We're on assignment the next few months. Buzz will return in 2012. Take care everyone!
SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Everyone knows several of the Dolphins' veteran additions have underperformed. But the exasperation intensifies when you consider the performance of some of the players the Dolphins had a realistic chance to get, but passed on. An update:
### Offensive line: What’s striking is not only that the Dolphins ignored Marc Colombo’s dreadful 2010 play (which has carried over to 2011), but they also pursued what has proven to be the worst of the three free agent Cowboys linemen who played for this regime in Dallas. Guard Kyle Kosier -- who resigned for three years, $8.5 million -- has been solid, ranked 22nd overall among guards by Pro Football Focus. Former center Andre Gurode (earning $3 million) has played well at guard for Baltimore, allowing no sacks. Miami pursued neither. So even among players with whom they are most familiar, the Dolphins went after the wrong one, albeit the cheapest (Colombo is making $2 million).
The Dolphins also passed on tackles who have graded out much higher than Colombo (ranked 61st) -- including reasonably priced Jermon Bushrod (eight) and Bryant McKinnie (36).
The Dolphins also would have been better off leaving Vernon Carey at tackle and signing guard Brian Waters. But Miami wasn’t interested; Waters joined New England, ranks fifth among guards and hasn’t allowed a sack. They also passed on reasonably priced Chris Spencer, who signed with Chicago and is ranked ninth.
Heck, even two Dolphins rejects – Rex Hadnot (second) and Evan Mathis (sixth) have graded out higher than Colombo and Carey (35).
### Running back: Of 11 prominent backs available this past summer, Reggie Bush’s 3.0 per-carry average is ahead of only Ronnie Brown’s 2.9. Sproles averages 7.1 per carry and has 31 receptions to Bush’s 13. Plus, at two years, $10 million, Bush costs more per year than Sproles (four years, $14 million).
So why didn’t the Dolphins pursue Sproles instead? After refusing to top the Giants’ four-year, $18 million offer for Ahmad Bradshaw (4.0 per carry), they decided they needed someone who could carry 12 to 15 times a game if Daniel Thomas couldn’t handle that and deemed Bush better equipped than the 5-6 Sproles. They could have addressed that by spending a bit more to sign both Sproles and Ricky Williams (4.7 per carry).
FYI: Several backs who signed for less than Bush are averaging more per carry: Willis McGahee (4.5), Joseph Addai (4.4), Cadillac Williams (4.0). And, oh yes, PFF ranks Bush last among all running backs for 2011 performance.
### Tight end: Greg Olsen and Zach Miller were realistically too expensive, but the Dolphins would give defenses more to worry about, especially in the red zone, if they had signed Jeremy Shockey (14 catches, 199 yards), Todd Heap (13, 150) or Kevin Boss (six, 114 in three games). Instead, we get Jeron Mastrud behind Anthony Fasano.
### Inside linebacker: Before cutting Channing Crowder and signing Kevin Burnett, the Dolphins inquired about Nick Barnett, who missed most of 2010 with a wrist injury and was cut by the Packers July 28. Miami instead decided to pursue Burnett, who played for this regime in Dallas.
But Barnett (three years, $12 million from Buffalo) has played far better than Burnett (four years, $21 million). Barnett has 42 tackles, one forced fumble and two interceptions (one for a touchdown). Burnett has 13 tackles.
### Free safety: The Dolphins decided they would be better off with Reshad Jones (ranked 77th among safeties). They didn’t want to match or top Washington’s five-year, $26 million offer to O.J. Atogwe, who ranks 15th. But they also might have been better off with the 49ers’ Dashon Goldson (20th), who was cheap (one year, $2 million).
Goldson’s a big-time hitter, and his play recently drew lavish praise from Tampa’s Raheem Morris. Some wondered why the Dolphins didn’t pursue Brandon Meriweather when New England cut him, but the Dolphins thought he wasn’t worth $3.5 million and they were apparently right --- Chicago benched him this week.
### Outside linebacker: The Jason Taylor signing was easy to justify, but he has zeros across the board in two of the four games and no tackles in three of them. The Dolphins passed on FIU alum Antwan Barnes, who is much younger, has two sacks (after 5.5 last year) and a forced fumble for San Diego. Barnes has twice as many sacks as Taylor in 93 fewer snaps.
### Quarterback: You could understand the Dolphins not spending big money on Matt Hasselbeck, 36, or Kyle Orton. But if they had signed Vince Young, they could have used these final 12 games to see if he’s starter material, instead of using (wasting?) them on backup Matt Moore.
Sources say Jeff Ireland could have spent up to the cap (Miami reportedly is $10 million under), but didn’t believe several of the aforementioned players were worth it.
### With SOME fans of the Dolphins and other win-deprived teams rooting for their teams to lose enough to be able to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck first overall, what does Luck think of the "Suck for Luck" campaign? "I think it's stupid. Simply put," he told The New York Times last week.
### An official close to the NCAA’s investigation said several former UM players have refused to speak to the NCAA, as expected, and the NCAA probably won’t be able to corroborate most of what Nevin Shapiro claimed against more than 50 former Hurricanes players. Canes coaches “told me there might a little penalty but not as bad as some people think,” said Columbus High’s Deon Bush, the nation’s No. 4 safety prospect who is considering UM.
Fact is, no one at UM knows for sure what to expect, but there’s optimism the penalty won’t be crushing. One UM official said the irony is beyond all the harm that Shapiro has done, UM ended up losing money on him, because it had to return his donations and because he never paid the $50,000-plus for his Sun Life Stadium suite in 2009.
### Suspended receiver Aldarius Johnson will turn pro (he’s projected to go undrafted) instead of transferring to another school for a final year of eligibility, his mother said. Johnson is on track to graduate in December, and UM has shown no interest in reinstating him.
UM told him he needed to be more honest with the NCAA, but Johnson stuck by his original story, that he played in a bowling-for-dollars event with other players and Nevin Shapiro, but that he did not receive any of the other benefits that Shapiro alleged. UM’s “official” reason for suspending him is for sending a tweet asking people for strip club suggestions.
### Assuming Mario Chalmers re-signs, the Heat sees five open roster spots to fill thusly: two on centers (ideally a starter and a cheaper backup, perhaps Eddy Curry or re-signing Jamaal Magloire); a backup point guard; and two wing players (preferably re-signing James Jones and a rotation-worthy veteran, with Shane Battier among expected targets). There would be six open spots if the Heat uses the potential amnesty clause to dump Mike Miller, owed $24 million through 2014-15.
### Curry, who interests the Heat, is in “excellent shape” and “no question” ready to join an NBA team post-lockout, well-regarded Chicago-based trainer Tim Grover told us last week. Grover declined to give Curry’s weight, which was 300 in August, down from 350 in March.
Grover said he advised Curry not to play in the FIU charity game last weekend because “these are not games for big men.”
### Marlins officials aren’t the only ones exasperated by Ricky Nolasco’s inconsistency. “Nolasco was the most upsetting to watch, watching his demeanor and execution,” ex-Marlin Al Leiter said. Leiter, now a Yankees announcer, said the Marlins must add veterans who are “respected across the board. They didn’t have it this year.”… Free agent Livan “I Love You Miami” Hernandez (8-13, 4.47 ERA for Washington) said he would love to hear from the Marlins about returning to play here. But Hernandez would be an option only if the Marlins need a very cheap veteran to compete for the No. 5 rotation spot with arbitration-eligible Chris Volstad (if he's retained), Brad Hand and Alex Sanabia. If the Marlins allocate some of their money on a quality, starter-caliber hitter (and some internally believe they need to), they probably could afford to add one expensive pitcher but not two. That would be the scenario for a cheap No. 5 rotation member to be added.
Now that he has played one season for the Jets, playing against them no longer elicits a strong emotional reaction from Dolphins linebacker Jason Taylor.
You won’t hear Taylor saying he hates the Jets, as he did a few years ago.
“They’re a rival of ours. The fire burns as far as the game is concerned,” he said Friday. “But to get me to take a shot at the guys and the fans, I’m not going to do that anymore. It’s another game for us. It will be a fun game, a game both teams need to win.”
Taylor told Jets writers this week that “there are always some people in Miami that don’t want to hear [it], but the fact of the matter is I enjoyed myself last year. We had a good bit of success. I kind of got a chance to walk in the shoes of another man, so to speak, and see it from the other side and had a really good time and kind of changed some of the perspective I had on what the Jets were all about.”
What kind of reception does he expect Monday night at MetLife Stadium? “I’m sure I’ll be booed…. They’re Jet fans and they should be.”
### Taylor has one sack and four tackles this season, but no tackles in three of Miami’s four games. “He’s been kind of almost there,” Tony Sparano said. “He has been disruptive, in the backfield in a lot of rush situations.”
### Sparano said his “vision” for Taylor was to play 25 snaps a game. He played 33, 36 and 28 in the first three, and 50 in the fourth game when filling in for injured Koa Misi.
“We’ve got to keep him as fresh as we can,” defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. “How much percentage-wise [does Taylor have left]? I don’t know. But I can say he’s got gas.”
### Nolan, who would be a top candidate to become the Dolphins’ interim coach if Sparano is fired during the season, gave a self-deprecating answer when asked Friday about the keys to being a successful head coach.
“I was unsuccessful so it’s hard for me to say,” said Nolan, who was 18-37 as 49ers head coach from 2005 through 2008.
“But my father [Dick] was a successful one. The two things most important to winning are the players No. 1 and the scheme you’re using No. 2.” He also suggested coaches cannot be “real rigid in your scheme.”
### The Dolphins’ run defense has declined this season but Nolan said “I would be surprised” if it doesn’t get back to being very good.
“I’m less worried about that than the back end, the explosive pass plays,” Nolan said. “Those have cost us.”
### Vontae Davis was limited again in practice Friday, but said he expects to play Monday. Tony McDaniel and Koa Misi participated fully and also plan to play. Nolan is pleased to get McDaniel back: “He was one of our productive per play guys we had on the defensive line.”
Also limited Friday: Daniel Thomas (who has said he expects to play), Nolan Carroll, Chris Clemons and Will Yeatman.
### Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said some plays “may be run a little differently” with Matt Moore replacing injured Chad Henne.
Moore “does not feel very comfortable with all the plays maybe Chad feels comfortable with,” Daboll said. “He’s got a little bit of that ‘it’ type personality when he’s dealing with the other positions. He asks a million questions.”
Scattershooting with Jets coach Rex Ryan (in anticipation of Dolphins-Jets Monday night), plus a few Dolphins and UM notes:
### Ryan conducted a conference call with Dolphins writers on Thursday and heaped lavish praise on Miami’s offense (really!) and Jason Taylor. He also took a playful jab at the Dolphins’ cornerback tandem.
"We’ve got two excellent cover corners,” he said of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. “I understand we’re not as good as Miami’s, but we’re pretty good.”
Vontae Davis said before the season, “I’m going to go out on a limb and say we’re the best [cornerback] tandem in the league.”
### On Taylor, Ryan said: “He’s a Hall of Fame player and Hall of Fame person as well. We miss him dearly as a player and as a mentor. I am blessed to say I was Jason Taylor’s coach for a year. He’s as instinctive a guy as I’ve ever been around.”
### Asked if it would it be an embarrassment to lose to a winless team, Ryan said, “We have not beaten Miami at home in the [two previous] years I’ve been here. That’s a good football team. They’re in every single game. Don’t think for a second we don’t recognize the fact that’s a good team.” He said it’s a “must win” but views every game that way.
### Does he still guarantee that the Jets will win the Super Bowl? “I guarantee you we’re going to chase it, that’s for sure. Do I think we’ll win it? Yeah, absolutely.”
### On the Dolphins offense: “Chad Henne looked like Dan Marino against us one game a year. The next game, he wouldn’t do anything and we lose. With Brian Daboll, a very creative guy, they’ve been moving the ball well but have struggled a little in the red zone and on third down. It’s a talented group. You’ve got three big-time receivers and the fast kid from Abilene [Clyde Gates].
"Brandon Marshall is one of the best receivers in the game. Davone Bess is a matchup nightmare, great quickness, change of direction. On third down, he carves you up. With Reggie Bush back there, you kind of hold your breath. It’s an offensive line that has four No. 1 draft picks. This is a talented group.”
### On the Jets’ current three-game losing streak: “Of course, you’re down. Everything stinks when you lose. When you lose a game, it’s almost the equivalent of a 10-game losing streak [in baseball]. So we’re on a 30-game losing streak.”
### On what people tell him on the streets during this losing streak: “It’s no big deal. Shoot, I’m still the man.”
### On Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore: “You’ve got a guy that has that gunslinger mentality, great athlete, has the size and mobility you look for in a quarterback. He’s won games in this league. It’s not like he’s a brand new guy that hasn’t experienced any success. He’s a guy where if he gets hot, you’ve got to watch out for.”
### On Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez’s play: “He’s played well. He’s ahead mentally of where he’s been at any time in his career. Has he played better? I don’t know. We’ve earned that 2-3 label. He’s had his moments he’s played really well. I’d like to see him a little more consistent throughout the game, maybe start a little faster.”
### On the Jets overall: “We can throw the football better than we have since I’ve been here. Our running game is not up to our standards. Defensively, our ability to stop the run has not been up to our standards.”
### He said the fact the Dolphins are coming off a bye helps them because “our defense isn’t traditional.”
### He said one reason receiver Derrick Mason was traded to Houston is because of “the emergence of Jeremy Kerley.” Kerley and former Dolphin Patrick Turner are now the Jets’ third and fourth receivers, behind Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress.
### Look for a story on The Herald's web site later about Brandon Marshall's eye-opening comments after practice on Thursday. The brief summation: He said he wants to play with more emotion and said, "My goal is to get thrown out of the game.'' Marshall insisted he wasn't kidding; Tony Sparano said he was. Marshall spoke of kicking a ball into the stands and paying a fine if he needs to. It was difficult to take any of his "thrown out" comments seriously, but he was dead serious about wanting to play with more emotion. He said he has had an "average" season. Manny Navarro's story on Marshall, with all his quotes, will be on the web site later.
### Davis, Daniel Thomas, Nolan Carroll and Chris Clemons were limited at practice, though Thomas has said he will play Monday. Davis practiced fully last week, leading to optimism that he is ready to return, barring a setback. All have hamstring injuries.
### Bush said the Dolphins' offense "has been all over the place. We haven't found our identity yet. It's coming." He said practices in the past week "have been a lot more productive" than ones eariler in the season.
### With his defense struggling badly, UM coach Al Golden twice this week has made a public appeal to high-school recruits who are listening: “If you’re a young guy and you want to play for a top 40 institution, in the defensive line, linebacker and secondary, there’s a great opportunity to play early” here.
### Receiver LaRon Byrd admits it has been difficult to see his playing time reduced significantly, as younger players have passed him on the depth chart. Byrd said he has played only about 20 snaps each of the past two games. He said he believes coaches want to motivate him to produce more and be more of a leader. But effort has never been an issue with Byrd; this is simply a case of UM believing the receivers ahead of him are too talented to keep off the field.
### Who would have thought this? On a unit that consists of elite recruit Seantrel Henderson and All-ACC preseason picks Brandon Washington and Tyler Horn, coach Al Golden said the team’s best-performing offensive lineman at the moment is Harland Gunn. Brandon Linder is close.
### UM basketball coach Jim Larranaga picked up his first 2012-13 commitment this week in Melvin Johnson, a 6-1 combo guard from St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey. He averaged 12 points and three assists last season. Johnson had 20 offers, including USF, Virginia Tech and Xavier.
UM lost one recruit that had committed before Frank Haith left for Missouri: guard Chris Bolden, who switched to Georgia Tech.
### Larranaga said players told him incoming freshman guard Bishop Daniels was very impressive in workouts before being sidelined in August by turf toe. He has been cleared for the start of practice on Friday. Larranaga said center Reggie Johnson remains on track to return in January from a knee injury.
WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Football items from around town, and other tidbits:
### Florida Atlantic University plans to reach out to at least two familiar names in its search for Howard’s Schnellenberger’s successor: Randy Shannon and Mike Leach.
"Randy is a man of integrity, a first-class guy and first-class coach,” said FAU athletic director Craig Angelos, who worked at UM when Shannon was an assistant there. “I want to see if he’s interested.”
Angelos also has a good relationship with Leach: “I would consider Mike,” he said.
Angelos, who has been focusing on Saturday’s opening of FAU’s new stadium (against Western Kentucky), also plans to speak to former USF coach Jim Leavitt (who is now the San Francisco 49ers' linebackers coach) and several others. “I will cast a wide net,” Angelos said, adding there’s no front-runner to succeed the retiring Schnellenberger but that he wants a successor in place by December.
A close associate said Shannon prefers a higher-profile job, ideally out west, and would love the Arizona gig, which is open after Mike Stoops’ firing Monday. Shannon has received a few defensive coordinator offers, but no head coaching offers, since UM fired him last November after going 28-22 in four years. Shannon might have to decide whether to bite if FAU ultimately offers him the job or gamble on his chances of landing a more attractive job eventually.
“A lot of times when you give people a second chance they are better than the first time,” Angelos said. “They’ve learned from mistakes. They’re hungrier. That was the case with our basketball coach Mike Jarvis, and he won the conference here after three years. Randy can be better the second time around.”
Leach went 84-43 at Texas Tech, including 11-2 and 8-4 his last two seasons before being fired after 2009 amid allegations of improper treatment of receiver Adam James. Leach denied the claims and said, “I was a victim of a national smear campaign by Craig James and ESPN.” After Shannon’s firing, UM didn’t approach Leach partly because of those issues, but FAU has no major concerns.
Leach, who has received no offers since his dismissal, said he would be receptive to listening to FAU. “I do plan to coach,” he said. “Craig is a great man and FAU is a great program. Anything negative that happens to Miami can only help FAU and FIU.”
### With $10 million in cap space, the Dolphins have talked about restructuring and extending Cameron Wake’s deal, which is a bargain ($480,000 and $565,000) for 2011 and 2012…. But negotiations stalled with Kendall Langford, who reportedly was seeking $15 million guaranteed. One Dolphins official said there’s less urgency because his play has declined from 2010. “Nothing is happening,” Langford said, adding that he hopes for an extension…. The Dolphins’ season ticket count (below 43,000) ended up the franchise’s worst since 1983.
### Karlos Dansby and Yeremiah Bell say the Dolphins miss Channing Crowder, who was cut. “He was exceptional against the run and we miss his persona, how he approaches the game,” Dansby said.
Said Bell: “Channing caught things before they happened. He anticipated plays and would communicate to everyone what he saw after one series. There’s some of that now, but it was all the time with him. He’s one of the smartest players I’ve been around. He learned a lot from Zach Thomas.”
Neither intended their comments as a shot at Kevin Burnett. But Burnett has graded out worse than Crowder did last year. Pro Football Focus ranks Burnett's play this season 43rd and worst among inside linebackers. Crowder was 18th last year.
### Incidentally, Crowder, who was cut in late July, continues to defend Tony Sparano but question general manager Jeff Ireland's decisions. He also has been critical of the offensive play-calling beyond the first couple of series of every game. "I can tell you every time they're going to run," Crowder said on WQAM, adding he believes other teams can anticipate that, too, with the Dolphins offense.
### A UM official said FIU pitched UM on a home-and-home football series, but the Hurricanes declined. FAU is a possibility for UM… Coaches want more from their ballyhooed safety tandem. “We need more plays out of Vaughn Telemaque,” Al Golden said. And Ray Ray Armstrong, in his first game back, “was rusty, didn’t perform at a level we need to win a game in that situation.”
### Why isn’t UM blitzing more to generate more of a pass rush? Because UM is afraid to leave its defensive backs, especially its corners, without help. UM considers Brandon McGee the best of its corners – faint praise – but a UM official said he continues to have a habit of sulking or losing confidence after giving up big plays.
### The defense UM is using is “so simple that we can’t go simpler,” Golden said. Golden puts it bluntly: Because of the defense’s shortcomings (82nd nationally, 97th against the run), “the offense needs to start winning the game” when it has the chance. But “on defense, we can’t throw up our hands and say, ‘I can’t believe what a mess!’”
### The NCAA is still investigating Nevin Shapiro’s claim that he gave a then-UM assistant basketball coach money to give to a member of forward DeQuan Jones’ family (a claim Jones’ mother denies). Neither UM nor the NCAA has decided if he will be eligible when the regular season starts… UM defensive end Olivier Vernon said the NCAA rejected his appeal to shorten his suspension from six games.
### The Marlins haven’t given up on center fielder Chris Coghlan but aren’t counting on him to fill their one open starting position player job for 2012, not after he hit .230 for Marlins and .245 at Triple A. “Coghlan has to earn his way back,” Marlins executive Larry Beinfest said. As for the other top internal option -- third baseman Matt Dominguez -- he “held his own,” Beinfest said -- but the Marlins aren’t sure if he’s ready offensively. The team seems inclined to add another bat; “You would like some protection in the lineup,” Beinfest said.
### One Heat concern was eased this week when power forward Udonis Haslem – off a second foot surgery – was cleared to begin full on-court workouts… At center, the Heat would be content to add either Brendan Haywood (if there’s an amnesty clause in the new labor deal and Dallas cuts him) or free agent Samuel Dalembert. But the feeling is Haywood might be more realistic because he’s owed $45 million more by Dallas if he’s cut, making his next contract less of an issue than it is for Dalembert, who ideally wants more than what Miami could offer if the mid-level exception shrinks from $5.8 million to $3 million.
Dalembert has better career numbers (8.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.9 blocks) than Haywood (7.4, 6.2, 1.5). But “Dalembert is very inconsistent and doesn’t fit into a team game very well,” ESPN’s Jack Ramsay said off air.
EARLY POSTING OF WEDNESDAY’S DOLPHINS STORY
The last time Sage Rosenfels wore a Dolphins uniform, he wasn’t merely a backup quarterback. He also was a celebrity for hire, his appearance offered for a fee at high school graduations, corporate events, birthday parties, bar and bat mitzvahs and personal training sessions.
“Want to make your child’s bar mitzvah the talk of the town?” the advertisement read. For a brief time, you could even pay to have Rosenfels join you in your living room to watch Monday Night Football.
Alas, the short-lived “Ultimate Sage Rosenfels Football Experience” – which was largely charity-driven – is no longer available, and hasn’t been since he left Miami after 2005.
But Rosenfels, at 33, is now very much available should something happen to new Dolphins starter Matt Moore. On Tuesday, Rosenfels practiced with the team for the first time since signing last week and “looked good,” coach Tony Sparano said.
“It feels good to be back,” said Rosenfels, who threw for 776 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions in 13 appearances for the Dolphins. “I have some great memories from my four years here. Hopefully, we can add to that.”
A month ago, Rosenfels had trouble simply jogging 10 minutes on a treadmill, his energy depleted by a blood infection that required three hospital stays in August and September when he was a member of the New York Giants. Any lingering effects?
“I’m not in the type of shape I’d like to be, but we all knew that would be the case,” he said. “I haven’t practiced since the middle of training camp and preseason. I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The condition began with strep throat. “After a while, it started to hit me that I had something pretty serious. It was frustrating that it wasn’t clearing up and I wasn’t improving like I normally have my entire life.”
Rosenfels said he wasn’t surprised the Dolphins called him after Chad Henne’s season-ending injury and after Rosenfels was released by the Giants last week. But he doesn’t come in with the expectation of challenging Moore to start.
