SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Among many things new Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey needs to get a handle on is what he has in his young players and what he can realistically expect from them in 2014. He’ll review tape but also rely on the evaluation of Joe Philbin and his staff.
Before Hickey draws his own conclusions, here's some feedback on some of those young players that we've received from inside the building:
### Young cornerbacks: Evaluations must be made quickly, because Brent Grimes is a free agent (Hickey will try to keep him), Nolan Carroll is a free agent and Dimitri Patterson, who was limited to six games by injury, is under contract at $4.5 million, but has no cap hit if he’s cut.
The coaching staff likes 2013 second-round pick Jamar Taylor and attributes his lack of playing time (45 defensive snaps) to two factors --- injuries “that were debilitating,” largely the result of May hernia surgery; and the fact that Carroll offered a more polished, experienced option when Patterson was injured.
But coaches like Taylor’s skill set. “We’re going to see better dividends from him in 2014,” one Dolphins football staffer predicted.
As for 2013 third-round pick Will Davis, “the lack of special teams value hurt him,” the Dolphins source said. “He has a lot of upside but needs to develop physically and mentally. He doesn’t have the knowledge and savvy of Carroll. We like him. He makes a lot of plays in practice, and that needs to translate to games. He needs a year in the weight room.”
### Dion Jordan: The coaching staff loves his tools but believes he needs to add more muscle mass to play the run more effectively (he intends to) and shore up his pass rush moves. He would not project as a 2014 starter.
Some inside the Dolphins believe he might be better at linebacker, but defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has said he prefers him at end because he loves having Koa Misi on the field on first down. And Misi’s spot is the only linebacker position that some evaluators believe he would be well suited if he doesn’t play defensive end.
“When we drafted Jordan, nobody expected Olivier Vernon to develop like he did,” a Dolphins source said. “My concern is [Jordan] will have struggles playing against bigger tackles. If you play him at linebacker, he has far more range and speed and explosiveness than Misi. But Koa is more consistent and steady. Jordan gives you great flexibility because he can cover and rush the passer. This is a huge offseason for him.”
### Lamar Miller/Daniel Thomas: Hickey likely will receive mixed reviews.
“They’re a good complement to each other, and we like Miller’s speed and explosiveness,” the Dolphins staffer said. “Miller has the higher ceiling, but you wish he ran with a more physical [style]. And both have to improve as blockers.”
Most believe the Dolphins will add a running back, with LeGarrette Blount and Donald Brown among free agents available. ESPN's Mel Kiper said no running back might be selected in the first round, with Ohio State's Carlos Hyde a borderline first-rounder.
### Guard/tackle Dallas Thomas: Last season’s third-round pick didn’t show nearly enough to earn playing time (just two snaps all season), despite the offensive line’s deficiencies.
“He’s got a lot of physical upside but needs to mature as a professional,” a team source said. “He can be a quality backup at least. I don’t know if he has the intangibles to be a starter. It was disappointing that he didn’t [show enough] to play.”
### Dion Sims: He doesn’t offer the downfield threat Miami prefers in its starting tight end. But the Dolphins believe he improved considerably overall since arriving.
“You needed a guy who could compete at the point of attack and he does that,” a Dolphins football staffer said. “He’s versatile, athletic, will be a very good No. 2 tight end.”
### Jelani Jenkins: The staff likes his ability in pass coverage. He took 29 snaps away from Phillip Wheeler in the Week 15 Patriots game but played just five and four defensive snaps to close the season against the run-heavy Bills and Jets.
“He has the potential to be a weakside linebacker starter and can be a starter when you open in a nickel package,” the Dolphins official said. “Finding a good cover linebacker is easier said than done, and he can do that.” His development could allow the Dolphins to part ways with Wheeler and add a linebacker that excels against the run.
### Before we turn the page, some final postscripts from Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ organizational tinkering the past month: Ross asked GM candidates their opinion of random players (some Dolphins, some from Michigan, some others) and loved the thoroughness of Hickey’s answers. One Dolphins official insists of all the candidates, Hickey displayed the most encyclopedic knowledge of players. Ross also liked his lack of ego and commitment to innovation.….
Even if Carl Peterson hadn’t criticized Scott Pioli, Ross had no interest in Pioli or most other former GMs because he liked the idea of hiring someone who hadn’t done it before. Former Denver GM Brian Xanders got an interview only because he’s considered analytic and innovative, and Ross loves those qualities….
