« January 2012 | Main | March 2012 »

25 posts from February 2012

February 28, 2012

Manning progressing well as Dolphins await pursuit; UM, Heat notes

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

There have been conflicting reports about Peyton Manning’s arm strength in the past month. But after speaking with numerous people at the NFL Combine, the feedback we received is encouraging -- that Manning is throwing well, with the reasonable expectation of continued improvement.

One person not affiliated with Manning, who was briefed on Manning’s throwing sessions with Reggie Wayne last week in Miami, gave a favorable report, with no red flags.

No, he's not 100 percent, and he's not going to be 100 percent when he's (likely) set free by the Colts in the next nine days. But a longtime Manning associate said Manning is throwing well and could be at full strength by May, based on his current pace, thought obviously nobody can say that with certainty.

Another person briefed on Manning's workouts said skeptics will be pleasantly surprised by his progress. And longtime teammate Jeff Saturday told NFL Network, “From what I’ve seen, he’ll be playing well. He’ll be playing at a high level.”

One key for Manning is to continue to build strength in the arm, so he has the stamina to throw for longer periods without the arm tiring. But that also is expected to continue to improve.

Though some in the league understandably remain skeptical about Manning’s arm strength until they see him, enough people are encouraged about his health that, as ESPN’s Adam Schefter noted this week, teams that once said they wouldn’t pursue Manning are now pondering it. “Interest is high,” Schefter said.

A friend of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross reiterated this week how excited Ross is about the prospect of pursuing and hopefully signing Manning, assuming the Colts release him by the $28 million roster bonus deadline of March 8. And though the Dolphins will need to see him throw and assess his medical status, their cautious optimism about their chances isn’t without foundation.

Several credible NFL people, asked to handicap the Manning race, made Miami the slight favorite. Another leaned toward Arizona. The longtime Manning associate said he could see Manning signing here but expects others also will be in the mix and he doesn’t believe a decision has been made. What we do know, as The Herald reported weeks ago, is Manning and his wife love South Florida and spending time in their condo here.

Kansas City and Washington have the most cap space of the potential suitors, and the Jets and Seattle also are expected to pursue him. But those four cities would require more games in cold (and in some cases, windy) weather for a player coming off neck surgery who has had the luxury of playing all his home games in a dome. A surprise team such as Denver still could emerge.

NBC’s Peter King makes Miami the favorite but also reported, “The problem with Peyton to Miami is Joe Philbin wants to control his team and his offense – not cede it to Manning.” But Ross is pushing this train, and you would think Philbin is too smart to do anything to hurt Miami’s chances.

Associates believe Manning, 35, could play three to five more years. He would love to keep playing with free agent and ex-UM star Reggie Wayne, and Wayne is receptive to that idea. Miami would need to clear more cap space to make that work.

There is no urgency for Manning to sign as soon as he is released; under the new labor deal, coaches and players under contract cannot meet and talk X’s and O’s until mid-April.

Keep in mind that former FSU quarterback Chris Weinke – who had the same spinal fusion and subsequent nerve regeneration as Manning – told ESPN and NFL Network in recent weeks that his arm was stronger after the surgery, though Weinke was nearly a decade younger.

For those who advocate signing Matt Flynn instead of gambling on Manning’s health, CBS’ Rich Gannon puts it this way: “If you’re Joe Philbin and are concerned about winning games right now and not having growing pains, you sign Peyton. You have a guy who’s ready: a Hall of Famer hungry to come back and revitalize his career. Flynn is talented but what scares me a little is Kevin Kolb.”

If the Dolphins do not get Manning, they are expected to renew attempts to trade for St. Louis’ No. 2 pick for the right to draft Robert Griffin III (Cleveland and Washington have more ammunition for a trade than Miami) or try to sign Flynn. The Dolphins like Ryan Tannehill, but nobody believes he’s ready to start immediately and Miami wants an instant upgrade, if possible.

CHATTER

### Miami doesn’t want to lose both its free agent defensive linemen (Paul Soliai and Kendall Langford) and hopes to get a deal done with one. Agent David Canter said Jeff Ireland told him Soliai remains “a massive priority and we’re optimistic they will make an offer. Hopefully, it’s within striking distance and we can get a deal done. If not, there will be a robust market for him.”

### When UM begins spring practice Saturday, quarterback Stephen Morris (back), starting receiver Allen Hurns and linebacker Gionni Paul will be limited, and starting linebacker Ramon Buchanan and defensive tackle Corey King will be out.

### Even though UM lost Lamar Miller, offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said, “I feel we will be able to run as well or better than last year. Our group is very good. I’d like to see Eduardo Clements from the beginning competing for the job and build off the confidence he gained.”

Ballyhooed freshman Duke Johnson, a summer arrival, figures to share carries with Mike James (whose per carry average slipped to 3.8) and Clements, who averaged 5.5 per carry (15 for 82) and caught 14 passes for 163 yards. Dallas Crawford will get a look at running back, but it will be surprising if he can crack the top three this fall, barring injuries.

### Offensive line coach Art Kehoe said the front-runners to start are Seantrel Henderson and Malcolm Bunche at tackle, Shane McDermott at center, and Brandon Linder and Jon Feliciano at guard.

But, he cautioned, Feliciano playing guard is dependent on UM finding more depth at tackle, because Henderson and Bunche have had injury problems in the past. “Linder is going to be our leader,” Kehoe said…. UM wanted Luther Robinson to move to guard but he resisted and will apparently remain at defensive tackle.

### With eight consecutive double-digit victories, the Heat stands two away from the NBA record, which was achieved by three teams - most recently the 07-08 Rockets. The Heat had a nine-game double-digit victory streak last season. 

Here’s some perspective on the Heat’s dominance: Its 14.1 average margin of victory is in close range with the largest margins ever achieved by Pat Riley’s legendary 1980s Lakers teams (14.0 in 1987) and Michael Jordan’s Bulls teams (15.0 in 1996). The NBA record is 17.5, set by the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks.

“I don’t want people to get caught up that we have to win by a certain amount,” Dwyane Wade said Tuesday.

Upon returning from the All-Star break, Coach Erik Spoelstra implored his team to “not buy into the garbage out there about not being able to get to another level.” And, he said, "you have to be able to be playing for something bigger than just trying to shut people up.''

   

February 27, 2012

More draft tidbits, UM talk, from the NFL Combine

Tidbits as we enter our final day from the NFL Combine:

### In the past couple days, several UM players were asked by national media how the Hurricanes can have eight players at the Combine but only a 6-6 record last season.  The players had a tough time explaining it.

"Very disappointing,” Sean Spence said, noting the losses were by narrow margins. “It was very frustrating. It hurts. Talent isn’t the problem. We had a lot of people looking at us to change Miami, to bring it back. Unfortunately, we didn’t do that.”

But several players told national reporters that Al Golden is the right man to fix it. “He will get the program back to where it needs to be,” Spence said.

Brandon Washington’s hope is rooted in this: “Al Golden instilled unity with the players. And there’s more teaching now. You spend three hours out there - an hour in the individual period, an hour with them teaching you, and an hour of practice. Everyone has bought into it.”

