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2 posts from August 18, 2013

August 18, 2013

UM commitments explain keys to Canes' recruiting success; Dolphins chatter; Heat personnel notes


No, UM hasn’t landed everyone it wanted in this loaded Dade/Broward 2014 recruiting class. Elite running back Sony Michel picked Georgia. Premier receiver Ermon Lane chose Florida.

But to appreciate what UM has accomplished in building a 2014 class ranked fourth by ESPN and Rivals.com, consider everything working against Miami: The looming NCAA penalties. Nasty negative recruiting.

And Michel cited this: “What concerned me was Miami’s facilities,” Michel said, adding Georgia’s are nicer. “They should be more up to par. And the fan base is not too big, not what I would expect.”

Make no mistake: Weak attendance is a turnoff for some UM recruits, so much so that UM asked not to be given any Thursday night home games so the empty seats aren’t exposed to the nation. But UM’s facilities should not be a deterrent now; the new Schwartz Center is beautiful.

So how has UM overcome those obstacles to assemble terrific classes under Al Golden? We spoke to 10 of the 13 Dade/Broward Class of 2014 players orally committed to UM, plus several coaches. Six factors they cited:

### Players love the personal attention from Golden and his staff, easier now that the NCAA has relaxed rules regarding contact on social media.

Booker T. Washington’s Chad Thomas, rivals.com’s No. 11-rated defensive end, said Golden has sent him a quotation before practice most every morning the past two months.

“I know it’s just for me because he’ll say, ‘I know this one is appropriate for you this day,’” Thomas said. “He sends me quotes from NFL stars, like Ray Lewis, or people who made it in life. They’re not even dealing with football, just life. I don’t get that from other coaches. Coach Golden will make sure my day is going right. That’s how I know it’s a coach that cares about you.”

Miami Northwestern three-star defensive end Mike Smith said UM linebackers coach Micheal Barrow “sends me motivational speeches and letters on Facebook. He quotes a lot of scriptures from the Bible. That’s different from other schools.”

### Several players cite Golden’s honesty. “Coach Golden is different from all coaches,” Hialeah Champagnat four-star defensive tackle Travonte Valentine said. “He took me in his office, locked the door and said, ‘I’m going to be real with you.’”

Said three-star St. Thomas Aquinas center Nick Linder, brother of UM guard Brandon: “He’s not two-faced. He’ll talk to you like a friend. You know he has your back.”

Four-star Miami Central running back Joseph Yearby said Golden “says really how it is” and doesn’t “sell [players] a lie.” Yearby's teammate, four-star offensive tackle Trevor Darling, said Golden "is an easy guy to talk to. We talk about practice, life, how his family is." And Booker T. Washington defensive end Demetrius Jackson said he was drawn to Golden because “he’s a God-fearing man and so am I. That’s a connection we have. He’s a family man.”

### Golden interacts effectively with recruits’ parents. Miami Northwestern three-star cornerback Ryan Mayes said: “My mom and grandmother were very happy, and that was a big deal, because it is hard to satisfy women, especially those two. They liked the fact coach Golden is respectful and well mannered.”

### A skilled staff of recruiters, strengthened by the addition of personable offensive coordinator James Coley. “The staff is awesome – they’re great with the kids,” St. Thomas Aquinas coach Rocco Casullo said. “Al Golden spoke at our banquet and people were mesmerized.”

Miami Central and former Northwestern coach Roland Smith said this UM staff is “real good at building relationships. Coach Golden asked me to coach at his summer camps when I wasn’t coaching, and I so appreciate that.”

### UM’s small class size also was mentioned as a major lure. “I can’t focus in big classes,” Booker T’s Thomas said. “At Miami, I’m not going to be sitting with 100 people. It’s 30 people. The professor knows who you are.”

### Golden has embraced UM’s tradition, such as playing a Michael Irvin motivational speech while players were stretching before a recent practice.

Jackson said Golden shows recruits the program’s championship rings, its two Heisman Trophies and more. Golden tells them how many Hurricanes are in the NFL. So even though most recruits were 5 or 6 when UM last won a title, the program’s rich history still resonates.

Valentine “did my research” on the great UM teams in the 1980s and said “I can bring that back. After my [former] Florida and Louisville commitments, I said, ‘Man, let me stop making mistakes and come to Miami.’”

### FYI: UM has seven oral commitments among ESPN's top 171 players in the Class of 2014 --- led by Yearby at No. 21 --- and 11 in ESPN's top 300.

### Please check Saturday's post for buzz from UM's Friday night scrimmage and first couple weeks of practice.


### Though Dwyane Wade said he intends to stay with the Heat beyond next season, he did not rule out opting out of his contract. He would make $20 million in 2014-15 and $21.5 million in 2015-16 if he does not opt-out either preceding summer. It’s possible he could take less money in exchange for more years.

“We’ll see,” Wade, 31, said Friday of the opt-out. “You have to figure out what’s best for yourself and what’s best for the team and then you come up with that answer.”

