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2 posts from August 10, 2013

August 10, 2013

Lots of UM chatter: Elder, Morris, NCAA, defense better in camp; Fins, Heat, Marlins notes


Lots of Canes chatter:

### It will be fascinating to watch Corn Elder and eventually, Derrick Griffin (if he qualifies) try to juggle football and basketball --- something rare in modern UM history.

Jimmy Graham was the only recent Cane to make an imprint in both of those sports but played one season of football only after he was done with basketball.

Elder will play football this fall, then shift to basketball –- possibly in mid-November if he redshirts, Al Golden said. Elder said Friday he won’t pick up a basketball until he’s done with football this season and “hopefully if I can make difference in football, I won’t redshirt.”

Because of positional need, Elder is playing cornerback for the first time –- it's “pretty hard; I’m starting to get it down” -- and also is working as a returner. He ran for 6351 yards (a Tennessee record) and scored 84 touchdowns in high school, averaged 20 points as a senior in basketball and won a combined five state championships.

"If anyone can do both sports, it's him," said Ricky Bowers, his football and basketball coach at Ensworth High in Nashville. "That's because of his skill level, speed, and competitive spirit.”

Elder, 5-10, conceded Friday “it’s going to be pretty challenging.”

So why do it? “I love both of them. I grew up playing both. Coach Golden was fine with it.”

Elder is close friends with a player who did exactly what he’s doing –- playing cornerback and point guard in college: former Vanderbilt athlete Jamie Graham. “He said it’s really hard but he thinks I can do it,” Elder said.

As a football player, Elder "has excellent speed, lateral quickness, change of direction,” said Golden, who said he might be a slot receiver eventually.

And as a basketball player? At this year’s Final Four, “two guys from the state of Tennessee came up to me,” coach Jim Larranaga said, “and they asked me: Do you know how lucky you are that your football program signed Corn Elder? Because he’s the best basketball player in the state…' He has tremendous defensive skills. He knows how to run a team. Great leadership qualities.”

Elder could end up sharing point guard this season with guard/forward Garrius Adams and Belgian freshman Emmanuel LeComte.

Larranaga said juggling both sports “is more difficult” now than many years ago “because at younger ages you’re told to specialize. [Elder and Griffin] are such gifted athletes that they’ve enjoyed great success in both.”

Larranaga appreciates that Golden allowed Elder, during the summer, “to come over in the afternoon and get to know the basketball players.” Elder said he used that time to “show them what I can do.”

By the way, Elder said he spoke to Griffin a few weeks ago about the challenge of juggling two sports “and he should be coming soon.” But UM believes it’s too early to tell if Griffin will qualify and enroll in December, which Griffin said is his intention.  

Ranked No. 41 in this class by rivals.com as a football recruit (third among receivers) and No. 81 for basketball, Griffin “is a big red zone threat like Tommy Streeter was,” Golden said. “Maybe he’ll grow into a Jimmy Graham.”

Larranaga loves him: “He’s one of the great run and jump athletes in the nation. You can throw him a lob pass anywhere around the rim and he can catch it and throw it down. He reminds me of DeQuan Jones athletically."

Griffin’s high school coach, Tim Teykl, said “he’s in the top one percent in football, 10 percent in basketball.” But he needs to qualify first.

### This is encouraging: UM people say the maligned defense has more than held its own against UM’s elite offense in practice all last week, and that was even before former Wisconsin starting defensive end David Gilbert joined the program Saturday afternoon. During Friday’s session (the only one open to reporters this month), UM’s defense was exceptional in goal line run defense and stuffed a bunch of other rushing attempts. The flip side: Duke Johnson and Dallas Crawford broke two long runs.

Receiver Allen Hurns said UM’s defensive line is getting much better penetration against the offensive line than a year ago, and mental errors are way down.   

Coverage has been much better, too: Cornerback Antonio Crawford bottled up Stacy Coley on consecutive plays Friday (“he quicker, starting to be a technician,” Golden said), and linebackers Jimmy Gaines and Denzel Perryman intercepted Stephen Morris passes Friday and had long returns.

Defensive backs coach Paul Williams said impressive freshman cornerback Artie Burns will play right away and Tracy Howard is so much improved compared with 2012, when he “was just so undisciplined at times that it got him in trouble.”

### After telling UM it hoped to have a ruling within eight weeks (this past Friday), the NCAA again delayed a decision. UM received no updated timetable but expects it will be soon. Typically, the NCAA will announce a news conference 24 hours in advance but doesn’t inform the school of its punishment until several hours before it’s announced.

UM remains optimistic the worst punishment will be limited to scholarship reductions. Incredibly, Nevin Shapiro –- from prison -- has tried to convince the NCAA that UM continues to break rules. But UM believes the NCAA has stopped listening to him.

### More plaudits for Morris: Archie Manning cited him as the most impressive player at the recent Manning Academy, and ESPN’s Todd McShay ranked him third among all 2014 NFL quarterback prospects, behind Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and UCLA’s Brett Hundley. Morris, who studied every one of his 2012 snaps, said Steve Walsh’s tutoring, which he very much appreciates, has improved his footwork.

### Personnel stuff: We hear quarterback Preston Dewey, who hasn’t reported to the team, has a back injury that will sideline him indefinitely. It would be surprising if he ever takes a snap for UM…. After internal discussion, UM decided not accepted Tampa defensive end Ernest Suttles, who was tossed by Nebraska this summer after hitting a teammate over the head with a bottle. (Never recommended.)

### Among the top rated running backs in the class of 2014, Plantation American Heritage's Sony Michel (rivals.com's No. 2 running back prospect) told us Saturday that UM is still trying to recruit him through social media, but he's firmly committed to Georgia. Miami Central's Joseph Yearby (No. 7 running back) said he's now sure he will attend UM. And Central's Dalvon Cook (No. 6) said he is firmly committed to UF, though UM would love to get him to switch. Cook was wearing a UF cap at the first annual high school media day Saturday at Sun Life Stadium.  

### HIaleah quarterback Alin Edouard said Saturday that he wants to go to UM -- but only if UM is genuinely interested. And Edouard, who is orally committed to Miami, said UM hasn't attempted to contact him in weeks, fueling a widespread belief that he's not a priority.

Edouard said he isn't bothered by the fact UM has oral commitments from two other quarterbacks (Brad Kaaya, Malik Rosier) but wants to know definitively if UM wants him. He said he will go to UM Sunday to try to get an answer.

### After watching him for a week, defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio believes Al-Quadin Mohammad will help immediately: He has a few pass-rush “moves up his sleeve, that he can do, that you wouldn’t expect from a freshman.” One of them caused a ruckus on Day One of camp when -- during a no-tackling practice -- he knocked down Morris on a sack, which enraged the players on offense and prompted a scolding from one of his coaches.


### Heat center Greg Oden addressed his return to the court during a news conference in Indianapolis on Saturday. (Please see the last post for details.) Meanwhile, his agent, Mike Conley Sr., said Friday it's "definitely a possibility" that he might not play until around the All-Star break. "It could very well be that long."

But it's also quite possible that he could return long before that. The decision won't be made for a long time. "The goal is to have him ready by the end of the season to contribute," Conley said.

### Conley tells us that Oden weighs 271 pounds, his lowest since entering the NBA in 2007. He was 315 two years.... Speaking at his charity event in Akron on Saturday, LeBron James told ESPN: "We're not going to put too much pressure on [Oden]. Whatever he gives us is extra."... 

James also said the Nets -- who added Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, among others -- "are going to be good... It's great for the league."... No joke: Oden said he moved from Indianapolis to Columbus, Ohio, because someone in Indianapolis thought he was Pacers center Roy Hibbert. He didn't like that.

### It would be somewhat surprising to some if Randy Starks, the Dolphins’ highest-paid player, isn’t a starter ahead of Jared Odrick, provided Starks recovers from a recent knee injury. But it would be shocking to Starks’ agent, former NFL fullback Tony Paige.

“Why would you franchise the guy and not make him a starter?” Paige said. “Randy is going to start. It’s not even an issue.” And if he does not, “we’ll deal with it when we cross that road.”

Fortunately, “Randy’s attitude is outstanding,” Paige added. And Starks said he would not complain if he comes off the bench.

### Please see the last post for 17 more Dolphins notes in the wake of Friday's preseason game.

### Yes, Marlins fans can grimace that Hanley Ramirez is hitting .361 for the Dodgers. But remember that Nathan Eovaldi has pitched very well (2.82 ERA) and was hitting 100 miles per hour on the radar gun in the seventh inning last Sunday. And the other prospect acquired from the Dodgers in that trade –- 22-year-old Scott McGough –- is a promising reliever (4-1, 2.64 ERA, .221 batting average against at Triple A)…  

Ugh: Houston third baseman Matt Dominguez, acquired from the Marlins last July for now-retired Carlos Lee, has more homers (14) and RBI (55) than any Marlin. But he's hitting just .232.    

2 p.m. update: Oden takes big step; News, views from Dolphins' win; Canes additions

At a news conference in Indianapolis today, Greg Oden's physical therapist, Ralph Reiff, said he's "in full basketball mode" now. "There's no more rehab. He will be a basketball player on Monday."

Oden, 25, will fly to Miami at 6 a.m. Monday and immediately begin doing on-court work with the Heat, plus agility drills and more.

"My knee's good," he said. "I'm able to walk, jump, run.... It's been a while. It's been a long road.... I got an old body. My body is not going to be what it was when I was 18. When I was 18, I was able to run all day and jump over people. I can't do that now. It's just not going to happen. But I'm going to play as hard as I can and I'm going to try to jump over people and I'm going to try to run all day. If my body lets me, I'll do it."

He added: "My body is going to do what it can. If somehow it says no, then it says no. But I'm not even worried about that. I'm just going to go play and not even think about it.... I'm beyond excited. It's been such a long road.... I know it's going to be a long process."

Though he is taking a significant step, his agent said Friday it remains unclear when he will play in a game and it could be months into the season, depending on the decision of the Heat staff. Oden has spoken of playing in short intervals initially whenever he does return but has been non-committal about whether he will play opening night, Oct. 29 against the Bulls.

"It's still weird for me to say I'm a Miami Heat," Oden said. "If LeBron decides to get another ring, I get one now, too. Why would I not want to play with the champs?"

He said LeBron James texted with "Oden come here" messages before he signed, and a "be ready to work" message after he signed.

Oden said watching NBA TV motivated him to return to the court.


Eighteen notes, thoughts and postscripts from the Dolphins’ 27-3 preseason win at Jacksonville:

### Ryan Tannehill played 17 snaps – three series that went nowhere and one impressive drive ending in a touchdown – and then implored everyone not “to read too much into the negative things or the positive things.” He seems mystified why every first team snap is being so heavily scrutinized. (Human nature, Ryan.)

Tannehill’s final drive – including the 22-yard TD pass to Dustin Keller – turned what would have been a disappointing night into an acceptable one, and he closed 5 for 9 for 75 yards. But Tannehill was the NFL’s worst quarterback statistically on third downs last season, and that remained an issue Friday, partly due to Tannehill not having enough time to throw.

The Dolphins failed on their first three third down attempts. Tannehill scrambled for two yards on the first attempt when his protection broke down; threw behind Lamar Miller on the next; and was flushed from the pocket and threw an errant pass to Charles Clay on the third.

### If there were a regular season game, fans would have every right to question not throwing deep to Mike Wallace. But the second preseason game, including Wallace’s first? Sorry – I can’t get too worked up about it.

“We definitely have to build some more confidence, more trust, to know where I want to be,” Wallace said of his relationship with Tannehill.

### Jonathan Martin played decently at left tackle, just as he did last season against Jacksonville, but the Dolphins need to find a capable veteran backup somewhere. Mike Adams seems ill-equipped for the job. Dallas Thomas moved to right tackle and played decently after last week’s implosion at left tackle. “We’re still a little out of sync,” Martin said.

### Josh Samuda struggled against Sen’Derrick Marks and right guard remains a huge concern. Lance Louis’ knee still isn’t 100 percent, and he didn’t suit up – which is troubling because the Dolphins hoped Louis would be fine by now and also hoped he would become the starter. John Jerry also continues to work his way back from his knee issue.

### Brian Tyms (2 for 34) and Chad Bumphis (2 for 26) had the best nights of the fringe receivers, though Bumphis also fumbled a punt that the Dolphins were fortunate to recover. Keenan Davis, who drew praise from Joe Philbin last week, didn’t catch a pass. Marvin McNutt caught one for seven, but at least he didn’t drop one this week.

### Dannell Ellerbe was active and impactful in his snaps, and the first-team defense allowed only 14 yards in their three series. Blaine Gabbert departed with a 16.7 quarterback rating.

### The Dolphins continue to rotate Dimitri Patterson with Richard Marshall opposite Brent Grimes. Patterson has had the better camp and broke up a pass on third down on Jacksonville’s first series. But Marshall has improved the last week after a shaky start to camp.

### With Friday’s interception, Will Davis continues to make a strong case for playing time. The question is whether coaches are comfortable enough with him to move him past Nolan Carroll as the team’s fourth cornerback when the regular season starts. Carroll also had a pick Friday off a deflection.

“Best part of that interception tonight was seeing smiles on veterans’ faces,” Davis tweeted. “They let me know I belong. So thank you.” Davis has had more than a half dozen picks in practice.

### Jason Trusnik, Jonathan Freeney and Austin Spitler worked as the primary backup linebackers, and Spitler seemed frozen on a run when Jordan Todman burst past him. Spitler has managed to make the team for four years largely because of his special teams’ acumen, but he faces stiffer competition this preseason.

### Jonas Gray, who scored on two one-yard runs, has the skill set to be a potentially effective short yardage back. But that alone likely won’t be enough to win him a roster spot, because the Dolphins believe Daniel Thomas can handle that role. Gray finished with 32 yards on 14 carries, Mike Gillislee 37 yards on 12 carries.

### Thomas had strong 8 and 9 yard runs on the scoring drive engineered by Tannehill, while Lamar Miller had a nondescript night (two carries, six yards). Dolphins officials are much higher on Thomas’ potential than some fans are.

### Among fringe defensive players, former Baylor tackle Tracy Robertson played much better than a week ago, and undrafted Fresno State rookie Tristan Okpalaugo had a sack after forcing a fumble last week. Linebacker Les Robinson also flashed.

### At this point, it would be shocking if Caleb Sturgis isn’t the kicker. His 58-yard field goal would have been the third-longest in franchise history if this had been a regular-season game. Dan Carpenter owns the record with a 60-yarder vs. Cleveland in 2010.

### Matt Moore’s interception dropped his quarterback rating to 35.6. He finished 5 for 9 for 58 yards. Pat Devlin was 5 for 8 for 45 yards. All three Dolphins quarterbacks completed five passes.

### This will please Joe Philbin: The Dolphins were plus three in turnovers.

### Dion Jordan, again playing on third downs, had a quiet night, with just one assisted tackle. The Dolphins have given no indication that they intend to use him on first down.

### The Jaguars are a mess. (Former UM assistant Jedd Fisch is running perhaps the most talent-deprived offense in the NFL.) Their best receiver, Justin Blackmon, is suspended the first four games and made matters worse by engaging in a verbal altercation with Nolan Carroll, then bickering with teammate Jason Babin after Babin suggested he ought not trash talk. Maurice Jones Drew then escorted Blackmon from the field, and coach Gus Bradley scolded him after the game.


As expected, Heat second-round pick James Ennis signed to play overseas. His contract with a team in Australia will allow him to come to the Heat at any point next season, without penalty, if the Heat chooses, which seems unlikely. The Heat will continue to retain his NBA rights.


As expected, UM announced it has added defensive ends David Gilbert (Wisconsin) and Justin Renfro (Virginia). Gilbert was a starter at Wisconsin and honorable mention All Big 10. Renfro was a backup at Virginia. Both graduated from their former schools and are eligible to play immediately.

Check back later for a lot more Canes, plus Dolphins, Heat and Marlins in the Sunday buzz.