Marcus Forston said: “The way coach Golden came in and the things they taught us, I never learned that as a player. The way [how close] that locker-room was this year, it never was like that the four years before that I was there. The U-tough, all that stuff they did was great.”

### Several prominent former players have been tutoring current ones. UM’s Travis Benjamin said he has been receiving one-on-one sessions from former NFL receiver and ESPN analyst Cris Carter, “who is my mentor.” LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson is being tutored by Chad Pennington, who has decided to stay retired and remain a broadcaster for Fox. UM’s Jacory Harris has worked with former Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson.

### Among the numerous players the Dolphins have met with: Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram, Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, FSU offensive tackle Zebrie Sanders, UM defensive tackle Marcus Forston and North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples.

### Tackle Riley Reiff, an option with the No. 8 pick, isn’t the only Iowa offensive lineman on the Dolphins’ radar. They also will consider mid-round tackle Markus Zusevics (who injured a pectoral muscle at the Combine) and guard Adam Gettis, a potential late-round pick who was second team All-Big 10 and had an impressive Combine. Remember – Dolphins receivers coach Ken O’Keefe was Iowa’s offensive coordinator the past 13 years.

### NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi, the former Raiders executive, is among the minority who says the Colts should at least consider taking Robert Griffin instead of Andrew Luck, partly because how his speed could be exploited on the artificial turf at Lucas Oil Stadium. “He’s a modern day Steve Young, being that explosive,” Lombardi said of Griffin. He said the Colts need to ask themselves “What player fits our home field and can dominate the division?”

### Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said “it looks like there’s some excellent prospects” at quarterback.

After Andrew Luck and Griffin, and then Ryan Tannehill, there are three potential second-rounders: Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden (who keeps trying to convince teams his age – 28 – shouldn’t be held against him), Arizona’s Nick Foles (who must improve his football, Mayock said) and Arizona State’s 6-7 Brock Osweiler (who was limited this week by an injury).

Mayock expects Tannehill to go in the first 10 picks: “I like everything about him except he stares his receivers down.”

Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins, who comes across very well, had a strong showing Sunday and could rise to the third-round range. He said the best quarterbacks are “great leaders, very accurate and great decision makers. Those are my three biggest strengths.”

### Boston College inside linebacker Luke Kuechly has bulked up to 243 pounds, and people have been telling him he’s similar to former Dolphins great Zach Thomas, though Thomas was shorter (5-11 to 6-2). “I was always watching him growing up,” said Kuechly, who calls himself “an instinctual player. I’m a smart player.”

### A Combine story that amused us: Brian Billick said when he once interviewed a player who seemed half asleep and disinterested, he asked him, “Are you a thug or stupid?”

To which the player said: “Are those my only options?” But the unnamed player had a 10-year NFL career.

 

February 25, 2012

UM quarterback talk; Vernon answering NCAA questions; Fins, Heat

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

 

Junior Stephen Morris enters as the favorite over sophomore Ryan Williams and even more so, freshmen Preston Dewey and Gray Crow when UM spring football practice opens next weekend. But the program’s leaders also have their eye on the long-term view.

“It’s going to be Quarterback U [again],” offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch proclaimed recently. “We want to bring that back.” Said Al Golden: “We’ve got to get back to being the benchmark for quarterbacks.”

Aside from the collegiate brilliance of Ken Dorsey and Heisman Trophy winter Gino Torretta, UM hasn’t warranted that moniker much since producing five NFL arms in a 12-year span in the 1908s and early 90s: Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, Steve Walsh and Craig Erickson.

It remains to be seen how good this group will be, but there are reasons to feel somewhat encouraged. Among them:

### More depth and competition. Golden, who had only two recruited quarterbacks plus walk-on Spencer Whipple when he arrived at UM, will have five when David Thompson arrives this summer. Golden said he wants at least five every year.

A sixth likely will arrive in 2013, with UM having a good shot to land Wayne Hills (N.J.) senior-to-be Kevin Olsen, a top prospect and brother of former UM tight end Greg Olsen. “Miami is very high on his list,” said his father, Wayne Hills coach Chris Olsen. “Kevin has built a strong relationship with Jedd Fisch. He likes the way he handles quarterbacks.”

The 6-3 Olsen, who is 22-2 as a starter and led his team to two straight state titles, also is considering UF, Auburn, Alabama, Wisconsin, Stanford and North Carolina. He threw 20 touchdowns and six picks in 2011. UM also is pursuing Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy’s Christian Hackenberg, among others, but Olsen clearly would be the biggest get.

### Fisch’s coaching. He did a terrific job with Harris after joining UM from the Seattle Seahawks, and there’s a reason NFL teams, including the Chicago Bears, wanted to hire him this winter. Harris said he learned more from Fisch, who worked under Mike Shanahan and Brian Billick, in one summer than he did in two years under Mark Whipple. “Fisch does a great job,” Harris reiterated Thursday from the NFL Combine. “He really interacts with you.”

Walsh, now coach at Cardinal Newman High in West Palm Beach, put it this way: “Jedd is a self-made man. He has taken bits and pieces from a lot of coaches. You could tell last year Jacory was cognizant of not throwing it up for grabs. That’s coaching.” Recruiting analyst Larry Blustein said Fisch’s “philosophy, work habits, working with mechanics have been awesome.”

Fisch has given his quarterbacks three assignments this month: “First, become an expert at what we do. Second thing is evaluate what they would do differently, and the third is look at some other teams in our system. Watch Tom Brady, Matt Hasselbeck sit in the pocket and see if you can make the same reads those guys would. And if you wouldn’t, find out why.”

As for the looming battle this spring, Golden said the job is open but Morris has “the advantage, a little edge” because of experience in UM’s system. “The reason Jacory had a good year is because the competition was steep,” Fisch said.

Fisch is encouraged that Morris’ “football intelligence has had a huge jump from a year ago.” We hear Morris didn’t always have as good a grasp of the plays as Harris did, a UM official (not Fisch) asserted. And UM wants Morris to do a better job commanding the huddle.

The other key is cutting down mistakes. Morris (seven career touchdown throws) has 11 interceptions in 190 career passes, one every 17.3. Williams had 10 picks in 290 passes in one year at Memphis (one every 29), though Morris’ competition was much tougher. Morris has a 56.8 completion percentage, Williams 56.9.

“Stephen has a tremendous arm, all the upside in terms of physical tools,” Fisch said. And he has more mobility than Williams.

Williams’ offers were limited to the likes of Eastern Michigan and Memphis after leading Miramar to a state title in 2009 and completing 18 of 21 passes for 254 yards and five touchdowns in the title game. But BCS schools, including Arkansas, pursued him last spring when he transferred. He threw 13 touchdowns at Memphis but left when the team changed to an option offense.

Williams, 6-5, has a strong arm and “will be a very good pocket passer and play action passer,” Fisch said. UM likes his intangibles. But he must improve “his mobility and making plays outside the pocket,” Fisch said.

Harris told us Williams “will surprise people. He has nice touch on his ball.” Harris expects a close battle at the position.

Fisch insists Crow and Dewey will have a chance to compete, and Golden said all four will get first- and second-team snaps this spring. But at least one of the freshmen likely will redshirt.

"Both are 6-3, can make all the throws,” Fisch said. “They didn’t make a lot of plays on the move last year. We’ve got to see if they can do that. What we do is similar to what Preston’s coach [former Heisman winner Ty Detmer] did in the NFL. I don’t think anything is too big for Preston.”

UM doesn’t know if Thompson ultimately will opt for pro baseball. But Canes coaches are intrigued. “Tremendous athlete,” Fisch said. “He can dunk a basketball, throw a football anywhere and everywhere you want it to go.”

NCAA INVESTIGATION ITEM

Olivier Vernon, who received the stiffest penalty of any of the UM players punished by the NCAA last August, told a few reporters at the NFL Combine on Saturday that "the person recruiting me introduced me to Nevin Shapiro." I asked him who that person was. "It was Clint Hurtt," he said. "And Aubrey Hill. I hold no grudges [toward them] but I feel if they knew the type of person he was, they shouldn't have introduced me to him."

Vernon has told both the NCAA and NFL teams that Hurtt and Hill introduced him to Shapiro. 

Vernon isn't the only player who told the NCAA that former UM assistants took them to Shapiro, which will be problematic for UM (and potentially those assistants) when the NCAA decides its punishment. At least one current player blamed Joe Pannunzio. Hurtt is now at Louisville, Pannunzio at Alabama and Hill at Florida.

Vernon was suspened six games last season and required to repay more than $1200 because, as a recruit, he accepted things such as access to Shapiro's suite at a Miami home game, drinks and cover charges at two night clubs.

He said every NFL team he spoke to has asked him about that NCAA suspension, but said the Dolphins haven't requested to speak to him at all. So what lesson has he learned?

"If somebody is being so nice to you, you should think why are they being so nice to you? It was my first experience with that. I thought everybody was doing that. I didn't think it was special treatment.... I should have known better. He's a shady person. He has bad blood and is taking out his frustrations [of] being incarcerated."

 

CHATTER

### One player that Dolphins coach Joe Philbin gets excited talking about? Charles Clay. “We love his versatility.” He envisions lining him up sometimes “at tight end, the next time next to the tight end, the next time as a receiver.” Philbin loves to create mismatches, and Clay is the ideal chess piece for doing that.

### Though Philbin isn’t animated or loud like Rex Ryan or Tony Sparano, he commands players' attention very well, according to those who have been around him. "He can step in a room and he's just got a natural presence about him,” said Seahawks GM John Schneider, who worked with Philbin in Green Bay. "He has that 'it' quality as a leader." 

### The Dolphins and the agent for Kendall Langford spoke last week, sources said, and talks will continue, with a new deal remaining a realistic possibility but not certain by any means. Dolphins opponents are hoping they lose both Paul Soliai (likely) and Langford.

"Looking at Miami's size up front on both sides of the ball, the Langfords, Jared Odrick, it just seems like they just keep rolling out bigger guys after bigger guys," said Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum, adding that he "absolutely has that in mind" when he drafts linemen. Tannenbaum, incidentally, said he has been "picking the brain" of Sparano (the Jets' new offensive coordinator) about his Dolphins days. "I told him, 'You're not just here for Mark Sanchez. You're here for me. Get me better! What did you guys do [in Miami]?' Because obviously they did a lot of good things. He's got a lot of wisdom and lessons that happened in Miami and I want to bring all of those things up here."

### A sure sign that peers respect Heat rookie Norris Cole? Several have gone out of their way to approach him with praise. "Tony Parker said he loves my confidence," Cole said. "Lou Williams said I'm quicker than I look on tape.''

### What arguably is the Heat's best lineup (Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem with the Big Three), has played only 15 minutes together all season, with Miami outscoring teams, 42-18, during that time. Of course, we would see more of that lineup to close games if the Heat actually played close games.... Before signing with Portland last week, center Joel Pryzbilla spent three days in South Florida being recruited by the Heat. "They were first class," he told The Oregonian. "It was a tough decision." Though Joel Anthony has been playing well, the Heat still remains open to adding a veteran center who has something significant to offer.

### A good sign regarding new Marlins and ex-White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle, who is moving over from the American League for the first time: He's 24-6 with a 3.34 ERA against the National League and a remarkable 10-0 with a 1.79 ERA in his last 14 interleague starts. “Sometimes, I have an advantage when teams haven’t seen me,” he said.

Live from the Combine: Checking out Dolphins' first-round draft options

When the Dolphins make their first-round draft pick in two months, they could face a difficult choice among three skilled pass rushers, an exceptional offensive tackle, at least one disruptive defensive tackle and a quarterback who was coached by Miami’s new offensive coordinator.

Or, if they get bold or really lucky, they could end up with the draft’s second-best quarterback (which would require a costly trade up for Robert Griffin III), the top cornerback or the premier receiver.

All the players in the mix for Miami’s pick, eighth overall, are here at the NFL Combine this weekend, putting their bodies - and in some cases, skills - up for inspection for the league’s 32 teams. Here’s a look at Miami’s potential options on April 26, in no particular order:

### North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples: Though some project him coming off the board slightly sooner, Coples said he wouldn’t be upset if he falls to Miami. And that could happen because of his disappointing senior season, where his overall numbers (57 tackles, 7.5 sacks) declined slightly from his junior year (59 tackles, 8.5 sacks).

"I’m not a Coples guy. He looks the part, is pretty, will remind a lot of people of [Bears defensive end] Julius Peppers,” NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said. “But I’d be scared to death to take him [with Miami’s pick] because he didn’t play hard or well as a senior.” Coples, at 6-5, 284 pounds, would be an ideal 4-3 defensive end.

Coples, who is meeting with the Dolphins, said he knows some people believe "I didn't play as hard" as he should last season. "I could see where it would look like that on film," he said. "I'm a big guy, long strider." But he insisted Saturday that he gave full effort every play.

### Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff: ESPN’s Mel Kiper has the Dolphins taking him in his mock draft, noting his tape “was exceptional this past season.”

Reiff, a left tackle at Iowa, would need to play right tackle with the Dolphins. He has played only one game at right tackle, during his redshirt freshman year, but “I’d be happy to move over” to that side.

“From a talent perspective, I don’t think he should be a top 10 pick,” Mayock said. “Because of his position and where we are in the draft, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s a top 10 pick. I like him a lot. I don’t think his upside is as high as [Southern California’s] Matt Kalil.”

### South Carolina defensive end/linebacker Melvin Ingram: Mayock rates him as the draft’s No. 1 defensive end, ahead of Coples, and could envision the Dolphins picking him, though “it might be a little high.”

If it comes down to a choice between Ingram (6-2, 272) and Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw (6-1, 271), Mayock said, “I like Ingram’s movement skills better. You can move him around more. He showed up as a nose tackle, hand-in-the-dirt defensive end. He reminds me a little of [the Giants’] Justin Tuck. And he has shown the aptitude to learn all those different positions. He’s got natural pass-rush ability.”

Sporting News draft analyst and ex-Browns scout Russ Lande said Ingram, who had 10 sacks last season, “is a more explosive athlete with better pass-rush skills” than Upshaw.

Ingram, who has met with the Dolphins, started full-time only one season (his senior year) but said Saturday that what sets him apart is “my relentless effort to get after the ball.”

### Upshaw: Mayock said he “might be a better fit as a 4-3 defensive end even though at Alabama, he played rush linebacker.” Upshaw, who’s better operating in tight quarters than when he has to chase runners outside, was productive (52 tackles, one interception, nine sacks). ESPN’s Todd McShay calls him an “elite” run defender, and his exceptional BCS title game created a buzz.

If Ingram or Upshaw is the pick, the Dolphins would hope either could be plugged in immediately to give them another pass rusher to play opposite Cameron Wake when they’re in a 4-3 alignment.

### Baylor’s Griffin: This is only an option, of course, if the Dolphins outbid other teams to acquire St. Louis’ No. 2 overall pick – a deal that would take multiple picks, including at least two first-rounders. “I love everything about the kid,” Mayock said. “Bottom line is he’s a playmaker. That’s what the league is all about. He’s got great touch and accuracy medium and deep.”

### LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers: Mayock regards Brockers, who left LSU after his sophomore season, as a potential top 10 pick; scouts love his explosiveness, strength and long arms.

At 6-5, 322 pounds, he’s a natural tackle, but Mayock said he also could play outside. "I played so many positions at LSU," said Brockers, he of the 35-inch arms. "I'd be the perfect fit anywhere they want to put me.''

“The only concern,” Mayock said, “is he’s a one-year guy.”

### Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill: Mayock said Tannehill, who has made 20 college starts at quarterback after switching back from receiver, “is a little similar to Jake Locker – big, strong, prototypical quarterback. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if a team looks at him in the first round.”

Locker went eighth to Tennessee last year, and Mayock said he could see Tannehill going that high, though some believe that's too high.

Whether it's at No. 8 or in a trade-down, Tannehill would be a realistic candidate only if the Dolphins do not sign Peyton Manning or Matt Flynn.

Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who coached Tannehill at A&M, said he has “an advantage” because he’s coming from a West Coast style offense. Sherman said Tannehill has great poise and makes players around him better.

McShay said Tannehill “misses on some throws he should not” but loves his ability “to create after the initial play breaks down. Intangibles are through the roof with him. He’s the most consistent in ball placement” among the quarterbacks ranked behind Andrew Luck and Griffin.

Tannehill, recovering from foot surgery, said, “I’ve always thought of myself as a quarterback. I feel good where I’m at now.”

### Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon and LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne: It would be a mild surprise if either slips to Miami’s pick at No. 8, but either would be difficult to pass up.

“Versatile, explosive, a better prospect than Dez Bryant,” Kiper said of Blackmon. Though Blackmon isn’t a speed demon, he said Friday, “Look at the tape. I’ve never been caught from behind.”

Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland recently gave a vote of confidence to Sean Smith, but Claiborne “is an exceptional pure cover corner with impeccable instincts,” Kiper said.

### Less likely options: Boston College inside linebacker Luke Kuechly: He’s a tackling machine (191 last season) but a bit undersized by Miami’s standards at 237 pounds, and No. 8 would seem too high….Illinois defensive end/outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus: He had 16 sacks in 2011 after producing just one in 17 previous career games. "I was able to put everything together," he said Saturday. "You can't just fall into a sack." His stock is rising, but No. 8 is higher than anybody expects. He’s an option if Miami trades down…

Beyond potential top 10 pick Brockers, there are a few other defensive tackles that could sneak into the mid teens, but No. 8 would seem too high for any of them, including Penn State’s Devon Still, Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox and Memphis’ Dontari Poe. Miami’s pick also would be too high for two Alabama defensive backs – cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Mark Barron.

 

     

February 24, 2012

Lamar Miller already thinking Hall of Fame, and other Combine notes

For a look at why Ryan Tannehill would be excited to join the Dolphins – as well as what Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were saying Friday – see our last post.

Here are 10 quick tidbits from the NFL Combine Friday:

### How confident is UM running back Lamar Miller? Among his comments: “I feel I can be a running back in the Hall of Fame” and “I’m a game-changer” and “I’m much faster” than the draft’s top running back, Alabama’s Trent Richardson.

Miller will run the 40-yard-dash on Sunday and “I’m going to try to break the clock – run a 4.2, a 4.3.” He won’t participate in other drills because he’s recovering from shoulder surgery.

### Pierre Garcon (70 catches, 947 yards last season) turned down a contract offer from the Colts and reportedly will test free agency, meaning two of Peyton Manning's favorite targets - Garcon and former UM star Reggie Wayne will both be available. So will one of his former tight ends, Jacob Tamme. All would be possibilities for the team that signs Manning.

Keep in mind that Dolphins coach Joe Philbin insisted Thursday he is happy with his receiver group. If Miami signs Manning, it likely would need to use its remaining cap space to shore up the offensive line and add a pass rusher. And Garcon and Wayne won't come cheap.

### Broncos executive John Elway, on Tim Tebow: “I was really happy with his progress. We hope he’ll be the guy for a long, long time. We want to see strides in Tim being able to throw down the field and in the pocket. That would make everything he does that much better.”

### Speedy FIU receiver T.Y. Hilton can’t participate in drills this weekend because of a partial tear in a quadriceps sustained during the Panthers’ bowl game. But he said he will be ready to run by FIU’s Pro Day March 9. He hopes to go in the second or third round.

“I always have a chip on my shoulder,” Hilton said. “A lot of teams look at me and say, 'Hey, he came from a smaller school.' I'm going to show those teams I'm here. FIU has some great athletes now. I'm blessed to be able to come from that school.''

He compares his skills to DeSean Jackson and said he watched Devin Hester return punts and kickoffs growing up and "he reminds me of me.'' Hilton, who measured 5-9 and 193 pounds, said he has been working with Carolina and former UM tight end Greg Olsen and Redskins receiver Donte Stallworth.

### Packers general manager Ted Thompson declined to say if the team would use the franchise tag on Matt Flynn, which would enable the Packers to try to trade him instead of losing him for nothing. That decision must be made by March 5 - eight days before free agency begins.

An associate of Flynn said he would be surprised if that happened because Green Bay would on the hook for a $14.4 million salary if it couldn't trade him. And the Packers likely would get a compensatory third-round draft pick if it lost him in free agency.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Friday, "In my opinion, he's ready to be an NFL starter. If I was a club who was looking for a good young quarterback, he's definitely someone I would talk to."

### Thompson, on new Dolphins coach Joe Philbin: “A really good man. He understands people. Good evaluator. Good scheme guy. He will do a really good job in Miami.”

