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17 posts from September 2011

September 09, 2011

Friday update: 20 Dolphins and Canes notes


Chad Henne’s evolution as a leader took another step Friday when his teammates voted him captain for the first time, joining incumbent captains Jake Long, Karlos Dansby and Yeremiah Bell.

“It’s an honor and shows respect from my teammates,” said Henne, who never served as a captain when he was quarterback at Michigan. “It proves I’ve come a long way. I’m here to lead this team, to help them win.”

Among those “real pleased” with the news was Tony Sparano, who noted it says “a lot” about the team’s confidence in Henne. The Dolphins will have two captains on offense and two on defense.

 ### Bell said the Dolphins can take away something from the Patriots’ 28-21 playoff loss to the Jets in January.

After an incredible regular season (36 touchdowns, four interceptions), Tom Brady was frustrated and confused at times in that postseason loss to the Jets, who disguised coverages and routinely switched from man to zone. Brady was sacked five times and threw his first interception since Week 6.

One lesson, Bell said, is “you’ve got to get in these guys’ faces. When we’re playing man to man, we have to plaster receivers. And it’s going to be key for us to give him some different looks and not show him what we’re doing off the bat. If you show him what you’re doing off the bat, he already has dissected it.”

The Dolphins have sacked Brady five times in the past four games and generally haven’t done enough to disrupt his rhythm. With Jason Taylor back with the Dolphins, keep in mind that his 10.5 sacks against him are the most of any player.

### Here’s why Henne has improved, according to new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll: “He’s quickened up his feet, his delivery, his eye control on the defense. His accuracy has improved. He has done a much better job operating in the pocket.”

### Injuries remain in issue in the Dolphins’ backfield. Charles Clay did not practice Friday and Daniel Thomas again was limited. Both have hamstring injuries.

### There’s uncertainty what and how the Dolphins will do in short yardage situations, with the team having cut Lousaka Polite, who was 41 for 43 on 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1 runs the past three years.
“We haven’t had to do it without Lou,” Sparano said. “Do I have concerns? No.”

Lex Hilliard would be one option in those spots. If Clay doesn’t play, Hilliard would play fullback whenever the team uses one. "He’s on the team because he does a lot of jobs,” Sparano said. “He quietly flies below the radar. Whenever you put him in the game, he does good things.”

Hilliard said he has never played fullback in a regular season NFL game, though he played it extensively in the preseason finale against Dallas. “As a running back, you’re looking for people to avoid,” he said. “As a fullback, you’re looking for a guy to hit.”

### Even after adding Dante Rosario and Will Yeatman, Sparano isn’t completely sure what he has at tight end. “I’m more comfortable but the jury is still out. I’m going to reserve judgment.”

 ### Several players have switched teams in the AFC East this week, including the Dolphins’ Yeatman (cut by New England) and the Patriots’ A.J. Edds (cut by the Dolphins). So how much inside information can be shared with their new teams?

“It’s overrated,” Sparano said. “To think these guys are going to other teams or coming to our team and able to throw the whole playbook at us – that’s not the case. I’m sure you can gain a little information from a personnel standpoint.”

### Though Sparano hired his son Tony Jr. as offensive quality control coach, they’re not exactly spending a lot of time together. “I don’t see much of him,” his father said. “I saw a lot more when he wasn’t in the building.”

### Taylor, on the difference he has noticed in Paul Soliai from when Taylor was here before: “He’s rich!” (Taylor then gave a serious answer praising his maturity and the fact he's no longer doing “kiddie mistakes, little dumb things.”)

### The Dolphins are determined to get work for their top six defensive linemen. Backups Tony McDaniel and Jared Odrick will play a good bit, and Phillip Merling is expected to get some work in some passing situations. "I come from a background of being rotated" at Penn State, Odrick said.

### In a smart, respectful move, the Dolphins are taking Joe Robbie's statue out of storage - where it had been since renovations on the club level in 2005 - and placing it in a new Joe Robbie Alumni Plaza outside the main entrance of Gate C on the north side. In April, Dolphins CEO Mike Dee discovered the statue in a crate in the parking lot. 

The area will be dedicated in a ceremony at 4:30 p.m. Monday, with Robbie's son, Tim, among those in attendance. Dan Marino, Bob Griese, Larry Little and Dwight Stephenson will be there, and their names will be placed on the ground around the statue (think Hollywood Walk of Fame).

### Jacory Harris addressed Nevingate briefly on Friday (without mentioning Nevin Shapiro’s name). He apologized to UM president Donna Shalala for “everything she had to go through.” He then apologized to fans: “We were young but still no excuse what happened.”

### Harris said he “literally got sick” watching Monday’s game and had “an anxiety attack.” Harris said, “I can’t let my teammates down any more.”

### Allen Hurns was listed ahead of LaRon Byrd as a starting receiver (opposite Travis Benjamin) on the depth chart this week, and coach Al Golden left no doubt why.

“Hurns is in a different league right now,” Golden said. “He is the model for us right now. He’s reliable every day. He’ll block. He’s physical. He’s not afraid to lay out for balls.”

### On receiver Tommy Streeter, Golden said, “He is going in the right direction but he has to take the next step and push the threshold.”

### Golden told 790 The Ticket that it’s “irresponsible” for ESPN’s Mark May to advocate UM getting the death penalty (which isn’t going to happen).

### According to Golden, tight end Blake Ayles (head injury) and defensive tackle Curtis Porter would have been starters if they hadn’t been injured. Both are questionable for Ohio State.

### Travis Benjamin and Phillip Dorsett are in a tight competition to be the punt returner.

### Quarterback Ryan Williams’ appeal to play this season was officially denied by the NCAA. The Memphis transfer will be eligible next season.

### Golden said his offensive line “has been challenged” to improve. Immediately. “We were left in second and longs and third and longs [against Maryland], and we don’t want to be that kind of team. It’s my job to get it fixed.”


September 08, 2011

Sports media: Dreadful debut for FIU analyst, ex-CNN anchor Rick Sanchez


If Rick Sanchez’s debut as FIU’s radio analyst was designed to be a parody of Rick Sanchez and awful announcing, it would have been dead-on --- so unspeakably bad and unintentionally amusing that it sounded, at times, like a Saturday Night Live skit.

FIU fans, with a rising, talented team, deserve a better radio product. And when the Panthers play at Louisville on Friday, they can only hope Sanchez --  a skilled albeit polarizing news anchor --  isn’t as woefully miscast in a football booth as it seemed in his first game on WMCU-1080 AM.

Many FIU fans will be spared Sanchez’s radiocast because Friday’s game is also on ESPN, with Bob Wischusen and Bob Davie on the call.

 So where do we start with Sanchez? Do you have a few hours?

### He seemed determined to sabotage play-by-play man Tony Calatayud’s call of last week’s opener by interrupting him repeatedly or shouting childbirth-type sounds over him. Even more galling: Several times Sanchez shouted over Calatayud to give an inaccurate description.

On an FIU fumble, Sanchez yelled, “Wesley Carroll gets it back! Wesley Carroll gets it back! No, he didn’t!” Or this one: “What a catch! It appears to be a no catch!”

Then there were the times Sanchez interrupted Calatayud to shout a North Texas player “got nothing” even when the ball-carrier gained a few yards. He said North Texas was going for it on fourth down even when the punt unit had been sent out.

### A few times, Sanchez said “wait until you see the replay” or “watch the replay,” which suggested he forgot he was broadcasting on radio.

### Sanchez’s call was a carnival of clichés. The running back “is going to live to play another down.” The game “is what it is.” And “if you look in the dictionary, the definition of versatility is [FIU running back] Kendrick Rhodes.”

And “this team is moving the ball like a machine. That’s what it’s about.” And it’s “21-0 before the blink of an eye.” And “he didn’t get into the end zone but you know he wanted it.” And T.Y. Hilton “is lightning in a bottle,” but “one player does not a team make.” And on and on, enough to induce nausea.

 ### Much of Sanchez’s commentary was master-of-the-obvious stuff. On a play that gained no yards, Sanchez said, “Just goes to show, every once in a while, it’s not going to work.” Or, “experience counts for something. That’s important!”

He enlightened us that the running back’s “mission there was make sure you get the yardage.” (As opposed to all the other plays.) And North Texas giving up large chunks of yards “is not what you want to do.” You don’t say?

### Sanchez was big on hyperbole. “Wesley Carroll made a pass as well as anyone throwing on Sundays!” 

And “Carroll’s throw was as good as any I’ve seen all season.” (Hey, Rick, it’s the first quarter of the first night of the season!) That line especially amused us, as well as Sanchez oddly saying that one FIU run “was up the center’s butt,” which sounds painful.

### Sanchez also spewed a lot of nonsense. “Lateral movement is the key to a good team,” he declared. Never heard that one before.  The lateral movement topic fascinated Sanchez. “You find it only in very special backs in this league,” he said later. (The Sun Belt?) Sanchez also wanted us to know “finesse is a wonderful thing in football.”

On one play, FIU didn’t set its defense in time “because it’s hot out here” at 8:15 at night, Sanchez explained.

With FIU way ahead, Sanchez observed, “They’re getting conservative. I don’t know if it’s pre-designed or just the way it is.” Memo to Sanchez: The coordinator is calling the plays. It isn’t a coincidence.

### He never let the broadcast breathe. Sanchez talked and talked, as if he feared oxygen would be cut off to the booth if he stopped.

Positives? Sanchez was energetic and prepared in the sense that he could, in general terms, discuss the skills of several FIU players.

Some advice: Think before you open your mouth. Don’t feel compelled to speak if you don’t have something meaningful to say. Stay away from eye-rolling clichés. And don’t even think about talking before Calatayud finishes calling the play.

Sanchez, who lost his job at CNN last fall after saying that Jews are not an oppressed minority, has said he is not getting paid for the FIU gig.

He has two sons enrolled there and said in a previous phone interview, “If in some way my being there helps them sell an extra ad, then great. It helps them brand a little more.”



The NFL on Thursday extended ESPN’s Monday Night Football deal another eight years, through 2021, with ESPN agreeing to boost its annual rights fee from $1.1 billion to $1.9 billion. The NFL reserves the right to give ESPN a wild card playoff game whenever it chooses.

Also new in the deal:

### Sunday NFL Countdown will start an hour earlier (10 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and add a second set with Suzy Kolber, Bill Parcells and Merril Hoge.

### NFL Live expands to one hour a day (4 p.m. on ESPN). On some nights, it will continue to re-air at midnight or 12:30 a.m. on ESPN2.

### ESPN2 will debut a new interactive weekday show, NFL32, in which Kolber and Chris Mortensen discuss news of the day. That will air at 6 p.m. weekdays on ESPN2.


Joe Rose said he and Bob Griese have not discussed how they will split up analyst duties alongside Jimmy Cefalo when Griese joins them for the first time Monday on WINZ-940’s Dolphins broadcasts.

“It will happen on the job,” Rose said. “We haven’t worked together and it takes time.”
Rose said he will good-naturedly rib Griese at times, and Griese has been a good sport about that when Nat Moore teases him on preseason games. Griese is replacing the late, great Jim Mandich in the Dolphins’ radio booth.

### Dan Le Batard’s new weekday ESPN2 show debuts at 4 p.m. Monday. But because it will air on same-day tape, he will not miss segments of his 3-7 p.m. radio show on 790 The Ticket.

### NFL Sunday Ticket, featuring CBS and Fox broadcasts of all games, will be available for free Sunday on DirecTV. The NFL’s RedZone channel also will be free Sunday on DirecTV and cable systems that carry it, including Comcast and AT&T U-Verse.



September 06, 2011

Sports buzz: Analysts critique Dolphins; UM postscripts







For some national perspective on the Dolphins, we solicited views of prominent network analysts. Here’s some of the feedback:

 ### CBS’ Phil Simms would be surprised if the Dolphins win 10 games and contend for a wild card “because of what they’re up against in their division. But Miami can still be 9-7 and have a hell of a year.”

Simms was irritated when ESPN (Herm Edwards) ranked the Dolphins’ quarterback situation as the NFL’s worst. “What – are you crazy?” Simms said, rattling off the 49ers, Seahawks, and Redskins among those worse. Arizona’s “Kevin Kolb has the publicity, but Chad Henne is every bit as skilled or more skilled than a lot of guys. I’ve liked what I’ve seen of Henne this preseason. There are some physical things he looks like he’s doing better. He’s big, strong, has a powerful arm. With some other starting quarterbacks, I can’t say that.” And Simms predicts Mike Pouncey will be as good as his brother, Steelers center Maurkice.

### NBC’s Cris Collinsworth: “They have more big play strike-ability with changes in their [offensive philosophy] and adding Reggie Bush, and they are making progress in the place they need to make it most, which is throwing. I’ve seen days Henne is 12th to 15th among quarterbacks, and other days he’s 20 to 25. But the biggest question is can Bush hold up.” Collinsworth isn’t convinced.

He said Saints coach “Sean Payton and Al Michaels and I had a long conversation and Payton didn’t feel it was right for Reggie to be that 20 carry-a-game kind of guy… that he left New Orleans” saying “he wanted to be.” Payton “felt he was much better served” in a specialized role.

Added Collinsworth: “I don’t know where their running game is. Marc Colombo gave up a lot of sacks last year… I would be shocked if Miami won the division.”

### NFL Network’s Joe Theismann predicts “Henne will do well in this offense. You will get to see how good a thrower he is, and he will get in rhythm more.”

But Theismann said Miami’s running game isn’t good enough. “Sparano has got to look at [it] and say, ‘I’m beating my head against the wall. Let’s throw the ball 40 times.’ Running is not Bush’s talent. He’s a specialist. If I were on defense, I would take him out of your attack by blitzing and making him become a pass blocker.”

Theismann’s other complaint: “They didn’t spend on guys who are impact players” – such as DeAngelo Williams: “You sign Jason Taylor, Marc Colombo. I don’t understand it. Their best years are way behind them. The front office needs to do a much better job finding young players.”

### CBS’ Dan Dierdorf: In recent years, “Miami put the C in conservative.” Dierdorf knows Sparano has changed his philosophy. But “can they be more explosive? That remains to be seen. There is a lot to like defensively. But I’m going to have a see a regression by the Jets or Patriots to say Miami has a chance at a wildcard.”

### ESPN’s Jon Gruden seems skeptical: “I’m surprised they didn’t bring in a proven NFL backup, given Chad Henne has been inconsistent.”… ESPN’s Ron Jaworski is more optimistic: “They’ve got a wealth of talent on that front seven.”… Fox’s Jimmy Johnson: “The Dolphins will be better. But because of the division they’re in, it will be tough to make a wildcard.”… ESPN’s Tom Jackson: “To project them to second in the division, I just don’t see it happening. Sparano has to be more imaginative” offensively.



### The weakened position that UM finds itself in at cornerback stems not only from graduation and early NFL departures (Brandon Harris) but poor recruiting decisions by the former staff. A St. Thomas Aquinas coach said UM erred by recruiting 5-10 Keion Payne (whom UM doesn’t believe is ready to help) instead of current UF sophomore starter Cody Riggs (UM’s former staff didn’t offer him because it considered him too small at 5-9). Randy Shannon didn’t want smallish corners, even those who could play.

This current staff hasn’t deemed Lee Chambers or freshman Thomas Finnie (who was targeted when he entered the game) any better starting options than Michael Williams or Brandon McGee, who was beaten deep late. And freshman Dallas Crawford isn’t considered ready.

Of his cornerback play against Maryland, Al Golden said Tuesday, “Too many quick screens. We didn’t tackle well or defeat blocks well — Brandon, Mike, Lee Chambers. We can do a better job there. Other than the deep one Brandon gave up, our coverage was OK. As a unit, we just gave up too many yards.”

JoJo Nicolas will return to corner in the fifth game, when safety RayRay Armstrong returns from suspension.

### Among the eight freshmen who played more than a couple snaps, Golden singled out Denzel Perryman and Anthony Chickillo, who “showed the moment wasn’t too big” and later praised Phillip Dorsett, as well. Gionni Paul looked confused on one sequence when he allowed a big play by a Maryland tight end.

### UM entered the season wanting to incorporate the tight ends more in the passing game, but we didn’t see it. They combined for just 10 yards on three catches.

### One reason UM was surprised by the 10 penalties is players who committed them in practice were either scolded or in some cases, ordered to run sprints. But that didn’t eliminate the problem, which left Golden exasperated.

###  UM eventually adjusted to the quick passes to receivers who were stacked closely together by sending a linebacker over to help, as WQAM's Joaquin Gonzalez alertly noted. But that opened the middle of the field to tight ends.

That’s one area where playmaker Sean Spence was badly missed; among the starting linebackers, only Ramon Buchanan – whom the coaches were raving about - made a lot of plays. Jimmy Gaines had a few but struggled at times. Jordan Futch, filling in for Spence, wasn't a factor, with one solo tackle.

### Offensive line coach Art Kehoe gave his unit a B in an interview with colleague Armando Salguero on WFTL-640, but Golden said the performance was “not up to our standards.”


### Henne was very happy Miami signed Dante Rosario, which gives the Dolphins two tight ends with receiving skills. “We need it,” Henne said. “It really opens up the defense to have threats inside and outside.”

### The Dolphins’ depth chart released Tuesday lists Brian Hartline as the starting receiver opposite Marshall (with Davone Bess on the second team), Rosario as the No. 2 tight end, and Chris Clemons as the first-team free safety. But Reshad Jones has been with the first team this week because of Clemons’ leg injury.... The Patriots claimed A.J. Edds off waivers from the Dolphins.

### Marlins manager Jack McKeon said even though Leo Nunez remains the closer, “you like to test somebody else in the role” – such as Steve Cishek (who did it last week) and Edward Mujica - because “I’m looking out for the organization’s future. Will Nunez be back? Who knows? Cishek can be a closer in time, not necessarily now.” With Nunez likely to make $6 million or more in arbitration, the Marlins will at least consider other options.

But even if the Marlins trade Nunez this winter, it’s doubtful they would pursue a top free agent closer such as Jonathan Papelbon or Heath Bell because they need to spend their money elsewhere.

### Marlins outfielder Logan Morrison, perceived to be in the doghouse during his banishment to Triple A last month, was approached last week by owner Jeffrey Loria, who told Morrison “he’s in my corner and he believes in me.”



Henne addresses fans, says "no turning back" from new offense

 An early look at the Dolphins story that will be on the Dolphins page later:


Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne stepped on the podium inside the Sun Life Stadium club level on Tuesday and displayed the same poise and self-assuredness that he has exhibited in the pocket during a most encouraging preseason.

Addressing more than 100 fans at a Dolphins Touchdown Club luncheon, a confident Henne spoke about his growth, his relationship with Brandon Marshall and the team’s more aggressive offensive approach.
“There are a lot of things I can do with this offense,” he said. “There is no turning back.”

Henne, who had a splendid 93.4 quarterback rating in preseason, has been buoyed not only by the bolder offensive philosophy, but the trust that offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has placed in him to change plays when needed.

“Brian Daboll puts a lot on my shoulders – puts everything on me,” he told emcees Joe Rose and Kim Bokamper. “He says, ‘If you see something, get us into the right play and make it go. And if it doesn’t work, we’ll come back the next play and make it work.’

“We’re going to spread you out. We’re going to bring you inside. We’re going to hammer the football like we’ve done in the past. There are a lot more options. We’re out there to make a lot of big plays and score a lot of points. It’s definitely an attack offense. Every day before practice, he says, ‘Let it go. Go to your playmakers and see what they can do with it.’ It’s a great philosophy.”

Henne said good-naturedly that Daboll “is borderline nuts some times. But we love it, because he brings a lot of passion.”

Henne traced his evolution to the lockout, when – according to Davone Bess, the perception of Henne changed among some teammates because of how he took charge of offseason workouts.
“For me as a quarterback trying to prove my ability and my leadership, it really helped getting guys together,” he said. “I’m going to be that guy that is going to be enthusiastic for our guys when they need it, keep the guys up-tempo. And if they need a chewing out, I’ve got to be that guy. But I’m there to encourage.”

Henne said, smiling, “You’ve got to keep them on their toes at all times. You don’t want the linemen to give you that puppy dog face. I’m like, ‘You’re better than that.’’

On Marshall, he said, “Brandon has come a long way. He’s been a great teammate this year. He’s realized his problem. He’s fixed it. It takes a man to come out in public, state what he has [Borderline Personality Disorder].

“Last year, it was just more frustration from the team not doing well, not [being] on the same page. It was a frustrating year for a lot of us, and that’s what turned our relationship off. This year, we have new ideas. No matter what people say, he’s really a great teammate.”

Henne was asked by Bokamper if the offense’s problems have been fixed. “Our organization has done a great job,” he said. “Tony Sparano got  Marc Colombo, moved Vernon Carey to right guard. We’ve got a No. 1 pick, Mike Pouncey, at center. Very smart guy, talented. We’ve got Reggie Bush behind, who can spread us out and open up some running lanes.”

Henne spoke about dealing with the criticism that accompanied his uneven play last season. “As a quarterback, you’re always going to be criticized no matter what. You and the head coach. I’ve grown from it. I’ve become a better person as a leader and a player…. I’m one of those guys that keep it in, don’t let my emotions show a lot.”

But the criticism can sting those closest to him. “I’ve walked off crying,” his wife, Brittany, told the audience after the conversation turned to how players’ spouses must tolerate the occasional abusive fan sitting near them in the stands.

Rose told the story about how the wife of deceased former Dolphins quarterback David Woodley once punched a fan who was heckling Woodley. The team told Woodley he had to pick up his wife from the Orange Bowl tunnel, where she was being kept under the watch of a police officer.

 “Damn, I told that girl not to be listening to stuff,” Rose recalled Woodley saying that day.
Brittany Henne would never go that far. But “it’s really hard,” she said. “He’s conditioned to do this. I’m not conditioned. They don’t pay me to do this.”

Henne closed the luncheon by speaking of the team’s determination to play better at home after last year’s 1-7 disaster, and how he’s “really excited” to face a New England defense that added Albert Haynesworth and a few others. “If they’re going to double our guys, move on to the next guy and see who can win” that matchup, he said.

The Touchdown Club luncheon – which is held Tuesdays at noon during the season - was the first since the passing of former Dolphins player and announcer Jim Mandich, who hosted the event for its first 10 years.

Mandich, who died April 26 from bile duct cancer, had a strong relationship with Henne, dating back to Henne’s days at their alma mater, Michigan. The club has raised over $300,000 over the years for the Dolphins Foundation, including former players in financial need.


September 05, 2011

Monday update: Chatter on Dolphins' roster moves, other notes

 Besides the buzz columns on Wednesdays and Sundays and the media column on Fridays, we will offer a few other updates in this space during the week, sometimes specific to one team, sometimes with items from several teams.

 MONDAY UPDATE (Dolphins):

In the past two years, the Dolphins have signed five developmental players in the aftermath of the Labor Day weekend deadline to cut down to 53.

But that approach changed Monday, when the Dolphins signed two established backup types, one of whom should help immediately and one could if needed: tight end Dante Rosario and guard/center Ryan Cook, who also can play tackle.
 A bit of background on each:

 ### Rosario, cut by Denver on Saturday, should be a clear upgrade over Jeron Mastrud at backup tight end. In four years with Carolina, Rosario’s receptions increased every year from 6 to 18 to 26 to 32. He averaged 12 yards per catch in 2009, 8.3 in 2010.

 Rosario has started 22 games, including six last year, when he ranked 48th among 63 tight ends, according to Pro Football Focus.

“He had a pretty good season a year ago,” Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. “He runs really well. It’s a chance to add more speed and athleticism.”

### Cook “started at center, guard and tackle” for Minnesota “and has a lot of flexibility,” Sparano said. “Pretty steady guy.”

Cook, picked 51st overall in the 2006 draft, ranked 49th among 82 guards last season, according to PFF. He started 16 games in 2007, 14 in ’08 and seven last season. Overall, he has started 40 of 70 NFL games.

With the release of backup center Joe Berger, Cook likely would be the first veteran off the bench if any of the interior line starters is injured or leaves the game for another reason. Cook clearly would rank ahead of guard John Jerry.

Nate Garner also can fill in at guard or even center in a pinch, but Miami has listed him as a tackle. Ray Feinga also can play guard or tackle.

Miami is thin at backup tackle after losing Lydon Murtha, who is on injured reserve after surgery on an injured toe. “Big loss,” Sparano said.

 # # # #

Sparano said the Dolphins kept linebacker Austin Spitler over A.J. Edds (who was cut Monday) because Spitler “was further ahead.” Edds “missed a chunk of time” last year because he was on injured reserve with a knee injury.

### Sparano was non-committal about who will return punts and kickoffs. Phillip Livas, who was cut, got much of the work in preseason. Sparano could opt to use Davone Bess again on punts and either rookie Clyde Gates or incumbent Nolan Carroll on kickoffs. Gates averaged 26 yards on 20 kickoff returns for Abilene Christian last season. Sparano hasn't ruled out using Reggie Bush on punt returns on occasion; he has four career punt returns for touchdowns but has a lower overall return average than Bess the past two years.

 ### Sparano said if cornerback Jimmy Wilson is on the active roster on game days, his biggest responsibility will be on special teams. Four cornerbacks are ahead of him on the depth chart.


 #  #  #  # 

As next Monday’s opener against New England approaches, keep this in mind: After struggling at times against the Dolphins earlier in his career (when Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor were in their prime), New England’s Tom Brady has mostly had his way against Miami’s defense in recent years. Consider:

### In his past six games against Miami (five wins), Brady has completed 68.8 percent of his passes, with 15 touchdowns, five interceptions and a quarterback rating of 117.6.

### In the past four games since Vontae Davis and Sean Smith came into the league (three wins), Brady has completed 73 of 106 passes (68.8 percent), with six touchdowns and three interceptions and averaged 259 yards passing (a number that would be higher if he had played more in the season-ending blowout win in January).

### Here’s what also has hurt: Patriots receivers have averaged 153.7 in YAC in the past four games against Miami, accounting for 59.4 percent of their passing yards. In the six games he has played against the Dolphins, 309 of Wes Welker’s 545 receiving yards have been YAC.

But here’s the good news: Two of Davis’ five career interceptions were against Brady (in the 2009 season). That’s as many interceptions as Davis and Sean Smith combined for against the entire league all of last season, with each picking off one ball and Smith dropping a half dozen others.

 #  #  #  #
We won’t know for years whether any of the quarterbacks that the Dolphins passed on (or didn’t trade up for) in the draft will be better than Chad Henne.

But it’s clear none would have beaten out Henne immediately. The Dolphins preferred to use their first two picks on players who will play as rookies, and they will get that with Mike Pouncey and Daniel Thomas.

Henne had a 93.4 quarterback rating in preseason. By comparison, Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton was at 59.6, New England’s Ryan Mallett (who struggled somewhat after a strong first game) was at 72, Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert at 64.3 and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick at 23.9 (no touchdowns, five interceptions).

Jake Locker had the best rating among prominent rookie quarterbacks (88.5) but will back up Matt Hasselbeck in Tennessee. Christian Ponder (79.5) will back up Donovan McNabb in Minnesota.
Carolina’s Cam Newton and Dalton will start as rookies.




September 03, 2011

Reasons abound for UM's optimism; Dolphins, Heat tidbits






   Canes fans have reason to feel like they’ve been kicked in the stomach, with the suspensions, the ongoing NCAA investigation and the depleted defense UM will field Monday at Maryland. So you want reasons for optimism, beyond the fact every significant suspended player will be back for Game 2 except Ray-Ray Armstrong and Olivier Vernon? Here are a half-dozen others:

    ### UM will be better coached, judging from feedback from NFL scouts and former players who have been on campus, plus current players. “Very impressed,” one veteran AFC scout said after attending practice this month. “You see very good teaching, things like blocking technique. The staff is very detailed. They do a lot to test guys when they’re tired, pushing them to finish plays, so they don’t make mistakes in games when they’re tired. The players clearly were buying into it. It’s a different style from the past staff.”

    Not only are the quarterbacks convinced there will be fewer wasted plays because they can audible (unlike last year), but Jacory Harris said his knowledge of defenses is much better because coordinator Jedd Fisch has taught and quizzed the QBs about the nuances of every defense – more than past coaches did.

     “Watching Jedd’s attention to detail and how he puts so much time in their mental preparation, it’s very impressive,” UM trustee/ex-quarterback Bernie Kosar said. If Fisch really has convinced the QBs to check down more instead of making too-risky throws (they insist he has), that’s a huge step.

     And what about defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio? “I’ve never learned as much football in my life as I have with him,” Marcus Forston said. Marcus Robinson said D’Onofrio “has a lot of packages to bring speed from everywhere, and it will be very difficult for offensive lines to pick that up.”

     The difference between the old and new regime is stunning to one impartial person who has been at every UM practice. “Al Golden is just so involved,” the official said, noting Golden even has fielded a few punts. “Randy Shannon would stand there with his hands crossed, so uncommunicative. Not only is there more teaching and interaction, but there is so much better use of time. You have both the first- and second-teams running the hurry-up at the same time.”

     Randal Hill said: “I was watching Golden closely in the spring and it was like a class with all the teaching.” Packers scout and former Canes great Alonzo Highsmith said UM practices “used to be legendary” and his scouting peers told him the past few years simply didn’t measure up. Highsmith said they’re now on par again with other top schools: “I see structure, accountability and organization.” 

     And Michael Irvin said Golden reminds him so much of Jimmy Johnson because of “his organizational skills and how direct he is.” 

     ### Though Armstrong will miss four games, evaluators say the defense has several other legit NFL prospects, led by Forston, Sean Spence and Adewale Ojomo (all three will be back for game 2). So there’s high-end talent in place. Yes, having NFL prospects didn’t translate to enough wins last year, but let’s see what they do with better coaching. 

     ### This team should run the ball proficiently, and Lamar Miller and Mike James will turn some short passes into sizable gains. When Golden was asked on a Canes spring tour how they will avoid interceptions, he said by running, running and running some more. Through August, “the offensive line has been creating havoc and opening a lot of holes,” tackle Malcolm Bunche said. “We should be able to get 200 yards rushing per game.”  

    Said Forston: “The way Art Kehoe has got these guards coming off the ball and finishing plays is amazing. Everybody knows that once Lamar Miller gets to the outside, nobody is going to catch him. But the way I’ve seen him run between the tackles, he’s ready to take it to another level.” 

     ### The boost Allen Hurns and Tommy Streeter will give the passing game, complementing Travis Benjamin (back for Game 2) and LaRon Byrd. In the past week, I asked seven veteran Canes which player will surprise people. All seven named Hurns. 

     “The thing with Hurns is he has great hand/eye coordination,” Armstrong said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s high or low, he’s going to catch it.” Cornerback Lee Chambers said Hurns confuses defensive backs because he disguises his routes until the last second: “All of them look the same [initially] – full speed.” 

     Golden said Streeter had the best camp of any offensive player. And the difference, Armstrong said, “is he’s attacking balls more” in the air now. 

      ### More depth and skill at tight end. Forston said this group is better than the Jimmy Graham/Dedrick Epps tandem, and coaches say that will make the quarterbacks better. 

      UM believes Clive Walford (who has impressed teammates with his eye-opening athleticism and difficult catches) and Asante Cleveland will be big assets in the passing game. Players say Chase Ford has improved, but we need to see that for ourselves. Blake Ayles’ eventual return from injury will help. John Calhoun is a skilled blocker. 

      ### Young talent. Growing pains are inevitable, but these players will get the teaching to improve. That includes a bunch of sophomores such as Jimmy Gaines and Hurns, and at least nine newcomers (led by Anthony Chickillo) who should play Monday. 

     Forston said freshman linebacker Gionni Paul “reminds me of Spence the way he gets to the ball and makes the tackle” and “two guys have to block [defensive tackle] Darius Smith at all times.” 

     And the freshmen receivers have surprised everybody --- Golden likes Rashawn Scott’s ability in the red zone and Phillip Dorsett “has been making a ton of plays,” cornerback Michael Williams said. 

     Concerns? There are several - especially defensively - both Monday and beyond, with Armstrong out four games and Vernon for six. With Forston suspended and Curtis Porter injured, defensive tackle is a huge worry Monday. So is Spence’s absence. 

     Cornerback is shaky, with UM starting a player (Williams) who was beaten out by two freshmen at Wake Forest. But if we see a team that plays smarter (fewer foolish penalties), cuts turnovers, wastes fewer timeouts early in halves and maximizes its talent, that would be a huge start. 


      ### Though the Dolphins told Kendall Langford that extending his contract beyond this season is a priority, Langford said last week “we’re still far apart” and “it’s a little frustrating.” Three of Miami’s top six defensive linemen could be unrestricted free agents after 2011 – Langford, Paul Soliai and Phillip Merling

      ### Saturday’s roster cuts leave the Dolphins with more than $12 million in cap space – some of which might be used on extending contracts of a few current players. Bottom line is Miami clearly had more money to spend in free agency than it chose to use. That will be a second-guesser’s delight if the Giants’ Ahmad Bradshaw is much more productive than Reggie Bush this year.  

      ### Not only have a couple hundred premium seat holders stiffed the Dolphins on 2011 payments, but season ticket sales are in the low 40,000s, the worst in 28 years. The team hopes to end up around 45,000, way down from 61,000 in 2006 and 51,000 last year. We’ll need a near miracle to avoid a few TV blackouts. 

      ### Bush’s durability should be helped by playing home games on grass for the first time; he blamed past injuries on New Orleans’ artificial turf. But here’s the flipside to keep in mind: In his career, Bush has averaged 4.3 yards per rush on turf, 3.4 on grass. 

      ### Among numerous former Canes players released by NFL teams Saturday: Damien Berry and Tavares Gooden (Baltimore), Graig Cooper and Sinorice Moss (Philadelphia), Brandon Meriweather (New England), Ryan Hill (Minnesota), Jared Campbell (Arizona), Javarris James (Indianapolis) and Baraka Atkins (Pittsburgh). 

      ### Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria’s meeting with his top executives produced no decisions on players last week, though changes are coming. “You definitely need to add one starting pitcher, and I would like to see two,” said manager/advisor Jack McKeon, who attended the meeting. “And another experienced bat would take pressure off the younger guys.” 

      Among issues the team will discuss further: whether to keep arbitration-eligible Leo Nunez (his recent struggles have raised concerns) and impending free agent Omar Infante (he wants to stay but the Marlins haven’t offered a new contract, his agent said). Jim Fleming, the Marlins' vice president for player development/scouting, is being re-assigned.

      ### Though the Heat isn’t very optimistic about its chances, expect one of the Miami’s first post- lockout calls will be to Denver free agent center Nene, who opted out of his $11.6 million contract for next season. It’s difficult to see Nene accepting a mid-level exception from Miami if there is a $6 million one in the new labor deal, but he told us previously that Miami is appealing to him. And he told The Denver Post: “If people think it’s about money, they’re wrong. I’ve saved my money. I could retire today.”


September 01, 2011

Sports media: ESPN keeps criticizing Canes; May calls for death penalty

 Note to readers: This will be the place where you’ll find Barry Jackson’s buzz columns on Wednesdays and Sundays; a media column on Fridays; and a few additional posts each week.

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The Hurricanes continue to be unfairly pounded by the national media, with a few exceptions.
 First, Sports Illustrated’s Alexander Wolff implored UM to cancel its season – 16 years after he advocated the program’s elimination.

Not surprisingly, UM officials believe the death penalty is not going to happen. And it shouldn’t, because the football infractions all involved one rogue booster. (A former assistant equipment manager and a few former assistant coaches also must explain their alleged role or knowledge of one or more incidents.)

Meanwhile, ESPN’s Mark May and Lou Holtz cut the Canes no slack on a national conference call on Thursday.

Holtz said, “You have to come down hard on the school and the coach.” And May advocated for UM to get the death penalty if Nevin Shapiro’s allegations hold up.

 “USC only involved two players. We’re talking about over 70 players alleged to have accepted extra benefits,” May said. “If there was ever a situation that merited the death penalty, this would be it. That’s my opinion and I stick to it.  What does it take to get the death penalty now? One hundred players? 125. It’s a culture of corruption. If it’s not going to happen with this program, then what would it take?”...

      “This university wasn’t run the correct way. We all know that… Miami is very accountable for this. When you’ve got the athletic director, the coach around this booster, you can’t tell me you don’t smell something. No one stood up and said anything. If you come from a poor background, it’s hard to turn that away [though] they should be held accountable…. But if you’re an adult and taking the money the booster is throwing out there and not asking questions when he’s hanging around 18 or 19 years olds,…”

Note to May: There is no indication that UM’s athletic directors knew what Shapiro was doing. And former coach Randy Shannon rebuffed Shapiro’s overtures.

But May said the death penalty “is not going to happen because the bottom line is dollars.”  

Holtz said NCAA rules should be changed so that student-athletes who accept inducements that result in penalties for their schools should be required to repay their entire scholarships. “The minute we start making everyone accountable, we can solve the problem,” Holtz said.

May said, “I feel sick for Al Golden. This was a coach that got blindsided.”

 ### Before Yahoo! gave a forum to Shapiro’s allegations, two networks apparently passed on the story.
Shapiro met several times with ESPN’s Kelly Naqi, but their 10 hours of conversations were off the record, and ESPN decided not to pursue it. Shapiro has said he met with HBO’s Real Sports, which a network spokesperson could not immediately confirm.

 ### Some background on our coverage: Because the story was deemed newsworthy, the Miami Herald reported last August that Shapiro was threatening to write a book alleging his involvement in NCAA rules violations at UM. But when Shapiro last fall gave The Herald specific allegations against two players (Randy Phillips and Antrel Rolle), The Herald did not report it because there was no corroboration to justify impugning two players by name.

Shapiro said he could offer only pictures of himself with the players, which did not prove NCAA violations.

Shapiro offered allegations against only the two players in his discussions with the Herald last fall because he said he was saving the rest for his book. Because The Herald did not immediately report those two unconfirmed allegations as he would have liked, Shapiro instead eventually decided to work with Yahoo!

He ultimately gave Yahoo! allegations against 72 players, earlier this year, when a book deal did not quickly materialize.

Because Shapiro reported the allegations directly to the NCAA in March, it’s safe to assume UM would have been punished regardless of whether anything had been reported by local or national media. Keep in mind that the NCAA did not begin investigating UM until Shapiro contacted the NCAA directly. And UM was not informed of the investigation until this summer.

### Former Canes quarterback Ken Dorsey left his job at WQAM-560 before he even started, but with good reason: The Carolina Panthers hired him as an NFL scout. WQAM added former Canes offensive Joaquin Gonzalez to replace him.

### Former Gators coach Urban Meyer will have the same role that Bob Griese previously held at ESPN: co-analyst on noon Saturday games, alongside Dave Pasch and Chris Spielman. Griese left ESPN after last season but will join the Dolphins radio booth beginning Sept. 12.

### Respected college football writer Bruce Feldman, who was briefly removed from ESPN platforms earlier this summer for his role in Mike Leach’s new book, left the network this week to join CBS and CBSsports.com.

### The Marlins gave Rich Waltz permission to miss six games to announce a syndicated Atlantic Coast Conference football package. Tommy Hutton will move to play-by-play for three of those games – including Friday and Saturday against Philadelphia – with Jeff Conine handling analyst duties. Hutton did some play-by-play for ESPN more than a decade ago. Frank Forte will handle play-by-play on the other three games.

### The NFL is exploring plans to add a Thursday night package over the first eight weeks of the season… NBC announced that it will make available live coverage of all events from the 2012 London Summer Olympics, though some will air live only on the Internet.