SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin hasn’t publicly challenged many players in his first seven months, but Jared Odrick, Koa Misi and Sean Smith are clear exceptions.
During the spring, Philbin made clear he wants to see Odrick “really step up and emerge in year three”; called for Misi to “be more productive and make more impact plays"; and challenged Smith to be steadier, not great one minute and deficient the next.
Their response, so far, has been encouraging. All three have produced strong camps and solidified starting spots.
No Dolphins defensive back was more impressive in offseason work than Smith, who enters the final year of his contract and could earn a lucrative deal with a big year.
“I’m getting better,” he said. “My whole thing is to let the game come to me rather than trying to force things. [Former defensive backs coach] Todd Bowles taught me, before he left, to relax and do whatever it was that got me here. Where I've really improved is staying low out of my breaks.” He generally has improved his technique, something former teammate Yeremiah Bell implored him to do.
Smith, who lost 24 pounds this offseason, cut his dreadlocks, largely to reshape the way he presents himself. “It’s all about how you’re perceived on and off the field. I want a more professional, mature approach. The coaches like it.”
Pro Football Focus ranked Smith 105th of 109 cornerbacks for 2011 and charged him with five touchdowns allowed and a 90.8 quarterback rating in his coverage area. But he finished strong, with two interceptions in his final six games, after producing one in his first 41.
If there was any chance Richard Marshall would start ahead of him, Smith has seemingly eliminated that possibility.
“I like what I see in Sean,” Philbin said. “His approach has been serious and he’s adjusted well to the new scheme. There are indications he’s a hair more confident than the past. His attention to detail has been good. I think he’s maturing.”
General manager Jeff Ireland also likes what he has seen; Smith said Ireland told him to "keep up the good work."
Smith, who has been studying tapes of NFL cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Antonio Cromartie, likes that defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is giving him “leeway to do whatever I choose” – pressing a receiver or playing off – and Smith will vary his strategy.
“This defense allows the secondary to make a lot more plays," he said. "There’s a lot more disguising in this defense. I love it.”
Odrick, meantime, has adjusted well to end in a 4-3 defense - a position he played some as a freshman at Penn State. He had a sack in Saturday's scrimmage and has been stout against the run throughout training camp.
“Sean Smith asked me how I like the defense,” Odrick said. “I said my position is more fun because there’s nothing stationary about the job. I get to do more.”
Odrick had five sacks in 596 snaps last season (he was rated 20th of 32 3-4 defensive ends by PFF) and said double figure sacks is a “realistic” goal. He probably will shift to tackle on third downs.
At 302 pounds, he’s bigger than traditional 4-3 ends, including 258-pound Cam Wake.
“There are not many 300-pound d-ends,” Odrick said. “People would expect less of you being a bigger guy on the edge. But it helps in setting an anchor in the run game.”
Plus, the Dolphins believe he’s athletic enough to get to the quarterback from that spot.
“He’s a very talented guy, unique in a lot of ways,” defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers said. “His athleticism is going to help him make the adjustment to doing that.”
Misi had 2 ½ sacks in his first six NFL games but four in 22 games since, though he often was used in coverage last year, allowing 11 completions in 19 passes against him.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said Misi is making the biggest adjustment of any player in this new defense, because he will be playing a lot more off the line of scrimmage (as a SAM linebacker) after playing on the line last year.
"It has been difficult, real challenging," Misi said. "But I'm liking it. I have a chance to make more tackles. I'm going to work a lot harder to be a better player than in the past."
Misi's solid camp so far includes an interception return for a touchdown early in camp and a sack in Saturday's scrimmage. “We’re excited about his progress,” Coyle said. “He’s improving every day.”
### CBS analyst and former NFL MVP Rich Gannon spent 90 minutes in Dolphins quarterback meetings last week and was struck by Ryan Tannehill’s “knowledge, his answers, his assertiveness. There’s uncertainty with a lot of rookies, but not him. You love his athleticism and toughness, his footwork, his mechanics. He may not be where Andrew Luck is, but he’s a lot further along than a lot of guys coming out. He'll be a really fine player.”
### The Dolphins have told people that the positions they would especially consider adding veterans at are receiver and safety, but only if the players on the roster don't impress in camp. Several of them have (including Legedu Naanee), which is why Miami passed on Braylon Edwards even though he impressed them in a workout....Though Charles Clay makes a lot of plays, his drops in practice have become a bit of a concern... Under-the-radar Anderson Russell keeps making plays in his bid for a backup safety job. ... See our last post for everything Phibin and Tannehill had to say after Saturday's scrimmage.
### A Marlins official told us management has made too many staffing changes for its own good, pointing out the the offense has performed worse under hitting coach Eduardo Perez (.241, last in National League in runs), that it did under fired predecessors Jim Presley and John Mallee. (The Marlins were hitting .250 and 10th in runs scored when Mallee was dumped in June 2011.)
“Hanley Ramirez won a batting title under Jim Presley,” the official reminded. “You can’t change guys all the time. You don’t get rid of them if you can’t replace them with anyone better.” It might be awkward to dump Perez because his father Tony is a special assistant to the president.
Keep in mind that Logan Morrison, Gaby Sanchez and Chris Coghlan did their best work under Mallee, but Marlins officials didn’t like that he socialized with players, according to another team official. Though Marlins special assistants Jeff Conine and Andre Dawson probably could help, both say they are reluctant to offer the hitters advice on mechanics because they don’t want to overload them.
### An NCAA investigator visited Shelly Bloom Fashion Clothiers in Miami a couple of weeks ago to try to get Bloom to corroborate some of Nevin Shapiro’s claims. Bloom said he told the NCAA “nothing,” but “I did try to sell them some suits.”
Bloom said Yahoo! got it wrong when it reported that Bloom confirmed Shapiro spent thousands on suits and clothing for Devin Hester, Tavares Gooden and Willis McGahee. Bloom insists he never said that.
### A UM Board of Trustee member said the top of the school's administration believes the latest allegations against Al Golden (that he was aware of Sean Allen’s improper involvement with recruits at that time) are not true. “I have no doubt he’s not involved,” said one-high level UM official who speaks to Golden a lot. “He’s as clean as you can be.”
### The high level of optimism regarding Stephen Morris extends beyond UM’s walls. “I like his poise and arm strength, and the way he handles up and downs impressed me,” ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit said off the air. “He keeps the same demeanor.”... UM needs more from its defensive tackles, so it's a good sign to see starter Darius Smith get in better shape. He said he could play effectively on only about 20 plays a game at 360 pounds last season. Now he's at 323, and UM wants him to lose even more weight. "He has to become a little bit more of a playmaker, not just somebody that's hard to block," Golden said Saturday.
### A sign of the times: Recruiting starts so incredibly early now that St. Peter’s (N.J.) sophomore quarterback Brandon Wimbush reportedly has an offer from UM (plus Rutgers, Maryland and Temple) even though he hasn’t taken a single varsity snap.
### Though Miami is reportedly one of several teams that made an exploratory inquiry about former Wizards power forward/center Andray Blatche (but no contract offer), Heat president Pat Riley, making a tour of local radio stations this past week, told WQAM's Joe Rose that "unless there's an injury, we really don't need [to add a veteran] center."...
Riley also told WMEN's Orlando Alzugaray: "I don't think [Dexter Pittman] had a very solid summer league. We need him. He's got the bulk. He's got the size. He's got the hands. He needs to break through, though.''...
An official on the Heat's basketball side said the team’s philosophy is simple: “We have to surround our great players with speed. Big, slow guys are not what we need. Size is never going to be our strength.”
### Miami Northwestern coach Stephen Field said Vernon Carey, 31, whom the Dolphins chose not to re-sign, has retired and become the Bulls’ co-offensive line coach. Carey did not generate much NFL interest this offseason.