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25 posts from February 2012

February 20, 2012

10 notes on a Monday: Streaking Wade, Heat; Dolphins QB competition

 Ten notes on a Monday:

### Heat guard Dwyane Wade, playing extraordinarily efficiently on offense, has made at least half his shots in every one of his last 10 games. If he does it again Tuesday against Sacramento, he will tie his personal record for his longest such streak, set as a rookie.

Wade has hit 94 of 166 shots during this stretch, equal to 56.6 percent.

Even with a player as great as Wade is, he admitted Monday he “needed” this to happen “confidence-wise. We all know we live in a world of ‘What have you done for me lately?’”

Wade’s shooting percentage is now up to 49.7, above his career mark of 48.5. He’s averaging 22.1 points – less than his 25.4 career average heading into the season – but he’s obviously shooting less.

### The Heat’s six consecutive wins by double digits is still three off the franchise record, set last year. Only the 07-08 Rockets, 03-04 Nets and 46-47 Capitals won at least 10 straight by 10 or more.

But Wade said, “We’re playing good, not great.” And he said the players want to reach the level of “great.”

Of all the blowouts, LeBron James said Monday, “The way we’re playing right now, if we can continue, we won’t have any close games.”

The lopsided scores have meant more rest for James and Wade in the fourth quarter. “I’m getting tired of sitting down in the fourth quarter, personally,” James said, clearing joking. “It’s messing up my averages.”

Erik Spoelstra, who points to fewer turnovers as one reason for the recent roll, said the mission now is “to continue to stay humble and try to get another level.” He dismissed the notion that the Heat might be peaking too early (a theory that has never made much sense to me).

### The Heat is raising season-ticket prices by an average of 7.75 percent.

### The Dolphins had a discussion with the representative for former Oakland cornerback Stanford Routt but decided not to pursue him before he signed with Kansas City on Monday.

 ### New Dolphins and former CFL running back Jerome Messam, who attended Graceland in Iowa, said several NFL teams showed interest in him but the only Dolphins maintained strong interest after a knee injury in the playoffs.

Messam originally committed to Rutgers, but was ruled academically ineligible. He has had several off-field issues: He was suspended by British Columbia – before his trade to Edmonton last year – for having a negative impact, which included breaking the jaw of teammate Paris Jackson in a locker-room fight and bringing a woman into his dorm. He was arrested for an altercation at a nightclub in 2010.

The Dolphins, not particularly concerned, have given him a non-guaranteed deal, suggesting they’re far from certain he will make the team.

### Seattle is viewed as a prime challenger to the Dolphins for both Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn, but Seahawks general manager John Schneider warned Seattle reporters this week not to assume the team will make a major splash at the position.

"I just know if you panic at that position, it can set the organization back,” he said. “So we’re not going to do that. That might disappoint fans, because they want to see an instant guy. But really, you’re better off continuing to build your team.”

Schneider previously worked in Green Bay and has ties to Flynn.

### Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett denied telling a pastor the team’s plans at quarterback during a private conversation, but the story has created a stir in Washington. The pastor, a Redskins fan, posted on a fan website that Haslett told him that the team is interested in Manning, will not pursue Flynn and has already exploring trading up in the draft to grab Robert Griffin III.

### ESPN’s Todd McShay has the Dolphins drafting South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram with its top pick April 26.

### Marlins executive Larry Beinfest, on a couple of issues: 1) He said “there’s not one dissenter in the organization who didn’t think Hanley Ramirez could play third base very well.” 2) He said this spring “will be an opportunity to put Chris Coghlan on the map again.” But he will face heavy competition from Aaron Rowand, Austin Kearns, Scott Cousins and Bryan Peterson for one of two open reserve outfield jobs.

Coghlan, the 2009 rookie of the year, began running this week after November knee surgery. Beinfest said he will be fine for spring training, but there's always extra caution with a knee, and Coghlan's has been a problem since sustaining the injury in a 2010 pie-in-the-face incident. He hit .230 last year before being demoted to Triple A and spending time on the disabled list.

### Free agent Pudge Rodriguez would love to finish his career here, but the Marlins have said they will not add any more big-name veterans. They’re apparently content with Brett Hayes as John Buck’s backup.

      

February 18, 2012

Marlins' rotation has much to prove; plus Fins notes, LeBron, UM

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

The Marlins' $55 million starting rotation reports to spring training on Wednesday with encouraging news (Josh Johnson said his shoulder his fine), but also questions, including how Ricky Nolasco and Carlos Zambrano rebound from down years. Some early chatter:

### The Marlins expect far more from Nolasco, who exasperated by yielding the most hits in the National League (244 in 206 innings) and the third-most earned runs (107) – all after being given a three-year, $27 million extension. Nolasco privately was criticized by two former Marlins managers, one questioning his work ethic.

Here’s what’s worrisome: The batting average against him rose every year since 2008 – from .239, to .259 to .273 to .295 in 2011, when he finished 10-12.

Yes, he doesn’t issue many walks, but his strikeouts plunged from 195 in ‘09 to 148 last year. He had a 6.21 ERA after the All-Star break, including one game when he gave up nine runs before recording five outs. And it’s hard to explain last year’s .446 average against him when he’s ahead 0-1 in the count.

“He’s gotten out of shape and his delivery got out of whack,” one National League scout said. “He needs to rededicate himself. He was a No. 2 starter, but now he’s a No. 4. With what they’re paying him, that’s not good enough.”

Former Marlins pitcher Al Leiter said Nolasco is “upsetting to watch, his demeanor and execution.”

Here’s the good news: Nolasco, who will earn $9 million in 2012 and $11.5 million in 2013, said he worked out more strenuously than ever this offseason and lost close to 15 pounds. “Just a bad year,” he said of 2011. “I want to get back to where I was.”

Marlins executive Larry Beinfest predicts: “He’ll come back and be great. The E.R.A. has never been sparkling” – under 4.50 just once in the past five years – “but he’s always found a way to win.”

### Zambrano’s season ended in mid-August, when the Cubs placed him on the disqualified list after he was ejected from a game, cleaned out his locker and said he was retiring. Before that, he posted his highest ERA since 2001 – 4.82, more than a run above his 3.60 career mark. He allowed more hits than innings pitched for the first time (154 in 145). The Cubs, who received Chris Volstad from the Marlins, were so eager to dump him that they agreed to pay $15 million of his $18 million salary this year.

“We’re going with Ozzie Guillen on this one,” Beinfest said. “He believes in Carlos. The fastball wasn’t 96, like five or six years ago, but it still sat in the low 90s, 94 at times. His stuff is still plenty good enough to win.” And he hit 97 playing in Venezuela this offseason.

Zambrano’s temper is a concern, but much less so playing for Guillen, who’s a friend. “Is he crazy? Yes,” Guillen said. “He did a lot of bad things in Chicago. He was out of hand. He was kind of like phony. But Carlos is a great guy. He’s healthy. He’s hungry. He’s going to show people.”

Said Zambrano: “I’m real happy to play for Ozzie. He's a mentor to me. The only thing I have to prove is to keep myself in control. God has changed my mentality.”

Don’t overlook that he’s had nine straight winning seasons; only Tim Hudson and C.C. Sabathia have longer ongoing streaks. And he’s often clutch: Batters hit 5 for 49 against him (.102) with the bases loaded over the past three years, and .208 with two outs and runners in scoring position. The bad news? Since 2009, no teams gave him more trouble than Atlanta (.373) and Philadelphia (.321), who stand in the Marlins' way of winning the NL East.

### The Marlins opted not to make a multi-year offer to Anibal Sanchez, eager to see if he stays healthy and duplicates his 3.67 ERA. “I’m OK with that,” he said. “I’m happy.” He would have been better than 8-9 last year with more run support, but Jack McKeon grew frustrated with him during a rough stretch in July (6.75 ERA) and August (5.04).

The Marlins mentioned his inconsistency and past injuries during arbitration, but Sanchez won anyway and will make $8 million. He has only a 39-38 career mark but could command $10 million or more a year next winter, when he will potentially be as attractive as any free agent pitcher excluding Cole Hamels, Matt Cain and Zack Greinke.

“Let him keep performing – we like paying for performance,” Marlins president David Samson said, insisting the Marlins want to keep him. Asked if he wants to stay longterm, Sanchez said, "I don't know."

### Johnson? Obviously no worries if he stays healthy. Same with Mark Buehrle, who’s a proven winner, with 13 wins three straight years and an ERA over 4.00 just once in the past five. The only red flag: He has faded late in the year, with a 5.51 ERA and .328 batting average against in the past three Septembers.

DOLPHINS CHATTER

### San Diego coach Norv Turner told us a mobile quarterback is “the key thing” in the offense that Joe Philbin likes and used in Green Bay, because “he makes a lot of plays with his feet.” Matt Flynn has that. But top target Peyton Manning, resourceful inside the pocket, isn’t very mobile out of it. Philbin and Mike Sherman, who uses a West Coast style offense, would need to change their offense to accommodate him.

“You need to install with him just what he did in Indy,” NFL coaching legend Joe Gibbs told The Washington Post. “It needs to be that offense.” Gibbs indicated teams should not “put him in a West Coast offense.”

### Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle says Karlos Dansby would be well-suited for middle linebacker when Miami uses a 4-3 defense (“a fine athlete, a big man that can run”) and Cameron Wake would be “very successful” moving from linebacker to defensive end in a 4-3, noting he would have even more pass-rush chances. Coyle expects to use both the 4-3 and 3-4 but said he doesn't know what Miami's base defense will be.

### Word last week, according to the Houston Chronicle, is that the Texans are unlikely to place a franchise tag on top free agent pass rusher Mario Williams because they probably can't absorb the $22.9 million cap hit, though they want to find a way to re-sign him. Finding a pass rusher is a huge Dolphins priority, but it would be unrealistic to expect Miami to be able to afford both Williams and Manning, unless a lot more cap space can be cleared. We hear Miami would love to clear more than the $15 million it has, likely by restucturing contracts.

### In his second mock draft released Friday, ESPN's Mel Kiper reiterates Iowa right tackle Riley Reiff as the Dolphins' pick (either No. 8 or No. 9). "Reiff's tape was exceptional this past season and given how complete he is right now, stepping in immediately on the right side shouldn't be a problem."

CHATTER 

### Tidbits: The Marlins haven’t bid for coveted Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler because they believe he’s much further away from the majors than Oakland-bound Yoenis Cespedes…. Agent Bill Duffy said center Joel Pryzbilla is still trying to decide between the Heat and Bulls. There's also a possibility he might not play at all. The Heat also hopes the Hornets buy out Chris Kaman if they can’t trade him by the March 15 deadline.... Belle Glades five-star junior running back Kelvin Taylor, who surpassed Emmitt Smith as the state's all-time rushing leader, orally committed to the Gators on Saturday.

### To appreciate how impressive LeBron James’ 54.6 shooting percentage is, consider this: Since 1990, only two other starting small forwards or guards have shot as well over a full season: Chris Mullin in 1996-97 and Ronnie Brewer (who shot a lot less) in ’07-08. James, who entered this season as a career 47.9 percent shooter, has shot well above his career average in 10-to-15 footers (47.8 percent). Plus, he has shot three-pointers not only better (39 percent) but less often.

James, incidentally, denied a Yahoo report on Friday that he months ago relayed to Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert, through an emissary, that he's open to playing for the Cavaliers again. "Not true, not true at all," James said after Friday's game.

### To put in perspective what the Heat just accomplished, consider that Miami is only the second team to win five games in a row, all on the road and all by a double-digit margin, according to Elias. The only other: the Knicks in November 1969.

### UM expects Jimmy Gaines, Kelvin Cain, Gionni Paul and Josh Witt to battle for the middle linebacker job, but Paul is on crutches and out indefinitely with a knee injury. Before he got hurt, defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio said Paul had made progress and he named Paul as one of the players he was eager to see this spring. Spring practice begins March 3, with the spring game at 2 p.m. April 14 at Sun Life Stadium.

 

 

    

February 17, 2012

Mixed reaction to Shaq's TV work, plus other media notes

MEDIA NOTES ON A FRIDAY 

 

The challenge for TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal in his new career has been tricky: Trying to blend a larger-than-life personality into a studio show that already has another enormous star in Charles Barkley.

So far, the road for Shaq has been bumpy – promising at times, disappointing at others.

O’Neal walks a fine line here. He’s too big a star, too large an ego, to ask him to limit his comments to very short sound bites. But Barkley remains "Inside the NBA's" most engaging and popular personality, and O’Neal has gone overboard by speaking excessively on a few occasions, and acting too much like the class clown at other times. Barkley, in fact, recently kidded Shaq about taking too much of his air time during a halftime segment.

In Shaq's defense, he has developed better chemistry with Barkley and Kenny Smith in recent weeks, and made several valid observations, such as the need for Blake Griffin to drive to the basket more and settle for fewer jump shots.

But at other times, O’Neal has merely spewed remarks that are either obvious or, in some cases, highly questionable. Shaq, for example, said Rajon Rondo “is the best point guard in the game.” To which Barkley had the perfect retort: “Is Derrick Rose dead?”

And O’Neal said “if the Kings play” like they did against Oklahoma City, “they should be in the running for the playoffs.” But they generally don’t. And even if they played better, it’s difficult to envision them challenging for a playoff berth in a conference loaded with teams over .500.

On Thursday, when he was asked by Ernie Johnson to pick a winner in a potential Heat-Bulls playoff series, Shaq refused, saying only that it would be a great series. Gee, thanks for nothing.

Shaq also keeps threatening to set himself on fire, which isn't quite as funny as he seems to think it is. O'Neal loves to laugh at his own jokes, but his humor is more forced than Barkley's.

Our advice to Shaq: Resist any urge to try to be the center of attention. Pick your spots, and understand that Barkley is the main reason viewers tune in. And make sure you consistently deliver real insight, not something most viewers already know.

JAWORSKI REACTION

ESPN’s decision to remove Ron Jaworski from its Monday night booth, and re-assign him to the studio, was ill-conceived for several reasons:

### Jaworski offered smart, sensible analysis, and the lively exchanges with Jon Gruden made for good television.

### Gruden has done nothing to deserve a larger role. As we explained in a column two weeks ago, he made some head-scratching comments that weren’t supported by replay or fact. Too often, he uses the word "great" - which ESPN executives have cautioned him about.

### Jaworski will be an asset on ESPN’s Sunday and Monday pre-game marathons, but both shows are already crowded enough. Does ESPN need seven analysts in the Sunday studio? Isn’t that a fire hazard?

From all indications, Gruden did not push for the move. “I understand there are times players have to put their faith in coaches and other decision makers who are trying to position a team for success, and that’s what I’m doing here,” Gruden said in a statement.

Incidentally, Monday Night Football will have a two-man booth for just the sixth time in its 42-year history.

 

MARLINS EXPOSURE

Despite all the fanfare over the Marlins, they do not appear on ESPN’s partial Sunday night schedule. That’s odd, considering the Washington Nationals will play in two of the 10 games already finalized. But ESPN will carry the Marlins’ April 4 opener against St. Louis (a Wednesday) and might add one Sunday night game: July 1 vs. Philadelphia.

Fox has the Marlins scheduled for three Saturday regional games: May 12 against the Mets and prime time on June 9 and 16 against Tampa. Fox will televise Saturday night games for eight consecutive weeks, beginning May 19.

### CBS' on-line streaming of NCAA Tournament games will remain free, but some fans - including those without TNT, TBS or truTV - will need to pay $3.99 (in total) to watch all NCAA Tournament games on-line, via mobile devices and tablet.

 

 

   

February 15, 2012

Mike Mayock talks quarterbacks, Dolphins draft; CFL back signs with Miami

Some snippets, of Dolphins interest, from NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock’s conference call Wednesday:

 

### He raised questions about Packers free agent backup quarterback Matt Flynn, who’s on the Dolphins’ radar. Mayock said “the league has a minimal amount of tape” on Flynn and that the NFL didn’t think that much of him coming out of LSU, when he was a seventh-round pick.

Mayock also wondered aloud about how much of Flynn’s success in two starts with Green Bay is the result of the talent around him.

And Mayock raised this question: “Over eight, 10 games when the league has a chance to get tape on Matt Flynn, how effective will he be?”

### Mayock said, “I love everything” about Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and said Cleveland is the “logical” trade partner to acquire the No. 2 pick from St. Louis. Mayock believes if the Browns offer the fourth and 22nd picks in the first round, that would be fair value for a trade-up. “If I was the Rams, I’d be ecstatic with that deal.”

If the Browns make that offer, it’s difficult to envision the Dolphins having enough ammunition to pull off a trade with St. Louis.

### Jake Locker and Christian Ponder rose into the top 12 of the first round in last year’s draft, and Mayock said “the same thing could happen with Ryan Tannehill.”

“He hasn’t started as many games as I’d like from a first-round quarterback, but I think he will be a first-round quarterback,” Mayock said. “He’s got everything you want – size, arm strength, a really good athlete. What I don’t like is he waits for routes to develop before he throws.”

Tannehill, who played for new Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman at Texas A&M, was a receiver earlier in this college career and had just 20 starts at quarterback at A&M. If the Dolphins don’t get Peyton Manning or Flynn, they conceivably could trade down in the first round to get Tannehill and another pick. Or they could pick him at No. 9, though that would be awfully high; Mel Kiper, for one, doesn't even consider him a first-rounder.

### Though Mayock said Iowa’s Riley Reiff “would make sense” for Miami with the eighth or ninth pick, “I find it hard to take a right tackle at 8 or 9.” He said Georgia’ Cordy Glenn or Mississippi’s Bobby Massie would be second-round tackle options. (Kiper has Glenn pegged as a first-round guard.)

### He said a case could be made for Miami to draft South Carolina defensive end/linebacker Melvin Ingram with its top pick, though “it’s probably a little high” for him.

### In an unrelated note, both encouraging and discouraging reports continue to surface about Manning. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reiterated Manning is throwing well and making progress. But Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks reported Wednesday that it is “nearly inevitable” that Manning will require more surgery at some point, and that he has potentially developed bone spurs in his neck.

### As expected, the Dolphins signed running back Jerome Messam, who ran for 1057 yards and averaged 5.4 per carry for the Edmonton Eskimos last year, his second season in the CFL. He went undrafted out of Graceland in Iowa, and isn't nearly as coveted a prospect as Cameron Wake was when Wake joined the Dolphins out of the CFL.

 

 

 

     

February 14, 2012

The world, according to Ozzie Guillen; plus Shaq on Heat; Dolphins, Canes

 

We received an early reminder this week how Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen will amuse and entertain and speak more brashly and boldly than any leader of a South Florida team since Pat Riley. Ten Guillen musings from Marlins Media Day:

### Guillen made clear “I expect to win the division” and vows to “change the mentality” here: “This is not going to be the ball club we’ve had in the past” where the approach has been, “OK, Let’s go play the season and see what happens.’ With the talent they have, I expect to win. I’m not going to say, ‘I expect to win the World Series.’ That’s kind of arrogant.’” But he says he sees no holes in his team.

### He won’t accept players criticizing teammates. “If you are going to talk [badly] about your teammate, be ready for the biggest fight because I will fight you.” He said he never throws the first punch (figuratively), but when he throws the second, “I want to draw blood.”

### When can fans expect Guillen to go off on one of his players (in the media or face to face)? “If my players play fine, it’s going to be a quiet season. I told guys, ‘I’m very fun to play for.’ But if things don’t go right, you will feel it, because I demand people play the game the right way. At some point, they will love me. At some point, they will hate me. Some players hate me; I'll hate them, too.... But I respect all my players. I don’t care how much you make. I will treat everyone the same way.”

For Guillen, the key to managing players “is communication, respect, loyalty. Make sure you’re telling the truth, good or bad.” Among his very few rules: "If you're not there for the National Anthem, you're in trouble. You better respect" the country.

### He said “the people in Venezuela [are] betting to see when’s the first time me and [hothead pitcher Carlos Zambrano] are going to fight. They will lose,” said Guillen, who lobbied the Marlins front office to acquire him. “It’s fun to see Carlos upset.” But “if Carlos throws at somebody without my permission, then we’re going to have a problem…. If you’re upset because you suck, pitch better.”

### Guillen loves comparing winning and losing. For example, the Marlins’ new uniforms “look bad. But if we win, these are going to be the best uniforms in sports.” And… “if you win and [Logan Morrison] tweets a stupid thing, then people think it’s funny. If you lose, and LoMo tweets a stupid thing, people think it’s stupid.”

### He warned any Marlins player who doesn’t like the bigger crowds and extra media attention: “If they don’t think it’s a good thing, let me know in April and we’ll get them out of here.”

### Want a less emotional Guillen? Forget it. “I’m 48 and I’m not going to change. My wife tried to change me and she can’t. Miami is not going to change me…. I don’t know how many times people have told me I’m crazy.” Be prepared to hear the word ‘crazy’ a lot. He said people in baseball who used to criticize the Marlins for not spending now “say [we’re] all crazy people. We can’t make everybody happy.’”

### Guillen must be the only person in sports who says “it will be fun to see me thrown out” and who admits, “I’d rather be rich than have rings.” But “when you have both, it’s nicer.”

### He said “Hanley Ramirez for me is just like LeBron James. If something is wrong with the Heat, it’s LeBron’s fault. Now, and every time the Marlins lose, it’s Oswaldo Guillen’s fault. It’s not the fault of any of the players. That’s the responsibility I have.”

### Final word from Ozzie: “If I was Hanley Ramirez, I’d be the happiest man on Earth. You got Emilio Bonifacio and Jose Reyes hitting in front of you, and Mike Stanton hit behind you. You have a chance to have a great year. Prove to people you’re the man.”

He said third base “will be easier for Hanley” than shortstop, adding (completely in jest) he won’t be at as much risk “to kick balls in the outfield.”

 

 

CHATTER

### Dolphins employees have been thoroughly impressed by new coach Joe Philbin, saying he’s more friendly and approachable than Tony Sparano. Philbin, in a classy move, already has reached out to Don Shula… There’s curiousity internally in seeing how the new staff deals with Brandon Marshall. Some players thought the former staff looked the other way when he did foolish things (like spiking a ball off Vontae Davis’ face)…. How eager are the Dolphins to boost ticket sales? They’ve lowered lower bowl corner seats by $12 per game and some upper level sideline seats by $15 per game. All other prices have stayed the same. 

### Even though Shaquille O’Neal concurred that the Heat is the front-runner to win the title, Shaq and Steve Kerr voiced similar concerns to me on a TNT call Tuesday. “I worry about the fourth quarter execution,” Kerr said. “Late in games, they still have a tendency to go to bad habits when they isolate and settle.” Kerr also wonders whether the Heat can handle the "enormous pressure" during the playoffs.

Shaq told The Herald: "They have what it takes to get there, but can they close? Can they become consistent in the fourth quarter? Can they make the right plays. They're one of the top teams. We'll see. Orlando is going to be there in the East. Atlanta is still going to be there. Can't forget about Chicago. Boston is going to make the playoffs."

### Unusual scene at UM Monday night, where basketball coach Jim Larranaga and his players were wandering the halls of dorms, giving out free pizza and imploring fans to attend Wednesday’s big North Carolina game. Unfortunately, several students could not identify the coach. Is he disappointed in the low home attendance (4423 average in ACC games)? No, he said, because “you’re not surprised.” Getting a big fan base “is going to take a while and we’ve got to win a lot.”

### It would help Wednesday if Malcolm Grant shakes out of his puzzling, prolonged shooting slump (down to 34 percent for the season and 30.8 on threes). “This has been maybe a more difficult transition for [Grant and Durand Scott] than they anticipated,” Larranaga said. Grant agrees: “We were used to having the ball the majority of the time. Now Shane Larkin does. But coach yells at me at the top of his lungs if I don’t shoot.”

 

 

 

   

February 13, 2012

With Showtime, Ozzie and more, Marlins become "a walking distraction"

MONDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE, on the Marlins and Showtime's reality series about them: 

The Marlins, who have gone about their business under the radar for years, are sliding head-first toward the opposite extreme, not only by constructing a team that has created a national buzz heading into the 2012 season but also by granting behind-the-scenes access to a national cable channel that will chronicle the team’s journey.

The metamorphosis, which began with an off-season spending spree that landed three high-priced free agents, continued Monday with the expected announcement that the Marlins will be featured in the second season of Showtime’s reality series, The Franchise.

“It’s a complete change,” Marlins president David Samson said. “Our franchise has undergone a complete transformation on and off the field. And now it’s going to be in front of a national TV audience for them to witness. We’ve always said we’re in the entertainment business and we have a lot of fun and we think it’s some interesting TV.”

Showtime said there will be at least six episodes and potentially more, that will air weekly beginning immediately after the All-Star break in mid-July. Showtime said it hasn't been decided if the episodes will be 30 or 60 minutes.

“It’s not like [Showtime said], ‘Let’s do a soap opera,’” Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. “I think you should feel good about it. They’re not going to pick a boring team or a team people don’t want to watch. We have a lot of talent. That the reason they gave it to us.”

Showtime Entertainment president David Nevins said the Marlins are “ideal” for the series because they “are full of big player personalities and led by a larger than life Ozzie Guillen. The Franchise has worked for us because it appeals to both the hardcore sports fan as well as audiences interested in compelling unscripted drama.”

There will be very little sacred or secret when Showtime cameras are rolling. Samson said the network will have permission to tape closed-door meetings involving himself, Guillen, owner Jeffrey Loria, executive vice president Larry Beinfest and general manager Michael Hill. Those meetings will involve what player moves should be made, among other topics.

Samson said Showtime also will have access to “all the things that go on between me and Larry and Mike during the course of a game, when decisions are being made, all the off-field things that go into running a baseball team, opening up a new ballpark.”

The Marlins have no veto power over what Showtime can use.

The big issue is this: Could the constant presence of cameras rolling create a distraction?

“Distraction is not really a word in our vocabulary,” Samson said. “When Ozzie is your manager, and the team we have and the new ballpark, we are a walking distraction. It’s up to our players and our front office to get past that and realize we need to win on the field. We don’t have too many shy characters on this team.”

Samson said he told players – and Showtime will reiterate it - that “we made a decision to allow cameras into our life for better or for worse. There are going to be people who laugh at some things that happen, and people who frown at some things that happen, and people who question why we would do it.

“And the answer, we’ve always said, is we’re not solving the Middle East peace process. We are not curing fatal diseases. We are running a Major League Baseball team, which is here to entertain people and win games.’’

Samson said when MLB and Showtime approached the Marlins with the idea, “they had me at hello.”

But the deal became official only after receiving approval from the player’s association. Samson said he spoke to catcher John Buck, the Marlins’ union representative, and “a bunch of our players and explained to them we needed their approval and wanted it.”

Buck said he expects some Marlins players “will love it. Some guys won’t really like it. It depends on what your personality is…. I’d rather not have a camera in my face all the time. Now the only difference is they may try to get you to do more things, maybe have some cameras into your personal life. Sometimes that can be good, sometimes bad.”

The Marlins are convinced the TV series will help their marketing and branding efforts.

“If we want to be dominating in Latin America and be a dominant force in this game around the league, it doesn’t just happen on the field,” Samson said. “It has to happen off the field as well. Every time our Q rating increases, it makes being a Marlin cool.  It’s been 10 years of struggle in that, and all of this happening in our relaunch year is the perfect year.”

Samson knows how he wants the series to end: “With us in a pile at the end of the season,” he said of a World Series victory celebration.  “That’s how the script has been written.”

### Couple notes from the Marlins media day: Larry Beinfest said Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez will be fine, health-wise, to start spring training. Logan Morrison and Chris Coghlan, coming off knee procedures, also are expected to be cleared for the start of workouts…

Is Guillen convinced Ramirez is 100 percent on board with moving to third base? “Not yet,” he said. “I expect him to be 100 percent when we play St. Louis” in the April 4 regular-season opener. He reiterated “this is Hanley’s team” and said he doesn’t expect him to win a Gold Glove at third base…

Team executives expressed very mild disappointment about Yoenis Cespedes signing with Oakland, but Guillen said Emilio Bonifacio was going to be his starting center fielder regardless of whether Cespedes signed.

 

 

           

 

         

February 11, 2012

NCAA investigation update: Nevin Shapiro rants from prison; UM optimistic

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

 

As he sits behind a computer in a New Orleans prison, the rage still boils inside Nevin Shapiro.

The angry e-mails this winter paint the picture of a man determined to destroy the UM football program. But UM remains optimistic he won’t be nearly as successful as he claims he will be.

“The public is going to hate me worse in the next coming months,” Shapiro, serving a 20-year sentence for a Ponzi scheme, wrote in numerous e-mails over the past few months. “It’s going to be severe and catastrophic. My feelings are getting inflamed and I’m going to pop off pretty soon with regards to them and the NCAA. I’m coming for them both [UM and former players] and I’m going to be successful.

“I’m taking that program down to Chinatown and the former players and links to that program. Why? Because the U.S. government lined up 47 former players to testify against me in open court if I went to trial. That in itself is motivation to shove it up their collective [butts].”

Nobody at UM believes Shapiro when he claims “UM is getting the death penalty or damn close to it.” The NCAA isn’t commenting on its investigation, which began last March, but here’s what people are saying, including UM administrators and Board of Trustee members:

### The NCAA has not told UM what punishment to expect, but there’s cautious optimism. UM’s understanding is the NCAA will dismiss any of Shapiro’s claims that it cannot corroborate and is highly skeptical about some of his allegations. Many of them have not been corroborated.

One top UM official said if Shapiro were under oath, UM could punch holes in much of what he says. UM expects to hear from the NCAA by early summer.

### One UM official said he expects “one more bowl ban, maybe two at most” plus undetermined scholarship losses. But that’s speculative, because UM hasn’t been told anything on either issue. Some are hopeful of escaping further bowl bans after last year’s self-imposed one.

### Al Golden said: “We think the worst is behind us. The [current] coaches and 95 percent of the players weren’t here when that thing went on. There’s a shift by the NCAA to go after the perpetrators and that’s not us.”

### Surprisingly, the NCAA hasn’t contacted many former players implicated by Shapiro. Samuel Shields said his son Sam, whom Shapiro claimed he gave a television, was never called by the NCAA and said Shapiro’s allegation is false.

The school believes none of the former Canes, excluding those still attending college elsewhere, are talking to the NCAA. The NCAA called several college players who aren’t at UM; some gave information that could hurt UM but others, such as ex-Cane Storm Johnson did not. Johnson, now at UCF, told the NCAA he had no contact with Shapiro, his father said. (Remember, only current college players, current coaches and current college employees are required to speak to the NCAA; all others are not.)

### Former UM basketball coaches Frank Haith, Jake Morton and Jorge Fernandez denied wrongdoing to NCAA investigators and claimed no knowledge of Morton’s alleged payoff intended for DeQuan Jones’ family, according to friends. The NCAA hasn’t corroborated the Jones allegation. "DeQuan Jones didn't do anything wrong, but that won't stop the proof of the cash payouts to Morton, with Haith's knowledge," Shapiro e-mailed. The NCAA apparently has no such proof, as of this time.

### Former assistant football coach Joe Pannunzio, now at Alabama, said he would do nothing to implicate UM, according to a friend, though one active player told the NCAA that Pannunzio was to blame for taking him to Shapiro. More problematic is Louisville assistant Clint Hurtt, who was implicated by several players for providing lodging during recruiting trips.... Also still problematic, among other things: Shapiro's co-ownership in a sports agency that signed Vince Wilfork and Jon Beason and recruited lots of others. But his partner, Michael Huyghue, has disputed Shapiro's claims and denied NCAA violations. 

### The owner of one prominent local business where Shapiro allegedly took players said he did not return the NCAA’s call. Fashion Clothiers owner Shelly Bloom said the NCAA hasn’t called him, notable because Yahoo! claiming Bloom confirmed that Shapiro spent thousands of dollars on suits and clothing for Devin Hester, Tavares Gooden and Willis McGahee. Bloom disputed that Yahoo portrayal, saying he didn’t know for whom Shapiro bought the clothing.

### Shapiro said “114 is the true number” of players he has implicated “and that’s what the NCAA is working off” – not the 72 mentioned by Yahoo! But aside from the eight who were disciplined last year, allegations against many will be difficult or impossible to prove.

### Shapiro spoke of claims that have not “been brought to light yet” and that “the NCAA is aware and involved.” If there are such claims, UM people we spoke with aren’t aware of them.

### After a December agreement ensured that no current or former UM players will be asked to testify in front of the bankruptcy trustee, Shapiro said the former players “are going to have to tell the truth, but it’s not going to be [to] a trustee.” He has suggested UM players will be required to speak to the government.

But Michael Ward, who’s in charge of Newark’s FBI division (which investigated Shapiro's Ponzi scheme), said Shapiro’s allegations “against the players would not rise to the level of a federal crime. There is no FBI investigation of Shapiro’s allegations.”

Overall, Shapiro sounds like a desperate man, willing to say anything to exact revenge and still furious that "once the [ex-UM] players turned pro, they turned their back on me.'' Incredibly, he says of himself, "I'm more of a victim than a Ponzi schemer and assailant." The federal government doesn't see it that way.

A member of the Federal Department of Justice said Shapiro, 42, must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence, equal to 17 years, for orchestrating the $930 million Ponzi scheme. He pled guilty, in September 2010, to one count of securities fraud and one count of money laudering. 

CHATTER

### Carl Peterson’s friends say even though he and Stephen Ross discussed an executive position with the Dolphins, Ross would not give Peterson a title that would put him over CEO Mike Dee and GM Jeff Ireland because of faith in both. That eliminated any chance of it happening.

### One prominent NFL agent predicts the Dolphins and Redskins are the most likely to make the highest bids for Peyton Manning (health provided), but NBC’s Peter King expects Redskins executive Bruce Allen will tell owner Dan Snyder, “I’m not going to screw up my salary cap unless his physical comes back perfect.” Said King: Dolphins owner “Stephen Ross is most likely to give him whatever he wants, including the keys to his house.” Besides the Dolphins, Redskins, Cardinals and Jets, keep an eye on Seattle, which has a lot of cap space.

###  Though much was made of Larry Bird’s comments that he would take Kobe Bryant over LeBron James “if you want to win and win and win,” Bird also predicted James “is going to win multiple championships and will go down as one of the top three, four, five players to ever play. He’s so good, I think people nitpick and expect so much of the kid. We should just enjoy him instead of pounding him.”

### The consensus on Marlins target Yoenis Cespedes is scouts love his speed, power, and arm and range defensively. The only concern we’ve heard is whether he’ll be more than a .260 or .270 type hitter. “I would have concerns about him being an above average bat at the big-league level,” one AL scout said. “He looks like he gets everything out in front of the plate. When you don’t see the ball longer and let it travel a little deeper, you are generally using one side of the field. He might hit for power, but if he doesn’t control the zone very well, he will have trouble hitting for average.”

Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen told a Chicago radio station last week that Cespedes is "pretty impressive" but "there are a lot of question marks out there. How is he going to handle major league pitching? We don't know... Whoever signs him is gambling.'' The Marlins remain cautiously optimistic about signing him; Cespedes' agent has spoken to other teams, but the outfielder reportedly has met only with the Marlins so far.

February 10, 2012

Sports media: WQAM upgrades; opens letter to Manning; Heat-Marlins conflict

FRIDAY MEDIA REPORT

There are two very different but accurate ways of assessing the state of WQAM-560, the market’s longest-running sports radio station.

From the glass-half-empty view: 790 The Ticket has beaten WQAM three consecutive months – including every daypart in the most recent full ratings book, with a 2.3 share to WQAM’s 1.2 in men 25 to 54, spanning most of December. 790’s edge in every time slot has continued into the New Year, with the exception of WQAM’s Joe Rose beating 790 during one of the two January weeks already tabulated by Arbitron.

But here’s the glass-half-full view: WQAM is more profitable than at any time in the past 15 years because it’s no longer paying big contracts to the Miami Dolphins, Hank Goldberg and Neil Rogers, who retired 18 months before his death in 2010. And that’s what matters most to Beasley Broadcasting.

And say this for WQAM: General Manager Joe Bell clearly has enhanced his lineup since last summer by adding part-timer Channing Crowder; swapping out Kevin Kiley for Curtis Stevenson alongside Michael Irvin; and most significantly, by replacing Gino Torretta and Steve White with Adam Kuperstein and Steve Goldstein. Another change could be coming this summer if Michael Irvin and WQAM part ways.

It’s a tossup whether Irvin remains with WQAM beyond the expiration of his contract in June. WQAM has kept in touch with several hosts, including Scott Kaplan and Seattle-based Mitch Levy, in case an opening arises.

WQAM prefers Irvin relocate from Dallas to Miami, but he has shown no inclination to do that. And WQAM doesn’t know if Irvin wants to continue on radio longterm because of his NFL Network gig.

WQAM likes Kaplan, once South Florida based, and he’s available after being fired from a San Diego radio station this week because of cruel comments about broadcaster Andrea Lloyd, a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

Kaplan called her a “beast, monster and animal” and a “sasquatch of a women,” adding: “I think she is currently a woman. I cannot confirm for you that she has been a woman her entire life. My guess is that at some point, she had some form of surgery.”

After his firing, Kaplan expressed remorse and said he would call Lloyd. But this wasn’t a first offense for Kaplan, who previously was sued by a woman he called a “skank” on the air.

Unsolicited advice for WQAM: If you pursue Kaplan, make sure he’s genuinely contrite about what got him canned. And make sure you can void his contract if he makes similarly offensive remarks.

WQAM isn’t chasing Kaplan at this moment, but don’t be surprised if that changes. A decision on Irvin's future will help determine that.

Crowder, unfortunately, will be off the air for a couple months while he prepares to make an NFL comeback, according to program director Lee Feldman.

Meanwhile, WQAM strengthened early afternoons with Kuperstein/Goldstein; they’re polished, personable and possess a broader base of sports knowledge than Torretta and White, who were out-rated by Colin Cowherd’s ESPN Radio show during their final months at WQAM.  

Our biggest beef with WQAM: The absence of sports updates at the top the hour during the afternoon. 

### “Sports Brothers” Ed Fox and Jeff Freeman, who were replaced on 790 by Jason Jackson, have been hired to do weekend afternoon talk shows on 640 AM.

### Dan Marino says he won’t lobby Peyton Manning to join the Dolphins, but some media lobbying has begun. In Seattle, radio host and ESPN college football analyst Brock Huard – who played quarterback at the University of Washington and for the Seattle Seahawks – penned an open letter to Manning this week, trying to convince him to join the Seahawks.

Among Huard’s selling points: The Seahawks play in a “winnable division”; coach Pete Carroll “is as committed to football as you are”; and owner Paul Allen “is the best in the business. He won’t meddle.”

Huard writes that the Seahawks and Redskins make the most sense for Manning. Huard wrote the Dolphins “are fond of Matt Flynn” (ignoring the fact they want Manning more) and warned Manning that Mike Sherman’s addition as Dolphins offensive coordinator “means a return to the old-school West Coast system” (not necessarily, Brock).

### Early warning of an unfortunate conflict: The first regular-season game at the Marlins new ballpark (7 p.m. April 4 against the Cardinals) will go head-to-head with the Heat’s 8 p.m. home game against Oklahoma City – which could be an NBA Finals preview.  ESPN originally announced it would air the Heat game, with the Marlins game on ESPN2. But that was reversed a couple weeks ago. ESPN is in 99 million homes, ESPN2 in 98.9 million.

### The fact NBC-6's Super Bowl rating (40.6) was the worst among 56 major markets - well below the 47.0 national average - wasn't surprising considering Miami-Fort Lauderdale’s 17.7 average rating for Dolphins games rank among the lowest for the 30 markets.

Nationally, the game finished as the sixth-highest rated Super Bowl ever (49ers-Bengals in 1982 remains No. 1 with a 49.1), and the 12th highest-rated TV program in U.S. history. The highest rated show remains the 1983 finale of MASH (60.2).

Variety points out that the 111.3 million viewers for the Super Bowl was more than the combined audiences for the college national championship games in football (24.2 million) and basketball (20.1), and the deciding games of the World Series (25.4), NBA Finals (23.9) and Stanley Cup (8.5).

 

 

February 09, 2012

More Manning reports; and Cespedes; Heat, UM

Seven notes on a Thursday afternoon:

 

### Two days after Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz said Peyton Manning "is not throwing like an NFL quarterback," NFL Network's Mike Lombardi also raised concerns.

Lombardi told ESPN's Bill Simmons: "He can't throw the ball. I've talked to people who have caught the ball from him. He can't throw the ball to his left. He can't throw the ball across his body because he doesn't feel it. People that catch the ball from him say he doesn't really have velocity on the ball yet.''

But former Colts vice chairman Bill Polian left a far different impression in a Thursday interview with ESPN. Polian said when he last saw Manning throw in December, "It's marked [improvement] from where he was in September. He threw it accurately. He threw it with a good, tight spiral. He threw it with velocity. Generally, he looked like a pretty confident quarterback out there."

Polian predicted Manning will return "at a high level."

As you know (unless you've been on the North Pole), Manning is widely expected to be released before the March 8 deadline for the Colts to pay him a $28 million bonus.

### The Marlins took coveted Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to lunch at Smith and Wollensky on Wednesday, and one oddity of the whole scene is that cameras were rolling.

The cameras weren’t from any local TV station. Instead, MLB was shooting it to have footage for Showtime’s reality series on the Marlins that will air this summer.

Showtime produced six episodes on the San Francisco Giants last summer – the first year the network produced this type of program, which is similar to HBO’s NFL training camp series, Hard Knocks.

A Marlins’ deal with Showtime hasn’t been finalized, but it is expected barring any unexpected glitches.

Cespedes has made clear he would love to play for the Marlins, but his agent will go through the process of eliciting bids from other teams, just in case another team makes a significantly higher offer. The Marlins' meeting with Cespedes went well, his agent told ESPN, adding that other teams are in the mix but declining to say if he has met with them. Cespedes is expected to return to the Dominican Republic this week.

### With Anibal Sanchez and Emilio Bonifacio winning their arbitration cases, the Marlins payroll will end up being around $100 million – at least $20 million more than even the club’s top executives expected before Jeffrey Loria decided to go on his spending spree.

The Marlins originally said they planned to be in the mid-range of big-league payrolls when they opened the new stadium, which would be in the $88 million range. Credit them for topping that. The Marlins 2012 payroll will be barely below their COMBINED payroll from 2008 to 2010.

Their payroll, over the past four years, was $21 million, $36 million, $47 million and $57.6 million.

The 2012 payroll would be even larger if their most recent deals weren’t so backloaded. For example, Jose Reyes will make $10 million in 2012, but $22 million in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

### WQAM says Channing Crowder is stepping away from his radio work for the next couple of months to prepare for an NFL comeback. It won’t be for the Dolphins; Crowder has repeatedly blasted GM Jeff Ireland. But he said he would love to play for the Falcons, who recently hired former Dolphins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Crowder and Nolan already have spoken.

### It was notable that Erik Spoelstra went to Dexter Pittman – not Eddy Curry – when he needed a natural backup center against Orlando. Spoelstra has used Curry in only five games, for 27 minutes, and clearly doesn’t believe he’s ready to be an every-night contributor.

Pittman, for the season, has 10 points, 17 rebounds and 23 fouls. Curry has 10 points, five rebounds and nine fouls.

### Dwyane Wade, who made 63 three-pointers last season and 88 two years ago, is 0 for 9 for the season after missing two against Orlando.

“It’s not like somebody came to me and said, ‘D, don’t shoot threes,’” he said. “I haven’t been handling the ball a lot at the [top of] the key. My spots are different.” Wade is a career 30 percent shooter on threes.

### Despite the departures of Travis Benjamin, LaRon Byrd and Tommy Streeter, UM should be fine at receiver next season, with six incoming players to accompany potential starters Allen Hurns and Philip Dorsett. But receiver will be a major problem when spring practice begins March 3, because Hurns will be out with an injury and Rashawn Scott may be, too. That leaves only Dorsett, Davon Johnson and Kendal Thompkins among scholarship players.

 

February 07, 2012

Dolphins' free agents options on defense; plus Cespedes, Heat, Duke Johnson

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

For as much as the Dolphins want to find another impact pass rusher, keep one of their two free agent defensive line starters and add safety help, their level of aggressiveness in free agency will depend largely on how much they spend at quarterback.

If they use much of their cap space (which is between $12 million and $16 million, depending on where the cap is set) on Peyton Manning, general manager Jeff Ireland will need to look for reasonably priced players on defense or get very creative clearing more cap space. A quick Dolphins-flavored free-agent defensive primer as March 13 approaches:

### Defensive line: It’s unlikely the Dolphins keep Paul Soliai; using the franchise tag on him would take up all of Miami’s space. Though they suggest they will make an effort to re-sign Kendall Langford, keeping him is iffy at best.

They could re-allocate that money on a pass-rusher to play opposite Cameron Wake in a 4-3. Among 4-3 ends, the most skilled available would be Detroit’s Cliff Avril (11 sacks), Atlanta’s John Abraham (9.5 sacks), New England’s Andre Carter (10 sacks in 14 games) and the Colts’ Robert Mathis (9.5 sacks). Arizona and former UM standout Calais Campbell (eight sacks) is more of a 3-4 defensive end.

Avril, 25, recently expressed optimism he will reach a longterm deal with the Lions. “Avril is the one you want from that group, exactly what Miami is looking for,” said former Browns scout Matt Williamson of ESPN’s Scouts Inc. “Campbell will be very expensive and he’s not the best fit in the 4-3, or that different enough from Langford.”

Campbell is just 25, but Abraham is 33, Carter 32 and Mathis 30. The Dolphins have told people they like Mathis, but he’s pricy. Jacksonville's Jeremy Mincey (eight sacks) and Patriots reserve Mark Anderson (10 sacks) also are available as skilled pass-rushing ends.

If they can’t afford any of those, cheaper options include Baltimore’s Cory Redding (4.5 sacks), ex-Dolphin Matt Roth (3.5 in nine games for Jacksonville), Seattle’s Raheem Brock (three sacks as a backup; nine in 2010), Chicago’s Israel Idonije (five sacks) and Philadelphia’s Juqua Parker (15.5 sacks over past three years).

Among free agent defensive tackles, only the Jets’ Sione Pouha (ranked first of 87) and San Diego’s Antonio Garay (31st) ranked ahead of Soliai (37) in Pro Football Focus’ final 2011 rankings. But those three are better in a 3-4 defense, and all would be too expensive for Miami.

Saints free agent Aubrayo Franklin, past his prime, can play in either a 3-4 or 4-3. So can Tennessee's Jason Jones, who's just 25 and played well at tackle before moving to end last season; his former coach, Jeff Fisher, could try to lure him to St. Louis, but he would make some sense for Miami if reasonably priced and if the Dolphins don't keep Langford and move Jared Odrick to defensive end.

Ireland said the Dolphins feel comfortable playing Odrick at either end or tackle in a 4-3. He could play tackle alongside Randy Starks if Miami uses its money to acquire a pass-rushing 4-3 end.

### Linebacker: Ireland said Karlos Dansby is well-suited to play middle linebacker in a 4-3, which eliminates the need to pursue a free agent from a deep group including Atlanta’s Curtis Lofton, Seattle’s David Hawthorne, Cleveland’s D’Qwell Jackson, Detroit’s Stephen Tulloch and Carolina’s Dan Conner.

Kevin Burnett will play another linebacker spot, and the Dolphins will look to add a third starting-caliber linebacker to compete with, or start ahead of, Koa Misi. Nobody would be surprised if Ireland pursues Dallas free agent Anthony Spencer, drafted by the Cowboys during Ireland’s tenure there.

Spencer, a three-year Dallas starter, had six sacks and four forced fumbles last season, but Dallas is reportedly unlikely to keep him. He has played in a 3-4 his whole career “but would be a strong side guy in a 4-3,” Williamson said.

If Houston franchises elite linebacker Mario Williams as expected, that leaves a mediocre group of free agent outside linebackers, headlined by the 49ers’ Ahmad Brooks (seven sacks), Baltimore’s Jarret Johnson (2.5 sacks) and Green Bay and ex-Dolphin Erik Walden (three sacks) and Seattle's LeRoy Hill (four sacks). Excluding Williams, “there’s nobody on that list better than what you have,” Williamson said, adding Miami should stick with a 3-4.

In retrospect, the Dolphins last July should have signed former FIU linebacker Antwan Barnes, who had 11 sacks in a part-time role for San Diego last season and is signed for one more year.

### Safety: The Dolphins hope to find a reasonably priced playmaker to upgrade over Reshad Jones/Chris Clemons. Williamson said two are logical targets: Cincinnati’s Reggie Nelson (who played for new Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle the past four years) and San Francisco’s Dashon Goldson, who emerged this season, with six picks and a Pro Bowl invite.

The ex-Gator Nelson – who had 85 tackles, four interceptions and two former fumbles – “is not an especially physical guy but can run and played well for the Bengals this year,” Williamson said. Nelson was ranked 28th among safeties by PFF; Jones was 56th. This would be a very realistic signing.

Other free agent starting safeties available include Washington’s injury-plagued LaRon Landry, the Jets’ Jim Leonhard, Atlanta’s Thomas DeCoud, Oakland's Tyvon Branch and Tennesee's Michael Griffin. If the Dolphins ask Yeremiah Bell to restructure his contract and he balks, then they could be looking to replace him instead of Jones.

### Cornerback: Ireland gave a vote of confidence to Sean Smith, suggesting coaches need to put him in better position than the previous staff did. That, plus other needs, make it unlikely Miami will spend big on a starting cornerback such as Cortland Finnegan, Brent Grimes, Ladarius Webb, Carlos Rogers or Tracy Porter. But expect them to add a nickel back unless they re-sign Will Allen.

CHATTER

### Some Dolphins players are upset about the prospect of switching to a 4-3 base defense because they believe they’re better suited for a 3-4, according to NFL sources who has spoken to several of them. (The Dolphins say they will use both formations and point out that they used a lot of 4-3 last year.)

No tears are being shed over Mike Sherman replacing Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator; one prominent offensive player said Daboll would tell a player one thing about his role and playing time, then do something different.

### So how do you explain Mario Chalmers’ shooting percentage jumping to 50.5 – well above his 40.9 career average - and 46.6 percent on threes (eighth in the league)? Credit Chalmers for lofting 500 shots every day during the lockout – something he hadn’t done since he left Kansas. “My balance is better,” he said. “Having two healthy legs helps - the ankle injury bothered me last season.”

And LeBron James points to another issue: “Last year, his confidence got played with a lot” because the Heat experimented with Carlos Arroyo and Mike Bibby. (Not that confidence should be an issue; Erik Spoelstra says Chalmers acts like the most confident player on the team.)

But now Chalmers knows he’s the unquestioned starter. His 1.7-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is worse than his 2.2-to-1 career average, but he’s No. 1 on the Heat and fourth in the NBA in plus/minus, with the Heat outscoring teams by 184 points with him on the floor. FYI: The top three NBA players in plus/minus are Jrue Holiday, Luol Deng and LaMarcus Aldridge; James is eighth at plus 169.

### Among the issues UM coaches say they will discuss in the coming months: determining creative and varied ways to use elite running back addition Duke Johnson, who averaged 10 yards per carry and scoring 29 TDs at Norland last season. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch suggests studying how Southern Cal employed Reggie Bush. “You don’t always have to line him up in the backfield,” running backs coach Terry Richardson said. “Get the ball to him in different ways.”

### Coveted Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes arrived in Miami on Tuesday from the Dominican Republic and will meet with Marlins officials on Wednesday. The Marlins are cautiously optimistic, though several other teams are pursuing him, including the Cubs and White Sox.

"It would be good to play here," Cespedes told reporters at Miami International Airport, including one from El Nuevo Herald. "I would like to play in front of the Cubans here in Miami, but I don't know.... Hopefully, I can play for the Marlins.''

Cespedes, 26, might begin the season with a short stay in the minors, though he said Tuesday, "I'm ready to play in the big leagues.'' Other suitors are expected to travel to Miami to meet with him.

His agent has said he expects Cespedes to sign with a team by the start of spring training in a couple of weeks. He can agree a contract orally but cannot sign with a team until he is legally cleared by the U.S. Treasury Department. 

Cespedes, who defected from Cuba last season and received a travel via from the Dominican, hit .333 with 33 homers and 99 RBI in 90 games for the Cuban national team but batted just .143 in a brief stint in the Dominican Winter League.

 

### In Carlos Zambrano, the Marlins not only are getting an established yet temperamental starter (125-81 career record), but only the second pitcher since 1960 (with Gary Peters) to hit at least one home run nine straight seasons. That streak is ongoing for Zambrano, who has smashed four homers twice in a season and six homers once.

In fact, Zambrano’s 23 homers are the most by a pitcher since Bob Gibson retired with 24 in 1975. He’s a .241 career hitter (.318 last year) but 1 for 8 as a pinch hitter.

### The Marlins are on pace to sell 15,000 season tickets at their new stadium – triple what they sold at Sun Life Stadium last year - and will “draw 30,000 every night, for sure,” team president David Samson said. The new ballpark will seat 37,000.