### The Dolphins might try to restructure and extend Jake Long’s contract, which expires after next season, in part to create more cap space for this year. But agent Tom Condon said the Dolphins haven’t yet broached the issue.

### Among the numerous players the Dolphins have arranged meetings with: UM receiver Travis Benjamin and UF running back Chris Rainey. Benjamin has been working with ESPN analyst and former NFL standout Cris Carter.

### Former Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder said he would love to join the Falcons and be reunited with defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. But Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who’s in negotiations to re-sign inside linebacker Curtis Lofton, said the team hasn’t contacted Crowder.

### Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, a former minor-league baseball player, keeps trying to convince teams his age (28) is not a negative. “I’ve already been a pro,” he said. “That’s what I’m telling teams. They agreed. I’ve had failures and successes. [Also], I didn’t get hit at Oklahoma State. I’m extremely fresh. I can play for a long time. I’ll be a good fit for whoever decides to take me.”

     

Tannehill: Miami would be exciting; Luck, Griffin opine at Combine

INDIANAPOLIS - What follows in this story comes with a caveat: If the Dolphins land Peyton Manning or Matt Flynn – and there’s a decent, if not better, chance of that happening – then there will be no particular need to use a high draft pick on the enticing quarterback prospects that have convened here for the NFL Combine.

But what if the Dolphins enter the draft without a starter better than Matt Moore? In that scenario, expect to hear a lot about Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill, considered the draft’s third-best quarterback behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.

And that would delight Tannehill, who said Friday he would welcome a chance to join the Dolphins because of his high regard for his college coach, new Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. “Miami would be exciting because of the familiarity with coach Sherman and some of the staff hired down there,” he said. “It would be nice. Coach Sherman runs a West Coast offense as well as moving the pocket, and that’s a couple things I do well: throw on the run, bootlegs, whatever it may be to get outside the pocket and make throws downfield. I like what he did.”

By winning a coin toss with Carolina, the Dolphins learned Friday they will have the eighth overall pick. If the Dolphins don’t get Manning or Flynn, would No. 8 be too high for Tannehill? No, according to nfl.com’s Gil Brandt, the former Cowboys executive.

NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said it “wouldn’t surprise me” if the Dolphins took Tannehill eighth, if they don’t sign Manning or Flynn, adding “nobody will know Tannehill more than Miami.” Tannehill, 6-3, arrived at Texas A&M as a quarterback, but was third on the depth chart initially and switched to receiver, before moving back to quarterback during his junior year. “I did start only 20 games, and it’s a question that deservedly needs an answer,” he said. “I definitely have a lot to improve on. I want to be a starter.”

He said he believes he’s more prepared for the NFL because Sherman coached him: “That was a blessing for me.”

Tannehill, who threw 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last season, isn’t doing any throwing or drills at the Combine because he’s recovering from foot surgery after a January injury left him on crutches for his wedding in Mexico two days later. He said his recovery is ahead of schedule and he will throw at Texas A&M’s Pro Day on March 29.

GRIFFIN MEETS THE PRESS

As for Griffin, the personable Baylor quarterback measured at 6-2 3/8, which should allay any concerns about his height. Rams general manager Les Snead said there is “no scenario” in which the team would trade Sam Bradford. St. Louis reportedly is dangling the No. 2 pick, but Miami would need to give up a ton to move that high to draft Griffin, especially with quarterback-needy Cleveland selecting fourth and Washington sixth.

“I hope somebody falls in love with me – other than my fiancee,” he said. “I’m excited to show teams who I am. I’m a happy go-lucky-guy who likes to make people laugh, but I like to be serious as well.”

Griffin said “there’s a misperception about duel-purpose quarterbacks, that it’s run first, throw second. I’ve proven I throw first and run if I need to.” He also disputed the suggestion that his Baylor offense was simple. “It’s not a simple offense,” he said. “It’s a great, quarterback friendly offense. It’s not a traditional spread, where we’re in the shotgun all the time. We’re in the shotgun a lot. So were Tom Brady and Eli Manning in the Super Bowl, but that’s beside the point.”

Griffin sees similarities between himself and former NFL standouts John Elway, Steve Young and Randal Cunningham – “guys that extend the play. They win within in the pocket but also know how to win outside the pocket.” On comparisons to Cam Newton, last year’s No. 1 pick, Griffin said: “Cam is a bigger guy. He’s a little more shifty than I am. I’m faster. His confidence is off the charts. I try to keep my confidence on the charts.” Griffin said the fact both his parents served in the military – his mother for 12 years and his father for 21 – “helped me be the disciplined person I am.”

LUCK ADDRESSES MANNING

Luck, 6-4, said he would have no issue playing behind Peyton Manning, should the Colts keep him. Griffin said likewise, should the Colts very surprisingly draft him instead of Luck. “Peyton was my football hero growing up,” Luck said. “That’s who I modeled myself after. When you have a chance to learn from Peyton Manning, you better take advantage. Arguably the best quarterback ever.”

Luck has attended the Manning quarterback camp the past two seasons, spoke to Manning last summer when he decided to return to Stanford instead of turning pro and received texts from Manning twice last season.

Luck was asked if he’s looking at real estate in Indianapolis, on the presumption the Colts will select him. “It’s a little premature to do that,” he said. “I understand the speculation. Nothing has happened yet.”

Luck, who some evaluators call the best quarterback prospect since Manning, said, “It’s obviously flattering but it is an opinion. Not to discredit opinions, but it has to flow off your back like water.” He suggested he’s far from a finished product and is working on his dropbacks and “quickening everything up.”

### Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, 28, said comments about his age “used to get under my skin” but no longer. “I can’t change my birth certificate. I can’t pull a Danny Almonte” – a reference to the former little league baseball player who was older than he claimed.

February 23, 2012

Dolphins win coin toss, plus 10 other NFL Combine tidbits

Friday morning update: The Dolphins have won the coin toss with Carolina early this morning and will pick eighth in the first round of the April 26 draft. Carolina will pick ninth.

Among the players the Dolphins could be choosing from: North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples, Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff, Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw, South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram and Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, among others. By being eighth instead of ninth, there's also a better chance - albeit not a great one - that two of the draft's best players at this position - Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon and LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne - could slip to that spot. 

The Dolphins - who finished tied with Carolina and Buffalo at 6-10 - will pick ninth in the second round, eighth in the third, ninth in the fourth, and so forth.

OTHER COMBINE NOTES 

For a long, complete version of what Jeff Ireland and Joe Phibin had to say here in Indianapolis Thursday, see our last post. Beyond what Ireland and Philbin had to say, here are 10 other tidbits of local interest from Thursday’s session with some of the draft prospects and some team coaches and executives:

### Jets coach Rex Ryan had a lot to say, as usual. He began his news conference, unprompted, by saying “obviously it was a huge mistake” to guarantee last February that the Jets would win the Super Bowl. He said he believes the guarantee had something to do with the team’s disappointing 8-8 season.

“I thought it would motivate our team,” he said. “In hindsight, it brought undue pressure on our team. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a great deal. We had a terrible season and I take full responsibility for that. We have a team with potential to do great things.”

### Ryan, on his new offensive coordinator and ex-Dolphins coach Tony Sparano: “I’ve always admired him. I never liked him. I couldn’t put my finger on why.” Ryan finally figured out why: “That guy thinks he’s as tough as I am. He might be tougher.” Ryan said he spends an hour a day with Sparano.

### Neither Ryan nor Arizona Cardinals officials ruled out a run at Peyton Manning. Ryan was asked a couple times why he wouldn’t rule out the Jets pursuing Manning, considering that Ryan said recently that he’s firmly behind Mark Sanchez. But Ryan sees no reason to do that: “We will look at everybody,” he said. “There are 10 free agent quarterbacks I’ve looked at.” A Kansas City radio station said Tom Condon (Manning's agent) has spoken to the Chiefs about Manning, though that would be tampering if true (a big if).

### Denver coach John Fox said “we’re very comfortable with Tim Tebow” but they’re looking “to improve every position.” Tebow will enter camp as the starter, but the Broncos are expected to bring in quarterbacks to challenge him. "Tebow is going to be a great quarterback in this league," Fox said. "How long it takes? I can't tell you." Dolphins free agent Chad Henne, who will be moving on from Miami, is a possibility.

### We asked Fox's Brian Billick who he would take if the Dolphins hired him - Matt Flynn or Manning. Billick didn't have a strong conviction. "If it's Stephen Ross deciding, it will be Manning," he said. "He better be prepared to pay him $28 million, $30 million." Billick likes Flynn but "the league is replete with guys with short-term success and they go someplace else for an entire year and struggle."

### The Dolphins crave pass rushers, and Detroit defensive end Cliff Avril ranks among the best potential free agents. But coach Jim Schwartz made clear the Lions want to keep him. And Arizona GM Rod Graves said he expects to re-sign potential free agent Calais Campbell, the ex-UM standout.

### UM’s Jacory Harris was invited to the Combine not only to audition for himself but also to be a “throwing quarterback” – in other words, the guy who throws to receivers during their auditions. Harris said he doesn’t mind doing that because it gives him extra exposure. T.J. Yates filled that role last year, then ended up starting in Houston this season after injuries to Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart.

Harris said he expects to be drafted – Mel Kiper is among those who disagrees – and that he has been working with former Canes tight end Greg Olsen and former Lions quarterback Drew Stanton.

### The Cowboys are still deciding whether to place the franchise tag on linebacker Anthony Spencer, who would be a potential Dolphins target if he hits the market. “Spencer’s been a very good player,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We’re not ready to make that decision.”

### Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano, the former Rutgers coach and ex-UM defensive coordinator under Butch Davis, said he feels very good having Davis on his staff as a special advisor. Davis has been given a meaningful role. “Butch is someone I really trust,” he said. “It’s been a huge advantage.” Schiano hired Bryan Cox - who wasn't retained on the Dolphins staff - as his "front seven" coach (as in, defensive linemen and linebackers).

### Iowa left tackle Riley Reiff, projected to go to Miami in some mock drafts, said he has played only one game at right tackle (in his redshirt freshman year) but envisions no problems switching to that side if he’s picked by a team that’s set at left tackle, such as the Dolphins. "I'd be happy to move over,'' he said. Reiff was very complimentary of Ken O'Keefe, Iowa's longtime offensive coordinator who was recently hired by Philbin as receivers coach.

What Ireland, Philbin had to say at NFL Combine on Thursday

           

 

Here’s what Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin said at the NFL Combine Thursday. We’ll have a full story posted later.

 JEFF IRELAND

 Ireland cannot discuss Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn because they’re under contract elsewhere, but made clear he would be happy with a stopgap option, which Manning certainly would be because of his age. (He will be 36 in March.)

“I don’t think it has to be a longterm solution,” Ireland said of the quarterback position. “I think you can look at a short-term solution. Obviously, you’d like a longterm solution. Or you can try to get both. You’ve got to try to help this team win today and look to the future. It’s my job to try to build a team for today and the future. Joe’s responsibility is to try to win right now with a mind on the future as well.”

Ireland said he and Philbin have talked about quarterbacks “almost on a daily basis, especially the last couple of days, we’ve spent a lot of time doing that. It’s an ongoing process. A lot of things have to be figured out. And we need to go day by day with that search.”

On fans putting up a Manning-to-Miami billboard on I-595 in South Florida: “First I’ve heard of that is five minutes ago. Fans were flying a banner the last [home] game [saying Ireland should be fired]. They can do what they want to do.”

If the Packers place a franchise tag on Matt Flynn, would the Dolphins be willing to trade for him? Ireland, not addressing Flynn specifically, was asked if he would trade for a QB if needed: “We’ll use every avenue available to try to get the best player available for every position.”

With Flynn, the sample size is small. So how does Ireland assess a quarterback without much tape? If you don’t have much tape to watch, you keep watching it over and over again and try to find answers that way. There’s not much you can do.  If you like him, you go get him. If you don’t, you don’t.”

On his team: “As I told Joe in the interview process, there are some pieces here. There’s a foundation built. I’m not naive to the fact we’ve been 7-9, 7-9, 6-10 the last three years. We’ve got to keep building the process. Some of our players are getting some years on them. We’ve got to do a pretty good job this year of retaining some of those guys or replacing some of those guys.”

On the state of the league: "It has been offensive minded. We’re trying to have balance on offense and defense. I’m not worrying about the other teams are doing. We have to stop our division. Our dvision has been offensive minded for the most part. We’re trying to build a defense to stop the offenses in our division most of all."

 On he and Philbin: "We have the same vision of what we want to accomplish for the football team. Joe and I are going to sit together the entire week. We will be together for all the interviews. It’s bringing him up to speed on the college players. He hasn’t been as involved in the process because he’s a first time head coach. Getting him involved with every aspect of the team is a process we go through this week.

"We spent a lot of time during the interview process and once we hired him, he’s been full go trying to put a staff together. Probably spent more time with coordinators in the last couple weeks getting to know what they’re looking for, different details about certain positions. I know his vision of the offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator. Haven’t spent as much time with Joe as I’d like to but a lot of time with coordinators and the assistant coaches.

 On how big a priority finding pass rushers is: “Never have enough of them. I’d like to have 3 or 4 more of them if you can find them. It’s like the quarterback position. They’re hard to find, too. Pressure players on defense are the hardest guys to find. It’s a core position for this team. We’ve got to try to find some more.”

 More on his team: “The balance of youth and age – it’s a fairly young team. There’s not a lot of old players; pretty good balance of youth. My job is to introduce young players to the roster every year.”

On the draft: “It’s a good depth draft. There are players at every position that we’re going to look at. Strong first round. Just looking at it with Joe, it’s a good class of kids. Good class of character. Offensive line is one position that’s pretty good. The offensive line is a pretty good group.

A coin flip at 7 a.m. Friday will determine whether Miami or Carolina picks 8th or 9th: “It makes a big difference,” Ireland said. “I’ve never been in a draft where I felt if you were 10th, usually there are 9 players. The higher up the board, as long as it’s a flip of the coin, I’ll take it.”

On Philbin: “I was just kidding with Joe. He introduced me to someone. I’ve introduced myself to 100 people since I’ve been here and everyone keeps saying how good a guy he is. No doubt he’s a high integrity guy. I was kidding with him, I hope he can coach. Everyone has a high regard for him. Easy to work with. Has hired a great staff. I’m excited to have to continue working with him.

On Matt Moore: “I talked to him the other day, asked him where he’s at. He’s doing good. He’s out in California. Just wanted to say hello. He fits here. We’re glad to have Matt Moore on our roster. Last nine games we went 6-3, that’s pretty good. We’ve got to utilize his strengths. He needs to clean up his footwork and clean up his reads. That’s what the staff is going to do – he’s going to be a big part of our team.”

More on pass rushers: “They’re hard to find. If you can find one at the inside rush position, or linebacker to come off the edge, or defensive end – you take pressure players wherever you could get them.”

On the team's incumbent free agents, including Kendall Langford, Vernon Carey and others: “We’re going to talk to all our guys in the next week and discuss what our plan is with those guys and see where they fit. We have a plan for that. We’re going to start that process this week.”

Ireland said Cameron Wake’s role “is going to be a pressure player. But we’re not going to talk where we’re playing players” – meaning outside linebacker or moving to a 4-3 defense end.

Ireland reiterated, “We’re going to play multiple fronts. We’re not going to get into what our base fronts will be. Last year, we were in a sub front 70 percent of the time. We’re looking for good players with a great passion for the game and are disciplined. We’re not looking for small players. I’m not changing that too much. I like big, strong fast guys. Where lined up… I’m not worried about – if they’re good players, we’ll find a place for them to play.”

With Philbin here, “there are certain positions you look at differently. I have a high regard for what he’s looking for in an offensive lineman. We’ll tweak that a little bit."

"The receiver and running back may be a little bit different than what we’ve looked at in the past. I’m listening to the head coach to find the right type of player to be the most productive in this offense. I’m following his lead on that.”

 On Reggie Bush: “He’s what we thought we would be. I thought he had a good year – I’m excited to have him back on the team. I’m not sure if [how he will be used] will be different or not.”

Ireland refused to say if the team would restructure contracts to create more than the team’s current $15 million cap space: “It seems like you never have enough money. That’s life. We’ll take a look at some of those things. In terms of restructuring, that’s an in house business deal. I’m not to going to discuss that. We got to do a lot of discussing [that].”

 

            JOE PHILBIN

 

Asked about Matt Flynn, Philbin declined to assess whether he’s ready to be an NFL starter. He wouldn't discuss anything about Flynn, in fact.

With a quarterback, he said he’s “looking for a great decision maker, a leader, an accurate passer, a guy that has excellent game management skills, excellent pocket presence and awareness. We’re looking for a guy that can manage a team, lead a team, make good decisions at critical times.”

On quarterback: “We've talked a lot to evaluate every position. It will be a collaborative effort. No one person has all the answers. The dialogue has been excellent. We’re going to work fine together.”

On quarterbacks in the draft: “It looks like there’s some excellent prospects. On tape, there’s some very intriguing guys.  The quarterback is an important position – we have to have a player perform with success at that position. But we don’t have a mandate the player has to be a [certain age].”

He declined to say whether the offense would more resemble his or Mike Sherman’s at Texas A&M. (There were a lot of similarities). “We’re going to run the Miami Dolphins offense. It’s going to be a collaborative effort. Mike Sherman has great experience in the league. His offense at Texas A&M was extremely productive. We’ve got a good staff. They may let me have one idea or two. It’s important we all share a vision of how a player is going to function in the offense.”

 On the division: “Obviously, there are some excellent teams in the AFC East. We’ve been more focused on our own team, our own players. I have great respect for what they’ve accomplished in New England.”

On Ireland and the front office: “The biggest thing that’s comforting to me is he and his staff obviously have done their homework. They’re very detailed, very thorough. When your main function is coaching the team, knowing this staff is prepared. I feel very confident these guys are going to put us in a good position.

On Ireland, specifically: "You put your head down at night saying, 'Jesus, this guy is prepared.'”

On what he wants in an offensive lineman: “A guy who can stay on his feet, not be on the ground a whole lot. A guy with some quickness. A guy who can adjust a little.” He wants athletic offensive linemen; that much is clear.

On his receiver unit: “It’s a good group; they’re productive players; they all have a little different skill set; it’s good to have guys who can do different things. I’m excited about [that group].”

 He briefly met Jake Long, Brandon Marshall and others: “Very constructive, very positive. The thing I’m impressed with most is the character, desire. They seem willing to sacrifice to get to the accomplishment of the team goals first." 

On his incumbent tight ends: “I thought those guys performed well. In a perfect well, your tight end shows great versatility. Can block people, a defensive end, particularly in a one on one match. In a perfect world, he can attack the middle of the field vertically. And a guy that can lead on a linebacker or safety and create some separation. And he has to catch the ball. Somebody that can block and attack the middle of the field."

On what this team needs: “One of the big things we want to do defensively is create takeaways, disrupt the quarterback. Sometimes it’s real tight coverage in the secondary. Sometimes it’s exotic pressures. Sometimes it’s having a great rusher.”

On Reggie Bush: “The previous staff did a very good job with him. He did a lot of good things. You want the football in that guy’s hands. He can make guys miss and that’s a valuable commodity.”

 

 

 

 

February 21, 2012

Some former Canes in for "rude awakening"; plus Fins, Heat, Marlins

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Eight UM players will participate in the NFL Combine in Indianapolis beginning today, and they have a lot to prove. Green Bay Packers scout Alonzo Highsmith, the former UM star, said several Canes underclassmen made a mistake by turning pro.

"A lot of these kids are in for a rude awakening,” he said. “Maybe parents are telling them what they want to hear. I don’t think they’re getting good advice. After watching film, it was rather disappointing. I watched the Virginia and Boston College tape and I didn’t see many good players. Lamar Miller shows flashes of dynamic speed and ability, but that’s all I saw.”

Draft analysts Mel Kiper and Mike Mayock project Miller to go in the second round, and nobody is criticizing him for turning pro. But evaluators have questioned Marcus Forston and Olivier Vernon for leaving early. Tommy Streeter and Brandon Washington could go in the second or third round, but Highsmith said both could have used another year.

“Forston is always hurt and he didn’t have a body of work,” Highsmith said. “Vernon maybe has the potential, but I didn’t notice him that much. If you’re a second or third-round pick, you should be able to get off a block on third and seven.”

Streeter didn’t play much until last season. And Highsmith said, in general, “History shows one-year players with one-year stats are often busts in the NFL.”

Highsmith said, “I’m all for kids coming out if they can make money. But to be a sixth- or seventh-round pick, I don’t understand it. Some guys don’t want to work and think pro football is easy. You’ve got to be tough to play for Al Golden. If you’re not willing to put in the time, the easy way out is to leave. But do you know how hard it is to make an NFL team?”