“They haven’t said anything but obviously, Matt’s the starter,” Rosenfels said. “I know what that guy can do. He can make plays when there’s nothing there.”
One of the challenges, he said, is “this is one offense I don’t know. I’ve had a lot of coordinators, but I haven’t had Brian Daboll’s style of offense. It’s not like baseball, where you show up and play third base. Quarterbacks, you have to know everything: the line calls with the runs, the audible system. There’s a huge amount of information you have to learn.”
Though becoming a full-time starter has never materialized, Rosenfels – who has 12 NFL starts on his resume - feels good about the career he has forged.
“I didn’t think I was going to play 11 years when I was a fourth-round draft pick,” he said. “I’ve been able to help a team win,… that’s why I’m still playing. I learned a ton from Brett Favre [in Minnesota] two years ago and a ton from Eli Manning this past year and will try to share some of that knowledge with Matt.”
INJURED PLAYERS RETURN
### Defensive tackle Tony McDaniel, who has not played since suffering a hand injury in the opener, returned to practice Tuesday and said he will be ready for Monday’s game at the Jets. He will need to wear covering on his hand – smaller than a cast – for two or three weeks. “I thought I would be back last week,” said McDaniel, who consistently graded out well last season. “It was depressing knowing I was sitting there watching and couldn’t do anything about” the team’s poor start.
### Daniel Thomas (hamstring) and Koa Misi (neck) also returned to practice after missing the San Diego game. Vontae Davis, who missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, continues to practice fully and is on track to play against the Jets. Chris Clemons (hamstring) and Nolan Carroll were the only players limited at practice.
### Asked if he wants to stick with Reshad Jones at starting free safety, Sparano said he’s happy with Jones but would like Chris Clemons to challenge him when he’s fully healthy.
“I’ve been pleased with what Reshad has done,” Sparano said. “He’s made a lot of tackles – too many. I’d like to see him get his hands on more footballs.”
### Denver’s decision to start Tim Tebow for the Broncos’ next game – Oct. 23 at Sun Life Stadium – is not expected to impact the Dolphins’ plans to hold a ceremony honoring the 2008/09 Gators national championship team. Neither Tebow nor Dolphins center and Gator alum Mike Pouncey will be asked to participate in any halftime ceremony. The Dolphins planned the promotion during the summer when it appeared Tebow would be the starter.
### The Dolphins, who were off Friday through Monday as part of the NFL’s bye-week rules, also will be given Wednesday off.
SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
So what happens if the Dolphins aren’t bad enough (or lucky enough) to get Stanford’s Andrew Luck, the consensus No. 1 pick next April and widely considered the draft’s best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning? Then what?
Here’s a look at the other top prospects Dolphins fans should be eyeing, if Miami doesn’t “Luck” out:
### Among others quarterbacks, Mel Kiper rates Oklahoma junior Landry Jones No. 4 among all prospects and Southern California junior Matt Barkley 10th.
Kiper, on ESPN.com, compares Jones with fellow ex-Sooner Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams: “He’s an elite quarterback talent. In any other year, he would have a good shot to be the top quarterback off the board. Pinpoint accuracy, consistently puts the ball in the right place. Has size [6-4], sees the field well.”
Kiper said Barkley “has shown a great growth curve in three years and throws a nice ball, particularly on the move. Like his accuracy. A high IQ player, a leader and a guy out of a pro style system.” His arm strength “is good, not great. He’s still having those mistake-prone days, like we saw at Arizona State.”
Sporting News analyst Russ Lande is less than effusive, saying Barkley reminds him of Carolina Panthers backup and former Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen.
If the Dolphins don’t get the No. 1 pick but want Jones, they must hope teams picking ahead of them already have their anointed quarterbacks (St. Louis, Jacksonville). Incidentally, Kiper said Luck is so good, that he would be “celebrating losses as a victory” if he were a Dolphins fan.
Luck has one season of eligibility remaining but it is widely assumed he will turn pro after he passed up on being the No. 1 pick this past April.
### Miami’s other likely top 10 options would include North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples (rated second overall by Kiper); junior offensive tackles Matt Kalil of USC (third), Jonathan Martin of Stanford (sixth) and Riley Reiff of Iowa (seventh); and receivers Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State (fifth) and Alshon Jeffery of South Carolina (ninth).
Most evaluators have Alabama running back Trent Richardson as a top 10 pick; Kiper has him eighth: “He can be absolute star” if he becomes more consistent. But running back won’t be a need if Daniel Thomas continues to impress.
As for Coples, Kiper said he’s “your prototypical, elite pass-rushing defensive end. Quickness, incredibly long arms, and regularly schools offensive tackles on the way to the quarterback.”
### What about the Top 10-caliber receivers? Blackmon, 6-4, is “a better version of Dez Bryant and the best practice player any of the Oklahoma State coaches can remember,” Kiper said. “Has elite physical size and strength, runs great routes, breaks tackles.” Jeffery, 6-4, “will draw Calvin Johnson comparisons,” Kiper said. “Phenomenal hands. A perpetual matchup nightmare.”
### Players considered borderline top-10 picks include inside linebackers Vontaze Burfict of Arizona State (“great instincts and will draw Ray Lewis comparisons,” Kiper said), Luke Keuchly of Boston College (“dependable tackling machine”) and Manti Te’o of Notre Dame; defensive tackles Alameda Ta’amu of Washington and Brandon Thompson of Clemson, and LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.
### FYI: Baylor junior quarterback Robert Griffin III, who had more touchdowns (13) than incompletions (12) in his first three games this season, has great arm strength and deep-ball accuracy and could rise into the first round if he turns pro, Lande said Friday. But Lande said he doesn’t expect him to become a top-10 pick.
Kiper said Griffin’s performance against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas later this season “will go a long way in him deciding whether he goes into the NFL or needs an extra season” at Baylor. Kiper believes Griffin is an “equally good athlete and more polished passer than Terrell Pryor.” Oakland picked Pryor in the third round of the supplemental draft.
Potential second-round quarterbacks include Arizona’s Nick Foles and Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill.
### The Marlins have interest in acquiring pitcher Carlos Zambrano – whom the Cubs want to trade – if Chicago picks up a large chunk of his $18 million salary for 2012 and doesn’t expect a lot in return. Zambrano’s numbers were down last year (9-7, 4.82 ERA), but he didn’t pitch the final 6 1/2 weeks, including four when the Cubs placed him on the disqualified list after he cleaned out his locker and told clubhouse staffers that he planned to retire (he quickly changed his mind) following a bad start and ejection against Atlanta.
But he’s only 30 and is 43-26, with a 3.96 ERA, over the past four years. Zambrano told a Spanish newspaper that he and Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen speak almost every day.
### The Marlins also are intrigued by impending Texas free agent lefty C.J. Wilson (16-7, 2.94), but some Marlins officials don’t see wisdom in paying close to $20 million a year for a pitcher. Somewhat less expensive would be White Sox free agent lefty Mark Buehrle (13-9, 3.59 ERA). He has a good relationship with Guillen and said it would be “an interesting challenge” to switch leagues.
The Marlins publicly have ruled out a $100 million payroll. The team’s front office has been expecting a payroll around $80 million, but Jeffrey Loria appears willing to consider exceeding that somewhat if he can get high-impact players.
The Marlins would be at about $66 million if you count six players signed, 10 under team control and arbitration-eligible Anibal Sanchez, Emilio Bonifacio, Edward Mujica, Burke Badenhop and possibly Chris Volstad.
So if they could get Zambrano for say, $6 million, and Buehrle for $14 million (his 2011 salary), the Marlins would have one of the league’s best rotations, on paper. But in this scenario, Loria would need to spend a few million more (about $90 million in total payroll) to add an inexpensive veteran who could start in center or at third base if neither Chris Coghlan nor Matt Dominguez wins the one open starting position player job.
### Another option that hasn’t been ruled out would be trading disappointing Ricky Nolasco ($9 million) for cheaper, big-league-ready talent. And the Marlins also will consider adding both Zambrano and a free-agent pitcher who’s cheaper than Buehrle (such as Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon or lefties Paul Maholm or Chris Capuano).
For the first time, Marlins scouts were asked to evaluate and prepare reports on every available pitcher, even the most expensive.
### The Marlins will discuss the merits of making a run at free agents Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder; it’s not out of the question, but two team officials expressed considerable skepticism about landing either. If the Marlins somehow could, it would leave little or no money to upgrade the rotation, which the team’s baseball people consider its biggest need. But it’s Loria’s decision on the big-ticket free agents.
### The bankruptcy trustee in the Nevin Shapiro case said it’s trying to work with UM and the NCAA to recoup money from former players and coaches before it takes matters into its own hands and considers issuing subpoenas to make the allegedly involved players testify under oath.
### The Heat wants to keep Mario Chalmers and can match any offer, but worries about another team driving up his price with an inflated bid. The Heat isn’t enamored with free agents T.J. Ford, Delonte West or incumbent Mike Bibby; all would be among options only if the Heat can find nothing better. They hope to find a better complement to Chalmers if there’s an amnesty clause in the new labor deal, which could free up Baron Davis (who has a good relationship with LeBron James), among others.
You can disagree, if you wish, with ESPN’s decision to part ways with Hank Williams Jr. and all his rowdy friends.
But don’t start parroting Williams and telling us ESPN “stepped on the toes of the First Amendment.” And don’t say ESPN is making a political stand because that, too, would be off base.
In case you missed it, ESPN pulled Williams’ opening from this week’s Colts-Bucs game after he appeared on Fox News and called President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden “the enemy” and said Obama’s golf outing with House Speaker John Boehner was “like Hitler playing golf with [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu.”
Williams apologized, but ESPN dropped him a few days later. Williams insisted he quit and suggested ESPN disregarded the First Amendment – a bandwagon that many of his supporters have jumped on.
For those defending Williams with the “free speech” argument, a quick civics lesson: The First Amendment, among other things, prohibits making any law that impedes freedom of speech. But the free speech element of the First Amendment does not prevent a private company from firing someone who embarrasses the company by saying something foolish or offensive.
Unless the employee has a clause in his contract that he can say whatever he wishes, he’s subject to discipline or dismissal for remarks the employee deems offensive. It’s that simple. ESPN has a lot of power, but it’s not a governing body.
The other anti-ESPN backlash has come from conservatives who suggest ESPN is trying to protect Obama. You know, the whole media/liberal bias angle. But do you know who ESPN is really trying to protect? ESPN.
As one ESPN source said, why would the network “want to mess around with the Monday Night Football brand,” make advertisers uncomfortable or alienate viewers who now view Williams negatively?
Ultimately, as the source said, Williams’ musical openings simply weren’t worth the aggravation, the public backlash, that his comments created. And that has nothing to do with a “freedom of speech” issue.
MORE NFL MEDIA ITEMS
### Will networks ever learn? Why, when a team is facing a decision of whether to punt or go for it on fourth down, do network directors often take their cameras off the field to show us replays, or sideline shots, leaving viewers with no idea if the team is punting? CBS did that in the Houston-Pittsburgh game, and we didn’t know the Steelers’ intentions until just before the snap, when Greg Gumbel finally said something.
### One reason Fox’s Jim Mora and NBC’s Tony Dungy have become two of the best listens among recent-coaches-turned-analysts is their willingness to criticize coaching decisions. Mora made a good point in questioning why the 49ers threw three straight passes after a 40-yard run. “You run it again because the defense is tired,” he said. “And I don’t understand why you would replace Alex Smith with Colin Kaepernick on third and 17.”
### Fox wisely moved its NFL score ticker to the bottom of the screen this year. Unfortunately, it took Fox four weeks to realize it needed to insert player statistics, besides the scores. And why must Fox superimpose its logo in two places, not just one? The screen is cluttered enough.
### Those four-day old highlights on Showtime’s Inside the NFL are a hoot because of the audio from players who are miked up. We heard Raiders coach Hue Jackson approach Patriots receiver Wes Welker before a game and say, “You caught 16 balls the last game. That’s two games worth. So you can chill today.”
And after the Eagles’ Jason Babin got his league-leading seventh sack partly because Cullen Jenkins drew a double team, we heard Jenkins tell Babin, “[That’s] two sacks I got you.” Said Babin: “The Jenkins are going on vacation with the Babins.”
### Our first chance to mention something that irked us from early in the season: It’s one thing for a network to make an occasional error. It’s quite another to be intentionally dishonest, to mislead viewers by fabricating a story. And that’s exactly what Fox did with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
In an attempt to demonstrate the criticism Cutler received for leaving the NFC Championship game with a knee injury, Fox displayed, on screen, what analyst Daryl Johnston called “actual headlines” about him. One said, “Cutler lacked courage.” Another said, “Cutler is no leader.”
The Chicago Sun-Times became suspicious, did some research and determined those headlines never actually appeared. Anywhere. Fox admitted as much and apologized.
Everyone knows what Fox did was deplorable. But here’s what else struck me: There was plenty of real, documented criticism of Cutler in the aftermath of that game. Other players criticizing him on Twitter. Commentators questioning him. Any of this would have been easy to find for Fox to make its point. But Fox decided it would be easier to make something up. So Fox wasn’t merely deceitful, but also incredibly lazy.
### What did Terry Bradshaw call “the stupidest thing I ever heard?” Viking coach Leslie Frazier saying he might try to change Donovan McNabb’s throwing motion.
### ESPN’s Steve Young likes to show viewers how smart he is. He said recently the Rams were “contumacious” in the red zone. The definition is “stubbornly disobedient or rebellious,” a word that didn’t exactly fit. What’s wrong with saying “ineffective?”
### The Marlins’ average audience of 32,000 homes was fourth lowest in baseball, ahead of only Oakland, Baltimore and Washington. What’s more, the Marlins’ 2.03 rating this season was down 27.8 percent from last season.
### ESPN’s Barry Melrose, on the Panthers, who open their season Saturday at the Islanders: “They will be one of the teams fighting for the last couple playoff spots, with Carolina and Winnipeg. Remember, a lot of other teams in the East got better, too. They will improve to middle of the pack in scoring, and their power play will be a lot better with Brian Campbell running the point. But Jose Theodore is a downgrade from Tomas Vokoun if they’re getting the Theodore from lately.
"To me, Campbell is the key to all they did. Which Campbell are you getting – the guy in Buffalo who played so well or the one in Chicago?”
### Will the Panthers’ roster overhaul boost interest? FSN certainly hopes. Games last season averaged 3000 homes per telecast – worst among 22 teams for which data was available.
### Jim Berry and Jorge Sedano will call the All-Star Basketball Classic – featuring Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and others – at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on Channel 33. The game is at FIU.
Coach Tony Sparano acknowledged Wednesday the Dolphins haven’t given Reggie Bush enough touches on plays that are well-suited to his skill set.
“He creates some problems that people have to pay attention to, and we have to do a better job of getting him the ball in some of those situations,” Sparano said. “He’s had some opportunities [but] we haven’t been able to get the ball into his hands. We got blitzed in the game the other night. The ball should have gone to him [but] we went to the other side, to Brandon Marshall.”
Bush was in the game for 27 and 35 snaps in the two games that Daniel Thomas played. Bush was on the field for 40 of Miami’s 57 offensive snaps against San Diego, with Thomas sidelined for the second time this season by a hamstring injury.
“Just to turn around and hand him the ball on a stretch play and see him gain 16 yards is an easy way to get him the ball,” Sparano said. “But then you [need to] get him the ball on a screen, on a check down. Early in the game, he got 13 yards on a third-down screen.” Sparano said “you have to be Houdini” to do that, because “anybody in the world knows what’s going on.”
Bush is averaging just 3.0 yards per carry (40 for 119) and 6.6 on receptions (13 for 201). “Reggie allows some other people to get open because of how… teams play him,” Sparano said.
### Nose tackle Paul Soliai has noticed a significant difference this season beyond the size of his paycheck.
“I’m getting more double teams,” he said – something Sparano attributes to “the type of running games we’re playing.”
Because he often has to take on two blockers, Soliai’s effectiveness cannot be measured primarily by tackles. He has only five in four games, compared with 39 in 16 last season.
But there’s another reason for the modest numbers: Because the Dolphins have played some pass-heavy teams, Soliai has played only 46 percent of Miami’s defensive snaps.
“Paul has been disruptive the last couple weeks, shown up in the backfield a little more,” Sparano said. “Now he hasn’t finished the plays. He and I talked about that [Wednesday]. He’s knocking the heck out of the runner a couple times back there but didn’t wrap up. It ends up being a one-yard, two-yard gain.
“That life isn’t real sexy down there. People are going to double you. It’s up to other people to make some of those plays.”
Pro Football Focus rates Soliai’s play 17th among 81 nose tackles – 19th against the run.
But Soliai, who’s earning $12.4 million as the team’s franchise player, said as a group, Miami is allowing too many yards on the ground. Opponents are averaging 4.1 per carry, which is 19th in the league, compared with 3.6 last season, which was fourth best.
### The Dolphins cut defensive back Nate Jones on Wednesday to make room for 6-foot-7 offensive tackle/guard Will Barker, who was plucked off Tampa’s practice squad. “He’s been a guy we’ve had our eye on,” Sparano said.
### Chad Henne (shoulder), Thomas (hamstring), Koa Misi (neck), Tony McDaniel (hand), Nolan Carroll and Chris Clemons all sat out Wednesday's practice. The Dolphins will practice on Thursday before taking off five of the next six, with Tuesday their only scheduled workday. The new labor deal requires players get four straight days off during their bye week.
### Last word to safety Yeremiah Bell: “Wee’re doing some stupid things” on the field. “This year, it feels like everyone is doing their own thing. We have to get back to playing collectively.”
WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Many would say general manager Jeff Ireland is every bit as much to blame, or more, for the Dolphins’ problems as Tony Sparano. So why has Dolphins owner Stephen Ross considered replacing Sparano (and likely will at some point) but not Ireland?
For starters, you rarely see front-office executives fired during the season. But Ross’ faith in Ireland is based on numerous factors, according to people close to the situation. Among them:
Ross believes Ireland is a smart, savvy talent evaluator, even though several of his moves haven’t panned out…. He likes what Ireland did in his first draft without Bill Parcells around (Mike Pouncey, Daniel Thomas, etc.)… He doesn’t hold Ireland largely responsible for the 2008-2010 bad picks, such as Pat White, a player Ireland did not push for. He knows Parcells made a lot of those calls…
He knows Sparano had ample say in some of the questionable offensive line pickups, such as Marc Colombo and John Jerry, because that was Sparano’s supposed area of expertise.… Ross liked the Reggie Bush signing, which was Ireland’s call… He agrees with Ireland for not relenting or giving up too much (draft pick and longterm money) for Denver’s Kyle Orton, whose 80.9 quarterback rating this season is barely ahead of Chad Henne’s 79.0…
Though Ireland was permitted to spend up to the cap, Ross likes that Ireland did not overpay players this offseason and made moves based on what he thought were in the franchise’s longterm, not short term, interests. Miami reportedly still has $10 million in cap space….
Ireland assigns a financial value to players and usually is reluctant to pay more than that value, even if the player can help Miami and even if there’s cap space. Ross sees wisdom in that…. And most importantly, Ireland somehow has convinced Ross that talent is not the problem here, that Miami should have enough good players to be a good team. (Many would disagree.)
After the Chargers game, Ross solicited Ireland’s advice on the coaching situation. Ireland endorsed keeping Sparano, which works out great for Ireland instead of having a coach that demands personnel power or might not want him around.
An associate said if there’s a coaching change eventually as expected, Ross’ inclination at this moment – subject to change, obviously – would be to ask a new coach to keep Ireland, expressing his view that Ireland is good at his job, even if the marquee coach (such as Bill Cowher) has final say on personnel.
But if that coach balks at working with Ireland and wants his own personnel guy (which wouldn’t be surprising), it would be unfathomable to think that Ross would allow himself to lose out on, say, Cowher (very high on Miami’s list) because of faith in Ireland. That’s why Ireland’s longterm future here, beyond April’s draft, remains in question, despite Ross’ faith in him. And as one Dolphins official said, at some point that faith would figure to diminish if the losing persists.
### Despite the perceived vote of confidence, Sparano’s status is week-to-week, with more discussions expected if the Dolphins lose the Jets game. “He wants to see results,” one Ross friend reiterated Monday. Before deciding to keep Sparano for at least the next game, Ross spoke to several players, who endorsed the coach.
Ross also has been consulting former Chiefs executive Carl Peterson, who told him that it’s difficult to have successful in-season coaching change, according to a friend of both. Still, Ross left Qualcomm Stadium upset and knows dumping Sparano before January would give him a jump on the search to replace him.
### Defensive coordinator and former 49ers coach Mike Nolan would be the favorite to be interim coach if Sparano is dumped, though one team source noted quarterbacks coach Karl Dorrell also has head coaching experience (at UCLA). For the Jets game, “Tony gives us the best chance to win,” one Dolphins official said, noting Nolan is not an obvious stopgap option because of the defense’s struggles.
### One AFC scout who studied UM’s Marcus Forston questioned his toughness and bemoaned, “He should be better than this. I don’t know if it means enough to him.”
Forston, projected as a first-round pick by ESPN before the season, has five tackles in three games and hasn’t done enough to fight off blocks. “I challenged Marcus,” defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said. “I’m not going to make excuses for him… but he’s in a new scheme, with a new d-line coach and had the surgery in the spring.”
With UM allowing 202.5 rushing yards per game (105th nationally), D’Onofrio admitted it has been more difficult than he expected to get players to eliminate bad habits. Defensive players also are sometimes resorting to technique they learned under the former staff; this staff has changed a lot of that technique. One issue with Forston specifically, coach Al Golden said, is “what the last coach told him shows up.” In fact, Golden said it has been easier to teach the new players than the veteran ones because of that.
### D’Onofrio defended his maligned unit Tuesday, saying, “We’ve given up seven touchdowns in four games, and we’ve played more people on defense this year than they’ve ever played in the past. They didn’t play any [young] linebackers [much last year]. That’s why a lot of these guys playing didn’t have any experience. Brandon McGee didn’t start one game, and I’ve got three corners playing who didn’t play college football at Miami. You’re not going to move your defense forward if you’re not willing to play these guys."
### D’Onofrio said even with Ray-Ray Armstrong back, JoJo Nicolas will remain at safety for now because he has played well there…. Golden said he wants to give more playing time to running back Eduardo Clements. "Eduardo is more reliable" than he was previously, Golden said.... Linebacker Ramon Buchanan, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last Saturday, will get a medical redshirt to return next season.
### Though Edward Mujica said the pitcher formerly known as Leo Nunez told him he expects to be back in the big leagues, the Marlins have serious doubts whether he will be allowed back in the country in the foreseeable future. Even if he is, there’s sentiment to trade him.
“There is [another] closer on our roster now,” executive Larry Beinfest said, from a group of Mujica, Ryan Webb, Mike Dunn, Steve Cishek and Jose Ceda. “Whether we choose to do that, it’s too early to know. We can always look in free agency.”
### Heat employees, who took a 10 percent paycut July 1 when the lockout started, saw their paycut increase to 25 percent this week, which will be the case for five months or until the lockout ends, whichever comes first... Shane Battier and Grant Hill – who are on Miami’s list of potential free agent targets – both have interest in talking to the Heat after the lockout, friends say.