SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
The battle for UM’s quarterback job begins in earnest with the start of spring practice next weekend, and front-runner Ryan Williams knows there are some fans who will look at his unimpressive Rivals.com recruiting ranking (two stars) and his limited number of offers out of Miramar High (Memphis, Eastern Michigan were the best) and decide it makes more sense longterm to give the job not to Williams --- a one-year stopgap --- but to more ballyhooed Kevin Olsen, who has four years of eligibility left.
“There probably are doubters, but I never want to listen to the outside,” Williams said. “Kevin was an Under-Armor All-American. I wasn’t. I had to go to Memphis first. He came straight here.
“It’s always going to be looked upon as a lower status, but it’s something I’ve got to break through. Fans look at ratings, and I wasn’t highly rated. Fans hold that as a negative against me.”
UM coaches obviously don’t. There will be an open competition between Williams and Olsen, but Williams enters as the favorite because the staff sees a mature, responsible leader who has improved his accuracy and arm strength. Gray Crow is realistically an afterthought in the spring competition, and incoming Brad Kaaya (likely Olsen's strongest competition in 2015) and Malik Rosier arrive in the summer.
“With Ryan, you see plays that are second nature to him,” offensive coordinator James Coley said. “I love the fact he’s tall [6-6]. He’s savvy…. Before, he was a paw thrower. Now he will turn his shoulders.”
Coach Al Golden said last month that “Ryan has done a really good job, but you're not anointed the starting quarterback. In terms of his growth, maturity, football intelligence, he’s someone we're excited about."
Teammates have noticed other encouraging signs. “Since Coley came here, Ryan’s arm strength is better,” said departing running back Eduardo Clements. “His deep balls are better, more accurate.”
Williams admitted his arm strength was a considered “a negative” when he signed with Memphis, but he can now throw “60 to 65 yards and accurately” – a 10-to-15 yard improvement from when he transferred.
Beyond being generally accurate on intermediate routes, Williams “keeps his cool and he’s really good in the pocket,” tight end Beau Sandland said.
Still, there’s some uncertainty because of his limited body of work. He threw for 2075 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 picks in 10 starts as a freshman on a 1-11 Memphis team in 2010, then transferred when the coach changed the offensive system from pro-style to spread.
At Miami, Williams has completed 37 of 52 passes for 569 yards, four touchdowns and one interception in two years as Stephen Morris’ backup.
“I don’t want to be given anything,” said Williams, who threw five touchdown passes in Miramar’s victory in the 2009 Class 6A state championship. “I want to go out and earn it. That’s what I plan on doing.”
Does Williams look at this as his team now, in terms of leadership?
“That’s what I’m going to try to do,” he said earlier this winter. “I want to try to take over and be a big influence and get the young guys caught up to speed and make sure they know there’s no more Allen Hurns, no more Stephen Morris, and it’s us now.”
Any doubt he can be quality starter at this level? “No. I definitely proved myself at the Division 1 level before. We didn’t win a lot of games. But after these last three years of learning, I’m so much better.
“My overall accuracy on every ball has improved. Just looking back at myself, everything – body type, arm strength – it just looked bad. [Now], I feel good about myself on the field.”
It wouldn’t be surprising if Williams throws more intermediate routes and fewer deep balls than Morris did. “Maybe I’ll take people by surprise and can sneak a few deep balls and open up some thing underneath,” he said.
“If it’s a team we feel we can take shots on, we’ll take shots. I don’t have any limitations of what I can run offensively.”
The UM staff likes Olsen’s skill set but wants to see more maturity (after a bowl game suspension unrelated to academics) and quicker decisions (“don’t overthink it,” Coley said). Golden said last season he wants to see Olsen work to get better in the film room.
“It will be a great competition,” said Olsen, who is in good spirits but declined to discuss his bowl suspension. “Ryan has the experience factor on me.”
### Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has interest in Dan Marino becoming involved with the franchise but likely not in a powerful role, such as director of football operations, barring a change of heart. Problem is, Marino wants a meaningful role, according to an associate. There’s a decent chance they compromise and find one.
### A friend of Ross said Ross feels no need to hire a Bill Parcells-type president because he wants to make the decisions that a czar would – such as hiring a GM and coach, and that’s one of the fun things of being an owner. “So why pay someone else to do it?” the friend said.
### Danny Granger, 30, acquired by Philadelphia, reportedly wants a buyout so he can sign with the Heat or a Western Conference contender, and Caron Butler, 33, also will welcome Heat overtures if he gets a buyout from Milwaukee, as many expect. (It's too early to tell if Granger will get the buyout.)
So who would be better for Miami? Heat players would clearly prefer Butler; he and Dwyane Wade are close from their days as Heat teammates, and Granger irritated the Heat’s stars by getting in their faces after fouls in the 2012 playoffs. At the time, LeBron James called Granger’s conduct “stupid.”
Granger, 6-8, is shooting just 35.9 percent; Butler, 6-7, is shooting only 38.7 percent. But players guarded by Granger are shooting 30.9 percent, compared with 47 percent for Butler.
“They’re very comparable,” an Eastern Conference scout said. “Granger is better off the ball, Butler a little tougher.” The scout said Granger has lost a step, but Butler isn't clearly better, and the scout would lean toward Granger for Miami because the Heat could pick his brain on Pacers’ personnel and tendencies, adding “that definitely has value beyond what you get studying film.”
Ben Gordon, 6-3, is expected to get a buyout from Charlotte, but a perimeter player with more size would have more value to the Heat. Shannon Brown, a 6-4 guard, is also available after his Spurs 10-day contract expired, but Miami has passed on him before. Power forward Glen Davis, set free from Orlando, reportedly leans toward joining the Clippers.
### Pacers center Roy Hibbert, speaking to ESPN’s Bill Simmons about the Heat rivalry: “I have nothing against Chris Bosh, LeBron James, D-Wade. I love Birdman. Whenever he checks in the game, I'm always like 'Birdman! Birdman!' I have nothing against those guys. I don't hate them. I want to beat those guys so bad. They're talking about three-peating. Nah, we're going to stop that….
“David West and myself take pride when we see the Heat play other teams and seeing LeBron score in the halfcourt [and make] open dunks in the halfcourt against set defenses. We take pride in knowing that he doesn't get that kind of stuff [against us]. Obviously he's at the top of the mountain in terms of the NBA right now. We're coming for him and I think our defense is going to put us over the edge."
### With Jeff Baker, Greg Dobbs and Jeff Mathis essentially assured three Marlins bench jobs, the other two or three probably will go to outfielder Brian Bogusevic (cannot be demoted without going through waivers) and infielders Donovan Solano or Ed Lucas (both can be sent to the minors without passing through waivers), with Reed Johnson and Ty Wigginton pushing for a spot.
### Around town: UF says it has discussed scheduling a home-and-home men’s basketball series with UM as early as next season and the following one…. With Broward County expected to give the Panthers a bailout to help cover their losses, it will be easier for new owner Vinnie Viola to stick to his plan to allow GM Dale Tallon to spend up to the $71 million NHL cap next season.
The Panthers are expected to have more than $30 million in cap space and can clear even more by dumping several veterans, including Scottie Upshall, by the March 5 trade deadline. The Panthers have asked for an $80 million buyout to help cover what they say are $30 million annual losses; the Broward commission likely will give the Panthers something, but it's undetermined how much.