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15 posts from November 2012

November 20, 2012

After five years of big money and high draft picks, Dolphins o-line still erratic

Please check back later tonight for the Wednesday buzz, filled with Canes, Fins, Heat and Marlins tidbits.


First, though, some thoughts on the Dolphins' offensive line, which continues to exasperate at times:

Since Jeff Ireland arrived as general manager in 2008, the Dolphins have spent more money and used more top four-round draft choices on offensive line that any position.

Some of those decisions have paid dividends, including drafting emerging center Mike Pouncey, but the harsh reality is this:

Five years later, the Dolphins are still left with a unit that can’t consistently dislodge defenders in the run game, has two many breakdowns in pass protection, and can’t dominate an opposing defense for more than short occasional stretches.

“The offense line just hasn’t played as well” as it needs to, ESPN’s Ron Jaworski said off air today. “Jake Long, I know he has nursed some injuries, but these are all pro players. There has been inconsistency on the offensive line.”

For some perspective on how much money and resources have been devoted to the line, consider:

### Since Ireland became GM in 2008 (Bill Parcells was alongside and in charge until 2010), Miami not only used its first Dolphins draft pick  – and the No. 1 overall choice in 2008 – on Jake Long and commited $58 million to him, but remember this, too: the first player it signed in free agency were offensive linemen in three of those five offseasons: Justin Smiley ($25 million in 2008), Joe Berger (less than $2 million) and then Jake Grove ($29.5 million) in 2009 and Artis Hicks ($1.3 million) in 2012.

They also have spent more than $9 million over the past three years on Richie Incognito, who has done generally good work.

Of course, Smiley, Grove and Hicks never made it to the end of their contracts. Neither did Vernon Carey, who was signed to a six-year, $42 million extension in 2009, but was ordered to shave the last two years off his deal as part of a 2011 pay cut. Other free agents came and went, including Pat McQuistan and Ray Willis.

Then there’s the draft. Besides taking Long first, the Dolphins also invested draft picks on Shawn Murphy (a fourth-round washout), sixth-rounder Donald Thomas (who has started five games for the Patriots this season), sixth-rounder Andrew Gardner (never panned out), 2010 third-rounder John Jerry (starting at right guard), Pouncey (picked 15th in 2011 and now blossoming), and 2012 second-round pick Jonathan Martin (starting at right tackle.).

The current group of starters – Long, Incognito, Pouncey, Jerry and Martin – has played well at times but not nearly as well or consistently as the Dolphins expect. The Dolphins rank only 28th in rushing yards per attempt (3.6), and Joe Philbin attributes that primarily to substandard blocking (though receivers, backs and tight ends also are to blame).

“We’ve got to get our run game back on track, do a better job sustaining blocks and moving people,” Long said this week.

Said Incognito: “We have to create more space. We should be able to run against any look. It’s frustrating because we know what type of running game we can be.”

According to Pro Football Focus, the Dolphins have had their most success running directly behind Incognito (5.1 per carry) and Pouncey (4.5 to his left, 4.3 to his right). Conversely, the Dolphins are averaging 3.3 per rush behind Jerry, 2.7 behind Martin and 2.2 to the right edge on Martin’s side.

As for Long, the news is mixed, according to PFF. Runs to the edge on the left side – with Long blocking – are averaging a robust 4.8, but runs directly behind him are averaging 2.9.

PFF, which analyzes every play of every game, ranks Long 44th overall among all tackles, down from second in 2009 and 2010 and 21st last year. Though he has battled injuries in 2010 and 2011, he said he feels fully healthy and believes he is playing well. “I’m my biggest critic,” he said.

PFF ranks Martin 65th among 71 tackles. He has allowed four sacks and permitted 28 quarterback hurries, among the highest totals among tackles. “I’ve played well at times, bad at times,” he said. “I want to be consistent.”

Among 78 qualifying guards, PFF ranks Jerry 53rd and Incognito 58th, with Jerry listed as allowing two sacks and Incognito three.

Jerry, who won a starting job partly by getting in better shape, “has good size, good athleticism,” Philbin said today. “He has not been on the ground as much as early on. He has a chance to be a good player.”

Pouncey has been the unit’s most consistent player. PFF ranks him second among centers behind only Minnesota’s John Sullivan. He hasn’t allowed a sack and permitted just one hurry.

Excluding Pouncey, pass protection has been shaky at times. The Dolphins rank 17th in sacks-allowed-per-play play, with 27 permitted in 10 games. Long and Martin each have been responsible for four.


November 05, 2012

Buzz will return

Buzz will return soon.

November 03, 2012

UM/NCAA investigation news; Dolphins, Heat, Marlins chatter


Some UM and NCAA investigation tidbits:

### Before UM put itself in good position to win the Coastal Division title, most everyone around the program was comfortable with the idea of self-imposing another bowl ban. But there is now sentiment among several high-level UM people, under president Donna Shalala, to eschew another bowl ban and play in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game if UM makes it, according to three of them, and Shalala must decide whether she agrees with them.

All three said playing in the ACC championship - if Miami qualifies - makes the most sense, but cautioned it's Shalala's call and there are variables that could change that: if UM receives its notice of allegations from the NCAA this month, and the findings are very damaging; or if key outside attorney Mike Glazier is given information this month that makes him believe a bowl ban would greatly help ease the punishment.

Shalala, asked a week ago in a Board of Trustees meeting about the likelihood of a self-imposed ban, told the trustees she’s waiting for guidance from the attorneys. The ACC says if UM plays in the title game, it cannot self-impose a bowl ban after that.

UM could clinch the Coastal title as early as Nov. 17 if Miami wins at Virginia next Saturday and Duke loses at Georgia Tech on Nov. 17. Miami plays at Duke on Nov. 24.

“Self-imposition goes a long way with the NCAA,” said one high-level UM official. “But if we make the ACC championship, it's best for us to play. The ACC would want us to play, and we have to consider their wishes. It’s best for the league. It’s the right thing to do.

“It’s Donna’s decision, but I don’t see how she can feel any other way. She has to listen to the coaches. Even if we get future bowl ban, playing in the ACC championship still gives us a foundation.”

Said another high-level UM official: “You have to let the kids play in that game if you make it. Morale would be better.”  

That official said it wouldn't be right to yank that prize away from the team after Al Golden dangled it as a goal all season. Golden, by the way, told us UM has given him no indication whether it will self-impose.

If UM self-imposes, the ACC could be stuck with a .500 or sub-.500 Duke or Virginia Tech team in the title game, which would make the league unhappy.

### The NCAA, in the final stages of its investigation, is now doing an internal review of its findings. UM expects to be mailed its allegations by late November or December, barring an unforeseen delay.

One former UM basketball coach recently was asked to provide additional bank records. Considerable time has been spent on Nevin Shapiro's allegation of a $10,000 payment to a DeQuan Jones family member, with bank records obtained from multiple people.

The NCAA says punishment typically comes five to seven months after a school receives its notice of allegations – meaning UM could get sanctions late next spring or summer.

According to a school official, UM’s mindset likely will be to take the allowed time (up to three months) to respond to the allegations in front of the infractions commitee. Keep in mind that North Carolina didn't get its penalty this year until four months after it went before the infraction committee.

### One UM official said the school is worried NCAA president Mark Emmert “will try to make an example of us.”

### The hope around UM is Golden’s strong relationship with his players – and the fact UM is playing a lot of young players – will discourage players from transferring after sanctions are handed down.

Keep this in mind: According to the NCAA, if NCAA sanctions against a school include a one-year bowl ban, seniors-to-be can transfer to another FBS school and play immediately. If the sanctions include a two-year bowl ban, seniors-to-be and juniors-to-be can transfer and play immediately.

But if the sanctions include no bowl ban (beyond previous self-imposed bowl bans), a player who wants to transfer to another FSB school and play immediately would need to petition the NCAA for permission, which might be granted but isn’t automatic.

Players like how Golden sends them encouraging personal text messages. Typical Golden: He sent a congratulatory text to Dolphins rookie Olivier Vernon, who left UM after his junior season last year, after his big game against the Rams last month. That sort of interaction with their coach has to mean something when players consider whether to stick it out at UM.

### We hear testimony of some former UM recruits and transfers has been damaging, but the NCAA has received several different versions of what happened with the recruiting of the Sanford Seminole players -- Ray-Ray Armstrong, Dyron Dye and Andre Debose -- and has had to sort through inconsistencies.

### Some of the damaging details given to the NCAA were known by only one former player (Kyle Wright). Those details involved benefits given to Wright by the Shapiro/Michael Huyghue sports agency and weren't given by Huyghue in his deposition to Shapiro's attorney. That has led to suspicions among some that Wright spoke to the NCAA, which he he wasn't required to do.

Wright – through his father – declined to respond when I asked whether he spoke to the NCAA. A UM person said Wright was unhappy when he left UM because of what he perceived as harsh fan treatment.

### Shapiro, from prison, has told associates that another UM booster also committed violations and has given his name to the NCAA.

According to multiple sources, that booster is Dave Leshner, who one UM person described as “a blowhard wanna-be big shot, an overzealous fan who yelled at refs and wanted to be involved in the basketball program. He disappeared around the time Nevin did.” Leshner allegedly introduced Shapiro to then-UM coach Frank Haith.

Whether Leshner committed violations is not known, but a source said he has refused to talk to the NCAA, and a man answering the phone at his California home hung up when we called.


### Impending free agent Anthony Fasano said the Dolphins haven’t approached him about a new contract. But Miami is interested. “He’s having a hell of a year – exceeded my expectations,” offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. Fasano puts it succinctly: “I will never be that flashy guy, but I’m reliable and solid.”

Two people in touch with the Dolphins said Jeff Ireland seems in no rush to address the contracts of his several key impending free agents. One of them said it’s difficult from a morale standpoint, during a season, to start serious talks with a couple but not the others.

### This Dolphins coaching staff strongly believes Daniel Thomas can be an impact back -- one reason he’s playing ahead of Lamar Miller -- and his decisive three-yard run on third and goal against the Jets was encouraging. But here’s what’s troubling: He has converted a dismal 6 of 21 career short-yardage runs, meaning third or fourth down with one or two yards to go. Miami is 8 for 16 overall on runs in those situations this season.

And Thomas' overall 3.0 yard average is sixth-worst in the NFL among qualifying backs.

### The Dolphins have sold hundreds of prorated season tickets since the season started and have managed to eclipse last year’s season-ticket sales count (42,584), which was its lowest since 1983. The Dolphins were disappointed by their renewal rate, but those who didn't renew were offered an interesting deal late last week (through Al My Sons Moving and Storage Company): If you buy a season-ticket to the final five games, you get the Titans game free.

### The Marlins, who say third base and left field will be their priorities, appear inclined to use Emilio Bonifacio in center field, move Logan Morrison to first to replace Carlos Lee, and go to spring with Donovan Solano as their second baseman.

Marco Scutaro, Kevin Youkilis and Jeff Keppinger are among free agent third basemen they have considered. But if they can't upgrade significantly, they could have journeymen compete at the position, including Kevin Kouzmanoff, who signed a minor-league contract with the Marlins on Saturday, with an invitation to spring training. He was out of the majors last season after batting .235 with seven homers and 33 RBI for Oakland and Colorado in 2011. Kouzmanoff, 31, hit .247 with 16 homers and 71 RBI for Oakland in 2010.

They will consider trading a high-priced pitcher (Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco or Mark Buehrle) for a quality hitter if they get a tempting offer.

