So long for now.
SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
What we’re hearing as the Marlins approach a pivotal offseason and a move into their new ballpark:
### The payroll ($57 million this season) definitely will be above $70 million and might go to $80 million. Owner Jeffrey Loria hasn’t given his front office an exact figure but the expectation is that it will fall within that range.
The discouraging news is the Marlins have so much money already tied up that even with an $80 million payroll, they would have only about $10 million to spend elsewhere unless they trade, non-tender or do not re-sign some of their current players --- a strong possibility.
The Marlins have made starting pitching by far their biggest priority (preferably a left-hander). They could add a free agent position player or two, but likely not at huge dollars.
There has no been discussion of trading Hanley Ramirez, and it’s unlikely Ramirez or Josh Johnson would be dealt. But only Mike Stanton is essentially untouchable.
The internal hope would be to sign pitching in free agency and not touch the corps of top young position players. But the free agent class isn’t very deep, and if the Marlins get a great offer (including pitching) for hypothetically, Gaby Sanchez, it likely would be considered.
### A quick primer on the Marlins’ 2012 salary situation: Ramirez ($15 million), Johnson ($13.75 million), Ricky Nolasco ($9 million), John Buck ($6 million) and Randy Choate ($1.5 million) are on the books for $45.2 million. Throw in the low salaries of 11 players under team control (headlined by Stanton, Morrison and Sanchez), and that’s another $5 million, approximately. So that’s $50 million.
If the Marlins keep the 10 players eligible for arbitration, that would be another $20 to $22 million, putting the payroll at or just above $70 million without adding a single player or addressing free agent Omar Infante, who rejected Florida’s initial offer. The Marlins want to keep him at a reasonable rate, perhaps in the $3-$4 million range.
But a few of the arbitration-eligibles might not be retained. At least three are no-brainers to keep: Anibal Sanchez (who could get $6 to $7 million), Emilio Bonifacio (perhaps $1.5 million) and Edward Mujica ($1.5 million or more).
Leo Nunez (34 for 40 on saves) could get $6 million in arbitration, and there are mixed views internally about whether to keep or trade him. “As nervous as you can be at times when Leo comes in the game, he has done a good job,” Marlins executive Larry Beinfest told 790 The Ticket last week, adding that Mujica also “can close” and Ryan Webb “has stuff to close.”
Chris Volstad, still cheap, will be tendered but is a trade candidate. Also eligible: Clay Hensley, Burke Badenhop, Brian Sanches, John Baker and Donny Murphy.
### The Marlins are unlikely to be in the mix for the elite free agent pitchers: C.C. Sabathia and Roy Oswalt (if they opt out) and C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle, unless Loria creates “special money” for Texas lefty Wilson.
Among cheaper options, the Marlins like Boston lefty Erik Bedard, according to one baseball source who deals with the team’s front office. Pirates lefty Paul Maholm, Yankees right-hander Freddy Garcia and Cardinals right-hander Edwin Jackson (who would be the most costly of these four) are among numerous other possibilities.
They will definitely add one established starter and potentially two depending on how much they spend on the first. It’s not out of the question that Javier Vazquez could return at a lower salary if he eschews retirement.
### Barring a change of heart, the Marlins aren’t expected to be a major bidder for potential Cubs free agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who has a $16 million team option. He is by far the top run-producer available at a position where the Marlins have questions (third base; center field; second base if Infante leaves).
### If the Marlins can re-sign Infante, they could fill third and center with a combination of Bonifacio and either Matt Dominguez or Chris Coghlan.
Bonifacio’s ability to play second, third or center gives the Marlins flexibility. The Marlins still might add a veteran center fielder, with Coco Crisp and Cody Ross topping a weak free agent class, and Endy Chavez among cheaper options.
### The Dolphins’ pass-rush simply must improve Sunday - something the team believes should happen with Jason Taylor’s signing, Jared Odrick’s return from injury and the hiring of assistant coach Bryan Cox as a pass-rush specialist.
Taylor had 33 snaps Monday (many of them passes) but not a single quarterback pressure, according to Pro Football Focus. In his defense, he was hampered by a second-quarter ankle injury, so that game isn’t a good gauge of how much Taylor has left after last year’s five-sack season for the Jets.
Meanwhile, starter Koa Misi played only 25 snaps against New England. But when he gets a chance to rush the quarterback (less frequent now with Taylor on the roster), the Dolphins want to see improvement. He had 2.5 sacks in his first six NFL games, just one in 11 since. “I notice some things I did last year that didn’t help me at all,” Misi said.
### The Dolphins have been giving defensive ends Phillip Merling and Jared Odrick lots of work in the nickel package because they believe each can be skilled pass-rushers. Odrick has a good chance to become one; he had 14.5 sacks at Penn State.
But Merling has only 3.5 sacks in 37 NFL games. It would help if Randy Starks returned to his 2009 form, when he had seven sacks. (He had three last year.)
### Why in the world would the Dolphins send Cameron Wake out in pass coverage several times Monday? Because that’s what Mike Nolan’s scheme called for in a few situations. Wake – who had the Dolphins’ only sack against the Patriots - allowed two of the three passes thrown against him to be completed, for 25 yards.
### Right tackle Marc Colombo graded out by far the worst of the Dolphins offensive linemen in Week 1, allowing one sack and four quarterback pressures. And this should irk Dolfans: Bryant McKinnie, whom Miami passed on, was better in the running game and on passing plays for Baltimore (no sacks, one pressure).
### Rookie center Mike Pouncey’s spirits were buoyed when the Patriots’ Albert Haynesworth sought him out after the game to tell him what a good job he does on pass protection.
### Linebacker Kevin Burnett called his disappointing debut “bothersome” and said he and Karlos Dansby – who allowed a combined 70 yards worth of completions Monday - “have to prove” their value as a ballyhooed tandem. Burnett said it’s the job of the inside linebackers (plus the safeties) to get players lined up correctly and “we have to work on that.”
### Former NFL MVP Kurt Warner told us last week what especially impressed him about Chad Henne on Monday was not only "that he made a lot of big-time throws," but also that even "with all the scrunity, he didn't play scared."
### An associate who spent time in owner Stephen Ross’ booth Monday – Alonzo Mourning and minority owner Fergie were among the guests - said Ross was disappointed by the loss but not visibly angry or fed up because of his respect for how good the Patriots are. But Ross wants results and won’t be so understanding about losses to lesser teams.
“We’re still very optimistic,” Ross told CNBC Friday. But “our defense, which was supposed to be so good, allowed way too many yards. I think that could be fixed.”
### UM officials believe the NCAA might not decide its punishment before National Signing Day in February, leaving coaches in a tough spot. UM has lost none of its 24 oral commitments since the Nevin Shapiro story broke, but at least two – Lakeland defensive end Trent Taylor and Georgia-based linebacker Raphael Kirby - say they will look around.
Miramar’s Tracy Howard, ranked as the nation’s No. 1 corner by Rivals, told us UM, UF and FSU are among seven contenders, and the NCAA issue will not factor into his decision. “Other people are mentioning the [UM] NCAA thing to me, but not other schools,” he said.
### Florida State indicated in recent days it would form a committee to discuss conference realignment options. Though a high-ranking FSU official privately expressed interest in the SEC earlier this month, FSU hasn't been approached by the SEC. Plus, the ACC increased the buyout fee to leave the conference from $12 million to $20 million. And that would be a major deterrent for FSU or any other ACC member.
There's also less incentive for any school to leave the ACC because the conference is solidifying its future. USA Today reported Sunday morning that Syracuse and Pittsburgh have been invited to join the ACC (and will accept) and that the conference is considering adding two other East Coast schools, perhaps Connecticut and Rutgers.
### Though the Heat sees upside in second-year center Dexter Pittman, there are mixed views whether he can help this season. “Some feel he should be a key guy for us and some feel he’s a year away,” a Heat official said before the lockout. The team wishes he was a better rebounder (he’s merely average) and shot-blocker. But “he has great hands and finishes well. He could be a very good defender.”
### Jacory Harris said “I’m so happy to be back” on the field Saturday that “I might shed a tear.” Harris believes he’ll make fewer mistakes not only because he insists he’s more willing to check down that a year ago, but also because he said he knows so much more about defenses that he did last year.
Though Harris didn’t say it, we’ve heard from UM people that Mark Whipple didn’t relate to the players as went as new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. Fisch is significantly younger and less likely to go on angry rants than Whipple.
And Fisch apparently has spent more time teaching the quarterbacks the nuances of defensive coverages. Fisch also quizzes them on what they’ve learned.
“I’m watching more tape, preparing more mentally now,” Harris said, believing that will lead to fewer missteps. “I have confidence, probably more than I have ever had since I’ve been here.”
### Harris’ 32 interceptions the past two seasons (including 15 last year) are the most by a UM starting quarterback during a two-year span in 41 years. But keep this in mind: His 50 touchdown passes are more than any UM quarterback except Ken Dorsey (85). Plus, Harris is third all-time at UM in passing yardage and sixth in pass completion percentage. Of course, if he doesn’t eliminate the mistakes, then the positive numbers don’t mean a thing.
UM was encouraged because he did not throw an interception in either of the August scrimmages, although he was going against a clearly suspect secondary. UM coaches see a quarterback who is more patient and not as dead-set on forcing things that aren’t there.
### Watch for Marcus Forston Saturday. Back from his one-game suspension, he has vowed he will put this team on his shoulders and play at the level he played the last five games last year, particularly the Sun Bowl. Can Forston be the dominant defensive tackle this team badly needs? Al Golden said yes, but added that he missed part of the offseason recovering from knee surgery, and that cannot be discounted.
### It’s important Brandon McGee plays well early after being beaten deep late for one of the key plays in the Maryland game. Teammates say he has been prone in the past to getting down on himself and losing focus if he gets beaten early. “He’s made a lot of progress,” Golden insisted. “He’s a little more mature.” But cornerback remains as big a worry as any on the UM roster.
### UM will honor Russell Maryland on Saturday night for being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. But UM said no other former players will be allowed on the sideline – barring a late change in plans – because of tightening of policies in the wake of the Nevin Shapiro scandal breaking.
### For those curious exactly who was to blame in the Patriots debacle Monday, here’s a rundown of Dolphins defensive backs who were beaten in pass coverage, according to Pro Football Focus:
Nolan Carroll was targeted seven times and allowed six completions for 103 yards.
Since-released Benny Sapp: targeted nine times; seven completions; 169 yards
Vontae Davis: 6, 3, 74
Sean Smith: 3, 2, 40
Yeremiah Bell: 3, 2, 20
Reshad Jones: 4, 2, 9
Also, Jimmy Wilson was beaten twice.
Of course, those PFF numbers don't take into account when defensive backs were expected to provide help. Jones took a bad angle on the 99-yard Wes Welker touchdown against Sapp.
Linebackers were beaten several times, including Karlos Dansby on four passes for 43 yards.
### And now the Dolphins have to deal with Houston’s Andre Johnson on Sunday. “He’s harder to jam” than most receivers, Yeremiah Bell said. “There’s a fine line between do I jam him or do I not?”
Johnson respects the Dolphins’ starting corners: “Sean is a bigger corner. Vontae is very strong. Once he gets his hands on you, you can’t get them off.” Smith, 6-3, expects to cover Johnson, who's also 6-3.
### For Sunday, Tony McDaniel (hand) is out; Chris Clemons and Roberto Wallace are questionable; and Jason Taylor, Charles Clay and Daniel Thomas are probable. Thomas said he has responded to the instructions of his coaches, who have pushed for more from him. "It only took one time for them to tell me I need to run harder," he said.
### Tony Sparano has had his share of critics over the years – including Ricky Williams – but Brandon Marshall genuinely appears to admire the guy. He kidded this week that he so values Sparano’s words of wisdom that he wants to compile a book of Sparano quotes.
So how did the Dolphins-Texans game go from having 10,000 tickets remaining at midday to being sold out in time to lift the blackout by 4:15 p.m.?
Three entities bought the 10,000 tickets, with the Dolphins making the biggest financial commitment, sponsor Anheuser-Busch the second largest and CBS-4 the third largest.
The CBS station in West Palm Beach gets the benefit of having the blackout lifted without paying a dime.
Even though the game has been declared a sellout, Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said “a couple thousand seats” will be available for sale, including some tickets returned from by the Texans.
The Dolphins also will offer free seats to season-ticket holders: two for those with seats in the upper and lower bowls; four to club seat holders; and eight to suite holders.
Dee said owner Steve Ross “felt strongly that staying on local TV was important. He wanted to make sure this happened. To deprive fans who have traditionally watched the game at home of an opportunity to watch on television was short-sighted. These are challenging economic times.”
More than 10,000 tickets are available for home games against Washington, Oakland and Buffalo.
“I don’t know if this is sustainable over a longer period of time,” Dee said.
MORE DOLPHINS ITEMS
### To illustrate how much less the Dolphins are using a fullback (even more so with Charles Clay injured), consider that Lex Hilliard played only 10 of 77 offensive snaps Monday. Though Dante Rosario was second on the depth chart at tight end, he played only two; Jeron Mastrud played 13.
### Kendall Langford said progress is being made in his contract talks. “We’re moving forward, not backward.”
### After watching Chad Henne rush for 59 yards on seven carries Monday, Brandon Marshall this week called him “the white [Michael Vick], as long as he doesn’t get hurt.”
### Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said using nose tackle Paul Soliai as a blocker on a goal-line play “didn’t work out too well. We’ll continue to work him” there.
### Defensive tackle Tony McDaniel underwent a procedure on his hand injury and could miss at least a couple of weeks.
### Asked about the team’s defensive deficiencies in the Patriots game on Monday, coordinator Mike Nolan said he was instructed (by Tony Sparano, presumably) not to discuss it.
### Though Vernon Carey gave up a sack Monday, Sparano said, “Vernon is starting to look a lot like a guard.”
Dolphins fans (and the CBS stations in Miami and West Palm Beach) aren’t the only ones who benefit from the lifting of the blackout. Jets fans do, too.
Because the Dolphins game will be televised locally, CBS-4 also will be permitted to carry the 1 p.m. Jets-Jaguars game, opposite the Bears-Saints game on Fox. If the Dolphins game had been blacked out, Miami-Fort Lauderdale viewers would have seen only two afternoon games: the Saints game early and the Patriots-Chargers at 4:15 p.m.
### Former Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder agreed to do two shows a week for WQAM (at 6 p.m. Mondays and Fridays), plus have a role on the pregame show. “The Dolphins will feast or famine with Chad Henne,” Crowder said before the opener. “I wouldn’t have done it.”…
The Dolphins opener drew a 21.6 local rating – combining the ESPN and non-cable audiences – which was higher than Miami’s 18.3 average last season and 19.5 the previous two. But 28 teams drew higher ratings for their team than Miami did for the Dolphins last weekend -- including Boston, which had a 34.0…. CBS assigned Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts to Dolphins-Texans.
### Goof of Week 1: CBSSports.com fantasy football reporter Dave Richard incorrectly reporting Donovan McNabb would be inactive for the Vikings’ opener – news relayed by Jim Nantz on national TV shortly before kickoff.
### Overreactions of the week: 1) Warren Sapp, on the Steelers: “Old, slow. It’s over. Mercedes Sapp, my 13-year-old daughter, can cover Hines Ward right now.”
2) Tedy Bruschi, who replaced Matt Millen on ESPN’s Monday Night Football postgame show, might be the best of the recent former players on NFL Live, but he was way over the top in blasting Patriots receiver Chad Ochocinco for an innocuous comment after his team ran up 622 yards against the Dolphins. Ochocinco tweeted, “I’ve never seen a machine operate like that [in] person. To see video game numbers put up in person was wow!”
Said Bruschi, on Boston’s WEEI radio: “Drop the awe factor, OK, Ocho! You’re not a fan, all right? You’re not someone who’s on another team or watching TV. You’re not an analyst. You’re a part of it. So get with the program because you’re obviously not getting it and you’re tweeting that it’s amazing to see. It’s amazing to see because you don’t understand it! Stop tweeting and get in your playbook. Wake up!”
NBC’s Rodney Harrison, Bruschi’s former teammate in New England, defended Bruschi on ESPN Radio Chicago: “He told him exactly right. You can’t be in awe of Tom Brady and these guys. Why are you in awe?”
### Tidbits: Versus, which will be renamed NBC Sports Network in January, is expanding it sports coverage by adding a football-heavy 6 p.m. studio show on weeknights. The Friday edition features NFL analyst Peter King…. Attorney Bruce Warner, a staple on WQAM’s UM coverage many years ago, has resurfaced as a co-host of “Talking Canes” at 7 p.m. Mondays on WFTL 640...
Former ESPN anchor Brian Kenny joined MLB Network as a host…. Unfortunately, UM-Ohio State and Oklahoma-FSU will overlap for the second consecutive year. But ESPN and ABC did that because it wants both games to be televised nationally and in prime time.
Dolphins coach Tony Sparano had a short explanation for releasing Benny Sapp and re-signing Will Allen, essentially reversing a decision the team made 10 days earlier.
“I felt like it’s the right thing to do,” Sparano said Wednesday. “It’s something I felt I needed to do.”
Sparano said Allen and Sapp were battling for one roster spot throughout preseason and “this went right down to the end in training camp.” He said one factor that worked against Allen in preseason “was not being able to get him enough reps” because of a hamstring injury that has since healed. “One guy was healthy and the other guy wasn’t really that healthy.”
Allen and Sapp can both play in the nickel package against the slot receiver, but Allen’s ability to play effectively on the outside factored into the Dolphins’ decision. When Vontae Davis left the game temporarily, the Dolphins had to use Nolan Carroll, who allowed six completions. But Allen figures to be used primarily inside, in the nickel package.
Sparano also cited Allen’s “leadership and veteran presence.”
Allen, who signed a one-year deal with Miami, hasn’t played in a regular season game since suffering a major knee injury in October 2009. He spent last season on injured reserve after the knee gave him problems in training camp.
Is he back to pre-injury form?
“We’ll see,” he said. “I feel good….I’m ready to get to work. I’m a football junkie. I’m already a day behind on the film” for Houston.
If Allen had been on the roster for the first game, he would have been guaranteed a $1.5 million salary. Instead, the Dolphins now can pay him closer to the league minimum $910,000.
But “it doesn’t get me anywhere to be bitter,” Allen said. “It’s a business. You’ve to understand you can’t take anything personal.”
Safety Yeremiah Bell said “it’s huge to have Will back. He can help our corners, teach them how to study. He’s one of the best footwork guys at the corner position.”
Bell said Sapp’s release was “a shocker. We stunk it up as a team. You can’t just put it on one guy’s shoulders.”
Sapp allowed seven of nine passes thrown against him to be completed against New England, for 169 yards.
Bell delivered a message to his fellow defensive backs after Miami relinquished 517 passing yards and 622 yards overall against New England.
“I told guys what we put on tape is embarrassing,” he said. “I don’t see the fire from our guys that we usually play with. I don’t know why. It’s time to prove what defense we really are. That wasn’t us out there. You can’t go out there with the mentality we were a good defense last year so we’ll [automatically] be that. We’ve got to get back to competing.”
### Tony McDaniel (hand), Jason Taylor (ankle), Chris Clemons (hamstring) and Roberto Wallace (quadriceps) missed Wednesday’s practice. McDaniel’s injury is the most serious, and Sparano remained uncertain how long he will be out.
### Daniel Thomas and Charles Clay, who missed Monday’s game with hamstring injuries, practiced fully. Thomas expects to play Sunday behind Reggie Bush, who was in the game for all but two of the Dolphins’ 77 snaps against the Patriots. Larry Johnson did not play Monday.
### Kevin Walter, who starts for Houston opposite star receiver Andre Johnson, missed practice with a bruised collarbone. The Houston Chronicle reported it’s “more than likely” – but not definite – that he will miss Sunday’s Dolphins game.
### Though Davis and Sean Smith left Monday’s game temporarily with cramps, Smith said it was unavoidable. “I’m in top shape – I’m hydrated,” he said.
Sparano said cramping “is a concern every day in South Florida” but “we’re in pretty good shape.”
### The Dolphins would need an incredible frenzy of ticket purchases by Thursday’s 4:15 p.m. deadline in order to avoid a local TV blackout for Sunday’s game. The team began Wednesday with about 10,000 tickets remaining.
WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN (updated Wednesday morning with news of Mike Cameron)
One problem that has arisen for UM in the NCAA investigation is that a few former players are implicating assistant coaches.
Ray-Ray Armstrong’s father said his son stayed with then-UM assistant coach Clint Hurtt during a recruiting visit, which is a violation regardless of whether it was an official or unofficial visit. Armstrong was forthright about that with the NCAA.
Also, the father of another current player who was interviewed by the NCAA told us that his son indicated that then-UM assistant Joe Pannunzio brought the player to booster Nevin Shapiro.
“How did my son even meet this creep? He would never have met Shapiro without Pannunzio,” said the father, who requested anonymity because the NCAA has asked the players not to reveal what they said. “To have one of the coaches deliver him up to this guy, it’s incredible.”
The NCAA has been trying to determine Hurtt’s and Pannunzio’s level of involvement, and that could significantly impact UM’s punishment. One prominent UM Board of Trustee member said the concern is Hurtt “is up to his neck in this.”
UM hopes the NCAA punishes the coaches (Hurtt is now at Louisville, Pannunzio at Alabama) more than it penalizes UM.
The NCAA took that approach this summer by ruling that former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl cannot recruit for three years, making it essentially impossible for him to get another college coaching job during that time. Meanwhile, the NCAA allowed the Tennessee basketball program to impose its own sanctions, which weren’t especially punitive (fewer recruiting days on the road, etc.). Tennessee’s violations included, among other things, impermissible calls to recruits and Pearl hosting a barbecue for recruits, then lying to the NCAA.
Former FSU coach Bobby Bowden said by phone Tuesday that “one of my pet peeves with the NCAA is I don’t like that they punish the school. They should punish the coach and the kid that messed up.”
### Attorney Maria Elena Perez said Shapiro remains in contact with the NCAA, sharing information and answering questions. Shapiro has been relocated to a prison in New Orleans, which Perez expects will be his final stop as he serves 20 years for a Ponzi scheme.
The Marlins cut outfielder Mike Cameron late Monday night for conduct detrimental to the team. Two sources on Wednesday gave the reason: Cameron got into a verbal altercation with a flight attendant on the team's charter flight from Pittsburgh to Atlanta on Sunday.
The altercation did not turn physical, but the charter company filed a complaint. The Marlins' front office believed it could not keep Cameron after the incident. He wasn't in the team's longterm plans, anyway, and his release gives the Marlins a chance to give Bryan Peterson (.280) more at-bats over the final two weeks of the season. Cameron was hitting .238.
### One common theme in the UM and Dolphins openers was a lack of pass rush. The problem is acute for UM with Allen Bailey now in the NFL and Olivier Vernon suspended another five games. Al Golden made clear he expects a pass rush, in particular, from Adewale Ojomo (back from suspension and coming off what he calls a “very mediocre” five-sack season), Anthony Chickillo, Andrew Smith (who graded out well against Maryland) and Marcus Robinson.
"If we have to bring six or seven [pass rushers], we will be in trouble,” Golden said. “We’re trying to tell Adewale, ‘This is what you have to be.’ We want him to be a rugged player, not a finesse player.”
### The Dolphins decided to use backup ends Jared Odrick and Phillip Merling a lot in their nickel package, with Tony McDaniel, who left with an injured thumb. But neither Odrick (whose interception was the first of his life) nor Merling got much heat on Tom Brady. Merling, who started Monday’s game, registered only one tackle against the Patriots and has just four in six games since returning from an Achilles’ injury last December.
Excluding Cameron Wake, the linebackers also didn’t get much pressure on Brady. “At times, it looked like he was back there for an eternity,” Jason Taylor said. "We didn't rush worth a darn." McDaniel, wearing a cast, will be evaluated before his status is determined.
### The Dolphins worked out several running backs Tuesday, including Brian Westbrook, Julius Jones and Thomas Clayton, and also have looked at ex-Lion Kevin Smith. Westbrook tweeted that Miami didn’t offer him a contract.
### The Dolphins re-signed Will Allen on Wednesday morning, according to a league source, believing he will be an upgrade over Benny Sapp, who was released. Allen signed a one-year deal. Meanwhile, the Dolphins also continue to eye young cornerbacks to develop. They summoned Purdue alum Brandon King and plan to sign him to the practice squad. He spent his rookie season with the Colts last year, finishing the year on injured reserve.
### ESPN’s Herm Edwards gave the Dolphins a firm message about how to use Reggie Bush: “You can’t keep running him inside the tackles! His body won’t hold up!”
### Sean Smith defended himself to Twitter followers: “Ya’ll coming at me like I gave up all 500 yards??? I can only remember one catch. Check the stats again, people.”… About 10,000 tickets remain for Sunday’s Houston game, which is at risk of a local TV blackout.
### UM was disappointed about losing speedy former South Broward High running back Kevin Grooms, who did not receive NCAA clearance to play this season and enrolled at Marshall… Golden said Michael Williams and Lee Chambers will share time at one cornerback spot - with Brandon McGee at the other – and how they play will determine whether JoJo Nicolas is moved back from safety to corner when Armstrong returns in the fifth game…
Golden said he will pick two defensive tackle starters from among Marcus Forston (a front-runner), Micanor Regis and Darius Smith.... Golden wants to get tight ends Clive Walford and Chase Ford more touches... Golden told fans at an offseason event after even if a player messes up during a game, “I will not embarrass players. I will correct them.” And he said Tuesday, “Our style is not to get in players’ faces on the sideline. We’re not going to fight with players on the sideline.”
### Marlins president David Samson said owner Jeffrey Loria’s recent message to his baseball people was to consider anything to “win as many games as possible” next year. “If it means trading 25 players to get better, Jeffrey said, ‘I’ll trade 25 players.’’… Samson said the Marlins expect to be awarded the 2015 All-Star Game.
### The Heat’s Udonis Haslem still isn’t fully over last year’s foot injury (he had follow-up surgery to remove a screw this summer) and won’t resume playing until he’s pain free. But his agent said Tuesday that Haslem still expects to be ready when camps open post-lockout. It could be awhile before a new labor deal is reached.
A day after one of the biggest defensive debacles in franchise history, the Dolphins jettisoned one of the many culprits and called for the players to do their jobs better after allowing an unfathomable 622 yards Monday against New England.
Cornerback Benny Sapp, beaten at least six times in the game – including on Wes Welker’s 99-yard catch and run – won’t be around for another chance. The Dolphins released him Tuesday evening, even though they must pay his entire $1.6 million salary. Sapp agreed last week to take a $300,000 pay cut, believing it would help solidify his job.
Sapp’s release, announced by his agent, leaves Nolan Carroll and Jimmy Wilson as the team’s only backup cornerbacks. There’s speculation the Dolphins might re-sign veteran Will Allen, who was cut a week ago. Allen's camp and the Dolphins had discussions Tuesday.
As much as coach Tony Sparano wants to shift the focus to Sunday’s game against Houston, he won’t just yet, not after watching his team allow 517 passing yards from Tom Brady, the fifth-highest total in NFL history.
“I mean we can’t just dismiss giving up that many yards,” Sparano said Tuesday. “We have to see the corrections, make no mistake about it. There’s enough things on film to get better that we can’t just get on to Houston.”
Sparano said he “feels comfortable” his defense “will not let that happen again. But we’ve got to see the problems,… not look to figure out who else I can blame.”
Sparano also held coaches partly responsible for some of the confusion resulting from late substitutions.
“We’ve got to do a better job from a coaching standpoint of getting them on and off the field,” he said. “A couple times we had guys leave the field that should have been on the field. Those things have to be handled better by the players, No. 1, and then by us.”
Sparano said some of the defensive problems happened while playing zone, especially against tight ends. But he quickly added that new starting free safety Reshad Jones “did some good things.”
Sparano called one big play to Rob Gronkowski a “simple zone coverage route we’ve seen a hundred times. Nobody in the back end played tremendously well. We really didn’t tackle well. They had 296 yards either after the catch or after contact, 99 on one play.”
Patriots tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Gronkowski combined for 13 catches for 189 yards.
“Obviously, we’ve got to do a better job against the tight end,” Sparano said. “But it wasn’t about them beating us in a lot of man-to-man matchups, though they won on a few.”
Sparano said the Patriots’ no-huddle offense made it difficult to substitute and adjust. “We practiced that pace. We practiced all week,” he said. “But in the game when it got chaotic, they caught us a couple times.”
Sparano addressed other issues:
### He said he wasn’t concerned about the cramping that forced Vontae Davis to leave the game temporarily in the third quarter and also affected Sean Smith.
But Brian Hartline told WQAM: “There definitely has to be some prep…. Something needs to be done. We’ll definitely take note of that and the players who were or were not cramping will definitely stay on top of that. That can’t be a problem next week.”
### Reggie Bush had 20 touches “and I’d like the number to be around that,” Sparano said. But Bush played 75 snaps and “we probably should have got Reggie out of the game a little more to take some of the wear and tear off him.”
### Sparano said Daniel Thomas (hamstring) wasn’t especially close to playing. “I definitely will be back this week,” Thomas told WQAM. “I couldn’t go as hard as I needed to play.”
### With Chad Henne given more leeway to change plays this season, Sparano said, “Chad handled all the situations really well. We didn’t get into anything at the line of scrimmage that was a blunder by Chad…. We had 10 plays over 20 yards and we had five runs over 10 yards. That’s 15 big plays.”
Hartline expects the aggressive offensive mentality to continue. “I’m kind of getting sick of basing our offense off what people are giving us,” he said of past years. “We’re going to start forcing guys to worry about us. This is who we are.”
### Sparano said Jared Odrick and Mike Pouncey did some “really good things” but “there are enough things on film [from] an inconsistency standpoint that need to get better.”
### The offensive line “did a pretty good job protecting the pass until those last couple of series. Chad got hit a few more times than I’d like.”
### Sparano said his players cannot mope after the 38-24 loss: “There’s no room for long faces. Long faces will get you 0-2. I tell them all the time – there are two places you go in this league every week. You go to heaven or you go to hell. Last night we went to hell. But we’re going to go to heaven.”
Tony Sparano made no excuses for the woeful defensive performance: “That’s not acceptable. It’s not something we’re going to settle for. At times we made it a little bit easy for them – we didn’t tackle. The under coverage is something we’ve got to look at.
“We said it during the week that big plays are going to kill you against this team. Some of their scores looked like it was kind of easy. We had it down to a one-score game and then they threw whatever the heck that was from the 2-yard line” to Wes Welker for a long touchdown.
### Sparano said Chad Henne’s play was “outstanding. I thought the kid played a great game. That’s supposed to be a pretty good defense. I was pleased at times with how the line protected. There were some encouraging things. The receivers got downfield. Anthony Fasano caught the ball.”
### The Dolphins’ decision to cut Will Allen – and save his $1.5 million salary – looks like a mistake. Benny Sapp, who beat out Allen for the nickel cornerback job, allowed six of seven passes thrown in his direction to be caught, including Welker’s 99-yarder. On the plus side, Sapp deflected a pass that Jared Odrick caught for an interception.
Welker obviously is an awfully tough matchup, and Sapp figures to play better than he did Monday.
But here’s the main reason why cutting Allen was questionable: When Vontae Davis left temporarily in the third quarter with cramps, the Dolphins had to turn to Nolan Carroll, who allowed four catches and was overmatched against Patriots No. 3 receiver Deion Branch. Allen presumably would have done better. He certainly couldn’t have done worse.
Allen remains unsigned, and the Dolphins would be wise to give him a call on Tuesday.
### So much for the notion that the Dolphins would be more effective against tight ends. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski were targeted a combined 14 times. They caught 13 of them for a combined 189 yards.
Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett, Yeremiah Bell, Reshad Jones, Sean Smith, Sapp and Jimmy Wilson were all burned in coverage against tight ends.
“We didn’t do a good job of covering it,” Sparano said. “Too many big plays again.”
### Wilson was beaten twice when he entered the game in the third quarter while Davis was out.
### Burnett, supposedly one of the NFL’s better inside linebackers against the pass, had an immensely disappointing debut. And Dansby wasn’t nearly the factor he should have been. Meanwhile, the defensive line generated very little pass rush.
### Though the Dolphins are utilizing the fullback less, ex-Dolphin Lousaka Polite’s good work in short yardage clearly was missed. Reggie Bush lost two yards on third and two in the first half. Lex Hilliard lost a yard in a goal line situation even with defensive tackle Paul Soliai as his lead blocker.
And Polite would have been an option on the late fourth and goal play, when the Dolphins went into the shotgun and threw an incomplete pass (a fade to Brian Hartline) despite being at the half yard line.
“It’s the right play,” Henne said. “Get the ball up and see if he can make a play on it.”
### Though the offense had some very good moments, the Dolphins were just 2 for 14 on third downs.
### Richie Incognito committed two holding penalties and allowed a sack.
### Linebacker Jason Trusnik, cited last week by Sparano as one of Miami’s best special teams players, committed two holding penalties on returns, including one that negated a long Clyde Gates gain.
### Defensive lineman Tony McDaniel left in the first half with a hand injury and did not return.
### Henne said, “We did some good things. We have to eliminate some of the three and outs.” But the result is “disheartening.”
### NFL Network’s Warren Sapp: “Nate Solder absolutely schooled Cameron Wake. … If you can’t win one-on-ones, you’re going to have a long, long season. If you can’t generate a pass rush against the better quarterbacks in this league, you’re going to be in trouble.”
After Sparano’s postgame news conference, Sapp said, “You can’t sit there and tell me we got 500 yards. This [Patriots defense] was the NFL’s 25th-ranked defense last year. There’s no such thing as a moral victory. It’s a black and white world in the NFL."
### ESPN’s Ron Jaworski apologized for inadvertently using a four-letter word that rhymes with hit. Or fit.
SUNDAY SPORTS BUZZ:
Proud Dolphins alums keep waiting and waiting, hoping the franchise can rise above the mediocrity that has infested it for much of the past decade.
“It’s not hard to be a Dolphins fan -- it’s heartbreaking,” Manny Fernandez said. “You always wonder if we will get back” to being a consistently good team. “I wonder if it will be in my lifetime.”
On the eve of the season, former Dolphins standouts have a lot to say about the state of the franchise.
“They’re going to finish third in the AFC East at best,” Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti said, adding he’s unsure if they’re headed in the right direction. “Come on, the Patriots really bolstered their team. The problem is you can’t find one area on this Dolphins team that you can call excellent. Brandon Marshall can be excellent but he wasn’t last year. They have a very good defense, but defense can only hold up so long, and I don’t see offensive firepower.
“Steve Ross is too smart a guy for them not to get there eventually. Maybe he’s been a little too patient. I don’t understand what they did in free agency. Other teams were stockpiling people. Ahmad Bradshaw would have given them a real tough running back…. If they don’t go to the playoffs, there will be a housecleaning. I don’t mean the coach – I mean everybody. I hope to hell they prove everybody wrong.”
If these alums ran the franchise, a lot of things would be done differently.
“They want Reggie Bush to be the main back, but I can’t see it,” former Dolphins running back Jim Kiick said. “He’s not durable enough. He’s more of a specialty back. Everybody is optimistic about Chad Henne, but you can’t jump to conclusions. It’s preseason! And it’s like they told Tony Sparano, ‘Well, we don’t have anyone else, so we’ll see what you can do this year.’”
Then there’s Fernandez, who bemoaned, “I don’t see the team progressing more. I’m not a big fan of Jeff Ireland. I haven’t thought much of his drafts or offseason moves. I thought they would hire Bill Cowher. If you want a winning coach, you’ve got to give him personnel control. Steve Ross has treated the alumni well and he has done his best. [But] he’s more in-tuned with the entertainment world. He should have bought IMG. He would have been more at home.”
And don’t get Fernandez started on the Dolphins’ plans for a 2008 Gators championship reunion at halftime of the Oct. 23 Denver game. “What does that have to do with Miami and the Dolphins? That doesn’t make any sense,” Fernandez said. “I don’t remember us celebrating Vinny Testaverde when he won the Heisman Trophy at Miami.”
Said Kiick: “It’s ridiculous. You’re playing in the Miami Hurricanes’ stadium and yet you’re bringing in Gators fans who are despised by Hurricanes fans. If I was Tim Tebow, I would be totally embarrassed by them doing it.”
Mark Duper loves how Miami’s offense has come out of the dark ages. Hall of Famer Larry Little said, “I’m trying to be optimistic. But I’m worried about the running game. They haven’t knocked people off the ball like I thought” though “Jake Long hasn’t been there. I don’t know if Vernon Carey can play guard.”
Dick Anderson asserts the franchise “is on the right track” and said sticking with Henne over trading for Kyle Orton was wise because Orton “is out for himself, not a team leader.” But “I don’t know an offense that will work without a really good offensive line. The right side is the weakest part.”
The last word to Buoniconti: “My big concern is when you have a guy that has won more games than anyone in the history of football and don’t pick up the phone and ask him what is wrong with the team, then there’s a problem. They haven’t asked for Don Shula’s advice. He may be up in years but his brain isn’t.”
### One Dolphins veteran said players were surprised A.J. Edds was cut, noting he played well in camp and insisting he is a better linebacker than Austin Spitler, who was kept. But the player said Spitler is better on special teams… There’s excitement internally about safety Reshad Jones’ potentially expanded role – one player reiterated the belief he will offer more big-play ability than Chris Clemons. “Wherever the ball is, you’ll see me,” Jones assured us. “I pattern myself after Ed Reed.”
### Several players have complained over the years about Sparano’s hollering. But Sparano said Saturday, “They know if I’m going to say something to them it’s going to be the truth. Sometimes you say things you shouldn’t say.” Of his demonstrative reactions caught on camera, he said, “I’m not really for everybody. But I think I’m for this team.”… Among the free agents the Dolphins summoned for visits in recent days: former Vikings tight end/fullback Jeff Dugan (27 career catches) and ex-Broncos safety Darcel McBath (the 48th pick of the 2009 draft).
