FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN
For years, it has been a Dolphins’ problem that seemingly can never be solved. As they continue their elusive search for a high-impact stretch-the-field tight end, general manager Jeff Ireland keeps defending the maligned player he drafted; several intriguing veterans approach free agency; and Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti is making an impassioned plea for Miami to follow his advice on the issue.
“There’s one guy that can change this offense and that’s Tyler Eifert,” Buoniconti, a Notre Dame alum, said of the 6-6 Fighting Irish tight end and former receiver.
“But I’m not sure the Dolphins have the vision to get him,” Buoniconti said. “If he stays healthy, he will re-write the tight end record books. He’s that good. If the Dolphins had any sense of wanting to improve the team down the middle and open it up for other receivers, this is the guy. He’s a gem.
“I’m sure he doesn’t fit the mold for the Dolphins. He’s too good.”
Some draft analysts consider Miami’s 12th pick high for Eifert, but Buoniconti said he’s worthy of a top-10 selection. He’s also an option if Miami trades down.
“He’s a heck of a player,” said Kiper, who projects him 30th but said he would have no issue picking him in the middle of the first round.
“Eifert and Stanford’s Zach Ertz are splitting hairs,” Kiper said. “Both have a chance to be great players in the NFL. Both have pass catching skills of receivers and can overwhelm corners with very good size.”
Asked if Eifert or Ertz should be in the mix at No. 12, NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said: “At No. 12, both those guys are talented. They’re what today’s tight ends are all about. Both of their strengths are getting down the field and catching the ball. Eifert did a better job blocking.”
But Sporting News analyst Russ Lande said Eifert “is not a guy like Rob Gronkowski who will run away from people and run people over.” Some evaluators have raised Heath Miller and Kyle Rudolph as more appropriate comparisons.
ESPN’s Scouts Inc. says Eifert “uses his frame well to box out defenses, and is fast enough to work the seam and make defenses pay for biting on play action, but not going to make many defenders miss.”
Mayock calls San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar (52, 543) the third-best tight end after Eifert and Ertz and sees a dropoff after that.
“It’s a pretty good group,” Kiper said, calling UF’s Jordan Reed a potential second-rounder (“he can stretch the deep middle”) and Michigan State’s Dion Sims and Escobar third- or fourth-rounders.
The Dolphins are expected to try to re-sign Anthony Fasano for modest money while also seeking a skilled playmaker to complement him with a different skill set. That player obviously could start if he's good enough and if the Dolphins can actually acquire him, which they've had no success doing for five years. They’re expected to kick the tires on Jermichael Finley if the Packers release him.
At least four potential free agents would be upgrades: Jared Cook (Tennessee might franchise him; Miami once nearly drafted him before regrettably taking Patrick Turner instead), Washington's Fred Davis (off a torn Achilles’), the Jets' Dustin Keller (injury-plagued in 2012) and Martellus Bennett, who said he prefers to stay with the Giants and also wouldn’t mind playing with his brother Michael, a defensive end who had nine sacks for Tampa Bay.
But Ireland also keeps insisting third-rounder Michael Egnew, who played just 25 snaps and wasn’t thrown a pass as a rookie, is going to have a “good season” in 2013, even though teammates are dubious.
When WQAM’s Joe Rose expressed skepticism about Egnew and asked Ireland what he sees, Ireland said: “I see a 6-4, 260-pound guy who runs a 4.65. I see a guy having vertical speed down the middle of the field. I see a big guy that moves well. I see a developing player with his hand in the dirt.
“I see a competitive guy. I can name several players at that position that did very little in their first year and became big time playmakers. That’s a position that develops differently. Other than quarterback, that position is the most mentally and physically demanding.”
Ireland mentioned a Super Bowl tight end that did little in his first year -- presumably Baltimore’s Dennis Pitta, who had one catch for one yard as a rookie but then blossomed.
But here’s one of the problems with Egnew: According to a teammate, he lined up on the wrong side during pregame work before the season-finale and had troubling remembering the plays.
Ireland explained Thursday that finding a tight end can be challenging because “you’ve got a lot of detached receiver types that fit a tight end body and then when you use a system that uses a traditional tight end, you’re sometimes trying to project that player and the projection business is difficult.”
### As if the NCAA hasn’t done enough already to aggravate UM, add this to the list: Last week, UM and the NCAA engaged in serious settlement talks, and several UM people expected a deal because president Mark Emmert seemed initially supportive. UM wanted a settlement and likely would have accepted modest scholarship reductions.
But a source said the NCAA then informed UM there would be no deal and suggested to UM the enforcement staff and two key boards were against it because of concerns about “not deviating from the rules.”
### Also, UM tried to convince the NCAA to not use the words “lack of institutional control” – and was hopeful at one point it might be changed to the less serious “failure to monitor” – but the NCAA wouldn’t back down.
### UM spring practice starts March 2, and Duke Johnson – hardly content - said one reason he wants to "bulk up and get stronger” is because “I don’t want to get taken out on short yardage because I can’t block.”… New offensive coordinator James Coley is hitting it off with Stephen Morris: “What a great young man. He makes great decisions. He can do something very special this year.”
### Tweet of the day, from NCAA critic and former Canes great Alonzo Highsmith, who's in Indianapolis for the scouting combine in his role as a Packers executive: "Well, I visited the NCAA and asked for [president Mark] Emmert but wasn't in!!!! I said, 'Tell him Alonzo came by.' I think I need to visit Emmert dressed like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction."
### There's no bigger Canes hater than ESPN's Mark May, who tweeted Thursday: "Let's hope the NCAA stands firm vs. Miami. The self-imposed penalty is not even close for their violations."
### Though the Heat would consider adding a player to replace Dexter Pittman if the perfect fit becomes available, there's nobody Miami's targeting at the moment. They had no interest in Kenyon Martin (who signed with the Knicks tonight). And Jermaine O'Neal, who might get a Phoenix buyout, was considered high-maintanance during his stint here and isn't a Heat target.
The Heat decided there was more potential with Jarvis Varnado than Pittman, whose option likely would not have been picked up this summer anyway.
### More evidence of how our market is changing, thanks to Heat success and Dolphins missteps: Last Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game on cable produced nearly as high a rating in Miami-Fort Lauderdale (12.6) as the Dolphins-Texans opener on free TV last season (13.5). Remarkable.