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2 posts from August 3, 2013

August 03, 2013

Chatter, analysis on Fins' veteran pickups; Canes, Heat roster notes; Marlins


We finally get to see some of Jeff Ireland's veteran free agent pickups in a game Sunday night, except potentially Mike Wallace, who has a groin injury. So what exactly are the Dolphins getting?

Every summer, we like to solicit the insights of the radio analysts of the teams from which the new veteran Dolphins most recently played. The team broadcasters have watched the players closely and usually offer fair and accurate assessments. Here was some of their feedback on Miami's prominent veteran additions, on the eve of many of their Dolphin debuts:

### Wallace: Some have questioned his route running but “it has gotten better every year,” Steelers analyst Tunch Ilkin said. “He’s gotten a little more polished as a route runner, and it helped his development in Todd Haley’s offense last year because he ran a lot more comebacks and out cuts and shuttle crosses.

“I’ve seen him take a shallow cross and outrun everybody. I’ve seen him take a wide receiver screen and cut back and turn it into a big play. His speed opens the underneath things for him because people are fearful of that speed.”

NFL Network’s Heath Evans called him a lazy route runner. Ilkin disputes that.

“I don’t believe for one minute he will be a lazy route runner in Miami,” Ilkin said. “Maybe times last year he was pressing. [But] I think he’s an elite receiver.

“What makes Mike so effective is even when a corner backs off him, he gets on top of him real quick and the next thing you know he’s by him. Defensive backs who never played against him know how they should react, but his speed still surprises them. There’s nothing about Mike that worries me.”

### Brent Grimes: In his last healthy season (2011), he was ranked third among all corners by Pro Football Focus, with quarterbacks producing a 62.9 rating in his coverage area. And he has been very good all offseason and into training camp.

“He’s tenacious and his athleticism is phenomenal, and what jumps out was his ability to change direction,” Falcons analyst David Archer said. “He is as good as I’ve ever seen backpedal and plant and anticipate and go forward and backward. The question is can he keep that after his Achilles’ injury?” (Early signs suggest he has.)

Even though he stands 5-10, Archer said bigger receivers did not typically victimize him, though New Orleans created problems by matching him up with tight end Jimmy Graham.

But against Detroit 6-5 receiver Calvin Johnson, “he knocked a couple balls away,” Archer said. “He’s got an unbelievable vertical jump. He has a great ability to get off the ground, explode off the ball.”

Any negatives? Archer said one thing “that bothered people” was that Grimes did not play in a 2011 playoff game after being “a little banged up and missing some games. He was going to be a free agent that offseason. They needed him badly, and some wondered, ‘Where’s you heart?”

### Right tackle Tyson Clabo: He ranked 14th of 80 tackles last season (left tackle Jake Long was 46th, by comparison), and was ranked second in 2011, according to Pro Football Focus.

“He's not a great pass blocker, but because he’s such a big-bodied guy, he makes up for it with his veteran know how,” Archer said. “And he can get under the skin of the guy he’s playing against. He’ll be missed here because of his leadership and work ethic.”

### Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe: The biggest question we’ve heard raised is his limited body of work as a starter: seven starts in 2012, while filling in for Ray Lewis, and 14 overall in four years.

“It took him a while to learn how to be a pro – how to study the game, prepare himself – and that was a knock on him here,” Ravens analyst Qadry Ismael said. “Now, he needs to remember what got him to this point. In the past, some Ravens leave and forget, like Bart Scott did.”

Here’s what’s encouraging: Among 53 inside linebackers last season, he rated third as a pass rusher and 13th against the run. And he has made several impressive plays in training camp.

“There wasn’t that big of a drop-off from Ray when he filled in,” Ismael said. “He has grown against the run and he can cover tight ends that were a thorn in the Ravens’ side. The light clicked last year.”

### Linebacker Philip Wheeler: He is a good blitzer (his 13 hurries and three sacks in 126 pass-rushing chances in 2012 were very good) and his pass coverage has been solid throughout camp, better than his numbers last year suggest, when he allowed 51 of the 61 passes against him to be completed.

“I was sorry to see him go,” Raiders analyst and former coach Tom Flores said. “He has good speed and quickness, very active. You better have a strong side linebacker who can run with the tight ends, and he can.”

### Tight end Dustin Keller: Averaged 55 catches and 675 yards in his past three healthy seasons before missing eight games last season. “He always seems to find a soft spot in the defense and can get separation from defensive backs,” Jets analyst Marty Lyons said.

“You can use him in the slot, too. He’s got good speed for a tight end, and on yards after the catch, he’s incredible. He was durable before the hamstring last year. Blocking is something he can improve on, more so in the running game.”

### Receiver Brandon Gibson: Forty-three of his 51 catches went for first downs – the third highest percentage in the league. He's had a decent camp so far, nothing extraordinary. 

“He’s a tremendous talent, is willing to catch balls across the middle and can beat guys deep and can make the spectacular catch,” Rams analyst DeMarco Farr said. “But the one thing he struggled with here was consistency.

“There were some inexplicable drops, including one against Chicago on an easy fly pattern that Sam Bradford put right there. He lost concentration. He's a complete receiver, but lack of 100 percent concentration has held him back.”

Gibson will play a lot in the slot, “but he’s better outside,” Farr said.

### Vaughn Martin: He has done a solid job at defensive end (and some at defensive tackle) during training camp. But for San Diego he last season, he ranked 70th of 71 ends.

“He got better as a run-stopper,” Chargers analyst Hank Bauer said. “But I don’t know that he will blow you off the ball consistently. He’s native of Jamaica, moved to Canada, played hockey and is still really learning the game.”

### Guard Lance Louis: He's still clearly not 100 percent after last November's knee surgery and struggled during limited first team snaps on Wednesday. With John Jerry out, the Dolphins badly need Louis to round back into form. Otherwise, Josh Samuda might be the best option for starting right guard, which is something of a disconcerting thought.

The book on Louis? “Lance developed into the Bears’ most valuable lineman last year – played the best when they needed him the most,” Bears analyst Tom Thayer said. “If you take advantage of his athleticism, he’s a good starter.”   


### Besides Wisconsin starter David Gilbert, we hear UM is poised to add two other defensive linemen from FBS schools, pending academic clearance: Ernest Settles (who had 12.5 sacks last season for a Tampa high school but was thrown off the Nebraska team in June, before enrolling, for allegedly hitting a teammate in the head with a bottle at a party) and Virginia tackle Justin Renfro, a solid run
stopper who would be eligible to play for UM this season. Renfro was a backup at UVA and has only 18 career tackles but played well when needed.

Both Settles and Renfro were three-star recruits out of high school. Gilbert, the best player of the three, needs to graduate from Wisconsin before he can enroll. That's expected to happen in August.

### UM picked up its 25 oral commitment for 2014 late Saturday night when Deerfield Beach running back Brandon Powell committed. Rated ESPN's 276th best player in the 2014 class, Powell recently de-committed from Tennessee and had numerous offers, including LSU, North Carolina and Wisconsin. 

### UM offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson has finally matured. "He's slimmer and stronger and in great condition," Al Golden said Saturday. "He's healthy for the first time. He killed the conditioning test. He never did that. He had no off-field distractions all summer. The guys he's around are holding him to a different standard now. He has risen to the occasion. If he can develop good habits and consistency, look out." (Update: Henderson was limited in Sunday's practice because of an ankle sprain.)

### To appreciate what the Heat could be getting in new addition Greg Oden, consider that the last time he played (21 games in 2009), he had the NBA’s eighth-best efficiency rating and also had per-48 minute averages of 22.2 points, 17 rebounds and 4.6 blocks.

"Heat fans have to be even more excited. Low risk, high reward," TNT’s Reggie Miller tweeted. "He just has to clog the lane and block shots."

With 13 guaranteed contracts and a looming $19 million tax bill, the Heat has told people it feels no urgency to make any other veteran pickups, though Mo Williams at the minimum cannot be ruled out.

Some assuredly will lobby for a Heat roster spot, including guard DeShawn Stevenson, of all people. Stevenson, who once called LeBron James overrated, tweeted Saturday night: "Miami Heat Where I Wanna Go!!! LeBron Make It Happen." Stevenson was waived by Atlanta this week.

### Bulls forward Jimmy Butler told ESPN last week: "When you think three-peat, you think Chicago. We can't let that happen" with the Heat.

### Please see the last post for a lot more UM football and Oden chatter from Saturday.

### Former UM guard Durand Scott, who received limited minutes for the Spurs in the Las Vegas Summer League, on Saturday agreed to a contract to play in Spain.

### The Marlins front office is very much aware of what it would take to top last year’s 69-93 record --- that would be a 27-26 finish -- and some internally believe that would validate last winter’s roster shakeup. With Josh Johnson (1-8, 6.60 ERA), Mark Buehrle (7-7, 4.27) and Emilio Bonifacio (.215) all falling short of expectations, “maybe the [Toronto] trade wasn’t so bad,” Pirates first baseman and former Marlin Gaby Sanchez said.

In fact, it was actually pretty good, considering how onerous the Buehrle and Jose Reyes contracts would have been for the Marlins over the next four years.

Reyes is hitting .310 for Toronto but missed 2 ½ months this season and has a history of injuries. And all the Marlins pickups from Toronto are playing well – Adeiny Hechavarria, Jake Marisnick, Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis and Double A pitchers Anthony DeSclafani (6-4, 3.09) and Justin Nicolino (7-4, 2.87).

### UM hasn’t seriously discussed removing Alex Rodriguez’s name from its baseball stadium amid more allegations of PED use, but won’t comment publicly about it. But this would not be an easy call, considering he contributed $3.9 million toward renovations and considering he hasn't been charged with a crime.                     

Fins roster move, injuries; Dozen notes from opening of Canes camp; Oden speaks out

Before we get to UM and Heat, couple quick Dolphins notes:

1) Miami waived guard Brian Thomas, who was injured in practice this week, and signed undrafted guard Jeff Braun, who was honorable mention All Big 12 for West Virginia last season.

2) We heard a bit more on some Dolphins injuries: Jared Odrick has a groin injury that isn't serious. Randy Starks tweated his knee and has been receiving treatment; fortunately, he didn't do any structural damage (to the team's knowledge) and the Dolphins will be patient with him and ease him back when he's ready. The Dolphins do not consider the injury serious and are not worried.

Brian Hartline (calf) believes he can play, but the team will be cautious. Same with Mike Wallace (groin). it would be surprising if either played Sunday night. John Jerry and Rishard Matthews remain out indefinitely will knee issues. The hope is that both can return later this month, but we'll see.


A dozen quick hits from the media session before Saturday morning’s opening of Canes football practice (keep in mind that reporters are not allowed to watch practice beyond the first 15 minutes of stretching and individual work):

### Safety Deon Bush, off hernia surgery in June, should be fully integrated into practice within a week, Al Golden said. Tight end Clive Walford, off a biceps injury, was cleared for practice. And running back Eduardo Clements, who has overcome a neck injury, also has been cleared. Walford, by the way, has bulked up -- He entered UM at 225 pounds and is now 264 pounds, Golden said.

### Among new defensive linemen, Alquadin Mohammad has been cleared academically and practiced Saturday. Ufomba Kamalu also has been given clearance, UM said. Julio Derosier is awaiting clearance and that’s expected shortly… As we noted in our last post, linebacker Devante Bond did not qualify and enrolled at prep school but still hopes to attend UM, perhaps by January.  

### Golden loves how everybody aced the conditioning test. “They demolished it. Absolutely crushed it.” Two years ago, half the team couldn't complete it. The progress shows the value of the U-Tough offseason program, to be sure.

### Stephen Morris and Shayon Green were named captains. “Those two have distinguished themselves as leaders,” Golden said. "Not only guys who do their job everyday but who people will follow."

### Golden said: “The kids know I’m jacked up. They showed every one of us they made a commitment and believe in what we’re doing.”

### Duke Johnson said he has added eight pounds of muscle and now feels prepared to carry a bigger load. UM envisions his touches increasing from 15 to somewhere between 20 and 24. Johnson said he couldn’t have handled the extra workload last year. “I’m more powerful, haven’t lost anything.”

### Though Golden calls Duke Johnson “Randy,” – Duke said he prefers to be called, well, Duke.

Golden laughed when informed of that: “I will call him whatever he wants to be called. We’re still going to give him the ball. I don’t care what you call him.”

### Golden raved about the improved maturity of Seantrel Henderson: “He killed the conditioning test. He never did that.” Henderson has lost some weight – and his dreadlocks.

### The UM front seven is considerably bigger and stronger, which delights Golden to no end. My colleague, Manny Navarro, heard Golden telling the linebackers: “Look at you guys. You got some size, baby!” All told, defensive players gained 155 pounds during the summer.

Anthony Chickillo is 277, Curtis Porter is 325 (“with no appreciable gains in body fat,” Golden pointed out). Kelvin Cain has gone from 228 in the spring to 251 today.

At linebacker, Denzel Perryman has gone from 226 to 240, Jimmy Gaines from 218 to 237, and Raphael Kirby from 220 to 237. The linebackers “were undersized and too light” last year, Golden said.

### Chickillo said even with the weight gain, “I’ve gotten faster. I’m more explosive.” UM’s pass rush simply must ger better – Miami had just 13 sacks last season – ranking 113th of 120 FBS schools - and Chickillo assured: “We’ve worked on pass rush technique all summer.”

### Golden wants a big back to step forward “between Maurice Hagens, Gus Edwards and Danny Dillard, we need someone to emerge there, for sure.” Duke Johnson said Edwards “is a big physical back and he’s willing to let us teach him. He could be a good" complement to Duke.

### The facilities look wonderful – much more aesthetically pleasing to recruits and other visitors -- with the recent construction of the on-campus Schwartz Center next to the football field. And the football field fences are now dressed with pictures of the program’s 72 All-Americans. Very nice touch.

Check out Manny's UM blog for more Canes items from today.


Plesase check the last post for our story last night about Greg Oden joining the Heat. Here's more: 

The last time Greg Oden started and finished an NBA game healthy, he dominated – wouldn’t you know it? – the Heat, collecting 13 points, 20 rebounds, four blocks, two assists and a steal in just 30 minutes.

That was Dec. 1, 2009. Oden would play just four minutes five nights later, then not again for nearly four years.

If Oden can give Miami even a third of what he delivered that night in Oregon, the Heat would be perfectly content. But Oden still needs more time to get healthy, and that’s fine with Heat officials and coaches, who are in no rush to get him on the court.

"I’m not going to sit here and say I’m 100 percent,” Oden told ESPN late Friday night. “I am moving [well] and I am feeling good, but I have a lot of work to do. "I could be ready to go but it's still a work in progress. My minutes and amount of playing time and all that is going to have to be monitored."

Oden said he felt comfortable when he spoke to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra at an Indianapolis Chili’s following his workout last week.

“When I had a conversation with Coach Spoelstra and hearing how much he knew about the training stuff what I was already doing, it kind of made me feel like they know what's best for me," he said.

The idea of joining a team that receives serious scrutiny did not faze him.

“They are in the spotlight, what can I say? But for them to come after me with all the stuff I've been going through -- for them to think I can still be an important piece of their team -- I'm really excited about that,” he said. “The scrutiny ... that's going to be there with any team I signed with. I just want to play.”

 In a Grantland.com interview with his former teammate, Mark Titus, Oden added: "Obviously the chance to play with the best player in the world and compete for a championship was a big selling point. But more than that, what I really liked was how they thought I could really add something to their team. They’ve won back-to-back championships without me, so for them to pursue me as hard as they did meant a lot, especially given all that I’ve gone through."

He cracked that “the cool thing about playing for the Heat is when you’re LeBron’s teammate and you screw up, nobody gets mad at you for missing a shot or turning the ball over – they get mad at LeBron for passing to you in the first place.”

Besides undergoing five knee procedures, Oden also reportedly has battled depression and alcoholism in recent years.

"The past six years have been tough for me," Oden told Grantland. "But there’s nothing I can do about it now. The past is the past. All I’m focused on is right now. And right now I feel great and I’m looking forward to playing again. I want to be able to finish the season healthy. I want to be able to say I played the game and I had no problems.”

He summarized his feelings to Titus this way: "There’s a lot to be excited about in joining the NBA champions, getting to play with some great players, and living in Miami. But honestly, the thing I’m most excited about is just being able to play basketball again. It’s been a long and challenging road back, so just having the chance to play the game I love again has me more excited than anything else.”

Please check back tonight for the Sunday buzz, with more Canes, Heat and Dolphins and Marlins.