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26 posts from March 2012

March 17, 2012

Dolphins studying draft-eligible receivers; plus Fins, Heat, Canes, Marlins tidbits

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

 

With Brandon Marshall gone, the Dolphins are carefully studying early and mid-round options at receiver. A quick primer:

### Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon is considered the only top-10 caliber receiver, but most expect he will be selected before Miami’s pick at No. 8. Blackmon (fourth in Mel Kiper’s mock draft), Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd (13), Baylor’s Kendall Wright (26) and Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill (30) likely will be gone before Miami picks again at No. 41.

Which receivers would make sense at No. 41? Sporting News draft analyst and ex-Browns scout Russ Lande and Sports Illustrated’s Tony Pauline said LSU’s Rueben Randle (53 catches, 917 yards) and South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery (49, 762). Many believe Randle will be gone before 41 – Pauline isn’t as convinced – but Pauline expects Jeffery, whose stock has slid, will be there.

“Last year, Jeffery was out of shape, but when the ball is in the air, he reminds me of Sidney Rice and Randy Moss, a guy who can make acrobatic catches with defenders on him,” Lande said. But he’s not a polished route runner.

“And he’s a risk,” Pauline said. “He’s not very quick or fast. He reminds me a lot of Mike Williams coming out of USC.” (Williams has been a disappointment, with 127 catches in five pro seasons.)

Wright, Hill and Randle could be in play if the Dolphins, through a trade, end up with a pick in the late 20s or early 30s.   

“Randle could be a steal,” Kiper said. “He could have been far more productive in a more dynamic passing offense. Randle is better suited to beating defenses over the top [than Jeffery]. He will be a lot quicker into and out of his breaks because he’s got a leaner frame.”

Who else is worthy of selecting at 41? Lande said Rutgers’ Mohamed Sanu (115 catches, 1206 yards last season) and Arizona’s Juron Criner. “Sanu has great hands, runs great routes,” Lande said.

Pauline said of the receivers who could be there at 41, only Randle, Jeffery and Sanu are worth considering. He includes Sanu because he’s polished and has high productivity but his “lack of speed and quickness are a concern. If Ohio State [offensive tackle] Mike Adams is there, I would take him instead.”

Criner, 6-4, had 11 touchdowns each of the past two years but ran a 4.68 in the 40, which hurts.

### Which of the receivers projected for the third or fourth rounds would best fit Miami’s West Coast offense? Pauline mentions Wake Forest’s Chris Givens, North Carolina’s Dwight Jones, Illinois’ A.J. Jenkins and Michigan State’s Keshawn Martin.

Keep an eye on Givens, who’s on the rise after running a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash. The 6-0 Givens (86 catches, 1330 yards, nine touchdowns last season) has good hands and a lot of the qualities that Dolphins coach Joe Philbin wants in a receiver, including yards-after-catch ability.

Jenkins (90, 1276) is quick, with good separation skills, but drops some catchable balls. Jones (85, 1196) was highly productive last year but needs to refine his route-running and is bigger (6-4) than the prototype receiver Philbin had in Green Bay. The 5-10 Martin (66, 777) has explosive speed with excellent short-area quickness.

“In that West Coast system, you need guys with timing, guys that can run good underneath routes, but also guys that can break it down field,” Pauline said. Philbin’s offense also places a premium on receivers who are sharp enough to make route adjustments based on what the defense shows, and the quarterback calls, at the line.

### Besides those players, Lande said realistic options for either of Miami’s two third-rounders include UM’s Tommy Streeter (“there’s a risk because he’s a guy that will struggle to get open consistently”); Iowa’s Marvin McNutt (gets good separation and Dolphins receivers coach Ken O’Keefe was his offensive coordinator); Arkansas’ Joe Adams and Jarius Wright (not big receivers, but good speed); Ohio State’s DeVier Posey (some have him lower) and Wisconsin’s Nick Toon (inconsistent effort and durability questions). McNutt, a former quarterback whose skills would fit well in the West Coast offense, is on Miami’s radar.

### The Dolphins also are intrigued by Streeter, who could go late in the second or somewhere in the third. He met with the Dolphins twice recently and will work out for them April 4.

### Others projected for the third-round range: California’s Marvin Jones (good run after catch ability); Appalachian State’s Brian Quick (“he’s a long ways away,” Lande said), Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles (last year’s torn ACL hurts his stock), Houston’s Patrick Edwards (1752 receiving yards last year but similar to Clyde Gates) and Texas A&M’s Jeff Fuller (questionable hands).

UM’s Travis Benjamin and FYU’s T.Y. Hilton could go in the fifth-round range.

CHATTER

### How could the Dolphins, who initially expressed confidence about landing Peyton Manning, so miscalculated their chances? Here’s how: They overestimated the importance of location and the fact he has a condo here; believed he would be more enamored with the roster than he was; didn’t expect Denver and Tennessee to be as aggressive; and way underestimated the importance to Manning of having people around him that he knows and with whom he is comfortable.

Here’s the irony: Manning has a much stronger relationship with Bill Parcells, who’s a confidante of Manning’s, than anyone with the Dolphins. If Parcells were still with the Dolphins, they would have had a much better shot. The teams Miami always feared were the Texans and 49ers.

### The Dolphins, looking for another linebacker, have inquired about New England free agent Gary Guyton, a part-time starter. Former Steelers standout James Farrior (78 tackles, two sacks) would love to play here but he’s much older (37) than Miami wants.... For a position by position look at free agency, see our last post. For the story on Alex Smith's surprise visit to Fins camp Sunday, see the sports home page.

### With ticket sales badly lagging, the Dolphins likely will reduce stadium capacity next season by several thousand.

### Despite reports from Yahoo and Fox Sports Ohio that LeBron James will consider a return to Cleveland in summer 2014, the Heat believes those stories are inaccurate and aren’t concerned. Management is confident he’s happy here.

### Eddy Curry has dropped below 300 pounds for the first time in a while, and coaches rave about his work ethic. Udonis Haslem said his defense in practice has improved immensely. But the staff still isn’t convinced he can offer as much than Dexter Pittman (especially defensively) in limited minutes. And Spoelstra has barely used Pittman the past three games…. Center Ronnie Turiaf, who will be released by Denver, could emerge as an option for the Heat. Remember, players who have been in the league this season must be released or bought out by Friday to be playoff eligible. The Hornets said last week they are not inclined to buy out Chris Kaman.

### There’s concern inside UM that the Hurricanes might lose juniors Reggie Johnson and Kenny Kadji to the NBA draft, which would leave Miami without any high-quality big men. NBA draft analyst Chris Monter and an NBA scout said it’s hardly certain that either would be drafted. “They’re not as good as they think they are,” the scout said. “Reggie would have to be a center; he’s too slow to play power forward. Kadji shoots OK but doesn’t rebound enough. He’s soft.” Mediocre Julian Gamble, who has missed the season with an injury, would be UM's best big man if Johnson and Kadji bolt.

### We’re curious to see if Marlins shortstop Jose Reyes can replicate last year’s league-leading .337 average or revert more to his career mark (.292, never higher than .307 before 2011). “I changed a bit last year – it was the first time I hit a lot to the opposite field.”

Reyes, who missed 36, 29 and 126 games the past three years, said “my legs are strong,” but added he cannot improve his durability because “sometimes when you run, you pull a hamstring. That’s part of my game.” But Reyes (39 steals last year) said he won’t run less. Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio (40 steals) and Hanley Ramirez (20) hope to create base-path havoc.

### The Marlins’ lack of a stadium naming rights deal isn’t for lack of effort. At one point, they thought a deal would get done with Pepsi but it fell apart.

Saturday afternoon update: Flynn visits, leaves Dolphins camp; Winston joins KC

SATURDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE

 

Packers free agent quarterback Matt Flynn spent more than five hours meeting with coaches and front office officials at Dolphins’ headquarters Saturday, arriving at noon. He left shortly after 5:30 p.m., according to WSVN-Fox 7.  Before that, the Dolphins put him through medical tests this morning, just a few hours after he landed on a red-eye flight from the West Coast.

The Dolphins would like to sign him in the next couple days and are widely considered the favorite. But they still need to agree on money, and that will take some compromise.

His father, Alvin Flynn, said Saturday morning he expects resolution in the next few days but isn’t sure whether Flynn will opt for Miami or Seattle.

“He’s excited to be down there [in Miami],” Alvin Flynn said by phone Saturday. “He is very fond of Joe Philbin. He has warm feelings for him. He was very fortunate to be drafted by Green Bay. They’re very good teachers, quarterback-friendly. Aaron Rodgers took Matt under his wing and he has learned a tremendous amount.”

Alvin Flynn said his son “could run that offense in his sleep.” (That’s the offense that, for the most part, will be used by Philbin and Mike Sherman with the Dolphins.) And with “familiarity, there is a sense of comfort.”

But Alvin Flynn said his son also “likes Seattle. He likes [Seahawks coach] Pete Carroll. They hit it off well. It’s two very good franchises. I don’t think he could go wrong” with either team.

Flynn visited with the Seahawks on Thursday night and Friday and his flight to Miami was delayed. That, plus a two-hour layover in Los Angeles, meant he didn’t arrive until about 6 a.m. Saturday.

The Dolphins could be helped by the fact that the Seahawks also are monitoring the situation with free agent Alex Smith, whose status is up in the air while the 49ers await a decision from Peyton Manning.

Also Saturday, Eric Winston - the top right tackle on the market - reportedly agreed to terms with Kansas City. He met with the Dolphins on Wednesday, but Miami didn't have cap space to sign him or the incentive to create enough cap space to sign him.

A few days into free agency, here’s where the Dolphins stand, by position, beyond quarterback:

### Receiver: The Dolphins haven’t landed any of the most sought-after receivers, including Vincent Jackson (Tampa Bay), Eddie Royal (San Diego) and Laurent Robinson (Jacksonville), though they had interest in Jackson and Robinson. Several others, including DeSean Jackson, Marques Colston and Wes Welker, either re-signed with their teams or got the franchise tag. Brandon Lloyd is in serious talks with New England.

There is very little left in free agency, in terms of clear-cut starters. The Dolphins called about Mario Manningham at the start of free agency, but as of Friday did not have either the cap space nor motivation to be as aggressive as the 49ers and Rams, who both invited him for visits. Other receivers left who would at least compete for a starting job, if signed, include Roy Williams, Braylon Edwards, Deion Branch, Donnie Avery and Roscoe Parrish.

The top restricted free agents remaining are Mike Wallace (a first-round pick would be required as compensation) and Danny Amendola (Miami hasn’t called). If the Dolphins wanted to do something bold and outside-the-box, they could extend an offer sheet to Wallace (that would require clearing a lot of cap space), then trade its first-round pick at No. 8 for later picks, including a low first-rounder that would be given to the Steelers as compensation if Miami signed Wallace.

In that scenario, the Dolphins could add a No. 1 receiver in Wallace and additional second- and/or third-round picks in a trade down. But that’s unlikely to happen. Though the Dolphins still might add a veteran, expect receiver to be addressed in the draft.

### Running back: The Dolphins are mostly set here, with Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas and Steve Slaton. With Lex Hilliard non-tendered, they could add a fullback before training camp to compete with CFL import Jerome Messam.

### Offensive line: Losing out on Winston wasn't surprising, but is still disappointing. For now, Lydon Murtha and new pickup Artis Hicks (who has made 71 NFL starts) will compete at right tackle, with John Jerry, Nate Garner and possibly Hicks in the mix at right guard. The Dolphins haven’t pursued numerous established starters in free agency, including Evan Mathis, Ryan Diem, Deuce Lutui, Robert Gallery, Bobbie Williams and Jacob Bell. But they likely will add another player or two to the right side of the line either in draft or in the second wave of free agency.

### Tight end: The Dolphins didn’t consider any of the free agents available to be a clear upgrade over Anthony Fasano. All that’s left is veterans past their prime: Dallas Clark, Visanthe Shiancoe, Jeremy Shockey and Donald Lee, and a few others who wouldn’t be an upgrade over Charles Clay: Jacob Tamme, Leonard Pope, etc.

### Defensive front seven: We’ll cover the linemen and linebackers together because some overlap in Miami’s hybrid 4-3/3-4.

Kendall Langford signed a four-year, $24 million deal with St. Louis on Saturday, with $12 million guaranteed, but the Dolphins stopped pursuing him after re-signing Paul Soliai.

The Dolphins are set at tackle, with Soliai, Tony McDaniel, Phillip Merling and the knowledge that Randy Starks and Jared Odrick are perfectly capable of playing end or tackle. They like ex-Jet Jamaal Westerman, who will get snaps at end and linebacker.

They still need another pass-rushing end or outside linebacker to get snaps on the other side of Cameron Wake. That’s why they’re in the mix for Patriots free agent Mark Anderson (10 sacks last season). Anderson will visit the Titans before making a decision.

There are few quality pass-rushers still unsigned: Anderson, Kamerion Wimbley (Miami hasn't called about him) and Andre Carter at the top of the list. Miami could draft one early if it doesn’t sign Anderson.

Otherwise, they’re in good shape at linebacker with Wake (who obviously can play end or outside linebacker), Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett, Koa Misi, Westerman and Jason Trusnik. They still might add another veteran there.

### Defensive backfield: A lot will depend on where Richard Marshall plays – free safety or corner. If Sean Smith has a good camp and Rashad Jones doesn’t improve, Marshall could slide in at safety. If Marshall clearly outplays Smith in camp, and Jones shows additional growth, then Marshall could play more at corner. Either way, the Dolphins have helped themselves with Marshall’s versatility and solid skill set.

They figure to add another corner in the draft or second wave of free agency to upgrade or compete with Jimmy Wilson and Nolan Carroll as the fourth and fifth corners. But it seems unlikely they will be in position to add a “name” safety available in free agency, such as Reggie Nelson (visited the Jets) or LaRon Landry.

 

 

         

         

March 16, 2012

Friday evening update: Flynn visits, Manning indirectly helping Fins; other notes

The Dolphins will host a visit with Green Bay Packers free agent quarterback Matt Flynn on Saturday and are expected to try to sign him before the end of the weekend.

Flynn flew to Miami on Friday after visiting with the Seattle Seahawks over the past two days.

The Dolphins are optimistic about their chances, partly because of Flynn’s limited options (the Seahawks are their only known competition), and partly because of Flynn’s relationship with coach Joe Philbin, who was the Packers’ offensive coordinator during Flynn’s previous four seasons in the league.

But money still must be worked out, and that could be an issue. As of Friday afternoon, the Dolphins had not given indication that they were prepared to offer a huge deal. They instead appear to be hoping to sign Flynn to a more modest contract. That process must play out during negotiations.

The Dolphins’ chances could be helped by Peyton Manning, of all people, in this regard: Because Manning is now considering the 49ers, the Seahawks might wait to see what happens with 49ers free agent quarterback Alex Smith before offering a big contract to Flynn. The 49ers have held off on signing Smith while awaiting a decision from Manning.

“No way Seattle gives its top offer for Flynn with the possibility that Alex Smith could be in play if San Francisco gets Peyton,” NBC’s Peter King said Friday.

Manning, who is also considering Denver and Tennessee, informed the Dolphins on Thursday that he does not intend to sign with them, according to two sources and an NFL.com report. ESPN reported Friday that Ross did not attend Manning’s meeting with Dolphins coaches on Monday night, but flew to Durham, N.C., to meet separately with him.

A representative for a free agent who plays a different position said the Dolphins told him they hoped to resolve the quarterback situation this weekend, then move onto other needs.

Flynn, 26, has started only two games but threw for a combined 731 yards and nine touchdowns in those games.

The Dolphins hope to sign Flynn because they would prefer not to leave quarterback unaddressed until the draft, though they will draft one if necessary.

As King tweeted Friday, “I can’t imagine what Ross says to Jeff Ireland if, on May 1, Ireland says, ‘Our QB’s Matt Moore.’”

 

ANDERSON VISITS

Also Friday, the Dolphins hosted a visit with Patriots free agent defensive end/outside linebacker Mark Anderson, a skilled pass rusher. The Dolphins made clear they want to sign him, and they are a strong contender for him, according to a source. But Anderson, 28, is expected to visit at least one other team before deciding. The Patriots also remain a possibility.

Anderson, 6-4 and 255 pounds, had 10 sacks, 29 tackles and two forced fumbles for the Patriots last season.

A former fifth-round draft choice out of Alabama in 2006, Anderson had 12 sacks as a rookie for the Bears. His sacks dropped to five, one and 3.5 the next three seasons.

Anderson was released by Chicago and signed with Houston in October 2010 and collected four sacks in 11 games for the Texans, before moving to New England last season. Anderson started 14 games for the Bears in 2007 but has started only seven games combined in his five other seasons, including one in 2011.

### Though nothing was announced, the Dolphins finalized a one-year deal with Jamaal Westerman, the former Jets backup who had 3.5 sacks last season. The Dolphins expect him to play defensive end and linebacker when they’re in a 4-3 and outside linebacker when they’re in a 3-4.

 

Friday 3 p.m. update: Flynn/Manning; Dolphins bring in pass-rusher Anderson

The Dolphins are turning their attention to pass-rushers today.

They have scheduled a visit with Patriots free agent defensive end Mark Anderson, who is an excellent situational pass rusher.

Anderson, 6-4 and 255 pounds, had 10 sacks and two forced fumbles for the Pats last season.

A former fifth-round draft choice out of Alabama in 2006, Anderson had 12 sacks as a rookie for the Bears. He had five, one and 3.5 sacks the next three seasons.

He was released by the Bears and signed by Houston in October 2010, and collected four sacks in 11 games for the Texans, before moving to New England last season.

Anderson started 14 games for the Bears in 2007. But he has started only six games combined in the five other years.

### Meanwhile, a source confirmed that the Manning camp informed the Dolphins Thursday afternoon that they are officially out of the running for Manning, as first reported Friday morning by NFL.com.

The Dolphins, the source said, are trying to get Flynn in the building as early as Friday night, as he makes his way cross country from a visit to Seattle. As of noon Eastern Friday, he was still in Seattle, hearing a pitch from the Seahawks. So Saturday seems more realistic, unless it's a late dinner with Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin.

Word is Flynn will make the trip to Miami rather than just signing on the spot with Seattle. The Dolphins are optimistic they can get Flynn. But they were also optimistic about Manning.

And keep in mind that the Dolphins have not yet made an offer that Flynn is ready to jump at. The Dolphins' pursuit has been measured. At least to this point, they are not offering huge money. 

Flynn would love to play for Philbin. But if Seattle offers significantly more, Philbin's relationship will not be enough to get him to Miami.

### The Dolphins agreed to terms with former Jets defensive end/outside linebacker Jamaal Westerman. It's a one-year deal. He will play end and linebacker in a 4-3 and outside linebacker in a 3-4.

### Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, determined to make a personal appeal to Manning, ended up meeting with him in Durham,  ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported. But Ross couldn't do enough to sway Manning.

 

March 15, 2012

Thursday update: ESPN says Miami out of Manning race; Flynn visiting Miami

The Dolphins are turning their attention from Peyton Manning to Matt Flynn.

 he Dolphins will host a visit with Flynn after he visits Seattle Thursday night and Friday, a source confirms.The Dolphins are aware they are a long shot now for Peyton Manning; ESPN's Chris Mortensen said the race for Manning is down to Tennessee, Denver and Arizona.

Remember, Jeff Ireland does not like to pay a player any more than what he deems his value to be. But he might need to re-assess that if the Seahawks make a big bid for Flynn. What the Dolphins do, if placed in that position, will tell a lot about Ireland’s desperation and Joe Philbin’s true assessment of his former pupil.

Seattle, with $30 million in cap space, is positioned to offer far more, if it wants, than Miami, which has between $5 million and $7 million in space. So if the Seahawks make a huge take-it-or-leave-it bid, Flynn might be tempted to sign on the spot. But the Dolphins expect him to visit, knowing his high regard for Joe Philbin from their time together in Green Bay.

### If Tennessee signs Manning, Matt Hasselbeck likely would be cut and thus become the top free agent quarterback besides Flynn (assuming Alex Smith re-signs with the 49ers). But not only is he much older than Matt Moore at 36, his numbers, for the most part, weren’t as good as Moore’s last season.

Moore had an 87.1 rating, Hasselbeck 82.4. Moore averaged 7.2 yards per attempt, Hasselbeck 6.9. Moore had a better TD-INT ratio (16-9, compared with 18-14). Hasselbeck completed a slightly higher percentage of his passes – 61.6 to 60.5.

So don’t suggest for a minute that Hasselbeck is a clear-cut upgrade.

### What if Arizona signs Manning, making Kevin Kolb available? His rating (81.1) and completion percentage (57.7) were clearly worse than Moore’s. So don’t assume Kolb would beat out Moore.

So if Miami doesn't get Flynn, they won't find an upgrade on Moore in free agency, and Moore likely would enter 2012 as the starter. Of course, there's no guarantee Flynn is better than Moore.

### If the Dolphins want to add another pass-catching threat at tight end, they probably will need to wait for the draft. Besides passing up Martellus Bennett and John Carlson they have shown no interest in Kevin Boss (who signed with the Chiefs). The other most accomplished available veteran, Visanthe Schianco, is visiting the Seahawks.     

### Look for Richard Marshall to be given an opportunity to beat out Sean Smith for a starting cornerback job. But even if Smith starts, Marshall will be on the field a lot – likely over 65 percent of the time. And if Smith excels in camp but the free safeties don’t, Marshall could be shifted to free safety, where he played very well last year. Marshall said the Dolphins haven't told him what position he will play.

### The Dolphins signed guard/tackle Artis Hicks, who started nine games for Cleveland last year. And they are close to signing defensive end/outside linebacker Jamaal Westerman. Offensive tackle Eric Winston said he had a good visit but probably will be too costly unless Miami clears a lot more space.

Also, the Dolphins re-signed backup end/tackle Ryan Baker on Thursday, meaning Miami will keep intact its deep defensive line, except for Kendall Langford. They also re-signed Steve Slaton as the No. 3 running back; this staff likes him.

### The UM-Notre Dame game this season, the first meeting between the teams since Notre Dame canceled the series in 1990, will get the prime time forum it deserves. NBC said it will air the game in prime time at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6 from Chicago. The teams will play in 2016 in South Bend, and 2017 in Miami.

### The Heat must hope that Mario Chalmers’ recent play is merely a slump, not a regression. Chalmers has shot 17 for 56 in his past seven games with 19 assists and 15 turnovers. His shooting percentage, while still very good, has dropped to 47.6 and his assist-to-turnover ratio (3.4 to 2.1) is the worst of his career.

 

March 14, 2012

Wednesday Dolphins recap: Marshall and Soliai sign; QB holding pattern

While the quarterback situation remained unresolved, the Dolphins juggled assorted other moves Wednesday, including re-signing defensive tackle Paul Soliai, adding cornerback Richard Marshall and playing host to visits with at least four free agents that very much interest them.

Besides hosting Marshall - who agreed to a three-year, $16 million deal - they also hosted offensive tackle Eric Winston, defensive end/outside linebacker Jamaal Westerman and offensive tackle/guard Artis Hicks was due in Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, Miami continued to hold off Packers free agent quarterback Matt Flynn while waiting for a decision from Peyton Manning, who visited with the Tennessee Titans on Wednesday. While network pundits view the Dolphins as serious underdogs for Manning, Miami does not want to proceed with Flynn until receiving a decision from Manning. ESPN reported Manning is still considering Denver, Arizona, Miami and Tennessee and might consider additional teams.

The Dolphins have expressed interest in Flynn, should they not land Manning, but have not made an offer.

And the Dolphins’ competition for Flynn might be less than anticipated. The Cleveland Plainer Dealer reported that the Browns are not pursuing Flynn. At least one team that considered pursuing Flynn has concerns about his arm strength and limited body of work.

Seattle has invited Flynn to visit Thursday night and Friday and apparently has not yet made an offer. But they might feel more urgency now that Chad Henne has decided to sign with Jacksonville and canceled his visit with Seattle.

Manning's timetable remains uncertain, but the Cardinals need an answer before Friday's deadline on Kevin Kolb's $7 million bonus.

Soliai, who made $12 million last season, will receive $12 million over the next two years, including $6 million guaranteed. His 2012 cap hit is a bit under $5 million. The signings of Soliai and Marshall leave Miami with just under $7 million in cap space.

“Denver pushed, but Miami is where his heart was,” agent David Canter said. Soliai planned to visit the Broncos but canceled the trip.

Though he played less than 44 percent of the team’s snaps, the Dolphins always viewed him as a key cog in their run defense, which ranked third in the league last season.

His signing likely, but not definitely, signals the departure of Kendall Langford, who could not come to terms with the Dolphins and will visit the Bengals this week.

The Dolphins, who plan to play a lot of 4-3 defense and some 3-4, say Soliai could fit in either scheme. In a 4-3, Soliai, Randy Starks, Tony McDaniel and Phillip Merling could share time at tackle, which would allowJared Odrick to play an end position, opposite Cameron Wake. Starks also could continue playing defensive end.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins are trying to sign Westerman, who was non-tendered by the Jets this week, and talks are ongoing. Westerman, who attended St. Thomas Aquinas High in Fort Lauderdale and went undrafted out of Rutgers, had 32 tackles, 3.5 sacks and one forced fumble while playing less than 30 percent of the Jets’ snaps last season.

He has 4.5 sacks in 36 games, including three starts, in three years with New York. Westerman, 27, could play defensive end or linebacker in a 4-3 or outside linebacker in a 3-4.

As for Marshall, he will help the Dolphins at cornerback - where he will be on the field a lot - and possibly at free safety. He was a starter for Carolina in 2009 and 2010, then moved to Arizona, where he started nine games last season and had 69 tackles, three interceptions, and two sacks.

Among others visiting Wednesday:

### Winston, the former UM standout, would welcome signing here if they money is right, but the bidding could get pricy for the best free agent right tackle on the market. And the Dolphins need to save some of their money for a quarterback. Winston, 28, who said he is fully recovered from arthroscopic ankle surgery in February, also plans to visit the Rams, Chiefs and Ravens.

### Hicks, 33, has 71 starts in 10 seasons for Philadelphia, Minnesota, Washington and Cleveland. He appeared in nine games, with three starts, for the Browns last season, playing both guard and tackle. Hicks could compete for a job on the right side of the offensive line, where Miami is looking for two starters.

The Dolphins also continue to search for a receiver to replace Brandon Marshall, but options are dwindling. The Dolphins wanted Dallas free agent Laurent Robinson, but he agreed to a five-year deal with Jacksonville on Wednesday.

Miami has expressed preliminary interest in Giants free agent Mario Manningham, who will visit the 49ers on Thursday. Manningham, who also has drawn overtures from the Bills, had 39 catches for 523 yards and four touchdowns last season.

The other prominent unrestricted free agent receivers still available: Eddie Royal, Donnie Avery, Legedu Naanee, Jerome Simpson, Early Doucet, Jerricho Cotchery and Patrick Crayton (the Dolphins had not called about any of those aforementioned seven as of Wednesday afternoon), plus Brandon Lloyd, Anthony Gonzalez, Roy Williams, Jerricho Cotchery, Ted Ginn Jr., Terell Owens, Roscoe Parrish, Braylon Edwards, and Chaz Schilens. Patriots free agent Deion Branch (51 catches, 702 yards, 5 TDs last season) is on Miami’s radar but no visit had been booked as of Wednesday.

The Dolphins also chose not to pursue any of the top free agent tight ends available, passing on John Carlson (signed with Minnesota) and Martellus Bennett (Giants). The Dolphins have made an offer to re-sign Steve Slaton, their No. 3 running back.

March 13, 2012

Eye-opening numbers for Heat's Big Three; UM/NCAA news, Fins and more

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN; For Dolphins developments today, see my story on the sports home page, which covers Miami's upcoming visits with Eric Winston, cornerback Richard Marshall, interest in receiver Laurent Robinson, reported interest in Packers center Scott Wells, and other news.

 

With LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the floor together, the Heat is simply better than last season, outscoring opponents by 14.4 per 48 minutes entering Tuesday’s game against Orlando, compared with 11.8 last season. There’s no doubt the three stars have developed more chemistry.

But do you want to know an even more pronounced difference? It’s how much better James and Chris Bosh are now, compared to 2010-11, when they’re operating as the only “star” on the court.

When James is on the floor but Wade is not, the Heat is outscoring teams by 8.1 per 48 minutes, compared with 3.9 per 48 last season. And consider this: The Heat has used eight lineups for at least 10 minutes in which James is on the floor, but without Wade or Bosh, according to nba.com and basketballvalue.com.

Those lineups have outscored teams by 95 points in 266 minutes, a staggering plus-17.1 per 48, compared with 10.1 last year.

Do you have any idea how good that is? For perspective, consider that only four lineups in the NBA are better than a plus 95 (including the Heat’s starting lineup, at plus 113). And that’s without Wade or Bosh!

"Not only do I have to score more,” without Wade and Bosh, James said, “but I have to make more plays for my teammates. I know I have to put it in the basket more with two of our best scoring threats off the floor.”

In fact, the Heat’s second-best plus/minus lineup is one without Wade or Bosh: It’s James, Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller, Norris Cole and Shane Battier. That group has outscored teams, 180-141, in 78 minutes.

This, of course, is not only a function of James’ greatness, but also the Heat’s improved bench. As one Heat official said, “look who’s around him now” when James is on the floor without Wade or Bosh to close the first quarter. James also credits “better cohesiveness.”

With Bosh, the story goes deeper. Last year, he played only 125 minutes without Wade and James, and the Heat was plus-11. Entering Tuesday, the Heat had played 210 minutes with Bosh as the only star on the floor and had outscored teams by 45. In fact, the Heat’s second most-used lineup is Bosh, Cole, Battier, Miller and Haslem, which is plus-13 in 118 minutes.

Coach Erik Spoelstra is often using Bosh – but without James or Wade – to start the second quarter because he wants “to get our reserves an opportunity to get a good rhythm. We’re very conscious of managing the minutes of Dwyane and LeBron, particularly Dwyane.”

Said Bosh: “I’m pleased with it. It helps me be aggressive and gets the other guys involved.”

FYI: The Heat is plus-17 in 174 minutes when Wade, but not James, is on the floor.

CHATTER

### The Heat entered the week believing a trade before Thursday’s deadline isn’t very likely. But Miami wants to see who’s bought out; players who have been in the league this year must be bought out or cut by March 23 to be playoff eligible elsewhere. The Heat did not make an offer to Rasheed Wallace, who’s mulling a comeback, because he wasn’t in good enough shape. Miami has touched base with veteran free agent center Dan Gadzuric.

### UM, which wasn’t even notified it was being investigated by the NCAA until Aug. 15 (five months after Nevin Shapiro contacted the NCAA) now believes this ordeal could stretch well into football season or beyond. Here’s the timetable: When the NCAA completes the investigation, it will send UM a notice of allegations, without any mention of penalties.

UM then will file a response. If the school disputes any allegations, there will be a hearing in front of the infractions committee as many as 90 days later. Within two months or so after that, the infraction committee will determine the penalties.

The lead investigators on the UM case have a reputation for being tough: former Missouri State player and coach Rich Johanningmeier and Ameen Najjar, former attorney for the Illinois Police Department. One coach who was investigated by Johanningmeier was quoted a few years ago as saying: “Some of these guys, if they find a locked door, they just go home. This guy goes to the next door.”

Though UM won’t be surprised if it has at least one more bowl ban and scholarship losses, it hopes to be helped by the fact it is cooperating with the NCAA more than Ohio State and Southern California did.

The NCAA, moving slowly, still hasn’t called a lot of people that Shapiro implicated; Randy Phillips – who Shapiro said “was like a son to me” and was accused of taking benefits – said he hasn’t been contacted, for instance. The NCAA interviewed at least one player twice – Aldarius Johnson, because it believed he concealed information the first time. What did Johnson tell the NCAA the second time? “I just sat there,” he said.

### Forget talk that the Dolphins need an accomplished deep threat. General Manager Jeff Ireland insists they have one in Clyde Gates, who had only two catches for 19 yards as a rookie.

“You are really going to see Clyde Gates’ future starting this season. He has a great future,” Ireland said. “With his background, he wasn’t going to come in Week 1 and blow everybody away. He has to learn to be a better pro, a better worker and more flexible in the offense. But I have high regard for him. The only thing I was discouraged about was not getting him more opportunities last year.”

### Money was obviously the big reason (and the new ballpark, to a less extent) to explain how the Marlins lured three top free agents. But closer Heath Bell said something else made a difference: “Most owners don’t call a player and chit-chat when they’re negotiating. But Jeffrey Loria does that. I thought that was pretty awesome, pretty cool. He really wanted me and that appealed to me. My owner in San Diego never called.”

Over the past three years, Bell has allowed just a .199 average with men in scoring position, .189 with runners on base and .158 wuth runners in scoring position and two outs.

March 12, 2012

Winston to visit; network skepticism on Manning/Miami; Fins pay Murtha, Merling

Quick notes while waiting on Peyton Manning:

### Developing story... The Dolphins have traded Brandon Marshall to Chicago for two third-round picks, as reported at 3:55 p.m. by Fox's Jay Glazer. Source has confirmed. Dolphins now have $16 million in cap space. They are pursuing several veterans, including right tackle Eric Winston.

### The Dolphins placed a second-round tender on restricted free agent tackle Lydon Murtha, which means he will make $1.927 million next season. That money is not guaranteed, but the Dolphins like Murtha. They also gave an original round tender to Philip Merling, giving him $1.26 million.

Lex Hilliard and Ryan Baker were not tendered.

Murtha could emerge as an option to start at right tackle. Which brings us to this...

### Winston, who went to the University of Miami, started all 16 games last season and ranked 11th among all NFL tackles, according to profootballfocus.com. He ranked fourth as a run blocker. Winston, cut by the Texans on Monday, is the best free agent right tackle on the market. He told me he will visit the Dolphins in the next couple days but does not yet have an offer from Miami.

The Dolphins want to save much of their cap space until they receive an answer from Peyton Manning, or potentially, backup plan Matt Flynn. But Winston would clearly be the best right tackle available unless the Dolphins use the eighth pick of the draft on Iowa's Riley Reiff. Problem is, bidding will be high for him.

Oakland tight end Kevin Boss, Redskins safety O.J. Atogwe and Arizona left tackle Levi Brown were among other players expected to be cut Monday. 

### Even after the Dolphins got a meeting with Murtha, ESPN's Adam Schefter continues to downplay the Dolphins' chances, saying it was essentially a courtesy and Miami is unlikely to be his destination. (Schefter and Chris Mortensen are represented by CAA, which also represents Manning.)

NFL Network's Michael Lombardi also expressed skepticism about whether Miami to be in the race much longer. But who knows for sure what Manning is thinking? Denver has told people it believes it has a very, very, very good chance.

### Though the Dolphins will get a chance to make a pitch to Manning, the competition apparently is ratcheting up even further.

The Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers – two teams that the Dolphins always feared more than any others in the Manning sweepstakes – have both inquired about him, according to the Denver Post.

The 49ers still are trying to re-sign Alex Smith, and Smith has expressed optimism. The Texans publicly have expressed a commitment to Matt Schaub, but would become the favorites (along with Denver) for Manning if they make an offer. The Houston Chronicle disputed the Denver Post report and said the Texans aren't pursuing Manning.

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin will meet with Manning on Monday evening or Tuesday morning, or possibly both. Manning will meet with Titans coach Mike Munchak soon after.

Denver, Arizona, Miami, San Francisco, Tennessee and Houston remain in the running.

### Though it would seem that the Dolphins would risk losing Matt Flynn by waiting for a decision from Manning, don’t be surprised if Flynn waits for Manning to pick a team, assuming it happens in the next few days. The Flynn camp realizes that the number, and potentially the value of the offers for Flynn will increase if Manning is off the market. Flynn becomes available at 4 p.m. Tuesday, with the Browns and Seahawks among expected suitors. The Dolphins will pursue him if they cannot get Manning.

### The Dolphins had put all their prominent free agents in a holding pattern in the last week while waiting for resolution on Manning. But on Monday, they renewed attempts to re-sign Kendall Langford. It’s unclear if anything will get done before the start of free agency.

Paul Soliai is expected to hit free agency, where he figures to make far more than Miami was willing to offer. Vernon Carey sold his South Florida home and likely will sign elsewhere unless the Dolphins surprisingly make a substantial offer. Miami's other unrestricted free agents are Ikaika Alama Francis, Will Allen, Marc Colombo, Chad Henne, J.P. Losman, Marvin Mitchell, Steve Slaton and Paul Soliai.

### Classy move by Al Golden to reach out to all 32 teams and give background information and recommendations of UM’s numerous draft eligible players.

### Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said center Dexter Pittman must learn how to make adjustments during games to avoid foul trouble. "We've seen growth and it's dramatic growth," Spoelstra said. "His minutes will be spot minutes based on circumstance and what we need."

March 10, 2012

Second Monday update: Philbin will meet with Manning; other Fins notes

The Dolphins will get a forum with Peyton Manning after all, but not exactly the one they envisioned.

Manning will meet with Dolphins coach Joe Philbin sometime in the next two days, according to a source. ESPN reported that besides meeting with Philbin, Manning also plans to meet with Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak.

News of Manning's looming meeting with Philbin came five hours after ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Manning will be taking no more visits after meeting with Denver on Friday and Arizona on Sunday.

The Dolphins had hoped to make a full presentation to Manning, with Philbin, general manager Jeff Ireland and owner Stephen Ross in attendance.

But the Dolphins, desperate to sign Manning, will settle for whatever they can get at this point, and are relieved Manning will meet with Philbin for a football-intensive discussion, without bells and whistles. The Dolphins are hopeful Philbin can make a connection with Manning because of Philbin's offensive expertise and calm, pleasant demeanor.

Phibin's meeting with Manning is expected Monday night or Tuesday morning, Mortensen reported.

Schefter said there's no urgency for Manning to see the Dolphins facility, because he has been there during preparation for the Colts' two Super Bowl appearances at Sun Life Stadium.

Two Dolphins sources insisted Monday that they believe the Dolphins are still in the running for Manning, and the meeting with Philbin certainly would strongly suggest that.

One factor apparently hurting the Dolphins is the fact they have no high-level coach or executive who has a longstanding relationship with Manning. By contrast, Manning has a good relationship with Broncos coach John Fox and executive John Elway and Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt. That's why it's critical Manning feels a comfort level with Philbin and his plans for the offense.

Mortensen said Manning is "exhausted" from his three-day Western trip, not expected to make a decision before the start of free agency at 4 p.m. Tuesday and might not make a decision until next week. He reportedly flew on Sunday night from Phoenix to South Florida, where he has a home. 

Depending on the feedback they get from the Manning camp, the Dolphins must decide whether to wait on Manning or make an agressive bid for Green Bay free agent Matt Flynn when free agency starts Tuesday. Flynn is expected to receive immediate interest from at least one team (Cleveland) and possibly another (Seattle) that are not involved in the Manning sweepstakes.

 

Now, on to some other Dolphins items, on the draft and free agency:

### What if the Dolphins don't get Manning? Interest in Matt Flynn is expected in that scenario, but not everyone inside the organization is enthusiastic about that. One official raised questions about how much better Flynn is than Matt Moore.

Coach Joe Philbin, Flynn's offensive coordinator in Green Bay, likes Flynn, and so an offer to Flynn appears inevitable if Miami strikes out on Manning. But at the Dolphins ownership level, there's some uncertainty about what they would be getting and no great conviction he's destined to be a franchise quarterback. And now that Washington has aquired the No. 2 pick (and the right to draft Robert Griffin III), the bidding for Flynn could get awfully high, with Cleveland and potentially Seattle among the other expected suitors.

The Dolphins' other free agent options aren't good, with Jason Campbell and Kyle Orton among others available. If the Dolphins strike out on Manning and Flynn, Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill becomes an option at No. 8 in the draft.

### We solicited views from several NFL scouts on Miami’s potential options with the No. 8 pick, and here’s some of what was expressed: serious concerns about North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples because of questionable effort/attitude; support for South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram (two scouts said Miami should take him); and a warning not to overlook LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers as an option at No. 8.

One scout who spoke to North Carolina coaches said: “Coples turned people off. He was out for himself all year. He needs an attitude adjustment. I saw lack of effort. Sometimes, there’s a play going away from him and he won’t chase it hard, if he chases it at all. He stands and watches sometimes. It’s a shame, because he’s got all the talent you would want in a 4-3 defensive end. He would fit a 4-3 end role better than Melvin Ingram or Courtney Upshaw.”

Another scout said Coples, 6-5 and 284 pounds, "would scare me half to death because of lack of effort, lack of production." Another said, "Anytime you pick a guy in the top 10, you want to see effort every play and it wasn't there with him." It's a tossup whether Coples will be available when Miami picks eighth.

### All the scouts like Ingram – “strong, explosive, outstanding pass rusher” with good speed for his position - but two voiced mild concerns about his height (6-1) and arm length (30 ½ inches). Though some project him as a 4-3 defensive end, two envision him as a better fit at linebacker because "he’s short. His leverage against some of the tackles is not going to be good,” one scout said.

Another said, "If you look at Pittsburgh's LaMarr Woodley, he has 34 inch arms. When you're an undersized linebacker, you would like that length."

Still, all agreed Ingram would be a better pick than Alabama’s Upshaw, who “doesn’t have the type of speed and quickness Ingram has.” The evaluators said Ingram would be best as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Miami wants to use primarily a 4-3.

### The scout who advocated Brockers (6-5, 322 pounds, 35-inch arms) said he has more upside than Ingram, Upshaw or Iowa’s Riley Reiff but without Coples’ red flags. At 19, “he’s already so dominant in the run phase, and he will develop into a pass rusher,” one said, comparing him to Raiders and former Patriots standout Richard Seymour.

### The consensus from the scouts was even though Reiff is a solid player, picking a right tackle at No. 8 isn’t good value. “You want someone with more impact at that spot,” one scout said. “You already have your left tackle and you can get your right tackle in the second or third round.” ESPN’s Mel Kiper disagrees, saying Thursday that “with right tackle being so problematic… I would go Reiff if I get Manning.”

### The Dolphins' pick could have more value in a trade if a top-six talent such as LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon or Alabama running back Trent Richardson falls to No. 8. Trading down is a realistic option because the Dolphins will have multiple needs to fill in the draft if Manning takes up much of their cap space.

### What about fast-rising defensive tackle Dontari Poe at No. 8? The scouts said that’s too high. “He wowed everybody at the Combine, but he was up and down at Memphis.”

### Who, besides Coples and Ingram, would be next best as a pass-rusher for Miami? One scout said Southern California’s Nick Perry, but that No. 8 is too high. Another said Marshall’s Vinny Curry if Miami trades down to get a first-rounder in the 20s. Miami also has studied Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus (16 sacks), a one-year wonder projected to go in the teens.

### The scouts said taking Tannehill at No. 8 can be justified if Miami doesn’t get Manning or Matt Flynn because of his strong arm and ability to extend plays with his feet. But accuracy “in the face of pressure” was one concern raised.

### The Dolphins have put all their prominent free agents on hold while awaiting word from Manning. Those who have spoken to the team say they don’t want to go wild in free agent spending beyond Manning but badly want to find a starting-caliber No. 3 corner because third corners are on the field so much. Kelly Jennings, Richard Marshall, Eric Wright, Terrell Thomas, Cedric Griffin and Dimitri Patterson are among free agents who would fit that bill.

Miami hopes to find pass rushers and potentially a right tackle in the draft. Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland still hopes to re-sign Kendall Langford (“very good run player, dependable, never been late to a meeting, never had one angry word with a coach,” Ireland said). But if Ireland cannot, he still has Randy Starks, Jared Odrick, Tony McDaniel and restricted free agent Phillip Merling to play tackle in a 4-3. Odrick and Starks can play end, also.

### Though Yeremiah Bell has a big salary ($4.3 million), Ireland reiterated his commitment to him because “that’s the one piece who is absolutely one of the highest competitors on the team.”

### The Dolphins don’t view receiver as a pressing need and are curious how insistent Manning will be about adding Reggie Wayne to the team he signs with. NFL Network’s Marshall Faulk insists it’s a package deal, and it’s difficult to see the Dolphins allowing that to jeopardize their chances.

CHATTER

### One of Erik Spoelstra’s toughest decisions remains whether to use Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier or Mike Miller with the Big Three and Udonis Haslem late in close games. So far, he has opted usually for Chalmers; the Heat has outscored teams by a modest five points in 74 minutes with that lineup, compared with plus-24 in just 15 minutes with Miller. With Battier and the four others, Miami has been outscored by four in 14 minutes.... Add ex-Heat forward Shavlik Randolph to the list of veteran power rotation players who have been under consideration by Miami. But the Heat is encouraged by the recent play of Dexter Pittman.

### The Marlins, internally, are discussing offering a longterm deal to Giancarlo Stanton, who’s not eligible for free agency until after 2016. “If they offer, I would love to,” he said.

Asked by a fan about having 60 homers so early in his career, Stanton – who’s at 56 – cracked, “I’m not at 60 yet. Give me about a week!” Cleanup poses a new challenge for Stanton, who produced less in that spot (.220, no homers in 82 at-bats) than anywhere else he batted much in 2011.

### We hear that UM guard Durand Scott was suspended for Friday's ACC Tournament game because a former UM assistant coach provided transportation to a family member as well as Scott's former AAU coach. Both are NCAA violations. The assistant coach told the NCAA a long time ago that he provided transportation to the AAU coach, which makes it even more unfair and outrageous that the NCAA made this an issue a few hours before the Hurricanes' most important game of the season. UM has asked the NCAA to reinstate him. And our question is this: When will the former coaches be held accountable?

### UM and FAU have discussed starting a football series; FAU wants a home-and-home. UM prefers a home game but said it hasn’t ruled out a home-and-home. UM wants fewer tough non-conference games; UF (2013), Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Michigan State are among those already booked. Also scheduled in future years: Rutgers, Memphis, Toledo and Cincinnati. The USF series will end after 2013 because UM didn't want to continue…. Two NFC scouts said receiver LaRon Byrd (4.46 in the 40) helped himself more than any player at UM’s Pro Day. Travis Benjamin and Olivier Vernon also helped themselves.

 

 

 

   

March 08, 2012

Friday media column: ABC's unique NBA approach; Barkley off selection show

FRIDAY MEDIA COLUMN

 

One NBA rights-holder offers up a studio analyst who displays no regard for political correctness and cracks, “You can’t fine someone for being a nitwit.” (You’re absolutely right about that, Charles Barkley.)

Another rights-holder gives us a lead analyst who ventures off on odd, amusing tangents and even criticizes the commissioner. (Yes, there’s nobody quite like Jeff Van Gundy calling games.)

There’s something different and fresh and unique and envelope-pushing about elements of national-network NBA coverage that you simply don’t see on several other sports.

And ABC this season has crafted another one: the first host-less studio show, a program with four “analysts” but not a single person trained at being an anchor – the one who smoothly navigates in and out of breaks, narrates highlights and elicits insight from the analysts.

The ESPN executives who run ABC’s sports division hoped that ditching the host (Stuart Scott or, less often, Hannah Storm) and instead using a fourth analyst (Chris Broussard) would produce more lively, free-flowing dialogue among the talking heads: Broussard, Magic Johnson, Jon Barry and Michael Wilbon. Magic agreed to increase his workload – something ESPN sought before telling Scott he was no longer needed on ABC.

Give ESPN/ABC credit here: The blueprint has worked. No, none of the four generate chuckles like Barkley does on TNT. But there are more meaty, thought-provoking debates, more spirited exchanges, and as an offshoot, more of an incentive now to tune in, even though some South Florida fans disdain Barry for perceived anti-Heat bias.

At least give Barry credit for being self-deprecating: “I was an average to below average player depending on what family member we ask,” he said.

The dialogue was especially lively last Sunday when the four men debated LeBron James’ late-game tendencies and whether the Lakers should send a message to the Heat by committing a hard foul. All advocated a hard foul except Broussard, who reasonably said, “Hard fouls get you suspended. You can’t risk a suspension.” Wilbon said of Wade’s All-Star Game foul on Kobe Bryant – breaking his nose – “If the Lakers take that, they’ll stand for anything!”

None of the four analysts have embarrassed themselves voicing over highlights, and Barry and Wilbon have capably weaved in and out of commercials.

Is this the wave of the future, the preferred new format for studio shows? Generally, no. Imagine how lost Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal would be without Ernie Johnson. And TV sports’ other premier hosts – Bob Costas, James Brown, Chris Fowler, to name a few – add elements that would be sorely missed without them.

But in this forum, ABC not only hasn’t lost anything by dropping a trained anchor, it actually has made its product more watchable.

### WPLG-10’s 13.9 rating for Heat-Lakers last Sunday was its second-highest ever for an ABC regular-season Heat game. For perspective, Dolphins games averaged a 17.7 local rating last season.

AROUND THE DIAL

### Good news judgment by NFL Network to cancel taped programming Tuesday night and go with wall-to-wall Peyton Manning coverage. Yes, all the speculation gets repetitive, but the idea is to keep refreshing the story for viewers who are just tuning in. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen continues to distinguish himself on the story, getting it right and often getting it first.

### ESPN will reinstate anchor Max Bretos in the next two weeks, after completing a month-long suspension for using the idiom ‘chink in the armor’ when discussing Knicks guard Jeremy Lin. Anthony Federico, an ESPN on-line producer, was fired for the same offense.

The view here is that neither punishment should have been as severe, because both employees made a convincing case that they were merely using a common cliché without considering the racial overtones. Even Jason Fry, who reviewed the incident on ESPN’s web site as part of the Poynter Institute review project, said Bretos’ punishment was excessive because his comment was merely a slip of the tongue and “there was no sign he was trying to be snarky or clever.”

But Fry raised a valid point, largely overlooked, for why some punishment was justified: In the week before both Bretos and Federico uttered the phrase, ESPN twice warned employees to be racially sensitive in discussing Linn. ESPN issued a memo to all content groups “urging staffers to be cognizant of how Lin was discussed.”

Why the difference in punishment for the two ESPN employees? Federico had the time to go back and change the headline. Bretos, on live television, obviously could not get a do-over.

### Only five or six of the Marlins’ 162 games will not be televised. One of the five is the second regular-season game ever at Marlins Park: April 13 vs. Houston. The others: Rockies on May 23, at Arizona on Aug. 20, at Washington on Sept. 8 and Reds on Sept. 14. The one game in question is July 1 against Philadelphia, which might be an ESPN Sunday night game.. Fox Sports Florida will carry four spring training games, including 1 p.m. Saturday against St. Louis. ESPN has Monday afternoon’s Marlins-Red Sox game.

### A few changes to NCAA Tournament coverage: Barkley and Kenny Smith have been removed from CBS’ selection show on Sunday but will remain studio analysts on Tournament games. Also, Kevin Harlan replaces Fox’s Gus Johnson as one of the play-by-play men working the regional semifinals and finals (Jim Nantz, Marv Albert and Verne Lundquist are the others). Like last year, CBS, TNT, TBS or TruTV will carry every game nationally.

### Classy move by UM, with an assist from Drew Rosenhaus, for allowing Southern Connecticut University tight end Nick Mandich – youngest son of the late Dolphins player/announcer Jim Mandich – to participate in UM’s Pro Day on Thursday. Mandich has spoken to Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland and hopes to latch on with an NFL team after the draft.