### Of adding to his game, Wade said: “The only thing left for me to do is become Mike Miller and shoot a lot of threes.” But he shot just 17 for 66 on threes last season and said he won’t decide until during the season whether to shoot more.

### Greg Oden's agent, Mike Conley Jr., said the parties involved changed their mind and decided that Oden would sign a one-year deal with the Heat, without a second-year player option as originally planned. Conley said that helps Oden (because of a league ruling involving injury contingency language in his contract) and helps the Heat because Miami would not be burdened with his contract in 2014-15 --- and potentially $3 million in luxury tax payments -- if he suffers another major injury this season.

### Mitch Frankel, the agent for center Jarvis Varnado,said a report in a European publication that Varnado is close to signing in Italy is untrue. "A lot of teams in Europe have shown interest, but we haven't talked to the Heat about it, and Jarvis is planning to go to Heat training camp," Frankel said. Varnado has a one-year non-guaranteed contract.

### Alex Rodriguez has donated only $1 million of the $3.9 million he pledged to UM’s baseball park in 2003, but athletic director Blake James said he’s not behind in payments. “A-Rod made a tremendous commitment to us,” James said Friday. “Our commitment is his name on the stadium. If we feel that needs to be addressed, we’ll address it.”

### The Dolphins are exploring tight end options who could provide depth after the loss of Dustin Keller, who is out for the season with a knee injury. But one of the best remaining free agents, Kevin Boss, hasn't been cleared to play after concussion problems, his agent said. What's left of the free agent class is weak.

### Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said Joe Philbin “is a joy to be around and… doesn’t have a whole lot of highs and lows, which I love.” But he also told his team he wants that personality from them. Philbin was happy when Caleb Sturgis did not openly celebrate his 58-year field goal against Jacksonville.

So essentially Philbin wants players who are quiet conformists who say nothing controversial or discuss hot-button issues outside of football, and aren’t too outwardly emotional.

Players generally like him, but some wish he was more tolerant of colorful personalities or those who speak candidly. One Dolphins player on offense said a lot of players were fined last season for assorted minor violations.

“If you’re just 30 seconds early to a meeting, he will point at his watch,” the player said. Among his other rules: Shoes must be tied at all times; players must wear Dolphins gear in the facility and the locker-room must be clean. “What upsets him is if they have to go over the same stuff twice with you.”

### Dolphins defensive tackle Randy Starks (knee) assured us Friday that he will be ready by the opener.

### Please see my last post for lots of Dolphins-Texas postgame notes and thoughts.... No buzz columns for the next couple weeks. Back in September.

Postscripts, observations from Dolphins' loss to Texans

Postscripts from the Dolphins’ 24-17 preseason loss to Houston:

### Anything good that happened tonight – including Mike Wallace’s first three receptions as a Dolphin – was thoroughly overshadowed by the knee injury to Dustin Keller, who was undergoing an MRI Saturday night. Joe Philbin said after the game that there is no diagnosis yet. (But the team fears the worst, as Armando noted in his report from Houston, and Wallace said: "I'm pretty sure he'll be out for a while" -- possibly the season.)

“We all are wishing Dustin well and hope his return is sooner rather than later,” Philbin said. “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Keller was injured on Miami’s fifth possession, when Houston’s D.J. Swearinger hit Keller squarely on the side of his right knee with his helmet. Keller dropped the pass and soon after had to be carted off, unable to put pressure on the knee.

With Keller, the Dolphins' group of tight ends assuredly ranked in the top half of the league. Without him, they're in the bottom fifth, unless Dion Sims blossoms quickly.

 “We’ll adjust,” Philbin said. “We’ll take a look at what we have and what our options might be. Michael Egnew is a big man. Dion Sims is a big man. Charles Clay has caught the ball down the middle before. We have some big targets.”

Sims is good enough as a blocker – he had a terrific block on Lamar Miller’s four-yard TD run --- and teammates believe he has upside as a receiver. They like how he uses his size (6-4, 265) to essentially block out defenders.

But he hasn’t shown he can create separation in the middle of the field like Keller did. He started Saturday’s game but couldn't haul in two catchable passes after Keller’s injury.

Egnew hasn’t even proven he can be a No. 2 tight end, let alone a starter. He had one catch late in the game (for 14 yards) but also had a holding penalty early on, negating a 9-yard Lamar Miller run. His blocking --- considered dismal last season --- has improved, but projecting him as a starter would be a reach.

Charles Clay would be another option, but playing him a lot at tight end means the Dolphins likely would need to keep fullbacks Jorvorskie Lane or Evan Rodriguez. Clay opened Saturday’s game as the starting fullback and has played there quite a bit during training camp. But he had a false start penalty on Miami’s second possession and hasn’t caught a pass in preseason.

Kyle Miller – who has displayed some receiving skills – has a chance to stick but missed Saturday’s game with an ankle injury.

There aren’t any particularly good options left in free agency, with past-his-prime Randy McMichael, Will Heller and Kevin Boss the best of what’s still available. Dallas Clark signed last week with Baltimore, which lost starter Dennis Pitta to injury.

### The good news: Ryan Tannehill completed three passes to Wallace, for 58 yards, on Miami’s TD drive on its third possession, which was punctuated by Wallace’s nine yard TD catch. And Brandon Gibson had two catches for 32 yards from Tannehill on Miami’s other first-half scoring drive, which ended with a Lamar Miller four-yard TD run.

### Tannehill closed 10 for 15 for 141 yards and the touchdown. “I thought Ryan managed the game pretty well,” Philbin said. “We had some big play opportunities we missed. He had Brian Hartline one time and missed that play. Overall, he played good.”

Matt Moore, constantly harrassed, finished a dismal 3 for 11 for 15 yards.

### Daniel Thomas outperformed Lamar Miller for the second straight game. Thomas had four carries for 25 yards and one catch for 27 yards on a shovel pass. Miller ran for just 10 yards on five carries, was limited to three yards on two receptions, and dropped a short pass on 3rd and 2 on Miami’s second drive. Philbin was upset about Miller’s drop.

### Jonas Gray (4 for 14) and Mike Gillislee (3 for 9) had nondescript nights. Marcus Thigpen carried twice for nine yards.

### Jonathan Martin played well, but backup left tackle remains a mess. Just as Dallas Thomas proved in the opener that he isn’t equipped to be Martin’s backup, Will Yeatman apparently isn’t, either. Yeatman allowed two sacks, and most of the backup offensive line remains inadequate. One exception is Lance Louis, who made his Dolphins debut as the second-team right guard.

Four of Houston’s five sacks came against the Dolphins’ backup offensive line.

### Josh Samuda struggled at right guard, allowing a sack and a tackle for a loss on a run. John Jerry could return to practice this week, and he and Louis remain the best options at that position.

### Cameron Wake and impressive undrafted rookie Tristan Okpalaugo had Miami’s two sacks. Reshad Jones, on a safety blitz, forced an incompletion with a near sack on Houston’s second possession.

### None of the receivers competing for the fourth and fifth spots did anything to seize a job. Rishard Matthews had one catch for 7 yards and dropped another pass. Brian Tyms could have scored on a deep ball if Moore didn’t overthrow him. Pruitt had one catch for nine yards, Marvin McNutt 1 for 7. Chad Bumphis, Jeff Fuller and Keenan Davis didn’t catch a pass.

And Bumphis, given a chance on punt returns, had two fair catches, including one when he seemingly had space to attempt a return. He returned a third punt for four yards. Thigpen assuredly will be the punt returner.

### Neither of the top contenders for the No. 4 cornerback job --- Nolan Carroll and Will Davis – played well. Davis was beaten for a 23-yard catch by Keyshawn Martin and on a 38-yard TD by Lestar Jean. As Bob Griese noted on the telecast, opponents have noticed that Davis has a tendency to jump routes to try to make interceptions, which leaves him vulnerable at times, including on Jean’s stop-and-go for the touchdown.

“I apologize for the double move. I jumped the double move,” Davis tweeted after the game. “Glad I learned it now that later. Learning every day.”

What’s more, Davis was admonished by special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi after he apparently forgot whether to enter the game for a Houston extra point, which resulted in a Dolphins penalty.

Carroll was beaten on two potential touchdown passes, but both were overthrown by Case Keenum. Carroll said overall defensively, “there was bad communication. Some guys were not communicating across the board.”

 ### Aside from a few good plays (Brent Grimes’ interception, a nifty pass breakup by Dimitri Patterson, and solid coverage by Koa Misi on a deep pass to Garrett Graham), the Dolphins’ pass defense was largely inadequate.

Matt Schaub, Keenum and T.J. Yates combined to go 26 for 38 for 303 yards. Safety Kelcie McCray was beaten by Owen Daniels on a 15-yard touchdown. Safety Jordan Kovacs seemed overwhelmed in coverage a couple of times.

What's comforting is that the starting defense played pretty well in its 2 1/2 series.

### Backup defensive linemen Derrick Shelby and Kheeston Randall continued their good work. Both had outstanding stops on two running plays; Randall forced Keenum to get rid of the ball prematurely; and Shelby batted down a pass. Linebacker Josh Kaddu and defensive tackle A.J. Francis also had their moments; Kaddu forced a fumble, which Lee Robinson recovered.

### Houston averaged 4.0 yards per carry, compared to the Dolphins’ 3.4…. Cornerback Jamar Taylor played in his first game as a Dolphin… Caleb Sturgis hit a 43-yard field goal... Jimmy Wilson's taunting penalty was his second personal foul penalty in two games... Philbin’s overview: “We did some good things [but] there is a lot of room for improvement. We had some penalties, things that slowed us down a bit.”

### Please check back Sunday morning for the Sunday buzz column and check out the last post for UM news.