04/15/2014

6 p.m. Heat sked update and news; Surprising James/Wade numbers; Marino/Fins update; More Fins visits; Marlins, UM

Quick 6 p.m. update on the final day of the regular season:

### We don't know the Heat's first-round opponent at this hour, but we do know the time of Game 1: 3:30 p.m. Sunday on ABC.

The NBA announced dates for only the first games of playoff series this weekend, even though only two of eight matchups have been set. The openers in Indiana and Toronto will be Saturday; the opener hosted by the Bulls will be 7 p.m. Sunday. The only Eastern matchup set is Pacers-Hawks.

Out West, games hosted by OKC and the Clippers will be Saturday. The opener in San Antonio will be 1 p.m. Sunday. The Portland-Houston Game 1 will be 9:30 p.m. Sunday.

All games will be televised nationally.

Dates for Game 2 and beyond have not been set.

### Erik Spoelstra said LeBron James and Chris Bosh both will be given the night off tonight against Philadelphia. That means each will have at least six, and perhaps seven, days of rest before Miami's playoff opener on Saturday or Sunday. (Playoff dates and times will be announced at some point tonight.)

### Spoelstra said he wants to use Dwyane Wade tonight, though not as much as he would in a meaningful game, so he can get in "rhythm" heading into the playoffs.

### Spoelstra also indicated Greg Oden, who hasn't played since March 26 in Indiana, will get minutes tonight. He had been sidelined initially with back spasms and for the past two games with a stomach virus.

Regarding the playoffs, Spoelstra was non-committal about who would start alongside Chris Bosh, a job that Udonis Haslem has strongly staked a claim to. "A lot of that will be dictated on who we play," Spoelstra said. But even against Indiana, Haslem has proved to be the better option in the past two games.

### Shane Battier said he expects the Heat will get updates on the Charlotte and Washington scores from fans in the front row. The Heat will play Charlotte in the first round if the Bobcats lose to Chicago or if the Wizards win at Boston. Washington would fall to seventh if the Wizards lose and Charlotte wins.

### Listening to Spoelstra, it's clear he still has great faith in Norris Cole, who has shot 34.4 percent and 26.3 percent on threes since ther All-Star break. "I'm not concerned," Spoelstra said of his shooting struggles.

### James will finish the season with a career-high in field goal percentage (56.7), topping his 56.5 last season.

### Bosh will close with his lowest scoring average since his rookies season (16.2) and his lowest rebounding average ever (6.6). He averaged 18.7 and 8.3 in his first season with the Heat.

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WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Dwyane Wade and LeBron James enter postseason having played just one game with each other in the past three weeks. And though that shouldn’t worry them, considering their four years of high achievement together, it will be fascinating to see how they work in tandem in these playoffs.

Playing together, they were good this season, but the Heat outscored teams by a larger margin when James played without Wade than alongside Wade, a trend dating back to last season’s playoffs. That’s surprising, considering Wade (in his 53 games) produced his highest shooting percentage ever.

Let’s be clear: Despite winning 13 of its last 17 without Wade, the Heat clearly needs a healthy, productive Wade to win a championship. And you obviously want James and Wade playing together for much of the game.

But these developments are notable:

### The last time Wade played a lot, in March, the Heat was outscored by two points during the 259 minutes that James and Wade were on the court together. When they weren’t on the court together, Miami outscored teams by 70 in March.

That’s the first month (other than one-game Octobers) that Miami has been outscored during the minutes when James and Wade were on court together, in the regular season, since the first month of their first season together (November 2010). Incidentally, Miami was outscored by five when James and Wade played together in their one April game (against Atlanta on Saturday).

### James and Wade have played 1161 minutes together this season (well below last season’s 1932), making them the Heat’s ninth-most used duo. The Heat has outscored opponents by 6.3 per 48 minutes with James and Wade on court together, which ranked only eighth-best among the Heat’s 15 most-used tandems.

By comparison, the Heat outscored opponents by a larger margin when James was paired with Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Norris Cole, Chris Andersen or Rashard Lewis (but not Wade).

### Over their first three seasons together, the Heat outscored teams by 11.8 per 48 minutes with James and Wade on the floor together in 2010-11, by 13.6 in 2011-12 (best two-man pairing on the team) and by 13.8 last season --- much higher than the Heat’s overall plus/minus those years. The difference this season between the Heat’s overall score differential (plus 4.9) and the James/Wade one (6.3) was much narrower.

### This season, the Heat outscored teams by 7.1 per 48 minutes when James played without Wade, compared to 6.3 when James played with Wade. During the 2012-13 regular season, the Heat was much better with James and Wade together (plus 13.8 per 48) than James without Wade (plus 8.3).

### The reverse doesn’t hold true for Wade, with Miami outscored by eight points in Wade’s 591 minutes without James this season.

### Wade’s ability to overcome knee problems and thrive in several games in the Finals was vital to the Heat winning a second consecutive championship.

But when James and Wade played together during last season’s playoffs, Miami was plus two in 677 minutes, probably mostly a byproduct of Wade’s knee issues. By comparison, James was plus 149 with Battier, plus 121 with Allen, plus 112 with Andersen and plus 67 with Bosh. The lineup of James with several reserves was Miami’s most effective in several games.

So it will be fascinating to watch how the Heat’s two biggest stars play off each other during the postseason.

“I understand that he’s the greatest player in the game,” Wade told ESPN this week. “But also understand how important I am. Is it easy? No, it’s not easy. But to win and to win the way you want to, you can’t have two cars bumping into each other.”

### With the Knicks beating the Nets tonight, there's a chance Brooklyn could fall from fifth to sixth (and into the Heat's bracket as a potential second-round opponent). If the Nets lose at Cleveland Wednesday and Washington wins at Boston, the Wizards would move to the fifth spot.

CHATTER

### We hear Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and Dan Marino met recently to discuss a potential job with the organization and those conversations will continue. Ross and Marino haven’t yet settled on what would be the best fit for him, but both parties want to make it work and he could end up involved in multiple aspects of the organization. A role on the football side is possible down the road, but probably not in the next few months.

### In addition to the visits mentioned in our last few posts, sources says the Dolphins are using two of their 30 permitted non-local visits on Georgia State offensive lineman Ulrick John (starter at left tackle but can play every line position) and Marist defensive end Terence Fede (led FCS in sacks per game, finished last season with 13 sacks and had 30.5 in his career).

Draft analyst Tony Pauline's assessment of John amused us: "He does not sink his butt at the line of scrimmage, nor is he a true knee bender." (OK then!)

But... "his ability to play three separate positions on the line gives him an upper hand to make an NFL roster."

Teams are allowed to bring 30 non-local players who interest them to their headquarters to meet with coaches and front office officials and take medical tests. Former Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland drafted several of the players he brought to Davie.

Dennis Hickey has used his visits in many different ways, from first-round talents (Marqise Lee) to several who weren't invited to the Combine. The Dolphins do not announce draft visits.

### Clemson guard/tackle Brandon Thomas was one of the Dolphins' 30 invitees but canceled his visit after tearing his ACL in a workout for the Saints.

### Second baseman Derek Dietrich, who entering Tuesday batting .300 with two homers, said he hopes he will continue to start a lot of games when Rafael Furcal returns from injury and a minor league stint in early May because "I'm helping the team." But Marlins manager Mike Redmond told us Furcal will be the starter regardless: "That's the plan."

### Jose Fernandez, who starts Wednesday against Washington and is coming off the worst outing of his young career (six runs allowed against Philadelphia), said, “I can’t go crazy about one start. My grandmother said, ‘It’s baseball.’ It’s going to happen.”

Fernandez can move closer to history Wednesday -- he’s 11-0 in 17 career starts at Marlins Park, and only two pitchers since 1910 have not lost a game in their first 18 starts at their home ballpark: William Vanlandingham (18) and David Palmer (21).

### UM’s football game at Nebraska was set for 8 p.m. Sept. 20, with ABC, ESPN or ESPN2 televising.... UM hoops wants to lure a senior transfer with size, and Tennessee State's 6-9 MJ Rhett (11 points, 9 rebounds per game) will visit UM on Monday, after visiting Oklahoma State, Tulane, Mississippi and USC, according to ESPN. Rhett would be eligible to play immediately.

04/14/2014

10:20 p.m. update on Heat playoff picture; Dolphins chatter; Golden's Monday musings

An update on the Heat’s playoff predicament after tonight’s 114-93 loss at Washington (LeBron James and Chris Bosh sat out):

### The Heat has clinched the No. 2 seed, meaning Miami will be in an enviable bracket with Charlotte, Washington (likely) and (if the current standings hold) Toronto.

The Heat will play Charlotte in the first round if the Bobcats lose Wednesday against visiting Chicago or if Washington wins Wednesday at Boston. If Charlotte wins Wednesday and Washington loses, Miami would play Washington.

Charlotte owns the tiebreaker with Washington and kept alive its hopes of moving to No. 6 by rallying to win at Atlanta tonight.

### In the second round, Miami would play the winner of the series between the third and sixth seeds. Toronto moved a step closer toward clinching the No. 3 seed by beating Milwaukee tonight.

The Raptors (who would win a tiebreaker against Chicago because they're a division winner) would clinch the third seed if they win Wednesday at New York or if the Bulls lose Wednesday at Charlotte. Chicago kept alive its hopes of claiming the third seed by beating Orlando tonight.

Keep in mind the Heat has won 15 straight against Toronto, spanning the entire length of LeBron’s employment with the Heat.

And Miami has won 16 in a row against Charlotte.

There’s a chance Washington could move to the fifth spot, and drop Brooklyn to sixth, but only if the Wizards win at Boston Wednesday and the Nets lose to the Cavaliers and Knicks.

### Unless Brooklyn drops to sixth and wins its first-round series, Miami would avoid the Nets in the second round. The Nets swept the season series, 4-0, against Miami, as you know.

### The Spurs, Thunder and Clippers would all have homecourt advantage against the Heat in a potential Finals matchup. The Finals changes from 2-3-2 to a 2-2-1-1-1 format this year.

### The Heat is now 11-13 since March 4.

DOLPHINS CHATTER

A few weeks ago, it didn’t appear that the Dolphins would need to do much at receiver this offseason, considering they like their top four (Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson and Rishard Matthews) and considering they’re intrigued by Armon Binns.

But with Hartline, Gibson and Binns all coming off knee injuries (Gibson’s was particularly serious), the Dolphins have been very active at the position the past two weeks.

After Nate Burleson declined Miami’s offer and signed with Cleveland instead, the Dolphins signed veteran Damian Williams (in addition to long shots Kevin Cone and Mike Rios).

We reported in recent days that the Dolphins have summoned Clemson receiver Martavis Bryant and Mississippi receiver Donte Moncrief to team headquarters to meet with coaches and front-office officials. (Both are likely second- or third-round picks.)

And a source confirmed tonight that USC receiver Marqise Lee will visit Dolphins headquarters on Tuesday, as first reported this evening by ESPN’s James Walker. That means at least three of the Dolphins’ 30 permitted visits will involve receivers, a position that might be their deepest on the team.

Lee, who caught 57 passes for 791 yards last season, is projected to go in the range of Miami’s pick at No. 19. ESPN’s Todd McShay has him going 22nd to Philadelphia and noted he “struggled with drops in 2013” but has “good speed” and “is a threat after the catch.”

If Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin is available at No. 19, it would be surprising if the Dolphins opted for Lee instead. But if Martin is off the board at No. 19, everything is in play. And the Dolphins are showing more interest in receivers than most expected.

It would be surprising if the Dolphins part ways with Gibson, considering he was very effective before his injury. (GM Jackson --- a distant cousin of GM Salguero --- would definitely keep him even if he’s not 100 percent by the start of the season.)

But JSYK (just so you know), his cap hit is $3.7 million if he’s on the team and $2 million if he’s not.

Gibson, who tore his patellar tendon in Week 8 against the Patriots, is doing light jogging and told ESPN recently that he “definitely” will be back for the opener.

CANES CHATTER

Al Golden reflected on spring practice with WQAM’s Joe Rose on Monday. Some highlights:

### On Kevin Olsen: “We have to improve, there’s no question about it.  In the one-on-one phase and seven-on-seven phase [Saturday], we included all of the concepts. He did well in that part of it. In the other part of it, we need to improve on. He knows that. Gray Crow knows that. In the scrimmage, it was play action and move the pocket, not drop-backs. We were in very bland [formations]…. That’s not who we were all spring.

“The biggest thing I was impressed with Kevin was he managed the game well. He had a good line of scrimmage operation. He understands he doesn’t have to do too much. He has a lot of guys around him we have to get the ball to.”

But Golden said “I look at the body of work” and that Olsen played “really well” in practice last week.

### On May arrivals Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier: “Those quarterbacks coming in are going to help us be a better football team. Brad and Malik are very bright. They’re very talented. That’s going to make it a tighter race and improve everybody.”

### Golden said “as tight as it is as linebacker, that has made us better. Everyone knows about Denzel Perryman and Alex Figueroa, but Jermaine Grace is coming on, and Juwon Young, JuWand Blue, Darrion Owens [showed positive signs]. I’ve said multiple times how good a spring Raphael Kirby had. That’s what’s going to make us better.”

### Golden was pleased with the defense Saturday: “I looked at last year’s spring game. I look at a defense that had a different attitude about it. The number of [mental errors] is down dramatically from a year ago.”

### He said new right tackle Taylor Gadbois “had as good a spring as anybody. [Early arrivals and current backups] Kc McDermott and Trevor Darling both made great progress.  Do I like where we are with our starting offensive line? Yeah. Now it’s about who’s 7, 8, 9, 10.”

### On Gus Edwards and Walter Tucker: “They run hard. Gus is a tailback at 235. And Tucker is a fullback by nature. We got him down to 219. He will play at 224. Both those guys ran with the pads low, did exactly what we need them to do.”

### “I was saying to myself watching Clive Walford on the 1 and 1s, there are some plays there that look like a big-time tight end.”

### He said he was “disappointed” with the team’s performance in only one of the 15 practices.

           

04/13/2014

Players appreciate Spo's flexibility, amused by his language; Dolphins, UM, Marlins buzz

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

The intensity amps up for the Heat when the playoffs begin next weekend, and though Erik Spoelstra has a lot to keep his head spinning, at least he no longer will need to worry about motivating his players after the drudgery of a largely insignificant regular season. Players aiming for a three-peat don’t need Knute Rockne speeches once the playoffs start.

“Spo did a great job of keeping us motivated,” Dwyane Wade said, though Miami didn’t always look especially engaged.

There have been multiple thorny issues for Spoelstra this season: Trying to extract better defense from a team that declined greatly in that regard until the past three weeks…. Tinkering with a lineup that has been without Wade for more than one-third of the season….

Trying to keep his men intently focused on his message, even with Chris Bosh admitting that players already have heard Spoelstra say “about 75 percent” of what he tells them. And “the other 25 percent will be current events. He talked about Nelson Mandela, for example.”

Therein lies one of the challenges for long-tenured coaches, with Spoelstra tied for second with Dallas’ Rick Carlisle among active head coaches in tenure with his team, behind San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. But Spoelstra feels no need to keep his message fresh when addressing players: “Whatever point we need to make, we make it.”

What keeps players listening when they’ve heard the message before? “Winning,” Shane Battier said. “Want your players to tune you out? Lose a few.”

Bosh admits Spoelstra’s message “gets repetitive, but we have to hear it. Sometimes it gets old, but we say, ‘Hey man, he's right.’ So we have to meet him halfway.”

Let’s be clear: Players respect Spoelstra and his flexibility and X’s and O’s acumen and appreciate his willingness to genuinely listen to their suggestions. Two championships have firmly established their trust in him.

