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Questions linger on Dion Jordan's role, position; Fins, UM, Loria, Heat, Panthers chatter

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

A Fins six-pack:

### It’s notable that Dion Jordan, the third overall pick and first defensive player selected in the 2013 NFL Draft, has played the fewest defensive snaps of any of the 17 first-round draft picks that play defense and have not missed a game due to injury (just 26 -- one more than Cleveland's Barkevious Mingo, who missed the opener because of injury).

What's more, Jordan has played fewer offensive or defensive snaps than any healthy first-round rookie except Minnesota receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, selected 29th.

What’s more, aside from Seattle (which had no first-rounder) and Cleveland (which had only five picks), Miami’s rookie draft picks have played fewer offensive or defensive snaps (78) than any other team so far.

Cause for concern? Absolutely not. Dolphins players love Jordan’s skill set and work ethic and expect he will be very good. Cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis have been injured. Kicker Caleb Sturgis has been terrific. Players love the potential of Davis and tight end Dion Sims and like Taylor’s quickness, though everyone needs to see more from him. (There’s far less optimism about guard/tackle Dallas Thomas, who hasn't impressed in practice, according to a player.)

With Miami’s depth in the front seven, the biggest question is how to get Jordan on the field more and where he best fits long-term.

The Dolphins are determined to make it work with Jordan primarily as a 4-3 defensive end. But the coach who knows him best believes that’s not his best spot.

“To me, he’s best as an outside linebacker,” Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said, “because when he sets the edge with that leverage, and the way he can run, he will keep everything inside. He can be an outstanding rusher off the edge. I’m not saying he can’t play end. [But] he’s best” at linebacker.

Some evaluators agree with Aliotti. Jordan played mostly as a standup outside linebacker in Oregon’s hybrid 3-4 scheme -– a position Jason Taylor thrived at late in his Dolphins career -– but also some end.

“Jordan’s not a 4-3 end,” said former Packers, Raiders and Falcons executive Ken Herock, who worked with Jordan before the draft. “His best spot is linebacker and he’ll be a great linebacker. He has all the ingredients -– smooth, fluid, athletic, smart, long arms, can take on tight ends. He’s a better athlete than Jason Taylor. Taylor could never play in space like this guy.”

Unless the Dolphins move back to a 3-4 –- which seems unlikely under coordinator Kevin Coyle – they want Jordan primarily at end, considering they have committed long-term financially to Koa Misi, Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler as their linebackers.

But if Olivier Vernon proves to be a very good starting end –- and if he outplays Misi, which he hasn’t so far -– then where to play Jordan would be worth re-considering.

For now, the challenge is creating playing time for Jordan behind Vernon, or at times, with Vernon and Cameron Wake in a selectively-used speed package. Derrick Shelby (two sacks and two forced fumbles in two games) also has earned snaps.

Asked if he expects to play more Sunday, Jordan –- who missed much of preseason with a shoulder injury - said: “That’s the plan. I got a lot of work in practice this week.”

Though Pro Football Focus ranks Vernon as the league’s worst 4-3 end, Vernon said Dolphins coaches graded him “in the 80s, which is good” for the two games.

Jordan, who said he feels stronger after bulking up to 260 pounds, said one of his adjustments has been that “guys are much bigger here.” And that’s more of an issue at end. But he said he’s fine playing either end or linebacker.

“I played with my hand in the dirt all throughout high school, and I’m playing it now,” he said. “I feel like it actually helps me because I’m going forward instead of having to worry about dropping backward into sets. It doesn’t matter to me. I’ve just got to make plays no matter where they put me.”

### Aside from Jordan and Sims (49), Jelani Jenkins (three) is the other rookie to play an offensive or defensive snap so far. (Caleb Sturgis' field goals are listed as special teams snaps.) Running back Mike Gillislee, inactive both games, said: “The NFL is 10 times as fast as the SEC. It’s something I have to adjust to."

### This epitomizes this franchise’s problems the past decade: From 1970 to 2003, the Dolphins had the NFL’s best record in September home games (42-5). Since 2004, they have the second-worst at 4-11, better than only Cleveland’s 4-12.

And Miami’s overall home record the past 10 seasons (36-44) is better than only Oakland, St. Louis, Detroit and Cleveland.

“It hasn’t been very noisy at Sun Life in a while,” Brian Hartline said.

Is there even much of a home-field advantage here? “I wouldn’t say an overwhelming presence,” he said.

### A year ago, Michael Egnew’s blocking was so poor that one defensive player insisted coaches subconsciously would not give as much credit to defensive plays made with Egnew blocking. Now, Egnew has improved to the point where he said offensive coordinator Mike Sherman has commended him for blocks, in front of teammates, during film session. “I’m 100 percent better,” Egnew said.

Matt Moore said Egnew “is much more physical and has better awareness.” Tight ends Egnew and Dion Sims haven’t been thrown a pass yet and hope that changes Sunday.

### Ellerbe, comparing the Dolphins to his Super Bowl-winning Ravens of 2012: “We’re in the same ballpark talent-wise. And this defense is faster than Baltimore’s last year.”

### Mellow Joe Philbin displays such little emotion that Wake said “it surprises you” when he showed joyful excitement after the Colts win. “Now he’s starting to let his personality out -– it takes some getting used to,” Wake said, unable to remember Philbin being more excited than he was last Sunday.

CHATTER

Coaches that win consecutive championships receive lucrative offers for speeches, book deals and more. But we hear the Heat’s Erik Spoelstra is turning down everything. As a friend said, at this point in his life, he wants to focus on winning championships.

Spoelstra again has used a bit of his time this summer to study coaches and their techniques, including friend Chip Kelly in Philadelphia and Pete Carroll in Seattle. (He also spoke to Seahawks and University of Tennessee players, and Russell Wilson raved about his speech to the Seahawks.)

### An example of the peculiar way Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is doing business: When Larry Beinfest, the president of baseball operations, suggested last month that the Marlins promote second baseman Derek Dietrich in September, Loria said no. Loria is annoyed that Dietrich accused former first base coach Tino Martinez - Loria’s hand-picked choice -- of abusive behavior.

But when assistant GM Dan Jennings then recommended to Loria that Dietrich be promoted, Loria changed his mind and gave the OK -– a point that became moot when Dietrich suffered an oblique injury before his promotion.

Among those who have Loria’s ear: Jennings, vice president/player development Marty Scott and agent Scott Boras (primarily concerning how to handle star client Jose Fernandez).

Why is Loria no longer listening to Beinfest nearly as much? Because when Beinfest doesn’t like Loria’s personnel ideas, Beinfest tells him. And an associate said Loria doesn’t like his ideas being rejected and will do what he wants anyway.

### Few, if any, grand conclusions can be made from UM's 77-7 thumping of Savannah State on Saturday night, considering how dreadful the competition is. A few postgame items: The coaches decided at halftime that the fourth quarter would be cut to 12 minutes. That, combined with UM making no particular effort to score in the fourth quarter, left the Canes short of the school record for yardage (689 against UCLA in 1998.) UM finished with 637 yards of offense, to Savannah State's 183. "Al Golden is a heck of a guy," Savannah State coach Earnest Wilson said.. UM topped its school record for points by two but fell five short of Clemson's ACC record for points in a game (82)....

Of all the freshmen, Gus Edwards (12 for 113 on the ground and three touchdowns), Stacy Coley (88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 25-yard TD reception) and Al-Quadin Muhammad (two sacks) had the best nights, but several freshmen who hadn't played much got a lot of work, including linebacker Jermaine Grace, whom Golden challenged afterward to "study the game more, prepare more" and become more of a factor on special teams....

The supremely confident Muhammad said college football "is not what I expected.... It's fast. A lot of signals... I was upset about not getting any sacks yet" before Saturday.... Though Duke Johnson seemed in discomfort when he left late in the first quarter, Golden said both he and Stephen Morris (who had an ankle sprain) are fine. But Morris' situation warrants monitoring; Golden said Morris will stay off his feet for 48 hours.... Third-string quarterback Gray Crow, on his 6 for 6 passing night (55 yards): "Someone said when opportunity knocks, it knocks very quietly."... UM said it used 81 - 81! - players in the game.

### A source assures that Vincent Viola, the Panthers’ prospective new owner, has deep pockets, with a net worth north of $1 billion. Majority owner Cliff Viner decided not to keep a small piece, and all of the minority owners are selling to Viola. 

The Panthers are about $12 million below the $64 million salary cap ceiling, according to capgeek.com, and the hope around the club is the payroll eventually will increase. But we'll wait to hear from Viola on that before we get our hopes up, especially because the team has been losing $20 million a year.     

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