SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Even with money to burn, sometimes you have to trust your young players. That was the credo Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland followed at a few positions this past spring, even amid a spending spree that augmented the roster at receiver, linebacker and tight end.
Through one quarter of the season, the results have been mixed at the positions where Ireland chose to elevate the roles of players that were drafted and developed here:
### Offensive tackle: This is troubling: Not only is Jonathan Martin one of nine NFL linemen that have allowed at least four sacks (Dolphins right tackle Tyson Clabo also has given up four), but runs behind Martin are averaging a puny 1.9 yards per carry, which explains why Pro Football Focus rates him 65th of 69 tackles (tied with Clabo) as a run blocker.
Conversely, Jake Long –-- who left for St. Louis after the Dolphins offered less than he sought --- has permitted two sacks and is 11th as a run-blocker. Kansas City’s Branden Albert, whom Miami possibly could have acquired for a second-round pick if it had been willing, has relinquished one sack and is 42nd as a run blocker.
Overall, PFF ranks Long 17th, Albert 25th and Martin 37th.
Not keeping Long or acquiring Albert might prove regrettable. (It sure seems that way now.) But the Dolphins still very much believe in Martin. He’s younger, cheaper and more durable than Long and has allowed fewer quarterback hurries than Long (14 to 8). Albert has permitted six.
"There’s stuff I need to improve on, but I think it’s gone pretty well,” Martin said. “And I feel comfortable now. I felt uncomfortable last year at times at right tackle.”
### Running back: Lamar Miller, who has averaged 5.8 yards per carry the past three games, has justified the larger role with which he was entrusted. But it’s still fair to ask if the Dolphins erred by not making an offer to Reggie Bush, who has 433 all-purpose yards in three games for Detroit, which is paying him $16 million over four years.
But for Bush to maximize his talents here, the Dolphins needed to use him more like the Lions do and Bush preferred –-- getting him in space, deploying him a lot as a receiver. He’s on pace for 716 receiving yards; he had 292 for Miami in 2012.
A one-two punch of Bush (averaging 5.3 yards per carry) and Miller (4.6) would have been dynamic, but the Dolphins didn’t like that idea because of concerns about pass protection.
But here’s the problem with Miami’s perpetual faith in Daniel Thomas: Not only does PFF rank him 11th-worst among backs as a blocker (supposedly a strength), but his 2.8 per carry average is sixth-worst (minimum 25 carries).
The Dolphins’ front office and some coaches still believe that Thomas, a second-round pick, is much better than his statistics suggest, and capable of being a very good NFL back. We’re still waiting for proof. In the meantime, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said he wants to keep giving Thomas carries.
Coach Joe Philbin said Miller has enjoyed more success than Thomas partly because “he had better opportunities and more room to run.”
This stuck out to us: Whether it’s offensive line breakdowns or inability to find creases, Thomas is being hit more quickly than most backs in the league.
He’s averaging 2.3 yards after contact (18th best) – eye-opening considering his per-carry average is just 2.8 -- whereas Miller is averaging 1.4 after contact, fourth-worst among all backs. Thomas said he cannot explain that oddity but acknowledges he needs to work on finding holes.
### Defensive end: In May, some fans clamored for the Dolphins to sign Miami native Elvis Dumervil, whose Ravens visit the Dolphins Sunday. John Abraham also tried to persuade the Dolphins to sign him, but Miami chased neither vigorously.
Instead, the Dolphins stuck with Olivier Vernon (1.5 sacks, 13 hurries, 9 tackles) and Derrick Shelby (two sacks, two forced fumbles), while slowly bringing along Dion Jordan (one sack, six hurries).
Pro Football Focus has graded out Dumervil (two sacks, 10 hurries, 11 tackles playing outside linebacker) much higher than Vernon, and Dumervil historically has been a high-impact player (11 sacks in 2012). But Vernon graded out very well against the Saints.
With Jordan and Vernon needing to be developed, Miami can justify passing on Dumervil, who is due $26 million over the next five years. But the Dolphins could have signed Dumervil and played Jordan at outside linebacker, which is where his former Oregon defensive coordinator believes he is best suited.
As for Abraham, he has been a non-factor for Arizona (four tackles, no sacks).
### Reshad Jones, awarded a $29 million contract in August, has slipped from second in PFF’s 2012 safety rankings to 69th (of 87) this season and has allowed 11 of 13 passes thrown in his coverage area to be caught, for 166 yards.
“I have been playing solid, but I've made no game-changing plays,” he bemoaned this past week. “You will see me come up with interceptions.”
### Unraveling the mystery regarding Dolphins defensive lineman Vaughn Martin, who was placed on the injured list even though the Dolphins never once said he was injured: We hear Martin began suffering abdominal pain after the Falcons game and was diagnosed with a hernia. Though doctors said he could play later this season, the Dolphins did want to use up the roster spot. But they will be required to cut him when he’s healthy. Marvin Austin played well in 18 snaps as his replacement on Monday.
### Several of the eight Committee of Infractions members who are ruling on UM’s case told us last week they cannot comment. But an NCAA official cited the complexity of the case as the reason for the near-four month wait for a ruling since the mid-June hearing.
“They talked about getting it to us fast,” one UM official said. “It’s B.S. Frustrating and baffling.”
### Though Kevin Olsen was the much higher-rated prospect, much-improved UM backup quarterback Ryan Williams said: “I feel like I should be able to earn the starting job” in 2014 after Stephen Morris leaves. "I feel very good about it. It will be an open competition. Fans look at ratings, and I wasn’t highly rated. Fans hold that as a negative [against me].”
Williams said even though his arm strength was considered “a negative” when he signed originally with Memphis, he can now throw a ball “60-to-65 yards and accurately” --– a “10-to-15 yard improvement” from when he transferred here. “I can’t throw it as fast or hard as Stephen, but I’ve improved.”
### ESPN’s Scouts Inc. raised Morris to 30th among all NFL Draft prospects, and fifth among quarterbacks, two spots behind Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel.
### Please see the last post for UM-Georgia Tech postscripts, notes and reaction.
### Heat players have been trying to uplift and support Michael Beasley – LeBron James called him one of the NBA’s most talented players; Dwyane Wade said he’s “the sparkplug this team needed.”
But, as Shane Battier said: “It’s up to Beasley [and other newcomers] to acclimate to our culture. If you don’t, you look like an idiot.”
Beasley said: “I’m where I need to be talent-wise” but also said he must learn to make “hustle plays” and is “petrified” because the Heat “doesn’t need” his biggest strength (scoring).
### Most surreal moment for a Heat player this offseason? Battier, who's a celebrity in China because of a marketing deal with a sneaker company, took a flight from Beijing last month, and 300 fans were waiting for him –- at 3 in the morning, no less –- at an airport in Nanning, China.
They stood cheering, holding signs, asking for pictures and autographs and giving him flowers. “Mind-blowing,” he said.
### As of Saturday, the Marlins remained very much in the mix for Cuban defector Jose Dariel Abreu, who hit .374 with 35 homers in 71 games in 2012 and .382 with 13 homers in 42 games this season. The Giants are reportedly the favorite to sign him, according to MLB.com. But the Marlins were expected to make a legitimate bid.
Abreu worked out for teams this past week, including a Marlins contingent led by GM Dan Jennings. Abreu, 26, could play third base, but first base is considered his better position.
### Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera, dealt by the Marlins in the worst trade in team history, on the state of baseball in South Florida: “To see this, it’s sad. Baseball could be popular like basketball here. They were [drawing fans] before trading Hanley Ramirez.”
### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz