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2 posts from November 26, 2013

November 26, 2013

Wed. 7 p.m. update: LeBron address Cleveland media; UM talking to FIU about renewing football series; Fins, Marlins

The Wednesday buzz column is below. First, an update from an interesting Heat scene tonight in Cleveland:

CLEVELAND – Four men unaffiliated with the Cavaliers stood across the street from Quicken Loans Arena, in freezing temperatures, handing out “Come Home LeBron” T-shirts before the Heat-Cavaliers game on Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, LeBron James stood outside the Heat’s locker-room before the game, acknowledging that the T-shirt giveaway is “very flattering” but offering no clue to his intentions next summer, when he can become a free agent.

Asked if he will ever return to the Cavaliers, James said: “You guys know I’m not talking about free agency right now. My only concern is hopefully win a third straight championship.”

James said “it’s always fun to be back” and that returning to Cleveland “is still weird. I stayed home last night. I’m going to stay home tonight. To drive up to the arena and actually walking into the first locker-room is still weird. I spent seven years here.”

James offered an amusing answer when asked if the bitterness from Cavaliers fans has dissipated. “I have no idea. I haven’t done the whole Family Feud thing where you ask 100 people on the street, ‘Do you still like LeBron or not?’”

Asked what reaction he expects from the fans: “I don’t know. That’s not for me to worry about. If you’re not wearing [their uniforms] they don’t like you. That’s how it should be.”

What does he miss about Cleveland? “I’ve always said the fans are amazing, the excitement they give to their team. It’s one of the best in the league [with] OKC, Chicago, Detroit, San Antonio, Miami for sure.”

The four men handing out the T-shirts were not permitted on arena grounds and instead stood across the street, near a garage. About 20 people were lined up for shirts when a truck delivered them two hours before the game.

Tom Miano, one of the 20, conceded the T-shirt giveaway “will make no difference” in James’ decision, admitted he booed James vociferously when he first returned to Cleveland as a member of the Heat and said he simply wanted a free T-shirt. “But we need him,” Miano said.

Joe Wisniewski, a student who also waited for a shirt, said he planned to sit behind the Heat’s bench and cheer James.

### James said his back is about 95 percent: “It started the season at about 50. It’s sore in the morning, when I first wake up. I’ve felt great the last few weeks.”

### James said: “I’m the most complete player I’ve been. I feel like I’m a better player. I’m not done. I’m not satisfied where I’m at…. Everything is comfortable for me. I’m in a good place right now.”

###  Forward Shane Battier traveled with the team but missed Wednesday’s game with the flu, allowing Udonis Haslem a chance to play after being a DNP-CD the past two games (did not play/coach’s decision).

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WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Hurricanes chatter:

### Seven years after an ugly brawl prompted the Hurricanes to end their football series with FIU, UM says it’s now willing to play the Golden Panthers again.

Though talks are still in the early stages, both sides have expressed willingness to renew the football series and potentially resume playing in other sports as well.

“Our hope would be we are able to work something out,” UM athletic director Blake James said of football specifically. “We would play one game at Sun Life for sure and then explore opportunities for  other potential games.”

FIU president Mark Rosenberg said he spoke to UM president Donna Shalala about the universities starting fresh and playing again. “It’s something we would like,” he said. “She would like to see it.”

FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said his stadium would not be big enough to host a football game against UM, but he would be interested in having one game at Sun Life and another at a different venue, with Marlins Park a possibility.

UM hasn’t played FIU in any sport since 2010 and decided not to play the Golden Panthers in football and basketball, beyond games already scheduled, after a bench-clearing brawl marred the 2006 football game.

The brawl started in the third quarter after an FIU player pushed Miami's holder on a PAT attempt in what many considered a cheap shot. UM’s Anthony Reddick swung a helmet at FIU players, UM’s Brandon Meriweather kicked an FIU player, and FIU’s A’Mod Ned swung at Miami players with his crutches.

Thirteen players were ejected and 31 were given additional one-game suspensions. The teams played in 2007, without incident, in a game that had already been scheduled, with UM winning 23-9.

It makes sense for UM and FIU to play in multiple sports, considering their proximity, and it’s good to see both sides willing to move past the brawl.

### UM and the NCAA have offered some clarity about exactly how the UM’s football scholarship sanctions will work, and it’s pretty manageable from Miami’s perspective. Though UM can allocate its nine-scholarship loss any way it chooses over the next three years, it must take at least one a year.

If UM decides, hypothetically, to dock itself five scholarships in 2014 and three the next, then UM could have 80 players under scholarship in 2014 (five below the NCAA limit) and 82 in 2015. Though UM will be docked nine scholarships in all, it would never be required to cut down to 76 scholarship players (85 minus nine). And remember that UM only has about 76 players under scholarship this season.

UM signed and enrolled fewer than 20 in the 2013 class and can accommodate its 27 oral commitments and a few other late additions by counting some of the January 2014 arrivals toward the 2013 class.

### UM continues to pursue several UF oral commitments, including four-star Immokalee cornerback JC Jackson and Miami Central four-star running back Dalvin Cook (who will visit UM Dec. 7), and hopes to seize on the Gators’ on-field struggles. FSU also is very much in play for Cook.

Jackson told Canesport.com that UM has a “pretty good chance” of luring him: “Because they’ve played defense badly, I can come in there and be an impact player.”

### Four-star receiver Johnnie Dixon is the top uncommitted player UM covets, and Palm Beach Dwyer coach Jack Daniels e-mailed that UM remains the front-runner but “it’s close,” with Alabama, N.C.State and Ohio State in pursuit. He plans to announce the weekend of Dec. 7.

### UM isn’t assuming that highly-regarded football/basketball prospect Derrick Griffin will qualify academically but will gladly take him if he does. Griffin has insisted on Twitter that he’s enrolling at Miami in January, but UM doesn’t have evidence that he has qualified yet. Griffin is a four-star prospect in both sports, as a receiver and power forward.

CHATTER

### Cameron Wake, the Dolphins’ best defensive player, has been on the bench for 23, 16 and 18 defensive snaps in the past three games and consistently plays less than the Dolphins’ other starting end, Olivier Vernon. Why is that?

“People say he’s not playing enough, but Cam is playing against 350-pound tackles and they’re chipping him,” defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers said. “You want to keep him fresh for the fourth quarter. O.V. gets one-on-ones and no chipping. Wake gets chipped and doubled.”

### It’s difficult to find many things the Dolphins have done really well this year, but here’s one: They’ve permitted only one touchdown pass to a receiver. And of the 20 NFL cornerbacks who have allowed the lowest passer ratings in the league, four are Dolphins: Dimitri Patterson (36.1), Nolan Carroll (64.5), Brent Grimes (67.5) and Jimmy Wilson (69.4).

### The Dolphins are considering promoting safety Jordan Kovacs to the 53-man roster for the second time this season. Miami began Tuesday with two open roster spots and filled one with defensive tackle A.J. Francis, who spent training camp with Miami and the past two-plus months with New England's practice squad.

### The Marlins have been receiving interesting trade offers for first baseman Logan Morrison, to the point that they will now strongly consider dealing him in the coming weeks, according to a source in touch with the Marlins' front office. The Marlins aren’t sure what they would do at first base if they trade Morrison. Fox's Ken Rosenthal mentioned pricey free agent Mike Napoli as a possibility but not a likelihood.

### Several Ohio residents are mounting a “Come Home LeBron” campaign and will distribute 2000 T-shirts at Wednesday’s Heat-Cavaliers game and then erect two billboards encouraging James to sign with Cleveland.

One will be near James’ former high school, St. Vincent-St. Mary.

Those who take a picture wearing the shirt and tweet @Come Home LeBron will be eligible to win 2014-15 Cavaliers season tickets.

“Our main goal is not to beg him to come back,” Josh Raggi, one of the organizers, told The Akron Beacon Journal. “We’re going to accept him coming back…. We realize LeBron had a point [when he left for the Heat in 2010]. He didn’t have the supporting cast here he needed to win.”

### A friend of James said he could envision James signing with only the Heat or Cavaliers next summer, barring something totally unexpected, and makes the Heat the favorite.

### Cavs forward Anderson Varejao was asked by Cleveland media on Tuesday about the possibility of James returning next summer.

“It could happen,” he said. “Bron is from Akron… Eventually in his career, he probably want to play at home…

“The way he left was wrong. But regardless, he helped me a lot, helped my game and helped me as a person. I have nothing against him.”

Dolphins, Canes, Heat tidbits: Coaching, bowl projections, LeBron

A few Tuesday quick hits:

### Whereas Joe Philbin never admits mistakes publicly, his coordinators sometimes second-guess their decisions in their weekly news conferences, and it’s refreshing.

Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle not only blamed himself for the loose coverage that led to a 29-yard catch to set up Carolina’s field goal to end the first half, but he also admitted he guessed wrong on the Panthers’ go-ahead touchdown: a one-yard pass to Greg Olsen in the final minute.

“They’ve run a certain type of play on the goal-line consistently,” Coyle said. “They weren’t a passing team in the red zone at all, particularly not down on the goal-line. With the fact there was 40 some-odd seconds left and it was first-and-goal inside the one (yard line), I felt strongly they were going to run the ball. We took a shot trying to make a play down there on the goal-line, and we weren’t in a good position to cover the tight end.”

### With 12 drops, Mike Wallace now leads the league in that category… Though ProFootballFocus ranks Philip Wheeler 33rd of 34 outside linebackers in a 4-3, his play has improved recently. Sunday “was one of his better games,” Coyle said. “He was very, very active. I think he ended up with about 12 total tackles in the game by our count. He had his hands on three balls.”... Coyle said Nolan Carroll played his best game in Coyle's tenure here.

### Sigh: Among tackles in PFF’s rankings, St. Louis Ram and ex-Dolphin Jake Long has risen to fourth among 79, compared with 50th for Bryant McKinnie and 69th for Tyson Clabo…. Tannehill’s third down numbers have dipped in recent weeks. His 71.9 passer rating on third downs is better than only five other starters: EJ Manuel, Terrelle Pryor, Christian Ponder, Tony Romo and Joe Flacco…. The Dolphins have dropped to 26th in run defense and 19th in overall defense. Not good.

### If Daniel Thomas doesn't play again this season -- he's out indefinitely with a severe ankle sprain --- then this would mark the third time in his three-year career that he produced an underwhelming yards-per-carry average. He averaged 3.5 as a rookie, 3.6 last season and 3.6 again this season. This year, that average is tied for 35th among 51 running backs who have played at least a quarter of his team's snaps. But Miami hopes he can return late in the season.

### The Dolphins have two roster spots to fill after releasing defensive tackle Isaako Aaitui and safety DJ Campbell on Monday night.

### Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said Monday that he will have “plenty to say” about the BullyGate investigation when it’s over.

### Please see the last post for my analysis of the Dolphins fourth-quarter offensive inadequacies the past two months. 

### If UM beats Pittsburgh on Friday, here’s what Canes fans need to root for Saturday, and when: for North Carolina to upset Duke at noon on ESPN2, and for Virginia to upset Virginia Tech at 3:30 p.m. on ESPNU. If all three happen, UM would go to the ACC championship. (Yes, it’s unlikely.)

Duke is a 5 ½ point favorite, Virginia Tech a 13-point favorite. Miami is a three-point favorite against Pitt.

### ESPN’s bowl projections have UM playing one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in a bowl game: either vs. Texas A&M in the Chick fil-A Bowl New Year’s Eve in Atlanta, or against Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl at 6:45 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 28 in Orlando.

### ESPN projects Ohio State or Wisconsin to play Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

### UM defensive end David Gilbert, an honorable mention All-Big 10 selection as a starter on a very good Wisconsin team last season, admitted Monday that he was so upset about his limited playing time at Miami earlier this season that he asked himself, “Why did I even come here?”

But he said he then learned to “check my ego” and realized this “is Shayon Green’s team.” (First time I ever heard anyone refer to the Hurricanes as "Shayon Green's team.")

### Yet another area where LeBron James has improved: He’s shooting 18 for 37 on three-pointers (48.6 percent) and has increased his percentage every year as a member of the Heat, from 33.0 to 36.2 to 40.6 to 48.6.

### Even in agreeing to pay Kobe Bryant $24 million next season, the Lakers still will have room to add a max player in free agency next summer. But a close associate of LeBron James said he absolutely could not envision him signing there.