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31 posts from January 2014

January 11, 2014

Early look at possibilities in Dolphins' draft range; Fins, Heat, Canes, Marlins chatter


The Dolphins’ draft plans won’t begin to take shape until a new general manager is hired. But the players who could be available with Miami’s 19th overall pick are beginning to come into focus.

First, here’s who presumably won’t be there at 19: South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr and offensive tackles Jake Matthews (Texas A&M) and Greg Robinson (Auburn). All are top-six caliber picks, per ESPN.com’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay. Fast-rising Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack (100 tackles, 11 sacks last season) projects in that range, too.

Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater presumably will be gone before Miami’s pick, and unless the new GM wants to move on from Ryan Tannehill (which would be very surprising), you can discount Miami drafting the other first-round quarterbacks: UCF’s Blake Bortles and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, who could be gone by 19 anyway.

It’s also difficult to envision the Dolphins using a first-round pick at receiver, their deepest position. Projected first-rounders there include Clemson’s Sammy Watkins (rated sixth by Kiper), Southern California’s Marqise Lee (14th) and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans (15th). McShay has FSU’s Kelvin Benjamin 29th.

Several defensive ends could be in Miami’s range, but that’s already a position of strength, with Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon and Dion Jordan, who could play outside linebacker but is viewed as more of an end by this staff. Defensive ends projected for Miami’s draft range include Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt (“combination of elite quickness and great size,” Kiper said) and Missouri’s Kony Ealy (eight sacks).

So who could make sense at No. 19? Among the possibilities:

### Defensive tackles: Kiper projects FSU’s Timmy Jernigan as the 10th-best prospect (McShay has him seventh), so he could be gone. “I love his great sense of how to disrupt the run game,” Kiper said on ESPN.com….

Notre Dame’s 6-3, 326-pound Louis Nix III, rated 24th by Kiper and 17th by McShay, could be there. Nix missed the final three games after knee surgery “and didn’t perform particularly well when he was on the field,” McShay said. “His stock could drop after scouts watch the tape of his play against Michigan State. But it’s hard to see him falling out of the first round, given his physical abilities and the way he played in 2012.”

Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman could move into Miami’s range. McShay said he is an “outstanding athlete for his position and is effective as a bull rusher and against the run.”

### Running back: Though teams can find productive backs later in the draft, Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde (rated 18th by Kiper) could be tempting. He ran for 1521 yards and 15 touchdowns and averaged 7.3 per carry this past season. “Punishing runner who can run through and bounce off contact,” said Kiper, who ranks him 18th overall.

### Tight end: North Carolina’s Eric Ebron (62 receptions, 973 yards, three touchdowns) also would be tempting, but he’s projected to go higher than Miami’s pick. Kiper has him seventh and McShay 14th. Kiper said he has the “size to overwhelm cornerbacks and most safeties.”

### Linebacker: Keep in mind two prospects: Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier (142 tackles, six sacks; rated 21st by Kiper) and Clemson’s Vic Beasley (12 sacks/rated 22nd by Kiper).

Kiper calls Beasley “an exciting prospect because the ceiling could be very high.” All of the draft prospects mentioned in this column are either seniors or underclassmen who have declared for the draft --- except Beasley, who's a junior and still undecided. Clemson coach Dabo Sweeney told reporters Saturday night that Beasley is still weighing his options.  

Former general manager Jeff Ireland typically would have shied away from a linebacker as small as Shazier, who is 6-2 and 225 pounds, but a new GM might think differently. Kiper calls Shazier “versatile, quick, instinctive, a strong tackler” who has the “burst and agility” to stay with running backs and tight ends in coverage….

Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley --– who has great cover skills and is rated eighth by McShay and 13th by Kiper -- could be gone by No. 19, unless teams grow concerned about his history of medical issues (shoulder, elbow, hip).

### Offensive tackle: Many expect Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan (rated 10th by McShay, 11th by Kiper) to be gone by 19. Two tackles who could be there: Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio and Virginia’s Morgan Moses. But Kouandjio “has been dogged by inconsistency and in particular has been beaten by speed too often,” said Kiper, who rates him 23rd.

McShay ranks Moses 23rd and said he “has the potential to be one of the surprises of this year’s draft, given his physical tools.” McShay said he needs to be more efficient in run-blocking but has improved some.

### Cornerback: Not a need unless the new GM parts ways with free agent Brent Grimes and Dimitri Patterson ($4.5 million cap savings if he’s cut) or if he doesn’t think as much of Jamar Taylor and Will Davis as Ireland did.

Options here would include Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard (both McShay and Kiper have him as the draft’s 19th-best prospect) and Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert (rated 16th by Kiper). Dennard, according to McShay, is “a playmaker with good instincts and route-recognition skills who is at his best in press coverage.” Kiper calls him "the most versatile defensive back in the draft."

Gilbert had seven picks last season and "is squarely back in the mid-first round mix," Kiper said. "He put together a great season after a subpar 2012."

UF cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy (27th by McShay) could rise because of his elite athleticism. So could his teammate, UF cornerback Marcus Roberson, who is rated 26th by McShay but played in just seven games in 2013 because of injury and suspensions. Neither player had a great season.

### Safety: The one very likely first-rounder, at this point, is Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton Dix, rated 16th by McShay and 25th by Kiper, who said Dix “reads the quarterback well and can turn quickly to make plays in any direction.”

Of course, the stock of a lot of players will rise or fall over the next four months. By the way, the draft has been moved a couple of weeks later than past years --- to May 8-10.


### A few people who were in contact with Ireland this past season spoke last week about how frustrated he was with decisions made by his coaching staff about playing time. One agent said Ireland would tell him something about his client and the coaching staff would then tell the player the opposite.

Still, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross does not want to give a general manager authority to fire the head coach, and that’s not unusual, former GM Charley Casserly said.

“Sometimes in general manager contracts, it says the owner must consult with the GM on that,” Casserly said. “But if the owner says, ‘I’m firing the coach,’ that qualifies as consulting.”

### Though two-time NFL Executive of the Year Scott Pioli is available, it’s unlikely Carl Peterson (who is helping and advising Ross on the search) would recommend him to Ross not only because Pioli replaced Peterson in Kansas City, but also because of some of the negative feedback Chiefs people gave Peterson about Pioli before Pioli’s firing. Peterson's opinion carries weight with Ross; Peterson strongly advocated hiring Joe Philbin....

Though Ross likes and has consulted with 49ers offensive consultant and former NFL coach Eric Mangini in the past, he hadn't asked Mangini to interview for the GM job as of Friday, though Mangini would love to run a team. 