### Dwyane Wade said he hired a shooting coach, whom he declined to identity, and it’s paying dividends. “It’s like Tiger Woods always had a swing coach, even though he’s one of the greatest. It’s someone to help you look at things a different way," he said.

“I’ve been feeling a lot better with my shot, and even when you miss, he can tell you why you missed. The biggest thing for me is finding out when to release the ball. A lot of times I hold onto it and may be releasing it on the way down.” The coach, with whom Wade said he had no prior working relationship, has helped him get comfortable "releasing it at a center point." Wade is shooting 50 percent (22 for 44) through three games.


November 02, 2012

ACC clarifies UM bowl timing; Media column: Highs and lows of NFL TV coverage

Please see our last post from Friday afternoon for details on what the ACC is saying regarding the timing for UM's decision on whether to go to a bowl game. Meanwhile, here's this week's media column:

# # # 

Midseason NFL TV views from the couch:

### How would these NFL studio shows fill time without all the quarterback bashing? Some of the criticism seems valid, including Terry Bradshaw, Boomer Esiason and others calling out Chicago’s Jay Cutler for behaving immaturely.

But some of it borders on nonsense. There was former Redskin LaVar Arrington, a guest analyst on Showtime’s Inside the NFL, insisting Peyton Manning cannot throw the deep ball anymore, obviously unaware that his deep ball accuracy (now 16 for 31 on passes thrown 20 yards or more) ranks among the league’s best.

There was NFL Network’s Warren Sapp asserting opposing defenses aren’t afraid of Manning, who leads the league in passer rating.

And then there’s CBS’ Shannon Sharpe, who has become a quarterback killer. He called for Michael Vick to be benched (incorrectly claiming he would be replaced by Nick Foles if the Eagles lost last week), said of Tony Romo: “I’m tired of people making excuses for him. He can’t get it done”; and ripped Cam Newton for being so negative in postgame news conferences. All fair.

But Sharpe’s rip-job on Aaron Rodgers seemed unwarranted; he said Rodgers always looks to blame others and “just because he’s MVP doesn’t mean you’re a great person.” Where did that come from?

Even NBC’s Bob Costas, when interviewing Rodgers, told him: “You wear celebrity and fame as gracefully as any athlete I’ve seen.”

### The idea made sense at the time: replacing blowhard Sapp with guest analysts on Showtime’s Inside the NFL.

But aside from Cowher, Showtime’s parade of guests, including Arrington and Kris Jenkins, has been seriously underwhelming. Chad Johnson and Lawrence Taylor were fine talking about themselves but offered surprisingly little of substance about the sport.

Taylor asserted the Giants defensive linemen “are the only ones who play any defense” in the league. What about the 49ers and Bears, among others, L.T.?

For this “guest analyst” concept to work, Showtime needs personalities who can educate or entertain or preferably, both. Why not ask NBC or Fox to use Tony Dungy, Rodney Harrison, Troy Aikman, Howie Long or Jimmy Johnson for a week in exchange for promotional considerations?

Why not use a CBS analyst such as Esiason, considering CBS and Showtime share common ownership? If Showtime fills the fourth chair with a permanent presence next season, NFL Network’s LaDainian Tomlinson deserves strong consideration.  


### Biggest goof: NFL Network’s Brad Nessler calling a potential game-winning missed late field goal “good” for Pittsburgh against Tennessee… Shakiest prediction: CBS’ Cowher saying the Chiefs would make the playoffs.

### Biggest disappointment: Comedian Rob Riggle on Fox. The man he replaced, Frank Caliendo, joined ESPN and delivered sharp impersonations of Jon Gruden, Herm Edwards and Chris Berman…. Best rookies: Tomlinson, ESPN’s Jason Taylor and NBC’s Hines Ward, who relayed that a grandfather, father and 5-year-old (all Ravens fans) shot him a simultaneous obscene gesture when he played for the Steelers.

### Best moves by the league: Starting the Thursday night package in September and moving some late-afternoon start times to 4:25 p.m., meaning less overlap with early games.  

### Biggest waste of time: All network prediction segments. This sums it up: NFL Network’s Marshall Faulk picked the Seahawks because “I flipped a coin and it landed on Seattle.”

### Best idea: Fox’s Long, suggesting players who cause injuries with illegal hits or blocks should be suspended for the same amount of time the injured player misses.

### Oddest sideline report: Fox’s Pam Oliver complaining about 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh for not giving her more information during a halftime interview. “I got Harbaughed!”

### Oddest use of the language: To NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, who needs to give viewers his own dictionary. To Mayock, a player isn’t slow. He’s “speed deficient.”

Frank Gore hits the hole hard, but Mayock prefers to say he’s a good “point of insertion back.” And you don’t want Mayock to scold you for “bad backside discipline.”

### Strangest idea: Cowher insisting the Jets should play Mark Sanchez the first two series, Tim Tebow the third and then stick with whoever does better. Dan Marino scoffed at that.

### Best debate: Marino’s ranking of first- and second-year quarterbacks. CBS’ Cowher said Marino had no business putting Andy Dalton (fourth) ahead of Ryan Tannehill (fifth) and Brandon Weeden (sixth).

### Best outside-the-box personnel move: NFL Network hiring Andrea Kremer to report exclusively on health and safety issues. There’s opportunity for good journalism here – which Kremer excels at. Previously concussed Raiders receiver Darius Heyward-Bey told Kremer he can’t be worrying about his brain.

### Flex schedule update: Every NBC Sunday night game might survive except Jets-Chargers Dec. 23. But the Dolphins likely won't be a candidate for a Sunday night game that week because they play Buffalo.



November 01, 2012

ACC establishes policy on potential UM bowl ban; UM-Virginia Tech fallout

Some have asked if UM can play in the ACC title game and accept the invitation to the Orange Bowl if it wins, but self-impose a bowl ban if it loses the ACC title game.

The ACC said that would not be allowed.

Why? The ACC says its championship game is considered a postseason game. So if a team self-imposes a bowl ban, it must do so before the game.

UM said Friday it has not made a decision whether to self-impose.

# # #

Postscripts from UM’s 30-12 victory over Virginia Tech on Thursday night at Sun Life Stadium:

### Finally, the big win this program so desperately needed. And now UM stands just two wins away (Virginia, at Duke) from its first-ever appearance in the ACC championship game, and a potential rematch with FSU.

### Al Golden, on WQAM: "This is a big win. Don't let anybody kid you. The way we did it, by being tough, by being resilient, by being physical, it's good. It wasn't perfect. Last three games, we've played better on defense. We're making some plays now. We had three takeaways, a blocked punt. We've lost the 'young' moniker.

"I know there aren't a lot of people out there that have patience. But we're going to enjoy the journey. I know what the expectations are at Miami. I live it everyday. We're going to grow together and we're going to build it."

### For as abysmal as this defense has been much of the year, it deserves an enormous amount of credit for Thursday’s effort. The pass rush was better than usual (which isn’t saying much), with Olsen Pierre recording a sack and Luther Robinson, Anthony Chickillo, Shayon Green and Tyriq McCord among those applying pressure.

The cornerbacks and safeties were very good in pass coverage, with Brandon McGee, Ladarius Gunter, AJ Highsmith and Kacy Rodgers all making nifty plays. Rodgers rebounded splendidly after his poor effort against FSU. Linebacker Jimmy Gaines had an interception late on a tipped pass. Gunter also had an interception. Freshman cornerback Tracy Howard looked good.

And Curtis Porter, appearing in his first game of the season after an appendectomy, played far more than expected and stabilized the defensive line. The Porter/Olsen Pierre tandem was solid, and that looks like Miami’s best defensive tackle tandem heading down the stretch.

"I'm very pleased to be back," Porter told WQAM. "I'm overwhelmed. Everybody did their job. We didn't have that many mistakes. I'm not at my best [conditioning-wise], but I'm getting there."