What perplexed the Dolphins as much as anything the past month was Cleveland’s Ray Farmer refusing to specifically explain what his problem was with the organizational structure. “I assume they would’ve given me the job,” Farmer said last week. “That’s the way it was articulated to me. But it wasn’t the right time for me.”
The Dolphins also didn’t like that Tennessee’s Lake Dawson announced he turned the job down; the Dolphins insist no formal offer was made, unlike with the Patriots’ Nick Caserio. But in conversations, they did ask Dawson if he would take the job under certain scenarios, and Dawson considered that an offer. But the Dolphins didn't view Dawson as substantially better than Hickey.…
Considering Ross was wowed by Caserio’s presentation, did he seriously consider agreeing to Caserio’s demand to be given the authority to overhaul the organization “from the ground up," including the coach? No, a close friend of Ross insisted, because Ross is “loyal to his people,” and loves Philbin’s "intelligence" and "how he handled" the locker-room crisis. Caserio might have hired Patriots assistant Josh McDaniels as Dolphins coach but never told the Dolphins that….
Biggest problem between Ireland and Philbin? “Lack of respect,” one Dolphins official said, noting it reached the point that working together became untenable. So now Ross has a coach and GM who like each other. That's a start, but player evaluation is the far more important issue.
### Encouraging news for those who want to see UM blitz more and play more man coverage: Al Golden said last week UM will be more aggressive in its defensive approach this season.
Here's how Golden answered when WQAM’s Channing Crowder asked Golden what he says to people who criticize him about his loyalty to defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio.
"It doesn't have anything to do with my loyalty to D'Onofrio," he said. "It has to do with: We were better this year than last year. And two seasons ago we played 14 or 15 freshmen on defense. Now we're
better. We've been trying to add to that and improve on defense during a very difficult time.
"Here's what our defense was good enough to do last year: They were good enough to win nine. Now we've got to get better and win more games. The offense wasn't good on third down [or] time of possession. Both of those directly impact defense.
"Anybody who wants to blitz and play cover 1, who wouldn't want to do that? We feel we have a group here that is going to allow us to be more aggressive. The deeper you are, the more athletic you are, the more things you can do.
"You can call all the pressers you want. If your fourth and fifth [rushers] aren't getting there, someone is hung out to dry down the field. We've made a lot of progress there, adding 14 guys [on defense] that can help us. Most of our guys that had interceptions, sacks, caused fumbles are returning. Why would we abort right now?"
### Please see the post from earlier Saturday for more Dolphins and Canes items.
### Very unusual game Saturday for LeBron James, who tied a season low with 13 points, shot just 4 for 13 and committed five turnovers. His four third-quarter "turnovers were careless ones, got me out of rhythm," he said. Even against a weak Jazz team, Miami couldn't overcome a rare LeBron off night partly because Chris Bosh also scored 13, on 3 for 12 shooting.
"It's just one of those days," Erik Spoelstra said of LeBron. "You're not going to play great every single night."
### Losing in Utah is nothing new for Miami, which has dropped four of its past five in Salt Lake City. But this was a disappointing effort against a lottery-bound Utah team that's 17-33 and the worst team in the Western Conference.
What's more, Miami lost for the ninth time against a sub-.500 team, a bad habit that is seriously damaging its chances of catching Indiana for the No. 1 seed. "We don't take anybody light," LeBron insisted.
### Even on a night when the Heat struggled for offense and failed to reach 90 points for only the third time, Erik Spoelstra still wasn't motivated to use Michael Beasley, whose minutes have dropped dramatically in recent weeks. He might have helped during a third quarter drought.
"We didn't have a lot of rhtyhm offensively," said Spoelstra, who previously hasn't offered any substantive reason for Beasley's reduced role when I've asked. "There wasn't a great flow."
### Entering Saturday, the Heat had outscored teams by 12 in 39 minutes when Greg Oden and Chris Bosh play together but had been outscored by 20 in 20 minutes when Oden plays without Bosh.
Considering Shane Battier's difficulties defending David West, the hope is Oden progresses enough to play a lot of big lineups against the Pacers, with Oden or Chris Andersen paired with Bosh.
Seven of Oden’s nine baskets so far this season have been dunks, and he said he has more he wants to show offensively, including a hook shot.
Oden logged 11 scoreless minutes Saturday night (one off his season high), and had four rebounds and a block and a plus-four plus/minus. Many of those minutes were without Bosh, and he was the first player off the Heat bench in the third quarter, which is unusual.
### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz