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1 posts from July 20, 2013

July 20, 2013

Dolphins expecting more unpredictability; Fins, Heat, Canes, Marlins chatter


With Dolphins camp opening Sunday, there’s something else -– besides more points and takeaways -- that the Dolphins hope will result from their offseason roster augmentation:

Unpredictably, the sense that opponents will not necessarily know what's coming next.

The Dolphins did not have much of that in 2012. Just listen to center Mike Pouncey:

“Teams knew what we were doing last year,” he said. “We did the best we could with what we had. But what we’ve added is going to help tremendously. Teams can’t stack the box as much against us.”

Last year, opponents played eight in the box against the Dolphins 23.1 percent of the time, according to Pro Football Focus. That ranked in the middle of the pack, but consider that Miami faced more eight-man fronts than doormats Buffalo and Arizona (who both beat the Dolphins) and naturally, much more than teams with elite quarterbacks such as New England, New Orleans, Baltimore and Denver.

The Dolphins not only were limited by personnel at receiver and tight end – teams knew they would not complete a lot of deep passes over the top -- but they also were uneasy about Reggie Bush’s pass protection, and opponents knew it.

The Dolphins say they want a running back that can play any down if needed, which makes it more difficult for opponents to identify play call tendencies. That also keeps the Dolphins from needing to substitute as much, which makes it easier to play at a faster pace (Joe Philbin's preference) and keeps opponents from being able to substitute as much.

Backup Daniel Thomas and others will get carries, but the Dolphins believe they have that everydown back in Lamar Miller, whose blitz pickup is much improved, according to Ryan Tannehill. So the Dolphins are hopeful they're at the point that they can leave Miller in the game to pass protect without being vulnerable. 

Naturally, Mike Wallace should make the biggest difference in giving defensive coordinators more to worry about. “He makes everyone around him better, because you have to honor his speed,” CBS analyst Bill Cowher said. “It opens up the middle of the field. You can’t diminish that.”

But this also will make Miami less predictable: For the first time, the Dolphins can deploy two tight-end sets in which both are stretch-the-field targets: Dustin Keller and Charles Clay, or perhaps – if he develops – Michael Egnew. They couldn’t with Anthony Fasano.

“Having a stretch-the-field tight end, it’s going to result in more attention being paid to the middle of the field,” quarterback Matt Moore said. “With Keller and Wallace together, it’s pick your poison.”

And there’s this: For the first time in years, the Dolphins have size in the slot, with 6-0 Brandon Gibson instead of 5-10 Davone Bess, and 6-3 Armon Binns also working there. That will create mismatches with shorter slot corners.

“We would love to attack the middle of the field in a variety of ways, and sometimes it’s easier when you have a bigger body at times cruising through the middle,” Philbin said.

Former Dolphins receiver OJ McDuffie said this is "the best collection of receivers/tight ends here since Irving Fryar, Tony Martin, Mark Ingram and Keith Jackson. And the screen game should come alive. Get Lamar Miller out in space with screens. The offense is going to be a lot less predictable.”

What the Dolphins do on first down – and short yardage – also should become more difficult for defensive coordinators to anticipate. Consider:

### The Dolphins ran 55.1 percent of the time on first down in 2012, among the top 10 for most run-heavy. The league average was 50.3 percent, according to the good folks at Pro Football Focus.

### On second and one or third and one, Miami ran 78.7 percent of the time, which was in the top five. The league average: 67.5. With the new weapons, it makes sense to take more chances in those situations.

There also should be more unpredictability on defense if Dion Jordan emerges, because Miami can try to flummox teams by using him in various ways: hand-in-the-dirt at times, standing up other times, lining him up in different places.

The coaching staff wants to get Cameron Wake, Randy Starks, Jared Odrick, Jordan and Olivier Vernon on the field together in passing situations, and leave teams wondering whether all five will rush or whether Jordan or Vernon will drop into coverage.

And the speed and versatility of linebackers Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe –-- they are considered effective both as blitzers and in pass coverage --- also will allow Miami to mix coverages more, players say.

“I will probably be blitzing some,” Wheeler said. “Our coach liked what I did last year” blitzing for Oakland, when his per-play pass rush metrics were among the best of any NFL linebacker.


### Even though Dolphins safety Reshad Jones --- a 2014 free agent --- skipped one offseason practice to express displeasure about not getting a new contract, he said: “I’ve got faith it will get done at some point. I’m going to continue busting my butt and let them know they have the player they know they have. I’m not worried about it.” Talks with all the 2014 free agents have been put on hold after the spending spree this offseason.

### UM offensive coordinator James Coley said earlier this offseason he would love to see Duke Johnson get 24 touches a game, up from 15 in 2012.

"There’s a mental and physical toughness that goes with that –- 'Coach, give me the ball 25 times,'” Al Golden said. “We have to get to the point if we have this thing rolling where everybody knows Duke is going to get the ball and we’re still making progress. He’s got to learn how to do that.”

UM believes he’s ready for the extra pounding. “He’s a lot stronger than he was,” running backs coach Hurlie Brown said…. Bovada.com has Johnson’s Heisman odds at 12 to 1 --– seventh-best in the country.

### Friday's oral commitment from Booker T. Washington's Nigel Bethel was significant for UM because he's the first four-star, highly recruited cornerback in this class. UM's other two corner commits are more under the radar: Northwestern's Ryan Mayes (whose offers included FAU, FIU, Syracuse and Boston College) and Dillard's two-star Dennis Turner. UM has no prominent senior corners this season, so the 2014 group looks very good with Ladarius Gunter, Antonio Crawford, Tracy Howard, Artie Burns and Bethel, among others. Rivals.com ranks Bethel the No. 28 cornerback in the 2014 class.

### And Booker T. Washington standout Chad Thomas' pledge Saturday gives UM four very good defensive line oral commitments: Thomas (rivals.com's No. 11 defensive end), Northwestern's Mike Smith (the No. 21 DE), Hialeah Champagnat's Travonte Valentine (the No. 20 defensive tackle) and four-star junior college tackle Dalvon Stuckey.

### Tidbits: Ricky Williams, who now gives life lesson seminars, agreed to coach running backs at University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio. The program is moving to Division 1… Former Dolphins and Hurricanes offensive lineman Vernon Carey, who retired abruptly last summer, received text message inquiries from Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and others in the past year and lost 40 pounds working out at Fast Twitch Performance Training in Miami, with the thought of possibly making a comeback. But Carey decided against it…. The American Athletic Conference (featuring USF and some former Big East schools) has spoken to Marlins Park about anchoring a college football bowl game.

### What prospects have surprised and emerged on the Marlins’ radar? Marlins executive Larry Beinfest cites two: Left-handed starter Brian Flynn, acquired with Jacob Turner and Rob Brantly in last year’s Anibal Sanchez deal with Detroit, “has put himself right on the doorstep," Beinfest said. Flynn has a 3.23 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 114 innings in Double A and Triple A.

“And [outfielder] Kyle Jensen doesn’t get a lot of love," Beinfest said, "but he continues to put big power numbers [21 homers]. To have a power prospect is kind of a big deal for us.” But he's hitting only .232 in Double A and Triple A and isn't as highly-rated an outfield prospect as Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick.

### After floating a lot on the perimeter, Heat center Chris Bosh tells us he is determined to “be more of an inside presence offensively” next season. “As I get older, I’m not as quick as I was. Finishing around the rim, short jumpers are going to be huge.”

He plans to ask coaches and friends how he can improve his game this summer and “I'm looking for blunt honesty.”

### Richard Hamilton is among the guards being considered by the Heat. He tweeted this weekend that he has "several choices."... Deaquan Cook's agent said he will tell the Heat that Cook is interested in returning, to replace Mike Miller. But Cook has struggled with his shot the past two years.... Marcus Camby would consider the Heat if Miami contacts him, but there had been no contact as of Friday night. His agent called Houston a "leading contender." The Clippers and Bulls also are expected to pursue him.

### At last week's Brooklyn Nets' introductory news conference for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, new Nets guard Jason Terry declared: "We have the formula to beat the Heat. Jason Kidd and I are the only ones to crack that code." Kidd, the new Nets' coach, and Terry were on the 2011 Dallas team that beat the Heat in the FInals... And there's this: Rick Barry told Dan Sileo on WMEN-640 last week that Ray Allen traveled on his game-tying three-pointer late in Game 6. Oy!

### LeBron James understandably wants to keep paparazzi from his September San Diego wedding – to the point that the invitations did not include the location, but a phone number to call by Aug. 1 to receive details, according to TMZ, which obtained a copy.