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2 posts from October 5, 2013

October 05, 2013

Young Dolphins trying to earn trust; Fins, Heat, UM, Marlins chatter; UM-Ga. Tech postscripts

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).

CHATTER

### 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 BeasleyLeBron 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   

Postscripts, notes, quotes from UM's win against Georgia Tech

Postscripts from UM’s 45-30 win against Georgia Tech on Saturday at Sun Life Stadium:

### These games against Tech are usually angst-ridden, but UM again found a way, overcoming an early 17-7 hole and unleashing a 38-6 run to seize control before a meaningless late Tech score with 10 seconds remaining.

There was Duke Johnson shaking off an early lost fumble to piece together another exemplary game (22 carries, 184 yards; 1 catch, 27 yards; 4 for 114 on kick returns ).

There was Stephen Morris shaking off two picks and closing 17 for 22 for 324 yards and three touchdowns.

There were dynamic plays from Rayshawn Jenkins and Ladarius Gunter, who each had key fourth-quarter picks, with Gunter returning his 30 yards for a touchdown to push UM’s cushion to 44-23 with 1:46 left.

And there was exceptional work from receivers Allen Hurns (4 for 108), Stacy Coley (3 for 74 in his first career start) and Philip Dorsett (4 for 66).

### Al Golden’s take afterward, on WQAM: “I learned a lot about our team. We knew it would be tough. I’m proud of them. Total team win. You couldn’t be in a worse situation. It did look bleak. But everyone dug deep. It’s a different team [than last year].

“Great adjustments by Mark D’Onofrio. The defensive staff was great. When Mark got to halftime and drew them up, the guys came out with a vengeance. Mark made a shift up front. They took away [Tech’s rushing offense]. If you said we would have [four] turnovers and win the game, I’d say I have some sand to sell you. It says a lot about our team and the way we’re playing.”

### After allowing 150 yards rushing in the first quarter, UM relinquished 185 the rest of the day. Tech finished averaging 5.3 per carry, but UM averaged 7.3 per carry.

And UM held Georgia Tech quarterbacks to 66 yards through the air, on dismal 6 for 19 accuracy.

### Besides each of their picks, Gunter also made a terrific play on a third quarter run, forcing a five-yard loss, and Jenkins deflected a pass earlier in the half.

And there were a bunch of other key defensive plays in the second half: Anthony Chickillo snuffed out a run for no gain or a third and three, then added another tackle for loss on Tech’s next series… Shayon Green had a sack, the second of his career and second in two weeks…. And Tyriq McCord had a sack (and forced a fumble that Tech recovered) before Gunter’s late pick-six.

### Defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio made a good call on two key Georgia Tech plays with UM leading 31-23 and just over five minutes left. On the first, he blitzed Denzel Perryman and Tracy Howard, forcing an incompletion on a third and seven from the UM 38. On the next, he went to a 3-4 defense after using a 4-3 most of the day, and Jenkins got the interception.

“We were looking for the right opportunity to get into our three-down package,” D’Onofrio said. “That was unbelievably executed by our guys. Jenkins got the pick and that was exactly what he was coached to do.”

### Tech burned UM on the perimeter in the first half, but UM wasn't exploited on the edges nearly as much in the second half.

D’Onofrio said Tech, early on “gave us something we haven’t seen in a couple years we played them, something they hadn't shown previously. So we had to scramble there a little bit. We were able to settle the guys down. I was able to draw up stuff on the board, get [them] lined up correctly. We were able to do a really good job in the third and fourth quarters. We could have played better.

“There were times in the first quarter guys were freelancing, maybe playing a little tentative and nervous. Once we settled them down and locked them in, the difference in the third and fourth quarters was guys doing their job.”

D’Onofrio said “It was important we could [rotate] four inside guys. We didn’t want to get tired. Kelvin Cain was our second-team Mike linebacker because he played against this [before]. Nantambu Fentress [played]... It takes everyone not pouting and executing their role. Fortunately, we have a lot of flexibility right now.”

### Golden said “the difference between the 2012 and 2013 Canes is finishing plays” like Gunter’s.

### Golden, on Duke’s fumble, after two last week: “We can’t say: ‘Duke, sit on the bench the rest of the day because you fumbled.’ I don’t know if there’s a running back in college football that hasn’t gone through a [stretch] like this. Don’t dwell on it.... He's going to get it fixed. I don't have a concern level.

### UM closed with 551 yards, Tech 401. “Over 10 yards a play [on average offensively],” Golden said. (10.4 to be exact.) “You take the turnovers away, it could have been a prolific day. Blocked it really well. James Coley called a great game.”

And UM’s ability to run the ball and drain the clock late was encouraging. After the Jenkins pick, UM pieced together a six-play, 66-yard drive in 3:27 –-- all running plays (five by Duke, one by Dallas Crawford) --– to push the margin to 38-23. Crawford finished that drive with an 18-yard touchdown, his second of the day, shortly before Gunter's pick-six.

Crawford had scored on a three-yard run earlier in the quarter after a key 44-yard pass from Morris to Coley, pushing the lead to 31-23 at the time.

### It’s easy for overlook what a solid, reliable player Hurns is. Hurns had his first career 100-yard receiving day highlighted by his 69-yard TD catch late in the third quarter (49 yards coming on yards after catch) to break a 17-17 tie. "That is a smart football player," Golden said. "He studies the game."

### The Canes overcame four turnovers: the two Morris picks, the Johnson fumble (he was stripped on the play), and a Dorsett fumbled punt to open the fourth quarter, which led to Tech’s TD that sliced UM’s lead to 24-23. (Tech missed the extra point.)

### Morris, afterward: “There’s a lot of room for improvement. We turned the ball over too much. A couple times, we got beat by a holding call. The offensive line had the best game of their life.”

Morris had his fifth career 300-yard passing game and has thrown at least one touchdown in 10 games in a row.

### With Seantrel Henderson suspended for violating team rules, Jon Feliciano started at right tackle. But Brandon Linder ended up playing much of the game there.... Golden said Henderson was not at the game but will be reinstated (he didn't say when). He did say they will talk on Sunday.

### Shayon Green (nine) and Justin Renfro (six) set careers highs in tackles... Jimmy Gaines had a fumble recovery for the second game in a row... Denzel Perryman led UM with 10 tackles.

### UM fell behind in a game for the first time this season, leaving Washington, Louisville and Ohio State as the only major-college teams not to trail in a game this season.

### UM became the first team to beat Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson five games in a row. And for the first time, Golden reached .500 in his career as a coach (45-45).

“Anytime you take over a job like we did at Temple, where they won 10 games in 10 years before you got there, it’s going to take time to get to .500,” D’Onofrio said. “Good for him. He’s done an unbelievable job here.”

### Check back late tonight for the Sunday buzz.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz