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Appreciative Miller, Vernon begin Fins careers; Cam Wake gets new deal; Heat,UM

Sunday morning update:

The Dolphins have given linebacker Cameron Wake a four-year, $49 million contract extension, with $20 million guaranteed, a league source said Sunday morning. He has one year left on his current deal, worth $615,000. Wake's extension through 2016 means Miami won't need to use its franchise tag on him next offseason. That tag can be used on Jake Long if needed.

Besides Long, Miami also will try to extend Randy Starks and Brian Hartline, and possibly Reggie Bush. All of those players are entering the last year of their deals.

Before Wake's deal, the Dolphins had just under $7 million in cap space. At least $3 million of that will be needed to sign draft picks. But Wake's bonus will be prorated, so the cap hit this year won't be overwhelming. And the Dolphins will have a ton of space next offseason (more than $45 million), though a lot of that will go to current players (Long, likely Starks, etc.). 

Wake, who has 28 sacks the past three years, had skipped most of the team's voluntary offseason workout program in protest of his contract situation. His sacks dropped from 14 in 2010 to 8.5 in 2011, but he was third in the league in quarterback pressures with 52 last season.

 

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

The call before Miami's 72nd overall pick was so unexpected, as his mother tells the story, that Olivier Vernon actually asked the Dolphins, “Is this for real? This is not a prank call, is it?”

But after everyone realized it wasn’t, and after all “the cheers and mayhem” dissipated inside the Vernon home north of Miami Lakes, Olivier turned to his mother –- who told him two nights earlier that she hoped he didn’t need to move away to begin his NFL career -- and said simply, "Mom, your dream came true."

To which mom replied, "Yours did, too.”

The Dolphins haven’t given us many feel-good stories the past few months, but their selection of UM standouts Vernon (American High) and Lamar Miller (Killian) qualifies as one. “It's surreal,” Bernadette Vernon said, noting her son “always mentioned he wanted to play for the Dolphins.”

After drafting two UM players in 20 years, the Dolphins suddenly snagged two in 15 hours. “Two tremendous prospects,” general manager Jeff Ireland said. “The ceiling is endless.”

The rookies took the field for the first time as Dolphins Friday, and Miller’s speed and shiftiness were on display on several carries. They understand how fortunate they are to be staying home to begin their careers; Brandon Washington and Tommy Streeter called Vernon last week to make that point.

“I knew they needed a pass rusher, but I didn’t think I’d be the one,” Vernon said, thrilled that he and Miller will “start a new beginning and share this experience together.”

If he plays well in preseason, Vernon should seize an immediate role in the nickel package, as a rusher alongside Cameron Wake, Jared Odrick and Tony McDaniel or Randy Starks. That was a role handled by Jason Taylor (seven sacks last season), and Vernon says confidently, “I can fill those shoes.”

Some teams envisioned him as a outside linebacker – and Joe Philbin wouldn’t rule that out – but Vernon was told the Dolphins view him as an end in their defense, which will use a 4-3 base. “And I’m more comfortable with that,” he said.

Ireland was impressed by Vernon’s ability to play the run and he’s “got some strength, some pop, some snap in his body that’s hard to coach.”

One NFC scout told us, “I gave Vernon a late second-round grade, and at the Combine, he was one of four outside kids who looked comfortable dropping into coverage and didn’t look like a deer in the headlights. Good speed and quickness.” Another said: “Raw but strong and physical and I think he’s going to be a better pro than college player.”

Miller, who said he looked up to Reggie Bush growing up, thought he would be the second back drafted. Instead, he was the eighth. He said it stung every time a back went ahead of him.

“I was angry at first. Now, it’s motivation. I felt like the best running back on the board, but other teams didn’t think that so I’ve got to prove a point. I have great vision to catch the ball. I can make guys miss in tight spaces.” But the draft slide reinforced that “I’ve got to get better.”

Besides challenging for carries as a rookie (“he’s a guy we think can break tackles,” Philbin said), he also will be a factor in the passing game. Philbin said there’s a “chance he can spread himself out and play as a receiver” at times.

He will be given every chance to beat out Clyde Gates on kick returns “and I’ll probably do some punt returns,” too. Davone Bess was fifth in the NFL in punt return average, and if Bess becomes a starter, Philbin said he’s not “morally opposed” to using a starting receiver in that role.

Several scouts raved about Miller’s 4.4 speed and what a good value he was at No. 97, but one cautioned, “I studied six games, and he’s an erect runner. In the North Carolina game, he had 29 yards on 15 carries.” But he averaged 7.1 per carry vs. Ohio State, 9.2 vs. Virginia, 4.2 vs. FSU and 6.2 against ranked teams overall.

He ran best (5.8 average) in the first and fourth quarters. At UM, he was often replaced by Mike James in short yardage, and it remains to be seen whether he will be effective at that in the pros; Miller ran for 10 yards on 7 carries on third- or fourth- and one last season.

Unlike Vernon, Miller said he wasn't a Dolphins fan growing up; he didn't root for any particular team but said he enjoyed watching Bush, Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.

After practice Friday, Miller – who said his surgically repaired shoulder is nearly fully healed – stopped alongside Vernon, smiled and flashed a U sign for a photographer. “We have a great bond,” Miller said of himself and Vernon. “I feel very special to be able to play for my home fans.”

### Besides Jacory Harris, two other departing UM players -- offensive lineman Joel Figueroa and cornerback Michael Williams - also are auditioning for the Dolphins this weekend. Harris, whose camp had previously announced plans for him to try out for Arizona, instead indicated he will next audition for the Philadelphia Eagles.

CHATTER

### ABC’s Jeff Van Gundy notes the Heat usually plays well when Mario Chalmers does; not only does this playoff series (54 percent shooting, 14.3 points) support that, but the play of Chalmers (and Chris Bosh) varied more in wins and losses than anyone else on the team. This season, Chalmers shot 49 percent in wins, 37 percent in losses. He had seven more turnovers than assists in losses, 87 more assists in wins.

“He’s become solid,” Knicks point guard Baron Davis said. “He’s really worked on his jumper, and he’s always been a good defender.” Here’s something to put on a resume: Chalmers finished third behind LeBron James and Tony Parker in the NBA’s plus/minus numbers this season, with Miami outscoring teams by 390 points when he was on the floor. Bosh was fourth, Dwyane Wade 10th.

### Bosh’s rebounding has risen since moving to center (nine per game in seven starts there), but he said that’s a coincidence. What changed, he said, is that he started telling himself to ‘Go get the damn ball!’ Said Bosh: “Rebounding is all I’m worried about in the playoffs.”

### Charles Barkley said Indiana is "very deep" and would be “very difficult” for Miami in a second-round series, noting center Roy Hibbert “is going to have a decided advantage over Joel Anthony.” Memo to Sir Charles: Bosh is starting, not Anthony, though Anthony will play Hibbert some. A reminder: Unlike the NHL, the NBA does not re-seed after each round. So even if No. 8 Philadelphia knocks off No. 1 Chicago, the No. 2 Heat would still get the Pacers-Magic winner in the next round.

### Of UM’s five football oral commitments for 2013, two of the top ones --- South Plantation’s Alex Collins (rivals.com’s 14th best running back) and South Fort Myers safety Jayron Kearse (former NFL star Jevon’s nephew) said harsh NCAA sanctions could make them look elsewhere. Other orals so far: Delray Beach Atlantic’s Keith Bryant (“one of the top d-tackles in the state,” analyst Charles Fishbein said); New Orleans’ Standish Dobard (nation’s No. 8 tight end); and Lake Mary running back Ray Lewis III (the only one of the five without a rivals.com ranking).

Elite New Jersey quarterback Kevin Olsen (formert UM tight end Greg’s brother) plans to decide by late June among UM, Wisconsin, Auburn and South Carolina…. Albert Jean-Louis, UM’s highest-rated receiver in its 2012 class, said he will enroll at Miami in January after attending prep school this fall.

### Heath Bell’s velocity is down a mile from last year (to 92.9 mph), but the bigger issue, according to a Marlins official, is he’s not throwing his curveball for strikes. Plus, metrics show batters are swinging at a lot less of his non-strikes than last year. Discouraging all around for a proud closer who converted 90.4 percent of his save chances from 2009 to 2011, behind only Jose Valverde and Mariano Rivera, and well ahead of the 12th-place closer formerly known as Leo Nunez (81.4). Ozzie Guillen hinted he's ready to give save opportunities to Steve Cishek, who deserves it. A Marlins official agreed with that move, saying giving the team the best chance to win is most important at this point.

###  Privately, Marlins players have been very impressed how notorious hothead Carlos Zambrano has handled Bell blowing three of his wins… Last year’s first-round pick, right-hander Jose Fernandez, has been fabulous at Class A Greensboro (3-0, five runs, 37 strikeouts in 28 innings).

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