WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
A relaxed, engaged Jimmy Johnson is sitting on the sprawling outdoor patio of his bustling Key Largo restaurant (The Big Chill), overlooking an exquisite view of Florida Bay, and taking a break for a one-on-one chat about Dolphins and Hurricanes football.
J.J., who was in the middle of hosting a three-day event last weekend to raise money for the UM Sports Hall of Fame, has a quick response for those who suggest the Dolphins shouldn’t pursue Peyton Manning, 35, who is expected to be released by the Colts on Wednesday.
“Oh please!” the former Dolphins and Hurricanes coach said.
“Age is not a concern. You do whatever you have to do to get Peyton Manning! If Manning has the supporting cast, he’s still a great player. The Dolphins have a good team, not great. They are pretty solid on defense. A great quarterback with a good team can win it all. With Brandon Marshall, Reggie Bush, it gives them some weapons offensively. Bring in Reggie Wayne with Peyton.” (Wayne, we hear, would love for this to happen.)
J.J. pointed out, “It used to be a quarterback-driven league. Now it is a quarterback-only league. You can win today with an average defense, an average running game. If you have a great quarterback, you have a shot.”
Johnson said “the biggest concern I have is will Peyton be as precise with a new group. Is he going to have the same chemistry and be as efficient as he was in Indianapolis? No, he’s not." That, Johnson said, is a compelling reason to sign Wayne. "But if he’s close to what he was, all of a sudden they’re a contender.”
How much would Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman need to adjust their offense for Manning?
“You use whatever Peyton wants,” J.J. said. “You fit your style to your great players. Great coaches do that.”
J.J. said the Philbin/Sherman offense would be different for Manning, “but not as dramatic as people think. I mean, really. They’re the same routes, they’re the same drops. There’s not quite as much play action. People make so much of the West Coast offense. I learned when I came into the league that everything is so similar.”
If the Dolphins cannot get Manning, Johnson said, “I would be nervous” about signing Matt Flynn. But he loves Robert Griffin III, and “maybe in the Dolphins’ case, pay whatever it takes to get a quarterback. I know Andrew Luck’s the guy, but I would love to coach Griffin. He’s a split second behind Michael Vick as far as speed, but he’s bigger. I love his leadership.”
When he was with the Cowboys, Johnson came up with the trade value chart that’s used today in trading up in the draft. He said teams might need to offer more than what the chart calls for because of the competition for St. Louis’ No. 2 pick. “But whoever gets Manning and Flynn probably will be out of the race, so it may not be as competitive as what you think. You’ve got to play some poker.”
On UM, which is remains very special to him, J.J. said Al Golden “did a great job of cutting down a lot of the mistakes and silly penalties, but we’ve got to get bigger, stronger, more physical, which Al recognizes.
“We will be back in the glory years [eventually]. I don’t know if we’ll ever be as dominant as we were – we lost two regular season games in four years. I don’t know that anybody will ever be that dominant. But you will see championship football.”
What he likes about Golden is “he’s so thorough, an extremely hard worker. People ask me about hiring people. I said, ‘If you give me somebody that’s intelligent, that works extremely hard and is passionate about what they do, they’re going to be successful.’ That’s what Al is.”
### The Dolphins have been telling people they want to add defensive backs in the draft to better defend all the pass-happy offenses and also are looking at both safeties and potential No. 3 corners in free agency. They like Giants starting cornerback Aaron Ross, but he’s likely too expensive and the Dolphins want to make sure they have enough money to do what it takes financially to have a good shot at Manning. Four potential free agent safeties are now off the market (Thomas DeCoud, Tyvon Branch, Dashon Goldson and Michael Griffin), leaving Reggie Nelson, Dwight Lowery, Jim Leonard, LaRon Landry and Mike Adams as the best available.
### With several pass-rushers off the market, the Dolphins likely will need to address this priority in the draft, unless they sign one of just a few accomplished, available rushers, including Jerome Mincey, Mark Anderson or Andre Carter. Mario Williams and John Abraham are too pricy.
### ESPN’s Dick Vitale said, by phone, UM needs to beat Georgia Tech on Thursday and then FSU on Friday in the ACC Tournament “to even get on the table” for serious NCAA Tournament consideration, partly because the bottom half of the league is so weak…. Early spring-practice word on quarterback Ryan Williams: “Extremely accurate,” Phillip Dorsett said, adding he’s more accurate than Stephen Morris and has a stronger arm than Jacory Harris. But Dorsett said Morris is more mobile and throws a better deep ball… UM has been raving about the improvement of second-year receivers Dorsett and Rashawn Scott. “There’s a ton of potential for both to be great,” offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said.
### Though the Heat is eager to see if the Hornets buy out Chris Kaman if they can’t trade him, one competing general manager said they appear unwilling to do that. Beyond checking out Rasheed Wallace, Miami has had periodic contact with the agent for former Jazz center Kyrylo Fesenko. Consider this about the Heat’s natural backup big men: Entering Tuesday, Miami had been outscored by 26 points with Dexter Pittman on the floor (in 131 minutes), by 31 with Eddy Curry (in 40 minutes) and by 44 with Juwan Howard (in 76 minutes).
### Magic Johnson has become one of the Heat’s sharpest critics in recent days. “We know the Heat is not a mentally tough team,” Magic said. (We do?) Magic said that LeBron James’ “I fell short again” tweet after the Utah loss is “ridiculous. I’m disappointed [about] all this tweeting.” And Magic said James has to get comfortable taking game-winning shots if the Heat is ever going to win a title. “Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan are going to take that shot.”
### Hanley Ramirez said Tuesday his move to third base has gone so well that "I'm already comfortable there. I don't see anything very different. I feel like I'm playing shortstop. I like it." His Marlins teammates, who didn't know what to expect because of his initial unhappiness about the switch, like his attitude so far this spring.
### Tidbits on the new Marlins ballpark disclosed Tuesday: Beer sales will be cut off after the seventh inning except in the Clevelander beyond left field (there's a cover charge there that will depend on how busy it is); food associated with the visiting team's city will be sold for those specific games (such as cheesesteaks when the Phillies are in town, bratwurst for the Brewers), concession items can be ordered on Smartphones; the temperature will be set at 75 a night when the dome is closed (which will be the case for most games, except a few in April).
Also, the dome will be closed during play (it takes 13 minutes) if a surprising storm sweeps in. MLB will allow it to be re-opened, but only at the start of an inning. "We think it's a pitcher's park," Marlins president David Samson said.