athletic ability over refined technique. Not yet a stout anchor type versus the run." .

BOTTOM LINE: "This is a highly talented prospects with big-time upside and ability. Shows flashes of top-level ability. Key to success will likely be dictated by his continued physical development....

"Johnson is a lengthy edge defender that has the ability to explode off the ball and cover a lot of ground once in motion and those attributes will certainly garner him plenty of attention. Shows flashes, but needs to work to become a more consistently well-rounded defender. Needs some work, but can be disruptive as a pass rusher and that will likely be his quickest route to the field and may be how he best contributes throughout his college career and if he can maximize his ability in that area, there is nothing wrong with that because he is capable of more than earning his keep by getting after the QB....

Tremendous upside [as a pass rusher] and this is likely the area that will get him on the field the quickest. Length and first-step quickness are assets and while you will see flashes of him trying to work a rip or pick a blockers arm off of him, he tends to at this stage look to rely too much on his speed and needs to better utilize his reach and hands and be sure to have plan. Flashes decent dip, but needs to keep pads down. Flashes ability transfer speed-to-power, but can stall as gets up-field due to pad level. Flashes good leaping ability to knock down passes when recognizes and gets hands up."

Before Johnson's commitment tonight, UM's highest-rated UM oral commitment was Gulliver running back Robert Burns, who is rated as ESPN's 67th best prospect.

• 3 pm update: The Heat got a huge lift late in free agency when Dion Waiters agreed to accept Miami's $2.9 million room exception, according to a source. He has a $3M player option for 2017-18.

He immediately becomes the heavy front runner to start at shooting guard, replacing Dwyane Wade. Waiters averaged 9.8 points in 78 games for Oklahoma City last season, including 15 starts.

He shot 39.9 percent overall and 35.8 percent on threes.

Waiters spent the first two and a half seasons with Cleveland and the past year and a half with OKC. For his career, the 6-4 Syracuse product had averaged 12.8 points and shot 41.1 percent overall and 33.4 percent on threes.

Heat president Pat Riley said nine days ago that the Heat would not use its $2.9 million room exception this summer. But since then, OKC lifted its qualifying offer to Waiters, making him an unrestricted free agent instead of a restricted free agent. The Heat quickly pounced.

Before Waiters became available, the Heat planned to have Wayne Ellington compete with Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson at shooting guard.

Those three and Goran Dragic now will join Waiters in a solid five man guard rotation, with Waiters considered the front runner to start. Richardson also can play small forward. The signing gives Miami 18 players. Teams can take 20 to training camp but keep no more than 15 once the regular season starts.

DOLPHINS NEWS

Before the Dolphins and every other NFL team adjourned for a six-week vacation, Adam Gase made abundantly clear to us – and his players – that he wanted all of them to return in shape.

And judging from the turnout at respected local trainer Pete Bommarito’s training facility this month, his players are paying attention.

Among those that have been working out this month at Bommarito’s Davie facility: Jarvis Landry, Earl Mitchell, Kenny Stills, Jelani Jenkins, Tony Lippett, Bobby McCain, Chris Jones, Terrence Fede and Isaiah Pead.

“Landry has been our poster boy; been huge for us,” Bommarito said. “I love Earl Mitchell; he’s a machine. I have a soft spot for Bobby McCain; he’s fast and physical. Bobby always had good straight-line speed. He’s [now] playing as fast as his timed speed.”

Among non-Dolphins who have been working with Bommarito: Lamar Miller, Sean Spence, Vontae Davis, Frank Gore and Teddy Bridgewater.

By the way, though Ryan Tannehill isn’t working at Bommarito’s facility, he came by an adjacent field in Davie to throw passes to a couple of his receivers earlier this month.

• A couple highlights from Pro Football Focus’ season-preview of the Dolphins:

On Ryan Tannehill, PFF says he “has always struggled with some of the more minor aspects, like pocket presence, of the quarterback position. In 2015 though, Tannehill started to even look shaky in the things he used to do well. His downfield accuracy wasn’t nearly the same as it had been in the past. Some of that can obviously be attributed to seeing pressure on 38.8 percent of his dropbacks – the highest rate of his career. At the same time though, he could have coped with the weak offensive line by holding onto the ball less and improving his processing speeds, but he’s still struggling with that aspect of his game. It’s cliché to say, but this offense goes with Tannehill and if he can’t take a legitimate step forward this year they may have to look elsewhere.”

PFF, on the Dolphins’ cornerbacks: “Miami likely has upgraded here, but much like the front-seven, it’s hard to see any impact players outside of Reshad Jones. Byron Maxwell’s struggles are a tad overstated and he’s still good enough to be a starting cornerback in the NFL, but his 1.52 yards per coverage snap was 95th-best in the league a year ago. Opposite him they’ll either be looking at second round pick Xavien Howard or second year player Tony Lippett to take a hefty amount of snaps. Howard was seen as a developmental prospect here at PFF and might be a few years away from his raw physical skill set translating to the field. Lippett might be the frontrunner though as he only saw the field on 137 snaps last year, but came away with a +1.9 overall grade. At safety, Isa Abdul-Quddus was one of PFF’s favorite under-the-radar signings in free agency. The former Lion has only 1,668 career snaps to his name, but in every seasons where he’s played 150 snaps (4) he’s graded out positively.”

Here is the full PFF piece.

• In voting of 191 media members released today, UM was picked to finish second in the Coastal Division behind North Carolina. UM had 50 first place votes; North Carolina had 121.  Pitt (14), Virginia Tech (3), Duke (2) and Georgia Tech (1) and Virginia (0) were third through seventh.

Clemson (148 first-place votes) was picked to win the Atlantic. FSU had 42 first place votes.

Clemson (144) was picked to win the conference title game, with FSU (39) second. UM got no votes.

And Brad Kaaya received two votes for ACC Player of the Year. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson won it with 164 votes. FSU's Dalvin Cook was second with 18. Only three others receiver votes: UNC QB Elijah Hood (4), Louisville QB Lamar Jackson (2) and Duke CB DeVon Edwards (1).

• Among 350 players who qualified for ESPN’s NBA efficiency ratings last season, three of the Heat’s four most prominent additions rated in the bottom third: Luke Babbitt at 256, James Johnson at 262 and Wayne Ellington at 301. But Derrick Williams was rated a solid 83rd.

By the way, Luol Deng was 137th and Goran Dragic 128th. I question the ratings considering Deng was rated so far behind Williams, when Deng was clearly the better player.

FYI: Dwyane Wade was rated 36th, Chris Bosh 38th.

• According to basketballinsiders, the three developmental prospects signed by the Heat this month --- guard Rodney McGruder, power forward Stefan Jankovic and forward Okaro White – each were given $100,000 guarantees. More guaranteed money is triggered for McGruder if he’s on the roster on four upcoming dates over the next several months. McGruder got a three-year deal at the minimum; White and Jankovic got two-year deals at the minimum.

But if Briante Weber makes the team, Waiters' addition makes it unlikely that any of the aforementioned three will make the final 15.

If you missed it, please click here for an update on the Chris Bosh situation, plus Dolphins, Marlins and more Canes.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

July 23, 2016

Medication key issue for Bosh; Exploring with doctors whether he should play; More Arian Foster; Marlins, UM news; Luke suit dropped

 

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

 

With the Heat remaining non-committal about whether Chris Bosh will be cleared to play, one issue that has been discussed is whether Bosh should come off blood thinners or continue taking them, according to a person briefed on the matter.

If Bosh comes off the medication this summer, there’s no reason why he couldn’t play.

But even if he stays on the thinners, Bosh has tried to convince the Heat to allow him to play while taking a new medication that would be out of his system in 8 to 12 hours, or by game-time, thus lessening or eliminating the inherent risks of playing a contact sport while on thinners. As we reported last month, the Heat rejected that idea late this past season, angering Bosh. And it’s unclear if Miami would be receptive to that now.

An NBA-employed friend says Bosh very much wants to play and believes he should be cleared. If the Heat fights him on this, it wouldn’t be surprising if Bosh takes this issue to the players union, unless Bosh again relents as he did during last year’s playoffs. Pat Riley said the Heat won’t make a decision on Bosh’s status until August or September.

With Bosh having two blood clot episodes in consecutive Februaries (one in his leg that traveled to his lungs, another in his calf), we asked two doctors not involved in his treatment whether they would clear him to play.

