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Exploring Dolphins offensive line options; Dolphins, Canes chatter, postscripts

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Dolphins and Hurricanes postscripts:

### Regardless of who will be making the Dolphins’ personnel decisions, there’s no bigger priority than fixing the offensive line, which bears considerable blame for Miami allowing a franchise-record 58 sacks and for a running game that ranked 26th.

The good news: The free agent market has a bunch of tackles and guards that would be upgrades, and Miami has the cap space to address both. The Dolphins need to add three or four starting linemen between free agency and the draft.

### Among tackles, potential free-agent targets would include Kansas City left tackle Branden Albert (Miami wouldn’t give up a second-round pick for him last April, and there’s a good chance he moves on this offseason); left tackle Eugene Monroe (Baltimore acquired him in October for fourth- and fifth-round picks and doesn’t want to lose him); New Orleans right tackle Zack Strief (three sacks allowed, decent in the run game); Jets right tackle Austin Howard (two sacks allowed, not a great run blocker); Oakland left tackle Jared Veldheer (missed first 11 games because of torn triceps but well regarded), St. Louis left tackle/guard Roger Saffold (injury history but very skilled) and Cincinnati’s versatile Anthony Collins, who started the season as the Bengals’ sixth offensive lineman and now is starting at left tackle and hasn’t allowed a sack in 592 snaps this season. Any would be an improvement for Miami.

In Pro Football Focus’ final 2013 ranking of offensive linemen, Bryant McKinnie finished 64th of 76 tackles (seven sacks allowed as a Dolphin, per PFF) and Tyson Clabo 47th (11 sacks permitted). Both will be free agents.

Among other free agents, PFF ranked Jordan Gross third (he has suggested he would retire if he doesn’t re-sign with Carolina), Strief seventh, Monroe 10th, Collins 24th, Albert 29th, Howard 44th and Houston’s Ryan Harris 57th.

Two notable impending free agent right tackles that graded out poorly, especially in the run game: Michael Oher (No. 68 overall, eight sacks allowed) and Eric Winston (No. 69, seven sacks).

Among tackles in the draft, ESPN’s Scouts Inc. has four rated as top 30 picks. Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan likely will be long gone before Miami selects 19th overall. Alabama junior Cyrus Kouandjio could be, too; ESPN’s Todd McShay has him 10th in his mock draft.

The player considered the fourth-best tackle, Virginia’s Morgan Moses, is rated 25th overall by both ESPN’s Scout Inc. and McShay.

The best bet would be to fill at least one tackle spot, if not both, with an established free agent.

### Among guards, at least nine who rated ahead of the Dolphins’ John Jerry in Pro Football Focus’ final ranking will be free agents, including Carolina’s Travelle Wharton (No. 5, no sacks allowed, great run blocking grades); Chicago’s Matt Slauson (No. 6), Kansas City’s Geoff Schwartz (No. 8) and Jon Asamoah (No. 21),  Saffold (18), the Jets’ Willie Colon (37th) and Detroit’s Rob Sims (39).

Jerry ranked 42nd among guards, but just 67th among 81 in run blocking, and allowed five sacks. Left guard Sam Brenner could develop into a starter but didn’t show enough to project him as one in 2014.

### Some Dolphins players privately believe coach Joe Philbin, reserved by nature, needs to improve as a motivator and in how he prepares teams emotionally for games. The flat demeanor and unemotional “stay the course, don’t get too high or low” message doesn’t resonate with some Dolphins and was reflected in their play at times. And reading to his players off index cards isn’t exactly inspiring.

But some of owner Stephen Ross’ trusted associates who have the owner’s ear, including Carl Peterson, love Philbin. Ross continues to consider potential changes in the organization.

### An associate of Ross said Ross has complained about the play-calling at times during games, which might not bode well for coordinator Mike Sherman.

### Though the Dolphins enter the offseason with $38 million in cap space ($106 million in commitments with a projected $126 million cap; plus $18 million in carryover space), it’s realistically less.

Throw in another $1.5 million for salary escalators for Charles Clay and Jimmy Wilson and a combined $1.7 million for tenders for exclusive rights free agents Pat Devlin, Armon Binns and Jonathan Freeney. And that would leave only 44 players under contract, with 51 counting against a team’s cap number.

Tendering Will Yeatman and RJ Stanford would add another $2.8 million and signing a few players to futures contracts would leave Miami with about $30 million in space.

An additional $5.4 million could be created if Dimitri Patterson is cut, but he’s clearly better than impending free agent Nolan Carroll, who struggled Sunday. Cutting Matt Moore would create an additional $4 million in cap space but would also create a need for a backup quarterback, unless the Dolphins deem Devlin ready for the job. Nate Garner has shown he's valuable, but if a new personnel czar comes here and deems him expendable, Miami would save $1.4 million against the cap by cutting him.

### The final book on Ryan Tannehill this season: He finished 10th in the NFL in passing yardage, 12th in touchdowns with 24, but 22nd in completion percentage, 30th in interceptions with 17 and 35th in fourth-quarter passer rating.

The No. 8 pick in the 2012 Draft, Tannehill had an 81.7 passer rating, which was 24th and behind four players also drafted that year: No. 88 pick Nick Foles (119.2), No. 75 pick Russell Wilson (101.2), No. 1 pick Andrew Luck (87) and No. 2 pick Robert Griffin (82.2).

Though he clearly improved this season before the final two games, the Dolphins did not expect Tannehill to be merely the fifth-best quarterback in that draft. So far, that's what he has been. Tannehill's passer rating rose from 76.1 as a rookie, but Foles and Luck had much bigger spikes this year.

### Multiple sources say quarterback Kevin Olsen and receiver Rashawn Scott didn’t attend UM’s bowl game because they were suspended. The suspensions had nothing to do with academics, legal issues or any issues involving coaches or teammates.

UM values Olsen and fully expects him to remain on the team and compete with front-runner Ryan Williams to start. Olsen's father, normally responsive, hasn't returned calls from several reporters.

Scott has had multiple suspensions and wasn’t the same player after his collarbone injury in the opener. He’s still on the team, but another incident could put him in peril.

### NFL Network reported Penn State, which reportedly is losing coach Bill O'Brien to the Houston Texans, will make a "strong push" to hire Greg Schiano, who was fired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Monday. UM's Al Golden has been mentioned, in speculative media reports, as a potential candidate. The UM administration would be surprised if Golden leaves, but Golden is a Penn State alum. We'll see.

[Wednesday afternoon update: The Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News reports that Golden and Vanderbilt's James Franklin are atop Penn State's wish list.]

### UM coaches have become increasingly enamored with safety Jamal Carter, whose playing time increased in the Russell Athletic Bowl, and will give him every chance to beat out Rayshawn Jenkins or Deon Bush next season…. UM is so bullish on incoming three-star prospect Michael Wyche, from East Los Angeles Junior College, that some UM football staffers believe he would have been Miami’s best defensive tackle if he had been a Cane this season.

### UM likely will be unranked in the final top 25. But curiously, in the final regular-season Top 25 coach’s poll, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier ranked UM higher (21st) than Canes coach Al Golden did (24th). UT-San Antonio and ex-UM coach Larry Coker had Miami 25th. (It's widely believed that most coaches have associates fill out their ballots for them.)

### After meeting in the bowl game, UM hopes the ACC reconsiders and does not schedule Miami's game at Louisville as a season opener on Labor Day night or two days earlier. But UM says it hasn't been told definitively and is braced for whatever happens. UM’s other road ACC games in 2014: Georgia Tech, Virginia, Virginia Tech. Home: FSU, Pittsburgh, Duke, North Carolina. Non-conference: at Nebraska, home against Cincinnati, Florida A&M, Arkansas State. 

### Happy New Year to all.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

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