The linebackers were active. Eddie Johnson had 11 tackles, Gionni Paul 8. And Gaines played well despite being beaten for two early completions, including a 35-yarder. "Gionni played a lot more than we thought because Denzel went down," Golden said.

And UM did it despite losing two of its best defensive players - Denzel Perryman (whose ankle continues to give him problems) and Deon Bush (who missed the second half with a stinger). "Bush has cat-like closing speed," Golden said.

Of course, Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas helped by fumbling near the goal line late in the third quarter. "I was in conflict whether to run base goalline or the sneak - we went with the sneak call," defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio said. "Curtis Porter got a tremendous push on that."

Robinson recovered the fumble for UM.

The only huge breakdown was on Logan Thomas’ 73-yard run, when Robinson and Anthony Chickillo were obliterated by blocks, and the defensive backs couldn't catch him. "We had no vision on the quarterback from the underneath coverage," D'Onofrio said. "It was the perfect storm. You take that play out, and the run defense showed up. Then you're talking about 3 1/2 yards a carry."

UM also jumped offside three times at inopportune times, including once by Pierre and twice by DeQuan Ivery.

"Job well done," D'Onofrio said of his unit's best effort of the season. "We played 27 guys. I'm really proud of what we did. We're still making mistakes at some critical times, but we're obviously improving."

### UM’s first six offensive series of the second half produced eight – 8! – yards, with each series lasting three plays. But then everything turned with one play – Stephen Morris’ 26 yard completion to Rashawn Scott. Miami had been 0 for 9 on third downs until that point.

And credit Jedd Fisch for a nifty play call on that drive: Morris threw behind the line of scrimmage to Phillip Dorsett, who found Morris for a completion that got Miami closer, setting up Duke Johnson’s 7-yard TD run.

### Johnson closed with 217 all-purpose yards --- including an 81-yard kickoff return and 64-yard run. Malcolm Bunche had a terrific block on his long run. He had 100 yards rushing on 11 carries - the second time he has reached the 100-yard mark on the ground.

"He benefitted from the bye week," Golden said. "He had ankle and toe [injuries] and just wasn't the same. We moved him to the right side on kickoff returns and he made us look good."

### Morris played an efficient first half (9 for 15, 140 yards), then opened the second half 1 for 10 before making the big throw to Scott. ESPN's Jesse Palmer noted that at least three times, Morris did not see open receivers, opting instead to throw elsewhere with poor results.

Morris can exasperate, overthrowing Dorsett twice on deep balls when he had one-on-one coverage. But his 16-yard TD pass to Allen Hurns was an exceptional throw.

### Morris, who closed 13 for 28 for 178 yards and two touchdowns, told WQAM afterward: "It feels great, knowing they're the reigning champions of the ACC, and we did our job. We had a complete game, almost. The defense really picked us up. We've been pushing Duke to play his best game. We cannot [usually] win a big game with third-down conversions the way it was today."

Mike James had 15 carries for 50 yards.

### Scott closed with three receptions for 50 yards. Dorsett had 2 for 27 and Hurns 2 for 21.

### Terry blocked a punt. "Mike Barrow designed that pretty well, and Gabe executed it," Golden said. "We had everybody in the right gap."

### Tight end Clive Walford, who entered with 15 catches for 178 yards, had back-to-back catches of 30 and 26 yards in the first half. "I told him, 'You had a great week of practice.' I'm so happy he went up and got the ball on the first one. We've been stressing that so much with him," Morris said.

### With Eduardo Clements out for the season, Dallas Crawford made a rare appearance on offense, appearing on a Wildcat-type play in which he regrettably tried to force a throw to Dyron Dye (it was incomplete) instead of delivering a short pass to Johnson, who was open.

### ESPN announcers made note of the poor crowd, which can't help with recruiting. "There is not a home field advantage if you're Miami," Palmer said.