One doctor, UHealth’s Robert Myerburg, said Bosh wouldn’t be at serious risk playing if he’s off the blood thinners, but he has been skeptical of Bosh's idea of playing while taking thinners that would be out of his system in 8 to 12 hours.

“Someone who has had a second clot is more likely to have another, but the specific circumstances of an athlete might be different,” said Myerburg, considered an expert on athletes’ medical conditions and cardiology.

“If you take the total population of people who have had this thing, once you had a second, you're at risk for a third. But that doesn't get into the issue of how a subgroup [such as pro athletes] may behave because of things that make them more prone for blood clots.”

Bosh told reporters last September that he does not have the gene that makes him predisposed to keep getting clots.

That’s key, Myerburg said, because it means he doesn’t absolutely need to take blood-thinners the rest of his life.

“Once you’re off the thinners and the clot is gone, there is no negative for him to play," Myerburg said. "If he develop symptoms in the future and gets on blood thinner therapy quickly, I wouldn't call that life threatening because he will be ahead of the game.

"[But] the debate in the medical community is because he's on, should he be on permanent [blood thinners]? That's a tough call. The data just isn't there to say he absolutely should or shouldn't. It becomes a judgment issue. So if there is no predisposing factors other than trauma induced, that's a judgment issue about whether to play.”

Because of that, Myerburg – while emphasizing his knowledge of Bosh’s case is limited to media reports -- said it would be “a tough call whether” Bosh should “resume his career” even though he believes playing (while off thinners) wouldn’t put him in serious jeopardy.

One possible solution, Myerburg said, is to take Bosh off thinners and clear Bosh to play but “if he has trauma to his leg” during a game or practice, “just take him out of action for a while, put him on anticoagulants, but not the full three to six months” typical for blood thinners.

Clearwater-based doctor Brett Levine said “without blood thinners, yes I think he could play next season. They already did the work up after his first bout of blood clots to make sure he wasn't one of those individuals who has a disorder that makes him prone to making clots, which from media reports was negative.

“So in my opinion you just hope this was an unlucky coincidence and you take precautionary, non-invasive measures to make it less likely for him to get a clot again. These include simple things like walking during long flights and perhaps at night have him wear a sequential compression device, a device they use in hospitals to prevent blood clots by applying intermittent pressure to the legs. Perhaps even do periodic Ultasounds to scan for clots which is also not invasive.”

Some in the Bosh camp remain angry and suspicious of the Heat’s intentions, wondering if Miami was motivated by clearing cap space. A Heat source insists this is not the case, that Miami wants him to play if doctors are comfortable with it.

If Bosh doesn’t play a single game this upcoming season, his $25.2 million salary for 2017-18 and $26.8 million for 2018-19 would be cleared this summer from Miami’s cap only if “a doctor that is jointly selected by the league and players association agree his condition is career-ending, or severe enough to put him at risk if he continues playing.”

But if Bosh pursues a grievance through the players union, the matter would become much more complicated.

Remember: A team cannot apply to remove a player from its cap until a year after his last appearance in a game. If Bosh doesn’t play again, that date would be Feb. 9, 2017. But if Bosh plays even in one game next season, that would re-set the clock for a full year. Cap expert Larry Coon said that player could never again rejoin the team that cut him under those cap-clearing circumstances.

Gerald Green signed with the Celtics on Saturday, after the Heat expressed no interest in bringing him back.

CHATTER

• Among the things the Dolphins like about Arian Foster: his ability to break tackles. In 2014, he averaged a very strong 2.8 yards after contact; only Marshawn Lynch (3.0) was better, according to Pro Football Focus.

• Though ousted Andreu Swasey was popular, UM’s new strength staff, led by Gus Felder, is getting rave reviews from players.

“It’s a blessing,” defensive tackle Richard McIntosh Jr. said, making a point to praise Swasey as well as Felder. “There’s more emphasis on explosion, quickness, speed [under Felder]. We try to work on the whole body. It's a great training program that definitely will help us be more dominant in the fourth quarter and also with the running game.”

• Nearly five years ago, now Miami Jackson High defensive coordinator and ex-rapper Luther Campbell sued convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro for defamation, seeking $15,000, after Shapiro said Campbell was "the first uncle who took care of players" and that Shapiro provided similar benefits when Campbell no longer could. The lawsuit says Shapiro's comments falsely accused Campbell of engaging in "illegal and immoral behaviors relative to college-age athletes."

Last week, Campbell quietly dropped the suit. His attorney declined to comment, but a source said it was clear that Shapiro was in no position to compensate Campbell if Shapiro lost in court. Shapiro, imprisoned since 2010, is serving a 20-year term; he’s now in a New Jersey facility and continuing to seek his freedom.

• At the MGM Grand and 11 other Nevada casinos, UM is 75 to 1 to win the national title (30th best) with a wins over/under of seven (most have bet over).

• Look for ESPN to announce that it’s hiring former UM linebacker Jonathan Vilma as a college football studio analyst. He will debut on College Football Live at 1:30 Monday, with a more expanded role to be announced closer to the season.

• As Andy Slater reported late tonight, Wei Yin Chen will miss Monday's start for the Marlins for an undisclosed reason, and as Jon Heyman reported, Jarred Cosart will take his place.

• With the trade deadline looming July 31 and the Marlins aggressively pursuing starting pitcher, they don’t have many high-end prospects to use as carrots. Well-regarded Marc Delpiano, hired last winter to help revive the Marlins’ minor-league system, said: “We’ve got some arms. We are going to have to homegrow our rotation. It’s a necessity in the game.”

Who are the Marlins’ best starting pitching prospects, aside from No. 1 pick Braxton Garrett? Delpiano cites Justin Nicolino (4-4, 3.10) at Triple A New Orleans; Jacob Esch (10-6, 3.72) in Double A Jacksonville (“has a chance to pitch in a major league rotation”), and Luis Castillo (7-3, 2.30) and Dillon Peters (8-6, 2.87) in high-level Single A Jupiter.

Delpiano says these are Miami’s top position prospects: four in low-level Class A Greensboro -- first baseman Josh Naylor (.265, 9, 51), catcher Roy Morales (.301) and outfielders Anfernee Seymour (.254, 33 steals) and Isael Soto (.244, 7, 27); plus three Double A prospects --- second baseman Brian Anderson (.209 in Double A in 40-plus game; .302 before that in Jupiter), left fielder Austin Dean (.247, 9, 52) and third baseman JT Riddle (.268).

Delpiano said owner Jeffrey Loria and president David Samson “have emptied the purse strings” to beef up the minor league system, including more money to sign six-year minor-league free agents.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

July 22, 2016

Friday night: Former NFL evaluators offer mixed assessment of Dolphins' moves; Marlins nuggets

 

We asked an NBA scout to assess the Heat’s free agent pickups earlier this week and you can read that here if you missed it.

Now, with training camp a week away, we do the same with the Dolphins, with analysis solicited from two former team evaluators who are now working for ESPN: former Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik and ex-Browns scout Matt Williamson (who has been prescient in past evaluations for us).

Some of their feedback in separate conversations:

• The Dolphins believe Mario Williams and Jay Ajayi will be far better values, and at least as good on the field, if not better, than Olivier Vernon and Lamar Miller.

Dominik isn’t so sure, asserting these were “not fundamentally sound [decisions]. You cannot keep them all, but you can keep the young ones. Sometimes, when 70,000 people think you are wrong, you might be wrong. The hard part for me is they let two young, really talented players out of an organization. That [is something] you usually don't see.  Miller was a victim of under-utilization.”

What’s more, Dominik envisions no great revival from Williams because of “the age [31], the injury history and what he put on tape. And the tape is the truth. Last year, he didn't play very well whether he liked the system or not. It's one thing to say [he’s hungry] in the spring. But when it comes to training camp, is he going to be a leader and can he work with [Ndamukong] Suh?”

Williamson, on Williams: “I always thought he was slightly overrated. He’s lost a little of what he had, though this scheme fit will help him. It’s a downgrade from Vernon. But Williams will have 12 plays where if you put a highlight tape on, you would think ‘Wow!’ Traditionally he’s pretty good against the run.”

But Williamson likes the Arian Foster pickup: “Certainly makes sense. [They] need a veteran badly. Zone runner, good receiver. Hard to guess what he has left.”

