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2 posts from October 26, 2013

October 26, 2013

Disturbing trend that should concern Dolphins; Fins, Heat, UM, Marlins notes; UM-Wake postscripts


Whenever the Dolphins face New England, we’re always reminded how Bill Belichick can take players that the Dolphins deemed expendable –-- specifically Wes Welker (now with Denver) and Rob Ninkovich (19.5 sacks over the past three-plus seasons) – and turn them into key starters.

This raises a larger disconcerting issue: Of the veterans that joined the Dolphins from other NFL teams in recent years – via trade or free agency – several have become less productive after coming here.

Conversely, several key veterans who recently bolted Miami have become more productive elsewhere.

What does this say about the Dolphins? In many ways, it’s a reflection of coaching, of personnel evaluation, of the player’s maturity, of the quality of players around them, among other factors.

A few points to consider:

### It’s notable that many of the veterans that moved on from Miami during Jeff Ireland's tenure --– though some of the early decisions were made by Bill Parcells –-- have performed clearly better elsewhere, from Brandon Marshall (averaged 83 catches in two years here; 106 in four other recent years with the Broncos and Bears); to Ninkovich (a backup and special teams player here); to Philadelphia’s Evan Mathis (cut by Miami and now rated the NFL’s No. 1 guard by Pro Football Focus), to Reggie Bush (averaging 121 yards per game with Detroit, compared with 79.8 last season in Miami).

Cornerback Sean Smith, rated the 74th best cornerback last season with Miami, is 12th with the Chiefs, and the quarterback rating in his coverage area has dropped from 85.1 to 58.2.

Vontae Davis, traded for a second-rounder that Miami used on cornerback Jamar Taylor, has risen to fourth among all cornerbacks and drew praise for his work last Sunday against Denver’s high-octane offense. He was 37th in 2011, his last season in Miami.

Jake Long, ranked 46th among all tackles last season, has jumped to 12th in his first season with St. Louis.

In Marshall’s case, it obviously helped having a better quarterback (Jay Cutler over Chad Henne). But questionable coaching and evaluation also have been  factors. The Dolphins mistakenly didn’t believe Mathis was worth developing and didn’t see the pass-rushing upside in Ninkovich that Belichick did.

This coaching staff couldn’t maximize Bush’s unique gifts in the open field. And the Chiefs are allowing Smith to play press/man coverage, which he preferred and thrives in. The Dolphins used him a lot in off-zone and off-man, which everyone knew wasn’t his strength. No wonder he's playing a lot better in Kansas City.

In fairness, a few players –-- Ted Ginn Jr., Greg Camarillo and Ronnie Brown –-- put up lesser numbers after leaving Miami, but that’s largely because they went from being starters to backups.

### Also worrisome: Though the sample size is still limited with this season’s additions, several veterans have become less productive after signing here.

Mike Wallace is on pace for fewer than three touchdowns; he averaged eight his previous four seasons. Dannell Ellerbe, ranked 14th among all inside linebackers by Pro Football Focus as a Raven in 2012, has dropped to 32nd here. Phillip Wheeler has plunged from sixth to 19th among outside linebackers since leaving Oakland for the Dolphins.

Tackle Tyson Clabo went from allowing five sacks all of last season for Atlanta to eight in six games with Miami, a pace that would easily shatter the NFL record. (He won't get the chance because he's headed to the bench.) And the list goes on, from Richard Marshall to Brandon Marshall to nearly the entire eight-man 2012 free agent class that signed and was cut months later.

There are myriad factors: injury (in Lance Louis’ case), to diminishing skills (Clabo) to an overestimation of players skills when they’re signed (Legedu Naanee, many others).

Two very recent former NFL general managers who asked not to be named said they were dumbfounded by the Dolphins giving a $27 million contract to Wheeler, who’s allowing a 121 quarterback rating in his coverage area and missed a key third-down tackle on Buffalo’s final possession before its winning field goal last Sunday.

Coaching assuredly also plays a part, including how Wallace is being used.

Conversely, what veterans acquired by Miami in the past four years have become clearly more productive after coming here? Not many: Richie Incognito (thanks largely to his improved maturity), Matt Moore and Brandon Gibson, who's on pace for 858 receiving yards, which would top his career high of 691.

So what conclusions should we draw from all this? Former Falcons, Packers and Raiders executive Ken Herock said coaching is a factor in some of this (as in Smith’s case) and noted “most GMs listen to the coach, and with a new coach, there’s always something you don’t like about a certain player.”

For example, Joe Philbin was troubled by Davis’ immaturity, which was obvious on HBO’s Hard Knocks in 2012. Philbin was excessively irked about Davis needing to go to the bathroom once during practice in August 2012 and endorsed trading him when Ireland presented the idea to the coach.

The Colts view him far differently. "Since he walked in this door, I've seen this guy every day get better and take on a leadership role," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said last week. "He's got that mental makeup you need to play out there on an island."

So Philbin probably was too hasty in judging Davis.

“Davis is still a good starting corner and those are tough to find,” Herock said. “You don’t let him go. He's better than what they have. And I would rather have Kevin Burnett than Philip Wheeler for $27 million. Reggie Bush is better than what they have.”

Bottom line: When many of your key players play better after they leave, it raises questions not only about player evaluation but whether the coaching staff can maximize their talents.


### Jonathan Martin hasn't complained at all about moving back to right tackle, the upshot of Miami’s trade for Bryant McKinnie. But he admitted recently he was uncomfortable playing on the right side at times in 2012, and he gave up the most quarterback hurries of any right tackle last season (47) – even more than turnstile Marc Colombo’s league-leading 40 for the Dolphins in 2011.

Martin said at times this season, “I look at film and say: ‘I’m not sure who that guy is.’” He expects more of himself…. Though McKinnie has allowed only one sack, he’s rated the worst run-blocking left tackle in the league, per PFF.

The one right tackle Miami coveted in free agency was Gosder Cherilus but the Dolphins wouldn’t match the five-year, $34.5 million deal he took from the Colts. Cherilus has allowed one sack.

### Cameron Wake, off a knee injury, wasn’t himself in 22 snaps last Sunday, and the Dolphins hope that changes against New England. Though teammates said Wake looked better this week, he said Friday: “I’m not pleased. When you do what I do, this injury is quite a bit more [impactful] than other positions.”

### One encouraging sign with the Heat’s Michael Beasley: He was often a ball-stopper during his first stint here --– partly because the Heat isolated him a lot --- but Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem said that’s changing. “It’s not sticking,” Haslem said.

Beasley cracked: “I only play 10 minutes a game. I don’t have time to hold the ball! The more the ball sticks, the less chance for our shooters to get it quickly.”

We all know, as Ray Allen said, that Beasley “can create his own shot.” But Allen said: “If he can create shots for others, if he added that, it would be lights out. If Beasley and Greg Oden get to the point where they’re playing at the high level they’re capable of, it will be a scary roster.”

### Plantation American Heritage's Sony Michel, rated the nation's No. 2 running back by rivals.com, attended the UM game Saturday and continues to be heavily recruited by Miami. But Michel told rivals.com last week that he remains "100 percent" committed to Georgia... Elite football/basketball recruit Derrick Griffin tweeted that he will enroll at UM Jan. 2, but the Hurricanes don't have official word yet that he has qualified. They remain hopeful. He could practice with the basketball team this season but cannot play this season because of NCAA rules, UM says.

### Two rookie Hurricanes basketball players cut in the past two days: forward Kenny Kadji by Cleveland and forward Trey McKinney-Jones by Milwaukee.... Please see the last post for UM-Wake Forest postscripts and reaction.

### The Marlins quietly gave three-year extensions, through 2018, to their recently promoted top two baseball executives: Michael Hill and Dan Jennings… The Marlins tell us that they have decided not to bring in the fences at Marlins Park, despite the wishes of Giancarlo Stanton, who said in September that the park is too big and “everyone” knows it. Pitchers disagree, of course.  

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz   

UM-Wake Forest postscripts, reaction; Heat cuts; Miller vs. Heat update; Media notes

Postscripts from UM’s 24-21 win against Wake Forest Saturday at Sun Life Stadium:

### Another disconcerting first three quarters. Another great escape in the fourth. Bottom line: Miami opens 7-0 for the first time since 2003 and extends its winning streak to nine overall (tied with Oregon for fourth in the country as of 4 p.m. today).

Once again, there was plenty of angst along the way: UM -- which didn't take its first lead until 5:36 remained in the game -- became the first FBS team to win three straight games in which it trailed by double figures (Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Wake) since Michigan in 2007, according to ESPN.

### Among Al Golden's comments afterward, from his postgame press conference and WQAM interview: “I was more worried than ever this week because nobody was talking about Wake. Everybody was talking about the NCAA. I was proud of the way we fought. It wasn’t all pretty. We missed some tackles. What can you say about the effort Duke Johnson gave? Just the way he did it. So proud of him. As tough as you can be. He lowered his pads. His stiff arm was awesome all day. He ran with a purpose and anger we haven't seen from him. What tremendous conditioning!" 

“I know it wasn’t all perfect for Stephen Morris. It’s not going to be. But he made really good decisions. He looked better mechanically than he has over the last three weeks…. I know it wasn’t all perfect. It can’t be. It’s college football. There are no quality points.

“Our guys found a way to win. Wake dinked and dunked us. We’ve got to tackle better.... Everybody here is exhausted. It’s almost like everybody just wants to go to sleep. It’s been that kind of week” –-- with the NCAA sanctions and Saturday’s stressful game. In his first news conference since the NCAA decision, Golden said: "Obviously, the kids were thrilled. You want to talk about an emotional roller-coaster!" 

### Johnson has produced games with more explosive runs, but this might have been the most timely and impactful performance of his young career. His 30 carries shattered his previous career high (22 against Georgia Tech this season). Remember that he never had more than 16 carries in a game last season.

His 168 yards fell 18 short of his career high (186 in the season-opening blowout of FAU). He did his best work when Miami needed him most, churning out 87 yards and scoring touchdowns on the Canes’ final two drives, both of which put Miami ahead.

“I put all the thanks in coach for trusting me with the ball after the number of times I fumbled [earlier in the season],” he said. He had no fumbles Saturday on a day the Canes didn't commit a turnover. It was the seventh time he has topped 100 yards.

### Credit offensive coordinator James Coley for excellent play-calling on Miami’s final two drives, and the offensive line and Clive Walford (among others) for good work creating holes for Johnson, Dallas Crawford and Stacy Coley (who had nine yards on a reverse on the next to last drive).

The first drive, ending in a Duke four-yard TD run, covered 51 yards in eight plays. The second, ending in Duke’s game-winning one-yard TD with 53 seconds left, covered 73 yards in 10 plays, lasting 3:09. Duke delivered 37 yards on the first of those two drives, 50 on the other. He probably should have been given a touchdown on a 9-yard run that was reviewed with 59 seconds left, just before his game-winning score.

“The offensive line wanted to run it, and Duke did a great job,” Stephen Morris said. “Offensively, we did a pretty good job.”

### Morris was erratic early, overthrowing a few passes. But he threw an excellent deep ball to Herb Waters for a 35-yard TD late in the first half, guided UM efficiently on the final two drives, didn’t throw a pick and closed 17 for 28 for 191 yards.

“I really learned from last week,” he said of the four-pick game against UNC. “I’m glad last week happened. It made me get back to the basics. You always want to stay positive in the huddle.”

### Two remarkable catches: Clive Walford's one-handed grab on the TD drive late in the first half, and Stacy Coley bobbling the ball three times before grabbing it and holding on, while on his back, for a 42-yard reception. Coley finished with two catches for 52 yards, Walford 4 for 33.

Other receiving numbers: Waters 4 for 47 and a TD, Allen Hurns 2 for 25 after returning from a hip pointer, Asante Cleveland 2 for 18 (his first two catches of the year) and Malcolm Lewis 2 for 9. Rashawn Scott did not play, according to WQAM.

### With FSU looming Saturday, UM’s defense must do a better job on third downs (Wake converted its first 6 and finished 8 for 16) and defending screens and shallow crosses. Tackling MUST improve.

Freshman cornerback Artie Burns, awarded his most playing time of season, was beaten several times. Tyrone Cornelius was beaten, and then failed to make the tackle, on the 44-yard TD pass to Dominique Gibson that put Wake ahead with 4:02 left.

Wake QB Tanner Price closed 25 for 45 for 302 yards; Michael Campanero caught 10 passes for 88 yards.

There were positives defensively: More exemplary work from Shayon Green, who had a sack and a few other high impact plays.… Antonio Crawford sealed the game with a late pick… Crawford and Tracy Howard knocked away passes on Wake’s next-to-last drive, before Gibson’s big touchdown.

### UM’s first four drives of the second half couldn’t have been more frustrating. The first ended with Matt Goudis missing to the left on a 40-yard field goal. The second stalled with Dallas Crawford (7 carries, 35 yards) failing to convert on a 4th and 1 from the Wake 10.

On the third, Jon Feliciano was beaten, forcing Morris to throw incomplete on a third and five. On the fourth, Waters caught a two-yard pass on a 3rd and 4, and Golden opted to punt from the Wake 38. Wake’s 14-10 halftime lead thus held up until Miami’s fifth drive of the half, which ended with Duke’s four-yard run to put UM briefly ahead.

“It’s deflating if you let it be,” Golden said of the first few second-half drives. “But our guys just move on. It’s a credit to them. They have complete belief they’re going to go down and score.”

### Asked about the media frenzy that awaits for FSU week, Golden said: "With all respect, there has been more national exposure the past 28 months than any of us can handle. If it's about football, we're all in."

### Short stuff: Seantrel Henderson again came off the bench, as did Deon Bush… Cornelius and Green had UM’s only sacks… UM opened in a 4-3, unlike past games…Coley was effective on punt returns (2 for 37 yards)... Wake fell to 1-53 against top 10 teams…UM’s nine wins in a row trail only Ohio State (19), Alabama (11) and Baylor (10). Oregon will try to stretch its streak to 10 games against UCLA tonight. FSU entered Saturday's N.C. State game on an eight-game win streak.


As expected, the Heat cut its roster to the maximum-permitted 15 by releasing Eric Griffin and Justin Hamilton on Saturday.

Of the 15 players on the Heat's roster, only two have non-guaranteed contracts: forward Michael Beasley and guard Roger Mason Jr. Both won roster spots in training camp, and their contracts would become guaranteed for the entire season if they remain on the roster past Jan. 10.

Griffin, a rookie from Campbell who impressed the Heat with his athleticism, said Friday he is considering playing in China, though it's conceivable another NBA team could claim him.

Hamilton, the Heat's second-round pick out of LSU in 2012, said he would consider an offer in the NBDL. The Heat is looking to stock its NBDL affiliate in Souix Falls, S.D.

Teams have until 5 p.m. Monday to reduce their rosters to 15. Teams must keep at least 13 players.

The Heat opens the regular season at home Tuesday against Chicago.


Please see the last post for the weekly media column and an update on the Mike Miller/Heat legal situation. Check back tonight for the Sunday buzz, with Dolphins, Heat and Marlins. Twitter: @flasportsbuzz.