Note: We're back in this space after filling in on the Dolphins beat for the past 3 1/2 months, following the departure of our beat writer. This will be the space for Wednesday and Sunday buzz columns, a Friday media column, and other posts. Thanks to those who have e-mailed the past few months.
WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
UM’s football signing class continues to generate mostly positive reviews, with the Canes still awaiting word on a few undecided prospects – including Miramar’s Tracy Howard, the nation’s No. 1 cornerback prospect who will choose among UM, UF and FSU at about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday on ESPNU.
Some of the feedback we’ve received this week from analysts:
### ESPN’s Jamie Newberg: “We have Miami at No. 13, third in the ACC behind FSU and Clemson. They got impact players nearly everywhere. [Running back] Duke Johnson can be a star, a threat whenever he touches the ball. Blazing speed. Receiver Angelo-Jean Louis blew me away at Under Armour practices; both are difference makers with the ball in their hands. And receiver Malcolm Lewis is very underrated. Deon Bush is fantastic safety prospect, Raphael Kirby a terrific linebacker, Tyriq McCord a super defensive lineman. They have a great chance of getting Howard.”
### Miami Herald recruiting analyst Larry Blustein: “I’ve been in the offices of coaches at other schools and they tell players about Miami, ‘You will never be in a BCS game. Why go to a school that will win six, seven games the next three years?’ Considering what they’ve had to deal with, Al Golden has done an amazing job. It’s a top-10 class. Johnson, McCord, Bush, Kirby maybe [receiver] Robert Lockhart will make an impact right away.”
### Elite Level Scouting’s Charles Fishbein is a bit less effusive: “They have 10 really good kids, a second group with special teamers and a third group that really drags the class down” – such as Tallahassee tight end Brandon Holifield. “It’s not an A class, but very solid. If they get Howard, that would be a coup.”
A quick analysis, by position:
### Quarterback: All agree Preston Dewey is the best of UM’s three additions: “Good arm, good size [6-3], makes good decisions,” Newberg said. Gray Crow “looks great throwing 7-on-7s but he has heavy feet, so it’s hard for him to set his feet when you get a rush on him,” said Fishbein, who expects Westminster Christian quarterback David Thompson to play pro baseball instead.
### Running back: Blustein said Norland’s Johnson, rated the nation’s No. 1 back by Rivals.com, “is more of a complete back coming out of high school than Lamar Miller. He’s a home run threat as a runner or receiver.” Fishbein compares him to former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Warrick Dunn, noting Johnson’s “ability to create something out of nothing.” Venice’s Danny Dillard “is a situational type kid who can catch on third downs and has great straight line speed but won’t juke a guy out of his socks,” Fishbein said.
UM and Tennessee are finalists for Louisiana-based running back Davante Bourque, rated the No. 14 running back by Rivals. He will announce his decision at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
### Receiver: Blustein said Jean-Louis “might be the best of the six, but let’s see if he has the motivation and the grades” to qualify.
Lockhart, the former Virginia Tech recruit who played at Fork Union Military Academy last year, “has the most upside and NFL potential” of the six, Fishbein said. “Miramar’s Malcolm Lewis will play right away. He runs the best routes, has the best hands.”
Fishbein said Leesburg’s D’Mauri Jones and Georgia’s Jontavious Carter are more possession-type receivers, and that Homestead’s Herb Waters would be better at cornerback.
### Offensive line: Norland tackle Ereck Flowers, already enrolled, “has the most upside by far” of the three commits, Fishbein said. At 6-6, 315 pounds, “he can be a star.” But Fishbein said Cypress Bay’s Daniel Isidora might play more initially than Flowers because “Miami has more of a need at guard than tackle.”
UM, UF, Georgia and Auburn are reportedly finalists for Palm Beach Gardens' Avery Young, rated the nation's 14th-best offensive tackle by Rivals.com.
### Tight end: Holifield “is a big-time reach,” Fishbein said. “They’re expecting another Jimmy Graham, but he didn’t even get into one of the Tallahassee Godby games I went to.” Blustein said UM believes “Clive Walford and the tight ends they have now are enough.”
### Defensive tackle: “They didn’t get that interior defensive line stud to take you into that elite BCS group,” Blustein said. “That’s their biggest concern.” Louisiana-based Jacoby Briscoe and Tampa’s Earl Moore “are good, but they’re just not ready.”
But Newberg says Moore “has a lot of upside. He’s a run stuffer who’s quick off the ball.” Fishbein said the tackle class in South Florida was weak this year but very good next year, and UM will need them.
The Canes' defensive class would get a boost if they can lure Lake City tackle Dequan Ivery away from Louisville, with a decision expected at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.
### Defensive end: Analysts agree the best of the five are St. Thomas Aquinas’ Jelani Hamilton (recovering from a serious October knee injury) and McCord, who also could play outside linebacker. “McCord might be faster off the ball than Anthony Chickillo,” Fishbein said. “He’ll give you pass-rushing. And [Pennsylvania-based] Jake O’Donnell could be a situational player right away.” Vero Beach’s Dwayne Hoilett (212 pounds) and Palm Beach Central’s Gabriel Terry (210) need to bulk up.
### Linebacker: Kirby (122 tackles, 20.5 sacks this season) “has good instincts and can come in and play right away,” Fishbein said. “By far their best linebacker prospect. I don’t expect anything out of [Cypress Bay’s] Josh Witt right away. He has to put on weight to play middle linebacker.”
Fishbein won’t be surprised if UM oral commit Reggie Northrup ends up at FSU. West Boca’s Jawand Blue is a possibility, especially if Northrup doesn’t end up with UM.
### Defensive backs: Many can play corner or safety, including Bush, who has the most upside of the seven that had committed as of Tuesday, Fishbein said.
Second-best of the group? Blustein said it’s Tampa Plant's Antonio Crawford, who switched to UM from Georgia Tech on Sunday, with Coral Reef’s Vernon Davis third: “Crawford has good speed; Davis is a very physical corner.” Don’t discount junior college transfer Ladarius Gunter.
Said Fishbein: "Crawford is one of the fastest kids in the state. Davis might be able to able in the nickel package right away. He plays with a chip on his shoulder.''
Fishbein said some of “the others are raw prospects who need time” – including American’s Larry Hope, St. Pete’s Rayshawn Jenkins (“his high school team would have a hard time beating the Kendall Boys Club,” Blustein said) and South Ft. Myers’ Nate Dortch ("good speed, but needs to redshirt.") Miramar’s Howard “would start from day one at Miami,” Fishbein said. “He’s the best corner to come out of here in a long time.”
### FYI: Hope, on Tuesday, became UM's ninth early enrollee, joining Crow, Dewey, Flowers, Kirby, Gunter, Hoilett, Witt, and former Fork Union Military Academy offensive lineman Taylor Gadbois.
### The Heat has called to express interest in 7-foot-1 Joel Pryzbilla, and the veteran NBA center is considering Miami and two other teams, a close associate said. He hopes to decide soon.
Pryzbilla, 32, has been limited to 30 and 36 games the past two seasons because of a knee injury but can defend (1.5 blocks per game) and rebound (6.3 per game, including 25 in a game in March 2008). Pryzbilla, who has a 4.0 career scoring average, lives outside Milwaukee, and the Bucks - who lost Andrew Bogut to injury - have been among the other teams to inquire about him this season.
### The Heat likes center Chris Kaman, who is being held out by New Orleans until the Hornets trade him, but likely would not have the cap pieces to trade a deal work, because Kaman is earning $14 million in the final year of his contract. The Heat would be in play if Kaman gets a buyout, but the Hornets prefer to get something for him.
### Dan Marino, who's friendly with Peyton Manning, tells us he won't lobby Manning to join the Dolphins if the Colts release him. "I don't want to go there," Marino said. "Peyton's a big boy. He can make his own mind up.''
After Yahoo reported Tuesday morning that Manning’s nerves in his arm are not healing as quickly as hoped, Manning told ESPN, “I’m very encouraged with what (doctors) have said. Everything is right on point. I’ll be cleared and ready to play.” The Dolphins are among several teams that expect Manning will be released.
### Six days after he was declared a free agent, the Marlins feel some optimism about their chances to land Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, 26, but know they have stiff competition from the Cubs, White Sox, Orioles and one or two others. Cespedes - who hit .333 with 33 homers and 99 RBI in 90 games last season - is expected to visit the Marlins within a week.