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2 posts from September 7, 2013

September 07, 2013

Analysts, evaluators weigh in on Fins; Heat to sign center; Loria fallout; Canes-Gators

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

What do network analysts and former personnel executives expect from the Dolphins? Thirteen of them weighed in, and opinions varied widely. We’ll start with the most optimistic: former Colts general manager Bill Polian, ex-Steelers coach Bill Cowher and former Dolphins Dan Marino, Ron Jaworski and Cris Carter:

### Polian loves the Dolphins: “They’re good enough now to compete with New England. This is a very athletic, physical defense with a lot of dynamic players. Brent Grimes is a top flight No. 1 corner. [Defensive tackle] is where Jared Odrick will play best [after moving over from defensive end]. Their defense is awfully good and deep, and you can be a playoff team based on defense alone.

“The last half of the season, you’ll see the offensive productivity turn up and pretty markedly. This will be a much better running team. This is a team I don’t want to see in November or December. I can’t emphasize enough how soundly this team is constructed. Extraordinary talent at a number of positions.”

### Marino sees Miami making a serious run at New England: “They should be able to contend in that division. The defense looks fast. They will be a high tempo defense that will cause more turnovers. Everything about Ryan Tannehill gives me hope, as far as physical tools. His arm strength is as good as anyone in the league.”

### Carter: “The Dolphins are a lot more talented, and New England isn’t as talented. The Dolphins’ defense could be the best in the division. Tannehill is going to be a special player. Offensive line is the only real question mark.”

### Jaworski picked the Dolphins to win the AFC East on ESPN.com: "Mike Sherman has done a great job brining along Tannehill, and now Mike Wallace gives him a big, downfield weapon. If Dion Jordan evolves as expected, he and Cameron Wake will be nightmares for quarterbacks."

### Cowher: “This team is ready to take the next step. They’re legitimately a team that could be reckoned with. Tannehill played solid last year, will be better this year. He’s got a very good surrounding core. Lamar Miller is a good running back. They’ve made a lot of very good additions. You can’t help but wonder with the Patriots; they have four rookie receivers.”

Among those mildly optimistic, and not ready to rule out a playoff berth:

### CBS’ Phil Simms: “When you have players who can hit the quarterback, that can change your team. They do have that. Dion Jordan is an unbelievable looking potential pass rusher. I watched him in the Hall of Fame game and said, ‘I’ve seen enough.’ We know about Cameron Wake. Let’s find out about the quarterback. What’s going to set him apart from being a quarterback who can just make the play when it’s there?”

### NBC’s Tony Dungy, a voter in the AP power rankings, has Miami 19th in his preseason poll but: “I do think the Dolphins have the potential to be a playoff team. There are a couple of reasons I feel they have a chance: Year two is when teams really make strides under a new coaching staff. I was impressed when I saw them at the Hall of Fame game. They were buying into Coach [Joe] Philbin's system.

“They will have a better passing game this year with an added year of experience for the quarterback and a legitimate home run threat in Mike Wallace. [And] the division they play in. I don't think they will catch New England but they are the favorites now to finish second. That will put them in the wild card hunt. I do believe they are one of the teams who might be under the radar that have a chance to be in the hunt in December.”

### CBS’ Dan Dierdorf doesn’t think playoffs are out of the question because “the traditional powerhouses have questions. I love everything about Tannehill except that he misfired on some deep balls last year. They have a strong front seven.”

But losing Dustin Keller will “impact everyone, when you subtract that speed.” And he wonders about Jonathan Martin at left tackle. “If what happened to Martin against [the 49ers’] Aldon Smith had happened to me, I might have gone to bed for a week and not come out.”

### Fox’s Jimmy Johnson: “Losing Keller was huge. The defense is good enough if Tannehill keeps turnovers to a minimum.”

Among those with doubts include three former GMs:

### NFL Network analyst and former Redskins and Texans GM Charley Casserly: “They are on the outside edge looking in. They need another year to keep fortify the roster.” His concerns? “The secondary and offense line.”

Positives? “They will give people problems on defense. I see enough good things about Tannehill, and Martin has gotten better this preseason. I like Lamar Miller and the receiving crew.”

### Former Falcons/Raiders/Packers executive Ken Herock, who now prepares draft prospects for meetings with teams: “Are they going to go 10-6? No. Are they going to be 7-9, 8-8? That’s what it sounds like to me. I don’t know why Steve Ross would expect that much more based on what they have. Expectations get out of hand and maybe aren’t realistic. Another injury and they’re screwed.

“They have an OK team, and Tannehill should be one of those starters that won’t really get you better than 9-7. The Jets and Bills could be four wins for them. But Pittsburgh is the only one of the likely playoff teams I could see them beating out.”

### Former Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist said “they’ve improved a little” but aren’t on par with New England. He said what the Dolphins should be asking is not if they can win the AFC East – “I don’t compare them to the Patriots” --- but whether they’re even good enough “to catch Cincinnati” and fringe wild-card contenders.

“Some of Miami’s moves made sense and some didn’t make sense. Some won’t end up working out. I don’t know that Wallace is elite. St. Louis had a chance to see Brandon Gibson and didn’t [keep him]. Tannehill was overdrafted.”

### SI’s and NBC’s Peter King predicts Miami will finish 6-10. Here’s why: “Of all the free-agents Miami signed, I felt the Dustin Keller signing was the most significant. Tight end was a huge, huge need position for a quarterback who so needs a security blanket in the intermediate area, and now with Keller out, any offensive force at tight end is eliminated. So that's a big problem.

“On defense, I like Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler to shore up the middle, and I think the rush will be good. The corners concern me, especially if Brent Grimes, who I like, doesn't hold up physically.

“It'll either be Buffalo or Miami fighting for second place in the 8-8 area, I think. I could be wrong. I usually am.”

CHATTER

### We asked a handful of Dolphins veterans which player will break out this season. Every one of them immediately named Miller. “He will surprise people how explosive he is,” Dimitri Patterson said. “I said, ‘Wow’ when I first saw him.”

### There’s an emerging confidence internally that Martin – 20 pounds heavier and “thinking faster” – will capably handle left tackle. We’ll see. “He’s not as soft as he once was,” Richie Incognito said. “Mike Pouncey and I took that as a project – to toughen him up.”

### The Dolphins must hope they fare better than the last team that also used the advertising slogan “It’s Our Time.” That was the 2012 Kansas City Royals, who flopped (72-90) and had to discontinue it during the season.

### Center Justin Hamilton, the Heat’s second-round pick in 2012, will sign with Miami in the coming days and attend training camp, his agent J.R. Hensley told us. Hamilton, who played in Croatia and Latvia last season, did not participate in the Orlando or Las Vegas summer leagues because of a hamstring injury. He has been working out at AmericanAirlines Arena in recent weeks and said he was cleared today for contact work.

The Heat would lose Hamilton's rights if it releases him. If he had returned to Europe this season without attending camp, the Heat would have kept his rights. The Heat has 13 players signed to guaranteed contracts, and Hamilton, Jarvis Varnado and undrafted forward Eric Griffin have non-guaranteed deals.

Also, undrafted rookie point guard Larry Drew Jr., from UCLA, will audition for the Heat over several days this coming week. Drew, who averaged 7.5 points and 7.3 assists for the Bruins last season, was originally supposed to play on Miami's summer league team but could not because of a quad injury.

### Not only did Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria anger Giancarlo Stanton with last winter’s payroll slashing, but he irritated Stanton’s agent, Joel Wolfe, by vetoing the Marlins front office’s recent decision to bring infielder Chris Valaika back to the team. Marlins people believe Loria did that because Valaika told the Marlins that ousted hitting coach Tino Martinez (Loria’s hand-picked choice) was verbally abusive.

Valaika never went to the Marlins to complain; management asked him about Martinez’s missteps when they heard his name from other players. Wolfe – who likes the Marlins’ baseball people and doesn’t blame them for any of this -- said that assuming Loria’s vetoing of Valaika’s promotion is true, “that was an unfortunate series of events seemingly very poorly handled.”

We hear Wolfe and the players union have discussed possibly filing a grievance. Asked if this could affect Stanton’s status, Wolfe – who also represents Greg Dobbs, Ryan Webb and a couple of Marlins prospects – indicated it would not, that one client “should have nothing to do” with another.

By the way, second baseman Derek Dietrich -- who accused Martinez of being abusive -- has an oblique injury, which is why he wasn't promoted when rosters expanded this month.

### Though UF’s Jeremy Foley didn’t rule out occasional neutral site UM-UF football games, the Gators so far haven’t shown a willingness to discuss any more games, though UM will keep pushing. UM athletic director Blake James told us he would be receptive to a neutral site but agrees that it’s difficult to identify a site north of Sun Life that would be truly neutral. UM would consider Tampa or Orlando; James suggests the New York area, where UM has a strong alumni base. (Seriousdly doubt the Gators would go for that.)

For lots of UM-UF postgame chatter, please see the last post.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz     

Postscripts, thoughts from UM's win against UF; Dolphins give Soliai ultimatum; Heat

Postscripts from UM’s riveting 21-16 win against Florida at Sun Life Stadium:

### A defense that seemingly could never get a big stop against quality teams last season kept making one after another --- a remarkable turnaround for a unit that couldn't have been more maligned in the past year.

No play was bigger that Tyriq McCord’s sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery at the Gators’ six yard line with 5:28 left, which led to Duke Johnson’s touchdown to push the margin to 21-9.

But don’t forget the myriad other big plays. Among them: Denzel Perryman’s huge hit, forcing a Matt Jones fumble on UF’s first possession, which Curtis Porter recovered; Anthony Chickillo snuffing out a two-point conversion; Shayon Green’s terrific stop on Jeff Driskel’s quarterback sneak on a fourth and 1 early in the game; Rayshawn Jenkins’ interception of Driskel deep in UM territory; Tyrone Cornelius knocking away a pass on a third and four; Tracy Howard’s interception deep in UM territory with 6:41 left.

And there were many others. UM had three takeaways in the red zone. And its six takeaways overall are its most since forcing seven at Duke in 2010.

“Great defensive effort – phenomenal,” Al Golden said. “We got physically and mentally tougher. Are we a great program? No. It was a great win. We have a long way to go to be a great program.”

### A UM run defense that was dreadful most of last season allowed only 2.8 yards per carry (44 for 122). Jones finished with 47 yards on 18 carries, Mack Brown 10 for 29.

“I couldn’t be happier for the guys,” defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said. “They put in such a long road to get to this point to win a great game against a great team. They had to take some beatings last year and they responded today. The guys made a commitment to get in the weight room, to get bigger.”

### One of the complaints during the Randy Shannon regime was lack of player development. That was fair, to an extent. That’s why it’s so encouraging to see several of these defensive players markedly better than when they arrived: Thurston Armbrister, Tyrone Cornelius, Jimmy Gaines, Olsen Pierre, Luther Robinson, among them. All made an impact Saturday. And you could see why UM coaches trust Gaines, even though so few major schools pursued him coming out of high school

### Beyond the fringe prospects developing, some of UM's blue-chip recruits -– especially Chickillo, Perryman and Howard –-- also were very good Saturday. UM coaches were frustrated with Howard early last season because they didn’t believe he was responsive enough to coaching.

But that changed and Howard beat out Antonio Crawford for a starting job. He read Driskel perfectly on that key late interception today.

### This past offseason’s personnel upgrades also shouldn't be understated. Defensive tackle Justin Renfro and linebacker Alex Figueroa gave UM very good snaps Saturday, and David Gilbert had a near sack.

### The front seven is dramatically better than last year's, even with Eddie Johnson and Gionni Paul being thrown off the team. It's no coincidence that virtually every key returning member of the front seven is bigger and stronger than a year ago.

### D’Onofrio on his linebackers: “That was a group everyone was worried about what’s going to happen. We lost a few guys in the offseason [Johnson, Paul]. Jimmy Gaines told me a few months ago, ‘People are doubting the linebackers. We are going to lead it.’”

### How does Chickillo explain the huge defensive improvement? “Our defense –- we heard it all this offseason and we really started hating people for it," he told WQAM. "We play with a chip on our shoulder all day. We don’t care if people like us. Awesome feeling for the guys. My dad is probably the meanest Gator hater out there.” That would former UM standout Tony Chickillo.

### UM overcame not only a blocked punt, but an absurd 38:12-21:40 disadvantage in time of possession. That has to change.

UF outgained UM, 413-212, and UM mustered only 69 yards after the first quarter. But the two big first-quarter passing plays --- TD receptions by Herb Waters (seven yards) and Phillip Dorsett (52) --- were enough, combined with the exceptional defense and Duke Johnson’s late TD run.

“The defense came through,” said Morris, who closed 12 for 25 for 163 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception and passed Brock Berlin as the 11th-leading passer in UM history. “We settled down. Defensively, they were stopping everything. We have to look at the problems we had and get better. Florida’s defense was unbelievable. They had a lot of great plays on defense.”

### Even though UM’s offense stumbled much of the game, Golden pointed out that offensive coordinator James Coley “showed a lot of poise and patience by not going into panic mode and trusting the defense.”

UM finished just 1 for 11 on third downs, and averaged a meager 1.8 per carry (28 for 49). Johnson closed with 58 yards on 21 carries. UM's yardage total was its lowest since a 2009 game against Virginia Tech.

### UM’s final receiving numbers: Allen Hurns 4 for 61; Dorsett 1 for 52;  Clive Walford 2 for 24; Waters 3 for 14; and Johnson 2 for 12.

### As ESPN noted, the winner of the last five regular season UM-UF games finished in the top five of the final AP poll. UM was essentially 26th in the AP top 25 this week but will assuredly be ranked this week.... The attendance (76,869) was the highest for a Canes game at Sun Life Stadium... Driskel finished 22 for 33 for 291 yards with one TD and the two picks.

### Seantrel Henderson replaced Jon Feliciano as the starter at right tackle, with Feliciano replacing Malcolm Bunche as the starter at left guard. Overall, there were too many offensive line breakdowns against a loaded Gators front seven, led by Dominique Easley. 

HEAT NOTE

Yahoo! reported Saturday that the Heat is considering signing Michael Beasley, whom the team drafted second overall in 2008. Beasley’s contract was terminated by Phoenix last week after he was arrested for marijuana possession.

Yahoo! said several Heat players support re-signing Beasley, and that Beasley wants to return.

### Please see our last post for lots of news today regarding Dolphins' contract negotiations. And check back later for lots of Dolphins, plus Canes, Heat and Marlins in the Sunday buzz.