But they still get amused by his repetitive use of terms they affectionately call Spoisms. At last check, 229 people were following a “Spoisms” Twitter account.

“It's rare they don't amuse guys,” Battier said. “It's rare they don't elicit laughter at some point.”

Their favorites?

"It's a grind,” Bosh said. “I’ve heard that about a hundred thousand times. And then we start saying it….

“And ‘It’s part of the process’ -- that's another one.  He says, ‘You guys are going to kill me for saying it but….’… ‘Sacrifice’ is another one. We may joke about it, but it's got a heavy dose of truth and we try to listen to it."

Battier’s favorite? “Burn a calorie. That means you're not working hard enough.”

Wade’s favorite? “’Embrace the moment’ and ‘We’ve got to own it.’ And ‘Do not let go of the rope’ is funny.”

Wade said Spoisms are “cool at first and then at the end of the year, you're like, 'I know what he's going to say now.' But he's consistent to who he is.”

After a while, players even start sounding like him. What's the first thing LeBron James told Sun Sports' Jason Jackson after beating the Pacers Friday? "It's all about the process!" Ah yes, another Spoism. 

There are several things Spoelstra has done this season that his players appreciate: from scheduling fewer practices (“Spo giving us all this rest; it helps us all,” LeBron said), to allowing his stars to suggest late-game play calls, to drawing up a new package for Wade to get him more involved offensively during a time in February when he felt mostly like a facilitator.

Why the willingness to take his players’ suggestions more than some other coaches do? “Desperation to win,” Spoelstra said, smiling.

“With this group we’ve gotten to a point where it’s whatever it takes. It took a lot of failures to get to that point, to figure out what works. We’ve been through enough disappointments that it has forced us all to look inward. More player-to-coach, coach-to-player and player-to-player input was better for this team.”

Spoelstra also has shown flexibility with his rotation, and his decision to re-insert Udonis Haslem and Rashard Lewis has paid dividends in recent weeks.

Spoelstra remains big on self-improvement. “That was one of the reasons I wanted to meet with football coaches during the summer,” he said.

“I met with [Eagles coach] Chip Kelly, [Seahawks coach] Pete Carroll and [University of Tennessee coach] Butch Jones to dig deeper into managing personalities and leadership and motivation. I've found it incredibly valuable.”

What’s struck Roger Mason (before he was cut) and Toney Douglas is that Spoelstra doesn’t have different rules for his stars.

“Spo holds everyone accountable –-- LeBron, D-Wade. If something is wrong, he will tell them and that’s good,” Douglas said.

Mason liked how Spoelstra pushes and “challenges” his stars, in front of everyone. Mason recalled a speech earlier this season about the team’s defense, when Spoelstra implored LeBron: ‘Listen, you can be Defensive Player of the Year!’”

The motivational aspect of Spoelstra’s job becomes far easier next weekend, but the strategic elements do not, especially if his team is not at full strength. (Miami is still hopeful it will be.)

But Spoelstra’s willingness to adapt remains one of his greatest strengths, from inserting Mike Miller in the starting lineup midway through last year’s Finals, to taking Haslem out of mothballs in March. “He’s analytical,” Battier said. “He thinks the game.”

One continuing challenge: Scripting creative late-game plays that the Heat hasn’t used very often. James expressed frustration that he didn’t take the last shot in the March 26 Indiana and Minnesota games.

### With Sunday's win against Oklahoma City, Indiana needs only a win on Wednesday in Orlando or one Heat loss to clinch the No. 1 seed. The Heat appears likely to be the No. 2 seed and play either Charlotte (the current No. 7 seed) or Washington in the first round, beginning next Saturday or Sunday.

CHATTER

### Besides using some of their 30 allotted non-local draft visits on offensive linemen, the Dolphins  booked Mississippi receiver Donte Moncrief (a potential second-rounder) and speedy Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines (possible third-rounder) to come to Davie to meet with team officials. Gaines visited this past week, according to a source.

Here's what CBS draft analyst Rob Rang said about Moncrief: "Moncrief's thick frame, deceptive speed and smooth route-running make him a nightmare for cornerbacks. He does not possess the explosive moves of Southern Cal's Marqise Lee or Clemson's Sammy Watkins but might be a better player than either of them. He shows the ability to generate separation even against tight man coverage, and accelerates quickly, often leaving defenders in his dust on double-moves. Moncrief tracks the ball well and generally shows excellent hands (one drop vs. Texas), as well as the body control to make the dazzling grab. 

(But Miami doesn't really need another receiver.)

Here was CBS' assessment of Gaines: "He has the size, length and aggressive nature to match up well against receivers at the line, to press. Shows footwork and redirection skills. Inexperienced in the backpedal. Holds the Rice record for most career passes defended (42). Just needs to come down with more interceptions."

### Seantrel Henderson’s agent, David Levine, said his client “had an amazing workout for the Dolphins [Friday] and great meetings with the staff, including a private meeting with Joe Philbin after his workout. He hopes Miami drafts him.”

### The Dolphins had conversations with the agent for free agent tight end Jermichael Finley and said they could have interest if he’s cleared to resume his career after neck surgery. But other teams have been more pro-active. Joe Philbin was offensive coordinator during part of Finley's tenure with the Packers. Incidentally, Dustin Keller also remains unsigned.

### According to the Delaware County Times, the Dolphins rejected Philadelphia’s offer of a second-round pick and linebacker Brandon Graham (a backup with three sacks last season) for Dion Jordan.

The Dolphins, who denied a report that Jordan is available, have been auditioning pass rushers in the draft. They dispatched their defensive line coach to Minnesota to privately work out Concordia-St. Paul defensive end Zach Moore, who has 33 college sacks and has created a buzz.

### Snapshots from the private rooms of the UM Hall of Fame banquet Thursday: Warren Sapp hugging Pat Riley, then later complaining about UM’s ACC-worst defense… Andre Johnson raving about Stacy Coley (“tremendous talent; his speed stands out most of all”) and how new Dolphins tackle (and his former Texans teammate) Earl Mitchell plays bigger than his size…

Former UM assistant Don Soldinger calling UM safety Jamal Carter “a stud” and predicting he could be another Sean Taylor… Inductee Lamar Thomas, now receivers coach for Louisville, talking about “how it will be a little strange” playing UM on Labor Day.

Thomas told Al Golden a couple of years ago that he would love to coach at UM, but Golden’s staff was full. “I’m in a better situation because I can learn from one of the great minds, and it will make me a better coach,” Thomas said. “Bobby Petrino is an offensive genius…. I was thinking of going to UM practice [Thursday] but I thought it wouldn’t be a good idea.” 

### The Marlins not only rejected overtures for now injured Jacob Turner, but also for prospects Andrew Heaney and Justin Nicolino, not wanting to trade pitching for hitting.

Their Double A rotation is among the best in the minors: Heaney, Nicolino, Anthony DeSclafani, Angel Sanchez and Jose Urena. “We call them the Jacksonville five instead of the Jackson five,” Marlins scouting executive Marty Scott cracked.      

### Please see the last post for some UM spring postscripts, views and reaction.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

04/12/2014

News, views, stats and reaction from UM's spring game Saturday night

Observations and reaction from UM’s spring game Saturday night at Sun Life Stadium:

### You thought defense was this team’s biggest concern? Quarterback play might now be atop the Hurricanes' list of worries.

Kevin Olsen and Gray Crow did little to elicit confidence during this pseudo scrimmage, at least during the 11-on-11 portion, which was played on a 65-yard field. And the offense produced only seven points in 11-on-11 play, which spanned 75 minutes (of real life time, not game time).

Olsen finished 7 for 21 for 65 yards and one pick. Crow was 9 for 20 for 63 yards and one pick. Neither threw a touchdown in 11 on 11 drills, with Miami's only score coming on a Walter Tucker three-yard run.

Al Golden said afterward that Olsen “is clearly ahead” of Crow. But Golden said: “We need someone to emerge who can execute.”

While I still make Olsen the favorite to open the season as the starter, I would no longer be shocked if Brad Kaaya – who arrives in May – wins the job.

In fairness, Olsen didn’t take many first-team reps in spring ball until this past week (following Ryan Williams’ injury) and Crow never expected to be No. 2 on the depth chart.

But it’s clear both quarterbacks need a lot of work.

Olsen’s first three 11-on-11 possessions went quickly, ending in what would have been punts if Miami actually punted. He underthrew Phillip Dorsett and overthrew Stacy Coley on the first.

Ufomba Kamalu sacked him on the second possession. He overthrew Clive Walford on his third possession, which ended with Gus Edwards being tackled for a two-yard loss on third and one.

Olsen’s fourth possession ended when he overthrew Malcolm Lewis.

On Olsen’s fifth possession of the 11-on-11 portion of the scrimmage, Olsen finally completed a pass, a 25-yarder to Malcolm Lewis, who caught a five-yard pass on the sidelines a bit later on. Walter Tucker ended that drive with a three-yard score, the first points in the first nine possessions of the scrimmage (five quarterbacked by Olsen, four by Crow).

Olsen strung together consecutive solid throws on the sixth drive --- 14 yards to Herb Waters and 10 to Clive Walford. But that drive ended with Phillip Dorsett failing to catch a low throw.

Olsen’s seventh possession? Forgettable: A poorly thrown deep ball to Stacy Coley, which was intercepted by Tracy Howard. The eighth ended with Olsen overthrowing Lewis.

Here’s the glass-half-full perspective: Olsen has enough physical gifts to suggest that he will improve over time. He threw two impressive long touchdown throws Saturday (to Rashawn Scott and Dorsett) in one-on-one drills (against Larry Hope and Artie Burns, respectively). He made a terrific throw to Malcolm Lewis during 9-on-9 drills.

But there are going to be growing pains with Olsen if he indeed wins the job, and Miami must hope he grows up quickly enough to curb his turnovers and mistakes when the Hurricanes open in Louisville on Labor Day night.

“I would like to have performed a little better,” Olsen said. “It wasn’t nerves. We didn’t connect [on some plays]. The defense made a couple of good plays.”

### As for Crow, his best pass of the night was dropped, a 30-yarder to D’Mauri Jones.

Crow often struggled with his touch; throws on two sideline patterns were uncatchable, as were several other passes. Matt Guodis missed a 47-yard field goal on Crow’s first drive, and Crow couldn’t sustain drives the rest of the night. His sixth possession ended with a Juwon Young interception.

### Golden tried to put a positive spin on the quarterback play, noting that UM’s offense used “only about four formations.”

On Olsen’s performance, Golden said: “I thought he did a good job. He knows what he needs to do. He made the right calls. We have to execute better…. We’ll see where Ryan Williams is in late July, early August.” (Williams is not expected back for the start of the season.)

Golden praised Olsen for his poise, for making the right pre-snap reads and for not being culpable on any penalties.

### Edwards (19 carries, 70 yards) looks much improved, despite being tackled for a loss on the aforementioned short yardage play when he didn’t get any blocking in front of him. He ran hard, decisively and carried defenders with him for extra yards.

Tucker (11 carries, 36 yards) also had some strong runs, including the only touchdown of 11 on 11 drills.

“Gus is 235, Walter 220 --- that will give us physicality to complement Duke Johnson and Joseph Yearby,” Golden said. “Gus did a good job of stopping, starting, getting his shoulders squared.”

### Jermaine Grace again made his presence felt, as he did in the second scrimmage. He knocked away a pass to Walter Tucker in the flat and nearly picked off a Crow pass.

### Goudis didn’t elicit any confidence, missing two field goals, from 47 and 50 yards.

### Other notable numbers: Lewis was UM's leading receiver with three catches for 36 yards. Others with receptions: Herb Waters (3-12), Scott (2 for 33), Walford (2 for 13), Beau Sandland (1 for 3), Tucker (1 for 9), Garrett Kidd (1 for 6), Coley (1-6), Jones (1-no yards)....

Jamal Carter and Dallas Crawford led UM in tackles with five apiece... Kamalu and Anthony Chickillo had Miami's only sacks... Darrion Owens, JaWand Blue, Raphael Kirby, Olsen Pierre and Nantambu Fentress also had tackles for losses... As noted, Young and Howard had Miami's two picks...

Duke Johnson and Joseph Yearby did not participate as they recover from leg inuries. De'Andre Johnson had five carries for 11 yards.

### Golden said “a lot of positives” emerged from spring ball, “most notably...  [improvement at] linebacker and safety.”... The announced crowd Saturday was 12,160.

Please check back Sunday morning for the Sunday buzz column, packed with Heat, Dolphins, Canes and Marlins

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz                     

 

How Pacers explained, shrugged off loss to Heat and No. 1 seed battle; Heat, Dolphins chatter

After this resounding 98-86 Heat win over Indiana Friday, the most interesting place afterward was the Pacers locker-room, if only to see their players sit in front of their locker stalls staring morosely into space, trying to explain what has shockingly happened to them over the past month.

Here was the best they could do, after losing for the eighth time in 11 games, and 13th in their past 21:

### David West said “we had no energy and intensity tonight.” Asked why, he said: “I got no clue. No answer for that.”

More West: “We haven’t played well enough to be the top seed. We got what we deserve, I guess.”

### Lance Stephenson: “Whatever God put us at, I feel like if He puts us in the second place or if he puts us in first place, we got to live up to the challenge. I like us as underdogs and us coming after people. I feel we’re better as underdogs.”

### A couple Pacers starters chose to dismiss the ramifications, with the Heat now ahead by half a game in the race for the top seed in the conference.

“Now the No. 1 seed is not in our hands we’re perfectly fine with that,” Paul George said.

And George Hill said: “It doesn’t mean anything. It’s one loss. It would’ve helped us but it doesn’t mean anything.”

### And then there was Roy Hibbert, speaking barely above a whisper, trying to explain why he didn’t even take a shot in the first half (despite the six-inch height advantage over Udonis Haslem, who did more good work against him) and why he didn’t get his first rebound until just over three minutes remained in the third quarter.

“I’m disappointed in my play,” he said. “I felt good. I’ve got to do something on the boards. I’ve got to get long rebounds and work on that.”

He said he didn’t want to force shots in the first half “and we were in a rhythm. We were taking all good shots. I was fine with it. I wasn’t worried about shot attempts.”

But in the next breath, he said, “it was tough getting into a rhythm” offensively “in the second half,” suggesting it was a byproduct of him not taking any shots in the first half.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said of Hibbert: “We have to get more from him and break their defense as well as box them out.”

The Heat had a 40-31 edge on the boards. Hibbert closed with five points (2 for 7 shooting) and one rebound in 33 minutes.

Paul George (22 points) shot 7 for 17 with four turnovers.

George Hill didn’t attempt a shot in 32 minutes.

Stephenson (11 points) had four of the Pacers’ 16 turnovers.

“Having 10 turnovers in the second half cost us in the third quarter,” Vogel said. “It was too much for us to overcome. I don’t think we played that bad, other than the third quarter.”

The Heat opened that third quarter on a 16-0 run, then ran off a 9-0 spurt to open the fourth.

“It’s still a good basketball team," Vogel said of his reeling group. "Overall, we feel very confident.”

### Chris Bosh, on the Heat’s approach with Hibbert: In the past, “we were allowing him to get too many easy dunks and layups. That was really hurting us and it got him going. Today we were able to stay between him and the basket and make his catches in the paint tough.

“We want to challenge him every time and test his conditioning level. If he is going to be down there every time, we are going to make him work. I think before we were trying to avoid putting him in pick-and-roll situations, and today I think we just attacked him a lot more.”

### LeBron James, who had 36 points and six rebounds, said: “The best thing about tonight is we didn’t force passes” and commit turnovers (just nine overall).

