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2 posts from February 23, 2013

February 23, 2013

D'Onofrio responds to critics, tries to fix defense; Fins, Heat, Marlins chatter

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

When UM defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio was asked at a Canes recruiting party what he plans to do differently next season, he had four words.

“Get after the quarterback!”

Applause naturally followed. There will be even more applause if, well, it actually happens.

UM spring practice begins next Saturday, and there will be no greater defensive priority than figuring out how to improve a pass rush that produced a meager 13 sacks in 12 games.

Also high on D’Onofrio’s list: Upgrading a run defense that improved in November, when Curtis Porter returned, but still finished 112th of 120 Bowl Subdivision schools.

D’Onofrio has the trust of Al Golden and until last year, a record of fielding generally stout defenses. But last season produced mostly angst: Miami allowed 30.5 points and 487 yards per game, and D’Onofrio faced a torrent of fan criticism.

“It’s something I have to ignore,” he said of fan backlash. “I have to put trust in my training. I’ve called over 85 games. First year I came here, we were in the top 20 in scoring defense. The year before at Temple, we were in the top 20 in scoring defense.”

Last year, he had a young group (Brandon McGee was the only senior) and had to overcome injury issues (Porter missed the first eight games), suspensions (Eddie Johnson, Gionni Paul) and the early NFL departures of Olivier Vernon and Marcus Forston.

Despite those impediments, some questioned his philosophy.

One scout said he had no issue with D’Onofrio’s approach, but another scout said he would like to have seen more blitzes, creative pressure packages, and more use of man-to-man coverage (especially bump and run) and less zone.

McGee defended D’Onofrio: “It’s a good system if it’s executed. All Coach D can do is the make the calls. We had mental breakdowns, guys not getting deep enough in coverage.”

D’Onofrio blitzed some, but not a ton, because he didn’t want to put his young secondary at risk and “you have to figure out the risk/reward. It comes down to putting guys in situations they’re ready for….

“I don’t know if the casual fan understands the depth of what we’re doing. There’s not a coverage we don’t have. We pressure a lot of different ways; I probably ran five different safety pressures last year. I’ve never been so stubborn that I say, ‘This is what we do.’ It’s about the players and what can they do well. I never get boxed in and say, ‘This is our scheme.’

“If you’ve got corners that can play press and play it well and the situation dictates it, that’s great. Press man is tremendous and we run it. [But] you can’t press every down because it doesn’t make sense. If the receivers are going to run your corners off and they have their back turned to the ball and the run pops, you’re playing with two less guys… At the end of the game, we’ve got to be able to make plays.”

One thing D’Onofrio wants to do differently: Play fewer players. He said UM used 25 to 27 a game on defense last season. “We have to get to the point where it’s not quite that many. If it’s 18 or 19, there can’t be that much of a dropoff from the first 11.”

Here’s how he plans to address other issues:

### Pass rush: UM doesn’t want to put all the pressure on Anthony Chickillo, who faced frequent double teams and saw his sacks drop from five to four. But more is obviously needed.

“Everyone wanted him to play like a senior, like he’s supposed to all of a sudden have 10 sacks as a sophomore,” D’Onofrio said. “That’s not realistic. He continued to improve.”

Equally important is getting more pass rush from the other end spot. Here’s the conundrum: Shayon Green led UM with 67 tackles but had no sacks. D’Onofrio conceded “it will be awful, awful hard to knock him out of the [lineup]” because of his “toughness, leadership, the way he plays.” But unless Green improves as a pass-rusher, that also means conceding that you're not going to get much of that from one of your starting ends.

So the pressure will again fall on the young ends: promising Tyriq McCord, who had 3.5 sacks, and Jelani Hamilton, who played sparingly in five games while rounding back into form from an ACL injury in high school.

“Jelani is getting stronger, starting to blow up,” D’Onofrio said. “I’m looking forward to seeing him in the spring.” There’s also hope that Olsen Pierre (1.5 sacks) can produce more pressure from a tackle spot.

And D’Onofrio expects immediate pass rush contributions from newcomers Al-Quadin Muhammed (12 sacks last season) and junior college transfers Devante Bond (17 sacks) and Ufomba Kamalu (7.5 sacks). “Those guys can get to the quarterback – that’s their expertise,” D’Onofrio said.

### Stopping the run: It all starts with Porter, who must stay healthy. He and Pierre formed a capable tackle duo in November, and having “Jimmy Gaines healthy at mike linebacker helped a lot, too,” D’Onofrio said.

But behind Porter and Pierre, UM needs growth from Luther Robinson (“he really played well for us the second half of the year,” D’Onofrio said), Jalen Grimble, DeQuan Ivery, Earl Moore and Corey King. D’Onofrio said Kamalu may end up playing tackle, too.

Besides needing to get stronger physically, “the group has to hold each other accountable that it’s not OK for a guy to be out of their gap and freelance,” D’Onofrio said. “It’s not just the coach out there going crazy, but a teammate that gets himself angry at another teammate.”

CHATTER

### With UM adding three recruits since Signing Day – including highly regarded running back Cornelius Elder and tight end Derrick Griffin – ESPN raised UM’s final recruiting class ranking from 21st to 15th, past Texas, Oklahoma, and Virginia Tech, among others.

“The snapshot of their class is a lot better than it was two weeks ago,” ESPN’s Jeremy Crabtree said. “Griffin reminds me of Jermaine Gresham and he ends up being the best player in their class. They now have one of the most memorable tight end classes we’ve seen in 15 years.”

### UM basketball coaches like the upside of Elder (a point guard) and especially Griffin (a small forward, rated 83rd among all prospects by rivals.com). Al Golden said Jim Larranaga was thrilled to get Griffin, and Larranaga told WFTL-640's Sid Rosenberg: "The first time I saw him, I thought he was incredible. Picture Shane Larkin at 6-7, 225. Speed, quickness, jumping ability. This kid is super gifted." Larranaga said several times, Griffin would "take a bad lob pass and turn it into an incredible dunk."

### Though the luxury tax is a concern for the Heat, Miami never considered trading Joel Anthony (due $3.8 million each of the next two years) or Mike Miller (due $6.2 million next season and likely to be amnestied this summer) before Thursday's deadline, contrary to speculation. But the Anthony issue might be revisited this summer.

Heat officials want to keep Miller around this season in case there's an injury to a shooter. And they like Anthony in certain defensive matchups, including on Kevin Garnett. Miami, which is happy with Chris Andersen as its primary backup center, simply wasn't willing to give up anything of value for centers rumored to be available, such as DeJuan Blair or Tim Mozgov, because it "didn't want to add a center just to add a center." 

### The Dolphins' Jared Odrick (five sacks) bemoans that “the media is always worried we need another pass rusher, but just look at the numbers!” Miami was 10th in sacks per pass play, and Odrick said he will lose about 20 pounds to gain quickness if he stays at defensive end. He would move to defensive tackle if Randy Starks bolts in free agency, but Miami is working hard to try to keep Starks.

### Jonathan Martin admits his ideal scenario would be to play left tackle this season (which will happen if Jake Long leaves) and Richie Incognito says “we’re trying to toughen up” the scholarly Stanford grad, whom teammates good-naturedly call Big Weirdo. (Artis Hicks, who had half a cup of coffee with the Dolphins, gave him that nickname.)

### The Dolphins had more contract talks with Sean Smith's representation the past couple days, and the situation is fluid. The sides began the week far apart, with vastly different views of his value, and they still have plenty of distance to bridge to do a deal. Smith has said he very much wants to stay, but other teams might place a higher value on him. 

### One respected 2012 Marlins player with no ax to grind said the one improvement the team made (besides dumping Heath Bell) was replacing Ozzie Guillen with Mike Redmond because “Ozzie just didn’t care. All he cared about was his money. And he wasn’t good in game situations, either.”

### Please see our last post for more Canes, Heat and Marlins notes from earlier in the weekend.

LeBron injury update; Strong words from Bosh; Wade's new nickname?; the people who will decide UM's fate; Loria changes mind

We'll post the Sunday buzz later. A few things, in order: UM, Heat, Marlins ---

### So who will decide UM’s fate? At least five, and maybe more, of the 18 members of the infractions committee.

If you're wondering, that group includes these folks:

Former Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr, former Georgia Tech basketball coach Bobby Cremins, Kansas City based attorney John Black, Washington D.C. based attorney Roscoe Howard, SEC associate commissioner Gregory Sankey, Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky (the chairperson)…

Notre Dame senior deputy A.D. Melissa Conboy, Oregon law professor James O’Fallon, Missouri law professor Rodney Uphoff….

Bowling Green A.D. Greg Christopher, Temple law professor Eleanor Myers, Tampa based attorney Christopher Griffin, Georgia president Michael Adams…

Former U.S. attorney Norman Bay, former Bowling Green president Carol Cartwright, Iowa State senior vice president Thomas Hill, former Minnesota A.D. Joe Maturi, and Princeton attorney Sankar Suryanarayan.

The NCAA case very likely be heard in mid-June after the infractions committee agreed to move up the enforcement staff's timetable. An official close with someone on Friday's conference call said nothing else was decided on the call. The NCAA said it would consider the motions by three former assistants to dismiss charges against them, but none know if they have a legitimate chance of success. At least one of the three has been considering a lawsuit.

HEAT

### LeBron James said after the morning shootaround in Philadelphia this morning that his quad/knee injury, sustained in a collision with Chicago's Nate Robinson on Thursday, is feeling better and he will play tonight. He cracked that it won't stop him from dunking if there are opportunities on alley-oops.

### Chris Bosh was asked by a New York reporter after practice whether he's amused or annoyed when opponents say they can beat the Heat in the playoffs. (The Knicks weren't mentioned, but coach Mike Woodson and Carmelo Anthony have both said that in recent days).

Responded Bosh: "People have been saying that for a while. It's only happened once. When it's go time, when it's time to put it all on the line, we feel we're the best team out there. During the season, late season, early playoffs, late playoffs, when we're playing our best, we're the best team in the league."

### The Heat plays the 76ers tonight, and aside from their three remaining meetings this season, there's no bigger Philadelphia fan, during the next two months, than the Heat. That's because the Heat will get Philadelphia's first-round pick only if the Sixers make the playoffs, and that's looking like something of a long shot.

The first-round pick is lottery protected for 2013, 2014 and 2015. The Heat's own first-round pick in 2013 belongs to Cleveland as a result of the LeBron James sign-and-trade.

Philadelphia is 3 1/2 games behind Milwaukee for the eighth playoff spot and continues to be without center Andrew Bynum, who practiced Friday but is not close to returning, coach Doug Collins said.

If the Sixers surprisingly squeak in as the eighth seed, the pick the Heat would receive likely would be 15th or 16th overall. Otherwise, Miami will have to wait until a year the 76ers make the playoffs, or 2016 --- whichever comes first.

The Heat acquired the pick on a draft night trade last June; Miami selected former Mississippi State forward Arnett Moultree with the 27th pick and sent him to the 76ers for the 45th pick and a future first-rounder. The Heat used the 45th selection on LSU center Justin Hamilton, whose is playing overseas and will be invited to join the Heat's summer program beginning in July. Moultree has played in only 19 games for the 76ers, averaging 2.4 points and 2.4 rebounds.

### After practice Saturday, LeBron James told Wade to tell reporters his new nickname: "It's WOW! Way of Wade. I think it's corny." Wade cracked: "I'm taking it global."

LORIA TO SPEAK

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has refused to speak to the media since mid-November, when he was approached by writers in Chicago and said this when asked why the Marlins traded three of their four most expensive players to Toronto: “If you guys haven’t figured it out yet, I’m not going to figure it out for you!” Then, when asked if he would sell the team, he spewed: "More stupidity!"

But Loria will finally speak on Monday, and P.R. people believe the owner should.  

Cori Zywotow Rice, president of public relations firm Hill & Knowlton/SAMCOR said: “Generally, silence is not a good policy. We, in most circumstances,… recommend our clients to fill the vacuum with their point of view. When there’s an absence of facts, the vacuum often gets filled with speculation, which is not in the client’s best interests.”

In the Marlins’ defense, David Samson and Larry Beinfest have done the best they could to explain the Marlins’ predicament. They were forthright and candid during a Marlins’ media event two weeks ago.

But Loria needs to speak, too, after extracting more than $300 million in public money for a stadium based on the presumption the Marlins would have a competitive payroll.

So what should Loria say? Here’s what we would recommend:

REMEMBER: LORIA DID NOT SAY WHAT'S BELOW. IT"S MERELY WHAT I WOULD SAY IF I WERE HIM, WHAT THE FANS DESERVE TO BE TOLD.

“I want to apologize to our loyal fans for what has happened this offseason. I know it has been difficult for our fans, and I want to explain why we did what we did.

“Let me start by making ourselves accountable. We vastly overestimated the revenue the new stadium would generate. I expected we would draw 33,000 to 35,000 fans per game. In truth, only about 17,000 fans attended each game, on average. As a result, the money we got from tickets, concessions and merchandise was tens of millions of dollars less than we expected.

“I don’t want to leave the impression I’m blaming the fans. If we had put a better team on the field, perhaps more people would have come. But I am puzzled why we had only two sellouts, and why none of the games against the Red Sox sold out.

“At any rate, our revenues were $40 million less than we expected, and as a result, we suffered sizable losses. I am opening our financial books to the media so there aren’t any doubts about that.

“When my business people gave me the revenue projections for this season, I decided I could not stomach the type of financial losses we would incur if we kept the payroll anywhere near where it was last season. And I concluded that the team we had, even before the Hanley Ramirez trade, wasn’t playoff-caliber.

“So I made the difficult decision to trade many of our highest priced players. As much as I loved Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, I could not fathom paying Reyes $22 million each of the last four years of his seven-year contract, or Buehrle $18 million and $19 million in the last two years of his four year contract. I could not justify those payroll allocations knowing our revenue isn’t nearly as high as we expected.

“I understand that Jose and Mark were upset about being traded, and I understand their anger. I have decided that in some cases, we are going to re-think our policy about not giving no-trade clauses. I don’t want that to be an impediment to signing free agents if it’s the right player.

“What I’m encouraged about is we have replenished our farm system and added quality young players in Rob Brantley, Jacob Turner, Adeiny Hechavarria, and have several terrific prospects not far from the majors, such as Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich. MLB.com has six of our players ranked among the top 100 prospects.

“My hope is that our young nucleus of players will grow together this year and we can supplement this team with free agents in the future. My hope is that we can make smarter decisions about how we spend money, because our performance in that area --- mine especially - hasn’t been nearly good enough.

“We said when the new ballpark opened, we expected a payroll in the mid range of all teams, and I am sorry that will not be the case this season. Though our revenue will make that difficult to achieve every year, I understand I have an obligation to field a competitive team. I understand why people are angry about our payroll, but we will build it back up when we are further along in our rebuilding plan.

“And I will make an earnest attempt to do a longterm deal with Giancarlo Stanton long before he can become a free agent after the 2016 season.”

So that would be a start for Loria – making an earnest attempt to be straight with Marlins fans, how ever many are left. Anything less would be disappointing.