A note to readers: This will be the place where you will find Barry Jackson’s two buzz columns per week (usually Wednesdays and Sundays) and usually a media or buzz column on Fridays. There will also be two or more additional posts per week with news updates and other tidbits.
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With Saturday’s roster deadline looming, difficult decisions await the Dolphins. Where things stand heading into Thursday’s preseason finale against Dallas, under the premise Miami keeps 25 on offense and defense:
### Defensive back: Safe are the starters, the loser of the Chris Clemons/Reshad Jones battle and very likely Benny Sapp and Jimmy Wilson. That’s seven, leaving two or three others. Nolan Carroll (due to earn $450,000) enters Thursday with a narrow edge over Will Allen and Nate Ness for the fifth cornerback job, with Allen’s $1.5 million salary guaranteed for the season if he’s on the roster Sept. 12. Tony Sparano was non-committal about Allen’s chances when asked this week, but he always could be brought back later at a lower salary if he's cut Saturday.
Though the Dolphins this week signed Gerald Alexander (30 NFL starts), Tyrone Culver has a very good chance to stick as the fourth safety because he quietly agreed in the past week to cut his salary from $1.25 million to $700,000, with his contract also extended through 2012.
### Linebacker: Eight or nine will stick, depending on how many defensive backs are kept. Safe: the four starters, Jason Taylor, Jason Trusnik and likely A.J. Edds. That’s seven. Ikaika Alama-Francis, solid against the run, has a good chance if Miami keeps five outside linebackers. Marvin Mitchell (more polished) and Austin Spitler (decent on special teams) are competing for the fourth inside linebacker spot. Mitchell is slightly more expensive than Spitler ($685,000 to $450,000), but that shouldn't be the determining factor.
### Defensive line: Safe are the starters, Jared Odrick, Tony McDaniel and Phillip Merling (a trade candidate). Ryan Baker ($480,000) has a good chance to stick as the seventh, though Ronald Fields ($685,000) remains in the mix. Frank Kearse looks bound for the practice squad.
### Offensive line: Miami is expected to keep nine; the five starters are safe but most of the backups are at risk if Miami can find waiver-wire upgrades, including John Jerry, Ray Feinga, Ray Willis and Joe Berger ($1.5 million). Though the Dolphins value Nate Garner’s versatility, he’s due to make $1.8 million and hasn’t played up to 2009 level.
Backup tackle Lydon Murtha’s spot is safe, assuming he can return soon from a toe injury that’s not broken but is expected to sideline him Thursday.
### Quarterback: Kevin O’Connell and Pat Devlin, competing for the No. 3 job, have had inconsistent camps, with Thursday’s game heavily impacting the decision.
### Receiver: Though five is likely, there would be room for six (both Marlon Moore and Roberto Wallace) if Miami keeps only seven running backs/tight ends instead of the customary eight. Moore has been a bit more productive in August and is the better deep threat, but Wallace is the superior special teams player. Moore has five catches for 80 yards (and a glaring drop) in preseason, Wallace three for 60. Too close to call.
### Running backs/tight ends: We lump them together because Charles Clay can play multiple spots. Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, Anthony Fasano and Clay are safe. Lex Hilliard, one of the better special team players, likely is, but that’s not definite. Sparano has suggested Lousaka Polite will stick, but hasn’t said it’s definite.
If those six make it, that leaves one or two spots. At least one goes to a backup tight end; Mickey Shuler remains second on the depth chart, but Jeron Mastrud is a decent blocker and has some support internally; Dedrick Epps (fourth on the depth chart) needs a big finale. The Dolphins see upside in Epps as a stretch-the-field tight end but he has had an up-and-down camp. ... Larry Johnson also needs a strong showing Thursday to make a case to stick as the No. 3 or No. 4 running back. Johnson would make $810,000 if he sticks; Hilliard is due $525,000.
Remember, the Dolphins signed four players the day after the roster cutdown day last year, so several who make the 53 Saturday shouldn’t feel safe.
### Nevin Shapiro has been facing unpleasant consequences of going public with his allegations. Instead of being sent to a Miami prison for most of his 20-year term, which had been the plan and his preference, he’s now in Oklahoma City on route to an undetermined location, his attorney said. Shapiro has been “upset” because he was moved into solitary confinement in Tallahassee shortly after Yahoo! article was published Aug. 16, though attorney Maria Elena Perez was told that changed this week.
“He hasn’t received any threats, but they didn’t want to put him in a position where something could happen,” Perez said. “And they don’t want to bring him to Miami because they’re concerned about the reaction of inmates. But I think that’s ridiculous because the jail population is like the general population. He [was] unhappy in solitary confinement. You don’t have phone or computer access, can’t play cards or dominoes, don’t get to watch TV. But Nevin has no regrets. He’s resilient.”
### Asked if junior Olivier Vernon’s six-game suspension is fair, his father said Wednesday, “I don’t think so. I’m shocked and disappointed by the mere fact it happened. But UM asked me not to talk about, so I won’t.”
The NCAA’s Stacey Osburn said players must serve their suspensions during a non-redshirt year, meaning Vernon couldn’t serve the suspension and redshirt.
### A former UM coach bemoaned that school administrators – including former assistant athletic director/development Lindsey Radeer – encouraged Randy Shannon and other coaches to be nice to Shapiro and talk to him because the school wanted his donations. (Let's be clear: We mean talk, not do anything wrong.) President Donna Shalala, also mentioned by the source, didn’t respond when asked if she did that, too. But there is no indication that Shalala, Radeer or UM’s athletic directors were aware of rules violations.
An associate said even though Shannon rejected Shapiro’s offer to help him and didn’t return his subsequent calls and e-mails, Shannon has no incentive to share any of this with the NCAA, unless he can be convinced otherwise.
### Not only are UM fans annoyed about the Dolphins decision to hold a Gators’ 2008 championship team reunion, but school officials privately have expressed displeasure.
### Though Marlins outfielder Logan Morrison’s stay at Triple A was only 10 days, his agent said the players association told him it intends to file a grievance, with Morrison’s blessing, alleging that he was demoted as punishment for off-field comments and not participating in an autograph session. Agent Fred Wray said optioning a player for punitive measures isn’t allowed and Morrison wants the $20,000 in salary he would have earned if he hadn’t been demoted. The Marlins say he was demoted because he was hitting .249. Recalled Aug. 23, he entered Thursday at .246.
### UM basketball coach Jim Larranaga said he did not offer a position to former NBA guard Kenny Anderson, who wanted to join the Hurricanes’ staff. But Anderson was hired this week to coach Posnack Jewish Day School in Davie.