### While the Dolphins ruled Charles Clay out for Monday’s game and Daniel Thomas questionable (both with hamstring injuries), the Patriots listed 12 players as questionable, including Albert Haynesworth but most importantly, very good starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who has back issues and whose possible absence would help Miami.
### MGM Resorts and 11 other Nevada casinos dropped the Dolphins’ over/under for wins from 8 to 7 ½ because so many people were betting they would win fewer than eight. Those casinos also changed the Dolphins’ odds of winning the Super Bowl from 40 to 1 to 65 to 1 – only eight have longer odds.
### The Marlins decided the first event at their new stadium in March will be a high school or college game (with capacity limited to 5000); they want to then play UM, FIU and the Yankees at their new digs before the Cardinals game April 4, which will be MLB’s regular-season prime-time opener and carried on ESPN. The Marlins then will go away for a week before returning for their first home series April 13-15 against Houston.
### The Marlins haven’t ruled out trading a player (certainly not a key one) for top managerial choice Ozzie Guillen, but prefer not to, and will wait until his availability is known before moving on to anyone else…. Hanley Ramirez would apparently be willing to play third base if the Marlins signed his good buddy, Mets All-Star free agent shortstop Jose Reyes: “It would be nice to play next to him. He's an energy guy.”
### UM is now hopeful tackle Seantrel Henderson can return from back surgery by early to mid October, perhaps for the Oct. 1 Bethune Cookman game… Aldarius Johnson’s family said he plans to make a final appeal to Al Golden for reinstatement, but Johnson’s rules violation (sending a tweet asking for strip club suggestions) was his latest of several missteps, and UM would need to have a dramatic change of heart to bring him back. UM also says the NCAA is still investigating Johnson. Johnson is off UM’s official roster and likely wouldn’t play much even if he hadn’t been suspended.
### A prominent athletic director who has dealt with the NCAA extensively said the four-year statute of limitations won’t help or apply to UM’s case because “it’s the same pattern of behavior” with Nevin Shapiro. “They will go past the four years.”
But a UM official said the school believes none of the former Canes who are no longer in college will talk to the NCAA, and Shapiro’s allegations against them will be very difficult to prove. Donna Shalala recently told her coaches it’s too early to tell how severely UM will be punished.
Ten notes on a Saturday:
### The Marlins’ pitching problems have been compounded by the fact that several prospects stalled this year in the minors – with Brad Hand among the exceptions. Alex Sanabia, now with the big-league team, was sidelined most of the season with a right forearm injury and pitched only 21 2/3 innings in Triple A, going 0-3 with a 7.89 ERA.
Lefty Sean West, who the Marlins thought would be in the rotation by now, was 5-8 with a 5.59 ERA in Triple A New Orleans, allowing 149 base-runners in 87 innings. The Marlins certainly aren’t counting on him at this point.
Eli Villanueva and Tom Koehler, who both pitched well at Double A last season, had tougher times in Triple A. Villanueva went 7-11 with a 5.35 ERA, with 258 base-runners allowed in 165 innings. Koehler went 12-7 with a 4.97 ERA, with 223 base-runners allowed in 150 innings.
### Lefty Chad James, the Marlins’ No. 1 pick in 2009, won five of his last seven decisions after an 0-13 start, at Single A Jupiter. He had a 3.80 ERA but allowed 224 base-runners in 149 innings. Omar Poveda, acquired in the 2009 Jorge Cantu trade with Texas, had some good moments at Double A (8-6, 4.32).
### One bright spot was left fielder Christian Yelich, the team’s 2010 first-round pick who hit .312 with 15 homers and 77 RBI at Greensboro, a low-level Class A team.
### Channing Crowder, cut by Miami in July, said the Dolphins shouldn’t expect Reggie Bush to get a lot of yardage running between the tackles. He’s a “glorified receiver,” Crowder said on his WQAM show Friday. Still, Crowder predicted Miami will go 10-6.
FYI: Bush’s 294 receptions are the most for an NFL running back since 2006.
### One Dolphins defensive player insists the offensive line has run-blocked much better in practice than it did in the preseason games against Atlanta and Tampa Bay, when the running game was awful. We can only hope.
“We have a chance to be a great offensive line,” Pro Bowler Jake Long insisted Friday. “Mike Pouncey is doing a great job.”
Even though Long hasn’t played in preseason, he said he won’t be rusty because “practice is pretty much at the same speed.”
### Encouraging: Chad Henne, who completed only 10 of 40 passes thrown over 20 yards last season, finished the preseason with seven passing plays of 20 yards or more (fourth in the league) and two of 40 yards or more (second in the league). Yes, he failed to hit a couple of deep balls in the Carolina game, but there was progress.
### Henne’s career numbers in six games against New England: 58.6 completion percentage (less than his 61.1 career mark), four touchdowns and five interceptions.
### If history is any indication, look for lots of Henne-to-Davone Bess on Monday. Three of the top four receiving-yardage performances by Bess have come against the Patriots (117, 96 and 87 yards).
### Sparano has had his team study last year’s special-teams breakdowns against New England, when Brandon Tate (who was cut last week by New England) returned a kickoff 103 yards, Patrick Chung blocked a Brandon Fields punt, and Kyle Arrington returned a blocked Dan Carpenter field goal for a touchdown. All three happened in the Patriots’ 41-14 win Oct. 4 in Miami.
“At some point” on Monday, Sparano said, “they’ll try to see if we fixed it.”
Sparano believes his special teams are better, but “it’s kind of put up or shut up.” In particular, Sparano loves how Nolan Carroll, Jimmy Wilson and Jason Trusnik are doing on special teams.
### Ex-Dolphins quarterback Pat White’s football career appears over - or close to it - after he was cut by his UFL team last week.