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Dolphins scoring with some late picks; Fins, Heat, UM chatter; Marlins hot stove

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

As much as the Dolphins front office squandered too many early-round draft picks over the past six years, give general manager Jeff Ireland credit for this: He has made good use of several mid-to-late round selections, which has been reinforced in recent weeks. Consider:

### From the 2012 draft: Rishard Matthews, selected 227th, was great value in the seventh round and has become a solid slot receiver since Brandon Gibson’s injury. Nobody selected that low in 2012 has been as good, and only one other NFL receiver (Vincent Brown) has as many catches (30) without a drop.

Matthews has caught 68 percent of balls thrown to him, which ranks 22nd among 112 receivers. “I’ve proven I can be trusted,” he said.

Olivier Vernon at No. 72 and Lamar Miller at 97 were also good value, though we’re focusing here on picks in the bottom half of the draft.

### From 2011: No player chosen in the sixth or seventh round that year has been as productive as Charles Clay, selected 174th. Clay (53 catches, 581 yards) ranks sixth among tight ends in receptions, has more catches than Anthony Fasano in any of his five seasons in Miami and might break Randy McMichael’s single-season record for receiving yards by a Dolphins tight end (791 on 2004).

“He’s making some clutch catches that he didn’t make all the time last year,” offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said.

Seventh-round cornerback Jimmy Wilson, picked 235th in 2011, has improved significantly; quarterbacks have a 67.9 rating in his coverage area, which is 19th-best in the league and down from 99.6 in 2012.

### From 2010: Reshad Jones (drafted at 163) and to a lesser extent, Nolan Carroll (145) rank arguably among the top 5 to 10 players picked in rounds five through seven that year. (Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown is clearly the best.)

Jones’ play has declined somewhat from a year ago, but Carroll is much-improved; he’s allowing a 66.1 passer rating in his coverage area. That ranks 15th-best among 112 qualifying cornerbacks.

### From 2009: None of the 130-plus players picked in the fourth round or lower are clearly better than Brian Hartline (chosen 108th), and he might be the best. Also, Chris Clemons (165) ranks among the top five to 10 players plucked in the fifth round or lower that year, along with the Dolphins’ Gibson (drafted 194th by Philadelphia).

After Miami picked Clemons, Dallas then chose Clemson’s other safety, Michael Hamlin, who is out of the league. Pro Football Focus ranks Clemons 13th among 84 safeties; he has allowed only six completions.

(As for this year's draft, it's too soon to definitively judge Miami's late-round picks, though Caleb Sturgis hasn't been as consistent as the Dolphins expected.)

It's notable that the Dolphins are getting strong play from a secondary featuring two undrafted corners signed from other teams (Brent Grimes and Dimitri Patterson), three fifth-rounders (Jones, Clemons, Carroll) and a seventh-rounder (Wilson). “This shows draft status doesn’t matter,” Grimes said.  

Grimes (perhaps Ireland's best free agent signing ever), Carroll and Clemons are all impending free agents; the Dolphins haven’t made offers to any but clearly want to keep Grimes.

Of course, it’s more important that teams hit on their high picks, who have a higher ceiling, than the lower ones, and that remains the problem here.

Miami began the season with only seven non-rookies selected in the first two rounds (including irrelevant free agent pickup Danny Watkins), compared with 16 for the 49ers and 15 for the Broncos. And the string of poor second-round decisions continues to haunt the Dolphins.

So for all his good work late in the draft, Ireland ultimately might be unable to overcome the mistakes in the early rounds.

CHATTER

### Whereas coach Joe Philbin is expected back in 2014, Ireland’s status will remain very much in question until after the season. If Ireland isn't retained --- and nothing has been decided --- team performance would more likely doom him than BullyGate. That's why the final month of the season is more important for him than for Philbin.

One prominent former Dolphins player who is used by the team to visit fans in Sun Life Stadium suites during games bemoaned how fans turn those visits into Ireland-bashing.

### Discouraging: On third down and 1 or third and 2, the Dolphins have parlayed only 8 of 16 chances into first downs when they run the ball, a worse percentage than any team other than St. Louis and Chicago. (Lamar Miller is 2 of 6, Daniel Thomas 3 of 6).

But Philbin indicated Miami feels no need to add a short yardage back, even with Thomas injured. Linebacker Austin Spitler said he gets weekly practice work at fullback, but the team hasn't used him in that role in a game. (He said he handled that role at Ohio State occasionally.)

Behemoth defensive tackle Paul Soliai said he would love to help on offense in short yardage, but Miami tried him as a blocker on a goal line play a couple years ago and “it didn’t go well.”

### With the Heat's win against Minnesota tonight, Miami has won 16 straight against Western Conference teams, four short of the NBA record.... Also tonight, the Heat held Minnesota to the worst shooting performance of any team this season (29.3 percent).

### It will be great theater Tuesday, with the first of four pre-playoff Heat-Pacers meetings. Chris Bosh said of the Pacers: “It’s easier for them than us to find motivation” during the regular season. “Their hunger is different than ours.”

One NBA scout, on why Indiana is a bigger threat to Miami than ever before: Besides Paul George’s evolution: “Lance Stephenson might be the most improved player in the league, C.J. Watson is an upgrade over D.J. Augustin at backup point guard and they’ll get Danny Granger back” eventually from a calf injury.

There’s somewhat less animosity between the teams with Tyler Hansbrough now in Toronto (Luis Scola has replaced him). But among Heat players, there's some distaste for Granger (Dwyane Wade once accused him of fake toughness) and Stephenson, who actually gave LeBron James multiple choke signs (only one was caught on camera) in a game two years ago.

### Udonis Haslem, who has played infrequently and not especially well, turned introspective last week and believes he must change his approach.

"It’s so programmed with me: I’m mainly the guy that’s setting the pick and C.B. runs to the corner. I’ve been sacrificing. I’ve talked to Chris and [assistant] David Fizdale about Chris setting the screen sometimes” and letting Haslem take the shot.

“It’s my fault,” Haslem said. “I have to do what I did in the Indiana series last year.”

Haslem has taken thousands of three-point shots in the past several months and said he’s ready to try it in a game. “I would encourage him to use it,” Erik Spoelstra said.

Of greater concern: His rebounds per 48 minutes is down from 12.7 in his career to 7.6 this season, and players he’s guarding are shooting 16 of 23 against him, according to SynergySports.com. That must change for Haslem to convince Spoelstra to give him regular minutes. At 33, it's a bit of a crossroads for Haslem, but don't count him out. Adversity tends to fuel him.

### The Marlins’ decision to sign first baseman Garrett Jones and very likely trade Logan Morrison isn’t about money, but their belief they needed a power bat and a concern internally that Morrison (.242, six homers in 85 games in 2013) will not return to being the player who hit .283 as a rookie in 2010 or 23 homers in 2011. As one Marlins person said this past season, after two knee surgeries, Morrison has an old body for a 26-year-old.

Before targeting Jones, the Marlins called about pricey Mike Napoli and Corey Hart (.270, 30 homers, 83 RBI), but Hart wasn’t ready to move as quickly as the Marlins wanted.

### Boston, Milwaukee and Tampa are among the teams reportedly interested in Morrison. One executive with an AL team said Morrison remains an attractive commodity because he's a young left-handed hitter with upside. MLB.com identified Rays and former Miami Braddock High third baseman Sean Rodriguez as a potential Marlins target if the Marlins and Tampa engage in Morrison trade talks. Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks is another option appealing to the Marlins.

### Garrett Jones should be effective against right-handers, based on his career metrics (.271 career hitter against them, with considerable power). But he's only a .193 career hitter vs. lefties. One option would be using outfielder Justin Ruggiano at first base against lefties. Ruggiano, a career .270 hitter vs. lefties, took ground balls at first base late last season.

### One Red Sox front office official said even though new Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s .273 average for Boston in 2013 was a huge jump from .235 and .222 the two previous seasons, “I don’t think it was a fluke. He’s still a big swing and miss guy, but he’s not going to be a sub-.300 on base guy any more and he might have more success in the National League.

“He didn’t get enough credit for the turnaround with our pitching staff last year. He’s improved calling games. He’s such a hard worker and so committed to getting better that you have to respect guys like that.”

Whereas the Marlins hit .193 with two outs and runners in scoring position last season, Saltalamacchia hit .283. Among qualifying catchers, he was seventh in average, ninth in RBI (65) and 10th in homers (14). A switch-hitter, he’s better against right-handers (.294 last season) than left-handers (.218).

### The lighter side: The pastor at Morrison’s wedding at a Cabo resort last month joked that it was beautiful that Morrison would invite a “homeless person.” The “homeless person” was actually outfielder Bryan Petersen, sporting a long, unwieldy beard. Peterson left the Marlins for the Rangers last week. 

### Please see the last post for UM notes from Saturday.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Comments

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Jeff

What about the Dolphins 2013 draft picks? Will Davis, Jamar Taylor, & Dallas Thomas don't or can't play. Caleb Sturgis makes fans long for Dan Carpenter. And last, but not least, Dion Jordan is in for 20 plays or less each game. The 2013 draft has been a disaster. Combine that with other draft picks that are no longer on the team ( Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, & Clyde Gates to name just a few) and you have multiple draft failures.

Barry Jackson

No argument here, Jeff. I've written about this year's draft picks at length in recent weeks(though it's far too early to make final conclusions), and I note in the piece that there have been multiple early round failures. This was merely an acknowledgement that some late-round picks have worked out.

Juan

Ireland gets a bad rap. He's not as bad as people think. That said, if they don't make the playoffs, five years is enough and he should go. So should Philbin.

Paul A.

While this year's draft remains in the air, all of Ireland's drafts have been solid. No GM "hits" on every player; the Patriots, for instance, have bombed on a number of high-drafted players in the secondary. That said, it's Ireland's overall game that potentially puts his seat in jeopardy. His FA record is spotty, and his perception around the league is that of an individual who lacks tack and social intelligence.

Philbin's had nearly 2 seasons in Miami to prove his abilities. If you think that's enough time to fairly evaluate a coach, I think you're crazy. Imagine if the Seahawks had terminated Carroll's contract after 2 seasons? Yeah, take a look at record those first two seasons.

Philbin deserves at least another year.

Paul A.

*tact

That's what I get for posting this late. :-)

Dd

Ireland is the weak link in this organization. Remember he was here with parcels and comes from the "focus on big linemen upfront camp". Look at the disaster our OL is despite all the draft picks thrown at it. Throw in his interview and skipping over Des Bryant and bully gate and u have sufficient reason to get rid of him.

octavio de armas

As long as the DOLPHINS tandem of ROSS/IRELAND leads this team we shall never rise beyond being mediocre.

Barry Chitwood

With a team that has a mediocre offensive line, no running game, and a lack of high caliber receivers, Jeff Ireland must certainly be held accountable.

Gamecock

Hey Barry was wondering if you have heard any word on Dustin Keller and if we would resign him. With clays emergence Keller clay and Gibson would be a pretty deadly threat going through the middle next year. It could be our own version of gronk, Hernandez, and welker and with the talent I've seen it's actually a realistic comparison.

Barry Jackson

Gamecock, a lot will depend on whether Ireland is the GM next year. His people say he's doing well in his rehab.

jmike

Jeff, you are a naive boy aren't you. Jordan is being handled the same way Aldon Smith was handled during his 1st year with SF. That didn't work out badly did it. You are a typical Phin fan, have no conception of the future. Why do you think Grimes was signed to a 1 year contract and Paterson has 1 tear left on his contract. That's why the rookies were drafted. Davis and Smith were not suited for the present zone defense of zone more than man. There are reasons for all these moves. BTW Bill Polian is consider as one of the best GM's, well his last draft class in 2011, not one of those remains with Indy. Bill Belichicks 2007 class lasted 3 years, not 1 remained after the 3rd year after that draft. Oh and Jordan has had a large impact plays every game he's played.

jmike

Chitwood, no high caliber receivers......what are you talking about Hartline is 17th in the league in receptions ahead of Vincent Jackson, Anquan Bolden, Larry Fitzgerald, Desean Jackson, TY Hilton, Dwayne Bowe, Steve Smith. And Mike Wallace is at 20. See if any pair of receivers rank that high together.

Lt. Lois Einhorn

Mike Wallace is the third highest paid receiver in the league and he's 31st in receptions, 26 in yards, and not in the top 40 in touchdowns.

jmike

Don't know where you hot your information Lois he's actually 24th in receptions, and only Denver and Chicago have a tandem on the to 25.

jmike

Oh Lois both Wallace and Hartline on target for 1000 yards

Lt. Lois Einhorn

Yea, it's not a subjective argument we're having here, one of us is just flat out wrong.

http://espn.go.com/nfl/statistics/player/_/stat/receiving/sort/receptions

mike

any news on dixon verbal commit yet?

Barry Jackson

Mike, Dixon postponed his decision until next week. Travis Rudolph visited unofficially this weekend and is considering UM again.

mike

Be nice to be able to get Rudolph and Dixon to commit it would sure give us some depth we don't have a nice receiving corps coming in along with Coley there already.thanks for the info Barry.

Dom

Langham at WR was elevated to an espn 300 player, and Darrion Owens, 3 star on Rivals, also moving from Safety to LB, was elevated to espn 300. So Goldie 's summer camp committs are highly rated now. Seems he is a good evaluator of talent. 13 espn 300 players w/o these late signeees

Dom

Barry, What a ooup it would be to get Cook, yearby, Powell and Michel at RB, and late additions of Rudolph, Dixon, and any chance with Lane from Homestead? We would be loaded at skill position? Plus this top 10 qb from Ca coming in, 5 star De Jackson, 2 4 star Dtackles, we are loaded at #3 on espn and #3 on Rivals now.

Just got to keep them . But YOu hadd those players and its #1 overall =Powell is listed as AThlete, so he can play Slot, safety, etc

Barry Jackson

Dom, Lane isn't out of the question but I'm not optimistic he'll flip based on the tone of his comments.

mike

Barry any news on how the weekend visits have gone and of derrick griffin is enrolling in January?

Barry Jackson

Mike: Griffin says he's coming, but UM tells me they don't have evidence yet that he's qualified. Hopefully, that will happen... Cook hasn't made a decision, from all indications. Rudolph said he's considering UM. DT Cory Johnson told a UM web site he's staying committed to Kentucky.

long time cane

Lane seems set for UF.I have a friend at his HS(coaxing him to UM but he seems disinterested.)Whatever.Defensive line players and linebackers I care more about.Cane defense still IS NOT TALENTED ENOUGH.(and when you add DOnofrio to the mix.....).Hope the rumor mill is true about Kirby planning to look for another Defensive Coordinator/exert pressure for Golden to make a switch after their Bowl game.THAT is long overdue and Golden has had blinders on his pal/best buddy/best man/blah blah blah .....well....forever while at the U.I do like the commitments and it seems we ll get a couple more EXCELLENT surprises as we re about full for any remaining scholly s it seems.GO CANES.

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