### As many of you know, four people already have interviewed for the Dolphins GM job --- the Dolphins' Brian Gaine, Pittsburgh's Omar Kahn, Arizona's Jason Licht and Cleveland's Ray Farmer --- with at least four more expected: Tennessee's Lake Dawson, Philadelphia's Tom Gamble, Atlanta's Lionel Vital and the Giants' Marc Ross.

### One complaint that UM players have raised about defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio is the players don’t feel they can give him suggestions about what they can do differently on defense. “He doesn’t want feedback,” one parent said. Conversely, offensive coordinator James Coley asks players for suggestions, a player said. In fact, Coley is open to feedback during games.

### Four-star receiver/power forward Derrick Griffin, who failed to qualify academically in time for this past football season, tweeted again this week that he will be "down in Miami" later this month. But UM has not received any indication that he has qualified and isn't sure if he will. Both the football and basketball staffs would love to have him.

### There is nothing Erik Spoelstra has praised more passionately this season that Chris Bosh’s defense –-- “Chris is an elite defender and is proving it every single night” --– and consider this: No starting center in the league allows fewer points per possession against the player he’s guarding (factoring in shots and turnovers) than Bosh. Opponents are shooting 37.7 percent against Bosh, lower than against Dwight Howard (38.3) and Joakim Noah (39.9), according to synergysports.com.

Spoelstra even had Bosh as the primary defender on Nets guard Joe Johnson late in Friday's game. "He's our all-team defense guy," Spoelstra said. "He's defended every single position."...

By the way, point guard Norris Cole has allowed the lowest shooting percentage by players he's guarding (34.1) among Heat players. And Cole's improvement offensively was evident when he started in place of the injured Mario Chalmers against the Knicks and Nets.

### Random Heat stuff: Miami's combined six points in its double-overtime loss at Brooklyn on Friday were the fewest scored by a team in a multi-overtime game in the shot clock era, which began in 1954-55.... The Heat already has lost eight games against teams below .500 --- twice as many as it lost all of last season.

### The Marlins are confident Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna (who played well in winter ball) will capably handle starting spots alongside Giancarlo Stanton, but they are exploring adding another outfielder for depth and other reasons and are looking at several options, including Delmon Young, 28, who hit .260 with 11 homers and 38 RBI for Philadelphia and Tampa Bay last season. Young has a home here and would have interest, but the question is whether he would get enough playing time.

The Marlins have a left-handed hitting backup outfielder in veteran Brian Bogusevic, acquired from the Cubs for Justin Ruggiano. Young, a right-handed hitter, hypothetically could fill in at first base and the outfield, playing some against lefties --- a weakness of new starting first baseman Garrett Jones.

The Marlins also might add one or two more veteran relievers to minor-league contracts, with invitations to spring training.

January 10, 2014

Media column: How the Al Golden story was handled; More local radio changes; NFL, BCS


In sports writing, the toy department of the media industry, there’s no story that consistently presents more landmines than a coaching search.

The people involved often do not like to speak on the record for assorted reasons. Some candidates have jobs elsewhere and don’t want their interest in another position to be known. Universities traditionally like to conduct these searches under a cloak of secrecy.

So journalists covering coaching searches need to rely on anonymous sources, some who prove to be accurate, some far less so. That happened again locally in the past week when Al Golden flirted with Penn State. And as usual, that led to overzealous reporting and some serious spinning.

Three reporters indicated that Golden was taking the Penn State job: WINZ-940’s Andy Slater, Charlotte radio host Mark James (a UM alum and the artist formerly known as Mark Benarzyk) and Gary Ferman, the publisher of a popular Hurricanes website, Canesport.com.

Ferman couched his report somewhat, unlike Slater and James, and said that Golden was likely taking the job, barring something crazy, while also reporting that Penn State and Golden had reached an “agreement in principle.”

What’s interesting is the difference in how they handled the story after UM's Blake James said Golden was staying, and after Golden announced he wasn't a candidate for any job. (CBS and ESPN reported  Vanderbilt's James Franklin will get the job.)

Slater, who posted on Twitter last weekend that Golden would inform the team Saturday he was taking the Penn State job, immediately held himself accountable.

“Zero excuse on my end for my tweets yesterday on Golden,” he told his 12,000 followers. “Trusted UM source had been 100 percent but was obviously wrong here. My apologies…. Heat is understood. Source was wrong, I passed it along. Inexcusable.”

It was inauspicious timing for Slater, a former WMEN-640 personality who on Monday began his new gig as the 2-5 p.m. host on WINZ.

James also took responsibility, tweeting: “For the record, I was WRONG about Golden going to Penn State. #Lesson learned.”

Conversely, Ferman defended his story and insisted that Golden had an agreement in principle, though a Penn State beat writer and others insisted an offer was never made before, during or after his Saturday meeting with Penn State officials. Ferman said Golden was offered the job but pulled out because Penn State did not deliver a written contract by 4 p.m. Sunday.

Is it possible that ultimatum could have happened, as Ferman reported? Yes, it's possible. But it also would seem illogical to think Penn State would offer the job to anyone well before a scheduled Sunday interview with Franklin.

“Everything that has been reported re: Golden and Penn State was accurate,” Ferman wrote on his web site. “These things happen in coaching searches all the time….The head coach just went to the brink with Penn State. We covered it every step of the way and annihilated every media outlet.”

Ferman said by phone: “We have an obligation to the people who subscribe to our web site to report all stories as aggressively as possible…. We had four confirmations that he had an agreement in principle.”

Regrets? Ferman said he has none.

“We knew the risks of running with it to the degree that we did, but we got a fourth and the strongest confirmation on Saturday night, and I decided at 8 a.m. Sunday to go with the story,” he said. “We learned Golden had given Penn State an ultimatum that he had to have a signed contract immediately. There was no doubt in our mind that Al would be at a press conference Monday at Penn State based on information we were receiving from several sources.”

The perception is that pay sites will take more chances, even at risk of being wrong, to try to entice potential subscribers. Ferman said he would never do that.

“I’m 52, started at The Miami Herald at 16, have 36 years of experience as a reporter,” he said. “I would never compromise the basic principles of reporting. Coaching stories are the most difficult to cover because the information changes so quickly.”

Bruce Garrison, who has taught journalism at UM since 1981, said pay sites “have to deliver something to their subscribers” but isn’t necessarily sure if that makes them more likely to take risks.

In general, “there is a lot of competition coming today from a lot of different directions,” Garrison said. “That creates pressure to perform to show your editors you know what’s going on. Some news organizations want that information and are willing to take a risk getting it right.

“What bothers me is people come out with speculation. I come from a generation when you rarely did that. You know you had it right or you don’t report it. The web has changed a lot of the journalism we do for good or for bad…. All we have is our credibility as journalists. If we are wrong, that credibility suffers.”

One decision that all journalists face in this Twitter age, including one I wrestled with in the past week: Using Slater’s tweet as an example, should reporters tweet that Slater has reported that Golden is leaving, while also making it clear that the writer of the tweet is not confirming the story?

“We’ve been doing that, but it’s risky to do that,” Garrison said. “If you want to pass along information, you make a judgment on whether the guy has had a track record of getting it right.”

Ferman has been criticized on local radio and elsewhere for his report three years ago that Jon Gruden was poised to become UM’s football coach.

Meanwhile, the most interesting journalism story regarding a coaching search this week had nothing to do with UM.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that Mike Munchak interviewed for the Penn State job Sunday, Munchak then told The Tennessean that he had not, and Mortensen then tweeted that he checked again and Munchak “absolutely” did interview that day.


### Former 790/104.3 The Ticket morning personality Marc Hochman, who will take over the 3-7 p.m. slot on WQAM-560 beginning April 1, has strong interest in hiring Zach Krantz as his co-host.

Krantz's voice has been heard a lot over the years as Joe Rose’s radio producer. Hochman also wants to hire The Ticket’s Joy Taylor.

### Saturday night’s Colts-Patriots playoff game will be the finale for CBS’ Dan Dierdorf, who is retiring after 30 years in broadcasting, including the past 15 with CBS.

“I’m a little melancholy,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to clutter the end of the game with anything about me. That would make me uncomfortable. Physically, it’s hard for me to travel 20 times a year. I’ve got to find something to do.”

### It’s highly unusual for a team-employed announcer to advocate the firing of that team’s general manager. So it’s notable that Rose, the co-analyst on WINZ-940’s Dolphins radio broadcasts, took that position on Jeff Ireland before his departure.

Asked about changes in the organization, Rose said on NBC 6: “It’s got to start with the general manager. Try something different.”

Some announcers have the popularity and job security to be able to criticize the team’s decision-makers, with Rose and the late, great Jim Mandich among them.

### Fox continues to tinker with production of the divisional playoff game not handled by Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. After awarding the announcing assignment to Kenny Albert, Darryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa for many years, Fox gave it to Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick last year and will try Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch this year (on Saints-Seahawks).

### ESPNews’ coach’s film room production of the BCS championship game -- featuring Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, Boston College’s Steve Addazio, Pittsburgh’s Paul Chryst and others -- was the highlight of the network’s Megacast, with the coaches offering dead-on insight (including predicting an FSU fake punt) and delivering it in a way far more conversational than a traditional game broadcast.

Less appealing was ESPN2’s version; viewers essentially eavesdropped on an ESPN party in which analysts and celebrities spoke over each other, including actress Cheryl Hines, who asked if the person who snaps the ball to the quarterback is called the snapper, then admitted, "I could have Googled it before I got here."

On both ESPNews and ESPN2, more of the screen should have been allotted to the live game feed.

### Please see the last post, updated several times in the past 36 hours, for on-field UM and Dolphins news. By the way, early enrollee Braxton Berrios -- considered the best receiver in this UM recruiting class -- tweeted this afternoon that he has a torn ACL.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz       

January 08, 2014

3 p.m. update: Good news for UM; Fins OC search update; UM loses second 4-star recruit in two days

3 p.m. update: The Dolphins have asked for permission to interview Eagles executive Tom Gamble about their vacant GM job. He has been highly recommended to Stephen Ross. That makes at least seven candidates for the job. Arizona's Jason Licht is interviewing today.

1 p.m. update: Linebacker Denzel Perryman has informed UM that he is returning for his senior season, according to a UM official. That's significant, because he's UM best linebacker.

Perryman had received a third-round grade from the draft advisory board, but his father said he advised him to return to school. UM said no player is leaving early for the pros.

11 a.m. update: According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Dolphins are "zeroing in" on three people for their offensive coordinator job: former Texans coach Gary Kubiak, former Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Packers QB coach Ben McAdoo, who worked with Joe Philbin in Green Bay.

9 a.m. update: Four-star Deerfield Beach running back Brandon Powell flipped his oral commitment from UM to UF this morning. Last night, he curiously tweeted: "Gotta feed the fam. Been struggling for too long."

His departure leaves UM with only one running back in this class, but a very good one: Miami Central four-star RB Joseph Yearby, who is enrolling this month.

8:30 p.m. update: UM lost a key oral commitment tonight when Booker T. Washington 4-star cornerback Nigel Bethel announced he's flipping to Texas Tech. "Better opportunity for me at Tech," he said. Bethel had criticized UM's defensive scheme but said that didn't factor into his decision.

That leaves UM with three-star Miami Northwestern prospect Ryan Mayes as the only cornerback in the class, though at least two of UM's three safety commitments are possibilities to play cornerback, and Carol City receiver Trayone Gray also can play corner. And UM remains in the mix for four-star CB J.C. Jackson, a soft UF oral commitment. 

Please scroll down for more UM recruiting news from earlier today, involving Treon Harris.

### Browns assistant GM Ray Farmer has emerged as the front-runner for the Dolphins' GM job, per our Armando Salguero. He worked in Kansas City under Carl Peterson, who is advising Stephen Ross on the search.


8 p.m. update: Dolphins owner Stephen Ross announced tonight that the team's new GM "will have autonomous responsibility for the 53 man roster and selecting players during the draft and will report to me."

He also said Carl Peterson will serve as an advisor with the search but "will not have a role with the Dolphins after the process is over."

Ross said the new GM must have "demonstrated player evaluation expertise" and one is "a collaborative team player that puts the organization first."

Ross said "regardless of reporting structure, the relationship between the general manager and coach Phlilbin must be one of trust, respect and collaboration, and this will be an area we will look closely at during the process."

Interviews will begin Friday. As for candidates...

The Dolphins were denied permission to interview Saints personnel director Ryan Pace, per Fox's Jay Glazer.

The Dolphins and Tampa Bay have asked the Tennessee Titans for permission to interview vice president of player personnel Lake Dawson for their GM job, The Tennessean first reported.

They also have asked for permission to speak with Browns assistant GM Ray Farmer, a former pro personnel director for the Chiefs, per The National Football Post.

And three other names have surfaced, according to broadcast reports (ESPN and NFL Net): Pittsburgh director of football administration Omar Kahn (who is well-regarded), Arizona vice president player personnel Jason Licht (who previously held that job with the Eagles), and Falcons director of player personnel Lionel Vital.

Dawson is in his seventh season with the Titans and his second in that position. He previously worked as  the Titans' vice president of football operations, and earlier, as director of pro personnel.

Dawson worked in the Seattle Seahawks' personnel department from 2001 to 2006. He has interviewed for GM jobs in the past, including the Rams' last January.

He played receiver at Notre Dame and was a third-round pick of the Chiefs in the 1992 draft. With Kansas City, he caught 103 passes, including 10 touchdowns, in four pro seasons.

Dawson's interview and Farmer's interview would also ensure the Dolphins are in compliance with the Rooney Rule, which mandates that a minority candidate be considered for a senior executive football position. The Dolphins also would be in compliance with the Rooney Rule by interviewing Marc Ross, the first candidate with a confirmed interview for the Dolphins’ GM job.

Ross was a finalist for the Carolina Panthers GM job last year, and his evaluation of college players has drawn praise around the league. In past years, he interviewed for GM jobs with the Jets, Seahawks and Bears.

Ross was the Giants’ vice president of player evaluation this season, a promotion from his previous job as the team’s director of college scouting. “Marc has done an outstanding job of running our college scouting and the draft, and we wanted to give him a title that reflected that,” Giants general manager Jerry Reese said last year.

### UM has offered four-star Booker T. Washington prospect Treon Harris as a quarterback for the first time, according to Canesport.com. Previously, UM had offered him only as an "athlete."

Harris, Rivals.com's No. 3 rated dual-threat quarterback, is an FSU oral commitment but is now expected to at least give some thought to UM, Auburn and perhaps UF. Whether it's too late for UM to sway him remains to be seen. UM also has two oral commitments from quarterbacks: pro-style quarterback Brad Kaaya and dual-threat Alabama-based quarterback Malik Rosier. Both have said they intend to come to UM, though Kaaya's hometown school (UCLA) continues to recruit him. 

### Please scroll to the bottom of this post for news on Marlins president David Samson appearing on CBS' Survivor.


Other notes from late Wednesday night:

### Of the four known candidates for the offensive coordinator job, two have been offensive coordinators in the NFL (Gary Kubiak, Kyle Shanahan) and two have been quarterback coaches but not NFL offensive coordinators (Ben McAdoo and Bill Lazor, who interviewed Wednesday).

One has been a head coach –-- Kubiak, who interviewed for the Detroit head coaching job this week.

Lazor, the Eagles quarterback coach, also previously held that position with Seattle and Atlanta, and was an offensive coordinator at two colleges: Buffalo and Virginia. After joining the Cavaliers in 2010, Lazor immediately turned around an offense that ranked last in the ACC in total yardage the previous year. In his first season at Virginia, the Cavaliers ranked third in the conference, averaging 404.8 yards per game. In 2011, they were fourth in the ACC with 399.8 yards per game.

### Though ESPN continues to mention the Heat as a contender for center Andrew Bynum, his agent said Wednesday night that Miami has shown no interest in signing him. The Heat remains confident that Greg Oden will help them at some point.

### Erik Spoelstra likes what he has seen when he pairs Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen together. Miami has shot 57 percent and outscored teams by 43 points in the 60 minutes they have played together.

### The latest on the Penn State coaching saga: The Times-Tribune in Scranton, Penn., reported tonight that the job has been offered to Vanderbilt's James Franklin and he will decide Thursday whether to accept it.

### Al Golden, on WQAM, offered another reason why he decided not to fire any coaches: “I don’t believe starting over is the answer. We have so many talented players coming back. The entire secondary will be back, for the first time since we’ve been here.

“We have to use our experience. We don’t throw it out the window by creating a bunch of new techniques and calls and alignments.”

By the way, with Golden announcing that UM will play with 82 scholarship players next season --- three under the maximum --- that means UM will dock itself three of the nine that it’s required to relinquish over the next three years. UM played with 76 scholarship players this past season.

### UM's 63-57 win at North Carolina tonight was impressive considering UNC has beaten the top three teams in one of the preseason polls (Michigan State, Louisville and Kentucky), though UNC also has some bad losses. Rion Brown (19 points, 10 rebounds) was terrific; Tony Jekiri had 10 rebounds and three blocks; and Erik Swoope (14) and Garrius Adams (9 points, 6 assists) both made significant contributions. And freshman point guard Manu Lecomte played a sound floor game (seven assists, two turnovers).

UM, which won its fourth in a row against UNC, played an effective matchup zone on defense, and UNC shot just 30.8 percent. UNC isn't ranked, but this was an unexpected win during a rebuilding season. UM (9-6, 1-2) now has a week off before playing FSU at 9 p.m. next Wednesday at Bank United Center.

### The Marlins re-signed right-hander Kevin Slowey to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training, and he has a chance to win the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation or a long relief job.

Slowey will compete for a back-of-the-rotation spot with Tom Koehler, Brian Flynn and a couple of prospects, including highly-regarded Andrew Heaney. Slowey went 3-6 with a 3.86 ERA last season in 20 appearances for the Marlins, including 14 starts, before missing the final two months with a strained right forearm.                      

### Channel 10's Will Manso reported (and I have confirmed, as well) that Marlins president David Samson will be among 18 contestants on the upcoming season of the CBS series Survivor, which was taped last year in the Philippines. Participants are prohibited from discussing it. Samson participated in the Ironman World Championship Triathlon in Hawaii in 2006 and also runs marathons.

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."

January 06, 2014

Golden says coaching staff will remain intact, addresses other issues in news conference; Fins

Highlights from Al Golden’s news conference from Monday afternoon:

### He said there won’t be any changes to the coaching staff. As we reported, UM never asked him to dump Mark D’Onofrio, and Golden had no intention of doing it. He said “the answer is not change, the answer is continuity.”

He clearly trusts this staff and wants to see what the staff does with a team that is adding a high-end recruiting class.

“First year without the NCAA cloud,” he said. “There’s a big part of me that wants that, that hasn’t experienced that…. We have an experienced group, mature group coming back. I look at my depth in the spring [with] the first team. We’re a lot deeper. I like the symmetry we have.”

### He dodged questions about Penn State, declining to say if he interviewed or considered the job. “There are universities that have expressed interest the past couple of years. I have not addressed them and I’m not going to start now. It’s flattering… other people express interest in us. I’m excited about where we’re going.”

Did the speculation hurt, considering one player de-committed during the period of uncertainty (Hialeah Champagnat defensive tackle Travonte Valentine)? “No,” Golden said. “Our staff did a great job of communication.” Valentine named LSU as his favorite but hasn't ruled out UM.

### Golden said nobody has left the team and “we don’t foresee anybody leaving.”

### He said eight recruits will enroll this week: running back Joseph Yearby, running back Brandon Powell, offensive tackles Trevor Darling and Shane McDermott, defensive tackle Calvin Heurtelou, defensive end Trent Harris, linebacker Juwon Young and receiver Braxton Berrios. The first four of those, and Berrios, are four-star recruits. And all eight are very well-regarded.

Defensive tackle Michael Wyche, from East Los Angeles JC, has signed with UM but isn't an early enrollee at this point.

### Asked if the defensive philosophy needs to change, Golden suggested he likes the core philosophy “but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to tweak our use of personnel. The team is reborn every year… In terms of schemes and direction we want to go, we’re not where we want to be.”

So UM might use some players differently. But it doesn’t sound like they will dramatically change their approach. Golden said he hopes to generate more pass rush from a four-man rush.

Then, as he did on Jose Rose’s show today, he spoke about “the progress on defense, and how the defense was more explosive this year.  The progress we made, whether it’s the sacks, the fumbles caused, the interceptions, this is the most explosive" defense UM has had in his three years. (But it's clearly not good enough yet, and Golden doesn't dispute that.)

### Asked to assess his linebackers (a unit that needs to play better), he said he feels good with a group including Denzel Perryman (who might turn pro), Tyriq McCord, Al-Quadin Muhammed (can play outside linebacker when UM is in a 3-4), Jermaine Grace, Raphael Kirby, Thurston Armbrister, Alex Figueroa and two incoming players: Juwon Young and Trent Harris (who can also play defensive end).

“We’re getting longer at linebacker. Young and Harris are 6-2, 6-3, have range and length. We’re getting stronger and better at that position and I don’t think we’re giving up the speed. Denzel got a lot bigger last year and didn’t give up speed or anything from a conditioning standpoint.”

### Asked about the fact that among 123 teams, Miami was third-worst in both rushing yards allowed and third-down conversion percentage allowed in the final five weeks of the season, Golden said:

“The reality is we weren’t good enough. It’s my responsibility for us to be better at that time of the year. We have to continue to build our depth. That’s going to be critical. Injuries, the guys we lost, were difficult. That’s no excuse.”

### He stopped short of saying the quarterback job is Ryan Williams’ to lose, but he’s clearly the front-runner.

“Ryan has done a really good job, but you’re not anointed the starting quarterback. Ryan did a good job distinguishing himself as the No. 2 in training camp. Kevin Olsen and Gray Crow [and incoming quarterbacks] will have an opportunity to compete. In terms of his growth, maturity, football intelligence, [Williams] is someone we’re excited about.”

### He said offensively, “we want to be more balanced. We have explosive playmakers but we need to control the ball a little better. We need to do a better job on third down, and that includes first-down efficiency. How can we get in more third and manageable? For how we conduct the offense, our completion percentage needs to be close to 68, 67 percent. We could have helped out the defense a lot more by converting” third downs.

“We were a lot better running the ball, explosive runs, runs over 10 yards. We were a lot better with explosive pass plays. Very excited to say that element is coming back” – with Duke Johnson, Stacy Coley and others.

### Golden said he isn't sure if Duke Johnson will be available for spring football, as he recovers from injury. He hasn't announced the spring schedule.

### Golden confirmed that Kevin Olsen, Rashawn Scott and Ray Lewis were all suspended for the bowl game for “conduct detrimental to the team.” He indicated he expects Scott –as a senior to be – has to speak up more for his actions.

He seemed more forgiving of Olsen and Lewis. All three remain on the team.

### Quick Dolphins note: One potential candidate to replace dismissed offensive coordinator Mike Sherman: Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo, who worked with Philbin in Green Bay and is considered a bright young assistant. His contract is up. Joe Philbin wanted to interview him when he was putting together his initial Dolphins staff, but the Packers wouldn't allow it.

Gary Kubiak and Rob Chudzinski, who lost their NFL head coaching jobs, are among veteran former offensive coordinators available. 

January 05, 2014

Dolphins options, solutions to fix run defense; Dolphins, Heat, UM, Marlins chatter


The deficiency that might be trickiest for the Dolphins to solve this offseason is the one that perhaps most disappointed and surprised them: their failure to consistently stop the run.

The Dolphins, third against the run in 2011 and 13th in 2012, plunged to 24th this season; allowed 203 and 154 yards rushing against the Bills and Jets to close the season; and relinquished at least 133 yards rushing in 11 games.

The primary culprit was easy enough to diagnosis: Dreadful play against the run from two of the starting linebackers. Dannell Ellerbe ranked 53rd of 55 inside linebackers against the run, according to Pro Football Focus, and Philip Wheeler ranked 35th of 35 outside linebackers. The men they replaced, Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, ranked 14th and second, respectively. At least Koa Misi was 11th against the run.

What’s more, none of the Dolphins’ defensive ends ranked in the top 15 against the run, with backup Derrick Shelby the best (20th of 52 in a 4-3 defense) and Cameron Wake the worst (34th).

Among the challenges with fixing the run defense:

### Though none of Miami’s defensive ends are extraordinary against the run, it’s unrealistic to expect any major addition to a group including Wake, much-improved Vernon, Shelby and Jordan (31st against the run). So the Dolphins must hope that Vernon and Jordan simply improve against the run.

### If the Dolphins released Wheeler, they would take a $6.4 million cap hit for 2014 if he’s cut with a post-June 1 salary cap designation, $10.4 million without one. His cap number is $6.4 million if he’s on the team.

Cutting Ellerbe appears far less likely; if the Dolphins surprisingly did, they would take a 2014 cap hit of $7.4 million, $11.6 million or $14.6 million depending on when they cut him. His cap number is $7.4 million if he's on the team. 

The Dolphins are comfortable with Jelani Jenkins playing in third-down passing situations. So if they cut Wheeler, they could add a linebacker to play either outside linebacker on first and second down or a middle linebacker to play early downs, with Ellerbe shifting to an outside linebacker position.

In that scenario, free agents who graded out well against the run this season and would be worth considering include two former UM middle linebackers --- Jon Beason (19th of 55 against the run, and he played pretty well after an October trade from the Panthers to the Giants) and Houston’s Darryl Sharpton (ranked No. 2 against the run), as well as others: Cincinnati’s Vincent Rey, Buffalo’s Arthur Moats and Kansas City’s Akeem Jordan.

Pittsburgh outside linebacker Jason Worilds (15th against the run and eight sacks) would be more expensive. Washington outside linebacker Brian Orakpo (11 sacks and third against the run) would be even more expensive. And Dallas’ Anthony Spencer, who had 11 sacks and was No. 1 against the run among outside linebackers in 2012, played in just one game in 2013 because of knee surgery. Orakpo and Spencer are best as 3-4 linebackers or 4-3 ends, and the Dolphins seem inclined to stick with a 4-3.

Releasing Wheeler and adding a skilled run-stopping linebacker seems the best solution. In retrospect, how regrettable was the Dolphins’ decision to swap out Dansby and Burnett for Ellerbe and Wheeler? Besides performing better against the run, Arizona’s Dansby and Oakland’s Burnett combined for more sacks than Ellerbe/Wheeler (9 to 1.5), more forced fumbles (4 to 0), more interceptions (5 to 2), more tackles for loss (23 to 8) and fewer missed tackles (28 to 32).

Not everyone was surprised. One Dolphins player said early last August that it was clear the new linebackers were no upgrade over the former ones; and a former NFL Executive of the Year told us in August he was flabbergasted Jeff Ireland made those moves, especially Wheeler.

By the way, Wheeler wasn't any better against the pass, allowing 47 of the 65 passes in his coverage area to be completed for 483 yards, which amounted to a 108.7 passer rating against.

### Here’s the final issue with stopping the run: The Dolphins’ defensive tackle rotation will be weakened if they can re-sign only Randy Starks (ranked fifth against the run among 69 defensive tackles) OR Paul Soliai (17th). Re-signing both might be cost prohibitive.

Among free agents, no tackle ranked better against the run than Starks except, coincidentally, Tony McDaniel, who left the Dolphins for Seattle. No impending free agent tackle graded out better against the run than Soliai except Starks, McDaniel and the Giants’ Linval Joseph.

Other productive free agent tackles available if Miami cannot re-sign either Starks or Soliai include Henry Melton (received the Bears’ franchise tag in 2013 but sustained a torn ACL in September; Bears have concerns about that and a recent off-field issue), Atlanta’s Jonathan Babineaux and the Giants’ Mike Patterson.

### Dolphins owner Stephen Ross entered the weekend still trying to decide what changes to make. A decision is expected at any time.


### Something to keep in mind if Al Golden stays at UM instead of going to Penn State [UPDATE: UM SAID SUNDAY GOLDEN IS STAYING AT UM, WHICH GOLDEN ESSENTIALLY CONFIRMED]: Even though several UM defensive players have praised coordinator Mark D’Onofrio publicly, some have expressed frustration privately because they want to play a more attacking style.

What’s more, several Board of Trustees members also have complained about D’Onofrio, and the administration is well aware of that.

A key UM oral commitment, cornerback Nigel Bethel, wants to see changes in the defensive approach and announced: “I want a new scheme.” He is now considering other schools, as well as UM.

D’Onofrio and Golden like to blitz some but prefer to rush four and not give up the big play.Some players would like to play more man-to-man and less zone. Make no mistake: Golden is very much involved in the schemes this defense plays. He and D'Onofrio share similar philosophies.

One UM football staffer privately expressed a concern that D’Onofrio’s system might be too complicated. But even before Penn State started pursuing Golden, the UM administration wasn't inclined to try to force him to make staff changes.

### Please see the last post for a Saturday evening update on the Golden/Penn State situation, including Donna Shalala's uncertainty about what Golden will do.

### Remember Kevin Durant saying in September that James Harden, not Dwyane Wade, belonged in the list of the NBA’s top 10 players? Wade remains the clearly more efficient player --– first in ESPN’s shooting guard efficiency ratings, ahead of Harden.

Though Harden averages more points (24 to 19.6), that’s the result of taking more shots and playing five minutes more per game. Wade shoots much better (54.1 – highest by a shooting guard in this century - to Harden’s 44.2), averages more rebounds, assists and steals per 36 minutes, and makes more fields goals than Harden despite taking fewer shots.

### The Heat has been very pleased with Greg Oden’s progress recently – he has looked good in workouts --– and Heat people would be surprised if Miami pursued Andrew Bynum if the Cavaliers cut him, barring an Oden setback. A Heat official noted Miami had no interest in Bynum last summer.

### Sad to see: Not only has Udonis Haslem slipped to 77th and last among power forwards in NBA efficiency ratings (and 324th of 327 players overall), but the Heat has been outscored by 77 points with Haslem on the floor; every other Heat player has a positive plus/minus. It's difficult to see him cracking the rotation again, barring injury, but don't count out Haslem; his grit, work ethic, tenacity and commitment have enabled him to forge a career much better than anyone expected... Please see the last post for several more Heat notes from Saturday night.

### An MLB source who has spent time with Giancarlo Stanton this offseason said he seems increasingly smitten with the Dodgers and the Hollywood lifestyle and part-time owner Magic Johnson and has buddied up with Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp. The Dodgers are the front-runner to land him when he becomes a free agent after 2016. The Marlins very likely would consider dealing him next winter if he rejects an expected multiyear offer in the coming months.

### The lighter side: Thursday marked the 30th anniversary of UM’s first national championship, against Nebraska. And you know where the game-deciding play –-- Kenny Calhoun knocking away Turner Gill’s pass on a two-point conversion –-- is most often discussed these days? Inside Central Florida's Polk County Jail, where numerous inmates have asked Calhoun, a county sheriff’s office employee, to talk about the play.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

January 04, 2014

UM says its expects to keep Golden; Heat notes; Even LeBron gets carded

A few things from Orlando, where the Heat is playing the Magic tonight:


### UM athletic director Blake James texted The Herald’s Susan Miller Degnan and a couple of other UM beat writers saying he expects Golden to remain UM’s coach.

"I believe he will be our coach going forward," James said.

But in an e-mail to The Herald, UM president Donna Shalala said: "We don't know anything yet."

Golden and James have been in contact several times over the past two days, and UM was fully aware that Golden was considering overtures from Penn State. ESPN reported that Golden met with Penn State

officials today.

Still, Golden has not made any public comment. He is tentatively scheduled to hold a season-ending UM news conference on Monday.

Earlier today, WINZ’s Andy Slater reported that Golden planned to inform his team today that he was leaving for PennState. But multiple parents of UM players said no meeting has been called.

Even though Golden attended Penn State, his family loves living here, and that figures to be one of the factors he at least considers.

### One of UM’s key oral commitments, defensive tackle Travonte Valentine, said he is de-committing from UM because the coaching situation is unresolved. He said he now leans toward LSU but won’t

decide until National Signing Day Feb. 5.



Coach Erik Spoelstra reiterated Saturday how much he values guard Roger Mason Jr., which would suggest Mason has a good chance to survive this week’s deadline when contracts become guaranteed for the remainder of the season.

But Spoelstra was non-committal when asked whether Mason will be with the team past the deadline, and Mason has been given no assurances. “We’ll see what happens,” Spoelstra said.

Contracts will become guaranteed for the season on Friday, but Mason’s contract essentially would become guaranteed if he remains on the team past Tuesday, because of the 48-hour waiver period.

Michael Beasley, the only other Heat player with a non-guaranteed deal, assuredly will remain with the team past the deadline. So if Mason isn’t released, the Heat would need to eat a contract or make a trade if it decides to add a player during the remainder of the season.

Spoelstra made clear he views Mason as an important piece, though he appeared in just 14 of the Heat’s first 32 games.

