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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     

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