One current player said besides financial incentive, some players simply didn’t want to go through Golden’s offseason conditioning program again. But UM was puzzled that all the underclassmen turned pro before getting their assessment back from the NFL’s draft review board.

### Highsmith likes senior Sean Spence, who could go in the second or third round. Among some other seniors, Kiper sees Travis Benjamin as a fifth-rounder but says Jacory Harris will go undrafted. Mayock expects Micanor Regis, who won’t be at the Combine, will be a mid-to-late round pick…. UM’s eight players in Indy: Miller, Spence, Washington, Vernon, Benjamin, Forston, Harris and Streeter.

### One NFC personnel man said his philosophy is to draft players who can help his team win a Super Bowl and he sees only two departing UM players that he feels strongly could – Miller and Spence (as a special teamer, and nickel package player).

Kiper said Forston “is going to drop significantly down” and Vernon is “way down the line as far as the defensive ends.” He said Streeter “could be a second-round pick if he tests out well from a speed standpoint.” The Patriots already have called Streeter to express interest, but the Dolphins haven’t, his father said.

Kiper said Washington, rated his third-best guard, played inconsistently at tackle in 2011 but “can end up going a little higher than he’s graded” because he can play either spot.

### FIU receiver T.Y. Hilton, projected in the fourth-round range, will be at the Combine but won’t do drills because of a quadriceps injury.

CHATTER

### Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, whose quarterback opinion carries great weight with GM Jeff Ireland, thinks highly of Green Bay’s Matt Flynn and Miami has interest in him if they don’t get Peyton Manning. But here’s a precautionary note pointed out to us about Flynn’s signature game (480 yards, six touchdowns against Detroit on Jan. 1): A lot of his damage was done against two defensive backs ranked in the bottom quarter of the league (Chris Harris and Alphonso Smith) and a cornerback (Chris Houston) who was limited that day because of injury. Plus, the Packers had 223 yards after catch. As expected, the Dolphins have shown no interest in re-signing free agent Chad Henne. Matt Moore will return and is due to earn $2.5 million.

### A coin flip with Carolina, scheduled for 7 a.m. Friday, will determine if Miami picks 8th or 9th. NFL Network will air it on tape, but the league says there's no live coverage and no media permitted to witness it…. Though Bengals safety Reggie Nelson is very much on the Dolphins radar, keep in mind that Cincinnati wants to keep him and has $60 million to spend in free agency.

### Yet another reason to admire Udonis Haslem’s relentless effort: Of the NBA’s top 15 players in rebounds-per-48-minutes, Haslem (14th at 14.9) is the only one shorter than 6-10. Coach Erik Spoelstra says he’s actually 6-7, not the listed 6-8…  

### The Jeremy Lin effect: Ticket of America’s Michael Lipman said courtside seats for Thursday’s Knicks-at-Heat game are selling for $6000 behind the basket, with one sideline courtside seat going to a rapper for $12,500 – both double what Lakers-at-Heat and the Celtics-at-Heat home opener commanded. Those sideline courtside seats cost $1500 to $2000 for most games. One went for $20,000 in the NBA Finals.

### Spoelstra insists he doesn’t “think the average fan sees” Joel Anthony’s value: “He does some things very few centers in this league can,” including on pick-and-rolls. The Heat allows two points less per game, over 48 minutes, with Anthony playing compared with when he's not. Because he's often on the floor with The Big Three, the Heat averages three points more with him in the game -- despite his serious offensive limitations.

### Marlins reliever Edward Mujica, a friend of Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez), said Oviedo doesn’t expect to receive a visa to return to the U.S. until after March 1. The Marlins won’t be surprised if he’s suspended by commissioner Bud Selig after he gets a visa. If they can’t trade him shortly after his reinstatement, they believe he will have value near the July 31 trade deadline, despite his $6 million salary… Perennial disappointment Sean West, once the top lefty prospect in the Marlins’ system, is the only borderline roster candidate who’s out of minor league options, meaning if he doesn’t beat out Wade LeBlanc for the No. 12 job on the pitching staff, another team could claim him.

Nevin Shapiro update; two figures speak under oath; NCAA made aware

       

 

The attorney for convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro said the NCAA has been given a deposition in which former University of Miami assistant football equipment manager Sean Allen confirmed some of Shapiro’s allegations against UM but denied others.

Shapiro’s attorney, Maria Elena Perez, was permitted to depose Allen and Shapiro’s former business partner Michael Huyghue in mid-December, before UM and the bankruptcy trustee reached an $83,000 settlement days later.

As part of that agreement, no former UM players can be asked to testify, under oath, about Shapiro. If Perez attempts to depose anyone else involved the case, UM could challenge it legally. And the NCAA has no subpoena power, though current university employees are required to speak to NCAA officials.

Whereas Allen’s testimony could both help and hurt UM, Huyghue did not say anything significant under oath that would implicate the school, according to a source with direct knowledge of the deposition.

In Allen’s deposition, obtained by Miami New Times, Allen told the bankruptcy trustee that he has no knowledge of Shapiro giving DeQuan Jones’ family $10,000 to ensure that he stuck by his commitment to UM – among the most damaging of Shapiro’s claims. Allen also said he has no knowledge of Shapiro buying cars or prostitutes for players, as Shapiro alleged.

Allen confirmed in the deposition that Shapiro gave him $3000 to take Ray Ray Armstrong, Dyron Dye and Andre Dubose to a strip club during their UM recruiting trip. Armstrong and Dye signed with Miami eventually, while DuBose opted for UF.

Allen confirmed that dozens of players took improper gifts from Shapiro, mostly in the form of parties at Mansion or partying with him on his yacht. That group included Devin Hester, Jon Beason and Kyle Wright, among others.

Allen also confirmed former Central quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey visited Shapiro’s suite and had dinner at Benihana’s, at Shapiro’s expense.

Allen, who worked as Shapiro’s personal aid from late 2007 to 2008, told The New Times that he spoke to the NCAA last spring but did not answer a lot of their questions. “There was truth in what Nevin told Yahoo, but it was blown way out of proportion,” Allen said.

Perez told The Miami Herald in December that she planned to send Allen’s deposition to the NCAA. On Tuesday, she said via text message, “The NCAA has had the Sean Allen depo and their view is that Mr. Allen was not being forthcoming.”

The NCAA declines to comment on individual cases, but Allen’s attorney, Devang Desai, said Perez “ought to look at her client before disparaging mine.” Desai also said he objects to Perez sharing the deposition with the NCAA because Allen has not been given the deposition transcript to review and finalize.

Shapiro alleged that he and Huyghue operated a sports agency that gave gifts to UM players while recruiting them. Huyghue consistently has denied Shapiro’s claims of wrongdoing.

Shapiro, serving a 20-year sentence for engineering an $880 million Ponzi scheme, reiterated recently that he remains determined to hurt the UM football program and he has shared damaging allegations with the NCAA that have not been made public. But according to multiple UM sources, the school is not aware of any new allegations, and there is skepticism about Shapiro’s claims to the contrary.