“We don’t take him for granted,” Spoelstra said. “Roger is gaining more confidence with each game he plays, with our system. Those kind of guys are hard to find. To be able to understand the big picture and be available when we need him and to be able to produce and to not be cluttered in the mind, I think a lot of teams would love to have a guy like him.”

Mason, who is averaging 4.3 points and shooting 41.2 percent, would make $1.27 million if he remains on the team all season.

The looming deadline “is not something I concern myself with,” he said. “I haven’t talked to anybody about it. I signed here with the intention of winning a championship.”

Last season, the Heat released center Josh Harrellson before the deadline, then signed him to a 10-day contract after he cleared waivers, before parting ways. The Heat ultimately used that roster spot to add Chris Anderson, while also signing Jarvis Varnado with another open spot.

### Dwyane Wade, who has played both games in a back-to-back set only once this season, said he would play Saturday but was non-committal about whether he would play Sunday against Toronto, adding it will be based on how his knees feel.

### Shane Battier missed Saturday’s game because of soreness in his quadriceps.

### LeBron James, who is eight years above the legal drinking limit at 29, was carded at an Orlando hotel bar Friday night while watching the Orange Bowl.

James didn’t tell the employee who he was but was surprised to be carded. “Look at my beard!” he said.

### Spoelstra decided not to start Ray Allen in the 13 games that Wade missed last season and the first five he skipped this season because he wanted Allen to adjust to his bench role without disruption.

But Spoelstra changed that approach a few weeks ago, and Allen started the last three games that Wade missed. He played very well in his first three starts, averaging 15.3 points on 62.5 percent shooting while logging 28.7 minutes per game – about three more than he usually does.

“We were a little bit on autopilot for a couple years,” Spoelstra said. “We knew what we were doing [when Wade was out] and that guy was Mike Miller. Our bench is different this year, has a little more punch. We thought it would give us more consistency with Ray there and it didn’t hurt us as much on the bench.”

Allen came off the bench only eight times in his first 16 seasons.     

### Please check back late tonight for the Sunday buzz, including lots of Dolphins, plus Canes, Heat and Marlins.

January 03, 2014

Media column: ESPN's unprecedented plan for BCS title game; More local radio changes; Heat chatter


Apparently, simply televising the most important college sports events no longer suffices. Networks now must air variations of the traditional broadcast to feel they're measuring up, whether there’s a viewer demand for it or not.

This curious trend began a few months ago, when Turner announced that it would present this April's two men’s NCAA Tournament national semifinal games with three different cablecasts. TBS will air a traditional cablecast, while TNT and TruTV air coverage from the perspective of the teams competing.

Now, ESPN has unveiled a six-way “Megacast” of Monday’s FSU-Auburn BCS national championship.

If you prefer to watch a “normal broadcast,” you can do that by tuning in ESPN, where the game will be called by Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit.

But if you want something a little different, there are choices, with all of them beginning at 8:30 p.m., shortly before kickoff:

### On ESPN2’s BCS Title Talk, analysts and several coaches and celebrities will dissect what’s happening. Viewers will see a live game feed, as well as enhanced stats and a “social stripe” with live social media feedback.

### ESPNews will serve up BCS Film Room, in which ESPN analysts and guests will analyze the game from, appropriately enough, a film room! Viewers often will see camera angles different from those used in the “normal” broadcast.

### On ESPN Classic, the game will be aired without announcer audio. Instead, viewers will hear ambient sounds around the stadium as well as the Rose Bowl’s public address announcer. (We have no major problem with Brent Musburger, but this channel is a gift for those who do.)

### ESPN Goal Line, part of the network’s regular season pay-per-view package, will split the screen with live action and replays of the previous play, supplemented by ESPN Radio’s call of the game, with Mike Tirico and Todd Blackledge.

### ESPN3, the network’s on-line service, will offer team-specific coverage similar to what Turner is doing with the Final Four. Fans can hear the Auburn or Florida State radio broadcasts, and traditional camera angles will be complemented by Skycam and isolation cameras on key coaches and players. ESPN3 also will offer another option with live coverage exclusively from an above-stadium camera angle.

So why is ESPN going to the trouble of doing all this?

“Sports fans can’t get enough of big events,” said Norby Williamson, ESPN’s executive vice president/programming. “While we’ve introduced full circle coverage efforts in the past, the combination of available technology, emerging ESPN platforms and creative concepts will set this one apart.”


### Don’t expect Tim Tebow to be critical in his new role as a college football analyst on ESPN (beginning next week) or The SEC Network (beginning in August). Tebow said he plans to be “positive but objective.” And hopefully not sleep-inducing, which seems a real possibility.

### Considering the importance of the game, the 16.5 local rating for the Jets-Dolphins finale was disappointing to say the least.

### WQAM-560 has chosen Brandon Guzio and Alex Donno to host its 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. show, instead of Curtis Stevenson, who lost his 1 to 3 p.m. gig this week.

Channing Crowder has moved back to the 1 to 3 p.m. slot, alongside Adam Kuperstein, in anticipation of Marc Hochman taking over WQAM's 3 to 7 p.m. show on April 1, the earliest date permitted because of a non-compete clause in his most recent contract.

Hochman, who left 790/104.3 The Ticket's morning show in December, wants to add two co-hosts and has strong interest in hiring Joy Taylor, his former morning colleague (with Jonathan Zaslow) on The Ticket. Taylor, sister of former Dolphins star Jason Taylor, declined to comment about her plans. WQAM has not approached Zaslow.

Jeff Fox and Ed Freeman, AKA “The Sports Brothers,” will handle the 3 to 7 p.m. slot on WQAM until April 1, and Kevin Rogers will remain the permanent evening host on nights when there aren't conflicts with Florida Panthers and UM basketball games. Stevenson, who is worthy of a regular show, will return to his fill-in role.

### More radio personnel moves: WMEN-640 is considering ex-WQAM staffer John Linder and several former NFL players, including Adewale Ogunleye and Plaxico Burress, to do a noon-3 p.m. show. That job opened with Andy Slater’s move to WINZ-940, where he will take over the 2 to 5 p.m. slot on Jan. 6.

### NBC 6’s 11:27 p.m. sports, which for years was the market's most comprehensive (along with WSVN-7’s), has been badly damaged by management's decision to cut the length of the late sportscast from 3:30 to 1:30.

Joe Rose (or Courtney Fallon) previously were able to fit in more stories than WFOR’s Jim Berry or WPLG’s Will Manso could accommodate on their late sportscasts. That’s no longer the case. And viewers inclined to watch all three of those sportscasts --- along with WSVN's 11 p.m. sportscast --- can no longer do that, either.

### Fans are invited to attend ESPN Deportes’ 10th-anniversary festivities at the Colony Hotel on Miami Beach on Tuesday, with the network broadcasting live from 9:15 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Miguel Cabrera and Roberto Duran among those expected.  

### Early views on ESPN’s revamped NBA studio: New host Sage Steele is too wordy and wasted time on Christmas trying to convince us how much she, Doug Collins, Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose like each other. Who cares?… Collins deserves more time to speak, and Steele needs to encourage the analysts to debate among themselves, rather than using the predictable, formulaic approach of asking each of them a question… Shame on ESPN for not showing NBA scores or highlights during halftime of its Christmas games. The primary purpose of a studio show should be updating viewers on other games.

### Save of the Year by ESPN’s Jesse Palmer, who performed the Heimlich maneuver on colleague Chris Fowler at halftime of the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. “He saved me from death by dry chicken sandwich,” Fowler tweeted.

Please see the last post, from late last night, for Heat chatter and a couple Canes/Al Golden notes. 

January 02, 2014

Heat-Warriors postscripts; Impressive distinction for Beasley; Canes, Dolphins

Several Heat items after Golden State’s wildly entertaining 123-114 victory Thursday night:

### Stephen Curry (36 points, 12 assists, 8 for 15 on threes) became only the third player to put up at least 35 points and a dozen assists against the Heat, joining luminaries Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson.

“It was incredible,” Dwyane Wade said. “A few times we were in his jersey and he made shots. There is nothing you can do. You can contest it and hope he misses it.”

### David Lee (32 points, 14 rebounds) was also destructive, and Curry and Lee became the first teammates to score at least 30 points against the Heat since LeBron James (42) and Mo Williams (30) did that for Cleveland against the Heat on March 2, 2009.

### The Heat (24-8) dropped 1.5 games before Indiana for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

### Miami entered allowing 97.5 points per game, seventh-best in the league. Golden State’s 123 were a season-high by a Heat opponent.

### LeBron James had nearly as many turnovers (eight) as field goals (10)... Chris Bosh, who shot 6 for 16, failed to hit 50 percent of his shots for the first time in 11 games, which would have set a career mark.

### The four players who sit atop ESPN’s efficiency ratings for small forwards are all superstars: James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George.

The fifth? He’s earning just over $1 million, averaging a career low in points and minutes, and sometimes doesn’t even play.

That Heat forward Michael Beasley has risen to fifth in that category might be surprising but isn’t shocking, considering he has improved his shooting, rebounding, defense and other aspects of his game.

Beasley ranked 30th in efficiency among small forwards two years for Minnesota and 48th (of 67) last season for Phoenix. 

Beasley also plays a lot at power forward and would rank 13th among power forwards in efficiency if ESPN had listed him at that position. But ESPN lists him as a small forward.

Regardless of what forward position he plays, his efficiency rating this season tops those of clearly above-average starters such as Serge Ibaka, Kawhi Leonard, Luol Deng and Andre Iguodola.

“He has embraced the whole thing,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Players are gaining more trust in him. The staff is gaining more trust in him.”

Beasley entered Thursday’s game against Golden State averaging 19.2 minutes per game, lowest of his career and well below his 26.4 average entering the season. He also is averaging a career-low 9.9 points, purely a function of his reduced minutes.

But his 52.6 percent shooting from the field easily tops his 44.7 career average entering the season, including a career-low 40.5 for Phoenix last season.

The biggest improvement offensively has come on shots from 10 to 15 feet; Beasley is making 47.6 percent of those attempts after shooting between 32 and 38 in each of his five previous seasons.

Spoelstra said playing “with a better team” with “better ball movement” also is a factor in his improved shooting percentage, as well “as understanding where we like to get our offense.”

A career 34.5 percent three-point shooter before this season, Beasley had made 12 of 24 threes entering Thursday.

Also, Beasley is averaging 6.8 rebounds per 36 minutes, topping his 5.4 career average.

And “defensively, he’s more focused,” forward Rashard Lewis said. 

Beasley's maturity off the court has been praised by several members of the organization. He arrives well before practice starts, even two hours sometimes, as his agent, Allegiant Athletic Agency's Jared Karnes noted.

Beasley hired Karnes a few months ago, and Karnes has done a conscientous job assisting Beasley off the court. So have Beasley's teammates, with Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers both saying they like filling the "big brother" role with him.

### Spoelstra played Beasley instead of Rashard Lewis on Thursday --- a change from the past, when Spoelstra played either both of them or only Lewis. Also, James Jones was inactive for the first time this season.

###  Warriors coach Mark Jackson called James “the greatest small forward to ever play this game. He is in the discussion for one of the greatest passers to ever play this game. He is the greatest frontline passer that we have ever seen.”

### The Heat and Nets will wear jerseys with nicknames during their Jan. 10 meeting – the first of a few games the Heat will do that this season – and at least two Heat players say they will not be able to use their nickname of choice because of copyright restrictions.

Mario Chalmers said he wanted to use “Super Mario,” but the NBA said he could not because Nintendo has copyright ownership of that name. He instead will use “Rio.” Shane Battier wanted to use Batman but instead said he had to settle for Battle, which was his family name before it was changed.

The Nets announced Thursday that their nickname jerseys will go on sale next week, with prices ranging from $50 to $110. The Heat also is expected to sell its nickname jerseys but hasn’t announced details or the full list of nicknames that will be used.


As of late Thursday afternoon, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross had made no decisions about staff changes after hours of meetings earlier in the day, but news could come as early as Friday, with Ross in favor of assistant coach changes on offense, unless he can be talked out of it by Joe Philbin. A Ross associate mentioned how openly exasperated Philbin was during games about some of Mike Sherman's play calls.

Meanwhile, Al Golden –-- being courted by Penn State --- has told some of his staff that he’s staying at UM, according to one Internet report (CaneInsight.com). Also, Canesport.com reported Golden is "listening" to what Penn State has to say, and that Penn State's search committee is targeting Golden.

Among UM athletic department employees, opinions vary about what Golden will do. Some administrators still believe he will stay put, but one prominent member of the athletic department (and a friend of Golden) believes the job holds appeal to him, at least enough to consider it.

Golden made no comment about Penn State on Thursday but clarity should come shortly, because Penn State said it wants its coaching search to be resolved within days. Vanderbilt's James Franklin and former Colts coach Jim Caldwell are among other reported candidates.

Please see my comment below, in the comment section, about the sanctions Golden would be facing if he goes to Penn State. It's more severe than what he faces if he stays at UM, which has been docked a total of nine scholarships over the next three years --- which UM considers a management amount.

### Palm Beach Cardinal Newman four-star receiver Travis Rudolph orally committed to FSU on Thursday, choosing the Seminoles over UM, UF, Alabama and Auburn.

If you missed it, please see the previous late Thursday morning post for more Dolphins and Canes notes.