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.
### 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.''