SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
With Thursday's critical game against Virginia Tech looming, we solicited input from three NFL evaluators and others on the state of the Hurricanes program:
### Among the points raised by NFL scouts, who asked that their names not be used: This is the worst defensive line they’ve seen from the Hurricanes in many years; the defensive play-calling should be more aggressive; but Al Golden is doing about as well as can be expected with this roster.
“Look - you lost your senior class, then you lose five of your better juniors, then you lose Ray-Ray Armstrong,” one longtime scout said, also acknowledging tackle Curtis Porter’s absence due to an appendectomy. “Has any school ever lost five juniors the same year? Who the hell is left? They have young athletes, but you need some experience to win.”
### The consensus is UM must find better defensive linemen to become a big winner again. “Worst I’ve seen from a Miami team,” one longtime NFL scout said. “What they miss most is those strong, athletic, really good 6-4, 290 pounds defensive tackles. LSU and Alabama have three or four of those guys. The irony is the last couple years, Temple had a better defensive line than Miami does now. That’s how far Miami has fallen.”
Said another scout: “They just don’t have the size and strength up front. When was the last No. 1 pick they had on the defensive line?” That would be Vince Wilfork in 2004.
The scout, who observed a closed Hurricanes practice this season, said if you take the UM jersey off the back, you could not distinguish most of Miami’s front-seven defensive players from, say, Central Florida or any other FBS program not in one of the major conferences.
"I’ve never seen the upper class talent so thin there,” the scout said. “UCF might be able to beat them if they played. The overall talent is mediocre. I said at the start of the year, if Al Golden won six games, it would be a great coaching job.”
### One scout said sophomore Anthony Chickillo is getting more attention from opponents because there’s no pass-rush threat opposite him. “And Chickillo is not dynamic,” he said. “If you’re going to be his size, you need to be an explosive pass rusher.”
### One scout, asked to assess some of the others as college players (not as pro prospects): “Eddie Johnson is going to be a stud. Deon Bush is going to be a very good player but since the safeties don’t get much support up front, they are always running downhill to make tackles. That’s a lot of banging for a freshman like Bush. He’s going to be beat up.”
### An AFC scout, on defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio’s approach: “They could play a little more aggressive. If you can’t rush the passer, why sit back? Why are you seven yards off a receiver? I would be sending people left and right, playing pressure coverage. They’re giving up yards anyway.”
### Another scout questioned offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch for throwing to Robert Lockhart instead of running the ball on a third and two deep in FSU territory last week, and said Mike James – not Duke Johnson – should be used on short yardage. “Duke is not going to be a Clinton Portis or Edgerrin James, where you hand him the ball 25 times a game.”
By the way, Fisch said Saturday that UM burned Lockhart's redshirt because he "has made some amazing one-on-one playts in practice" which reminded the staff of Tommy Streeter last year.
### The scouts were optimistic about Stephen Morris improving, but one expressed concern with his accuracy issues and “lack of touch at times. He’ll be better next year. One problem is his receivers don’t catch the ball.”
### One scout said of the receivers, “I like Rashawn Scott the best, with his size. He has the most upside.” He likes Phillip Dorsett’s talent, but “it looks like the bigger the game, he’s not ready for that.” And the offensive line “is disappointing. Physically, they look as a good as any in the nation.”
### Recruiting analyst Larry Blustein said “if UM expects to keep the train rolling with the 2012 class, they need to get [Oakland Park Northeast] receiver Stacey Coley and [Booker T. Washington offensive tackle] Denver Kirkland.” (They are rated by rivals.com as ninth-best in the nation at their positions.)
He said they also must keep oral commitments Alex Collins (running back) and Kevin Olsen (quarterback).
But Collins is also considering FSU and Wisconsin and sent a tweet last week saying he has “been doing a lot of thinking” and is “close to decision time.”
Delray Beach Atlantic's Keith Bryant, rated 17th among all defensive tackles and Miami’s only oral commitment among defensive linemen, visited Purdue and has told rivals.com he’s also still considering FSU, South Carolina and won’t announce until signing day – putting UM in a bind.
Miami is in the mix for other defensive tackles, including Toby Johnson, a four-star prospect at Hutchinson (Ks.) Community College. Booker T. Washington linebacker Matthew Thomas, rated the nation’s 15th best player by rivals.com, says he has Miami even with six other schools.
### Among draft-eligible players, the scouts see Brandon McGee and James as potential mid-or-later round prospects. “James has power, can catch the ball, runs hard, some shiftiness,” one scout said. “McGee has size (6-0), speed and long arms.” One scout said he wouldn’t draft junior Seantrel Henderson until late because he “can’t be counted on.”
ESPN’s Todd McShay said he entered the year with draftable grades only on Vaughn Telemaque (who lost his starting job) and McGee; he had Ramon Buchanan as a seventh-rounder before his knee injury. He said Miami’s talent “has been dwindling for the last several years and 2013 stacks up as one of the worst classes from an NFL draft standpoint since I’ve been involved.”
Remember, from 2001 to 2004, the Canes had 19 first-rounders and 35 drafted overall. From 2008 to 2012, UM had one first rounder and 22 overall.
### With the trade deadline looming Tuesday, a Dolphins official said the team hasn’t pursued a deal for Kansas City receiver Dwayne Bowe as of last week, but wouldn’t rule out eventual interest, potentially as a free agent in March. Bowe, a Miami native, reportedly has interest in playing here.
Owner Stephen Ross has told people the Dolphins want to add a quality receiver this offseason. But the front office is pleased with how the current group is playing and would be fine riding out the year with these receivers, barring injuries.
### CBS reported Arizona has interest in Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore, but it would be risky for Miami to move him in case of an injury to Ryan Tannehill. What about trading Moore, an impending free agent, for a draft pick and re-signing David Garrard?
Garrard’s agent said the Dolphins haven’t called and Garrard still isn’t ready to play after preseason knee surgery that was supposed to sideline him only until mid-September. The Dolphins like how Moore has supported and mentored Tannehill and weren’t sure how Garrard would embrace that role.
"I've heard rumors," Moore said of a potential trade. "But everything I know is that I'll be here."
### Mike Redmond impressed the Marlins in his interview and is still considered the favorite for the managerial job, though not a sure thing, with Reds pitching coach Bryan Price also having some support. The odds are against Larry Bowa, who interviewed Friday. Ex-Marlin Luis Gonzalez, mentioned elsewhere as a possibility, had not been contacted as of Saturday. More interviews remain.... Candidates have been meeting with multiple Marlins officials and also spending some alone time with Jeffrey Loria... “We need more pieces that fit – not just fit on paper,” Giancarlo Stanton said of the roster. “We need help everywhere: lineup, bullpen, rotation.”
### TNT’s Chris Webber, on LeBron James: “With all that he has been through, he can [now] play with the freedom he hasn’t had in a while. Last year, they didn’t play with the mentality of, ‘It’s OK, we’re been through it.’ That’s why the rest of the league should fear them.’”
NBA TV analyst (and ex-Heat guard) Steve Smith concurs: “He’s at peace. It’s scary what the Heat can do in the next two or three years.”… ABC’s Jeff Van Gundy, who picked the Heat the past two years, said: “It’s going to be a Miami-Oklahoma City final and I just think this year OKC is going to figure out a way how to win it.” Van Gundy made the comment last week, before the James Harden trade late Saturday night.
### Kudos to former UM forward DeQuan Jones, who beat out veteran Quentin Richardson for a spot on Orlando's 15-man roster.