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30 posts from December 2012

December 19, 2012

Marlins sign Polanco; Magic Johnson opines on Heat; Fins, Canes notes

THURSDAY MORNING UPDATE:

The Marlins plan to sign veteran third baseman Placido Polanco to a one-year, $2.75 million contract if he passes medical tests, an industry source said.

[UPDATE: The Marlins announced the signing at 3 p.m. today].

Polanco, who spent time on the disabled list with back problems last year, was among the most accomplished free agent third basemen remaining in a group of players largely past their prime.

Polanco, 37, hit .257 with two homers and 19 RBI in 90 games for the Phillies last season. He hit .277 with five homers and 50 RBI in 2011 and .298 with six and 52 in 2010.

He has won three Gold Gloves - at second base in 2007 and 2009 and at third base in 2011, when he committed eight errors and became only the second player to win the award at more than one position (joining Darin Erstad). He had only two errors in 80 games at third base last season.

Polanco, who resides in Miami during the offseason and attended Miami-Dade Community College, was voted a starter in the All-Star Game in 2007 and 2011 and was the 2006 ALCS MVP.

Overall, Polanco has hit .299 with 103 homers and 700 RBI in 15 seasons, with St. Louis, Detroit and Philadelphia. He passed the 2000 hit threshold last May.

The Phillies declined his $5.5 million option in October, opting to pay him a $1 million buyout instead.

Other free agent third basemen who were still available, and drew Marlins consideration, include Brandon Inge, Miguel Tejada, Matt Downs and Ryan Raburn.

Former big league third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and ace pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs also will be in camp for the Marlins, who prefer to use Dobbs as a fill-in player and pinch hitter.

Polanco's signing would firm up the Marlins' lineup, unless there are any more trades.

Miami likely will go with Logan Morrison at first base, Donovan Solano at second, Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop, Polanco at third, Juan Pierre in left, Justin Ruggiano in center, Giancarlo Stanton in right and Rob Brantly catching.

MAGIC ON HEAT

Asked if the Heat is bored with the regular season, Magic Johnson told me Thursday: "We never got bored [with the Lakers]. I don't buy into that they're bored. That can work against them later on. People are not giving the league credit for being better this season. It's different when you're the champion. Everyone will play extra hard when they're playing the champion. You might be tired or not up for the game. Those teams are up for you.

"They're going to be fine. They're still the best team in the East. Dwyane Wade is still one of the best big game players in basketball. The bigger the games, the better Ray Allen performs. At the end of the day, the championship goes through the Heat. They're the best team in the East. The Knicks are the second-best."

CANES, DOLPHINS, HEAT CHATTER

### The Hurricanes privately are pleased with the results of what amounts to a tight end swap in the past two days – losing Travis Johnson (ESPN’s 102nd-ranked high school prospect) and adding Beau Sandland (ESPN’s 12th best junior college prospect and No. 2 tight end).

The Hurricanes were optimistic they would get Sandland when Johnson de-committed on Tuesday but didn’t find out for sure until Sandland informed them on Wednesday morning that he was picking Miami over Nebraska.

Though UM – along with Purdue – have been considered the top candidates for Indiana-based Nate Wozniak (rivals.com’s 38th-best tight end), Sandland told canesport.com that the Hurricanes have told him that they will not recruit another tight end, beyond Sandland and previous oral commitments Standish Dobard (ESPN’s 138th-best high school prospect) and St. Petersburg-based Jeremy Kerr.

Sandland (24 catches, 267 yards last season) will compete with Asante Cleveland, Dyron Dye and David Perry and the two incoming freshmen to back up Clive Walford and play in tandem with Walford in two tight-end sets. Sandland is in line for playing time if he pans out, considering Cleveland hasn’t lived up to coaches’ expectations.

It actually would make sense for UM to move Dye back to defensive end – a position of need - but UM says it won’t seriously consider any position switches for anybody until after the New Year.

“They wouldn’t be recruiting a JUCO kid so hard if they didn’t need someone to come in and contribute,” Sandland told Canesport.

Among junior college tight ends the Canes have added over the years, the hope is Sandland is closer to Jeremy Shockey than Chase Ford.

FYI: UM lost receivers coach George McDonald to Arkansas on Wednesday.

### While many Dolphins fans are very much aware of the six things that need to happen for Miami to make the playoffs (see our next-to-last post for the details), a bunch of Dolphins players said Wednesday they aren’t aware and aren’t particularly curious to find out. One exception: Richie Incognito.

Asked if he knows the scenario, Reggie Bush said, “I do not.” When reporters started telling him, he said, “That’s too much to remember.”

 ### Couple receiver notes: Not only is Davone Bess still dealing with a back issue, but Brian Hartline is, too. Both missed practice Thursday. Receiver Chris Hogan -- who was nicknamed 7-11 during Dolphins training camp because (as Bush said) “he was always open,” -- was moved up to Buffalo’s 53-man roster, but it’s questionable if he will get any playing time against Miami on Sunday.

### Last season, the Heat was fifth in field-goal percentage against. This year, Miami is 18th in that category, plus 16th in points allowed. No wonder Stan Van Gundy said, during his weekly 790 cameo with Dan Le Batard on Wednesday, that there’s no way the Heat can win a championship if it continues playing defense like this.

The Heat has dropped to last in the league in rebounding but 22nd in rebounding differential.

Offensively, the Heat is first in field goal percentage and fourth in scoring average (103.1).

### Couple broadcast notes: Panthers TV announcer Steve Goldstein relayed to us last week that he has agreed to co-host a morning talk show with Jeff DeForrest on WINZ-940 beginning Jan. 3. The show will run 6 to 10 a.m…. NBA TV on Wednesday hired former FIU coach and Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas as a studio analyst.

 

 

December 18, 2012

A behind-the-scenes look at NCAA interview of former Cane; Fins, Heat, Marlins chatter

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Faced with arm-twisting, at least three former Hurricanes football players recently spoke to the NCAA, which has been threatening ex-UM players in an attempt to pursuade them to be interviewed.

