07/29/2014

6 p.m.: LeBron's looming return to Miami; 20 notes, quotes, thoughts from Tuesday Fins practice; Two new UM commitments

Barring an unexpected change of heart by the league, Christmas in Miami will feature LeBron James’ much-anticipated return to Miami, in an opposing uniform.

Though the NBA’s schedule will not be finalized and released until mid-August, an unofficial internal schedule of select games has Cleveland playing the Heat in Miami on Christmas on ABC, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The game likely would be played at either 2:30 or 5 p.m. that day, depending on what other game is selected for ABC that day.

ABC wants Heat-Cavaliers that day and the NBA is sensitive to ABC's wishes. James returned to the Cavaliers this offseason after spending four seasons with the Heat.

This would be the Heat’s sixth consecutive Christmas game, but just the second at home during that stretch. Last Christmas, the Heat beats the Lakers 101-95 in Staples Center.

Presuming this year's game materializes, the Heat will have played a Christmas game every year since 2004 with the exception of 2008, when Miami was coming off a 15-67 season. The Heat is 8-2 in its previous 10 Christmas games.

With the schedule still being worked on, it’s unclear if the Christmas game would be the first of what will be three or four Heat-Cavaliers regular season matchups this season.

### In a preseason game scheduled in April, the Heat and Cleveland will play Oct. 11 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Heat's eight-game preseason schedule also includes games at AmericanAirlines Arena against Orlando (Oct. 7), Atlanta (Oct. 14) and Houston (Oct.21), road games at San Antonio (Oct. 18) and at Memphis (Oct. 24) and neutral-site games against New Orleans on Oct. 4 in Louisville and Golden State on Oct. 17 in Kansas City.

 

TWENTY DOLPHINS NOTES FROM TUESDAY

### Already without Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey for a large chunk of the season, the Dolphins’ outlook at center became more worrisome Tuesday when backup Sam Brenner was carted off with a lower leg injury, and new center Shelley Smith had two more botched exchanges with quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

“Obviously, I’m concerned,” offensive line coach John Benton said. “We’ve got to find a way to be good at that position. Obviously, there are some questions.”

Benton was asked if it is clear to him if Smith is capable of playing center well in an NFL game.

“It’s unclear in the sense there’s a lot unclear until you get to that first game,” he said. “We’ll know a lot after that first preseason game. I’m optimistic. To say confident is probably a little stretch.”

Smith, a guard by trade, has never played center in an NFL game.

Nate Garner took second-team snaps at center after Brenner’s departure, and Joe Philbin expressed confidence in his ability to play the position.

The Dolphins auditioned Samson Satele, the best remaining free agent center, in late June and gave him positive feedback but opted to sign Daryn Colledge instead. They could re-consider Satele if Smith struggles at center.

There have been at least four errant exchanges between Smith and the quarterback in four practices. Coach Joe Philbin said he’s concerned about it.

“We’re asking to be much more accurate in our snaps because what our quarterback needs to do,” said Benton, who spent the past eight seasons as the Houston Texans’ offensive line coach. “We’ve got to refine our shotgun snaps.”

Benton said he has never worked with a team that had five new offensive line starters. He said he wants a starting unit solidified before the third preseason game.

“We’ve got to get to the five, six, seven guys that are going to be involved on game days as quickly as we can,” he said. “I feel like we’ve got the talent. It’s how fast we come together. There really is something to the gel thing, communication, knowing what the other guy is going to do.”

Is it possible to be gelled by the Sept. 7 opener against New England? “It’s got to happen.”

Benton, in his second media availability since being hired to replace Jim Turner, addressed other issues:

### On rookie right tackle Ja’Wuan James:  “I’ve been really impressed with Ja’Wuan. He has some obvious rookie growing pains or learning curve. But talk about a great attitude, a great work ethic and a very talented individual. He’s done very well up to [now]. Very optimistic with Ja’Wuan.”

### On why Dallas Thomas is ahead of Billy Turner at right guard: “Somebody has to go ahead of somebody. It’s still a competition. Dallas has shown some good things. Billy has shown some good things. They both have to be more consistent.”

### He said he is not concerned about the right side of the line (Thomas, James) being inexperienced.

“Not really because we’re all learning this offense together, all learning the protection schemes,” he said. “A veteran is going to have a couple tricks up his sleeve. The rookies might not. It comes down to the best on the field. Daryn Colledge and Branden Albert have spent all their time and are most comfortable on the left. I’m not going to mess that up to try to help something else.”

### On Albert: “The situation we’re in, you’re looking for one situation you can say we’re pretty good [there]. Obviously, we’re pretty good with Branden Albert at left tackle.”

### Benton said he watched all of the Dolphins’ offensive plays last season but did not ask for the 58 sacks to be compiled on one tape because the team has a new offensive system and a bunch of new players.

### Unlike his predecessor, Turner, who was fired for his role in the team’s locker-room scandal, Benton said he is “not a yeller screamer guy. I told them I will get upset over effort and repeated errors. Other than that, if guys are working hard, I don’t have a problem.”

### The Dolphins added five new players in the past two days: offensive tackles Tony Hills and Steven Baker, tight end Brett Brackett, quarterback Seth Lobato and defensive end D’Aundre Reed.

Baker got work as the second-team left tackle on Tuesday, and Philbin said: “We wanted to look at some [new] tackles.”

To make room, they released quarterback Brock Jensen, offensive linemen  Davonte Wallace and Michael Philipp, linebacker Derrell Johnson and receiver Gerald Ford.

Hills (11 NFL games) and Reed (six) have the most experience among the newcomers.

### Lobato, undrafted out of Northern Colorado, made several strong throws in individual drills. “When he threw, it just looked effortless at times,” Philbin said. “I think he has a strong arm. We don’t know a ton about him, but he made a good first impression.” 

### Other than Brenner, injuries weren’t an issue Tuesday, beyond Mike Wallace skipping a part of practice with a sore hamstring.

### The first-team defense got the better of the first-team offense in many of the red zone plays. Several of Ryan Tannehill’s end zone throws were well defended and incomplete in the red zone drills, though he did throw one touchdown in 11 on 11 drills, to Brian Hartline.

### The offensive line was serviceable early on but gave up several sacks late. Dion Jordan had two sacks. On another play, Louis Delmas would have annihilated Tannehill on a blitz if this were a game situation.

### Among highlights from offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s media briefing today: He said “the No. 1 thing we want to do is play with great tempo. I’m trying to get them out of the huddle faster. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable for the line to make the calls that quickly. The quarterback might want them to settle in and make the calls. We don’t want it. We want to go.” Lazor also praised Ryan Tannehill’s development and Charles Clay. Adam Beasley will have a story on Lazor and the offense posted later.

### If former Tennessee Titans receiver Damian Williams remains this impressive, the decision on the fifth receiver job --- among Williams, Rishard Matthews, Armon Binns and others --- will become even more difficult. Williams keeps making catches, including a 30-yarder from Matt Moore against Will Davis.

### Then there’s the other Damien Williams, the undrafted rookie running back who was thrown off the Oklahoma team last fall. Williams took some snaps with the first team on Tuesday and has displayed good burst.

“He’s got good hands,” Philbin said. “The thing you notice about him, he has a little bit of a second gear. I think he’s got that explosiveness. He shuffled one or two times today on a draw, I know we corrected him one time where he kind of danced in the hole a little bit, but typically he’s been decisive. When he really makes up his mind, you kind of see him moving away from people. I think he catches the ball well, I like what he’s done so far.”

### How does Philbin avoid confusion with having two players with the same name on the team? “Parentheses running back, parentheses wide receiver. Well, I kind of know who they are in the team meeting room, so if I'm identifying them, I have to point.”

### Philbin said Marcus Thigpen is “doing some good things at the receiver position, We’ve been featuring him primarily inside, where he’s got a good feel for things. He’s got good quickness and change of direction you like on some of those stop/start type of routes. The competition there is pretty fierce.”

### Mike Wallace, with some straight talk about the Dolphins’ enviable depth at receiver: “We have eight legit guys who can make the team. But we all know that’s not going to happen.”

### Philbin, asked how he has improved as a coach, answered this way: “I have a better rapport, chemistry with the players. I’ve spent more time communicating with them one-on-one and in team meetings. I’ve been doing the bed check every single night at the hotel, knocking on their doors, making sure they’re OK and busting their chops a little bit if they’re awake. I’ve done a better job outlining the expectations. Obviously, the proof is in the pudding.”

### Philbin didn’t like Lamar Miller’s first rushing attempt today and mentioned something to him “in a nice manner.”

Philbin saw improvement from there: “Couple runs today, he was really decisive, quick and explosive. The extra weight will bear fruit for him. He’s stronger, more physical, that should help him break a couple tackles.”      

UM COMMITMENTS

UM picked up two 2015 oral commitments at offensive tackle today: four-star Brandenton-based prospect Tyree St. Louis and three-star Tallahassee prospect Brendan Loftus.

St. Louis (6-5, 299 pounds) is ranked 17th among all tackle prospects by rivals.com, and is rated the nation's 234th-best overall prospect by ESPN. UF and Tennessee were among his numerous other offers.  

Loftus, who wasn't offered by his hometown FSU, was rated the 47th-best tackle by rivals.com. Penn State and Wisconsin were among his other offers.

St. Louis is UM's eighth oral commitment in ESPN's top 300 prospect list. Running backs Dexter Williams (84) and Jordan Scarlett (143) are UM's highest oral commits on the ESPN list. 

07/27/2014

10 p.m.: Fins add QB; Arison's letter to Heat fans; Heaps ready for UM battle; Dolphins' OL signing; 20 more notes, quotes, thoughts from Dolphins camp

10 p.m. update: We hear the Dolphins are expected to announce they're signing undrafted Northern Colorado rookie QB Seth Lobato to replace Brock Jensen, who was cut earlier today.