• On the trade for Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell, which didn’t end up costing Miami much in the draft (8 to 13, with Laremy Tunsil dropping to 13):

Dominik said “Maxwell is a good No. 2 corner. To say he's going to be a No. 1 shutdown corner” is a stretch…. "Kiko Alonso is a good player, but the question is, ‘Can you keep him on the field?’”

Williamson says it’s less than ideal to have Maxwell as your No. 1 corner. “He’s somewhere between a No. 1 and a No. 2. It will help him to be in that scheme where he can press. My guess is the Dolphins have much higher hope for him than I do. Is he an upgrade over Brent Grimes? I don’t know that.”

Williamson said Alonso is “really good against the pass and fits today’s linebacker prototype. But if he can’t run off the knee injuries, he’s not going to beat you with physicality.”

• Williamson, on safety Isa Abdul-Quddus: “Ideally if he is your worst player of your starting 11, you are in really good shape. I don’t think he hurts you. But an average to below average NFL starter.” (He must beat out Michael Thomas.)

• On the defensive line overall (Suh, Earl Mitchell, Jordan Phillips, Cameron Wake, Andre Branch, Chris Jones, Jason Jones, Williams, etc): Dominik: “It's a really strong line. Very powerful. They have a blueprint of what they want to be in terms of big and powerful and strong. By letting Vernon go, they said we want bigger bodies; we want to be more physical and imposing.”

Williamson: “They have to find a younger guy as an edge pass rusher” to develop with Wake aging. Branch is not quite strong enough, not explosive enough to be [a high impact] guy. Not a great technician. You try to upgrade over him. Chris Jones is a useful rotational player.”

• On long-time tackle Jermon Bushrod, who will compete to start at right guard: Dominik: “They’re telling me they have a blueprint of bigger is better on their line. [Panthers general manager] Dave Gettleman's mindset was like that with the Giants and he took it to Carolina and it worked. Bigger makes sense as long as they have gas in the tank and can stay healthy.” That’s the question with Bushrod.

Williamson: “My only complaint is they have a bunch of tackles and no [clearly above average natural] guards, though that’s better than the other way around. You would think this offensive line would be quite good. But I would do the opposite of what they’re doing: I would put Branden Albert at guard and Laremy Tunsil at tackle since Albert was a guard in college.

“Can they find a quality right guard out of those five [Bushrod, Kraig Urbik, Billy Turner, Dallas Thomas, Jamil Douglas]? I think they will. Bushrod is the better player than Urbik, who’s more of a masher.”

• Williamson, on Griff Whalen: “There are a lot of quality receivers ahead of him. Jarvis Landry and Leonte Carroo are physical possession receivers. Not sure a wanna-be Wes Welker will help them much.”

• Williamson, overall: “The defense in general worries me, especially the further away they get away from the line. I really like the offense, though. They are a better team if the offense takes two steps forward. They’ve really done a good job of helping Ryan Tannehill this offseason. They’ve invested in the offensive line and a quarterback-friendly coach.”

 

COUPLE QUICK MARLINS NOTES

Miami's 5-3 loss tonight to the Mets dropped the Marlins back to eight games over .500 and drew New York to within a half game of Miami.... Christian Yelich hit his 10th homer, establishing a new career high. "Him and Martin Prado have been the two guys who keep getting their hits, keep driving in runs; just steady," Don Mattingly said after the game. "If [the power] continues, he turns into a really scary guy.".. Adam Conley again pitched well, allowing two runs in six innings and departing with the game tied at 2. But the bullpen allowed three runs over the final two three innings.

• Dee Gordon is eligible to return next Friday, and Don Mattingly indicates he's comfortable playing Derek Dietrich at first (where he has played only four games in his major-league career) if Justin Bour isn't back by then. But Mattingly said he expects Bour to be back in the lineup within a week.

• Jose Fernandez said he tell Ichiro Suzuki: "You're the best player in the world." To which Ichiro says: "You are."

• It would be a huge help if Jarred Cosart could pitch the way he did when the Marlins acquired him from Houston. He has made four starts for Triple A New Orleans since coming back from injury and has been OK, nothing great, nothing awful.

He allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings and three runs in six innings in his last two starts.

The Marlins continue their efforts to trade for a veteran starter.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz