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26 posts from November 2013

November 30, 2013

Miller, Jordan show flashes but Dolphins want more; Fins, Heat, Canes, Marlins

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

They entered this season as the young players that the Dolphins were most excited to unleash on their respective sides of the ball: Dion Jordan on defense and second-year running back Lamar Miller on offense.

Eleven games in, both have flashed the skills that general manager Jeff Ireland found so intoxicating. But for each, there is so much more to prove.

With Miller, the question entering 2013 remains unanswered: Is he an above-average starting back?

“There’s no question he’s a starting NFL back,” Dolphins running backs coach Jeff Nixon said last week. “There’s so much potential he hasn’t tapped into. He has a great running back build. He has strength and vision and excellent hands and tremendous speed. As a pass protector, he has improved significantly.”

With Daniel Thomas sidelined indefinitely with an ankle injury, we’ll learn a lot more about Miller beginning Sunday against a Jets team that leads the league in run defense. Miller ranks just 30th in the league in carries (10.3 per game), so we haven't seen what he can do if he gets the ball 20 times a game.

Here’s the good news: Despite five dreadful games when he rushed for 2, 3, 8, 15 and 17 yards, Miller enters Sunday with a 4.2 per carry average –-- 22nd in the league and higher than Frank Gore, C.J. Spiller, DeAngelo Williams, Chris Johnson and Ray Rice. Only 16 backs with at least 100 carries have averaged at least 4.2. (Miller has 114.)

What’s more, he has displayed potential as a receiver recently (21 catches for 140 yards). And he has produced six strong games in which he averaged between 4.8 and 7.8 yards per carry.

But here’s the problem: He doesn’t do enough after contact. According to Pro Football Focus, he has broken or avoided 13 tackles --– more than only three NFL backs with at least as many carries (Doug Martin, Arian Foster and Rice).

By comparison, Reggie Bush has dodged/broken 36 in 180 attempts, Eddie Lacy 43, Adrian Peterson 47. Miller’s 2.0 yards after contact ranks 31st of 51 qualifying backs.

What’s more, he has just 27 yards on 21 carries in his past three games and hasn’t been able to overcome poor blocking. So when he’s hit at or behind the line, is it entirely the fault of the blockers or does Miller shoulder some blame?

Nixon answered that question this way: “We need to block better and he needs to run better. We expect Lamar to make plays with the ball in his hands. I would like to see him break more tackles at the second level. Make the safety and the linebacker miss. We keep harping on that with him.”

Miller admitted Friday: “I have to make guys miss” more and “showcase my speed.”

### As for Jordan, the numbers are modest for a third overall pick (two sacks, 13 tackles), but so is the playing time: His 233 snaps excluding special teams (which amounts to just 29 percent of Miami’s defensive snaps) are by far the fewest of any non-injured player picked in the top 20 of the 2013 Draft.

But there is so much that has left the Dolphins encouraged. He played 32 snaps last Sunday, his most this season, and graded out internally over 90 percent –-- his highest to date, according to defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers. Pro Football Focus ranks him 19th of 50 defensive ends in a 4-3.

He has 15 quarterback hurries in 144 pass-rush chances; nobody in the NFL has that many in as few opportunities. In fact, he’s getting one hurry every 9.6 snaps on passing plays, compared with one every 9.8 for Cameron Wake and one every 12.7 for Olivier Vernon. (Wake and Vernon have more sacks, though.)

Rodgers said Jordan has two pass rush moves he’s “comfortable with –- a speed move and an up and under move” and added that a third move would help –-- “a long arm move. Jason Taylor had that. Dion has to get more comfortable trusting his moves. He shows flashes. Now he needs more consistency.”

PFF has given him a positive grade as a run stopper --– he has been on the field for only 63 rushing attempts --- and Rodgers said the fact Jordan isn’t playing more on early downs isn’t because he’s substandard against the run, but because Miami’s other ends are better at it.

“He’s better than you think as a run stopper,” Rodgers said. “He’s 260 pounds now, and we would like to get him as heavy as possible without losing his speed. If we get him to 268, 270, you got something special.”

The Dolphins have used Jordan in coverage on 26 passing plays, and he has been targeted only once –-- an incompletion to New England’s Rob Gronkowski, which Jordan defended splendidly.

Considering Vernon is 15th in the league with 7.5 sacks and Wake is 20th with 6.5 (he missed time with an injury), doesn’t it make sense to try Jordan at outside linebacker –-- the position his defensive coordinator at Oregon said he’s best suited for in the NFL? The Dolphins have shown no inclination to do that --– instead, they gave a multiyear extension to linebacker Koa Misi.

And though coordinator Kevin Coyle spoke in August of Jordan possibly playing linebacker at times, Jordan said he hasn’t done it at all in practice or games. The Dolphins apparently don't want to make him learn two positions as a rookie.

“That’s not my call, and it doesn’t matter to me,” Jordan said. He knows his Oregon coordinator believes he's better at linebacker than end, but Jordan said “playing defensive end is the fastest way to get to the quarterback.”

Regardless, the Dolphins simply must find a way to get him on the field more next season, and some more snaps at linebacker would help.

Rodgers believes “trusting his [surgically-repaired] shoulder has been an issue” for Jordan and believes the comparisons to Taylor are absolutely warranted.

“I told JT at dinner recently that 'Dion reminds me of you,'” Rodgers said. “They are very similar – long, lanky guys with explosiveness. He continues to get better.”

Jordan and Taylor spoke early in the season, and Jordan said JT also has told him he sees similarities between the two of them. But “I have to develop better as a pass rusher to be the type of player he was,” Jordan said. “I have to add more to my arsenal.”

Jordan deserves credit for not being a prima-donna Top 5 pick: He hasn’t complained at all about playing time. “Nobody wants to sit back and watch,” he said. “The more I play, the more comfortable I get. I’m getting better. I’m not disappointed.”

CHATTER

### We’re told that during his interviews with Dolphins rookies, investigator Ted Wells asked them if he thought any rookie hazing had gone too far. One player said he never felt he was being humiliated. But surprisingly, Wells didn’t ask them about being forced to cover a $30,000 bill at Prime 112, which angered some of the players' friends….

Wells also asked players of minority ethnic groups if they were harassed… A Dolphins player said Wells also asked this: Did teammates threaten that they would have sex with one of your family members?

### Please see the last post for details on the Dolphins' decision to place Martin on the non-football illness list today plus more on Martin's future.

### Four-star UM freshman defensive end/linebacker Al-Quadin Muhammad boasted before the season he has pass-rush “moves you haven’t seen in the NFL.” Turns out, his only two sacks this season were against Savannah State, and he struggled generating much of a pass rush over the final month. He admitted last week he hasn’t met his expectations and said he must get stronger and increase his weight from 240 to 255.