Lobato will be Pat Devlin's newest challenger for the Dolphins' No. 3 quarterback job, with Devlin still the front-runner.

The Dolphins liked Lobato before the draft but ended up signing North Dakota State's Jensen, who failed to impress through three days of camp. The Colts signed Lobato after the draft before cutting him in June.

Lobato, 6-6, started three years at Northern Colorado after transferring from Colorado. He threw for 2725 yards, 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season and completed 56.8 percent of his passes.

The Dolphins originally wanted UM's Stephen Morris to be Devlin's competition for the No. 3 job, but Morris accepted an offer from Jacksonville instead of an offer from the Dolphins immediately after the draft.

#########################################################################################

On Twitter today, Heat owner Micky Arison sent an open letter to Heat fans, avoiding a reference to LeBron James' departure but making clear his optimism for the future. "We are not done, not even close," Arison wrote in a letter dated last Thursday.

Here is his letter, which is obviously far classier than Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert's letter when LeBron left Cleveland:

"While what your Miami HEAT has accomplished in the last four years has been historic, there’s a bigger picture that more clearly defines the success we have enjoyed as a franchise.  Since I took control of the team in 1995 and brought Pat Riley in to run our Basketball Operations, the HEAT has made the Playoffs in 16 of those 19 full seasons, with five Eastern Conference titles and three NBA championships highlighting those Playoff appearances. The HEAT are one of only seven teams to have won a championship during that span and, of those seven teams, we are one of only four teams to win multiple championships. To get an even better idea of our record of excellence, consider that of the six NBA franchises established at or around the time the HEAT joined the NBA, only one other team has even appeared in the NBA Finals, with only the HEAT winning an NBA title.

"From blockbuster trades for Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal, to drafting Dwyane Wade, all of whom are future Hall of Famers, to executing the most significant free agency acquisitions in league history when we acquired Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, your Miami HEAT have established themselves as an elite NBA franchise and have maintained a consistent level of on-court excellence, defining our legacy as a championship organization.  The fact that we have done all of this before celebrating our 30th Anniversary points out that we are the youngest NBA franchise to achieve this type of success and one of only 15 NBA franchises to win an NBA championship in the league’s 68-year history. And while those accomplishments speak for themselves, I’m here to tell you something else:  we are not done; not even close.

"Pat Riley is fond of saying that the only thing you can count on in life is change and those that embrace change are best prepared to emerge successfully.  So while the names on the back of the jersey may change from time to time, the constant presence of the name “Miami” or “HEAT” on the front guarantees that our goal remains the same: to put a competitive team on the floor capable of competing for the ultimate prize. As a Miami HEAT fan, this is what you have come to expect from us. We are laser-focused on the present and the task at hand of defending our Eastern Conference championship with the East being described as “wide open,” while also positioning ourselves for maximum flexibility and maneuverability in the future. 

"Our returning core, led by three-time NBA champions Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, two-time champion and nine-time NBA All-Star Chris Bosh, two-time champions Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole and NBA champion and fan-favorite Chris “Birdman” Andersen have once again shown their commitment to winning by doing what is necessary for the benefit of the team.  In addition, we welcome NBA All-Stars Luol Deng and Danny Granger, versatile veteran big man Josh McRoberts, two-time NCAA champion Shabazz Napier and exciting young talents like James Ennis and Justin Hamilton, who are coming off of very impressive showings at both the Orlando and Las Vegas NBA Summer Leagues.  Our roster is comprised of players capable of versatility and who are out to prove something to the rest of the league.

"Like Dwyane said when he announced his return to the HEAT, I am a #HEATLifer.  That’s how I want you to feel about your role as a Miami HEAT fan -- that you are a #HEATLifer – “all in” with us for what is sure to be an exciting 2014-15 season and an incredibly bright future where we will look to add to our three NBA championships. 

 Micky Arison
#HEATLifer

#############################################################################################

The Jake Heaps/Kevin Olsen quarterback battle will be the most fascinating story of UM camp, with Heaps' starting experience at BYU and Kansas giving him one clear advantage.

Freshmen Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier will be given a chance when practice starts Aug. 5, but it would be very surprising if either starts Labor Day night in Louisville. Al Golden will cut the quarterback competition from four to two fairly early in camp, and Heaps and Olsen are front-runners to be those two.

UM expects Ryan Williams to be back at some point this season but genuinely doesn't know when that will happen. Williams keeps saying he's targeting September, but that would be far sooner than players typically return from ACL injuries. 

Some comments from Heaps from today's conference call:

### Heaps said "it's absolutely vital" he wins the quarterback job. "I didn't come here to be the backup. You have to come and earn that. Nobody is going to give that to you. I have the ability to perform to the level this team needs."

### "I'm a pro style quarterback, a drop back quarterback. I can read defenses extremely well, manage the game. My strengths fit really well with what we're trying to do here. [Offensive coordinator James] Coley's offense is a true pro-style offense. I feel good about who I am, feel very confident in my abilities as a passer."

### Heaps, who transferred from Kansas this off-season after the Jayhawks changed quarterbacks and offensive style, said: "It's been vital to show [UM teammates] what a hard worker I am. The only way I can gain their respect is" through work ethic and "show these guys how much I love the game and be out here every single day." 

### What does he need to improve on? "When the pressure is coming on, making sure I'm making the right decision. I'm definitely not a runner, but I'm confident in my abilities in being mobile and moving around in the pocket."

### UM "was a situation it was too good to turn down [with] the personnel here and how talented they are. This receiver corps is extremely strong."

### "I've been here since the end of June and engrossed myself in football. I've stayed in the dorms, studying football 24/7. I feel very comfortable with where I'm at. I've been here [in the football building] as much as I possibly can. The only time I go back to my dorm room is to sleep."

### Heaps, on Al Golden: "I wouldn't say it's a disciplinary style. But doing things the right way is how I would describe it."

### Heaps, on UM's freshmen quarterbacks: "Brad is more of your true drop-back passer. Malik is more throwing and running. Those guys are going to be good here."

The good news on Heaps: He has a strong arm, is very bright, set several freshman passing records at BYU and has experience starting 28 games combined for two schools (BYU and Kansas).

The bad news: ESPN’s quarterback rating system ranked him 126th of 127 qualifiers last season. His completion percentage (49) ranked 123rd of 127, though he was hurt by a ton of drops. He twice has left schools after being beaten out, at BYU in 2011 and Kansas after last season.


The hunch here is if Heaps and Olsen are comparable in August, Heaps would have the edge because of experience, especially with such a difficult opening game. But Olsen could win it by clearly outplaying Heaps in August. We'll see.

#############################################################################################

SUNDAY DOLPHINS POST

Koa Misi’s adjustment to middle linebacker, a transition that had been progressing smoothly, was put on hold Sunday when he left midway through practice with a foot injury.

Trainers worked for a while on Misi before he walked barefoot to the locker-room, holding his left shoe. Misi later told associates that somebody stepped on his foot but he will be fine.

Before that setback, the Dolphins had been encouraged by the results of their linebacker shuffling early in camp and during the team’s offseason program.

Misi has shown promise at middle linebacker, a position he hadn’t played before for the Dolphins, and Dannell Ellerbe has looked comfortable in his move back from middle linebacker (which he played inconsistently for Miami last season) to weak side linebacker (the position he played a lot for Baltimore) .

Early in Sunday’s practice --- the third overall and first in pads --- Misi wrapped up Lamar Miller for a negligible gain, and Ellerbe smacked Miller for no gain.

Misi wasn’t made available to speak to reporters after his injury Sunday, but he said Friday that middle linebacker is a good fit for him because “I can see plays unfold a little bit better. I feel pretty good, a lot better than I did at OTAs.”

Of Misi, coach Joe Philbin said: “I don’t know if there’s a guy on the team that has worked harder since April 21 in terms of studying and putting in extra time.”

Ellerbe likes playing weakside linebacker because “I played weakside four years before I came here. I’m more natural at that spot. I’m used to not letting things get outside of me. As long as I get to stay in one position and master that position, I feel like I’ll be good.”

And Ellerbe said Misi should thrive at middle linebacker because “he’s just so aggressive. He’s fast, explosive, has everything to be a great mike.”

Though the Dolphins have the same three starting linebackers as a year ago --- Ellerbe, Misi and Philip Wheeler --- they hope the shuffling will bolster a run defense that ranked 24th and allowed 124.9 yards per game. Philbin said the linebackers are playing faster than they did last season.

“We’re doing good [but] still have too many mental errors,” Ellerbe said. “We’re getting to the ball. We just have to get our hands on the ball.”

Wheeler said “we look more comfortable because we’ve been here another year. Dannell and I are getting familiar with things.”

Misi has missed games (four, two and one) in each of the past three seasons.

After Misi’s injury Sunday, Ellerbe shifted back to middle linebacker, with Wheeler and backup Jelani Jenkins alongside. But Jason Trusnik also has received considerable work at middle linebacker.

### The Dolphins are signing offensive tackle Steven Baker, who has played for four teams but appeared in no NFL regular-season games since being undrafted out of East Carolina in 2012. The Dolphins will need to release a player before adding him to the 90-man roster.

### Besides Misi, receiver Brandon Gibson and running back Mike Gillislee also left practice early.

Gibson, who had knee surgery to repair a torn patella tendon last October, went inside the team’s training facility midway through practice. He later changed from pads to shorts and then walked off the field with an ice pack on his knees.

### Cortland Finnegan finished practice but sat out a good chunk of team drills, with Jamar Taylor replacing him on the first team.

### Deep throws to Mike Wallace remain problematic; through three days of camp, quarterbacks have connected with Wallace on one of six long balls. Matt Moore threw the only deep balls to Wallace on Sunday, misfiring on both.

### Right tackle Ja’Wuan James gave up another sack to Cameron Wake but said he will benefit in the longterm from battling with Wake throughout camp. Wake said when he beats James on a play, James will ask him what happened and how he can improve.

“He does a good job schooling me,” James said. “This is the best situation for me, going against that every day.”

James said he was “excited” when he was told Dallas Thomas was being shifted from left guard to right guard, which allows the former Tennessee teammates and roommates to play alongside each other.

### Backup guard Billy Turner, the team’s third round pick, “is far ahead of where he was in the OTAs, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Philbin said. “He has good movement skill but he… really needs to learn the concept of leverage.”

### Two pick-sixes Sunday: Dion Jordan intercepted Ryan Tannehill’s screen pass and would have returned it for a touchdown if the play had continued… Trusnik intercepted Matt Moore in 7 on 7 drills and would have returned that for a touchdown, too.

### Good to see Lamar Miller slither through a hole in the second-team defense for what likely would have been a long touchdown run if the play had been allowed to continue. What the Dolphins want to see from Miller is hitting holes quickly and also making something of plays where the blocking isn’t necessarily great. Adam Beasley will have a story on Miller posted on the home page later.

### Rishard Matthews nearly made a diving one-handed catch of a deep ball from Tannehill, but it was ruled incomplete. Matthews, who took Gibson’s spot, was impressive Sunday. He’s going to play somewhere in the league this year, even if it isn’t here. (And it still might be here.)

### In 7-on-7 drills, Tannehill delivered a beautiful deep ball to Jarvis Landry, who beat Will Davis and would have scored a touchdown if the play had continued. So don’t be concerned with Landry’s disappointing 40-time at the Combine; his play speed is very good. Plus, Landry catches everything thrown to him.

### Rookie cornerback Walt Aikens is being used at safety, which seems to suit his skill set. He broke up a poorly thrown deep ball from Matt Moore to Brian Hartline.

### Like what I’m seeing from AJ Francis, who makes a notable play or two every practice. Francis looks like Miami’s fourth-best defensive tackle.

### At times, Ryan Tannehill continues to take too long to throw, a point reinforced to him by an angry fan at Sunday’s invitation-only practice. Even on a play when Tannehill had lots of open territory to run, he seemed indecisive before taking off.

Tannehill generally has been accurate with passes over the middle and his deep ball to Landry was beautiful. But there have been a few poor decisions in every practice, including the Jordan pick and a near interception by Jimmy Wilson.

### Sunday’s embarrassing moment: Daniel Thomas tripping over grass and falling after getting a handoff, without a defender touching him.

### Rookie draft picks Jordan Tripp and Terrence Fede made a couple of impressive plays snuffing out running plays.

### Smart move by the Dolphins to use Jason Fox at backup left tackle Sunday for the first time in camp, with Nate Garner flipping over to backup right tackle. Fox would be the better option if Brandon Albert goes down (perish the thought).

### I asked Joe Philbin who has stood out among his backup tight ends. Here’s how he answered: “Dion Sims had the most reps out of any tight end yesterday on tape. You see a lot of potential there. The run game is something we want to really emphasize. We’re looking for guys that can really get moving at the point of the attack. His body type, his ability, lead us to believe he can be one of those type of players.

“Mike Egnew and Arthur Lynch have been solid. Gator Hoskins has shown he’s very bright. He’s got good poise, can adjust on the field. Kyle Miller came up with a couple nice catches yesterday.”

### Shelley Smith has performed competently at center through three days. “Shelley is doing a good job,” Albert said. And left guard Daryn Colledge looked good in Miami’s first day in pads.

“[Colledge] has played nine years, knows the game, been around the block,” Albert said. “You need that on your offensive line. [But] we’ve got to get better.”

 ### The Dolphins are giving Randy Starks, Earl Mitchell and Jared Odrick an equal chance to be the two starters. I would be surprised if Starks doesn’t start. Philbin said Starks “is finishing plays a little better. Really pleased with what I’ve seen.”

And with Mitchell, “I like the way he comes off the ball,” Philbin said. “Outstanding motor. I like his pursuit of the football. He has had some good pass rush plays early in camp. He’s a natural leverage player.”

### The Dolphins are off Monday, then practice five consecutive days, concluding with a 9:30 a.m. session at Sun Life Stadium next Saturday.

 

07/26/2014

Dolphins Day 2: Intriguing receiver battle and 20 more notes, quotes, tidbits and thoughts

### If there’s one position on the Dolphins with more NFL-caliber talent than roster space available, it’s at wide receiver.

The Dolphins have seven receivers who have started multiple NFL games, as well as a highly-regarded rookie second-round pick in Jarvis Landry, promising rookie sixth-rounder Matt Hazel and converted running back Marcus Thigpen, their primary returner the past two years.

Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson will be the team’s top three receivers, and Landry obviously will make the team and projects as the fourth receiver.

That would leave Rishard Matthews, Armon Binns, Damian Williams and Thigpen as the primary challengers for the fifth receiver job. Teams often keep five receivers, but the Dolphins could keep six if Thigpen is one of them.

“I like the group - it’s the deepest it’s been since I’ve been here,” Joe Philbin said. “Things have a tendency to sort themselves out once these practices and preseason games take place. There will be some special teams things that will maybe impact a couple of those decisions.”

Binns, who sustained a torn ACL and MCL early in last year’s training camp, has looked good throughout the offseason program and during the first two days of camp.

“I feel great,” said Binns, who has 24 career receptions and previously made five NFL starts for Cincinnati.

Having this kind of depth at receiver “makes everyone better, will do nothing but help us,” Binns said. “I’ve been cut. I’ve made teams. If you can play, somebody will find you and you will be on a roster.”

Williams, who made 17 starts in four seasons for Tennessee but just one last year, produced two impressive plays during Saturday’s practice: a diving 40-yard catch on a throw from Ryan Tannehill and another when he caught a short pass and juked Jamar Taylor for a sizable gain. He has 106 career receptions but just 15 (for 178 yards) last season.

Matthews caught 41 passes for 448 yards and two touchdowns last season and made five starts but is at serious risk of not making the team. On Saturday, he caught a pass but was stripped by Taylor, and Jason Trusnik grabbed the ball in the air. Matthews threw his arm in frustration.

The team has privately questioned his focus in the past --- Matthews admitted to being late to a couple of meetings earlier in his career --- but Philbin praised his work in the offseason program and Matthews said he and Philbin are on the same page after meeting this offseason.

### Thigpen, who caught nine passes for 112 yards during his first two seasons, has looked smooth as a receiver early in camp.

Thigpen, Williams, Landry, undrafted rookie Rantavious Wooten and cornerback Brent Grimes have fielded punts early in camp. If the Dolphins believe Landry can be a productive returner, Thigpen would be in serious jeopardy.

The Dolphins always have the option of moving Thigpen back to running back, of course.

### The Dolphins are intrigued by 6-5 receiver Stephen Williams, who started three games for Arizona in 2010, but he’s a major long shot, as are Wooten and Hazel (each possibilities for the practice squad), Ryan Spadola, Kevin Cone and Gerald Ford.

### What about trading a receiver for help elsewhere? That doesn’t seem realistic, because the Dolphins presumably aren’t trading their top four receivers, and neither Binns nor Matthews would net anything of value in return.

### Gibson, who suffered a torn patella tendon against New England last October, has looked good early in camp, catching several passes. “Last year’s offense, I did a lot of intermediate type stuff,” he said. “I hope I get to get downfield a little bit as well. I know I can help the team [downfield].”

### Though none of this should be overstated, Ryan Tannehill is now 1 for 4 on deep throws to Mike Wallace through two days of camp. Both attempts were incomplete Saturday, including one in which Tannehill held the ball too long, thus squandering a chance to hit an open Wallace. By the time he threw it, safety Reshad Jones had good position and made an interception. By the way, Philbin wants to expand Wallace's "route tree."

### Taylor, limited last season by the effects of offseason sports hernia surgery, said there’s a dramatic difference in how he feels and he believes that will translate to how he plays. Though he was beaten on the deep throw to Williams, his strip of Matthews was outstanding.

“I can move [now],” he said. “I was running real slow [last year]. I run way faster.

“My breaks are better. Even if a receiver is catching it, usually I’m right there. It’s a blessing to be out here and be able to move. As a DB, you need your legs. You need to be able to turn and twist and run. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be on the field.”

Taylor was on the field for just 45 defensive plays last season, and all four passes thrown against him were caught, for 100 yards.

### The Idaho Statesman quoted Taylor in April as saying: “It was to the point last year I thought I was done playing football. I don’t want to play anymore.”

But on Saturday, he said: “I didn’t question if I wanted to play football. Let’s get that straight. The thought was can I still do this? I’m anxious.”

### As for fellow second-year cornerback Will Davis, he has been beaten a couple times but also has had some good moments, including a deflection of a Tannehill pass on Saturday.

Said Philbin: “I like what Jamar and [Will Davis] are doing. They’re improved.”

### Liked the play-calling Saturday, including several read-option plays. And here’s progress: Only one botched quarterback/center exchange, after three on Friday! And new center Shelley Smith wasn’t involved in that mishap. Saturday’s regrettable exchange was between Sam Brenner and Pat Devlin.

### With the team not practicing in pads until Sunday, there are certain things (especially in the running game) that are difficult to gauge.

But it was encouraging to see Dion Jordan make a terrific play against the run Saturday, rushing to the ball and stopping Daniel Thomas for no gain.

The Dolphins have given Jordan substantial work early in camp, even though he will be suspended for the first four games after testing positive for a banned substance.

“It’s a delicate balance,” Philbin said. “Dion needs work at defensive end, He needs work on fundamentals. We have to be cognizant that we’re getting ready to play a game. It’s a balancing act. We are going to have to find the right mix.”     

### It’s not a surprise that Cameron Wake has beaten rookie right tackle Ja’Wuan James several times early in camp.

But Philbin said of James: “I like what I’ve seen first two days. Very smart. Very aware. I like his poise. He’s very coachable. He learns. He listens well.”

### Branden Albert, meanwhile, was beaten by Olivier Vernon for a sack for the second day in a row, with Vernon easily manuevering around him.

### If I’m the Dolphins, I would be very afraid that defensive coordinators will try to exploit the inexperienced right side of the offensive line (Dallas Thomas and James) with blitz packages.

### Injury stuff: Defensive tackle Isaako Aaitui (cyst near his ear) and linebacker Jelani Jenkins (undisclosed reason) left practice early. Defensive end Derrick Shelby, recovering from knee surgery, was again held out.

### Jarvis Landry, besides having excellent hands and excelling with YAC, also has a knack for finding soft spots in a zone, as he did Saturday on a pass from Matt Moore.

### Lamar Miller had a fumble but also made a very good adjustment on a 15-yard pass from Moore. Even with Knowshon Moreno returns, a case could be made for Miller to remain the starter; Moreno is the better third-down option because he’s better in pass protection.

### As for Daniel Thomas, he got some work with the first team and has looked good at times --- dating back to OTAs --- but also dropped an easy catch Saturday.

### Moore’s interception Saturday wasn’t an awful throw; Jimmy Wilson tipped a pass to Charles Clay and Brent Grimes picked it off. But Moore’s accuracy has been less than ideal; several times, receivers had to bail him out by diving or contorting their bodies for catches.

### The more than 1000 fans in attendance Saturday might have noticed a drone overhead at practice. But it wasn't a spying device sent by Rex Ryan or Bill Belichick. Instead, it was the Dolphins taking pictures of fans for an artistic project. Saturday's crowd was much better than Friday's, by the way. Sunday's 8 a.m. practice is open only to a select group of season-ticket holders.

### And there’s this, from the Law & Order file of the blog:

The attorney representing Dolphins center Mike Pouncey and his brother, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, tells my colleague Adam Beasley that the lawsuit filed against them Thursday "is a complete sham" and that his clients plan to counter-sue "for malicious prosecution and defamation."

The original lawsuit, filed in Miami-Dade court Thursday, claims that the brothers roughed up three club-goers at South Beach's Cameo the night of their birthday party earlier this month.

"The plaintiffs and their lawyers are perpetuating these lies in a bid for notoriety and financial gain," said Jeff Ostrow, the Pounceys' attorney.

07/25/2014

Twenty notes, quotes, tidbits and observations from first day of Dolphins training camp

### If the Dolphins open the season with the same starting offensive line that took the field for the first day of practice on Friday, they will be using a center (Shelley Smith) who has never played a single snap at that position in an NFL game, a left guard (Daryn Colledge) that wasn’t even on the team a month ago and a right guard (Dallas Thomas) who played three offensive snaps last season.

That group, bookmarked by new tackles Branden Albert and Ja’Wuan James, gave up many of the at least half-dozen sacks relinquished by the offensive line on Friday. Cameron Wake beat James at least twice for sacks. Randy Starks, Wake and Jason Trusnik collected sacks during a four-play sequence late in practice.

“Today wasn’t the practice we wanted to have,” Ryan Tannehill said. “Balls on the ground and sacks.”

Joe Philbin said “we had the ball on the ground way too much” and that stemmed from at least three poor center-to-quarterback snaps, two involving Smith and Tannehill.  

Smith, who expected to be the starting right guard, instead has been shifted to center in the absence of Mike Pouncey, who is expected to miss potentially seven games after hip surgery.

Smith took snaps at center during the offseason program but his center experience during games is limited to a few snaps at Colorado State and in high school. He never has started a game at center at any level.

Smith said he wasn’t informed of the position switch until Thursday but wasn’t surprised.

He said “we don’t know yet” whether his move to center will continue until Pouncey’s return, but that’s Miami’s preference if Smith proves he can handle it.

“It will be a new challenge for me,” Smith said. “I’m looking forward to it. The biggest adjustment, especially in this offense, is getting guys in the right position to be successful. Guys are ready to step up and fill in until [Pouncey] is back or if he’s not back, fill in the whole year.” (Nobody expects Pouncey to miss the season, but I found it curious that Smith said that.)

Philbin opted for Smith as the starting center instead of Sam Brenner, who took second-team snaps there.

### With Smith shifting to center, the Dolphins inserted Colledge at left guard, the position he has played primarily in his career. The Dolphins passed on Colledge during the first phase of free agency but signed him in late June after Pouncey’s injury.

“I’ve taken 9000 reps at left guard and 500 reps at probably every other position,” said Colledge, who has started 124 of 128 NFL games, including every game for Arizona last season. “But I will swing over if that’s what’s needed.

“The guys behind me are actually ahead of me in the system and physically. I haven’t played football since [late December]. I have some rust to knock off. Hopefully, my vet savviness will eventually catch back up.”

### Thomas played left guard during the entire offseason program but shifted to right guard partly because Colledge is more at ease on the left side.

Thomas said he’s comfortable on both sides because he practiced on both sides last year. But moving to the right requires “rethinking everything. It’s different. Footwork is different. I have way more work to do.”

### Colledge said having five new offensive line starters “almost never happens. You don’t always need a bunch of Pro Bowlers. You need five guys that can line up every week.”

Albert, who was beaten by Olivier Vernon for a sack, said Tannehill is “going to get hit. It’s part of the game. But not 58 times.” The Dolphins, as many of you know, allowed a franchise-record 58 sacks last season.

### A few highlights from Stephen Ross’ media briefing: It was interesting that the first player he mentioned was rookie receiver Jarvis Landry, declaring that Landry “is going to bring a lot of excitement to this team.” You can be sure Ross has heard that sentiment from his football people… Ross said the Dolphins have made a “major improvement” at offensive coordinator with Bill Lazor…

He wouldn’t go as far as to say that the Dolphins need to make the playoffs for Joe Philbin to keep his job... The canopy which will cover the stands at Sun Life Stadium will be in place for the 2016 season… Is there a chance to reclaim the market with LeBron James off to Cleveland? “Miami wants to support a winner,” he said. “Football is the No. 1 sport in this country and the area.” (Adam Beasley will have more from Ross in his story to be posted later.)

### While refusing to offer details, Dion Jordan expressed remorse for his four game regular-season NFL suspension that resulted from testing positive for an undisclosed banned stimulant.

“It sucks,” he said.

Jordan, who received substantial practice time Friday and will be permitted to play in preseason games, said he learned “you have to be accountable. The older you get, the more people depend on you. If nobody can depend on you, you’re… worth nothing. I’ve got to grow up and take it as a lesson. I made a decision that jeopardized myself and the team.”

### Besides Pouncey, Knowshon Moreno and Derrick Shelby --- who both had arthroscopic knee surgery this summer --- also sat out practice, with Pouncey and Moreno placed on the physically unable to perform list. The Dolphins expect Moreno and Shelby to be ready for the start of the season.

### Tannehill, who completed only 6 of 36 passes of 20-plus yards to Mike Wallace last season, completed one of two of those throws to Wallace on Friday. He under-threw Wallace once (Will Davis had tight coverage) but Wallace beat Jamar Taylor on a long strike in 7-on-7 drills.

Overall, Tannehill was 1 for 3 on deep balls, with Brent Grimes and Reshad Jones offering tight coverage on a slightly overthrown bomb to Damian Williams.

“There were times last year when I could have made plays on the ball--jumped over a couple guys,” Wallace said. “That’s my main thing: coming back to the ball. Knowing that not every ball is going to come far. Some are going to drop short. When the ball is not perfect I’ve got to make plays on it.”

### Wallace, on his state of mind: “I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been. I feel really comfortable. I know everything about the team. Last year, I felt kind of like a rookie in a new environment. I love the environment, love the coaches. I think the guys are a lot more comfortable understanding their roles, the whole team in general. Coach [Bill] Lazor coming in with some energy for us, a big shot of energy, a nice variety of plays. He brings a different type of excitement to the table. I love coach [Mike] Sherman but coach Lazor is a different type of guy so I’m excited about it.”

He also said: “I need to be more of a complete receiver instead of a one-dimensional guy.”

On pundits predicting the Dolphins won’t do much this year, Wallace said: “I don’t listen to that stuff. I don’t care. I know what we have on our team. They sleep on us. We’re going to wake their ass up.”

### Randy Starks, Jared Odrick and Earl Mitchell alternated with the first team at defensive tackle. Starks and Mitchell were on the field for the start of team drills, for what that’s worth.

### Cortland Finnegan lined up with the starters opposite Brent Grimes at cornerback and made two nifty breakups of Tannehill passes to Wallace. Jamar Taylor and Will Davis were the second-team cornerbacks, with Jalil Brown and Walt Aikens the third-team corners.

### Talk about inauspicious starts: On the first play of team drills, Tannehill was forced to call timeout. That was immediately followed by a botched snap.

### What did we see from Lazor’s offense today? Among other things: Bubble screens, quick passes, a read option play, Tannehill throwing on the move (some by design, some by necessity), spread formations, multiple sets (including one with tight ends Dion Sims and Michael Egnew both lined up as receivers), considerable use of tight ends in the passing game, play-action fakes and several passes to running backs (Lamar Miller made a particularly nice catch on one of them).

“Spreading the field is going to be a big key,” Tannehill said. “The offense is pure timing and throwing to spots.”

### Ugh! moments of the day, beyond the offensive line play: Michael Egnew dropping an easy pass, all alone in the flat, and Gerald Ford dropping another one. But Egnew, running with the second team, also made a nice catch later.

### Best play of the day? A phenomenal diving catch from rookie receiver Matt Hazel, a play covering 45 yards.

### Dannell Ellerbe, the team’s third-highest-paid defensive player in terms of annual salary, left the field in nickel situations, with Koa Misi and Philip Wheeler remaining on the field.

### Here was the backup offensive line, from left to right: Nate Garner (not the ideal backup left tackle choice), Billy Turner, Brenner, David Arkin and Jason Fox.

### A.J. Francis and undrafted rookie Anthony Johnson were the fourth and fifth defensive tackles and are front-runners for those roster spots. Teammates like Johnson’s upside.

### Asked if he addressed rookie hazing with his players, which at least one rookie complained about privately last season, Philbin said he “talked more about respect for one another” and “being focused on football.” Dennis Hickey declined to say whether rookie hazing would be banned.

### UM assistant coaches Art Kehoe and Hurlie Brown were on the field, guests of the Dolphins.

### If you missed it, please see the last post for Heat notes from Thursday. Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

 

07/24/2014

Beasley, Oden in limbo; Heat mulling veteran free agent options

Some Thursday Heat notes as we await Friday's first Dolphins practice:

### Even with potentially three roster spots to fill, the Heat continues to be non-committal with free agents Michael Beasley and Greg Oden, with the team neither closing the door on a return in conversations with their agents nor offering them a contract to this point, either.

The Heat --- which will have 12 players under contract as soon as Chris Bosh’s deal is announced --- cannot offer any remaining free agents any more than the veteran minimum, which tops out at $1.4 million.

Jared Karnes, Beasley’s agent, said Thursday he has had more than one conversation with the Heat but “nothing has resulted in a deal. [Other] teams have called expressing interest. There has been quite a bit of activity the past four days. Teams are encouraged by his career best field goal percentage (49.9), second-best three-point percentage (38.9), top ten efficiency for all small forwards and his attitude when asked to play a reduced role.”

Among all players who appeared in at least 20 regular-season games, Beasley was 47th in points per 48 minutes, at 25.2.

Beasley, who has been working out with Kevin Durant in Los Angeles, averaged 7.9 points last season in 55 games and made two starts but played just 23 minutes in the playoffs.

As for Oden, the Heat has not informed his agent, Mike Conley Sr., if the team wants him back.

“They said they’ll get back to us,” Conley said. “A couple of teams have inquired. He wants to be able to play.”

Oden averaged 2.9 points and 2.3 rebounds in 23 games, including six starts, while shooting 55.1 percent from the field but logged just seven minutes during the postseason.

Meanwhile, the Heat believes it’s unlikely Ray Allen will return to the team. Allen, who is touring China, told China media outlet Sina he plans to take a full physical before deciding whether to play next season.

An associate of Allen said Thursday he has not made a final decision about whether to play next season, and The Boston Globe reported he is leaning toward joining former Heat teammates LeBron James, Mike Miller and James Jones in Cleveland.

The Cavaliers could offer only the $1.4 million minimum to Allen, who made $3.2 million last season.

UPDATE: Allen's agent, Jim Tanner, released this statement at 6 p.m. in the wake of the Boston Globe report: "The reports that Ray intends to play for the Cavs are unfounded. He has not yet decided if he will play next season or for which team." (But Tanner obviously didn't rule out Cleveland, either.)

DOUGLAS-ROBERTS ON RADAR

Count former Charlotte small forward/shooting guard Chris Douglas-Roberts among remaining free agents who interest the Heat.

Douglas-Roberts, 6-7, averaged 6.9 points and 2.4 rebounds and shot 44 percent overall and 38.6 on three-pointers in 49 games for Charlotte last season, including eight starts. He's an improving offensive player and a capable defender.

The Heat is looking for another veteran small forward or shooting guard to supplement Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Danny Granger. The Heat's preference would be for a player not only with shooting range but the ability to competently defend opposing wings.

Small forward James Ennis, who impressed the Heat during summer league, is also under contract, and point guard Mario Chalmers can play shooting guard if needed.

Besides Douglas-Roberts, other veterans free agent wing players still available include Shawn Marion, Jordan Crawford, Chris Singleton (the Heat has reportedly inquired), Heat incumbent Toney Douglas, MarShon Brooks (his agent has reached out to the Heat), Jordan Hamilton, Francisco Garcia, Omri Casspi, Jerryd Bayless, Rasual Butler, Shannon Brown, Ronnie Brewer, Hedo Turkoglu, James Anderson, Dahntay Jones, and former Heat guard Roger Mason Jr.

### Once Bosh’s deal is signed, the Heat will have five power rotation players under contract: Bosh, Chris Andersen, Josh McRoberts, Udonis Haslem and Justin Hamilton, whose contract becomes partially guaranteed Aug. 1.

The Heat might add another veteran power rotation player at the minimum at some point before training camp, with available options including Oden, Emeka Okafor, Elton Brand, Nazr Mohammed, Charlie Villanueva, Ryan Hollins, Ekpe Udoh (no contact with Miami), Byron Mullens and Greg Stiesma.

Andray Blatche is available, but questions about his professionalism and maturity dissuaded Miami from pursuing him in past years, and the Nets reportedly parted ways with him this summer because of those issues.

Similar questions also have come up about Crawford, one of the most skilled wing players still available, though he has insisted in interviews this year that he has matured. Still, Crawford cannot be discounted if he's still available and willing to take a minimum deal closer to training camp.

### The NBA schedule is expected to be released sometime in August, later than usual. The NBA is considering having the Heat play Cleveland on ABC on Christmas, according to a league source.

An involved official said a part of the network TV schedule was essentially finished with the assumption James would return to the Heat, then had to be discarded when he signed with the Cavaliers.

### For those who asked, the blog was inactive the past couple of weeks because of a combination of vacation and Miami Herald local news assignments (which are required annually for Herald sports writers).

There will be some Dolphins and Heat posts in the next couple of weeks, as I juggle numerous other  assignments. And the more substantial posts you're accustomed to, including info on UM and other fodder, will return at some point in August.

07/05/2014

Buzz will return

The blog will return later this month.

07/03/2014

10 p.m. LeBron news; Heat free-agent chatter on players Miami has called about, Heat's own free agents; Beckham/MLS news

An evening Heat free agency update, including tonight's developments, can be found below. First, a quick David Beckham/MLS note:

Though Beckham's group has made clear that Beckham wants his proposed MLS team to play in downtown Miami, Broward County commissioner Stacy Ritter told me today that the team has now expressed willingness to speak to Broward County about a soccer-specific stadium.

Ritter said Brian Ballard, one of the team's lobbyists, conveyed that Beckham's group is now willing to listen to what Broward officials have to say. Those talks are expected soon, she said.

It's too soon to tell the level of the Beckham group's interest in this idea, but at least they told Ritter that Beckham & Co. are open to considering it.

Ritter said county-owned land near the Panthers' arena (BB&T Center) would be a "great fit" for the stadium.

"Beckham's group was very unhappy with the parcel that Miami-Dade wanted to provide," Ritter said. "We're easier to deal with than the county to the south."

Beckham's top two choices for a stadium --- the Port of Miami site and the boat slip site next to AmericanAirlines Arena --- were both rejected by local government officials, and Beckham's group has said it's not enthusiastic about a site near Marlins Park because the land is "spiritually tainted" in the wake of  the Marlins' controversial ballpark deal.

Beckham's group has said it's assessing its options regarding Miami.

############################################################################################

Heat free agent chatter:

### Amid news that LeBron James’ agent has been listening to pitches from several teams, the pressure has escalated on Heat president Pat Riley, who --- along with coach Erik Spoelstra --- is meeting with center Pau Gasol and others in Los Angeles, hoping to convince a high-end free agent to take considerably less money to sign with Miami.

Problem is, James to this point hasn't made a commitment to return to the Heat, and his agent, Rich Paul, this week met with at least four teams (Phoenix, Houston, Dallas and Cleveland), according to ESPN, which also reported that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is flying to Cleveland to meet with Paul. Yahoo! said Houston was not granted a meeting, spoke to Paul by phone and has moved on.

Yahoo! reported that Paul suggested to Cleveland, Dallas and Phoenix that they might be brought back to Cleveland to meet with James next week if Riley doesn't quickly improve the Heat's roster. James was on vacation this week and did not meet with any teams.

The Heat fully expects James will re-sign.

One associate of James told me that he still makes the Heat the clear favorite to keep James but also that the four-time MVP is "weighing all his options" and "wants to see how things play out" with the Heat's roster, which he wants upgraded. As has been reported, James wants the maximum money allowed, and the Heat is fine with that.

But that associate also said it's very difficult to envision him signing with Phoenix or Houston. (Dallas did not come up in the conversation with the associate.)

The associate reiterated that the idea of playing again in Cleveland again at some point appeals to James and said the Cavaliers cannot be ruled out this summer. 

The Cavaliers don't look ready to win big now, and that's critically important to James, but that would change quickly if James commits and if Cleveland trades Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love, who reportedly would be receptive to signing with the Cavaliers longterm if James is there.

If Riley cannot lure a high-end free agent such as Gasol or Trevor Ariza or Luol Deng, the Heat instead will focus on adding several reasonably-priced players.

The Heat’s cap space is projected to be substantially less than the $12 million cited in one national report.

If Chris Bosh accepts a first-year salary of $15 million and Dwyane Wade $13 million, the Heat would have in the range of $6 million to $7 million in space, presuming James signs at the maximum $20.7 million. (About $2 million more could be added by dumping Norris Cole.) The Heat also would have a $2.7 million "room" salary cap exception in this scenario.

Yahoo! reported tonight that Bosh and Wade have not agreed to salaries and are reluctant to taking severe pay cuts, though they will take reductions. Still, Bosh has told associates he plans to return to the Heat, and Wade also plans to return, of course. 

Unless the Heat can convince one of the pricey free agents to take considerably less than market value, the Heat might be better served by operating as a capped-out team.

Under that scenario, the Heat could not use cap space but could use a $5.3 million midlevel exception, a $2.2 million trade exception and a $2 million bi-annual exception and also preserve Bird Rights to re-sign its own free agents, which would allow Miami to give raises to Ray Allen (who made $3.2 million last season) and Chris Andersen ($1.4 million).

### The Heat has strong interest in adding one or two veteran wing players. Among free agents that Miami has reached out to, according to people with direct knowledge: New Orleans’ Anthony Morrow (8.4 points, 45.1 percent three-point shooting last season); Oklahoma City’s Caron Butler (10.5, 39.4) and Utah’s Marvin Williams (9.1 points, 35.9 percent).

Other affordable wing players potentially in play include Alan Anderson, Shawn Marion, Jordan Hamilton and restricted free agent PJ Tucker. The Heat and Nick Young’s agent also had a preliminary conversation.  Chandler Parsons would help, but he's restricted (giving Houston a chance to match) and will get better offers elsewhere, perhaps $10 million a year or more.

The Heat so far has not pursued Dallas free agent Vince Carter beyond an initial inquiry.

### Among point guards, the Heat has been in communication with representation for a few veterans, including Jameer Nelson and Kirk Hinrich. Sacramento's Isaiah Thomas, a restricted free agent, is also on Miami's radar. (Teams have three days to match an offer in restricted free agency.)

An initial inquiry was made on Ramon Sessions, but the Heat has taken it no further, and nothing had materialized with Steve Blake as of Thursday. Miami didn’t pursue Darren Collison before he agreed to terms with Sacramento on Thursday.

### Among power rotation players, the Heat called to express interest in Charlotte power forward Josh McRoberts, among others, but he might be too costly if the Heat uses its primary exception money on a wing player. Chris Kaman, who has attracted Heat interest in the past, agreed to terms with Portland tonight, according to reports. The Heat likes Lakers power forward Jordan Hill --- who could command mid-level type money ---- but is focusing on bigger names for now (Gasol, Deng, etc.).

### Besides Gasol, Riley is trying to meet with others in California, Yahoo reported! The Heat also might meet with Ariza, but Gasol and Ariza are seeking considerably more than what Miami can offer.

Oklahoma City, San Antonio and New York also are trying to obtain Gasol at a bargain-basement price. Yahoo! reports Gasol wants $10 million but hasn't ruled out taking the $5.3 million exception.

Ariza has instructed his agent to try to work out a deal with the Wizards before engaging other teams, The Washington Post reported.

The Heat is interested in Deng, and Deng likes the Heat, but agent Herb Rudoy said “we don’t know yet” if the Heat will be a serious contender for him or whether Deng will even meet with the Heat.

“We haven’t talked money [with Miami],” Rudoy said. “We’re waiting for the Big Three to sort out.” Deng also has interest from the Clippers, Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas, among others.

### Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer would have interest in the Heat if Chicago uses the amnesty provision on him, according to an associate. The Bulls have until July 18 to decide whether to wipe Boozer’s $16.8 million salary off their cap.

But if the Heat uses all its cap space before the amnesty period, or if it uses its cap exceptions instead of cap space, then the Heat would not have the money to make a bid for Boozer in the amnesty process (at more than the minimum, obviously) unless it somehow got back under the cap, according to cap expert Larry Coon. The team with the highest bid would claim him, and he would become a free agent only if there were no bids.

### Ray Allen has been leaning toward playing (he likes playing with LeBron) but hasn’t informed the Heat definitively. He and Andersen will be invited back.

James Jones also is expected to be asked back, though that has not been conveyed.

The Heat called about Rashard Lewis, Greg Oden and Michael Beasley early in free agency and indicated interest in speaking further next week or beyond.

“They didn’t commit to bringing Greg back but they were happy with his progress,” said Oden’s agent, Mike Conley Sr.

All three players have interest in returning.

### As for Mario Chalmers, the Heat called him and made clear the door has not been closed to a possible return. But Chalmers is unsure of Miami’s level of interest, according to a very close associate. Several teams have inquired about Chalmers. 

### Though the Heat inquired about Kyle Lowry and Marcin Gortat --- who resigned with Toronto and Washington --- Miami never made an offer to either, according to someone with direct knowledge.

Please see the story on the sports home page for details on Dion Jordan's suspension.... Also, Fort Lauderdale Gibbons three star Class of 2015 DE Richard McIntosh orally committed to UM, opting for Miami instead of UF, Wisconsin and others.

06/30/2014

4 a.m.: Heat making calls; Dolphins sign Colledge; Heat/LeBron notes; UM tries unique new strategy; Canes notes

The Heat was active at the start of free agency tonight, expressing strong interest in Kyle Lowry and Luol Deng, as expected, even though other teams are in position to make far bigger offers.

Lowry reportedly could get a deal for more than $12 million per season, with incumbent Toronto and Houston and Dallas among those also in pursuit. The Heat and Lowry will speak further in the morning, Yahoo! reports.

Deng has several suitors with cap space, including Dallas and Atlanta.

Other names linked to Miami in the first hour of free agency included Marvin Williams, Vince Carter, Washington forward Trevor Booker, Caron Butler, Steve Blake and Sacramento restricted free agent guard Isaiah Thomas, among others.

###########################################################################################

According to sources, the Dolphins on Monday were very close to a deal with veteran offensive lineman Daryn Colledge, whose addition will provide depth and versatility on a unit trying to compensate for the indefinite loss of Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey.

[8:20 p.m. update: The Dolphins have signed Colledge to a one-year deal.]

Colledge was one of four offensive linemen who auditioned for the Dolphins on Monday. The others: former Dolphins center Samson Satele, former Broncos center Steve Vallos and former Houston tackle Ryan Harris.

Colledge, 32, has played some center and tackle but has been primarily a guard during his eight-year NFL career, and the Dolphins indicated they intend to use him at guard.

With Pouncey expected to miss between two and six regular season games after hip surgery, the Dolphins’ current options at center include backup Sam Brenner, Nate Garner or potentially first-team right guard Shelley Smith.

Smith has taken snaps at center throughout the offseason program but has never played the position in an NFL game and as of Monday, had been given no indication if he will be moved to center during Pouncey's absence.

Colledge could settle in as a backup but there are two scenarios in which he could emerge as a starter to begin the season:

1) If he beats out Dallas Thomas, who has taken most of the first-team snaps at left guard during the offseason program, and rookie Billy Turner; or

2) If Smith moves to center until Pouncey's return, which would open a starting guard spot. Colledge, Thomas or Turner would compete for two starting guard jobs in that scenario.

Brenner took the first-team snaps at center during the one minicamp practice that Pouncey missed. The Dolphins do not intend to sign Satele at this point but had a favorable impression of his workout and it's possible that idea could be re-visited down the road.

The Dolphins liked Harris and could consider adding him for tackle depth in the coming weeks.

Colledge, 32, started 124 of his 128 NFL games over his eight years, including every game the past six seasons.

He played his first five seasons with Green Bay and his past three with Arizona. Last year, Colledge played left guard, and Pro Football Focus rated him 45th of 81 qualifying guards --- 32nd in pass protection and 53rd as a run blocker.

Colledge, who allowed two sacks last season according to PFF, knows Dolphins coach Joe Philbin well from their time together in Green Bay.

Colledge grew up in North Pole, Alaska, and was the Packers’ second-round pick out of Boise State in 2006.

### Harris has started 39 games in six NFL seasons --- his first four with Denver and two for Houston. He made three starts for the Texans last season.

The Dolphins have three tackles they feel good about: Starters Branden Albert and Ja'Wuan James and backup Jason Fox. Harris would give them a fourth if they choose to sign him. (Garner can play tackle, of course, but has struggled when used at left tackle.)

##########################################################################################

A close associate of LeBron James said he is not of the mindset to take a significant paycut at this time and is looking for a maximum contract or something close to that. Such a deal could pay him $20.7 million next season (according to cap expert Larry Coon) and run five seasons if he re-signs with the Heat, which is considered very likely.

That means for the Heat to have cap space to satisfy the lofty salary wishes of high-end free agents such as Kyle Lowry, Luol Deng, Trevor Ariza, Pau Gasol and Marcin Gortat, here's what would have to happen: 

Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would need to take very significant pay cuts. (Contracts cannot be backloaded to extremes because of cap rules limiting the maximum amount of annual raises.)

Trading Norris Cole also would help but would not be essential. All that comes with the caveat that none of those top-tier free agents is willing to take substantially less to sign here, which absolutely cannot be ruled out. But Deng's agent already has said his client will not sign here for money in the range of $5.3 million.

According to the L.A. Times, Gasol has meetings planned with OKC, Chicago and Golden State but not Miami.

If the Heat is just short of being in position to sign one of those players, the notion of James taking a cut could be re-visited and it cannot be ruled out. But Pat Riley has said he will not ask James to take a pay cut, that it would have to be his idea. (Same with Wade and Bosh, who are on board with the idea.) 

If the Heat cannot lure any of the top players to take less to sign here, Miami might be better served (as explained in our last post) by using exceptions to augment the roster instead of cap space.

In that scenario, the Heat could add players with a $5.3 million exception, a $2.2 million trade exception and a $2 million bi-annual exception. (But those exceptions cannot be combined and the Heat cannot use those exceptions AND cap space. It would need to be an either/or choice.)

The Heat also could add players to the minimum (such as James Jones) and use Bird Rights to re-sign Ray Allen and Chris Andersen at reasonable amounts.

### Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra declined to take questions concerning free agency on Monday, with Riley leaving the room after introducing first-round pick Shabazz Napier at today's news conference.

"We felt he was the best fit at many different levels," Spoelstra said of Napier. "The thing that jumped out the most was his competitive will --- being on winning teams, knowing what it takes to have big moments, knowing what it takes to sacrifice at a high level. There is a shiftiness, cleverness to the way he attacks the paint.

"This was a fit for our style of basketball. To be able to play on the ball, off the ball. He has the range already. He has to get on a specific program to make sure he has NBA three-point range... and set the tone for our defense."

### Napier said he has had no personal interaction with James since the draft but that Ray Allen congratulated him. "Me and Ray developed a close bond" because both went to Connecticut.

### Napier said he intends to play for the Heat's summer league team in Orlando and Las Vegas.

### Spoelstra, asked about Riley calling for Spolestra to "reinvent himself," said: "We're not going to reinvent our entire operation. There has been some great success with it."

############################################################################################

Canes football chatter:

### The words atop a recent University of Miami football ad --- “Go to Fewer Games!” ---  assuredly elicited double-takes.

But it wasn’t a misprint.

It’s all part of a unique and creative new strategy in which the Hurricanes are placing nearly all of their football marketing efforts behind trying to sell out two games: against North Carolina on Nov. 1 and Florida State on Nov. 15.

“It’s an effort to sell more tickets --- not have people go to fewer games,” athletic director Blake James said. “The goal of this strategy is to get us to two sellouts” --- which would be more than past years ---- “as well as sell as many season tickets as possible.”

Over the years, UM has struggled to sell tickets against non-marquee opponents and determined it didn’t make sense to put a lot of time and money into promoting its other five home games: Florida A&M on Sept. 6, Arkansas State on Sept. 13, Duke on Sept. 27, Cincinnati on Oct. 11 and Pittsburgh on Nov. 29.

UM believes that if it can sell out the FSU game (that has a good chance of happening) and the UNC game (which will be a tougher sell), then fans will be more inclined to buy season tickets in 2015.

The belief is based on the theory that fans have a more enjoyable experience when the stadium is full.

“If you have two fantastic experiences, you get people closer to moving to a bigger commitment for the right reasons,” said Chris Freet, UM’s senior associate athletic director.

So how is the strategy working? It’s too early to tell, but UM is encouraged that it has sold 3600 more season tickets than it had at this point last year, when the Hurricanes sold 29,917 season tickets, a 24 percent spike over 2012.

UM also has sold more than 2000 tickets to its two-game FSU/UNC package, which is priced at $108. All of those seats are in the upper bowl and club seat areas, because lower bowl seats --- at this point --- are reserved for full season-ticket holders.

UM isn’t sure if it will place any single-game FSU tickets on sale and will not make that decision until October. That decision will depend partly on how many tickets it sells to the two-game FSU/UNC package, and how many tickets FSU claims from its maximum allotment of 10,000.

If FSU tickets are sold as individual game tickets, they will be priced at $89. UNC single game tickets will be sold for $29. So fans paying the $108 for the two-game package will essentially be paying $10 below face value for the two games.

The “go to fewer games” slogan was the brainchild of longtime sports executive Jon Spoelstra, father of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

Jon Spoelstra, who has been consulting with UM, used that marketing strategy, with successful results, when he worked for the Portland Trail Blazers and with minor-league baseball teams in Dayton, Ohio, and Staten Island, N.Y.

But Freet conceded “one of the scary things” is that no other college football program, to his knowledge, has tried this marketing approach because most leverage season tickets the entire offseason “rather than offering smaller packages that might work best for busy families and fans in their market place.”

What has been the reaction nationally to the “Go to Fewer Games” ad?

Freet said some UM fans and donors initially questioned the strategy but many of them understood when UM explained it.

“People read it and say it makes sense,” Freet said. “It’s a strategic plan for growth. We don’t have the manpower and funding to effectively target seven games. So the thinking was, let’s just crush FSU and UNC and the momentum of that will help.”

Capacity for the FSU and UNC games will be 75,000. For the other five home games, tarps will cover a portion of the upper bowl, limiting capacity to 67,000.

UM expects more than 60,000 will attend the Pittsburgh game because all of the university’s 10,000-plus employees can buy as many as four tickets for $3.

UM will carry this marketing strategy over to the 2015 season, when it will target the Clemson, Nebraska and Virginia Tech games for potential sellouts.

### Single game tickets to the other five home games will go on sale in August. The lowest-priced seats will be $19 for Florida A&M and Arkansas State and $29 for Duke, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

### Parking for UM games will be priced at $15 to $25 in advance or $20 to $30 on game days. UM and Sun Life Stadium negotiate that rate and share the revenue.

### This week’s pledge by two-star outside linebacker/defensive end Claude George gives UM 16 oral commitments heading into a 21-day dead period.

Of those 16, UM has no five-star recruits but four are four-star recruits, according to rivals.com: running backs Jordan Cronkite and Dexter Williams (who is still looking at other schools) and defensive end Scott Patchan (who already has made clear his distaste for players who drop their Canes commitments to commit elsewhere).

### Former UM safety Kacy Rodgers, who signed with Kansas City, said UM fans have been asking him about his offseason tweet -- “It’s crazy what you can accomplish once you leave a negative environment” --- but insisted he wasn’t taking a shot at UM. (His explanation that he was talking about his own frame of mind wasn’t especially convincing.)

Though some perceived his comment to be a shot at defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio (who can be hard on players), he said it was not: “Coach D’Onofrio does a great job.”

### After committing to UM and then de-committing on Twitter and then committing again, Michael Wyche is finally on campus, so UM fans can feel some sense of relief.

Wyche, from East Los Angeles Community College, needs to start, or at the very least be an impact player, on a defensive line that needs all the help it can get at tackle. UM has tried to convince everyone that Earl Moore and some of the other disappointing tackles improved in the spring, but we need to see it in a game.     

06/29/2014

2 p.m. update: Bosh opts out and exploring the two approaches Heat can now take; Dolphins book visits with Satele, Vallos

As expected, Chris Bosh is opting out of the last two years and $42.6 million of his contract, agent Henry Thomas told The Herald earlier today.

That means the Heat has $55 million in cap space entering the start of free agency on Tuesday. As we noted last week, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade have discussed how much each of them would take but reached no definitive agreement regarding specific numbers over salads on Wednesday.

But they do want to stay together in Miami and are working toward that end. Discussions are ongoing. Udonis Haslem also plans to stay, with a multiyear contract including a first year salary expected to fall between $2 million and $3 million.

If they sacrifice a lot of money --- with James earning the most of the three next season --- they could clear the $8 million to $10 million needed to make a competitive offer for one of the high-end free agents, including Kyle Lowry, Trevor Ariza, Pau Gasol, Marcin Gortart and Luol Deng.

Under that scenario, the Heat also would have a $2.7 million room salary cap exception.

If they take only small cuts, the Heat instead could use its $5.3 million non taxpayers mid-level exception and a $2.2 million trade exception and a $2 million bi-annual exception OR limited cap space but would not be able to use cap space AND the three aforementioned exceptions.

Those mid-level, bi-annual and trade exceptions cannot be combined.

And if the Heat uses its mid-level exception, Miami could not use the room salary cap exception in that scenario and would have not nearly as good a chance of luring a high-level free agent. 

For example, Deng's agent has said there is no chance Deng would consider coming to Miami for that $5.3 million mid-level amount, though he likes the Heat.

A player such as Darren Collison or Paul Pierce or Kirk Hinrich could come using some of the $5.3 million in that scenario, unless Gasol is willing to take the $5.3 million. But Gasol assuredly will get higher offers than that.

Under either scenario, the Heat could sign as many players as it wants to the league minimum.  And if its uses the mid-level exception scenario, instead of using cap room, it could use its Bird Rights to re-sign Ray Allen and Chris Andersen to contracts above the minimum.

The Heat is positioned not to have to pay a luxury tax under either scenario.

Of Bosh's expected opt out, Pat Riley said: "Chris is one of the most versatile and dynamic big men in this league, and he has been an instrumental key to our championship success over the last four seasons. We looked forward to meeting with Chris and his agent in the coming days to discuss keeping him in Miami for many years to come."

### According to a league source, add veteran center Steve Vallos to the list of players who have been summoned to Dolphins headquarters for a Monday audition.

Vallos joins Samson Satele and Daryn Colledge (see below) as players scheduled to work out for the team on Monday.

Miami is searching for a veteran who can help compensate for the loss of center Mike Pouncey, who is expected to miss between two and six regular season games after hip surgery.

Vallos, 30, has played in 59 games over seven seasons, with nine starts. He played two years in Seattle, two in Cleveland, and for Philadelphia, Jacksonville and Denver the past three seasons.

He appeared in 15 regular season games for Denver last season, according to NFL.com, but logged only nine offensive snaps, according to ProFootballFocus.com. But he was forced into action during the Super Bowl because of an injury to Denver's center.

##########################################################################

The Dolphins' search for a roster replacement for injured Mike Pouncey will extend beyond guard Daryn Colledge.

A source said tonight that the Dolphins also have booked center Samson Satele for a workout on Monday.

Colledge and Satele are expected to be joined by two other linemen at Monday's workout. The identity of the other two was not immediately known. [UPDATE: Vallos  is one of the other two.]

Satele, drafted 60th overall by Miami in 2007, started his first two NFL seasons for the Dolphins before being traded to Oakland in March 2009 for a sixth-rounder and an exchange of fourth-round picks.

The Dolphins parted ways with Satele after signing free agent center Jake Grove, a regrettable move in retrospect.

Satele, 29, then started three seasons for the Raiders, before moving on to Indianapolis, where he started 11 games in 2012 and 13 in 2013.

Pro Football Focus rated Satele 31st among 35 qualifying centers last season ---- 18th as a pass blocker but last as a run blocker. He allowed one sack.

Colledge --- who has played guard, tackle and even center on a limited basis during his career --- has started 124 of his 128 NFL games over his eight years, including every game the past six seasons.


Colledge, 32, played his first five seasons with Green Bay and his past three with Arizona. Last year, he played left guard, and Pro Football Focus rated him 45th of 81 qualifying guards --- 32nd in pass protection and 53rd as a run blocker.

Colledge, who allowed two sacks last season, knows Dolphins coach Joe Philbin well from their time together in Green Bay.

The Dolphins say Sam Brenner is their backup center, but Nate Garner is among several other options to fill in for Pouncey. So is first-team right guard Shelley Smith, who has taken snaps at center during the offseason program.

And so, obviously, is Satele, who might be the best option among all the available free agent centers.

Other remaining free agent centers include Kyle Cook, Fernando Velasco, Jim Cordle, Brad Meester and David Baas.

Pouncey is expected to miss between two and six games of the regular season, depending on whether the Dolphins place him on the physically unable to perform list.

If you haven't checked it out already, please see the last post for a lot more Dolphins, Heat and UM notes..... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

06/27/2014

2 p.m. Saturday: Heat stars opt out; Dolphins bringing in veteran starting OL; Dolphins chatter; UM advances talks with Cowboys Stadium

2 p.m. update:

### As expected, Dwyane Wade has opted out of the last two years and $42 million of his contract and Chris Bosh intends to do the same, according to ESPN.

Both are expected to work with the Heat on longer deals that would give Miami additional spending money under the salary cap to upgrade the roster this summer.

Agent Henry Thomas confirmed, via text message, that Wade and Udonis Haslem have informed the Heat that they have opted out but said Bosh "has not yet decided." But Bosh is expected to follow Wade, Haslem and LeBron James in opting out, with ESPN reporting he already has made that decision.

As we reported last week, a friend said Wade would be receptive to opting out and signing a deal in the four-year, $60 million range. Whether the Heat is willing to go as high as $60 million will become clear in the coming days.

Bosh also is willing to take a pay cut to the $15 million to $16 million range next season, according to ESPN.

Backloading new contracts for Wade and Bosh would give the Heat additional cap space this summer, but less so in the fourth year of their deals.

Wade, 32, is permitted to sign a contract as long as four years. Bosh can re-sign with the Heat for as many as five years.

Haslem, meanwhile, opted out of the last year and $4.6 million of his contract and will sign a longer deal with a lower first-year salary.

With James also opting out, the Heat is expected to have $55 million in cap space when free agency starts Tuesday.

A lot of that money will go toward re-signing James, Wade and Bosh, and to a much lesser extent, Haslem. But the Heat also wants to leave enough money to sign an impact free agent or two.

An associate of James reiterated that the Heat is the very strong front-runner to retain him. The Big Three would like to continue their association in Miami and are working toward that goal.

In addition to whatever cap room is left after re-signing the Big Three and Haslem, the Heat also will have a $2.7 million room salary cap exception to spend on another free agent, as well as a $2.2 million trade exception. And Miami can exceed the cap by signing players to the veteran's minimum.

The Heat will begin free agency by pursuing the top players available, a list that includes Carmelo Anthony (who is not scheduled to visit Miami at this point), Kyle Lowry, Pau Gasol, Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza.

If Wade and Bosh take $15 million next season, James $18 million and Haslem close to $3 million, that would leave the Heat with about $5.5 million --- likely not enough for a Lowry or Gortat. So more might need to be created, perhaps by backloading contracts of Wade and Bosh.

James could make $20 million next season, and Yahoo! said he wants a max deal or something close to it. An associate of LeBron also said he would be surprised if James took a significant pay cut.

So to create room for high-level free agents, most of the financial sacrificing will need to be done by Wade, Bosh and Haslem.

The Heat also could create additional space by trading Norris Cole (due $2.1 million) without taking money back or releasing Justin Hamilton ($816,000 salary is non-guaranteed).

Keep in mind that any unfilled roster spots (up to 12) each count as a cap hold of just over $500,000. The salary cap is expected to be $63.6 million next season.

### Pat Riley's statement, on the opt-outs by Wade and Haslem: “Today we were notified of Dwyane’s intention to opt-out of his contract and Udonis’ intention to not opt into his contract, making both players free agents. Dwyane has been the cornerstone of our organization for over a decade, and we hope he remains a part of the Heat family for life. Udonis has been the heartbeat of this team for 11 years. He has sacrificed countless times to make this organization successful, and he is the epitome of what this organization stands for. We look forward to meeting with Dwyane and Udonis and their agent in the coming days to discuss our future together."

DOLPHINS NEWS

According to a league source, the Dolphins have scheduled a Monday visit with veteran starting guard Daryn Colledge, who would provide depth and versatility on a unit still stinging from the loss of center Mike Pouncey.

Under new general manager Dennis Hickey, the Dolphins have attempted to sign every veteran free agent who has visited. 

Colledge --- who has played guard, tackle and even center on a limited basis during his career --- has started 124 of his 128 NFL games over his eight years, including every game the past six seasons. 

Colledge, 32, played his first five seasons with Green Bay and his past three with Arizona. Last year, he played left guard, and Pro Football Focus rated him 45th of 81 qualifying guards --- 32nd in pass protection and 53rd as a run blocker. Colledge, who allowed two sacks last season, knows Dolphins coach Joe Philbin well from their time together in Green Bay.

Pouncey, who had hip surgery last week, is expected to miss between two and six regular season games. The Dolphins say Sam Brenner is their backup center, but Nate Garner is among several other options to fill in for Pouncey. So is first-team right guard Shelley Smith, who has taken snaps at center during the offseason program.

If the Dolphins decide to move Smith to center, Colledge could play guard. It's possible Colledge also could take snaps at center.

Dallas Thomas has taken most of the first-team snaps at left guard during the offseason program, with rookie Billy Turner backing him up.

Colledge's versatility makes him a sensible fit regardless of what permutation the Dolphins choose to replace Pouncey until his return.

###########################################################################################

A potpourri of Friday night items:

DOLPHINS CHATTER

### Some people inside the Dolphins wouldn’t mind conserving a roster spot by having Jarvis Landry replace Marcus Thigpen as the punt returner. Thigpen was 18th in kickoff returns, 19th in punt returns last season.

But offensive coordinator Bill Lazor likes Thigpen and the Dolphins will need to find a spot for him if he proves to be their best returner. Though Landry says he can return kicks and Lamar Miller can, too, none of the other players who fielded kickoffs last week besides Thigpen (Damian Williams, Matt Hazel and Rantavious Wooten) might even make the team.

### The Dolphins have been making preliminary inquiries about some available centers, though it remains to be seen whether Miami will bring in any for a visit or sign any of them.

Here’s how the remaining unsigned starting centers finished in the Pro Football Focus rankings last season, among 35 qualifying centers:

Cincinnati’s Kyle Cook was 24th, Pittsburgh’s Fernando Velasco 25th, Jacksonville’s Brad Meester 30th, and the Colts’ Samson Satele 31st.

Mike Pouncey, who is expected to miss two to six regular-season games, was 13th.

The Dolphins also have shown interest in free agent guard Daryn Colledge. He has started 124 NFL games and played for Joe Philbin when Philbin was an assistant in Green Bay.

### Among the subplots we’ll be watching in training camp (first practice is July 25) are battles for backup positions on defense, several of which have become very competitive.

At cornerback, Jalil Brown has made a strong case so far to make this team and perhaps even play ahead of Will Davis. But do you keep six corners, which seems excessive considering safety Jimmy Wilson plays in the nickel: Brent Grimes, Cortland Finnegan, Jamar Taylor (who are clearly your top three), Davis, Brown and rookie Walt Aikens?

Impressive LSU rookie Anthony Johnson has a legitimate chance to beat out A.J. Francis and Isaako Aaitui for the No. 4 defensive tackle spot. And undrafted rookies Garrison Smith (Georgia) and Kamal Johnson (Temple) also have earned consideration.

At safety, three things are set: Reshad Jones and Louis Delmas as starters and Wilson as the nickel back. The fourth safety job is very close among Jordan Kovacs (the new front office likes him), Don Jones (upside on special teams) and Michael Thomas (the end-of-game star against New England).

### Early reviews of defensive tackle Earl Mitchell have been encouraging.

“They got a real good player,” Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson, his former Texans teammate, told me. “He’s not a real big dude [by behemoth defensive tackle standards] but he plays like a big dude.”

### Jason Taylor, who has been serving as a volunteer assistant at times during the Dolphins' offseason program, addressed a couple of issues on 790 The Ticket's morning show, with Jonathan Zaslow and

Taylor's sister Joy:

1) On his Dolphins role from here: "I did a little bit in OTAs and mini camp and I will probably do some in training camp. I hope they have me back. It's good to be around the guys again and do football and share some of the knowledge you were able to gain. We'll see if I can do a little bit more in training camp and take it from there."

2) On whether it makes sense for Dion Jordan to play special teams: "The thing about Dion is he is so athletic he gives you an advantage on [special teams]. The problem is taking a little bit of gas out of the tank [on defense]. I played on the punt and punt return team my first three years."

UM CHATTER

Though nothing is finalized, UM’s talks with Cowboys Stadium have progressed and all parties are working toward having the Hurricanes open the 2018 season against LSU in Arlington, Tx.

The game would be on a Saturday night and televised nationally.

UM has decided to focus on finalizing that game and has decided against playing Alabama in Atlanta to open the 2017 season.

### UM tonight added 6-7 former Niagara power forward Joe Thomas, who averaged 3.4 points and 2.7 rebounds last season. He’s eligible immediately. The Canes were desperate to add another power rotation player.

"Joe joins us at the perfect time," UM coach Jim Larranaga said. "We needed a frontcourt player with experience and a fifth-year senior was exactly what my staff and I hoped for. He provides us with some size and strength and rebounding toughness."

Thomas, who attended Krop High in Miami, has one season of eligibility left. 

HEAT CHATTER

Yes, the Heat likes Toronto free agent point guard Kyle Lowry, though Miami likely could afford him only if Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and perhaps LeBron James take pay cuts. But no, they are not on the verge of a sign-and-trade for him.

Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher posted a story tonight saying the Heat and Raptors would imminently complete a trade that would send Lowry to Miami for Norris Cole and draft picks.

Bucher retracted the story shortly after that.

“My deepest and sincere apologies,” Bucher tweeted earlier this evening. “My report on Lowry and a [sign-and-trade] between the Heat and Raptors is wrong. I should’ve known better. I could not be more embarrassed. I can’t explain why someone would go to the lengths my source did to set me up….”

### Saturday morning update: Haslem has opted out of a contract that would have paid him $4.6 million next season. He is instead expected to get a multiyear deal with a lower year one salary. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are expected to opt out before Monday's deadline.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz