WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
After all the tumult and turmoil caused by the departures of Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, the question must be asked: Is the Dolphins’ offensive line actually better without them?
It wouldn’t seem that way logically, especially with Incognito. But in two measurable areas –-- sacks and rushing average –-- this unit has played better since those two departed. Some of this is coincidence, but the tackle play has improved without Martin. And though Incognito graded out well in run-blocking, his replacements have allowed fewer sacks.
Adding left tackle Bryant McKinnie a week before Martin left was a huge variable that paid dividends, but keep in mind Miami allowed six sacks (against New England) in the one game that McKinnie, Martin and Incognito played together. But the Dolphins have been better off playing Tyson Clabo than Martin at right tackle, which likely wouldn’t have happened if Martin hadn’t fled the building.
Just look at the numbers since the two BullyGate protagonists left:
### In the first seven games, with Martin and Incognito starting, the Dolphins allowed 32 sacks (4.6 per game) and ran for 4.1 yards per carry.
Conversely, in the past six games (Martin missed all six and Incognito missed all but the first quarter and a half of the Bengals game), the Dolphins allowed 16 sacks, including one against Incognito (that’s 2.7 per game) and ran for 4.4 yards per carry.
### Then there’s this: Martin allowed seven sacks in 458 snaps, with only one of his starts at right tackle. By contrast, Pro Football Focus says McKinnie has allowed four sacks in 479 snaps since coming to the Dolphins from Baltimore, though he said he was responsible for only two or three.
What’s more, Clabo – who gave up eight sacks in his first six games – has allowed three in his last six.
### And consider this: At the time of his injury and suspension three days later, Incognito had permitted six sacks (most among NFL guards) in 472 snaps. In most of six games since, the Dolphins left guards have allowed only two: one by Nate Garner and one by Sam Brenner in his 187 snaps.
So why is this group better? “Bryant has helped a lot –-- his experience, leadership,” right guard John Jerry said. “Mike Pouncey [who missed two of the past six games] sets the table for all of us. We’re jelling.”
Said McKinnie: “I’ve played OK. I could be better. I like playing next to Brenner. He has done a great job.”
Brenner, who chose the Dolphins among a dozen or so suitors after going undrafted out of Utah, was promoted to the 53-man roster last month only after Will Yeatman’s knee injury in practice.
“He plays his heart out,” Jerry said. “One thing about the guy is his work ethic. He gets here at 6 in the morning, one of the first here.”
The hope is Brenner can become another Evan Mathis, who was cut by then Dolphins executive Bill Parcells in 2008 and now is PFF.com’s No. 1 ranked guard in the NFL, as a member of the Eagles. Even owner Stephen Ross complimented Brenner after a recent game: “Pretty cool to be noticed by that guy,” he said.
No lineman would ever suggest publicly that the Dolphins are better without Incognito (especially) or Martin, but guard Danny Watkins said emotionally, their loss “made us stronger. We rallied around it.”
Incognito, whose status must be resolved by Monday, is not expected back.
For Martin to even consider returning next season would take an "incredible olive branch,” an associate said. But even with that, he still prefers to be traded next year and it's very likely he will be playing elsewhere in 2014.
ESPN reported tonight that Ted Wells canceled follow-up interviews with Incognito and several Dolphins offensive linemen and likely won't release his report before the end of the year. Also, ESPN said Martin is refusing to turn over some of his text messages.
### McKinnie said he would love to finish his career year, but the sides tore up the last year of his contract (2014) when the trade with Baltimore was made, and the Dolphins haven’t told him if they want him back.
ESPN’s Todd McShay ranks four offensive tackles among the top 32 prospects, with two in the mid-to-late first-round range: Alabama junior Cyrus Kouandjio and Virginia’s Morgan Moses.
### The NFL's vice president of officiating told CBS that Antonio Brown's game-ending play Sunday would have been a touchdown if he hadn't stepped out of bounds because the NFL was not able to say definitively whether Ben Roethlisberger threw an illegal forward lateral on the play. Because no penalty was called on Roethlisberger's lateral after he threw it, the play would not have been overturned. (The Dolphins claim he threw an illegal forward pass.)
### Though nobody on this team apparently challenged Incognito about using the N-word, a player said a former Dolphins defensive player reacted very angrily when Incognito called him the N-word during a practice a couple years ago and confronted him in the locker-room. Several Dolphins players said they told investigator Ted Wells they don't like the N-word being used; others weren't bothered by it.
### Though UM would never admit it, there was disappointment internally –-- including on the Hurricanes’ football staff -- about being passed over by the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, which is more prestigious than the Russell Athletic Bowl. Chick-Fil-A Bowl officials told UM that their bowl committee believes they should take the best team and that Duke beat UM.
The Raleigh News & Observer said ACC commissioner John Swofford pressured Chick-Fil-A to take Duke, but UM has no evidence of that and consequently isn’t upset with Swofford.
### The ACC has discussed having UM play in Louisville in their Labor Day weekend opener next year, but that’s undecided. In Weeks 2 through 4, UM plays FAU, Florida A&M and at Nebraska.
### Palm Beach Dwyer four-star receiver Johnnie Dixon –-- considering UM, Alabama and Ohio State –-- delayed his decision for at least a few days… Palm Beach Cardinal Newman four-star receiver Travis Rudolph, a former UM commitment, said he’s considering UM again....
Miami Central High four-star running back Dalvin Cook reportedly liked his UM visit, but some consider FSU still the favorite. This is too close to call, with UF also still in the picture... Per Canesport.com, Fork Union Military tight end Ryheem Lockley --- who was supposed to be part of UM's 2013 class --- still needs to boost his SAT score by 20 points to qualify for UM.
### According to a close associate, the Marlins expressed interest in free agent Delmon Young, a former No. 1 overall pick who hit .260 with 11 homers and 38 RBI for Philadelphia and Tampa last season. An outfielder, Young has been taking grounders at first. A Garrett Jones/Young platoon at first would be very solid.... More than a half dozen teams have inquired about Logan Morrison, who will be traded.... CBS said the Marlins are one of eight teams that have inquired about free agent third baseman Eric Chavez.
### A few Heat-Pacers postscripts: Difficult to remember many games in the past two-plus years where LeBron James struggled so mightily down the stretch. He shot 2 for 8 in the second half, including an airball, plus missed two free throws and had a costly late turnover, one of his five on the night. "I had some really good looks that didn't go down," he said....
Ray Allen's struggles in Indiana are troubling. His meaningless three before the buzzer were his only points on a 1-for-5 shooting night; last year, he went scoreless in two regular-season games at Indiana on 0-for-9 shooting. Including playoffs, Allen is 9 for 41 in Indiana as a member of the Heat. And he shot just 31 percent in the Eastern Conference Finals...
Chris Bosh (12 points, 3 boards) was outplayed by Roy Hibbert (24, 5), and Erik Spoelstra might have been wise to use more of the Bosh/Birdman tandem on a night Miami was outrebounded by 10. (LeBron had 14 boards). "He takes a lot of teams out of their games," James said of Hibbert. The Heat shot 3 for 12 on shots contested by Hibbert... Perhaps Greg Oden makes a difference here eventually. "We hope so," James said. Hibbert said after the game he's looking forward to playing against Oden.
The Heat was outscored by 18 with Wade on the floor, by far the worst of any Miami player. Wade and James each closed with 17 points. "Overall, I loved our effort," Wade said....Miami shot 4 for 21 on threes, which was a major factor.... Indiana (19-3) took a three-game lead in the battle for the No. 1 seed in the East, which the Pacers have made a priority.
### Heat owner Micky Arison spares no expense with his team. Members of the team’s traveling party who aren’t players or coaches received championship rings valued at approximately $16,000 per ring. The player and coach rings were much pricier –-- believed to be around $30,000.
### A quick heads up on a worthy event: It's from 7 to 10 p.m. Wednesday at Bokampers in Miramar and will raise money to help good guy/recruiting guru Larry Blustein in his battle with kidney disease.
The cost is $20 for adults and includes dinner, soft drinks and dessert, with a portion donated to Larry's foundation.