SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Touching on Dolphins issues with training camp opening Friday:
### Most interesting position other than quarterback: Has to be receiver. Brian Hartline and Davone Bess are safe; Chad Ochocinco is still too gifted physically not to make it unless he struggles grasping the offense: “He’s still got it; he looks like a young kid out there,” Reggie Bush said. Joe Philbin really likes Legedu Naanee, who's in the top four now but can't allow the young guys to badly outplay him in preseason.
"I'm excited about our wide receivers," offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. "I know it's an unknown group."
If Ochocinco and Naanee stick, that leaves one or two spots for Roberto Wallace (most impressive of the unproven ones), Marlon Moore (good speed but some exasperating drops), Clyde Gates (still thinking too much), Julius Pruitt (three touchdowns in one June practice), and long shots Chris Hogan (the second-year kid from Monmouth who was decent in May/June work), B.J. Cunningham (too many drops), Rishard Matthews (will get a look on returns) and Jeff Fuller (practice squad potential).
### Veterans on the bubble: Gates, guard John Jerry (needs to get in much better shape), center Ryan Cook (pricey at $1 million) guards Nate Garner ($1.4 million is steep) and Ray Feinga, safety Tyrell Johnson (if he doesn’t show more), Tyrone Culver (if Johnson surpasses him), linebacker Austin Spitler and tight ends Jeron Mastrud and Will Yeatman (neitherof whom did much notable in May/June to stick as a fourth or fifth tight end, though keep in mind that Philbin’s Packers kept five last year).
### Quarterback chatter: With David Garrard the slight front-runner, here's what some people are saying: Center Mike Pouncey: “Garrard has been great, has been the main guy running with the first team. He brings leadership. Matt Moore did a good job last year but when Garrard is in, it’s a whole different tempo.”… Legedu Naanee: “David has that confidence about him." But also... "Guys believe in [Moore], which is important….
Jimmy Johnson said he’s eager to see what Moore could over a full season and believes he will surprise people…. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett sees a no-lose situation: “Moore can be a good starter; Garrard has a track record of success.”… Rams coach Jeff Fisher: “You can win with Matt Moore. He’s very talented.”
CBS’ Phil Simms: “Moore is a natural thrower. And those types of guys, they get better every year. But do not discount Garrard. He’s big, good pocket presence, spins it. He has thrown for a lot of yards in this league and played for a team that had success. The ball comes out of his hand pretty easy. People trying to tackle him fall off him more than they do even Tim Tebow. He’s one big dude. They have three potential NFL starters and two have proven it.”
### Second-best starting battle after quarterback: Right tackle (Miami wants to insert second-rounder Jonathan Martin right away, but the staff will turn to Lydon Murtha if he can’t handle it) and right guard (Miami ideally would like Artis Hicks as its top backup but had to rethink that because of Jerry’s inadequacies). Ex-Titan Jake Scott is still available (and would love to sign here) if both flop.
"Does Jonathan Martin look as smooth at right tackle as he does at left tackle? No," Philbin said. "Do I believe he can make the transition effectively? Yes."
### Most intriguing non-starter competition: Daniel Thomas enters as the No. 2 running back behind Reggie Bush, but if he doesn’t improve his 3.5 per carry average and yards after contact (fifth-worst among NFL backs), that will open a window for rookie Lamar Miller, who’s more elusive than Thomas, and perhaps Steve Slaton, who this staff really likes. Thomas was an awful 3 for 13 in short yardage run conversions last year.
### Battle that may be of interest only to me: Fourth cornerback. Nolan Carroll has incumbent status, but Jonathan Wade looked very good in minicamp and Quinten Lawrence (a second-year player from McNeese State) made a bunch of plays, including a pick and a perfectly-timed hit on Ochocinco to force a drop. Carroll made the fewest notable plays of the three.
### Under the radar players we want to see more of: Quinten Lawrence… Running back Marcus Thigpen showed speed and shiftiness in mini-camps, but must make an impact on returns to have any chance…. Fullbacks Jerome Messam (the CFL import who shows surprising speed in the open field) and Jorvorskie Lane (ran for 49 touchdowns in 49 games at Texas A&M several years ago). There's no assurance that any of the three fullbacks (including Ryan Mahaffey) will stick, though Miami would like to keep one.
### Position we’re most eager to see deployment of personnel: Tight end, where Miami has cooked up multiple creative formations featuring Anthony Fasano, Charles Clay and/or third-round rookie Michael Egnew. Sherman used some three tight end sets at A&M, often confusing defenses by splitting all of them out on occasion.
“We will be able to get a lot of tight ends on the field and create mismatches,” Fasano said. “Week to week, we’ll see what we want to exploit and use that package. We saw some of Charles Clay’s big-play ability last year. Now, we will exploit that even more and have his role grow. And Egnew is going to be a great player in this league. A little green, but a big, athletic kid than can run.”
### So what led to former equipment manager Sean Allen's testimony against UM, more of which came to light in Friday's Yahoo piece? Days before UM's part of the bankruptcy case was settled last December, Nevin Shapiro's attorney, Maria Elena Perez, subpoened Allen, eager to obtain incriminating information that would corroborate Shapiro's claims against UM.
The deposition did nothing to advance the bankruptcy case - according to people directly involved - but Perez made sure the NCAA got the tape. (Whether she gave the tape of the deposition to Yahoo's Charles Robinson, as many suspect, has not been confirmed, though Perez told me previously how much she likes Robinson.)
The bankruptcy trustee never even got a copy of the deposition, though an attorney for the trustee did listen in via conference call. Perez has not subpoenaed any former UM players.
### Make no mistake: Implicated coaches will face serious consequences. One already has. Former UM assistant basketball coach Jorge Fernandez - on the UM staff that provided improper travel benefits to one of Durand Scott’s AAU coaches and Reggie Johnson’s mother (airfare allegedly provided through Fernandez's frequent flyer miles) - recently resigned from Marshall.
An out-of-town associate said Fernandez indicated it wasn’t his choice. Asked if he was forced to resign because of the UM investigation, Marshall’s athletic director declined to comment. Fernandez said he's not allowed to comment.
We’ve heard other coaches told the NCAA they did nothing wrong, but at least three players have implicated Clint Hurtt (now at Louisville) and at least one has accused Aubrey Hill (now at UF) of taking him to Nevin Shapiro.
There’s no love between former UM basketball coach Frank Haith and his former assistants because Haith did not hire them at Missouri.
### One high-ranking UM official told us Friday that school administrators were fed up with Ray-Ray Armstrong not being honest with them. Late Saturday night, his father Albert confirmed that Armstrong was bounced from the team largely because "he wasn't truthful" about a recent incident.
Albert Armstrong told us that Ray Ray's girlfriend owns a public relations firm that works with professional athletes but is not affiliated with any sports agent. Albert said his son's girlfriend was staying at the Loews Hotel on Memorial Day weekend when Ray-Ray visited her and took a picture of some of the hotel rooms. Ray-Ray then distributed the pictures via Instagram, and UM became aware of it.
When UM confronted him about it, he worried about his future and told the school he wasn't there with his girlfriend that night, his father said. "He told them the truth eventually, but it was a day late and dollar short," Albert Armstrong said.
Last year, UM suspended him for a game for tweeting about a dinner at Prime 112 with that same girlfriend. Booting him from the team was "unfair to extreme measures," Albert Armstrong said. "They need a sacrificial lamb to show, 'We're putting our foot down.'"
Armstrong’s father said InsideTheU's report that his son had interaction with a booster, then tweeted about it, is "completely untrue." He said his son will transfer to another school and play this fall. He said he did not know if the NCAA would punish his son for the Instagram but there was a possibility Ray-Ray might be suspended briefly after he transfers.
The Hurricanes aren’t especially worried about his loss. They feel good about Vaughn Telemaque, AJ Highsmith, Kacy Rodgers, and newcomers Deon Bush and Rayshawn Jenkins.
### Two sources said UM parted way with highly-regarded New York guard Melvin Johnson because of academic issues. UM now has an opening for this season that it could use on high-scoring combo guard Deandre Burnett, a UM commitment who planned to spend the 2012-13 academic year at a Virginia prep school. Carol City assistant coach Dennis Alexander said UM hasn’t ruled out taking Burnett this season instead of next, but that Jim Larranaga told him he prefers to use Johnson's slot on a big man. Burnett averaged 36.2 points as a senior.
### Hanley Ramirez - whose longterm future here is now very much in question - homered in consecutive games this week immediately after Marlins special assistant Andre Dawson told him he needs to look like he’s having fun. Dawson said it “mind-boggling” Ramirez (.249) has declined so dramatically, since hitting .342 in 2009.
“Hanley has got to do some soul searching,” Dawson said. “He has gotten by just on talent but pitchers have made adjustments, throwing a lot of balls off the plate. Now he has to adjust. Talent isn’t enough. Players look to Hanley for leadership and he has to have more enthusiasm.”
Dawson said Jose Reyes’ season has been “dismal. The most surprising thing is he’s stayed healthy.”
### Please see our last post, from earlier Saturday evening, for Heat news on free agency and a wrap-up of summer league.