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2 posts from January 7, 2014

January 07, 2014

Assessing UM's recruiting class on defense; New Golden/Penn State report; Fins' GM search; Heat


Five four-star recruits on offense are enrolling at UM in the next week, led by Miami Central running back Joseph Yearby. But as far as numbers, UM’s recruiting class (28 strong at the moment) is tilted more toward defense, with 16 players orally committed on that side of the ball, including three January arrivals: three-star linebackers Juwon Young and Trent Harris and defensive tackle Calvin Heurtelou.

With a month to go before National Signing Day, UM has assembled a defensive recruiting class with several high-quality defensive ends/outside linebackers, tackles and safeties, but questions at cornerback and uncertainty about a key tackle recruit who decommitted last weekend.

A look at UM's class on defense:

### Defensive tackle: UM’s biggest need, and the Canes are adding a solid group with four-star St. Thomas Aquinas standout Anthony Moten (rated the No. 6 defensive tackle), emerging three-star New Jersey based Courtel Jenkins (“great quickness for his size,” according to Rivals.com) and two junior college players who had other major offers and should help immediately: Michael Wyche (he has signed a letter of intent, but is awaiting an ACC decision on an obscure rule involving junior colleges before he’s cleared to enroll, as detailed in our last post); and Heurtelou, who had 14 tackles for loss and four sacks at Scottsdale, Ariz. Community College despite getting double- and triple-teamed a lot.

But this group needs Hialeah Champagnat four-star tackle Travonte Valentine to be considered exceptional. Valentine recently de-committed, but his coach, Mike Tunsil, told my colleague Manny Navarro on Tuesday that Valentine “loves UM” and might end up there but wants to meet with Al Golden to “make sure everyone is on the same page….

"For coach Golden to go interview for another job was unsettling. He wants to find out why [Golden] interviewed and if he is really planning to be there for the long haul.”

[As long as we're on the topic of Golden, we interrupt this column briefly for this: The NBC station in Philadelphia reported Tuesday night that Penn State still considers Golden a candidate for the job. Golden was not offered the job when he interviewed, leading to questions about whether he would take it if offered. He announced on Sunday that he wasn't a candidate for any job (without mentioning Penn State) after the UM administration asked him to address the matter publicly. We pass on the NBC Philadelphia report, because it's being reported by a major news outlet, but we don't have any indication whether Golden would even consider the job at this point. CBS reports Vanderbilt's James Franklin is the front-runner for the Penn State job. Now back to the column...]

Valentine, who also plans to visit LSU, previously dropped oral commitments to Louisville and Florida.

“Valentine is key because he’s a guy you would have to double-team, the first big guy who can move that they’ve had since Antonio Dixon,” local recruiting analyst Charles Fishbein said. “You really need him. People around him, his family, want him in Miami. [But] I like Moten, also. And I have a scout who works for me in New Jersey who loves Courtel Jenkins. He thinks he’s a big-time player.”

Said analyst Tom Lemming: “I love Moten: long arms, quick feet, can play end or tackle in college. He plays against the best competition in the country. Four-star player with five-star potential.”

Also, UM is among 22 schools that have offered Plantation American Heritage defensive tackle Edgar Cerenord, who had 75 tackles and five sacks last season. He has said UM has ground to make up.

### Defensive end/3-4 outside linebacker: Might be UM’s best position in this class presuming the Hurricanes can hold on to five-star Booker T. Washington end Chad Thomas (rated the No. 1 defensive end and 26th among all prospects, by Rivals.com); his teammate, four-star end Demetrius Jackson (14.5 sacks this past season); Miami Northwestern three-star defensive end Mike Smith (16 tackles for loss, 10 sacks); and Winter Park’s Harris, who had 39 tackles for loss, 16 sacks and four forced fumbles in 2013 and whose high-school coach who has compared him with former NFL great Michael Strahan.

Golden expects Harris to play linebacker. So will Young, who had 141 tackles last season for Albany (Ga.) High. “Both those kids are 6-2, 6-3, have range, length,” Golden said.

Thomas, who had eight sacks, has never wavered on his UM commitment. “Explosive, game-changing speed,” Lemming said. “But he needs to put on a lot of strength.”

Smith said he is planning a late-January visit to Louisville, which has five Northwestern players on its roster. Contrary to perception, Blustein insists Smith is the “most impactful defensive player they’ve got in this class,” even more than Thomas. “He’s like Tyriq McCord as a pass-rusher but faster and better.”

And Blustein said Jackson “has unlimited potential. Once he puts weight on, he’s going to be a beast. A pure pass rusher who plays off instincts. He’s just learning how to play the run.”

### Inside linebacker: A concern, with largely unproven players (Raphael Kirby, Jermaine Grace) expected to assume major roles.

Three-star Pompano Beach Ely inside linebacker Terry McCray has told Rivals.com that his UM oral commitment is “between solid and soft” and that LSU has piqued his interest. McCray had 25 tackles for loss, 16 sacks and blocked a punt for a touchdown.

“One of the most underrated players in this class,” Blustein said. “Great tackler, reads plays well, very quick.”

Lemming said McCray “has a high ceiling, can really run, but not a great player yet."

USC oral commitment Olajuwon Tucker, a four-star end/outside linebacker, from Gardena, Cal., plans to visit UM Jan. 25, but it will be difficult to get him to flip.

### Cornerback: How this group will be rated will hinge entirely on whether UM can lure Immokalee’s four-star J.C. Jackson (a soft UF oral commitment who is considering UM, UF and FSU) and whether it can hang on to oral commitment Nigel Bethel, the four-star Booker T. Washington cornerback who said he wants to see the Hurricanes change their defensive scheme.

But Bethel told me Monday he “more than likely” will end up at UM, though he earlier told others he will consider Georgia and Arkansas if they make him offers.

“The one thing about Bethel is he will challenge you, wants to go against the best guy across from him,” Fishbein said. “Miami needs more kids like that in their program, who are around successful programs.”

Three-star Miami Northwestern cornerback Ryan Mayes appears firmly committed, but “Ryan didn’t have the year Miami expected,” Fishbein said. “He will end up having to play safety." Carol City receiver Trayone Gray, a UM oral commitment, could play cornerback if needed.

### Safety: UM looks in good shape here after adding four-star New Jersey-based Kiy Hester (five interceptions in 2013 and rated by ESPN as the 196th-best player overall), Lake Worth Park Vista’s three-star Marques Goyat (32 career interceptions) and Orange Park Oakleaf High’s three-star Darrion Owens (three sacks, interception, forced fumble).

“Hester is a major catch,” Lemming said. “He can play corner, receiver, kick returner. I see him as a corner.”

Fishbein: “Goyat is more of strong safety, a will linebacker, can play the run, not as good in coverage as he is against the run… I like Darrion Owens. He may grow into a linebacker.”


### One name to keep in mind in the Dolphins GM search: Eagles and former 49ers player personnel executive Tom Gamble. He has been highly recommended to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. But the Dolphins will do a broad search.

### Ross is a big fan of Dawn Aponte, the Dolphins' executive vice president/football administration, and she might emerge from these ongoing organizational changes with more power. But the Dolphins know that player personnel is not her expertise and are not considering her to fill Jeff Ireland's role or have final say on player procurement. 

"For all the terrific things Dawn Aponte does, you need someone that knows personnel," former Colts general manager Bill Polian said on Sirius XM Radio. "That's not her."

### With Mike Sherman gone as offensive coordinator, the Dolphins should be able to move past that ridiculous pattern of Ryan Tannehill shouting “go” before passes and “go-go” before most runs. Several former players have been mystified why the Dolphins would do that, and some Dolphins players realize opponents likely picked up their snap counts.

“You could see the ease of the defense timing the Dolphins’ snap count,” WINZ-940 analyst and former quarterback John Congemi said, adding that the rhythms of Tannehill's cadence could also tip off the defense.

Congemi explains it this way: “In the huddle, you would know if it’s a run or pass. If you’re not huddling [or on audibles], you might have words that represent a run or pass” or Ryan Tannehill could use a silent count. But Congemi said the words should be changed so they’re not predictable. The Dolphins didn’t seem to do that.

### Heat president Pat Riley offered insight ingo his relationship with Erik Spoelstra in an interview with Index Universe: “We talk every day,” Riley said. “I will make X-and-O suggestions and things like that. But I trust that what he’s set up for this team is a winning formula…. I feel I made the right choice in selecting him because he’s a young coach. He’s achievement oriented. He’s ambitious. He’s analytic. He’s technological. He’s an X-and-O master. He’s not as loud a motivator as I was, but he motivates in a different way. And the team respects him for that.”

### Please see the last post for more Heat news (Andrew Bynum, Greg Oden, more Riley, etc.).... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz       

6 p.m. update: Ireland gone; Heat keeps Mason, passes on Bynum for now, Oden update, Riley musings; Jersey nicknames unveiled

6 p.m. update:  The Dolphins and general manager Jeff Ireland parted ways on Tuesday afternoon, ending a six-year tenure with the team, including the past four in which he had final say on all personnel decisions.

Ross was going to bring in an executive who would have personnel power over Ireland, an arrangement that did not appeal to Ireland. So Ireland decided to move on.

The Dolphins did not name a replacement. Former Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli is among possible candidates, though the team did not indicate who would be considered. Ross also holds former Jets coach Eric Mangini in high regard, and Mangini reportedly has interest in running a team. The team likes assistant general manager Brian Gaine but not for the top position in the front office, according to our Armando Salguero.

“I want to personally thank Jeff for his hard work and dedication in building the team over the past six years,” owner Stephen Ross said. “After a series of discussions, we both felt that it was in our mutual best interest to part ways. Jeff was a loyal and dedicated member of the Dolphins and we wish him and his family nothing but the best.”

Ireland, in a statement, said: “I’ve spent the last six years with the best organization in football. Steve and I came to an agreement that the best thing moving forward for all parties would be to part ways. I’d like to thank Steve for all his support and kindness. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the most amazing people during this time and I’d like to thank them all from the bottom of my heart.”

There was growing tension between Ireland and Joe Philbin, according to a source.

The front office believed the coaching staff could have gotten more out of the players. The coaching staff believed there were deficiencies in the personnel provided by Ireland.

Ireland awarded more than $200 million in contracts during free agency last offseason, including hefty deals for receiver Mike Wallace and linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler. But the Dolphins missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.

The Dolphins went 7-9, 6-10, 7-9 and 8-8 in the four seasons when Ireland had full control on personnel decisions.

Ross has decided to keep Philbin as coach, according to a source.

The Dolphins fired offensive coordinator Mike Sherman on Monday.



The NFL Draft Advisory Board has told UM linebacker Denzel Perryman that he would likely be a third-round draft pick. His father told me last night he’s undecided whether to turn pro.

Meanwhile, defensive end Anthony Chickillo also hasn’t decided whether to turn pro. The Herald’s Susan Miller Degnan reports that Chickillo was given a fourth-to-fifth round grade.

### Agent Drew Rosenhaus has signed three UM seniors who were invited to the NFL Combine: Stephen Morris, Allen Hurns and Pat O’Donnell.

### According to CaneSport.com, key UM oral commitment Michael Wyche, who has signed a letter of intent with UM, is waiting on appeal on an ACC rule requiring a player attend the same junior college three semesters before enrolling in an ACC school. Wyche has attended East Los Angeles Community College only two semesters.


### The Heat decided to keep Roger Mason Jr. and (as expected) Michael Beasley by today's 5 p.m. deadline to guarantee contracts for the remainder of the season. That means Miami would have to eat a contract to add another player.

It also indicates that the Heat feels no need, as of this time, to create a roster spot for center Andrew Bynum, who reportedly has interest in Miami. Several teams have called about Bynum but Miami was not among them, as of a half hour ago.

The Heat instead remains confident that Greg Oden should be able to help them at some point this season.

Mason said a few hours ago: “When I played, I played well. My expectation is to be here. I decided to come here with other options because I expected to be here.”

He said this team has “the best camaraderie I’ve ever been a part of in 11 years.”

### This morning, Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony both praised Oden’s progress. Bosh said Oden hypothetically could play in a game today, if needed, but “you don’t want to throw him out there too soon. He’s got to get his conditioning under him. He’s got to make sure he’s got his legs correctly. Once he gets in good conditioning as far as doing his drills and can do it with no problem, then I’m sure they’ll insert him in games….

“He’s really going to be able to help us in some areas we need to fill later on. His time is coming pretty soon. He’ll be ready. He doesn’t say much, so it’s hard to get a feel for what he’s thinking.”

Anthony said Oden has looked good in two-on-two matchups against him. The Heat hasn’t done much five-on-five practice work in recent weeks.

But asked if he’s convinced Oden will help the team this year, Erik Spoelstra didn’t specifically answer. “All I’m concerned about is follow the plan. And he’s been following the plan. Very disciplined. Making progress.”

### Spoelstra said Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers are game time decisions for tonight’s matchup with New Orleans. Shane Battier is doubtful.

### The Heat announced the nicknames players will wear on jerseys for four games this year, including Friday at Brooklyn: King James; D. Wade, C.B.; Rio; Battle (Shane Battier's original family name); J Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen); Birdman; Doc (Joel Anthony); B Easy (Michael Beasley); Cole Train (Norris Cole), U.D.; J.J.; Sweet Lew (Rashard Lewis); G.O. (if en plays) and Moneymase (if Roger Mason is still on the team).


Pat Riley, who hasn’t spoken to local reporters since late last June, did a recently-released interview with “Index Universe” in which he discussed some of the Heat’s philosophies – much of which Heat fans already know but are interesting nevertheless.

Among the highlights:

### Riley said flatly: “We don’t like to build through the draft. If you’re going to do that, then you’re probably going to have to lose for two or three or four years in a row, and get high lottery picks. In my 19 years here, we’ve been in the lottery three times. We ended up getting three good players out of that [Caron Butler, Dwyane Wade, Michael Beasley].

"We really like the trade route or free agency to find the fourth- or fifth-year player… and now has become a veteran. He’s a talent. He’s experienced. He’s mature. And he will slot into that sixth-man role or a specific role. Or every now and then, go for a real star. That’s how I think about building a team. And that’s how I think about keeping the team relevant, to keep adding one piece. Jerry West taught me this in Los Angeles.”

### Regarding how the Heat makes personnel decisions, Riley said “it’s myself and Erik and Andy Elisburg and Chet Kammerer and Micky Arison. If there isn’t a consensus, and there’s somebody that I really want, then I will probably get to make that decision. But I don’t think we’ve ever done anything here where we didn’t all agree it was the best move.”

### He said Spoelstra believes in analytics: “We have a database of numbers, not only individually but as a team, in which we track every single movement that one of our players makes out on the court. And we will definitely quantify it into a number. And the player will have that number. Erik Spoelstra believes in these numbers. He uses them to set up the offense and defense, especially offensively, and who are the best players to complement LeBron and Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.  Numbers and analytics play a big part in… how we can space the floor. The numbers tell us that Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis play better when LeBron and Chris and Udonis Haslem are on the court.”

### Riley says Spoelstra is the “face of the franchise now” and “we don’t want a lot of people out there making statements to the media that can contradict one another.”

### One key, Riley said, is “the players trust us because they know we’re competent. We’re going to make them better players. We’re going to make sure they’re the best-fed and nutrition-oriented conditioned team in the league. Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t want to really play for us if they didn’t trust that we were competent."