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30 posts from December 2012

December 31, 2012

News from Monday's Dolphins locker-room and Philbin's state-of-franchise address; Fins draft order

The Dolphins will have five of the first 82 picks in April's draft: 12, 42, the Colts pick (one of the last 12 in the second round, to be determined by playoff results), 77 and 82 (from the Bears in the Brandon Marshall trade).

On another note, here are some snippets from Dolphins coach Joe Philbin’s end-of-season news conference on Monday:

### His overall conclusion on the season: “7-9 is not good enough. You put a lot of effort and make a lot of sacrifices. There should be no one who’s satisfied where we’re at. “

### Philbin has made clear he wants to build primarily through the draft. But asked whether he is philosophically opposed to pursuing a high priced free agent, he said: “I am not opposed to improving the team in any way we can – draft, trade, free agency…. This offseason has the makings of one that’s very important.”

(Jeff Ireland is going to be more aggressive than last year in free agency.)

### Philbin pointed to two big areas of improvement: “The most glaring thing is the turnover margin. We ended the year at minus 10, which will put us roughly 25th. That’s not good enough. The number one criteria of winning games in the NFL is holding onto the ball and [creating] turnovers. We need to take a thorough evaluation of the entire program.”

The second thing the Dolphins need, he said, is "explosive play element on both sides of the ball. We’ve got to create more and eliminate our opponents’ more. We’ve got to do a better job of putting points on the board.”

### Asked if he need to improve at receiver and cornerback, Philbin regrettably refused to go down that road. “I don’t know if it’s isolated to the cornerback or defensive back position…. We have a lot of work to do. We need to take a thorough evaluation of the entire program.”

### On whether reaching New England's level -- and figuring out how to beat them - is a major goal. "We have to be more focused on our own guys," Philbin responded. "They have their team. We have our team."

### Philbin, on himself: "I definitely need to improve like everybody else. I am going to sit down with every one of [the players] and ask for their input. Listening to some of the guys you work with on a consistent basis [is helpful]. There will be changes and adjustments. I plan on improving myself."

### Philbin, on Ryan Tannehill: "He made a lot of progress. I’m confident with the work ethic he has, the passion he has. You hope in coaching between your first and second year, there is usually a pretty big curve. We’re excited about the possibility of improvement with him. You want to make those around you better. We need to get better production and performance out of the offensive unit."

### Is the pass rush good enough or does that need to be addressed? “Sack numbers you would say it’s satisfactory, but we have to examine that in a little more detail. It would be premature to say.”

## I asked Philbin what young players first come to mind, beyond Tannehill, that he is excited to see a big jump from. Oddly, he mentioned only rookie linebacker Josh Kaddu. "Josh will be interesting to see. We’re counting on a bump from year one to year two.”


Center Mike Pouncey was the only player willing to say on-the-record that personnel upgrades are needed. "We got lucky when we picked that kid," Pouncey said of Ryan Tannehill. "We want to get him some help." He then spoke of Miami's cap space ($47 million) and "getting some guys in here to help this team get where we want to be."

Added Pouncey: "This team did a great job for what we had. [But] we're not there."

### Sean Smith made clear he wants to re-sign here: "There is where I want to be forever. I'm confident something will work out."

### Another impending free agent, Reggie Bush, said: "It has been a pleasure to play here. I still feel there's unfinished business. Hopefully, I'll be back."

Bush said Sunday's 28-0 drubbing to the Patriots "leaves a bitter taste in the mouth and a wakeup call. We have a long way to go." 

### I asked Tannehill what this year has proven to him about his longterm potential as an NFL quarterback. "It has given me a lot of confidence. I have a lot of room to grow, a lot of things I can get better at. That excites me."

### Tannehill's biggest regret? "I had a lot of chances to win games that we weren't able to."

### Cornerback Richard Marshall, off back surgery, said he couldn't say for sure he will be back for offseason practices but expects to be ready for training camp.

### Tight end Charles Clay, on crutches after knee surgery, said he will ready for offseason practices.



December 29, 2012

Fins' draft order and sked set; Big UM setback; Randy Shannon's new job; Fins offseason preview

A quick Sunday night update:

### The Dolphins learned Sunday night they will pick 12th in April's draft. San Diego, Miami, Tampa, Carolina and New Orleans all finished 7-9. The draft order among those five teams was determined on strength of schedule. The Chargers pick 11th, followed by Miami, Tampa, Carolina and the Saints.

The last time Miami picked 12th (in 2010), the Dolphins traded the pick to San Diego for the 28th pick (Jared Odrick) and the 40th choice (Koa Misi). Miami passed on Dez Bryant and Jason Pierre Paul, among others, at 12, that year. The last two players selected 12th were defensive lineman Fletcher Cox by the Eagles (2011) and quarterback Christian Ponder by the Vikings (2010).

### The Dolphins already knew most of their opponents for next season before Sunday. They learned the final two today: They will play at the Colts next season and play host to San Diego.

As previously noted, besides the AFC East opponents, Miami also will play Baltimore, Cincinnati, Atlanta and Carolina at home; and Cleveland, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Tampa on the road.

### The NFL announced next weekend's playoff schedule: Bengals-Texans at 4:30 p.m. Saturday; Vikings-Packers at 8 p.m. Saturday; Colts-Ravens at 1 p.m. Sunday and NFC East winner vs. Seattle at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

### Big loss for the Canes basketball team, which announced Sunday night that center Reggie Johnson will miss six to eight weeks with a broken thumb -- an injury sustained at a practice in Hawaii last week. UM ends the regular season March 10 --- in 10 weeks.

Johnson, a senior, is averaging 12.6 points and 10.1 rebounds. With Johnson out, Julian Gamble replaced him in the starting lineup in the past three games, including losses to Arizona and Indiana State in Hawaii.

### The University of Arkansas announced Sunday night that it has hired former UM coach Randy Shannon as linebackers coach -- the same job he held this season at TCU. Shannon had hopes of becoming a head coach again but apparently didn't draw any serious interest.

### The attorney for Butch Davis told the Tampa Tribune today that Davis will NOT be the FIU coach. The attorney, Jon Sasser, also disputed a Fox report suggesting that the University of North Carolina was scuttling Davis' plans to be the FIU coach, saying Davis never signed a settlement agreement when he was fired. This season, Davis has served as a special assistant to Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano.

FIU previously interviewed Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, but he reportedly removed his name from consideration.



Asking and answering questions on the Dolphins offseason and the UM investigation:

### How do the Dolphins compare to the rest of the league in terms of off-season flexibility?

Nobody has more, if you factor in both cap space and draft picks.

According to league documents that I obtained a copy of, the Dolphins are third in the league in available cap space, just behind Cleveland and Cincinnati. Miami has $49.4 million in 2013 space, including $5.5 million of unused 2012 space that can be carried over.

Miami’s space will shrink by about $3 million next week when several practice squad players are signed to futures contracts. So within a few days, the amount of Dolphins cap space will be just under $47 million. Cincinnati has the most space, at $55.5 million. The Browns are at $51.5 million.

The Dolphins, Bengals, Browns and Colts are the only teams with less than $100 million in cap commitments for 2013, and those four teams have by far the most cap space. Miami entered Friday with just over $76 million in cap commitments for 2013. The cap is expected to be $121 million, less than $500,000 above this year's.

What’s more, the Dolphins are the only team with five draft picks in the top 100, and their 10 picks overall are more than any team except the 49ers (11). Only the Dolphins and Bengals have two second-round picks. Only the Dolphins and 49ers have two third-rounders.

### How do the other AFC East teams stack up with 2013 cap space?

The Patriots and Bills are among teams with between $20 million and $25 million, but the Jets are in the NFL’s worst cap predicament ($18 million over). Also over: the Saints, Panthers, Steelers, Cowboys, Raiders and Giants.

### Could the Dolphins create even more room?

Yes, if Miami dumps either Richard Marshall --- whose $5.8 million cap number is third-highest behind Karlos Dansby and Paul Soliai -- or Dimitri Patterson, whose $4.6 million is seventh. But the Dolphins might hold onto both for awhile, at least until determining whether it re-signs Sean Smith, which Miami would like to do.

Of the 16 Dolphins with 2013 cap numbers of at least $1 million, the only other who might be at risk is Dan Carpenter ($3 million) if he loses his job in training camp. Richie Incognito’s number isn’t low ($5.4 million), but he and Mike Pouncey have been Miami’s best run blockers all season.

### If the Dolphins resign their top free agents other than Long --- Smith, Reggie Bush, Brian Hartline, Randy Starks and Chris Clemons --- how much space would they have left?

Signing those five (not Long) could take between $20 million and $25 million in cap space, depending on how the deals are structured, which can vary considerably. That should leave Miami with enough room to sign a marquee free agent (if Miami chooses) or a couple of good starters, plus cheap depth and draft picks.

### Assuming Miami won’t use the franchise tag on Long (which would cost $15.4 million), who else might get it?

The projected tag for running backs ($8 million) and cornerbacks ($10.6 million) is more than Miami wants to pay for Bush and Smith. Nevertheless, Smith getting tagged is a possibility. The downside with tagging Smith is that it would result in a big cap hit of $10.6 million for 2013.

The tag is $10.3 million for receivers and $8.3 million for defensive tackles – way too high for Hartline or Starks.

### Who are Miami’s other free agents besides those six?

Unrestricted: Matt Moore, Nate Garner, Tony McDaniel, Anthony Fasano, Tyrone Culver, Patrick Brown, Nate Kaeding. Miami likely will try to keep Moore and Garner but must decide on McDaniel and Fasano. The Dolphins would like to upgrade at tight end, though that doesn't necessarily preclude Fasano coming back.

Restricted free agents: Marlon Moore, Bryan McCann, R.J. Stanford, Jonathon Amaya, Austin Spitler, Jeron Mastrud.

### Everybody knows about the top free agents receivers: Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe and Wes Welker. But what other unrestricted free agents could help Miami?

If the Dolphins don’t re-sign Long, they could gauge the market on established right tackles Sebastian Vollmer, Phil Loadholt and Branden Albert.

Dustin Keller, Fred Davis, Martellus Bennett and Jared Cook would upgrade the passing game at tight end.

And if Smith proves too costly, there are a bunch of other free agent starting cornerbacks: Pittsburgh's Keenan Lewis, Baltimore's Cary Williams, Philadelphia's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, San Diego's Quentin Jammer, Atlanta's Brent Grimes (off a torn Achilles), Detroit's Chris Houston, Jacksonville's Derek Cox, Cleveland's Sheldon Brown, Denver's Tracy Porter, New England's Aqib Talib and Tampa Bay's E.J. Biggers.

### The Dolphins had more than $13 million in dead money on its 2012 cap, from Yeremiah Bell, Brandon Marshall and others. Where does Miami stand with dead money for 2013?

The Dolphins have only $1.6 million in dead money from nearly a dozen players, ranging from Vontae Davis ($1.1 million) to Les Brown ($1667).

### UM has done everything the NCAA has asked: self-imposing two bowls (actually, three postseason games if you include the ACC title game) and telling players they might be disassociated from the school if they don’t agree to be interviewed by investigators. So when does UM start to stand up for itself and fight back?

“When we get the notice of allegations, [UM outside counsel] Mike Glazier will have to be tough at that point,” a high-ranking UM official said. “You want to show cooperation up until the point you have the allegations. They can’t claim we weren’t cooperative. We’re trying to do everything possible to make sure the NCAA does not use the words ‘lack of institutional control.’”

Another UM official reminded that once the notice of allegations is mailed, control shifts from the NCAA’s enforcement division to the infractions committee, and UM then would challenge enforcement’s findings if there are any claims it disputes. Yes, UM wants to put this behind them, but it's customary to defend yourself before the infractions committee within 90 days or so after receiving your allegations.

“The question,” the UM official said, “is how far does the NCAA want to go if they don’t have documentation to prove specific allegations?”

### What will UM say in its own defense?

Glazier will craft UM’s strategy, in consultation with president Donna Shalala and UM’s on-staff lawyers. That won’t be determined until the allegations are sent.

But a UM official said there has been discussion internally about making this point in front of the infractions committee: “Nevin Shapiro was a rogue booster who wormed his way into the scene. He would just show up. For example, Donna didn’t know he would be at the bowling alley where that picture was taken.”

### When will UM gets the allegations?

School officials had thought they would come by December, but the process has been delayed by the enforcement committee's attempt to reach numerous former UM football players and further investigate  Shapiro's allegations involving basketball. UM hopes to get the allegations in January, but nobody has been told for sure.


### Don’t tell Pouncey the offensive line is playing as well without Long. He insists tape analysis shows that’s not the case: “It’s a big difference,” Pouncey said adamently. But the numbers suggest otherwise: In fact, Miami is averaging more yards per rushing attempt without Long in the lineup (4.6) than with him (3.8). And there's no difference in sacks allowed per game, either. 

That’s why -- barring a change of heart -- the Dolphins are prepared to move on without Long, unless he takes a Miami offer that likely would be topped by other suitors in free agency. The ball will be in Long's court about whether he's willing to take less to sign here. The odds are against that, but we'll see.

### Everybody likes to call this a football town, so this was eye-opening: A greater percentage of Miami-Fort Lauderdale homes (15.6) watched Tuesday’s Heat-Thunder game than several Dolphins games in 2012, including the Texans opener (12.7) and Dolphins-Bills last Sunday (15.4). That would have been unfathomable a few years ago.

### Not only did the Heat enter the weekend with five players in the top 20 in three-point shooting percentage, but Miami’s 41.0 overall percentage on threes would rank third in NBA history over a full season, with Charlotte holding the record at 42.8 in 1996-97. Only nine teams have ever shot above 40 percent on threes.

### We hear owner Jeffrey Loria called Logan Morrison not only to say he’s still a big part of the Marlins’ future, but also to tell him it wasn’t lost on Loria how maturely Morrison handled the offseason upheaval. Unlike Giancarlo Stanton and Ricky Nolasco, Morrison didn’t voice displeasure on Twitter about Ozzie Guillen's firing or the payroll dumping, and that pleased Loria. Morrison is moving from left field to first base.

### If you have a question about your specific team's cap space that I haven't addressed, e-mail and I'm glad to answer. 

December 28, 2012

UM football adds oral commitment; Fins, Heat; a look at the year in sports

 A quick Friday night update:

###   Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy offensive lineman Sonny Odogwu, a three-star recruit, became UM’s 11th oral commitment Friday night when he chose the Canes over Mississippi State and Texas Tech.

Odogwu, 6-8 and 308 pounds, has a fascinating background. According to Canesport.com, he grew up in Africa, sharing a 12 by 12 room with 10 family members. He would sleep outside the front door on a wooden mat.

### Dolphins receiver Davone Bess will miss his third consecutive game with a back injury. With Bess out and Armon Binns listed as probable with a groin injury, the Dolphins are giving thought to promoting former Florida A&M receiver receiver Brian Tyms from the practice squad.

### Nolan Carroll was listed as questionable. Koa Misi, who has missed two games with an ankle injury, is probable.... There are conflicting reports whether the Pats' Rob Gronkowski will play. ESPN says he won't; others report he will.... CBS' lead team -- Jim Nantz and Phil Simms - call Sunday's game, the first time they will work a Dolphins game this season.

### Will Bynum? WILL BYNUM? The Pistons backup point guard shot over and drove by Heat point guards all night in Friday’s 109-99 Detroit win, closing with 25 points and 10 assists. “Everything was easy,” Erik Spoelstra complained of the Pistons’ offense. “… They were lighting us up. It doesn’t take much in this league for momentum to change.”

### LeBron James? Brilliant, as usual, becoming only the fourth player in 25 years to finish a game with at least 35 points, 6 rebounds, 5 steals, 6 assists, one block and shoot at least 60 percent. The others: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley.


I'm posting four of my year-in-review newspaper stories in this space over the course of the next week. Here is the second installement of that four-part series, a look at the top 20 national sports stories of the year:


1) Penn State football scandal. The news of Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of boys was revealed in November 2011, but the aftershocks were felt well into 2012. The former Penn State defensive coordinator was convicted of assaulting 10 boys and sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison. And the NCAA punished Penn State with a four-year bowl ban, scholarship reductions and a stunning $60 million fine.

2) LeBron’s most excellent adventure. Ripped and ridiculed by critics, the most scrutinized athlete in sports responded resoundingly, leading the Heat to an NBA title, winning the MVP award for both the regular season and The Finals and capturing Olympic gold in London. To top it off, he was named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated.

3) Lance Armstrong’s public shaming. The cycling star was stripped of his seven Tour De France victories after the US Doping Agency determined that he not only used performance-enhancing drugs, but that his cycling team “ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program the sport has ever seen.”

4) College football playoff approved. After 14 years of crowning a champion through the hardly-reliable Bowl Championship Series, the college presidents finally approved a four-team tournament beginning in 2014.

5) London Olympics. The U.S. won the medal count, as expected, with 104 to China’s 88. Michael Phelps won four golds and six silvers to push his all-time medal count to 22, most in history. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt became the first athlete to win the 100 and 200 meters in consecutive Olympics.

6) New York Giants make unlikely Super Bowl run. The Giants beat the Patriots, 21-17, to earn the distinction of the Super Bowl champion with the worst regular-season record (9-7).

7) San Francisco Giants make unlikely run to World Series title. The Giants overcame a 3-1 deficit to St. Louis in the National League Championship Series, swept Detroit 4-0 in the World Series, and did it all without one of their best hitters, Melky Cabrera, who was suspended in August for violating MLB’s drug policy.

8) BountyGate. The NFL’s biggest scandal since the Patriots’ SpyGate fiasco rocked the New Orleans Saints’ foundation and resulted in a season-long suspension for coach Sean Peyton and an eight-game suspension for general manager Mickey Loomis. But former commissioner Paul Tagliabue overturned Roger Goodell’s suspension of four players.

9) NFL players die on consecutive weekends. The NFL mourned two tragedies in December: Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, and then shot himself. The following weekend, Dallas Cowboys player Josh Brent’s DUI incident resulted in the death of teammate Jerry Brown.

10) Peyton Manning’s comeback. The former MVP, who missed the 2011 season with a neck injury, was released by the Colts, who decided to start rookie Andrew Luck instead of paying Manning $28 million. Manning chose the Denver Broncos over several other suitors and quickly regained his old form, throwing 34 touchdowns in his first 15 games.

11) NHL work stoppage. The league, which lost its 2004-05 season to a labor dispute, lost the first three-plus months of this season – and potentially more – because of another disagreement about how to share revenue with the players.

12)  Alabama wins national title. Nick “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach” Saban guided the Crimson Tide to its 14th national title with a 21-0 shutout of LSU in January in New Orleans.

13)  Kentucky wins NCAA men’s title. The Wildcats defeated Kansas for their eighth championship. It was the first NCAA Tournament in which two No. 2 seeds (Duke and Missouri) were beaten by two No. 15 seeds (Lehigh, Norfolk State).

14)  Replacement referees. A labor dispute forced the NFL to use high-school and small-college referees the first three weeks of the season, eliciting a torrent of criticism over bad calls and non-calls. Not coincidentally, an agreement with the regular refs was reached two days allowed a highly-questionable touchdown catch gave Seattle a win against Green Bay.

15)  Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown. The former Marlin, traded to the Tigers in 2007 for a bowl of cream of wheat, became the first player to win it since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

16)  Johnny Manziel’s Heisman Trophy. The first ever won by a freshman. The Texas A&M quarterback threw for 24 touchdowns and ran for 19.

17)  Pat Summitt retires. The basketball coach with eight national titles and the most wins in NCAA history (1098, compared with just 208 losses) retired from the Tennessee bench, eight months after disclosing she had early onset dementia.

18)  Year of the rookie quarterback. Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden all started from opening day, and three of them had their teams in playoff position entering the final weekend of the season. 

19) Pacquiao goes down. Juan Manuel Marquez’s sixth-round blow decked Manny Pacquiao, who hadn’t been knocked out since the last century (1999).

20)  (Tie). Brad Keselowski won his first Sprint Cup title; Jimmie Johnson blew his chance for a sixth because of gear failure in the Homestead race… Serena Williams rebounded from injuries to win Wimbledon, an Olympic gold and the U.S. Open… Roger Federer won a record-tying seventh Wimbledon… Tiger Woods, who went winless in 2011, won three tournaments (but no majors) and $6 million in prize money.



December 27, 2012

Our annual year-end media awards

During the next week in this space, I'll post four year-end columns that I'm doing for the newspaper - in addition to the regular newspaper and on-line buzz column posts.

Here's the first: our annual media awards. 

Keep in mind: These are only the national awards. For space reasons, we will post the local media awards in a column next week:


### Most ridiculous comments: 1) ESPN’s Skip Bayless, last spring: “LeBron James doesn’t have any clutch genes. LeBron James is made for the regular season. Come postseason time, he’s the most overrated, overhyped superstar in my history in this business.” 2) ESPN’s Magic Johnson, last January: “My problem with Miami is they don’t have a will to win.”

### Most absurd predictions: 1) ABC’s Jon Barry, last May: “The Heat doesn’t have the personnel. Maybe LeBron was right. They won’t win one, two, three, four. They won’t win any. They’re front-runners. LeBron and Dwyane Wade don’t complement one another. They can’t be trusted. I’m done with them.” 2) ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, last spring: “The Heat has flagrantly failed to live up to expectations. They’re certainly not winning an NBA championship.” 3) ESPN’s Bill Simmons, last spring: “Nobody is beating the Spurs. They will roll through Miami.” 4) CBS’ Bill Cowher predicting the Kansas City Chiefs would make the playoffs.

### Most regrettable comments: 1) ESPN’s Rob Parker asking if Robert Griffin III is “a brother or a cornball brother.” ESPN suspended him for 30 days. 2) ESPN’s Mitch Holthus saying Kansas State basketball player Angel Rodriguez let his “Puerto Rican temper” get the best of him.

### Worst personnel moves: 1) ESPN using Matt Millen as its lead commentator to talk about the Freeh report that detailed the findings of Penn State’s internal investigation into the Jerry Sandusky case. Millen, blindly loyal toward Joe Paterno, regrettably tried to minimize Paterno’s culpability. 2) Fox hiring not-especially-funny comedian Rob Riggle to replace immensely talented Frank Caliendo, who found work at ESPN. 3) ESPN deciding not to hire Stan Van Gundy.

### Most ballyhooed personnel moves: 1) ESPN reassigning Ron Jaworski, leaving Jon Gruden as the sole analyst on Monday Night Football. Gruden handled the gig fine by himself, while Jaws strengthened ESPN’s studio shows. 2) Erin Andrews moving from ESPN to Fox, where she tried too hard to act “cool” anchoring a college football studio show that couldn’t match of quality of ESPN’s.

### Best hire: ESPN adding Terry Francona to succeed Bobby Valentine on Sunday Night Baseball. But Francona left after one season to manage the Indians. John Kruk replaces him.

### Worst programming decision: The Big Ten Network, claiming it’s not a news organization, not carrying the Freeh report news conference after also choosing not to air last November’s press conference when Paterno was fired.

### Best moves for fans: 1) The NFL expanding its Thursday night package from eight to 15 games. 2) NBC streaming virtually all Olympic events live, on line. 3) Fox starting a Saturday night college football package, meaning more national exposure for Pac-10 and Big 12 games that otherwise would have mostly been regional telecasts on ABC. 4) The NFL moving late-afternoon games from 4:15 to 4:25 p.m. on the double-header network, ensuring less overlap with early kickoffs.

### Worst moves for fans: 1) NBC continuing to refuse to show live TV coverage of the biggest Olympic events. The more viewer-friendly approach would be showing a few of them live, then replaying them in prime time. 2) MLB moving two playoff games to MLB Network, which isn't available in more than 50 million U.S. homes.

### Oops: NBC showing a Today Show promo revealing that Missy Franklin had won an Olympic gold medal in swimming a short time before NBC aired the race.

### Most refreshing trend: NFL announcers were emboldened to criticize the league more than ever before: Terry Bradshaw and others questioned the investigation of BountyGate; John Lynch revealed the league asked Fox announcers not to criticize the replacement refs, “which just speaks to the arrogance of the owners”; and ESPN’s Trent Dilfer, after the Packers-Seahawks replacement officials debacle, ranted: “Our intelligence has been insulted by the league.”

### Personnel move most designed to drive us nuts: ESPN re-uniting Stephen A. Smith with Bayless on First Take. Why not just let them argue among themselves in a room without cameras or microphones? Why do we have to be subjected to it?

### Best game analysts: NBC’s Cris Collinsworth and ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy.

### Most compelling non-event TV moment: HBO’s Hard Knocks airing the tape of Joe Philbin’s uncomfortable meeting with Chad Johnson in which the receiver was released.

### Best audio: NFL Films, for capturing Houston's J.J. Watt telling Baltimore's Ray Rice during a game: "I've eaten burritos bigger than you."

### Overkill award: ESPN’s unhealthy obsession with Tim Tebow, curtailed only when network president John Skipper intervened and told his producers to cool it.

### Worst abuse of power: Southern California coach Lane Kiffin attempting to ban a Los Angeles Times writer for reporting a USC kicker’s injury – information obtained legitimately.

### Worst over-reaction: ESPN firing a writer who used “chink in the armor” in a headline about Jeremy Lin. Even his boss said the writer had no idea it would be considered an ethnic slur. Anchor Max Bretos was unfairly suspended 30 days for the same (unintentional) offense.

### Most unwarranted criticism: Fans blasting Adam Schefter and others for reporting NFL draft picks, on Twitter or TV, before the commissioner announced them. That’s their job, folks.

### Best reporting: ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, who was right -- and usually first -- every step of the way in reporting on the Colts’ release of Peyton Manning and the free-agent sweepstakes that followed.

### Notable media deaths: NFL Films president Steve Sabol, college football pundit Beano Cook, Turner sports essayist Jim Huber, Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Furman Bisher, boxing writer and sports historian Burt Sugar, ESPN Radio NBA announcer Jim Durham.

### Pettiness award: To ESPN’s Bob Knight, who refused to utter the word “Kentucky” during last year’s NCAA Tournament because of his dislike for coach John Calipari. He referred to them as “that team from the SEC.”

We’ll have local awards in next week’s media column.


December 26, 2012

Philbin shares insight on Tannehill, philosophy with Boston media; Bush on why he wants to stay

Wednesday is usually the big media day at Dolphins camp, with Reggie Bush and numerous players talking and Joe Philbin addressing reporters who cover both the Dolphins and the visiting team. A half-dozen snippets from the final Wednesday media session of the season:

 ### Patriots writers asked Philbin whether Ryan Tannehill might have solved the Dolphins’ decade-long problem at quarterback. “Yeah, he’s making good progress,” Philbin responded. “In our system, we’re looking for a guy that makes very good decisions with the football, No. 1, and I think he’s made good strides in that area. The second thing we’re looking for is a guy that throws the ball accurately and he’s making progress there, although we need to improve there in that area as well.

"The last thing is you’ve got to manage the game and make plays that decide outcomes of games. I think some of those he’s proven he can do that as well. We’ve just got to do it a little bit more consistently and a little better. We’ve done some good things on offense, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

### Philbin told Boston media that he and Mike Sherman have given Tannehill more responsibility in recent weeks: “As the year has gone on, we’ve given him a little more freedom and he's done a few more things with protection adjustments and route changes at the line of scrimmage based on a particular look that we may have prepared for. He’s not necessarily doing it on his own, a lot of it is pre-determined.

"Sometimes guys have a difficult time and the one thing that we like about him in this stage of his career is we feel like he is an aware player. I mean he’ll come off to the sideline and he will kind of know if he made a mistake probably before you can tell him, and he has a good understanding of what he just saw on the field. Sometimes you’ll ask a guy, ‘was it man or zone? Did they blitz?’ Some guys kind of give you the blank look, but Ryan’s been very aware and in tune to what’s happening on the field.”

### Boston media asked Philbin about his philosophy of building a team, and he reiterated he prefers drafting and developing players to free agency, but also made clear that he would be OK with free agent additions. (And Jeff Ireland wants to get more out of free agency than last spring.)

“It’s always good to mold guys in your own image I guess is the easiest way to put it,” Philbin said. "That’s kind of what I’m more used to in the nine years where I was at before. It was more you drafted guys, you had your own guys, you developed them and you kept them and had some continuity with players and staff, etc… So that’s kind of the model that I’d like to have here. Not saying that a free agent can’t contribute or anything like that. Certainly we’ll look at every avenue possible, but the young guys have been good. I think a lot of those guys have a nice future.”

### Philbin, on what surprised him in his first year as an NFL head coach: “I certainly had a lot of thoughts down on paper when I interviewed for how I wanted to run a program and all that, but simple things like we did just a little bit of remodeling downstairs and they asked, ‘Joe do you want the carpet to be this, or the seat on the locker to be this?’ ‘Do you want the helmet hung here?’ Stuff like that that you never even thought of before, you have to have some input on. So, I think just the volume of decisions that have to be made on a daily basis. Again, we’re not curing cancer here. People are doing a lot more important things than we’re doing, but still you have to make some decisions.”

### Bush said Mike Pouncey has become such a "great player" than he could now envision him being "a potential Hall of Famer once it is all said and done.”

### Bush, an impending free agent who the Dolphins would like to keep but only at the right price, said he genuinely believes the “direction of this organization is going in the right place. I’m very encouraged. From the beginning when Philbin started, he came in (and) he changed the whole locker room and our facility. He changed everything. When he came in, he wanted to kind of portray that he’s changing the whole mentality of this organization, mindset, and I think he did that. It’s been really positive.”

After Bush reiterated that he “would definitely love to be back,” he was asked why. “Well, for one, I don’t want to keep bouncing around from team-to-team. I’d like to have a home base. And two, I really enjoy the fan base here, the city of Miami and there’s also I think a great tradition here of winning (and) of excellence. When you look back to the ’72 Dolphins, or some of the great players like Larry Csonka, Dan Marino, guys like that, it’s good company. I talked about wanting to bring back the passion about Miami football and building a winning franchise here.”

December 25, 2012

Heat-Thunder postscripts; Long UM streak ends; Ignominious distinction for Canes; Fins notes

We’re on assignment for a couple days, so no full Wednesday buzz column today. Instead, some postscripts and thoughts from a highly entertaining Heat win over the Thunder, UM’s disappointing 5000 mile journey to Hawaii, and a couple Dolphins notes:

### Good to see Mario Chalmers put together not only his best game of the season, but his best work since his 25-point outburst in Game 4 of the Finals in June. Chalmers’ 20 points were essential on a night Miami’s bench shot just 3 of 16, with Shane Battier going 0 for 5.

Also notable: Chalmers didn’t commit a turnover. And unlike numerous games in the past three weeks, Chalmers – not Norris Cole – played down the stretch.

### LeBron James’ streak of six straight games without a foul ended in the first quarter, but James was brilliant, as usual, with 29 points (his 30th straight regular season game with 20 or more), nine assists and eight rebounds. His biggest assist was the nifty pass to Chris Bosh for a dunk that put Miami up 98-95 with 26 seconds left.

With that basket, Bosh is now 8 for 9 from the field and 10 for 10 from the line in the last five minutes of games with a margin of five points or less.

### The Heat went 19 for 19 from the line, the second best effort in franchise history behind only a 30-for-30 game against Boston in 1993.

### Though the Thunder went to the line far more often (38 to 19 times), the Heat got into the basket area, shooting 21 for 30 in the paint, compared with 14 for 35 for the Thunder.

### Despite the bench’s offensive inefficiency Tuesday, Allen was a factor late (as usual), and Joel Anthony had four rebounds and two blocks. It looks like Erik Spoelstra has settled on an effective 10-man rotation that might stay intact for a while barring an injury.  

### Russell Westbrook finished 5 for 19 from the field and posted the worst plus/minus (minus 9) of anybody who played in the game.... The Heat is now 7-2 all-time on Christmas.

### With Reggie Johnson missing all three games with a thumb injury, UM finished a disappointing 1-2 in Hawaii, including a resounding loss to third-ranked Arizona and a disappointing 57-55 overtime loss to Indiana State on Christmas night. That blunted the momentum of a seven-game winning streak and an 8-1 start in non-conference play.

### Embarrassing: Indiana State shot 27 percent and still won – the worst of any NCAA team in a win this season, covering hundreds of games.

### UM went 0 for 15 on threes on Christmas night, ending a streak of 354 games with at least one three-pointer. It was the first time UM didn’t make a three-pointer in a game since December 2001 against Indiana. Shane Larkin was 0 for 5, and Durand Scott, Trey McKinney-Jones and Rion Brown all 0 for 3.

### Unusually poor night for UM's backcourt --- Scott finished 4 for 13, Larkin 2 for 13 for UM, which shot 33.8 percent from the field and just 11 for 21 from the line.

### Though Julian Gamble played well Tuesday (11 points, 9 rebounds), Johnson’s absence magnified Miami’s poor frontcourt depth. Coach Jim Larranaga trusted only seven players, with Brown and the limited Raphael Akpejiori the only reserves who logged more than one minute of playing time.  

### UM (8-3) has only one more non-conference game left: next Wednesday (Jan. 2) at home against LaSalle, before opening ACC play. UM played a tough non-conference schedule (ranked eighth-most difficult in the nation). But the Canes likely will need to go at least 10-8 in the conference to make the NCAA Tournament, unless they secure an automatic berth by winning the ACC tournament. (There's a new 18-game conference schedule this season.)

### New Dolphins cornerback Dimitri Patterson made a strong case to stick around beyond this year in Sunday’s win at Buffalo; Ryan Fitzpatrick completed only 2 of 8 passes thrown against him for 11 yards. Let’s see what Patterson, cut by Cleveland last week, can do against Tom Brady & Co. Sunday. He’s due $4.5 million next season if Miami keeps him around.

“We were really impressed with his ability to pick up the scheme number one,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. “We certainly were happy to have him join us here last week. On tape we liked him a lot. We had looked at him prior to the season actually. Back in the spring time he was a guy who we had on our radar who we liked. So when he became available we felt good about getting him in here and it was a matter of whether he could get up to speed fast enough. He played a very, very solid game for us.”

### Pro Football Focus keeps making a big deal about Miami’s lack of consistent pass rush opposite Cameron Wake, noting that Jared Odrick rushed the quarterback 36 times Sunday and had no sacks and just one pressure.

December 24, 2012

Monday update: Philbin, Sherman address issues; Sean Smith update; Marlins sign veteran

Some Dolphins news from Monday afternoon, including snippets from the coaches' press conferences:

### Joe Philbin sounded bullish on the franchise’s forecast: “We’re building a foundation that is going to deliver excellent football teams in the future. I like the foundation we have in place. I like the way they guys have competed virtually all season. I’m 51 years old. Hopefully, I’ll be a better coach next year.”

### An MRI showed Sean Smith suffered only a bruise and not any structural damage to his knee, which was injured during Sunday's win against Buffalo. There’s a chance he plays Sunday, depending on his recovery. “I’m BACK!!!,” Smith tweeted. “Other than my son being born, this is the happiest day of my life. GOD is GOOD.”

### Philbin, on Lamar Miller: “He’s got some natural instincts that enable him to find the open running lane. And he’s got some speed. He can move, he can scoot.”

### Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman: “Lamar is a very smooth back and he’s more powerful than you think.”

### Cornerback Dimitri Patterson, who was claimed off waivers last week, played every snap. “He did a really nice job," Philbin said. "He looks like he’s a bright guy. He looked good in practice. There are some things to work on and fine tune.”

### Sherman said Nate Garner has exceeded his expectations. Said Philbin: “You have to take your hat off to Nate Garner, the contributions he made. [Garner and Jonathan Martin] are not perfect. There’s a lot of room for improvement. There’s not any perfect players out there. Jon Martin has done well. He’s a serious, professional individual.”

### Philbin was asked if they should have used the read-option with Ryan Tannehill – and using Reggie Bush as a receiver – more earlier in the season. “This isn’t the time to evaluate that,” he said.

But Sherman did answer the question, saying: “Ryan already had a lot on his plate, and it takes its toll…. As soon as he gets hit and hurt, there will be a different thought about it. It doesn't do us any good to have our quarterback injured in his first season. So I kind of held back on that. But towards the end of the season, I thought it would be a good addition.”

### And Sherman gave a thoughtful answer about his philosophy of using players in different ways as a season evolves: "There is no question Reggie and Lamar are talented young men, but... as you go through the journey of a season, you put more and more on their plate and they are able to handle it and you can end up doing more with them... Part of it is our willingness to adapt to what guys do best. You would have liked to do some things earlier, but maybe we weren't quite ready for that. As we go into this game and next season, we have a better feel and understanding where we are at."

### Tight end Michael Egnew played eight snaps Sunday -– his first playing time of the season. “Thought Egnew did a good job in what we asked him to do,” Philbin said.

### Sherman said receiver Armon Binns is doing a "phenomenal" job. Looks like Miami might want to keep him around.

### Difficult motivational week? “I would hope not,” Philbin said.

### For an update on new NFL game times for Sunday - and Miami's 2013 schedule - please see our last post.


The Marlins signed veteran right-handed pitcher John Maine to a minor-league contract, with an invitation to spring training. Maine has a 41-36 record and 4.35 ERA in parts of seven seasons, including five with the Mets and two with Baltimore.

He last pitched in the majors in 2010, going 1-3 with a 6.13 ERA for the Mets. He had a 4.97 ERA in 79 2/3 innings for the Yankees' Triple A affiliate in 2012. He's a darkhorse candidate for the fifth rotation spot or a long relief job. 

December 22, 2012

Fins-Pats time moved; 2013 schedule update; Tannehill ahead of rookie curve; Fins, Heat, Canes

Quick Sunday night update: The Dolphins' season finale at New England has been shifted from 1 to 4:25 p.m. and will be given the highest profile of any game on CBS' schedule next Sunday.

Week 17 is the only Sunday of the year when BOTH CBS and Fox are permitted to carry double-headers.

Here's the full schedule: (All times are Eastern Time)


Fox-7 in Miami likely will air the Giants game at 1 p.m. and the Packers game at 4:25 p.m. Besides the Dolphins game at 4:25 p.m., CBS-4 will air either the Jets, Texans or Ravens game at 1 p.m.    

# # #

As we told you several weeks ago, the Dolphins' 2013 schedule - besides AFC East opponents - will include these games:

Home: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Carolina and San Diego or Oakland

Road: Cleveland, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and the Colts or Titans. It will be the Colts if the Dolphins win or Jets lose next weekend.       


In case you missed it, here's the SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN from Sunday morning:

If you compare Ryan Tannehill’s body of work to all NFL quarterbacks this season, his numbers are below average – 29th in rating, 24th in completion percentage.

But if you compare his performance with other rookie quarterbacks over the past three decades, Tannehill measures out surprising well. The important caveat is that the game has changed and the league is on pace to set a record for per-game passing yardage and average quarterback rating.

But Tannehill, with a mediocre supporting cast, also has outperformed several recent rookies who played in this pass-happy era. Consider:

### Since 1980, 51 quarterbacks have started at least nine games as rookies. Excluding the four that played in other leagues before going to the NFL (Jim Kelly, Dieter Brock, Jeff Garcia and Warren Moon), Tannehill’s 75.9 quarterback rating ranks 12th. (Robert Griffin III is first and Ryan Leaf is last, by the way.)

Except for Charlie Batch (a serviceable Pittsburgh backup in his 15th year in the league), the 10 others who rank ahead of Tannehill either are in the Hall of Fame (Dan Marino), excellent (Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger), solid pros (Joe Flacco, Carson Palmer) or young players on track for good careers (Robert Griffin II, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Sam Bradford).

The average quarterback rating has increased about 10 points in the past 30 years, but Tannehill’s rookie rating margin over Troy Aikman (55.7) and John Elway (54.9) is considerably better than 10 points. Peyton Manning’s, by the way, was 71.2, and Eli Manning's 55.4.

And among 14 quarterbacks drafted since 2009 who started at least nine games as rookies, Tannehill’s rating ranks a solid sixth --- ahead of Andrew Luck (75.5), Brandon Weeden (72.4), Christian Ponder (70.1), Blaine Gabbert (65.4), Mark Sanchez (63), Matt Stafford (61), Josh Freeman (59.8) and Jimmy Clausen (58.4).

### Of those 51 who started at least nine games as rookies, Tannehill’s 58.7 completion percentage ranks 11th --- or ninth, excluding Kelly and Brock. Griffin and Roethlisberger are first at 66.4. Aikman was 52.9, Elway 47.5 and Eli Manning 48.2.

### Of those 51, Tannehill is 14th in passing yards per game (209), with Matt Leinart (212) the only bust ahead of him. This stat obviously is skewed by how the game has changed, but Tannehill’s rookie yardage average is comparable to Ryan (215), Dalton (212) and better than Seattle’s Wilson (192) and Eli Manning as a rookie (149).

### This, too, is encouraging: Among those who started at least 13 games, only Roethlisberger, Ryan and Griffin have thrown fewer interceptions as rookies than Tannehill’s 12. Sanchez and Stafford threw 20, Aikman and Freeman 18, Newton 17.

“I thought Tannehill would be very good to solid,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper said this month. “Great would be a stretch. But he has all the components you need to be a good starting quarterback – the size, arm, athletic ability, mindset and competitiveness. He needs to be more precise, but that will come. He’s made some great throws.”

As fellow draft analyst Mike Mayock told Joe Rose on WQAM recently: “The kid can play” but is handicapped because “there’s no vertical threat on a consistent basis. It’s almost like watching an offense in a red zone for 100 yards.”

Hall of Famer and former Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese mentioned last week how he became so much better when Miami acquired Paul Warfield.  He believes the same could happen to Tannehill if Jeff Ireland can find an elite receiver. “My three things are a quarterback needs to be accurate, needs to be a playmaker and make good decisions,” Griese said. “He does all three.”


### As usual, Nick Buoniconti was the most candid and critical among ’72 Dolphins gathered last weekend. “It’s tough to be this patient,” he said of being a Dolphins fan. “It’s time to stop talking and deliver. Face it: There’s a lack of talent. You know the old story: You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken [bleep].”

Like the other ’72 alums, Buoniconti says of Tannehill: “The kid is going to be good… .[But] obviously they don’t have any playmakers, no explosiveness offensively. Is Michael Egnew that bad? He must be terrible if they don’t play him. When they have opportunities, they’re dropping the ball or doing stupid things on special teams.”

Several expressed frustration with the offensive line, especially John Jerry. “Either grow up or move on!” Manny Fernandez barked.

And don’t ask Bob Kuechenberg about the wisdom of paying Jake Long a salary similar to $11 million again. “Get serious!” Kooch said. “If someone wants to pay for a guy that’s had a terrible year, well…”

### As for Egnew – who might be activate Sunday with Charles Clay injured – the issue isn’t merely blocking, but the fact the staff has been petrified he might make a mistake, as he has done in practice.

Egnew said he must "do enough to impress the right people to get on the field. I’ve gotten so much better, acquired a bunch of skills I never had before – footwork, blocking schemes I didn’t have in college.”    

### Safety Reshad Jones, the Dolphins’ most improved player on defense, said the team has expressed interest in extending his contract beyond 2013. But impending free agent Chris Clemons said Miami has told him nothing about whether they want him back.

### Yes, this stuff happens in the NFL: In the wake of Marcus Thigpen dropping a punt against San Francisco, Jaguars players heckled him from the sideline last week, imploring him – unsuccessfully - to drop another while the ball was in the air. 

### The latest criticism of Dwyane Wade was fired off last week by NBA’s Greg Anthony, who said Wade needs to “make a 17-footer consistently – where it becomes a layup like it is for Kobe Bryant and like it was for Michael Jordan. That is the part of his game that is not where it needs to be at this stage.”

Wade is shooting 37.7 percent from 15 to 19 feet – slightly better than average among NBA starting shooting guards but less than Bryant’s 46.5. Last season, Wade was at 32.9 from that distance, Bryant 41.0. But overall, Wade has played very well the past two weeks (shooting 63 percent overall over his past seven games). The Charles Barkley-led Wade bashing really needs to stop.

### Remarkably, LeBron James has now gone six straight games without a foul, including Saturday's win against Utah. Steve Nash went 11 in a row without fouling last season -- the NBA's longest streak in at least 15 years.

### Former UM and Dolphins receiver Lamar Thomas always has wanted the UM receiver coachs job – which is now open – and has kept in touch with Al Golden. But Thomas just took the receiver coachs job on Bobby Petrino’s Western Kentucky staff after being let go in a staff shakeup at Hampton.

### Former Canes quarterback Jacory Harris signed with the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos and will consider pursuing a career in the FBI or Secret Service if football doesn’t pan out.

### An FSU official said though Randy Shannon’s name was raised before the defensive coordinator job was filled by Alabama assistant Jeremy Pruitt, there was concern internally about how Shannon coaches defensive backs.

### Several teams have made offers for Giancarlo Stanton but none good enough for the Marlins front office to recommend to owner Jeffrey Loria. At least one Marlins baseball official believes the team should trade him for two or three excellent prospects, but he’s not making the decisions. Stanton isn’t eligible for free agency until after 2016, and Marlins likely will need to trade him eventually or lose him for nothing.

December 21, 2012

Dolphins documentary worth your time; other media notes


Recommended viewing: a splendidly-crafted documentary on the Dolphins’ 1972 team, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the perfect season. It will air at 8 p.m. Wednesday on NFL Network, but a few hundred – including much of the ‘72 team – watched it at the Gusman Theatre in downtown Miami last Saturday night.

The 45-minute film, narrated by Roy Firestone, frames the season within the context of what was happening in South Florida during that era.

Hall of Famer Larry Little recalls going to a WT Grant store in Miami, before segregation ended in the 1960s, and “sneaking to drink the water [served to white customers] to see if it was different from the water [served to blacks]. It was colder.” The ’72 alums talk admiringly about how Don Shula had white and black players room together.

Viewers hear amusing anecdotes from ’72 Dolphins and the reflections of a broad spectrum of people, including Gloria Estefan, longtime Herald sports columnist Edwin Pope and an Orange Bowl hot dog vendor that season.

There are plenty of highlights, but it’s not a highlight film per se. There’s also old footage of interviews and discussion about how the team impacted South Florida and how the players became a part of the fabric of the community, often tailgating with fans after games. The title could have shorter – “More than Perfect: One Team, One Town; The Untold Story of the 1972 Dolphins” – but the documentary could not have been done much better.

### CBS has only seven NFL announcing teams but had to summon an eighth (former network NFL voices Don Criqui and Randy Cross) to call what it deemed the worst of its games this weekend: Dolphins-Bills.

### Love those miked-up segments on Showtime’s Inside the NFL. Where else could you hear Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton complaining, during a game, about the NFL not building restrooms on sidelines?

This week, we heard Joe Philbin jokingly calling Sean Smith "a big baby" for a minor injury, and Philbin telling Ryan Tannehill he needs to learn how to slide.

### What in the world was Fox’s Terry Bradshaw talking about last Sunday when he said: “I don’t know what’s wrong with Christian Ponder, but whatever it is, it’s hard to pronounce.”

### The Knicks-Lakers/Heat-Thunder Christmas doubleheader will be the first ABC exposure of the season for the network’s revamped studio show, which added Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons to replace Jon Barry and Chris Broussard.

Rose, Simmons, Magic Johnson and Michael Wilbon have displayed decent chemistry during their ESPN appearances, but the network should never have pulled its offer to Stan Van Gundy, who’s doing college games for NBC Sports Network.

“Last year, I felt like they were leaning too much on Magic to be the be-all and end-all coming out of every commercial, right at the end of every game,” Simmons said. “How hardcore and sophisticated can you get, while making sure you’re not alienating the casual fans? It’s a challenge. It’s something that TNT has always been able to pull off because Charles Barkley is so good and Kenny Smith is so smart and really prepared.”

### ESPN suspended Rob Parker for 30 days this week, after Parker questioned whether Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is authentically black because he has a white fiancée.

### The SEC is exploring starting its own TV network, following the path of the Big 10 and Pac 10… Showtime dropped its weekly NASCAR show after three seasons…. The first non-Olympic boxing match on free-network TV in 15 years (Leo Santa Cruz vs. Alberto Guevara) draw a decent enough rating last Saturday (a 1.3) that CBS will consider airing more bouts… Notre Dame-USC finished as the highest-rated prime time network college football telecast this season, with UF-Tennessee 12th and UM-FSU 14th (with some getting Baylor-Texas that night). ABC easily outdrew Fox's prime-time package. 

### For Week 17 of the season, the NFL generally likes to give NBC a Sunday night game in which at least one of the teams can make the playoffs with a win, without earlier games having any bearing on that. Fox doesn't want to lose Cowboys-Redskins in Week 17, but it's entirely the NFL's call. Fox and CBS cannot protect Week 17 games.

This weekend, Fox protected Giants-Ravens, leaving 49ers-Seahawks exposed. And the NFL shifted that San Francisco game to NBC in prime time.... ESPN concludes its NFL package with Atlanta-Detroit on Saturday night because the league doesn't want a game on Christmas Eve.


December 20, 2012

News developments from Friday Dolphins' locker-room; Dolphins annual tight end issue rears its ugly head

A quick Friday update inside the Dolphins' locker-room:

1) Three Miami players have been ruled out for Sunday against Buffalo: Davone Bess (back), Dan Carpenter (who went on injured reserve with a groin injury) and Koa Misi.

2) Brian Hartline, who had missed practice Thursday with a back injury, participated Friday (at least to an extent) and said he expects to play Sunday. But Hartline is listed as questionable on the injury report. Also listed as questionable: Nolan Carroll (knee), Jeron Mastrud (hamstring) and Randy Starks.

3) Starks, who is not injured, has missed all three days of practice this week because of the death of his mother, teammate Paul Soliai said. Soliai - who has been in touch with Starks to offer his condolences and support - said he expects Starks to play Sunday. Joe Philbin was non-committal.

4) Kicker Nate Kaeding, signed to replace Carpenter, said the Dolphins have given him no commitments beyond the final two games of the season. Carpenter suffered the injury in practice but declined to disclose the severity.

5) Karlos Dansby, Chris Clemons, Derrick Shelby, Jimmy Wilson and Armon Binns are listed as probable. 


Talking Dolphins' tight ends today....


For five years, Anthony Fasano has proved generally serviceable and dependable, his 2012 work highlighted by the brilliant one-handed touchdown catch against the 49ers two weeks ago and a season-high output last Sunday (six catches, 56 yards).

But that also doesn’t change this reality: After years of looking, the Dolphins remain unable to find a stretch-the-field tight end that is deemed worthy of playing most downs and can consistently deliver high production. And frankly, it's pretty exasperating because of all the appealing options Miami has passed up.

General manager Jeff Ireland must decide whether to: A) re-sign impending free agent Fasano and again try to make do with a Fasano/Charles Clay tandem –- and hope Michael Egnew can eventually contribute -- or B) do whatever is necessary to upgrade the position, perhaps by drafting Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert in the first round (if he turns pro) or signing a free agent such as Martellus Bennett or, if he’s cut, Jermichael Finley.

The view here: Time to upgrade! Time to bring this offense into the 21st century.

The Dolphins are expected to seriously explore upgrading, but that wouldn’t necessarily preclude them from also re-signing Fasano, who said he has been given no idea if the team wants him back.

“Fasano is consistently giving you great effort,” offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. “Very seldom does he make a mental mistake. He has a lot of versatility and we’ve done a lot of things with him. It’s just good to go out there wit him because he is a cagy veteran, knows what exactly to do and how to do it, and has a very good skill level.”

That’s a very good endorsement, but this much is also true: Fasano doesn’t fit the mold of the new-age tight ends that can challenge defenses downfield. Consider:

### Fasano’s yards per catch average (8.0) is seventh-lowest among 58 tight ends that have played at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps. It’s also lowest among starters.

### His yards-after-catch average (2.1) is 57th of 58, ahead of only Dallas backup John Phillips.

### Fasano’s 289 yards (on 36 receptions) is higher than only one tight end that has played nearly as many snaps --- Chicago’s Kellen Davis.

Clay has flashed signs of being a seam tight end threat, but to project him as a starter at this point would be a reach. Clay (18 catches, 212 yards) will finish the season on injured reserve because of a knee injury.

Egnew hasn’t been able to get on the field, and will enter “bust” territory if he doesn’t make enough improvements to earn the coaching staff’s trust this offseason. He hopes to play Sunday in Clay's absence.

The Dolphins know they need a seam threat, whether that means developing Clay or Egnew or drafting one.

“The ability to attack the middle of the field in this modern era of the NFL and the defenses that you see is a critical element,” coach Joe Philbin said. “If you have those types of players that can do that and have success down the middle of the field, that’s a vulnerable area. You want to take advantage of that when the opportunity presents itself.”

Look around the AFC. The top seven teams in the conference have tight ends producing big numbers in the passing game. Rob Gronkowksi and Aaron Hernandez in New England. Owen Daniels in Houston. Heath Miller in Pittsburgh. Dennis Pitta in Baltimore.

Denver’s Jacob Tamme, who is clearly benefitting from his chemistry with Peyton Manning established over many years in Indianapolis. Rookies Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener in Indianapolis. And Jermaine Gresham in Cincinnati.

Egnew, who the Dolphins thought would be a stretch-the-field threat in the Gronkowski mold, said he is “absolutely” antsy to play but coaches “want me to be more consistent. I make a lot of good plays in practice but mess one up now and then.”

What’s frustrating about the Dolphins’ search for a tight end is how they have passed on so many players who blossomed elsewhere. Consider:

The Dolphins took Koa Misi instead of Gronkowski with the 40th pick in 2010, then selected John Jerry at No. 73 instead of Jimmy Graham (who went 95th) and traded their 110th pick to San Diego instead of taking Hernandez (113) or Pitta (114)…. They declined to match or top Carolina’s offer of a 2012 third-round pick to Chicago for Greg Olsen, who has 59 catches for 747 yards this season…

They took Derek Hagan instead of Daniels with the 82nd pick in 2006… They strongly considered taking Jared Cook in the 2009 draft but chose receiver Patrick Turner instead. Cook went 89th to Tennessee and has 44 catches for 523 in 13 games….

This past offseason, they declined to pursue Cowboys free agent Martellus Bennett, who signed a modest contract with the Giants (one year, $2.5 million) and has 50 catches for 584 yards.

Perhaps this is the offseason the Dolphins find that tight end that causes other defensive coordinators to genuinely worry. 

It really is about time, isn't it?