Muhammad was rated among the top five defensive ends in the 2013 class. UM needs its blue-chip defensive prospects to become elite college players like some of UM's offensive recruits have (Duke Johnson, Stacy Coley, Ereck Flowers). That's not happening enough, for whatever reason.

### Speaking of freshmen, it was encouraging to see how well Gus Edwards ran Friday. "He's a 230-pound back; he should run behind his pads more," Al Golden said. "He's got deceptive speed. He really made the right cuts yesterday, didn't freelance at all and when he got to the second level he made some guys miss." UM wants him to use a stiff-arm more.

### Miami Central High's Joseph Yearby, a UM oral commitment and rated the nation's No. 6 running back prospect by rivals.com, fractured his ankle in a playoff game tonight. He has spoken of enrolling at UM in January.

### Whereas Heat forward Shane Battier, 35, said “this is probably my last year,” Ray Allen, 38, is on the fence: “This potentially could be my last year. It’s been a great ride. I’m not leaning either way.”

But he said he feels great after losing weight this summer. Both Allen and Battier are in the final year of contracts... Incidentally, the Heat has one more season, after this one, of Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem on its books, at $3.8 million and $4.6 million, respectively.

### The Marlins like some of the Cubs’ prospects and look for the teams to talk in the coming weeks, with Miami potentially offering pitching. The Cubs have multiple third base prospects at Double and Triple A, including former first-round picks Javier Baez (who has been playing shortstop) and Mike Olt and emerging Christian Villanueva. Baez would require the most in a trade; he hit .282, with 37 homers and 111 RBI in Single and Double AA....

MLB Network's Peter Gammons said the Marlins have discussed Dodgers free agent second baseman Mark Ellis, who hit .270 with six homers and 48 RBI last season.... Late tonight, the Twins reportedly agreed to a three-year, $24 million deal with former Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes, who had received an inquiry from the Marlins.

November 29, 2013

Saturday 5 p.m. update: Details on Fins' season-ending move with Martin; UM-Pitt postscripts

A quick Saturday 5 p.m. update:

Jonathan Martin's season with the Dolphins officially ended on Saturday when the team placed him on the reserve/non-football illness list --- 33 days after Miami’s starting right tackle abruptly walked out on the team and into the national headlines.

The Dolphins told Martin they needed the roster spot and Martin did not object because he was not planning to play this season, according to an associate who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The team also offered to pay his salary for the final five games of the season, something that is not required for players placed on the non-football illness list.

That means Martin will be paid his entire $607,466 salary this season, including all nine games he will end up missing since leaving the team.

Martin already has missed four games, but the Dolphins were obligated to pay him for those four games because he was on the team’s 53-man roster until Saturday.

The Dolphins never strongly considered not paying Martin for the final five games, when he’s due $183,833. The Martin camp would have strongly objected -- and challenged that decision -- if the Dolphins had chosen not to pay him, according to a Martin associate.

Whether Martin returns to the Dolphins is very much in question. He wants to resume his career next season but prefers to play elsewhere barring a change of heart, according to the associate.

But Martin hasn't conveyed that to the Dolphins, and the associate would not completely rule out Martin playing here, because it’s possible owner Stephen Ross and others in the organization might try to convince him to return.

To even consider returning to the Dolphins, Martin would need to be assured that he would be welcomed back in a locker-room where players have largely sided with Richie Incognito, whom Martin has accused of harassment. And even that might not be enough. So at this point, Martin believes he likely will be elsewhere next season.

The Dolphins could trade Martin this off-season, but trading him now was not an option because the trade deadline passed in October. Martin is set to make $824,933 next season and $1.02 million in 2015.

The move with Martin comes a day after the Dolphins and Incognito agreed to extend Incognito’s suspension for a maximum of two additional games beyond Sunday’s Jets game, giving NFL appointed-special counsel Ted Wells time to finish his investigation into Martin’s allegations.

Incognito has been suspended since Nov. 3, when the Dolphins learned of a racially charged voicemail he left for Martin in April.

According to ESPN, Incognito was not paid for the first two games of his suspension but was paid for last week’s game against Carolina and will be paid for Sunday’s game against the Jets. He also will be paid for a maximum of two more games, after which the team must release him or reinstate him.

NFL rules allow teams to place players on unpaid suspension for as many as four weeks for conduct detrimental to the team. But the NFL, the players union, the Dolphins and Incognito all agreed to terms of the extension of Incognito’s suspension.

If the Dolphins ultimately release him, Incognito also reserves the right to file a grievance to try to collect pay for the first two games of his suspension.

Martin, who met with Wells for seven hours on Nov. 15, will have a second meeting with Wells very soon. Wells met for 8 ½ hours with Incognito and also has interviewed every Dolphins player and coach and key front office personnel.

Ross also has said he wants to meet with Martin after Wells' investigation is completed. There has been no recent contact between Martin and Dolphins coaches or management.

Martin, the Dolphins’ second-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, has been receiving treatment for depression but expects to be able to play next season.

The Dolphins have long been aware of Martin's mental health issue. He received treatment for depression in April after he skipped two days of the Dolphins' offseason practices.

Kenny Zuckerman, Martin's agent, declined to comment.

The Dolphins filled Martin’s spot on the 53-man roster by promoting safety D.J. Campbell from the practice squad. The Dolphins had released Campbell from their 53-man roster earlier this week.

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Reaction and thoughts from UM’s 41-31 win against Pittsburgh on Friday afternoon at Heinz Field:

### UM’s defense was again leaky, allowing 501 yards (318 of those were in the second half, when UM was usually comfortably ahead) and more than 30 points for the fourth time in five games. (UM was actually outgained by 25 yards.)

But Miami --- which led 31-10 at halftime --- did enough defensively in the first half and overcame defensive lapses with brilliant offensive work: Stacy Coley’s three touchdowns, covering 32, 34 and 73 yards; Allen Hurns’ career-best 173 yards receiving (on nine catches); a splendid day from Stephen Morris (17 for 28, 296 yards, three touchdowns, no picks), a terrific effort from an offensive line that hadn’t played up to expectations at times this season; and impressive running from Gus Edwards.

### With a victory in a bowl game, UM (9-3) can win 10 games for the first time since 2003. The Canes already have won nine for the first time since 2009. And UM can win the ACC Coastal if North Carolina beats Duke at noon Saturday on ESPN2, and if Virginia upsets Virginia Tech at 3:30 p.m. on ESPNU.

“We’re going in the right direction,” coach Al Golden said afterward on WQAM. "We’re not where we want to be. Hopefully, we’ll have some good luck tomorrow. These kids deserve some good fortune. I’m going to bed with the mindset that these kids will get a break and we’ll be playing next week [in the ACC championship against FSU]. These group of kids, and what they showed us in terms of courage and resiliency, that will set the platform moving forward.”

### Coley is a star in the making: He has plays of 81, 79, 62, 32, 34 and 73 yards in the past four games. His three touchdowns Friday gave him nine for the season. He was wide open on his 32-yard TD to open the scoring, took a short pass and scampered 34 yards on his second TD, and made a scintillating 73-yard run on a reverse for his third score.

He would have had four touchdowns if he hadn’t dropped one in the end zone on a pass from Stephen Morris.

As AP’s Tim Reynolds noted, Coley is the only FBS player to score touchdowns on a pass, run, punt return and kickoff return this season. Coley, who finished with 171 all-purpose yards, “has grown up,” Golden said.

“I had no idea the type of work ethic he had at that time [when UM recruited him]. His work ethic, combined with his attitude and talent, is really making him a special person. He’s got great balance, doesn’t get knocked down easily."

### Morris passed Gino Torretta to move into third place for most career passing yards in UM history, with 7736, behind only Carolina Panthers quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey and Edmonton Eskimos practice squad quarterback Jacory Harris.

Morris finished the regular season with 10 passes of 50-plus yards, seven of those for touchdowns. “He played really well, even with some of the check downs he made,” Golden said. “He’s moving up the list as one of the best in Miami history.”  

### Hurns became only the fourth UM player with 1000-plus receiving yards in a season, joining Leonard Hankerson (2010), Eddie Brown (1984) and Andre Johnson (2002). Because of Duke Johnson’s injury, Hurns has been UM’s MVP this year, and look at his yardage total the past four games: 142, 107, 126 and today, 173.

Hurns tied Philip Dorsett for seventh on UM’s all-time single season reception list (58). He’s eighth on the career reception list.

### Brandon Linder, Jon Feliciano and others did very good work against Pittsburgh defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who entered leading the nation with 26 tackles for loss. Donald had three tackles (one half for a loss) on Friday, and Morris wasn’t sacked all day.

“We had a bunch of guys on him to try to negate him,” Golden said. “Proud of the way the offensive line blocked him.”

### Edwards ran hard and decisively, finishing with 64 yards on 11 carries, including a touchdown. “We needed that – a big back,” Golden said. “He ran hard today. We’re excited about the direction he’s going.”

Dallas Crawford was held to 22 yards on 14 carries –-- just 1.4 per attempt. UM tried a wildcat play with Crawford, but that running play went nowhere. Eduardo Clements had 20 yards on five carries.

### Good to see Asante Cleveland catch his first career touchdown pass in his final regular season game. Cleveland has been a good soldier all season, accepting his blocking role with a positive attitude.

His 5-yard TD, UM’s final score of the day, was only his third catch this season. “Couldn’t be happier for the young man,” Golden said.

### First the good news defensively: UM snuffed out four of Pitt's six first-half possessions: Denzel Perryman made a very good play in coverage on a third and 2; Tracy Howard stopped a Pittsburgh receiver short of a first down (Howard has improved his tackling); Perryman made a nifty tackle for a one-yard loss (the Panthers followed with a missed 43 yard field goal). 

Ufomba Kamalu's sack forced Pittsburgh to settle for a field goal on its fifth first-half possession, and UM's pass coverage was sharp on Pitt's final first-half possession, forcing a punt.

But...

### UM allowed 92- and 95-yard drives in the second half, with the run defense against victimized on the perimeter and up the middle. Pittsburgh averaged a bloated 6.7 yards per rush on 33 attempts --- 220 in all. Unacceptable.

### How many times this season have UM defenders missed easy tackles, taken bad angles or been faked out?

It happened twice on Isaac Bennett’s 45-yard TD run in the first half. Jimmy Gaines took a bad angle, Thurston Armbrister was sealed off by a blocker and Kacy Rodgers missed a tackle. Cornelius was faked out on quarterback Tom Savage’s 7-yard TD run. Tracy Howard was faked out on Rachid Ibrahim’s 23-yard TD catch. Armbrister missed a tackle on what should have been a loss on a running play; the play instead gained 7 yards.

### Denzel Perryman played very well in the first half, but UM’s linebacker play has generally been deficient since the Florida State game. Armbrister and Cornelius have improved since arriving, but frankly, neither would be starting for a program that's Top 10 caliber. Perhaps injured Alex Figueroa will win the job next year.

And senior Jimmy Gaines, for all of his intelligence and leadership, isn’t a starting middle linebacker on a Top 10 team, either. The concern, moving forward, is that Raphael Kirby hasn’t been able to beat out Gaines.

One internal concern with Kirby is that he’s not in the right position often enough. That better change, considering he very likely will be UM’s starting middle linebacker next season.

### Good to see cornerback Artie Burns with a late pick. He was UM’s best freshman on defense over the past month. UM also has great hopes for safety Jamal Carter, who has improved.

And junior Ufomba Kamalu, a first-year Cane, has shown considerable promise the past month and will play a lot at defensive end next season.

### In pre-game workouts, several UM players --- including Jared Wheeler -- came out shirtless, in temperatures that dropped from 37 to 27 later in the game. “That was their idea," Golden said. "I started getting worried. Maybe it's a new breed."

###  Anthony Chickillo was limited by a painful toe injury.

### ESPN analyst/Canes hater Mark May, on UM: “I don’t think they’re in the top echelon of the ACC.” You don’t say, Mark? Isn’t it obvious that only FSU is in the top echelon?

But UM made progess this season, and the year will look even better if Miami beats a quality team in a bowl game. But the defense needs its four- and five-star recruits to play like stars, and more of the two- and three-star players to exceed expectations. 

       

November 27, 2013

Duper deals with signs of brain disease and his fears; Dolphins notes; Beasley's big step

THURSDAY BUZZ COLUMN

The phone rang shortly after news broke that Dolphins legend Mark Duper had been diagnosed with signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease that is caused by head trauma and has depleted Duper’s memory and caused mood swings, anger, depression, panic attacks and headaches that “irritate [the expletive] out of you.”

It was his quarterback, Dan Marino, calling.

“Do you remember me, Dude?” Marino cracked, according to Duper, who said Kim Bokamper sent him a similar text.

Both were trying to lighten the mood after hearing Duper’s startling, distressing news.

“Dan was trying to make me laugh,” Duper told me by phone last week. “Mark Clayton said, ‘I talk to you every day, dude. Why didn’t you tell me you’re having all these tests on your brain… at UCLA? I had to hear it on the news.’ I told him it slipped my mind.”

Many other former teammates have called: Lorenzo Hampton, Fred Banks, Roy Foster, Nat Moore. “Some of them are worried about me,” he said.

Duper is worried, too. CTE --- which has been linked to depression and dementia -- is not a death sentence by any means. But Duper, 54, wonders how this diagnosis will affect his quality of life. Sadly, it already has.

“When I got the results, I said, ‘Holy [expletive]! Now I’ve got to deal with this!’” he said after becoming the ninth former NFL player (including Tony Dorsett) diagnosed with the condition.

“I’m worried about the future. Will I recognize people when I get old? It’s tough sleeping at night, because my mind is racing. I’m thinking about it.”

Duper, who caught 59 touchdowns passes and averaged 17.4 yards per catch in a glorious 11-year career, already has had one serious health issue: He had a cancerous kidney removed in January.

He thought his memory loss was simply a result “of getting old.” The tests revealed otherwise.

“I’ll go to the grocery store and forget what I went for,” he said. “When you’re walking and get to where you’re going, you ask yourself, ‘What did I come here for?’ It happens every day. It’s a bad feeling, frightening.

“And I’m forgetting lots of names. I couldn’t remember Don Strock’s name, and I played 10 years with him.”

Duper cooked dinner outside the other night, brought the food inside when it started raining, then went back outside, intending to retrieve a stool.

“But when I got outside, I thought, ‘What did I come out here for?’”

Instead, he stood in the rain, lost for an answer.

Duper said the NFL was “negligent” but he’s not angry and not considering legal action beyond the scope of the league’s recent concussion settlement, which has not been approved.

“Football is how I made my living and I don’t regret it,” he said. “But if the NFL would have taken precautions, this wouldn’t have happened. And the NFL should have had a better pension plan. I’m disappointed in that.”

His mood was buoyed recently when two doctors --– one in Jacksonville, one in Miami --– called and “said they can help me.” He’s visiting family in Louisiana for Thanksgiving but intends to see them both soon.

“I look at it this way: Thinking positively helps anyone,” he said. “I’m trying to keep the same spirit.”

He reassures people he isn’t suicidal: “I ain’t killing myself. My mind is way too strong for that.”

Duper and Clayton, who formed the potent Marks Brothers receiver tandem during the most recent Dolphins halcyon days, talk every day.

“We have a pool going – we pick teams and see who wins the most,” Duper said. “We talk about the games. We don’t talk much about [my condition]. But Clayton is thinking about getting that test.”

Others are too, despite fearing what they might hear when they get the result.

“Roy Foster and I asked Duper about getting the test,” said former Dolphins running back Mark Higgs, 47, who owns a transportation company. “I take the same vitamin three times I day, when I should be taking it once, because I forgot I took it.”

But among Dolphins, Duper is the only one so far with the CTE diagnosis. “It definitely scares me,” he said.   

CHATTER

### Jets coach Rex Ryan bemoaned Wednesday: "I’m only 1-3 against Miami at home, that’s not good." For as much as Geno Smith's putrid play recently gives the Dolphins an advantage, keep in mind that the Jets lead the league in run defense (both in total yards and yards per attempt), and you all know how ineffective the Dolphins' running game has been in a handful of games this season.

### Joe Philbin insisted rookie cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis are "coming along nicely" despite their limited playing time. In their defense, the cornerbacks ahead of them played very well Sunday, even with Dimitri Patterson still sidelined. (Patterson didn't practice Wednesday. Neither did safety Chris Clemons, who has knee and hamstring issues.)

### Ryan Tannehill, on rookie running back Mike Gillislee, who hopes to get some work in Daniel Thomas' absence: "He's explosive. I saw a lot of burst out of him today."

### Jets safety Ed Reed said Tannehill reminds him of a young Joe Flacco. Asked by New York writers if he likes that comparison, Tannehill said: "I don't know. I'm not much into comparisons." (He would probably take being compared to last year's postseason Flacco over this year's regular season Flacco.)

### Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who has a hip injury, wasn't able to practice Wednesday, and his absence would be huge if he cannot play Sunday against the Dolphins.

### Duper, on Mike Wallace, who leads the league with 12 drops: “He has to improve catching the ball. He has great potential he hasn’t touched yet.”

### The most interesting development from tonight's 95-84 Heat win at Cleveland, Miami's eighth in a row overall? Erik Spoelstra's evolving trust in Michael Beasley. With Shane Battier out, Spoelstra played Beasley a season-high 25:35, sticking with him for 11 first-half minutes even though he went 0 for 2 from the field during that stretch.

But Spoelstra liked his rebounding and his energy, and he found his offensive rhythm in the second half to close with 17 points and nine rebounds.

"He gives us something different," Spoelstra said afterward. "He gives us that athleticism. He's gaining confidence. He's getting much better in his pick-and-roll coverage."

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were effusive about Beasley after the game.

"We're lucky to have the kid," Wade said. "A lineup with him gives us firepower. He's been better defensively."

James said Heat players have shown him "how important it is to be a professional."

He's "an unbelievable talent," James said. "Talent wise, he's worthy of a No. 2 [overall] pick."

Even though he's here primarily because of his offense, Beasley said tonight: "I'm not worried about the offensive side. I'm more focused on defense and rebounding. Bird and Chris [Bosh] need help [rebounding]. And I ain't got nothing better to do."

### Even with Battier out, Udonis Haslem was a DNP-CD (did not play/coach's decision) for the third game in a row. "I've seen a lot of different situations," said Haslem, who was a good sport about it afterward. "I'm be happy when my time comes."   

### For highlights from LeBron's eventful press briefing with Cleveland reporters tonight, please see the last post.  

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... Happy Thanksgiving to all.

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. 

November 25, 2013

Analysis, views and nauseating numbers from Dolphins' dismal stretch of fourth quarters

The Dolphins are 28th in the NFL in offense, which is quite galling considering the Dolphins spoke all offseason about being more explosive after spending more than $80 million on offensive player contracts in free agency.

The Dolphins, in fact, are the only team that hasn’t scored at least 28 points in a game.

But look closely at what this offense has done in the fourth quarter – or more specifically, what it hasn’t done – and it’s clear something is terribly wrong.

The Dolphins have had the ball for 23 offensive possessions in the fourth quarter of the past seven games. They haven’t scored a touchdown on any of them and have as many missed field goals during those possessions (three) as successful field goals (three).

How have the other drives ended? With 11 punts, three interceptions, a fumble and the clock expiring twice.

The Dolphins have scored only 40 points in the fourth quarter, a pace that leaves them in danger of setting the club record in that category, while allowing 56 points in the fourth. The franchise low for fourth-quarter points in a 16-game season is 57, set in 2001.

And consider this: The Dolphins have just four fourth-quarter touchdowns all season, and one of those was on defense (Reshad Jones’ interception return against Baltimore) and another happened in the Saints game long after the outcome had been decided.

That means the Dolphins offense has scored only two meaningful fourth-quarter touchdowns all season: one in the Cleveland opener to extend its lead to 20-10 and another to win the Falcons game in the final minute.

So why is the offense unraveling late?

Some factors:

### Leaky pass protection. In the past seven games, the Dolphins have allowed 17 sacks in the fourth quarter. Those plays have resulted in losses of 119 yards, but that doesn’t even begin to quantify the corrosive impact. Nearly all have been drive killers. One resulted in a Ryan Tannehill fumble that doomed the Dolphins in the Buffalo game.

During this seven-game stretch (during which Miami is 2-5), the Dolphins haven’t had a single game without allowing a fourth-quarter sack. There were two more in the Carolina game, resulting in 8- and 10-yard losses.

### Not running the ball enough. Factoring in sacks and scrambles by Tannehill, the Dolphins have gone into 98 fourth-quarter plays with the intention of passing during the past seven games. Conversely, they have intended to run the ball only 20 times.

Those 20 runs have resulted in 82 yards, a decent 4.1 average. In many cases, the Dolphins needed to throw because they were trailing and didn’t have a lot of time to score. But in several other instances, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman eschewed the run when it was a viable option.

During the fourth quarter Sunday, the Dolphins threw 12 times and called three running plays for backs, which resulted in gains of 2, 4 and 3 yards. But Tannehill accounted for runs of 19 and 11 yards by scrambling.

Perhaps Tannehill should run more in the fourth. During this seven-game stretch, his five fourth-quarter runs have yielded 57 yards.

### Problems with the passing game. Aside from his brilliant game-winning drive against Atlanta, Tannehill’s fourth-quarter work has been subpar statistically. Poor pass protection certainly has been a factor.

In the past seven games, Tannehill has completed only 48 percent of his fourth quarter passes (37 for 76) for 430 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions (two on long heaves to end the game).

Last season, he had an acceptable 83 quarterback rating in the fourth quarter, including six touchdowns and three picks. That ranked 23rd in the league.

This season, the rating is 61.7, with two touchdowns and five picks. The rating is 33rd among 44 quarterbacks who have played a snap this season.

### One positive for the Dolphins heading into Sunday’s Jets game: They’re playing against the quarterback who has been the league’s worst, statistically, over the past month.

Jets coach Rex Ryan said today that he will start Geno Smith against the Dolphins, even though he has five interceptions and a 16.2 rating in his past two games and has thrown has one touchdown and 10 picks in his last six.

Matt Simms is his backup.

### The Dolphins’ run defense continues to underwhelm. Carolina ran for 105 yards on 19 carries in the second half to close with 136 yards. In 11 games, eight teams have run for at least 130 yards against the Dolphins.

The Dolphins have allowed more than five yards per carry in the fourth quarter on average this season, and Mike Tolbert’s 15- and 5-yard runs were very damaging on Carolina’s final drive.

### Ted Wells, who is investigating Jonathan Martin’s allegations of bullying, plans to meet with Martin for a second interview sometime in the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, ProFootballTalk.com reported that Wells also plans to interview Rams and former Dolphins offensive lineman Jake Long.

November 23, 2013

Martin/Incognito investigation tidbits, details; Fins, Heat, UM notes; Marlins contact free agents

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Tidbits on the Dolphins’ BullyGate scandal and investigator Ted Wells’ interviews with Dolphins players, coaches and executives this past week:

### Jonathan Martin’s attorney has alleged Martin endured a “malicious physical attack on him by a teammate." And in recent days, Wells has asked some Dolphins players whether they attended a party at the home of Mike Pouncey, where the alleged attack occurred, according to a friend of Martin.

That friend tells us Richie Incognito was the ring-leader that night, in 2012, and the “level of punching” of Martin “became more than playful.” Wells has been trying to get to the bottom of that physical attack allegation, among many others.

### The friend said in general, Martin was harassed by more players than just Incognito and Pouncey and that “so much” hasn’t been reported regarding what Martin endured.

### Besides asking players what they thought of Martin and Incognito and their relationship, Wells also asked many Dolphins about how often they heard the N-word in the locker-room and what they thought of it. Reactions varied widely.

### Some of Wells’ questions caught Dolphins players off guard. One player was asked how it would make him feel if his sister was harassed. Another player was asked what he thought of Pouncey as a person. And another was asked whether he spoke to Martin about his mid-season move to right tackle and whether he asked Martin how he felt about it. (He didn’t.)

### One concern expressed by players is that Wells has nothing to compare this situation to, for perspective, because he hasn’t witnessed conduct in other NFL locker-rooms.

### A Dolphins player (not Martin) who has been subjected to frequent teasing from Incognito went into his meeting reluctant to throw Incognito under the bus. Another Dolphin, before his interview, said Incognito and Pouncey would feed off each other and Pouncey provided the live laugh track while he watched Incognito playfully tease teammates (or harass them, from Martin’s perspective).

### Wells said Saturday night that he has concluded his initial round of interviews with the Dolphins.

In a statement, Wells said his firm has “spent time with every player and coach, as well as key staff members and management. Our work will continue over the next few weeks. I want to thank Stephen Ross, the Dolphins organization and its players, coaches and staff for their complete cooperation throughout this process." 

But one player told NBC 6's Courtney Fallon that he declined Wells' request to meet with him, but changed his mind and agreed to a meeting later in the week.

### Several defensive players said they had nothing useful to tell Wells, and another player said he wasn't sure he would be forthright with Wells. And several said their sessions lasted only 10 minutes or less, including Mike Wallace. Ryan Tannehill told us his interview "was an hour I didn't want to spend."

Mike Pouncey's lasted over an hour, and offensive line coach Jim Turner's lasted two hours, as our Armando Salguero noted. An NFL players union lawyer attended the interviews, but Dolphins players were not accompanied by any team employees. Wells had two colleagues with him during some of the interviews, one of whom asked questions.

### Above all, Dolphins players remain puzzled because many of them had seen Martin and Incognito out together, sometimes with just one or two others.

One player also expressed surprise that Martin kept detailed records of bullying, saying it makes him believe Martin had been planning this for awhile. 

Another player said he has witnessed nothing in the Dolphins locker-room that he hadn’t seen with previous teams.

### Martin, at this point, doesn’t believe returning to the Dolphins is realistic but hasn’t ruled anything out and hasn’t conveyed his intentions to the Dolphins, a friend said. Because the trade deadline has passed, the Martin camp doesn't believe it's likely he will play this season, believing the Dolphins are unlikely to release him.

### A Martin lawsuit hasn’t been ruled out, even though Martin’s friends say he wants to play again eventually and is not doing this for a money grab.

### One NFL scout shared that in his pre-draft write-up of Martin, he said that Martin wasn’t emotionally ready for the NFL. But the Dolphins had no such concerns.

### There have been reports that Incognito was the first person to rise to Martin’s defense when Martin and Dion Jordan got in a tussle at practice a few weeks ago.

But Jordan said: “That’s not true. There were a LOT of people on offense and defense who [joined in] – pushing and shoving.”

### According to a Dolphins source, Incognito paid in the ballpark of $30,000 to quietly settle a case with the woman whom he was accused of sexually harassing and molesting (with a golf club) at a 2012 team charity event.

As ESPN's Adam Schefter has noted, Incognito was summoned to the league office before the 2012 season to discuss two off-field incidents. One was the golf event and the other involved misbehavior that was the result of drinking, according to a Dolphins source not authorized to give other details.

### What would Larry Csonka, one of the Dolphins’ toughest guys ever, have done if he had been left a phone message like the one Incognito left Martin?

“No teammate of mine would ever leave a message like that!” Csonka said, adding he’s “flabbergasted” that the Dolphins believe they need two committees to establish rules on locker-room decorum.

“You have to write down rules of how to treat each other?” Csonka asked incredulously. “That’s beyond me.”

CHATTER

### The question of whether the Dolphins are tipping off plays has resurfaced, with ESPN’s Dan Le Batard mentioning that the Dolphins passed every time Tannehill said “go” and ran every time he said “go-go” last Sunday.

Dolphins defensive lineman Jared Odrick insisted that gives no edge to defensive players because it’s happening so quickly before plays and “we’re going off movement, not sound.”

Tannehill has grown weary of the topic: “It’s not an advantage. We change it up enough just to keep them off guard. If they try and guess and they’re wrong, then we’re going to be deep downfield on them.”

### Even former Dolphin receiver Ted Ginn Jr., who comes to town Sunday with Carolina, has more receptions of 20-plus yards (seven) than Wallace, whose five rank 72nd among receivers.

Wallace, who has maturely handled his frustration in recent weeks, said bluntly: “I’m getting open. That’s not the problem.” Wallace said offensive coordinator Mike Sherman allowed him to switch the side he lines up on “around three or four times last week” and he believes that could help.

### Michael Beasley entered Saturday averaging 33.5 points per 48 minutes –-- sixth highest in the NBA (minimum five games). “But I get excited about myself when I do things most people think I can’t, like getting the third charge of my career” recently.

Heat president Pat Riley has been keeping a very close watch over Beasley. "We talk a lot," Beasley said. Has Riley told Beasley he’s proud of him? “Not yet. Coach Riley is a tough guy. A proud moment would be a wink and nod from him.”

Beasley scored nine points in eight first-half minutes (4 for 4 shooting) Saturday against Orlando but once again did not play in the second half.

### Udonis Haslem, who opened a Subway franchise at Oakwood Plaza in Hollywood this weekend, has gone from starting to not playing at all Saturday vs. Orlando. He also had a DNP-coach's decision Nov. 12 vs. Milwaukee.

### So far, there’s no indication UM’s recent struggles are hurting recruiting. UM oral commitment Braxton Berrios, a four-star receiver from Raleigh, tweeted: “Could’ve went to Oregon or Ohio State. But I decided to bring my team back, and that’s just a Canes thing. You wouldn’t understand.”

### The Marlins have expressed interest in free agent catcher Dioner Navarro, 29, a switch-hitter who hit .300 with 13 homers and 34 RBI in 89 games for the Cubs last season. The Marlins would like to add an offensively-gifted catcher to complement defensively-skilled backup Jeff Mathis.

### The Marlins often like to pursue players who had one bad year after a good one, hoping to get them at a reasonable price. So it’s not surprising they called about Yankees free agent right-hander Phil Hughes, who went 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA in 2013 after going 16-13 in 2012. The Marlins are considering adding an inexpensive veteran starting pitcher.

### To follow up on Friday's media column, Marc Hochman has now officially informed 790/104.3 The Ticket that he's leaving when his contract expires Dec. 31. He is free to join WQAM-560, as afternoon-drive host, on April 1.             

### Please see the last post for UM-Virginia notes, reaction and observations....Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Postscripts, reaction from UM's win against Virginia

Tidbits and observations from UM’s 45-26 win Saturday against Virginia at Sun Life Stadium:

### UM fans justifiably expected Miami’s eighth win to come sooner, but if it’s any consolation, the Canes (8-3) now have won (at least) eight games for the first time since 2009 and for only the second time since 2005. UM’s win total has risen from 6 to 7 to now 8 (and counting) in Al Golden’s first three seasons.  

And after allowing 41, 42 and 48 points the past three weeks, UM allowed 27, albeit against a dreadful Virginia team. (Hardly a reason for a parade, obviously.)

The season will still be a disappointment because Miami likely won’t win the Coastal (barring a UM win, Duke loss and Virginia Tech loss next week). But a 10-win season --- combined with recent resolution of the NCAA case and a top-five recruiting class --- would at least end the year on an uplifting note.

### Al Golden, afterward on WQAM and during his postgame news conference: “I’m thrilled for the seniors. They’ve been through a lot of adversity. They decided they would come out and fight and not take the easy way out….We had more energy. Our tackling was really good in the third quarter. [But] we gave up a big punt return again. Our time of possession wasn’t very good (22:11)." 

Virginia ran 91 plays and had 483 yards of offense.

"On offense, we have to do a better job. Nobody can be out there that long defensively," Golden said. "We're just not that deep.”

### UM’s defensive backfield was very good for 3 ½ quarters, including Tracy Howard’s interception return for a touchdown to start the game (Howard admitted he knew the play was coming and “he did the same thing in practice,” defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said); Ladarius Gunter's pick and long return to set up a UM TD before halftime; and decent coverage that helped limit Virginia starting quarterback Larry Watford to putrid numbers: 10 for 25 for 106 yards and three picks.

But UM ended the game depleted at cornerback –-- a major concern with UM scheduled to play Friday at Pittsburgh. Miami, already without Artie Burns, lost Ladarius Gunter, Corn Elder and Nate Dortch.

Gunter sustained a neck injury late, left on a stretcher, and was taken by helicopter to Jackson Hospital for observation. [UPDATE: UM announced after 8 p.m. that he has been released from the hospital and will be able to play football again this season.]

Golden said the injuries to Elder and Dortch are "significant." Elder has been planning to join the basketball team as a point guard after football season.

Those injuries left Howard and Antonio Crawford as the only experienced cornerbacks. Larry Hope, who has played mostly on special teams, also is available. UM wants to redshirt cornerback Ray Lewis III.

### UM’s run defense was again bludgeoned in the first half, allowing 208 yards and more than six per carry. But with Virginia forced to throw a lot in the second half, the Cavaliers had just 35 yards on the ground after intermission, closing at 5.3 per carry. Virginia's rushing yardage total was its highest against an FBS opponent.

Virginia quarterback Greyson Lambert put up good numbers (12 for 15, 117 yards) in garbage time late in the game.

### Safety Rayshawn Jenkins, who was told very clearly by coaches that he needed to be more of a physical presence across the middle, made two big hits, including one that nearly got him ejected before the officials correctly changed their mind and merely called it a 15-yard penalty.

### UM’s running game mustered just 90 yards, on 3.6 per carry. In the games Duke Johnson played, UM averaged 192 yards rushing. In the three games since, it’s just 101. Dallas Crawford closed with 55 yards on 16 carries --- including his 13th touchdown --– but his highlight was a terrific block on Stacy Coley’s 62-yard TD.

### The run blocking hasn’t been nearly as dominant as one would expect considering the supposed depth and talent of this offensive line. Aside from splendid work from Ereck Flowers and Brandon Linder, the line has had too many lapses. Seantrel Henderson remains one of this season’s biggest disappointments.

### Of UM's 14 possessions, six ended with either three-and-outs or a turnover before a first down was made. That has been a problem all season.

 ### Virginia outgained UM, 483-304, but Miami’s four takeaways were huge. “That’s something we were lacking, and part of what the problem had been,” D’Onofrio said on WQAM. “We had sudden change stops, red zone stops.”

### D’Onofrio dialed up some timely blitzes, including one from Antonio Crawford that forced a third down incompletion. The hope is that the secondary, which will be more experienced next year, will be good enough in coverage to allow a more aggressive defensive approach next season.

### Stephen Morris’ numbers were again bloated because of yards after catch. In fact, all of Coley’s 62 yards on his TD catch were YAC. Morris closed 13 for 26 for 214 yards with two touchdowns and a pick.

“I had a couple of tears in my eyes, was watering up,” Morris said about running through the smoke for the final time at Sun Life Stadium. “Coming here, you never see yourself leaving.”

### One of the best developments of the season: Coley has becoming an electrifying playmaker. He has seven TDs on the season and has plays of 81, 79 and 62 yards the past three games.

### Aside from Johnson, Allen Hurns clearly has been UM’s most consistent offensive skill position player this season. He had six catches for 126 yards on Saturday, including a 26-yard touchdown, and now has 965 receiving yards for the season. He also moved into 10th place on UM's all-time receptions list (110).

"He's a testament to what we want in our program," Golden said. "He's self-made. He is a leader."

### Aside from blocking, UM got nothing in the passing game from tight ends Saturday, with Clive Walford, Asante Cleveland and Beau Sandland all finishing without a catch. In fact, only three UM players had receptions: Hurns, Coley (5 for 81) and Crawford (2 for 7).

### Good to see some of the young players get more work, especially on defense. Tyriq McCord and Al-Quadin Muhammad, who could become everydown players at outside linebacker, got some work on first and second downs, with mixed results.

McCord should have made a stop for a loss on a third and three, but couldn’t make the tackle, and Virginia got a first down. But give McCord credit for forcing the quarterback fumble that David Gilbert scooped up and sprinted 73 yards for a touchdown.

UM hoped Gilbert, a senior transfer from Wisconsin, would have been a bigger factor this season. “Happy for him,” Golden said.

### Junior defensive end Ufomba Kamalu played a lot, and pretty well, and he factors in significantly into UM’s plans next season. Kamalu gives UM terrific size at end: He’s 289 pounds and UM expects him to be top 300 pounds by next fall. Tackle Earl Moore also got some work.

### UM's 17 INTs are its most since 2003... UM snapped a three-game losing streak against Virginia... The senior class finished 17-9 at Sun Life Stadium.

### Four-star California-based quarterback Brad Kaaya, one of UM’s key commitments, is visiting UCLA this weekend. But he remains orally committed to UM and was asking people on Twitter for a UM score update on Saturday.

November 21, 2013

Media column: Major local radio changes brewing; NFL notes; N-word stirs debate

FRIDAY MEDIA COLUMN

Marc Hochman has told friends he is leaving 790 The Ticket’s morning show in a move that will significantly impact two of the market’s sports-radio stations.

Hochman is expected to move to WQAM-560 in 4 1/2 months, and barring something unforeseen, look for him to take over the station’s afternoon-drive slot, which has been handled by Channing Crowder and Brandon Guzio since Jorge Sedano left for ESPN Radio in September.

Hochman, who declined to comment, will remain at The Ticket, where he co-hosts the morning show with Jonathan Zaslow and Joy Taylor, through the end of his contract on Dec. 31, unless 790 decides to yank him from the air sooner than that.

But because of a non-compete clause, Hochman cannot begin work at another station until April 1, according to an industry source familiar with his contract.

WQAM is very much interested in Hochman, and if he takes over the afternoon drive show there as expected, he would be competing with his buddy Dan Le Batard, whose 790 program he produced for nine years.

Hochman, 43, parlayed his creative work as Le Batard’s executive producer into a full-time on-air gig; he was named The Ticket’s morning co-host in August of 2012, after four months of filling in, and helped steer the program to the highest ratings among South Florida’s four morning-drive sports shows. 

The Ticket wanted to keep Hochman, but former program director Tod Castleberry missed an exclusive negotiating window in his contract, which was one factor that led to Castleberry’s dismissal this week, according to a station source. Castleberry declined to comment.

At WQAM, Hochman likely would be given some authority to decide his on-air co-hosts, with the approval of station management. It’s unclear whom he might hire.

If Hochman takes over WQAM’s afternoon drive slot as expected, Crowder would resume working with Adam Kuperstein from 1 to 3 p.m., because station management very much liked how those two interacted. That change also would happen in April.

WQAM would have loved pairing Kuperstein and Crowder in the 3 to 7 p.m. slot, but Kuperstein’s job as NBC 6’s lead news co-anchor prevented that.

Presuming Crowder resumes working with Kuperstein in April, WQAM then must decide whether to retain host John Renshaw (who was hired by previous program director Sedano) or use Curtis Stevenson – who took over Crowder’s role alongside Kuperstein – and/or Guzio on the 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. show.

So WQAM general manager Joe Bell has decisions to make. And Hochman’s availability might end up affecting his station more than the station he’s leaving. Bell declined to comment.

AROUND THE DIAL

CBS might turn to No. 3 NFL analyst Dan Fouts to replace No. 2 analyst Dan Dierdorf, who’s retiring in January after 30 years of delivering mostly smart, sensible commentary as a broadcaster --- including 12 years on ABC’s Monday Night Football and the past 15 years on CBS.

But if CBS turns to Fouts – which is hardly assured – network sports division president Sean McManus would need to decide whether to keep him paired with Ian Eagle or team him with Greg Gumbel, who is No. 2 behind Jim Nantz on CBS’ NFL play-by-play depth chart. CBS’ Rich Gannon also deserves consideration. Dierdorf, 64, said traveling has become too difficult because of physical ailments (hip, knee, back).

### Is this really necessary? Turner Sports and CBS will produce three different telecasts for the two men’s semifinal games in the NCAA Tournament this season.

The traditional national telecasts will air on TBS, while TNT and TruTV will carry the same games with announcers and camera angles customized for each team. CBS will air the 2014 and 2015 championship games, with Turner getting the 2016 title game.

### The Dolphins’ bullying scandal has spurred passionate debate about use of the N-word, with prominent black announcers offering starkly contrasting views about whether that racial epithet is acceptable.

On CBS, Shannon Sharpe suggested it is not, adding: “All black Americans know the stigmatism and vitriol and hate that comes with that word.”

But TNT’s Charles Barkley sees it differently: “I’m a black man. I use the N-word. I’m going to continue to use the N-word with my black friends and white friends. In a locker-room, we use racial slurs. What I do with my black friends is not up to White America to decide what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate.”

TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal said: “When we say the [N- word] to each other, we mean it in a positive sense.”

And ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said: “I have a problem with white people framing the discussion for use of the N-word. [Commissioners] David Stern, Roger Goodell need to call in some people who look a little different from them.”

### Tim Tebow hired powerhouse agency CAA to represent him with on- and off-field opportunities. If he pursues TV work, a studio role on CBS’ SEC football package would make sense, provided he’s willing to say anything interesting or substantive.... Former Pro Bowl receiver Randy Moss fills in for Howie Long in Fox's studio Sunday.

November 20, 2013

Dozen Dolphins, UM, Heat notes: Tannehill, Wallace, Wade, UM QBs

Some late Wednesday night items: 

### Showing good leadership and accountability, Ryan Tannehill today essentially took total responsibility for his difficulty connecting on deep balls with Mike Wallace. Several times, he indicated the onus was on him not to underthrow Wallace, as he has done several times.

“It’s tough on those long throws, whenever they’re having to wait on it, and the guy is catching back up, that’s really tough on them,” he said. “That’s all on the quarterback.”

Wallace said he and Tannehill get enough work together on deep balls during practice. Still, it’s curious that whereas Tannehill throws to Brian Hartline before games, he doesn’t do the same with Wallace. Why is that?

“I think it’s just something where that’s not what he does,” Tannehill said.  “When we kind of started the preseason games and started getting into routines, that’s just not what he does.  Everyone has their own way of getting into it.  I don’t think the deep ball is affected by that.  He’s open, I just have to throw it out there for him. It's two games in a row where he’s been behind the defense.…I’ve just have to trust it and let it rip. We talked to coach Philbin yesterday and that’s one of the things he told me. Just go out there and let it rip.”

### Joe Philbin, on Wallace’s play this season: “I’m not disappointed in his performance one single bit.”

### Philbin, asked by Charlotte media today to assess Tannehill’s second season: “If you picked up a stats sheet from this time a year a year ago and where we are today, his completion percentage is up. His quarterback rating is up. His touchdowns are up considerably. He is making good progress. Certainly there’s still a lot of things we want to do better as an entire offensive unit, he is part of that. We have got to score more points. That is just the bottom line. You can’t always live at 20-16, 22-20, we lost the game to TampaBay 22-19. We have been in a bunch of three, four point games and we haven’t been able to get over 30 points in a game yet, so we got to do a better job scoring points. He is part of that, but it’s really a unit-wide thing that we need to get better at.”

### Dolphins players haven’t only met with investigator Ted Wells this week. According to Bryant McKinnie, Wells has been accompanied by three others. Wells and one of the others have asked questions. No Dolphins officials have sat in during the player sessions.

### There will be two familiar faces on the Carolina sideline Sunday: offensive coordinator Mike Shula and quarterback coach Ken Dorsey (the former Hurricanes great).

“I think [Shula] is doing a heck of a job,” Philbin said. “I saw Coach (Don) Shula before the game last week and asked him who he was rooting for next week. So I'm in a little bit of trouble with him this week.”

### Fox decided to make Dolphins-Panthers its primary 1 p.m. game on Sunday --- ahead of Tampa-Detroit, Minnesota-Green Bay and Chicago-St. Louis --- and will air the Dolphins in 72 percent of the country, far more than it originally expected. On the call: Chris Myers and Tim Ryan, who coincidentally have handled most of Fox’s two annual Dolphins assignments in the past few years.  

### Listening to Al Golden, you’re left with the feeling that Ryan Williams will be the favorite to start at quarterback entering next season. But Golden made clear that Kevin Olsen will have a chance to win the job.

Offensive coordinator James Coley said Williams is “throwing the ball really well” and has performed very well in practice. He also said Olsen’s throwing has improved.

Stephen Morris, who makes his final home start on Saturday against Virginia, reminded reporters this week that "I'm 0-3 against Virginia. That's the only thing I ever think about when you talk about Virginia. That's something I'm not proud of, something I want to fix." But Morris was very efficient against the Cavaliers last year (three TDs, no picks) before UM's defense squandered a late lead.

### Four-star quarterback Brad Kaaya remains orally committed to UM --- his mother reiterated that in a tweet last month ---- but one of his teammates at Chaminade High in West Hills, Cal., said recently he’s going to try hard to flip Kaaya to UCLA, which has offered him.

"I'm trying," Joseph McIntosh told Rivals.com. "He was really excited when he got the UCLA offer. When I saw him, I congratulated him. He just smiled and was really excited."

UM badly needs to hold on to Kaaya. And though Kaaya has said nothing to give UM reason for concern, it would be understandable for UM to remain a tad nervous until signing day, because both of the major hometown schools (USC and UCLA) have offered him.


### The Heat’s impressive depth was again on display tonight, with James Jones scoring 17 points in 20 minutes – after playing a total of 20 minutes in the Heat’s first 11 games.

“At times, it’s tough not to have the opportunity to produce,” Jones said.

Said Erik Spoelstra: “There’s no hesitation to his game. I wish I could play him more. He deserves more.”

### LeBron James summed up the Heat’s roster this way: “It’s getting kind of scary, the depth that we have. JJ is one of the best three-point shooters in the world.”

During the game, James gave a pointed message to Magic players: “I told them, 'Stop doubling me. I’m going to find the open shooter.'” 

### Chris Bosh is now 18 for his last 23 from the field after shooting 7 for 10 tonight on an 18-point night. “His motor has been much more consistent,” Spoelstra said. “He’s running the floor. The ball will find him in open areas.” 

### The Heat, publicly, insists Dwyane Wade is ahead of schedule after offseason knee treatment, even though he has missed the past two games.

But Chris Webber said late Tuesday night on NBA TV that he is “very” concerned about Wade: “When you have to take off a back-to-back for maintenance, that means there’s a problem if you play two games in a row. I’m glad he’s doing it because it's self-preservation; he’s making sure he’s OK. But, at the same time, it lets me know there’s a bigger problem.”