So what was that experience like?

For at least one of them, irritating and tiresome.

An attorney who was on the conference call when his client was interviewed by the NCAA gave us a detailed account of the 20-minute conversation. The former NFL player played at UM several years ago.

“The interview was a joke, basically a fishing expedition,” said the attorney, who asked that his name and client not be identified. “They kept asking the same questions over and over. Did you know Nevin Shapiro or [his former agent partner] Michael Huyghue? He said no.

“Then they asked, ‘Did you go to any clubs with Nevin? Did you see Nevin on the sideline during games? Who was he with? Did you receive benefits from agents?’ They couldn’t cite any specific incident, so they asked very general questions.

“After 20 minutes, [the former player] said, ‘Bro, you keep asking the same questions over and over. I don’t know anything.’ He talked to the NCAA only because he was adamant about clearing his name.”

On that call were UM outside council Mike Glazier and three NCAA officials, including assistant director of enforcement Molly Richman, who threatened numerous Hurricanes players in a November letter that stated the NCAA would believe Shapiro’s allegations against them if they did not agree to be interviewed. That letter, which I obtained, was printed on this blog last month.

Another former UM player admitted to the NCAA that he was on Shapiro’s boat but nothing else. Several players told the NCAA, through attorneys, that they will not speak.

Meanwhile, two attorneys said UM has warned players, by telephone, that they are at risk of being "disassociated" from UM if they do not cooperate with the investigation.

All UM would say to The Herald about the matter is that (unlike the NCAA), UM has not mailed letters to players. In other words, any disassociation comments made by UM have been made in phone calls to former players.

The NCAA's 2010 sanctions against USC required the Trojans to disassociate themselves from Reggie Bush. Last year, Ohio State disassociated Terrelle Pryor from the university for five years after he refused to cooperate with the NCAA investigation.

Disassociation means cutting off all ties with a player. The player would no longer be allowed on campus, couldn't receive complementary tickets to games or be on the sidelines, and couldn't receive recognition or acknowledgement of any kind from the school.

An attorney representing former UM players said one former Cane, trying to get back to the NFL, spoke to the NCAA because he wants to continue using UM’s training facilities and feared being disassociated if he didn't.

CHATTER

### Several ’72 Dolphins in town for the reunion this past weekend - including Paul Warfield – said they simply cannot say with certainty that Miami is headed in the right direction. Regarding Jeff Ireland, Manny Fernandez said: “Even a blind hawk finds an acorn once in a while.”

### The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported over the weekend that the Packers, this offseason, either will trade or release stretch-the-field tight end Jermichael Finley, who obviously would be an upgrade for the Dolphins. Finley, 25, thrived in Mike McCarthy's and Joe Philbin's offense last season, with 767 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.  

But despite the Philbin/Finley connection, keep this in mind: Neither the Dolphins nor any team likely will trade for Finley and pay him the $7 million he's due in 2013 if they know he's going to be released. And considering Philbin likes conformists, he assuredly is aware of the fact that Finley has had a habit of saying things he shouldn't, as the Journal-Sentinel noted in the piece.

The newspaper also cited his penchant for drops (most among tight ends over the past year-and-a-half), erratic blocking ("embarrassing" at times, one scout said) and his diminished production (48 catches, 525 yards this season).

### Heat guard Mario Chalmers admitted before Tuesday’s game that it has been “tough” sitting behind Norris Cole during numerous fourth quarters recently, but he hasn’t complained. “As long as we’re winning,…” he said.

Chalmers has a better shooting percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio than Cole. But “Norris is a bit quicker than Rio,” Chris Bosh said. And “Norris is our best on-the-ball defender,” Shane Battier said.

Chalmers acknowledged he must “play better defense on the ball” and watch more tape to learn players' tendencies. Still, this is notable: With Chalmers playing with the Big Three and Ray Allen (those four typically finish close games), Miami entered Tuesday plus-20 in 31 minutes. But with Cole playing with the Big Three and Allen, Miami has been outscored by 17 in 25 minutes.

### Erik Spoelstra said Tuesday that Miami’s seldom-used players justifiably “could all have their agent call me and say, ‘What the heck is going on? How come our guy isn’t having an opportunity?' I would simply list the credentials of the players playing in front of them.’”

Spoelstra made a point to praise center Josh Harrellson’s play in practice and his improved conditioning, but it likely will take an injury for him, Dexter Pittman or James Jones to get any meaningful playing time.

I'm curious to see Harrellson because of his ability to stretch the defense, because his offensive skills fit well with Miami's spread-the-floor approach and because he put up good numbers on the several occasions the Knicks played him 30-plus minutes last season. But Joel Anthony's defense has been an invaluable asset on the second unit.

### LeBron James (13 for 25) and Dwyane Wade (9 for 15) have shot well in the last five minutes of games with a margin of five points or fewer, but nobody has been better in those clutch situations than Bosh: 7 for 8 from the field (his only miss on a three-pointer) and 10 for 10 from the line.

### The Heat on Tuesday became the first team to be outrebounded by at least 28 boards IN A WIN since 1994.

### CBS' Bruce Feldman reported Tuesday night that Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz -- son of the former Miami mayor -- removed himself from consideration for the FIU head coaching job after reportedly interviewing Monday.

### The Marlins have spoken to the Angels about cheap outfielders Mark Trumbo (.268, 32, 95) and Peter Bourjos (.220, 3, 19), though they prefer a better hitter than Bourjos, who did hit .271 with 12 homers and 43 RBI in 2011. The Angels would want a lot in return to consider trading Trumbo.  

 

League announces Dolphins playoff scenario; Fins add veteran cornerback; UM loses a recruit

The NFL announced Tuesday how the Dolphins can make the playoffs. Six things must happen:

Miami must beat the Bills and Patriots. Pittsburgh must beat the Bengals but lose to Cleveland. The Bengals also must lose to Baltimore. And the Jets - even though they're eliminated from playoff contention - must lose to either San Diego or Buffalo.

The odds of all that happening? Only slightly better than a snowstorm on South Beach tonight.

### The Dolphins were awarded cornerback Dimitry Patterson off waivers from Cleveland, where he started four games this season. He allowed three TD passes and 66 percent of passes to be completed against him in seven games.

Patterson had four interceptions in 2010 but just one in his seven other seasons combined. Miami is in a precarious spot at cornerback because of Nolan Carroll's knee injury.

As expected, tight end Charles Clay was placed on injured reserve.

### Tampa Jesuit High tight end Travis Johnson - rated by ESPN as UM's third-best among 11 oral commitments - decommitted from the Hurricanes on Tuesday, announcing his decision on Twitter.

ESPN rated Johnson as the nation's 102nd best player in the Class of 2013. Rivals.com rated him as the 11th best tight end.

Two other UM oral commitments are rated higher - quarterback Kevin Olsen (67) and cornerback Artie Burns (69). UM is in the mix for several other top 100 players.

"Decommitting from the University of Miami," Johnson tweeted. "Opening my recruiting up."

Johnson is reportedly considering USF and Missouri, among others.

Even with Johnson's decision, UM still has oral commitments from two tight ends: New Orleans-based Standish Dobard, rated 138th overall by ESPN, and St. Petersburg-based Jeremy Kerr.

And UM - with Arizona State and Nebraska - are finalists for Woodland Hills (CA) Pierce CC tight end Beau Sandland, who will announce a decision on Wednesday.

UM now has 10 oral commitments.

 

 

December 17, 2012

Fins will end year short-handed; Saban sets record straight; Fins' unlikely playoff scenario; UM news

A few quick hits from Monday:

### Tight end Charles Clay tore a knee ligament in Sunday's win against Jacksonville and will undergo season-ending surgery this week, according to his agent, Harold Lewis. Clay finished the season with 18 catches for 212 yards. It will be interesting to see if Miami now gives playing time to rookie third-rounder Michael Egnew or Kyle Miller (who was claimed off waivers from the Colts last month.)

Running back Daniel Thomas also suffered a knee injury Sunday, and though it is not as serious as Clay's injury, he might miss a game or two. As a result, the Dolphins on Monday were considering whether to place him on injured reserve.

Joe Philbin said he's hopeful Nolan Carroll's knee injury will not sideline him for the rest of the season, but that's uncertain.

### Nearly six years after leaving the Dolphins, Alabama coach Nick Saban tried to set the record straight during a radio interview Monday, saying he feels badly about the manner he left and insisting that contrary to reports over the years, the Dolphins offered Drew Brees a contract during 2006 free agency.

It has been widely reported that the Dolphins offered a contract to Daunte Culpepper, who ultimately signed with them, and not to Brees because team doctors decided that Brees was more of a medical risk because of his surgically repaired throwing shoulder. That decision has haunted the Dolphins for years.

But Saban told Dan LeBatard on 790 The Ticket on Monday that the Dolphins first made an offer to Brees but "quite frankly, he didn’t pass the physical. And we were forced to go in another direction."

Saban also discussed leaving the Dolphins job after the 2006 season - his second year in the job - despite saying he was not going to take the Alabama job. "The big thing with me is not handling the way I left well," he said. "That’s always been a thing with me I’ve never felt good about. I’ll probably never feel good about it."

### An NFL spokesman said Monday afternoon the league is still reviewing playoff scenarios and could not yet confirm how the Dolphins could make the playoffs, though they are mathematically alive. Yes, it's highly unlikely Miami would make it, and it's probably a waste of everyone's time to discuss it. But just so you know so you can impress (or bore) friends at dinner parties:

To achieve a three-way tie at 8-8 for the last wild card spot, the Dolphins would need to beat Buffalo and New England; Pittsburgh would need to beat Cincinnati but lose at home against Cleveland (good luck with that); and Cincinnati would need to lose to the Steelers and Baltimore. The Dolphins appear to have the tiebreaker edge in that 3-team scenario (based on conference games), though the NFL said it's still checking.

The Jets' loss Monday eliminated them from playoff contention, according to ESPN, though they could still finish in a tie with the Dolphins.

### Biggest statistical surprise from Monday; Ryan Tannehill now ranks ahead of Andrew Luck in quarterback rating, 75.9 to 75.5. Most anyone who has seen the two rookie this season would agree Luck has had the better season. But here's what's encouraging from a Dolphins perspective in the comparison with Luck: Tannehill has the better completion percentage (58.7 to 54.6) and has thrown fewer interceptions (18 to 12).

Tannehill ranks 29th of 35 quarterbacks in rating.

### With Carroll limited to 16 plays Sunday because of injury, "Bryan McCann stepped in and did a nice job,” Philbin said. “RJ Stanford had some good contributions as well." He said the Dolphins wanted to use the young defensive backs “to have some better information.”

### I asked Philbin to point to two things that leave him most encouraged that Ryan Tannehill will be a good quarterback longterm. "Decision making and awareness," he said.

### The Dolphins, with 12 takeaways, are on pace to break the franchise record for fewest in a season (19), and Philbin is clearly frustrated about it. "We had our hands on a couple. We have to keep working on it."

### Philbin liked how Marlon Moore and Rishard Matthews played with expanded roles in Davone Bess' absence and made a point to credit their blocking.

### Retiring Wayne Hills football coach Chris Olsen, father of ballyhooed UM quarterback recruit Kevin Olsen, said the family is exploring the possibility of Kevin enrolling in January instead of next summer --- something UM didn't think was even a possibility. "It's 50/50,"  Chris Olsen said.

Chris Olsen said UM told him that Kevin likely would redshirt next season but would have a chance to compete with Ryan Williams, Preston Dewey and Gray Crow to start in 2014, after Stephen Morris graduates.

Olsen, who has been a solid UM oral commitment for several months, is the nation's No. 6 overall quarterback prospect, according to rivals.com. He will play in the UnderArmour All America game at 5 p.m. Feb. 4 in St. Petersburg, where he will be coached by former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci.

 

 

December 15, 2012

UM recruiting update; Ireland's status; Wade's message to Barkley; Fins, Marlins

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN 

With 7 1/2 weeks left before National Signing Day, UM is in decent shape – with 11 oral commitments, including four ranked among ESPN’s top 150 – but still has several holes to fill. A half dozen highly-rated Dade/Broward recruits are undecided, and UM wants to come away with at least a couple of them.

 Unlike last year, when UM signed 33 players, this Canes class will be limited to 15 to 18. Recruiting this year “feels different – more focused, more personalized, more selective,” coach Al Golden said.

“We don’t need that many and we’re trying to find the right ones and trying to be patient. We’re going through it methodically. A lot of these guys will be at All-Star games and we should be patient – give them an opportunity to say yes to us for sure.”

An update on where things stand with UM's 2013 class:

DEFENSE

### Orally committed: UM has four --- under-the-radar Alex Figueroa (a linebacker/end who didn’t have the grades to qualify coming out of a Virginia high school and then suffered a torn labrum in a Virginia All-Star game in July); California junior college linebacker Devante Bond (17 sacks, three forced fumbles last season); and two well-regarded defensive backs: Miami’s Northwestern’s Artie Burns (ranked 69th in the county overall by ESPN) and Southridge’s Jamal Carter (rivals.com’s 20st-best safety prospect).

“Artie is a track athlete who’s tall, rangy and fast but still learning the game,” recruiting analyst Charles Fishbein said. “I think he has better upside than Tracy Howard. Carter is more of an in-the-box safety, very physical. More of a run-support type kid. In coverage, he’s not as fluid as Artie.”

The UM staff likes the versatility and athleticism of Figueroa, who attended a community college last season while recovering from his injury. Virginia and Virginia Tech had been showing interest in him before Miami offered. UM believes Bond can help immediately as a pass rusher. 

### Still pursuing: More than a half dozen, including two of the nation’s top linebacker prospects: Alabama-based Rueben Foster and Booker T. Washington’s Matt Thomas. Foster, the nation’s No. 1 rated inside linebacker, says he’s considering Georgia, LSU, Washington, UM and Auburn.

Thomas, the nation’s No. 2 rated outside linebacker, has UM, FSU, Georgia, Alabama and Southern California as his final five, but his coach (Tim Harris) said Thomas hasn’t established a favorite. “I grew up watching Miami win championships,” Thomas told rivals.com. “They are right down the street, so my family and friends could come and see me play.”

Harris said Thomas also could play defensive end: “His pass rush ability is excellent.”…

Miramar’s Jermaine Grace, a big hitter and rated 17th among all inside linebackers, told canesport.com there’s a 70 percent chance he signs with UM.

Meanwhile, UM is pursuing several top-40 defensive tackles, including Fort Lauderdale University School’s Maquedius Bain (his coach, Roger Harriott, said UM, LSU and Oklahoma are his top choices); Delray Beach Atlantic’s Keith Bryant (a former UM oral commitment who said he favors FSU but hasn’t ruled out UM); Port Saint Lucie West Centennial's Jaynard Bostwick; and Immokalee’s Deadrin Senat (leaning toward FSU, but UM is in the mix).

UM also has been recruiting junior college tackles such as Toby Johnson (41 tackles, three sacks, blocked punt at Hutchinson Ks.), Ben Bradley and Lavon Hooks (who canceled a visit here).

Bostwick’s coach, Ron Parker, said Bostwick visited with Canes coach on Thursday night and that UM, UF and Alabama are front-runners for him.  “He’s the best d-tackle in the country and will play right away,” Parker said, though rivals.com rates him 27th among tackles.

Dee Liner – the nation’s No. 2 ranked defensive end with the unusual but highly appropriate name – said he will visit UM in January, though he remains an Auburn oral commitment. UM is in the mix for New Jersey's Al-Quadin Muhammed, rated the nation's fourth-best defensive end. He visited UM last weekend. 

One other defensive note: UM has been trying to convince four-star Pompano Beach Blanche Ely cornerback Rashard Robinson to drop his LSU oral commitment and come to UM. The Canes believe they have a chance here.

OFFENSE

 ### Orally committed: Running back Ray Lewis III (a three-star prospect who averaged 13.1 yards per carry as a junior and 14.2 as a senior); two three-star offensive linemen (New Jersey’s Hunter Knighton and Cincinnati’s Alex Gall) and Kevin Olsen, rivals.com’s No. 6 quarterback prospect who missed considerable time with a foot injury this season but returned for the playoffs (his team lost in the second round) and finished the year 39 for 77 for 448 yards, with five touchdowns and five interceptions.

Olsen, ESPN’s 67th best prospect overall, “is very polished, good feet and a Ken Dorsey type,” Fishbein said.

Also, UM has oral commitments from three tight ends: Tampa-based Travis Johnson (rated 102nd among all players by ESPN), New Orleans-based Standish Dobard (rated 138th by ESPN) and St. Petersburg-based Jeremy Kerr. “Johnson is the best receiver of the three,” Fishbein said. “They can flex him out.  One of the better receiving tight ends they’ve had in a while. Kerr is more of a blocking tight end. Dobard (52 catches, 723 yards this season) is like Bubba Franks – can do blocking and running.”

### Still pursuing: Golden said UM wants another high-impact back to complement Duke Johnson.

Even though South Plantation’s Alex Collins (rated 147th by ESPN) dropped his oral commitment to UM a few weeks ago, the Hurricanes believe they have a decent chance to reel him back in. His coach, Doug Gatewood, said UM, Wisconsin, UF and FSU “all have the same chance.” He said Collins de-committed not because he doesn’t like UM but, “to use an analogy with dating,…it wasn’t right looking at other girls and dating this one.”…

Among running backs, UM also covets Philadelphia-area back David Williams, ESPN’s No. 124 overall prospect who ran for 1804 yards this season (9.5 per carry) and 24 touchdowns. Williams, a powerful runner who has been compared with Dallas Cowboys back DeMarco Murray, said he's considering UM, South Carolina, Arizona State and Ohio State, and is looking at visiting UM in January. And Santacules’ Diocemy St. Juste (1400 yards this season) is a fallback option...

UM is pursuing even more tight ends: 6-9 Indiana-based prospect Nate Wozniak (considering UM and Purdue) and Woodland Hills CC (Cal.) prospect Beau Sandland, who will decide Dec. 19 among UM, Nebraska and Arizona State….

Booker T. Washington’s Denver Kirkland, rated the ninth-best offensive tackle, remains a high priority but doesn’t have a favorite, coach Harris said. He visited FSU and Mississippi and will visit Miami, USF and TCU … UM is in hot pursue of Oakland Park Northeast receiver Stacy Coley (ESPN’s 30th best player overall) and also has offered University School receiver Jordan Cunningham (ESPN’s 51st).

Northeast coach Donnell Bennett said “Miami is high on Stacy’s list; he enjoyed his visit a lot” but that FSU, UF, Mississippi and North Carolina also are in the running. Among former Canes, Bennett compares Coley’s ability and route-running to former UM standout Lamar Thomas, and his speed to ex-Cane Horace Copeland. Cunningham’s coach, Roger Harriott, said UM and Stanford are his finalists.

CHATTER

### Though Dolphins owner Stephen Ross declined to comment about Jeff Ireland’s status last week, associates say Ross has seen enough improvement this season – and is encouraged about Ryan Tannehill -  that he still has faith in his general manager. “He sees progress,” a friend said. There has been no internal discussion of replacing Ireland, though it’s impossible to say what Ross would do if the Dolphins lose their final three.

### Ross cannot like this, though: Not only are the Dolphins producing the worst local TV ratings of any team, but they sold only 77.8 percent of available tickets to their first six home games, by far the NFL’s lowest percentage. In fact, Miami’s average paid attendance (58,484) is lowest since the team started tracking it in 1997 – and fewer actually show up.

But to suggest fans don’t come because there’s so much else to do here “is kind of a cop out because… the beach isn’t going anywhere,” Brian Hartline said. “You have eight games a year in the fall to watch NFL football. I don’t know what you’re doing on a Sunday at 1, but I don’t think people are out raging and having parties.”

### The Dolphins are very intrigued by the size/speed combo of 6-3 receiver Armon Binns, who will be asked to stick around if he impresses this month. “Jeff Ireland told me he’s excited to have me and knows I can make plays,” he said. “Lots of defensive backs told me I have quick feet for my size. I caught a lot of deep balls in college.”

### The final word from Dwyane Wade on Charles Barkley’s criticism: Though Wade he understands it’s Barkley’s job to talk about players,” he believes the heart of his criticism “is not reality. It’s opinion. I don’t know why he’s saying stuff but I can’t concern myself with it. It doesn’t change anything in my life… You can say anything you want to about me. But if you want to continue to say anything about me, reach out to me as well or don’t even speak to me when you see me.” Barkley hasn’t called Wade and “he’s not going to do that,” Wade said.

### An official with an American League team said though the Marlins aren’t actively trying to dump Ricky Nolasco, they indicated they would be open to trading him if the right deal comes along – perhaps not until during the 2013 season – but haven’t had an appealing enough offer. 

December 14, 2012

Friday night Dolphins notes; UM gets another oral commitment

Some Friday night quick hits:

### As Sean Smith approaches unrestricted free agency, he said it seems that teams have been throwing at him less often than earlier in the season. And though that has been the case at times, Smith still holds the distinction of being targeted more than any cornerback in the league.

Opposing teams have thrown 99 passes with Smith in coverage and completed 55 of them for 646 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. St. Louis’ Cortland Finnegan is No. 2 on the targeted list – with 92 – but has allowed 67 to be completed.

“Sean has done some good things,” coach Joe Philbin said. “I see development. I see progress.”

The 55.6 completion percentage against Smith ranks 31st among 110 corners, and the 11.7 yards per completion ranks 37th best. “I’m pleased,” Smith said. “It’s been one of my more consistent years.”

Smith has knocked away seven passes and intercepted two, but his six touchdowns allowed is tied for second most behind New Orleans’ Patrick Robinson, according to the web site.

Coincidentally, PFF ranks Smith and Nolan Carroll tied for 79th among the 110 cornerbacks, with quarterbacks having an 87.4 rating in Smith’s coverage area and 87.6 in Carroll’s area.

Miami’s Jimmy Wilson ranks 88th among cornerbacks, with quarterbacks producing a 101.1 rating in his coverage area.

### The Dolphins ruled linebacker Koa Misi out for Sunday’s game with an ankle injury. Jason Trusnik likely will start in his place.

### Neither receiver Davone Bess – who was also ruled out – nor Misi practiced this week, and Philbin said: “My history tells me most guys don’t play well if they don’t practice.”

### The Dolphins listed seven players as probable: receiver Brian Hartline, linebackers Karlos Dansby and Austin Spitler, safeties Chris Clemons and Jonathan Amaya, punter Brandon Fields and Wilson.

### Jacksonville ruled out three running backs: Maurice Jones-Drew, Rashad Jennings and Jordan Todman, as well as cornerback Aaron Ross and defensive end George Selvie.

### After giving it thought, Philbin said he doesn’t “really have a problem” with Fields pushing Jonathan Freeny in anger after Freeny’s foolish mistake last week, when he tried to down the ball on the 49ers 3 but strolled backward and touched the goal line, resulting in a touchback.

“Guys get emotional,” Philbin said. “If you think of the spirit of what it was done in, it was fine.”

### Receiver Brian Hartline, asked by Jacksonville writers this week about what it’s like playing here, said: “It will be interesting to see if I’m going to enjoy watching this team get better and get onto a better situation or I might find myself in another offense.”

Asked what he meant by that, Hartline pointed out his contract is expiring. But he strongly suggested he wants to stay: “The organization’s great. I love playing for my coaching staff [and] I think we’re headed on the right track.”

### Ryan Tannehill, asked how he takes criticism from pundits: “I don’t listen to any of it. I don’t watch too much sports on TV at all. Not unless it’s a game or something like that. I don’t listen to any radio. I’m pretty isolated from all media. I don’t get on Twitter. I’m pretty focused on what we have to do here.”

 

UM ADDS PASS-RUSHER

UM got its 11th oral commitment for the Class of 2013 on Friday night, when Roseville (CA.) Sierra Community College defensive end Devante Bond announced he's going to Miami. Bond had 77 tackles, 17 sacks and three forced fumbles this past season. He chose UM over Nebraska, Syracuse, West Virginia and Fresno State.

Friday update: Fins ready to play young WRs with Bess out; NFL TV news

For those clamoring to see more of the Dolphins’ young receivers, and for the young receivers who are yearning to play more, the opportunity finally arrives Sunday.

On Friday, the Dolphins ruled out starting receiver Davone Bess for Sunday’s game against Jacksonville because of a back injury that Bess said he sustained while trying to recover his own fumble in the third quarter of last week’s game against San Francisco.

That means more playing time for Rishard Matthews and Marlon Moore and possibly Marcus Thigpen or newcomer Armon Binns. Coach Joe Philbin was non-committal about playing Binns, who was claimed off waivers from Cincinnati, but said he’s a fast learner.

Thigpen, who started the season at running back, has been practicing at receiver the past few weeks and said that he, Moore and starter Brian Hartline got a lot of practice work in the slot the past three days, in Bess’ absence.

Moore and Matthews already have beaten out nearly a dozen receivers that have passed through here since the summer. Sunday, either or both figure to get their most snaps of the season.

“I take pride in still being here,” said Matthews,  a seventh-round pick in April’s draft.

A core special teams player, Moore has stuck around after being signed out of Fresno State in 2010. “To be here a third year as an undrafted receiver is an achievement, definitely,” he said.

Both have made plays when given the chance. Moore has been targeted eight times in 144 snaps this season and has four receptions for 83 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown against St. Louis, plus drawn a defensive holding penalty.

Matthews has been targeted six times in 99 snaps and has three catches for 55 yards, plus drawn a 30-yard pass interference penalty against Buffalo.

Seven months ago, the odds would have been long that the two California natives would have survived on the roster this long.

Roberto Wallace and Julius Pruitt were the flavors of the month during May and June, earning accolades from teammates. Jeff Fuller, now on Miami’s practice squad, also had his moments and had the advantage of familiarity with Ryan Tannehill, his former college teammate at Texas A&M.

Clyde Gates, Miami’s fourth-round pick in 2011, and B.J. Cunningham, the Dolphins’ sixth-rounder in April, were considered better prospects than Matthews and Moore by draft analysts. Chris Hogan was billed by HBO’s Hard Knocks as a receiver who couldn’t be covered.

Matthews and Moore also outlasted veterans Chad Johnson, Anthony Armstrong and Jabar Gaffney, who all had cameos here.

Of those 11 who were ultimately beaten out by Matthews and Moore, only Gates (Jets) and Armstrong (Cowboys) are on a 53-man rosters elsewhere. Fuller (Dolphins), Cunningham (Eagles) and Hogan (Bills) are on practice squads.

Moore has stuck around because of solid special team work and the speed to get open. “I’ve gone through the whole thing of, ‘He’s not good enough,’” Moore said. “I just laugh and keep going.”

Cornerback Sean Smith said Moore is Miami’s fastest receiver, Matthews second-fastest.

Matthews has survived because he has good hands and speed (4.44 in the 40) and size (6-0) and displayed a physicality in competing for balls in the air.

“He’s stronger and faster than he looks,” Bess said.

Matthews originally signed with Oregon but “messed up academically” and attended a junior college before enrolling at Nevada, where he caught 147 passes for 2243 yards and 13 touchdowns in two seasons.

NFL.com’s Gil Brandt said he expected Matthews to be drafted far higher after a late-March on-campus workout when he “blew my socks off. Scouts said it was as good a workout as they have seen from a receiver” last spring.

But Matthews said his stock dropped because at the NFL Combine, he wasn’t fully healed from a knee injury.

Moore said Matthews reminds him of Baltimore’s Anquan Bolden because of his physical play, and Matthews has been studying Bolden’s tapes on YouTube.

“I still make a lot of mental mistakes,” he said. “Technique wise, I need to improve. But I’m showing a lot of upside and I haven’t reached my potential yet. A lot of people underestimate my speed because of my size.”

Matthews and Moore are roommates on the road and coincidentally, both made their first NFL receptions on a Thursday night game before Thanksgiving – two years ago for Moore, this year for Matthews.

“Marlon has been a big brother, mentor, to me, taught me to be patient,” Matthews said. “He’s seen me get frustrated and stressed out. He understands what I’m going through.”

Note: Please see our last post for the weekly media column.

December 13, 2012

Media column: NFL news, views from the couch

NFL TV views from the couch:

### Opining on social issues, during NFL broadcasts, can be quite dicey for sportscasters. But that slippery slope hasn’t deterred several NFL voices from speaking out, in the wake of the murder/suicide committed by Kansas City Chief Javon Belcher and Josh Brent’s drunk driving incident that left Cowboys teammate Jerry Brown dead.

Many of you know that NBC’s Bob Costas precipitated a firestorm when he implied, during a halftime essay, that gun control would help prevent situations such as Belcher’s. “If Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kassandra Perkins would both be alive today,” Costas said.

But CBS’ James Brown elicited virtually no reaction when he linked violent behavior to profane language in music videos, because well, that topic isn’t nearly as explosive or controversial or polarizing as gun control.  

“Three women per day – on average – are being killed by their husbands or boyfriends,” Brown said last Sunday on The NFL Today. “That means that since Kassandra Perkins’ death last Saturday [Belcher shot her], at least 21 more women have met the same fate. Respecting and valuing women should seem to be a no-brainer, but profane language in music, the locker room or anywhere else that degrades or devalues women could contribute to attitudes or beliefs that are destructive and potentially violent.

“A 2006 study demonstrated that with proper coaching and leadership, teenagers can successfully change their attitudes and behaviors toward women. By why can’t more of us grown men do that as well? Three more women will pay with their lives today and they don’t have to. I certainly pray that we men are fed up enough and hurt enough to do and say more about these critical issues, because right now, the silence is deadly.”

Some who criticized Costas suggested that commenting on a social issue wasn’t appropriate for an NFL broadcast. But would they also say that about Brown’s essay? Or would their perspective be skewed because they agree with Brown but not with Costas?

The view here: There is nothing objectionable with venturing outside the box and addressing meaningful social issues in a thoughtful way during NFL coverage, provided the matter is timely.

Where Costas self-admittedly erred is leaving his comments “open to misinterpretation” and not having enough time to specifically explain and justify his position.

But giving an opinion? No problem with that here, no matter what stance Costas took.

### Unfortunately, Rob Parker’s analysis on ESPN’s First Take was neither thoughtful nor enlightened when he commented this week about Robert Griffin III saying he did not want to be defined as an African-American quarterback.

“My question,” Parker said, “is: ‘Is he a brother or is he cornball brother?’ He’s not really. He’s black, he does his thing, but he’s not really down with the cause. He’s not one of us. He’s kind of black, but he’s not really like the kind of guy you really want to hang out with.” To defend his argument, Parker foolishly mentioned that Griffin "has a white fiancee."

Stephen A. Smith, the voice of reason in this case, said: “I’m uncomfortable with where we just went” and his “ethnicity… is none of our business.”

FRIDAY MORNING UPDATE: ESPN has suspended Parker indefinitely for his comments.

### For all the fanfare about NBC’s flexible scheduling, it will end up having a very modest impact this season.

For the first six weeks when flex scheduling is permitted, only one game (Chargers-Jets on Dec. 23) ended up being replaced, by 49ers-Seahawks. The league also chooses a game for NBC on Dec. 30.

ESPN, without a Monday night flex option, is stuck with Jets-Titans on Dec. 17 and Lions-Falcons for its Dec. 22 finale (a Saturday). ESPN pays nearly twice as much a year as NBC does, but the league says it would be too difficult logistically to flex games from Sunday to Monday.

### South Florida’s ratings for Dolphins games remain the worst in the country for the home team; Sunday’s 14.6 for Dolphins-49ers was easily the worst for any team in its home market. Next worst: 17.2 percent of Phoenix residents watched the Cardinals’ 58-0 loss at Seattle.

### ESPN’s Stuart Scott has become practically unwatchable when he’s anchoring Monday Night Football SportsCenter postgame shows. Either he’s overhyping and overselling everything – “you won’t believe what we’re going to show you next!” – or he’s saying things like this: That touchdown pass by Colin Kaepernick “was straight out stupid. Stupid! Stupid! That means good, Steve [Young].”

### Nobody butchers names in highlights more than CBS’ Dan Marino. He called Jacksonville’s Rashad Jennings two names, neither correct: Rashard Jennings and Reshad Jenkins, referred to Arizona quarterback Ryan Lindley as “Leyland,” and Colts tight end Coby Fleener as “Fleenery.”

### Kudos to ESPN president John Skipper for telling his producers to pull back coverage of Tim Tebow. Unfortunately, it came about a year too late.

### Still wondering what Fox’s Troy Aikman meant when he said he “would not have been as accommodating as Alex Smith was” after being replaced by Kaepernick. Aikman should have elaborated, or Joe Buck should have asked him to.

### When Bill Cowher is the subject of coaching rumors, CBS asks him to address them on the air. ESPN either can’t be bothered to do that with Jon Gruden or is afraid doing it might upset him. Gruden, in fact, has never said he will definitely stick to television during the length of his four-year ESPN deal, and his employer – for whatever reason – isn’t willing to ask.

### Best retort of the season: ESPN’s Ron Jaworski, making a guest appearance on Showtime’s Inside the NFL, told Phil Simms to listen to something Jaws was saying because “it may help your broadcasts.” Snapped Simms: “At least I’m still doing broadcasts!” Jaworski was removed from Monday Night Football before the season.

### Oddest response: Fox’s Terry Bradshaw, asked by Curt Menefee to name the most surprising team of the year, responded: “It doesn’t matter what I think.” Then why are you there, Terry?

### Amusing to see Cowher mock Steve Spurrier for saying Alabama could beat a couple of NFL teams. Spurrier’s “record in the NFL speaks for itself,” Cowher said. That would be 12-20.

 

December 12, 2012

UM shuffles, sets non-conference football schedule

Quick Wednesday night news note:

We hear the University of Miami has set its 2013 non-conference football schedule, and unlike recent years, all four games will be completed in the first month of the season.

UM will play host to Florida Atlantic in the opening week of the season (tentatively set for Aug. 31), in the first of a three-game series between the teams. The Gators will visit Sun Life Stadium on Sept. 7 to complete a two-game home-and-home series.

UM either will play an ACC road game or have a bye on Sept. 14 before playing host to Savannah State on Sept. 21. Savannah State, which plays in the Football Championship Subdivision, lost 84-0 to Oklahoma State and 55-0 to Florida State this season.

The Hurricanes then will play at South Florida on Sept. 28 to complete a five-game series between the schools. The schools played in mid-to-late November in past years.

UM felt strongly about not playing a non-conference schedule as difficult as this past season's, which included Notre Dame and Kansas State.

UM confirmed the aforementioned non-conference opponents and dates, but the ACC schedule has not been set. The Hurricanes don't like how they draw for Thursday night home games or noon Saturday home games, but they have no say in when ACC games are scheduled, unfortunately.

      

December 11, 2012

Fins' receiver, tight end free agent options; UM roster moves; Wade addresses Barkley; Marlins

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Some Dolphins fans lit up when they heard Miami will have at least $40 million, with the ability to create more than $50 million in cap space this offseason, when star receivers Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe and Mike Wallace are due to become free agents.

But as the offseason nears, a more realistic perspective has settled over Dolphins fans. They know a lot of the cap space will be needed to re-sign several players, such as Sean Smith, Brian Hartline, and possibly Randy Starks, Jake Long (Miami would like to keep him if the price is right) and others. They also know they can no longer expect this regime to make a huge splash in free agency, barring a change of heart.

No, Miami hasn’t ruled out spending on a top free agent. Those discussions won’t take place until January and February. But it would be a departure in offensive philosophy if they do. Here’s how one official in frequent contact with Miami’s front office put it:

“If the value is right on an [impact] free agent, they would [consider] it,” he said, reminding that the Dolphins made Karlos Dansby the league’s highest-paid inside linebacker before the 2010 season. “But they won’t overpay. They absolutely will not. There’s not a philosophy of, “We’ve got to have this one guy.’ Do you want to severely encumber your ability to build a team by paying one guy [a ton]?

Jeff [Ireland] and Joe [Philbin] really value draft picks, and Jeff believes he’s good at it. If you hit on rookies, you have those guys for four years, at [affordable] cap numbers.”

Philbin has said repeatedly that he believes in building through the draft. “In my time in Green Bay, I don’t really remember acquiring, offensively anyway, a free agent,” he said.

The official said Ireland also prioritizes the draft but is more flexible with regard to free agency. What if Philbin advises Ireland against pursuing Jennings, Wallace or Bowe and suggests finding a receiver in the draft instead? “Jeff would be cool with doing it through the draft,” the official said.

All of the star receivers have blemishes. Jennings, 29, had 1265 receiving yards two years ago but has missed a lot of time this season because of abdominal surgery and has just 17 catches in five games. The concern is that he may be on the decline after several exceptional years playing in Philbin’s and Mike McCarthy’s offense in Green Bay.

Wallace, who had 1193 and 1257 yards the previous two seasons, has 728 this season, with six drops but also eight touchdowns. Bowe’s numbers (59 catches, 801 yards) are similar to Hartline’s (62, 925), with both playing in offenses with struggling quarterbacks.

Among other receivers set to become free agents: Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Donnie Avery.

Miami also might be more inclined to look again for a tight end in the draft, after failing to hit on Michael Egnew. But several free agents would be immediate upgrades - Martellus Bennett, Jared Cook, Fred Davis (has a torn Achilles’) and Dustin Keller.

A strong case could be made to pursue Bennett, who has played very well for the Giants. The Dolphins inexplicably didn't pursue him last March and instead drafted Egnew, who the Dolphins believe is still not ready to contribute.

CHATTER

### Heat guard Dwyane Wade on Tuesday shrugged off Charles Barkley’s claim that he has lost athleticism but admitted that he’s still not 100 percent after offseason knee surgery.

“Athleticism is more than just dunking,” he said in a private moment. “Coming off knee surgery, there are going to be some great days and some days not so great. It’s going to take me time. With knee surgery, sometimes you can take a whole year before you get back to 100 percent. This is my third one.”

Wade, who was third among all players in ESPN’s efficiency ratings last season and 20th this season, is shooting 50.6 percent (above his 48.6 career average) but taking 15.3 shots per game, down from 17 last year and 18.2 in his career.

“A lot of people don’t look at the true facts,” he said. “They don’t look at minutes played, shot attempts. I’m still scoring 20 points a game and not playing as many minutes or shooting as many shots. You’ve got to look at how efficient a player is before you start talking about the demise of a player.

“If I had 20 something shots a game, I would average 30 a night. Book it!”

### On Barkley’s claim that Wade can’t beat players one-on-one anymore, Chris Bosh said: “He does beat his guy one-on-one. Just ask those guys that guard him. You are going to lose a step as you get older, but great players always find a way.”

### Erik Spoelstra said he has been starting Udonis Haslem instead of Shane Battier – which Haslem said he “didn’t see coming” – to add Haslem’s rebounding to the starting unit and Battier’s defense to the second unit. The reasoning makes some sense and the sample size with Haslem starting so far is too small to make a final conclusion. But consider this:

With Battier playing with the other starters, the Heat is plus-48 in 160 minutes. With Haslem starting, the starting unit is minus-17 in 32 minutes.

Haslem likes starting but admits, "I usually like to sit on the sideline and watch how the game is going."

Overall, the Heat has outscored opponents by 98 (best on the team) with Battier on the court, but has been outscored by 34 with Haslem or Rashard Lewis on the court (worst on the team).

### Seantrel Henderson and Curtis Porter told UM coaches they expect to return for their senior seasons, but Henderson also asked for NFL feedback on how high he would be drafted. So nobody at UM can be certain what Henderson will do, despite what he told coaches. Mel Kiper said Henderson would be a second- or third-rounder if he comes out but said he should not turn pro.

### Several schools, including Wisconsin, have reached out to UM coach Al Golden, but Golden has told everyone he's staying at Miami.

### Barring a change of heart by UM, the Hurricanes no longer expect highly-recruited receiver Angelo Jean-Louis to be part of their 2013 recruiting class. He committed to UM last year but didn't qualify and spent the past semester in prep school…. If Thomas Finnie (arrested for his involvement in last week's laptop theft) is off the team for good, UM essentially is losing the player it considers its fourth-best returning cornerback. Tracy Howard, Ladarius Gunter and Antonio Crawford likely will be UM’s top three next season, with Nate Dortch, Larry Hope and oral commitment Artie Burns competing for time.

### Former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt has been telling people how much he would like the FIU head job. He has a career 135-96 record at Murray State, Boise, Arkansas and Mississippi. But he was just 24-26 in his last job (Ole Miss).

### Desperately looking for a third baseman, the Marlins have inquired about Matt Downs, who hit .276 with 10 homers and 41 RBI for the Astros in 2011 but .202 last year. Their free agent third-base options are down to the likes of Downs, Ryan Raburn, Jack Hannahan, Ty Wigginton, Casey McGehee Miguel Cairo and Mark DeRosa. They have explored trades as well.