WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
UM football camp opens Saturday, with several battles percolating. Here are seven worth tracking:
### Cornerback: Ladarius Gunter (UM’s most consistent cornerback, according to defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio) and Antonio Crawford (UM’s fastest corner) enter camp as favorites to start, though Tracy Howard has a shot to overtake Crawford.
UM believes Howard began playing better last season when he became more receptive to coaching and playing the defensive technique he was taught. He’s fast, but not quite as fast as some fans expected…. Improved Nate Dortch is the favorite for the No. 4 job, but expect impressive newcomer Artie Burns to seriously challenge him.
### Middle linebacker: Jimmy Gaines versus Raphael Kirby looms as one of camp’s best battles.
D’Onofrio said Gaines led at the close of spring and “Gaines’ importance can’t be underestimated as far as how smart he is to get us lined up."
But Kirby was more heavily recruited and has a higher ceiling athletically. Both should play a lot, especially if Miami plays a 3-4 defense at times, which some players expect. (Using more 3-4 has been discussed, and we'll see if coaches go ahead and do that. Everyone expects to continue to see a lot of 4-3 defense, too)….
Denzel Perryman (UM wants more consistency) and impressive newcomer Alex Figueroa are heavy favorites to start at outside linebacker. And when/if UM shifts from a 4-3 to a 3-4, Tyriq McCord should play as an outside edge rusher. Backup defensive end Kelvin Cain also could play outside linebacker when UM uses a 3-4.
### Receiver: Allen Hurns and Herb Waters ended spring as the starters, but Rashawn Scott, Phillip Dorsett and Malcolm Lewis will push them, and all will play.
“We knew Waters would be a big wide-out,” coach Al Golden said. “But we’re learning he has lateral quickness and can make people miss.”
UM people rave about freshman Stacy Coley and the improvement of Jontavious Carter, but cracking the top five will be very difficult for either barring injuries.
### Tight end: Like last year, Asante Cleveland entered the summer first on the depth chart, ahead of Clive Walford, with newcomer Beau Sandland third. UM is hopeful Walford (biceps) will be ready to start the season, and he remains the favorite if he's healthy.
But offensive coordinator James Coley appears to have a higher regard for Cleveland than predecessor Jedd Fisch did. So if Walford is healthy, this might evolve into a battle between Cleveland and Sandland -- who's a skilled receiver -- for the No. 2 job, with Jake O’Donnell and Standish Dobard behind them. Sandland has excellent receiving skills, but the transition from junior college was bumpy at times this spring.
"The transition of speed and size is still an adjustment for him," tight ends coach Larry Scott said earlier this offseason. "You've got to handle being moved around."
### Offensive line: UM believes it has at least seven players capable of starting. Seantrel Henderson and Brandon Linder are presumed starters on the right side. Shane McDermott is the front-runner at center.
On the left side, UM figures to use some combination of Ereck Flowers, Malcolm Bunche and Jon Feliciano, with two of them starting. UM is open to playing Bunche at guard and tackle. And tackle Taylor Gadbois and guard Danny Isidora have impressed coaches enough to become factors.
### Safety: UM ideally would like Deon Bush and Rayshawn Jenkins to seize starting jobs and expects them to reach heights, over the next three seasons, that Ray-Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque never could. Bush, off a hernia operation six weeks ago, hopes to be ready for the start of the season.
But Bush and Jenkins still make young player mistakes at times; Bush had D’Onofrio exasperated during the first scrimmage in March before closing strong. If either has serious missteps, UM would be open to starting heady A.J. Highsmith or Kacy Rodgers.
### Defensive tackle: D'Onofrio said Olsen Pierre, Curtis Porter and Luther Robinson ended spring far ahead of any of the other tackles, including Earl Moore and Corey King. Ufomba Kamalu will help immediately… Robinson, much improved in the past year, will be given every chance to push front-runners Pierre and Porter for a starting job.
### Elsewhere: Dallas Crawford, among UM’s most improved players, has a leg up for the backup running back job behind Duke Johnson, but UM expects newcomer Gus Edwards to help in short yardage, with Maurice Hagens also factoring in there. Eduardo Clements (neck) received medical clearance on Tuesday, according to caneinsight.com, but a UM spokesperson said he had no confirmation of that… Ryan Williams enters camp clearly ahead of Gray Crow for the backup job behind Stephen Morris…
When UM plays a 4-3, Shayon Green -- despite his lack of pass-rush skills -- again figures to play a lot opposite Anthony Chickillo because UM loves his toughness and the fact that he’s difficult to displace on running plays. The depth will be better here, with elite pass-rushing freshman Alquadin Mohammad and former Wisconsin starter David Gilbert (UM expects him in August) joining Cain, improved Dwayne Hoilett and Jelani Hamilton as top reserves. Dyron Dye remains out with an injury, and the NCAA hasn't told him if he will be eligible, anyway....
Cincinnati transfer Pat O’Donnell will be the punter, and Matt Goudis likely the kicker. UM lists Dorsett as the primary punt returner –- ahead of Johnson –- and Dorsett or Lewis as the first-team kick returners. Coley and Corn Elder could factor in with returns.
The NCAA quietly has sent out word to some involved parties that it would like to announce UM’s sanctions around Aug. 8 but made no guarantees…. Elite defensive end Mohammad has qualified academically for UM, his high school coach, Don Bosco's Greg Toal, said Tuesday. UM expects Mohammaed -- rated by rivals.com as the 49th incoming recruit in the country -- will contribute on defense this season. But UM is pessimistic about ace pass-rusher Devante Bond’s chances of qualifying.
### Before signing Julius Pruitt after a workout on Tuesday, the Dolphins auditioned not only established veterans Laurent Robinson and Austin Collie, but also former college standouts Keenan Davis (Iowa) and Lavaiser Tuinei (Oregon/briefly with the Cowboys). (UPDATE: The Dolphins on Wednesday signed Davis as well, while waiving Jasper Collins and the injured Armon Binns.) The Dolphins like and wanted to work out former Arizona Cardinals receiver Early Doucet, but he already had a Seattle tryout booked.
The Dolphins were intrigued with Robinson and put him through a physical (unlike Collie). But there have been concerns about Robinson’s health after a concussion with Jacksonville last season. Robinson wasn't told if his health factored into the Dolphins' decision.
### The problem with receiver Rishard Matthews’ knee injury -– expected to keep him out several weeks –- is that it happened during training camp, which means the Dolphins cannot stash him on the PUP list for the first six games of the season. So if he’s not healed by the opener, Miami must decide whether it's worth keeping him on the roster or whether to cut him and potentially re-sign him when he's healthy. Matthews impressed the team during the offseason program.
### We hear a few Marlins players are annoyed that Derek Dietrich and his agent waited more than two months to go to management to accuse since-ousted hitting coach Tino Martinez of physically confronting Dietrich.
“Derek didn’t want to ruffle feathers, but he ruffled feathers anyway,” infielder Greg Dobbs said. “You don’t sweep it under the rug and rehash it two months later. You deal with it then and there. I hope it’s a learning experience for him and his agent.” Another Marlin also expressed disappointment in Dietrich....
One Marlins person said Martinez wouldn’t have tried his abusive tactics with accomplished players such as Giancarlo Stanton. (See Clark Spencer's Marlins blog for more Martinez fallout today.)
### Center Greg Oden probably won’t decide among the Heat and five other teams until this weekend, agent Mike Conley Sr. said Tuesday, adding that formal offers haven’t been made yet. He said the Heat has seen “all it needs to see” from a medical standpoint and that Oden won’t necessarily take the highest offer. But asked if a Heat offer at the $1 million minimum would be good enough, Conley said he was not sure.