He said “for us, it’s big” to win because of earlier losses this week. But “it’s not as big as everyone wants to make it.”

Asked about the No. 1 seed, LeBron again downplayed it, saying: “It’s more important for us to play the right way. The No. 1 seed doesn’t guarantee you a playoff series.”

And LeBron showed respect for the Pacers, saying “they have their record for a reason. They are going to be there.”

### Since the Pacers own the tiebreaker by virtue of a better conference record, Miami (54-25) would need to finish 3-0 to claim the No. 1 seed IF the Pacers (54-26) beat both visiting Oklahoma City and Orlando on the road to finish out their schedule. The Heat's remaining games: at Atlanta, at Washington and home to Philadelphia.

DOLPHINS NOTES

### New Dolphins receiver Damian Williams said Miami broached the issue of being a return man during his visit Thursday. But he would be an underdog in that competition with incumbent Marcus Thigpen.

Thigpen ranked 18th in the NFL in kickoff returns last season, averaging 22.5 yards per return. He ranked 19th in punt returns with a 7.8 average.

In his career, Williams has returned four punts for 12 yards, and five kickoffs for 129 yards.

### The Dolphins worked out 50 players during their local day today, the majority from UM, FIU and FAU.

### Clemson tackle/guard Brandon Thomas had planned to visit the Dolphins before tearing the ACL in his knee during a recent workout with the Saints.

04/10/2014

1 p.m. Friday news update (Heat/Dolphins); Analyzing Spoelstra's choices; Dolphins books visits; Canes notes

A quick 1 p.m. Friday update heading into Heat-Pacers tonight:

### Dwyane Wade will miss his ninth game in a row with a hamstring injury, and Erik Spoelstra did not answer definitively when asked if he would play before the end of the regular season next Wednesday. He implied Miami wants to be cautious.

"Look around the league with hamstring injuries," Spoelstra said, adding that "you don't want" a player to return and then have a "setback."

(The Heat is not making Wade available to the print media.)

### Greg Oden will miss a ninth straight game with back spasms. "He hasn't been able to get over the hump," Spoelstra said. "But the knees are fantastic."

### Udonis Haslem will return tonight after missing two games with the flu and will spend much of the time defending Roy Hibbert, who holds a six-inch height advantage. Hibbert praised Haslem's defense during Indiana's media availability this morning.

### Chris Andersen is a game-time decision because of assorted minor injuries.

### Spoelstra bemoaned Miami losing nine games, over the past month and a half, in which it was tied or led in the fourth quarter.

### Hibbert said Heat and Pacers get along, contrary to perception. "I have a lot of respect for them," he said. Hibbert saw Andersen on South Beach last night, shook his hand and shouted "Birdman! Birdman!" --- doing his best Shaquille O'Neal routine.

### The Dolphins officially announced the signing of receiver Damian Williams a short time ago, with Dennis Hickey calling him "a proven NFL player who brings with him talent and experience, both on offense and special teams, which will enhance a very talented and competitive receiving corps.”

Williams said "the direction of the program is headed toward success. I'm a complete receiver, a cerebral player. I'm a disciplined player. I can help as far as leadership in the room. They asked how I felt about being in the return game. We briefly spoke about that. Marcus Thigpen did a great job for them in the past. The competition will make Thigpen a better player."

Miami is already deep at receiver, but Williams said: "I went to Southern California where I thought about the value of competition. I add another element to the wide receiver room. That competition will make us stronger."

Please see chatter below for Dolphins draft notes.

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

FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Among some TV analysts, there’s this clamoring for clarity about the Heat’s playoff rotation, as if everything must be chiseled in stone by the opener.

Aside from obviously craving a healthy roster, Erik Spoelstra said he doesn’t need such clarity. And his flexibility is smart and commendable, considering several veterans demonstrated recently they can help if needed amid assorted injuries.

Nevertheless, several lineup decisions await Spoelstra in this playoff odyssey that begins next weekend (as well as Friday night against Indiana). Examining some of those decisions, provided everyone is available (which is far from certain for the Pacers game):

### Distribution of power rotation minutes, particularly with Udonis Haslem and Greg Oden. Haslem likely will play ahead of Oden in postseason because he has earned that chance, even before Oden was sidelined with a sore back. Haslem defended Indiana’s Roy Hibbert much more effectively than Oden did in their March 26 meeting.

Haslem is averaging 12.0 rebounds per 48 minutes, Oden 11.9. Haslem has been hitting his mid-range jumper recently, while Oden’s offensive game remains limited; he’s 3 for 14 when shooting beyond two feet, including 1 for 8 on hooks shots.

The Heat has outscored opponents by 42 during Haslem’s minutes on the floor in his six most recent starts. (He missed the past two because of a stomach flu.) Miami was a minus-one during Oden’s minutes in five starts before his injury.

Haslem’s overall metrics are skewed because they were so bad early in the season. But even though Oden, at his best, makes an impact defensively, Miami has allowed more points per 100 possessions when Oden is on the court (111) than when he’s off (107) and averaged seven fewer points per 100 possessions offensively when he’s on the court than off. And the Heat’s starting unit was outrebounded narrowly when Oden played alongside them.

So should Oden play at all? Yes, in certain matchups against teams with great size, or if Haslem is overmatched, or if Haslem, Chris Bosh or Chris Andersen are in foul trouble.

### The Shane Battier/Rashard Lewis choice. If everyone is healthy, only one of those will get significant minutes unless Spoelstra goes 10 deep (without using Oden) or unless he benches Norris Cole and uses Dwyane Wade for some minutes at point guard, which could be justified because of Cole’s struggles.

Battier is a better defender than Lewis, with synergysports.com grading his defensive work as “very good” this season compared with “average” for Lewis. Despite those grades --- which take into account team defense --- players defended by Lewis have shot a lower percentage than those guarded by Battier (40.5 to 40.9).

The Heat outscores opponents by 5.4 per 36 minutes with Battier on the court, and by 2.7 with Lewis, but that’s skewed because Battier has played more of his minutes with the starters.

But Lewis has shot better this season, both overall (43 to 38.6 percent) and on threes (35.4 to 34.8), with Battier well below his 43 percent accuracy on treys last season.

It would be interesting to see Lewis play more with the Big Three and Mario Chalmers; in 61 such minutes this season, Miami has outscored teams by 22 and shot 58 percent. “Rashard is a huge piece of our team. It’s always great having him out there,” LeBron James said Wednesday.

### The Cole question. He has shot just 35 percent overall and 26.9 on three-pointers since the All-Star break, leading some to wonder why he has played so much, including some late-game minutes during Wade's injury absence.

What’s more, Cole’s 1.93-to-1 assist to turnover ratio ranks 41st of 48 qualifying point guards. (Mario Chalmers ranks 36th.) And Cole can’t finish well; he’s shooting just 52.6 percent when directly under the rim.

On the flip side, he’s the Heat player best equipped to defend quick point guards, and players he’s guarding are shooting 37.9 percent against him. (Toney Douglas is at 42.3 percent in defensive field goal percentage against, by the way.) Synergy.com rates Cole’s defensive work as “excellent” and Douglas’ as “poor.”

Douglas, starting in Wade’s absence, hasn’t shot well (38.2 percent, 27.3 percent on threes as a member of the Heat) but has a better assist-to-turnover ratio than Cole (3.2 to 1). It's difficult to envision a role for Douglas when Wade is healthy.

One more factoid on Cole: When Cole and Chalmers play together, the Heat has outscored teams by 6.1 per 48 minutes, compared with 5.4 overall. And when Cole and Chalmers play with the Big Three, the unit has been great: plus-18 in 27 minutes and a sizzling 28 for 43 shooting.

But Spoelstra needs to re-think playing Cole so much if his two-month slump continues.

### Any use at all for Michael Beasley or James Jones? It appears unlikely, barring more injuries or something unforeseen, even though Jones is shooting 22 for 40 on three-pointers, and even though Beasley’s 24.9 points per 48 minutes rank third-best on the Heat and in the NBA’s top 55.

### Please see the bottom of this column for another Heat note.

CHATTER

### Ja’Wuan James, who started at right tackle at Tennessee, has been invited to visit Dolphins headquarters and has emerged as a legitimate option for them in the second or third round of next month’s NFL Draft.

Tennessee left tackle Antonio Richardson is more ballyhooed, but James is well-regarded and improved his stock at Tennessee’s Pro Day.

Here is NFL.com's assessment of James: "It is difficult to be overshadowed at 6-6, 324 pounds, but given the high profile talent in Knoxville, James qualifies. James is more fundamentally sound than Antonio Richardson and yet offers a similar package of size and athleticism."

### Meanwhile, Kansas State left tackle Cornelius Lucas also visited Davie this week and met with Dolphins officials, according to Lucas. A projected sixth- or seventh-rounder, Lucas is dealing with a stress fracture in his foot, sustained in workouts before the NFL Combine.

He was the tallest player at the Combine (6-8) and had the longest arms. Dolphins offensive line coach John Benton has spent considerable time talking to him.

### Among the most highly-regarded players scheduled to work out for the Dolphins on Friday: UF and former Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas cornerback Marcus Roberson, a potential second-rounder.

Besides all the UM, FIU and FAU prospects, others invited to the Dolphins' local day Friday include Eastern Illinois receiver Eric Lora (from Columbus High), Northern Michigan outside linebacker Rodney Lamar (from St. Thomas), FSU running back Devonta Freeman (Miami Central) and Syracuse cornerback Keon Lyn (Miramar High).

### Please see my story on the Dolphins page for details about Miami signing Titans receiver Damian Williams tonight.

### Offensive line coach Jim Turner, fired by the Dolphins for his role in the team’s bullying scandal, was at UM practice this week, armed with a pen and notepad.

Turner, who asked UM assistant Art Kehoe if he could attend, is angry about his Dolphins dismissal and not the least bit contrite, believing he did nothing wrong, according to an NFL source with whom he speaks. But Turner privately has raved about Joe Philbin for sticking up for him with owner Stephen Ross, who fired Turner.

### UM’s Duke Johnson and incoming running back Joseph Yearby have been practically inseparable this spring, with Johnson mentoring his protégé, who’s coming off a fractured fibula. And Johnson predicted Thursday that Yearby “can be just what I was my freshman year. He’s that good.” (Johnson ran for 947 yards on 6.8 per carry and scored 11 touchdowns as a freshman.)

Johnson said Yearby can provide “a change of pace, excitement, kickoff returns, punt returns.” Yearby ran for 1700 yards and 19 TDs at Miami Central in 2013.

### Athletic UM senior forward Erik Swoope, who never played football in college or high school, auditioned for the Denver Broncos on Thursday. At 6-5, he could play receiver or tight end.... Please see the last post for UM football items from Thursday.

### Whether it's LeBron James being honored at Eric Reid's and Tony Fiorentino's event, or James Jones being inducted into the UM Hall of Fame, you can count on Pat Riley being in attendance. (Riley was joined by GM Andy Elisburg, coach Erik Spoelstra and other Heat officials at Thursday's UM Hall inductions on Jungle Island.) It's one thing to talk about being a family, but the Heat consistently demonstrates it with their actions.

Spoelstra, by the way, was flooded with requests for pictures tonight --- more than the inductees.

The Heat wasn't the only team that bought a table at Thursday's UM Hall of Fame ceremonies. So did the Houston Texans, in honor of inductee Andre Johnson.

### Lamar Thomas cracked during his induction speech: "It's about time! Up to a point, I thought I would never get in!"

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

 

04/09/2014

1 p.m. update: UM spring practice notes; Heat, Marlins, Dolphins, Canes chatter

A 1 p.m. Thursday update from UM's final spring practice before Saturday's glorified scrimmage/spring game:

### That Malcolm Lewis had had such a good spring is more impressive considering he had sports hernia surgery two months ago (according to Lewis). Several other players --- including UM's Deon Bush and the Dolphins' Jamar Taylor --- needed more time to round back into form after that procedure.

"He's leaner --- now he's got quickness," Al Golden said.

Lewis told me Tuesday this is the best he has felt since his horrific ankle injury during his freshman season (2012).

UM will have at least five high-quality receivers this fall, barring injuries, in Stacy Coley, Phillip Dorsett, Rashawn Scott, Lewis and Herb Waters. And D'Mauri Jones has improved. Barring injuries, UM probably could afford to redshirt Braxton Berrios, coming off ACL surgery, but that decision will be made down the road. Al Golden said Berrios should be ready by June. 

### Duke Johnson said his injured ankle "feels better and cutting is not something I'm worried about." He said he won't participate in the spring game and that adding extra weight (he's now 207) "will help me resist injuries, take more of a pounding."

### Golden said he's "very hopeful" Carol City's Trayone Gray will qualify academically, and UM will "probably start him out at running back. He's a good athlete, great size kid who did excellent things with the ball in his hands a year ago." If UM doesn't feel he's best equipped for running back, it would then try him at receiver, according to the coaching staff.

### Cornerback Ryan Mayes, who has exceeded expectations as an early enrollee, left practice with a leg injury.

### Golden said Kevin Olsen "has done a great job" in the past week, and "now he has to go in there and really prove it to himself. It's not about proving it to us right now, it's about proving it to himself, running the offense, doing it with confidence, not thinking too much, just executing it."

Olsen has mixed flashes of brilliance with mistakes. On Thursday, he threw a 45-yard TD pass to Scott but also threw an interception to Artie Burns.

### UM coaches said this week that many of the summer arrivals will arrive for the first summer session in May, including Brad Kaaya. That will give them extra time to do on-field work with teammates.

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

Tidbits on a Wednesday night when Indiana surged back ahead of the Heat, and Carlos Marmol imploded for the first time as a Marlin:

### You would have suspected the Heat would be pummeled by Memphis’ big men, considering the skill level of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, and considering the Heat played without Udonis Haslem, Greg Oden and Chris Anderson (not to mention Dwyane Wade).

And that played out predictably, with Randolph opening 9 for 9, and Memphis outscoring Miami, 60-30, in the paint and outrebounding the Heat 41-27. Memphis shot 55.1 percent, with many of those attempts in the basket area in this 107-102 Grizzlies win.

Still, Erik Spoelstra said: “Our big guys did a great job of competing and throwing their bodies around. Nobody wants to hear in this locker-room who’s playing and who’s not. That’s not an excuse.”

For the second straight night, more was needed from Chris Bosh, who wasn't impactful enough in a 13-point, 6-rebound, four-turnover game. 

### Norris Cole has been a liability offensively since the All-Star break, and he was again Wednesday, with three turnovers (two of which led to key baskets) and 1 for 4 shooting. And the Heat was outscored by 14 in his 25 minutes. Despite his acumen as an on-the-ball defender, Cole can’t be trusted with late-game minutes if he keeps struggling to this extent.

### Miami might have overcome the pounding in the paint if they hadn’t committed several key turnovers late, by Cole, Bosh, Ray Allen and James. “Every single turnover we had they converted into a basket,” LeBron said.

### Aside from LeBron (37 points, 14 of 23 shooting, 6 rebounds, 5 assists), only Rashard Lewis (17 points) played especially well. Mario Chalmers was decent.

### LeBron said the No. 1 seed “is the least of our worries right now…. We want to get healthy. That’s all we care about, man. We’ve got more problems as far as health issues than the No. 1 seed.”

Is LeBron worried about cohesion? “There’s some sense of worry, of course. We haven’t played too many minutes together. Our team is built on all of us being out on the floor. Once [that happens], we can get everything rolling.”

### Hubie Brown’s take on ESPN: “Miami is 12-11 in its last [23]. That’s something to be concerned about. You’re the Miami Heat! That’s a problem.”

### Indiana, which won at Milwaukee despite resting five starters, wouldn’t mathematically clinch the top seed by winning Friday but would come close. A win Friday would give Indy the tiebreaker and a 1 ½ game lead with two games left for the Pacers: OKC and at Orlando.

“I’m sure the fans, the way it’s set up, that’s the way people wanted it to be, and now we have a chance to compete at home against a team that beat us twice already this year,” Spoelstra said.

James: "It's going to be one of those games that's like a Game 7."

Bosh said Friday's game "will pretty much be the playoffs. We expect them at their best. It will be an intense, hard-fought game with something at stake."

The Heat hopes Wade can play Friday, but Spoelstra said, “He has to pass a battery of tests before we take him to the next level.”

### The absence of three of Miami’s big men forced a Justin Hamilton sighting. And though he was understandably schooled defensively by Randolph, he hit both of his shots (including a three). Miami was outscored by eight in his 13 minutes.

### Considering Marmol’s history of control problems, you would have expected his first breakdown as a Marlin would have involved unintentional walks. Instead, it played out this way, in the bottom of the eighth: hit batter, bunt single, intentional walk and a grand slam by Jason Werth, erasing a 7-6 Marlins lead, putting Washington ahead 10-7.

And so the Marlins, who opened 5-1, are now 5-4 after blowing a 5-0 lead Wednesday. 

### The Marlins committed three more errors (Giancarlo Stanton, pitcher Dan Jennings and Derek Dietrich), giving them 11 in nine games. Dietrich has hit well filling in for Rafael Furcal (.364, a homer tonight) but has three errors for the season and probably should have four.

### Garrett Jones, who went 2 for 21 against lefties for Pittsburgh all of last season, already is 5 for 16 against lefties this season.

Couple other items:

### Because it's a CBS game (meaning an AFC road team), the Dolphins are only of only two teams eligible to play at Detroit on Thanksgiving this year. But the Buffalo Bills’ website (assuredly without NFL permission) reported that Buffalo, not Miami, will play at the Lions on Turkey Day.

### The Dolphins, who drafted three Gators last year, have been poking around, doing extra work, on several this year: linebacker Ronald Powell, defensive tackle Dominique Easley (two ACL tears) and guard Jon Halapio, among others.

### Ryan Tannehill was blunt in an ESPN appearance today: "I have to make a big jump. I'm aware of that."

### Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano attended UM practice this week, leading some fans to wonder (on messages boards and elsewhere) whether he could re-surface at UM. But the Miami athletic department said on the record today that there are no discussions about Schiano taking a job with the Hurricanes. 

04/08/2014

News, notes, views on UM defense as spring ball nears close; Heat-Nets postscripts, Fins, Marlins

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Much of the focus at UM on Tuesday, and rightfully so, was Kevin Olsen taking over for injured Ryan Williams. (See the last post about that.) But the other big question that lingers over this program like thick smog is whether the defense --- generally deficient last season, especially late in the year --- is appreciably better.

Not even coaches know for sure, not only because it’s impossible to make sweeping conclusions off spring ball, but also because several key pieces missed practices (Anthony Chickillo, Olsen Pierre) and because two important additions (defensive tackle Michael Wyche and five-star end/linebacker Chad Thomas) haven’t arrived yet. And a few other newcomers (tackles Anthony Moten and Courtel Jenkins, end Demetrius Jackson, among others) also could factor in immediately.

A few developments, on defense, that emerged during spring ball, which wraps up Saturday:

### Ask coordinator Mark D’Onofrio why he’s optimistic his group will be better, and he immediately points to one position: Linebacker.

“The linebacking group has got me excited,” he said. “Raphael Kirby has had a great spring. Jermaine Grace is putting it all together. His playmaking ability is showing up. JaWand Blue has been a really big surprise…. You couple that with our rush linebackers who are our hybrid guys --- Al Quadin Muhammad, Tyriq McCord and Trent Harris. It’s a young, athletic group.”

What’s more, Denzel Perryman has capably handled his move to inside linebacker, Alex Figueroa shows flashes, early enrollee Darion Owens displayed pass rush potential “and Juwon Young has talent; he just has to learn the schemes.”

After last season, D’Onofrio spoke of Grace playing on third downs in 2014. But expectations have grown after a spring in which he batted down passes and played the run stoutly.

“He’s on his way to being a guy who will be hard not to want on the field on first and second down because of his instincts and playmaking ability,” D’Onofrio said. “He’s got a knack for finding the football. Good blitzer, good in pass coverage and has got good run instincts.”

### Less clear is whether this group of defensive tackles, beyond Olsen Pierre, will be better than average. UM believes summer arrival Wyche, from East Los Angeles Community College, will be a big upgrade. He’s a favorite to start opposite Pierre.

The good news about early arrival Calvin Heurtelou: He’s powerful and difficult to dislodge. The bad news: He hasn’t surpassed Moore on the depth chart. “We’ll have Calvin, Earl Moore and Wyche competing at nose tackle,” D’Onofrio said.

UM needs to upgrade over Moore, Jelani Hamilton and Corey King, unless two of those three improve considerably. Moore made the most strides of the three, but we need to see it in September.

### What most pleases Al Golden is the improved safety play, which coincided with the spring absence of injured former starter Rayshawn Jenkins, whose inconsistent play frustrated coaches last season. Deon Bush has regained his freshman form (“He’s breaking on the ball better, seeing it better,” Golden said. “He never was quite healthy last year. He looks fast.").

Jamal Carter has “been great –-- you can see a real jump,” Bush said. And Dallas Crawford’s transition from running back to safety has been “remarkable,” D’Onofrio said. “He’s got tremendous instincts. You feel him when he’s on the field…. You want people to fear your safeties.”

Overall, “we're getting more production out of our safeties,” D”Onofrio said. “That will lead to more picks.”

### Golden said the “biggest thing” about his defense is “Ufomba Kamalu is growing up. He gives us a 6-5, 283-pound [tackle/end]. We can use him in multiple ways.”

Kamalu is battling Chickillo for one starting end job, with UM opting to keep them on the same side so that Muhammad and McCord can compete at the opposite end spot. (Muhammad and McCord line up as stand-up linebackers when Miami is in a 3-4 scheme.)

### Because of Thomas’ dynamic skills, “we’ve got to find things that Chad can do well for us immediately,” D’Onofrio said. “His playmaking ability is too good, his football IQ is too high [not to play].”

### Artie Burns, hoping to unseat projected starters Tracy Howard or Ladarius Gunter at cornerback, said UM coaches will allow the defensive backs to play more man-to-man defense this season. But Perryman said he doesn’t expect any significant changes in D’Onofrio’s system.

“The majority of the fronts we play are 4-3,” D’Onofrio said. “That doesn’t mean we might not play more 3-4 defense in certain situations in games.”

### Am I convinced the defense is better? It might be, but I want to see proof in September (and against Louisville and Nebraska, not the Florida A&M and Arkansas State games in between). But the improvement of a few young players and influx of several quality recruits is reason for cautious (and I mean cautious) optimism. But defensive tackle still worries me. 

CHATTER

### Duke Johnson, who was 196 pounds last August, is up to 210, which could make him more effective on short-yardage runs.... UM hopes Justin Vogel will be the answer at punter, a position of great concern. Canesport.com reported that he's transferring from UF (where he hasn't punted in a game) and will be a walk-on at UM, with the chance to earn a scholarship if he becomes the Hurricanes' punter. Several other prominent programs also had interest in Vogel. He averaged 45 yards a punt in high school in Tampa. 

### A few postscripts from the Nets' 88-87 win in Miami tonight: New Jersey becomes the first team in the Big Three era to go 4-0 against the Heat in the regular season. And this was the first LeBron James team ever swept 4-0 in a regular season series.... Erik Spoelstra said Mason Plumlee's last-second block of James "was a foul from my vantage point, but what can you do?" LeBron agreed: "It was a foul. That's my thought. I should have been at the line. He grabbed my right hand. It wasn't on purpose." He said the ball would have gone straight down if Plumlee had gotten only ball....

Plumlee had firm contact with James' hand at the end of the play, but as Sun Sports' Tony Fiorentino said, "The officials consider the hand part of the ball" --- unlike the wrist. "We got lucky," Nets coach Jason Kidd said.

This was indisputable: Plumlee should have been called for goaltending on a block of a Chris Bosh shot with two minutes left.... ESPN noted LeBron was 128 for 130 on dunk attempts this season before that Plumlee block... TNT's Craig Sager asked LeBron if the Nets are the Heat's biggest challenger in the East. "Get out of here, Craig. Next question," LeBron responded.

Without Dwyane Wade, the Heat needed more from Bosh than his 12-point, 6-rebound game on 5 for 13 shooting....  Spoelstra again bypassed Michael Beasley, as well as James Jones despite his good work last week.

### If Miami beats Indiana on Friday to split the season series and if the teams finish the season tied, conference record would be the tiebreaker and the Pacers are 36-13, compared to 33-15 for Miami after tonight. The Heat leads the Pacers by half a game, but Indiana could regain the lead if it beats Milwaukee Wednesday and if the Heat loses at Memphis.

### Despite all of Indiana’s struggles and the Heat’s erratic play at times, Brooklyn’s Kevin Garnett wanted to make one thing clear when we spoke Monday: “Miami and Indiana are the two best teams in the East. So you should assume they are going to make [the Eastern Conference Finals]. No ego here. I’m calling it like I see it.”

### Though the Dolphins hope to find their starting right tackle in the draft, they will give Jason Fox a chance to compete for the job. Fox has played only 281 snaps on offense in four years for Detroit, allowing one sack on 130 passing plays.

### The Dolphins are using some of their 30 permitted non-local visits on players they like who weren’t invited to the NFL Combine, with Marshall offensive tackle Garrett Scott the latest to come to team headquarters this week. He figures to be a late-round pick or an undrafted free agent.

### The Marlins shut down ace Jose Fernandez on Sept. 11 last season, not wanting him to pitch much more than 170 innings. (He pitched 172 2/3.) General manager Dan Jennings told The Ticket’s Josh Friedman that while Fernandez won’t be on an innings count this season, “there may be times during the season we skip him a start so we can pitch him deeper into September and hopefully October.”  

### Marlins right-hander Jacob Turner will miss his scheduled start Wednesday at Washington because he strained his shoulder during batting practice. (No kidding.) Brad Hand will start in his place. 

1 p.m. report: Kevin Olsen ready to be "the guy" at UM

What Kevin Olsen hopes will be the start of the Kevin Olsen era at Miami began Tuesday when he took control of the UM offense in the next-to-last spring practice, three days after Ryan Williams suffered a torn ACL.

UM doesn’t want to say the quarterback job is Olsen's for obvious reasons and Al Golden portrayed this as a competition, but it would be very surprising if Olsen isn't the starter for the opener.

Gray Crow isn’t going to win this job (my opinion) and Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier need time to familiarize themselves more with UM’s system when they arrive in May.

Olsen, supremely confident, said the way he’s thinking is that “it’s my show.”

Olsen, after practice today, said: “Being the guy is why I came here. It’s a shame this is how I got to be maybe the guy. I’m going to embrace the break I got. It's unfortunate for Ryan. I feel awful. I feel so sad for him.... We need to step up as an offense, me leading it now.”

Olsen said he already has begun studying tape of Louisville’s defense. The teams open the season on Labor Day night.

Olsen said after Williams was injured, Golden told him: “You don’t have to be Superman. Get guys the ball. Manage the game. Take shots when they’re there.”

Given an unexpected opportunity, Olsen said: "I wouldn't say I'm nervous. I didn't come here to be a backup. I didn't come here to sit behind people the whole time." But he added that he knew Williams would be the starter this season if he hadn't been injured.

He said he speaks every day to his brothers Greg (the Carolina Panther and former Canes tight end) and Chris, and “they said you have to be a leader and put in the time.”

Olsen said the amount of time he spends on football, aside from practice, will increase now that he expects to lead the offense.

“There’s room for improvement in footwork and reads,” he said. “I have to step up even more in the leadership role.”

Olsen was up and down on Tuesday. He made several strong throws but also had two interceptions --- one by Jamal Carter on an overthrow and another by Tracy Howard.

Golden said Olsen “did an excellent job” Tuesday and Crow performed “his best without question. He threw some really good balls today.”

Golden said: “Kevin is stepping up in the pocket, finding the second, third receiver. He was unflappable the other night [in the scrimmage]. There was a really good quarterback competition today. That will continue through the spring game. We’ll add two more guys” with Kaaya and Rosier.

Golden said doctors haven’t given him a timetable on Williams. But it’s unlikely he would be ready for the start of the season.

### Asked if he would be hesitant to start a freshman at quarterback (Kaaya or Rosier), offensive coordinator James Coley said: “If they beat out the guys who are here, the best player has to play.”

UM has one more spring practice (Thursday) before Saturday's spring game, which isn't a game per se as much as a glorified scrimmage with one-on-one, seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills.

Please check back later for a lot more Canes stuff, plus Dolphins, Heat and Marlins.

04/07/2014

8 p.m. report: More reaction on UM quarterback situation; Heat chatter

More nuggets on UM’s quarterback situation, from WQAM’s Hurricane Hotline tonight:

### Al Golden said Ryan Williams will have surgery on his torn ACL on Wednesday and that “Kevin Olsen and Gray Crow will compete starting tomorrow. [Olsen has] got to trust the [supporting] cast, not try to do too much.”

Olsen, obviously, is the very likely starter; it would be very surprising if Williams is ready for the start of the season, but there is hope he will be available at some point this season.

As our Susan Miller Degnan noted, Williams sustained not only a torn ACL but also cartilage damage.

### Golden said the scrimmage on Friday night “wasn’t too big for [Olsen]. He got us in the right plays. The back shoulder throw to D’Mauri Jones was excellent. He hit guys in stride. A couple times, he got anxious a little bit but [overall] he really performed well.”

### Offensive coordinator James Coley assessed his quarterback situation this way: “There is going to be a lot of growing up for the guys that are here and the guys coming in. Ryan was an older guy, very mature. Now we got young guys that have to step up. Not that they haven’t, but now we’ve lost the old guy.”

Coley said he’s eager to see Olsen and Crow in practice Tuesday and “I can’t wait to get the other guys in next month [Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier] to see where they are in the mix. We’re really high on them.”

### Olsen made several terrific throws in Saturday's scrimmage, including a pinpoint TD pass to Stacy Coley.

“In the offensive meeting, I told our guys, there are going to be times where you have to make the play,” Coley said. “We’re going to make the call, but there might be great coverage. On that play, [Olsen] threw the ball where only Stacy could catch it, and Stacy had to make a great play over the D.B. That was a big-time play. I was excited.”

Random stuff:

### Golden said Rashawn Scott, Stacy Coley and D’Mauri Jones have been “the most steady receivers” this spring.

### Coley, on receiver Malcolm Lewis: “He’s one of my favorite players. Coaches don’t have favorites, but you can’t help but have great love for the kid. He was 85, 90 percent [last year].  He’s tough, hell of a competitor."

### Coley, on Gus Edwards: “Holy cow, he was explosive [in the second scrimmage]. There were some fast guys chasing him” on his 25-yard touchdown run. “[At] 238 pounds, if he can run that way, he’s going to have a pretty good year.”

### Golden, on the new uniforms that will be unveiled at the spring game at 6 p.m. Saturday at Sun Life Stadium: “I don’t want to say too much, but they’re pretty damn cool. Great style while being able to hold on to our rich tradition.”

UM will use only half the field for Saturday's game. 

Please see the last post from earlier today for more UM notes, plus a lot of Heat and a Dolphins item.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz