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2 posts from March 26, 2014

March 26, 2014

What Fins are getting with Moreno; Heat-Pacers postscripts; UM impact of major court ruling

The Dolphins have upgraded at running back by agreeing with Knowshon Moreno on a one-year deal. Some tidbits about him, some of which we posted last week:

### Here is what Pro Football Focus said about him entering free agency: "The No. 1 running back [in free agency], almost by default, comes from this year’s Super Bowl runner up. Knowshon Moreno is the only back on this list without injury, workload, or age concerns. This last season Moreno proved that he can produce effectively in an every-down role over the course of the season. In terms of pure ability, there are probably six or seven free agents I’d prefer, but none are proven commodities at this point in time. At just 27years old, and with just 992 career touches to his name, Moreno is sure to have at least a few more productive seasons in his legs before the dreaded running back decline sets in.

"2013 was by far Moreno’s most accomplished as a pro," PFF went on to say. "He set career highs in snaps (724), rushing yards (1,038), receiving yards (548), touchdowns (13), and PFF grade (+9.9). His 241 carries were more the most Moreno’s had in a season since his rookie year and his 60 receptions were a career high by a wide margin. With his rushing (+4.2 grade), pass catching (+7.0 grade), and adequate pass blocking (0.0 grade) ability, Moreno provides the ability to plug and play 600+ snaps immediately."

### But ESPN's Bill Polian said: "Solid contributor but not a No. 1 back. Most of his success from 2013 was a function of the system."

### Moreno is a productive back coming off his best season (1038 yards rushing, 4.3 per carry, 10 rushing touchdowns, 3 receiving touchdowns and 548 receiving yards playing behind a good offensive line and with a Hall of Fame quarterback).

But the metrics suggest he’s not clearly better than Miami’s other backs in breaking tackles.

Last season, Moreno averaged 2.0 yards after contact, which was tied for 39th among 55 backs, according to Pro Football Focus.  Who was he tied with? Daniel Thomas, whom Moreno presumably would replace. Lamar Miller was 31st at 2.1.

### Moreno broke or avoided 21 tackles --- the same number as Thomas and one more than Miller, despite having considerably more carries than both. Those 21 were 29th most among running backs. Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, conversely, had 75 broken or avoided tackles.

### Moreno doesn’t break a lot of long runs, either. He had five carries of 20 yards or more, which tied for 17th, but needed 241 carries to do it. Miller and Thomas each had four such runs in substantially fewer carries --- 177 for Miller, 109 for Thomas.

### Moreno’s 4.3 per carry averaged tied for 21st among 55 backs. By comparison, Miller averaged 4.0, Thomas 3.7.

### PFF ranked Moreno eighth among all running backs as a pass blocker. For perspective, Miller was 33rd, Thomas 34th.

### Moreno had only one fumble in 241 rushing attempts last season. He’s young (26) and coming off his best season, albeit in an offense loaded with talent.

My conclusion? Good move to sign him. He’s a more proven, accomplished back than Thomas, has a better per carry average and is a superior pass protector. A Miller/Moreno tandem is an upgrade over a Miller/Thomas combo.




Hard fouls. An ejection. Playoff-type intensity. Lineup changes. Dramatic swings. This was as riveting as it gets in the regular season for two teams that will be judged solely on the playoffs.

And if these teams go seven games in the Eastern Finals, it looks increasingly likely (though not certain) that Game 7 would be in Indiana, with the Pacers now up two games in the loss column with 12 games left for Miami and 10 for Indiana, and the Heat likely to rest its starters late in the season.

Miami can tie the season series by beating Indiana on April 11, but the Pacers have the better conference record, which would be the tiebreaker if the teams split their four-game season series.

### Erik Spoelstra second-guessed himself for calling the last play for Chris Bosh, who took a pass from LeBron James and airballed a jumper to end this 84-83 loss. Spoelstra said he probably should have put the ball in the hands of James, who had 38 points, on 11 for 19 shooting, 8 rebounds and 5 assists.

Bosh, the Heat’s best shooter in the clutch this season, was open on the play but had to rush the shot.

"You can't make two passes and set for the shot at the end," Bosh said. "There's not much you can do in two seconds. It was a 20-second timeout. We didn't have much time for discussions."

“Unfortunately that was what I diagrammed and it might not have been the best [call],” Spoelstra said. "It was probably a little too gunslinger."

Dwyane Wade wasn't in the game on the final possession of a cramp in his hamstring.

Asked about the last play, James said only: “It was the play drew up. And we got a look.” Asked again about the play, he said: “I just ran the play.”

James said he “was surprised” that two hard fouls against him weren’t called flagrants, and yet James was called for a flagrant against Roy Hibbert, which James questioned afterward, noting Roy Hibbert's face "happened to hit my elbow."

“Me and Blake Griffin take some hard hits, and they call it how they want to call it," James said. "It’s very frustrating, very frustrating. As a player, you play the game the right way, and it just doesn’t fall your way.”

Bosh was upset about the the fact Indiana didn't have a flagrant foul called against them: "We were getting punched in the face and clothes-lined out there. We are going to have to revisit what flagrant foul means. They had one (flagrant foul called against Miami) and we had none, even though LeBron got punched in the face and clotheslined."

### Bosh, in foul trouble, didn’t return in the fourth quarter until there were less than two minutes left. It was a forgettable night for Bosh --- 8 points on 3 for 11 shooting and four rebounds. With Bosh’s increasing reliance on his three-point game, Jeff Van Gundy noted that Bosh “has to figure out how to get closer to the basket. He’s more versatile than he’s showing.”

### Wade left with 1:59 left, finishing with 15 points. "I felt cramping," he said. "Had to get off of it. Once you get cramps, it's not going to stop right away."

### The Heat ultimately was undone by fourth quarter turnovers (seven of them), and 19 in the game, leading to 26 Pacer points. James and Wade had six turnovers apiece....

Miami tied a season low with four fourth-quarter field goals (on 13 shots) and was outscored 21-15 in the fourth. The Heat’s 83 points were a season low, and the Heat is now 0-6 when it scores fewer than 90 points. "We didn't get our guys in the right spots," Bosh said. "We had so many empty possessions where we didn't get any movement."

### The defense, at least after the first quarter, was plenty good enough. “That part was encouraging,” Spoelstra said. But “we weren’t able to get over the hump. It’s a tough one. We didn’t get the type of looks we wanted going down the stretch.”

### Who would have thought that the Heat would play key moments down the stretch with Udonis Haslem and Rashard Lewis? “They need to be in the rotation,” James said.

Erik Spoelstra opted for Lewis, who scored his first basket since Feb. 21, instead of Shane Battier, which Spoelstra attributed largely to Ray Allen’s absence because of the flu. Battier has struggled against David West in the past.

“I like Rashard’s minutes,” Spoelstra said. “He always keeps himself ready. He gives us something that works for us offensively. He’s a very smart player and he competes defensively.”

Like Battier, Michael Beasley was a DNP-coach’s decision.

### Haslem, stuck to the bench for weeks, has been a revelation the past two weeks, and his defense against Roy Hibbert was exceptional.

As Gundy noted, Haslem forced Hibbert into tough shots by getting good leverage --- unlike Greg Oden, who couldn’t do anything to stop Hibbert in Hibbert’s 11-point first quarter. Haslem (four rebounds in 21 minutes) replaced Oden to start the second half, and Hibbert scored just eight points after the first quarter.

“His minutes were good,” Spoelstra said. “It’s not an indictment of Greg. I’m not down on him. This isn’t making any decisions. He’ll start the next game. He’s getting there. The bottom line is still winning, and that’s my job to make those decisions, whether they’re right or wrong. Greg is getting better.”

### A second half three-pointer by Wade was disallowed because he was ruled to have stepped out of bounds. (Replays showed he didn’t.)

But Wade showed restraint by not responding to Lance Stephenson’s jawing. Stephenson, in a classic knucklehead moment, picked up his second technical foul (and automatic ejection) after yakking at Wade with 4:59 left. "I don't play the games Lance plays," Wade said. "The refs took care of it."

### Dreadful night for Mario Chalmers, who shot 2 for 10, with two assists and two turnovers and was beaten off the dribble several times.

### David West was only 3 for 12 on three-pointers last season before his key late-game three.

### Two encouraging signs: The Heat held Indiana to 37 percent shooting and played the Pacers to a 37-37 draw on the boards.

### Van Gundy said he’s “not as convinced both teams are going to get the Eastern Finals” as he was previously. He said Indiana would be more vulnerable than Miami and that Brooklyn is “very dangerous.”


### Al Golden said after practice today that Kevin Olsen is “starting to close ground” with Ryan Williams, but that “Ryan is ahead of Kevin, and Kevin is ahead of Gray Crow. Obviously Ryan has been the leader and is doing a really good job.”

### Golden can’t stop raving about Stacy Coley. “He’s raised the level of his play, and everyone is trying to catch his intensity and preparation.”

### Tight end Standish Dobard “is getting better,” Golden said. “He prepares really hard, wants to do well. Stan gives us a real physical presence on the line of scrimmage yet can get down the field and make plays because he's so long. Really excited about Stan right now."

### Freshman Darrion Owens had a sack Wednesday and UM really likes his pass rush potential.

### Please see the last post for a look at the landmark NCAA/Northwestern/union decision today and how it could affect UM.

Synopsis of landmark Northwestern/ union/ NCAA ruling and how it could affect UM

In a decision that could dramatically change the landscape of college sports, especially at private schools including the University of Miami, the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board ruled Wednesday that NorthwesternUniversity football players will be recognized as employees.

Unless the ruling is overturned on appeal, it sets a precedent for students at private universities, including UM, to petition to form a union, which would enable them to engage in collective bargaining with their universities.

In his ruling, Chicago NLRB Director Peter Ohr said that he "found that all grant-in-aid scholarship players for [Northwestern’s] football team who have not exhausted their playing eligibility are ‘employees.’"

As employees, players can bargain for limited contact in practice, guaranteed scholarships and post-career medical benefits, which are some of the union’s CAPA’s stated goals.

Compensation, or "pay-for-play," is not one of the goals for the union.

UM officials declined to comment, but a UM source said the decision was viewed as a bad thing for Miami, should it result in players being able to negotiate for benefits.

But Miami attorney Darren Heitner, a partner at Wolfe Law Miami, said it was too soon to tell whether the decision, if upheld, would impact UM positively or negatively.

“If anything it may be a positive more than a negative at first because potential college players may see this as an opportunity to bargain for benefits that they couldn't at a public university,” Heitner said. “That scenario of paying players is too far off to be concerned about at the current stage.

“If at some point we see this turn into a true pay-for-play debate, and private universities start ponying up the cash, it could put private universities on a pedestal, for those that can pay players above and beyond. UM might not be in the best position among private schools to do that. But it might give them a competitive advantage over FSU and UF.”

Heitner said players might seek more control over equipment, a limit to the number of hours they are required to be involved in football activities and a potential increase in scholarship money. He also said players might request that independent physicians be available to examine players’ head injuries during games.

In a scenario of ultimate chaos, Heitner said “there would be potential for lockouts and strikes. We could potentially see universities locking the players out if they come to an impasse. Perhaps there are replacement players that [could be] used.”

The Northwestern case began to take shape on Jan. 28, when former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter announced current players signed union cards and petitioned to form a union in front of the NLRB.

In late February, a five-day hearing between the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) — the name for the union — and Northwestern was held to debate the issue of an employee-employer relationship between football players on scholarship and the school.

"This was a complete victory," CAPA lawyer John Adam said after the decision was announced.

Colter, a senior last season, who led the union effort for the players, emphasized that players at Northwestern were not mistreated. Instead, they wanted a voice in the process.

"It is important that players have a seat at the table when it comes to issues that affect their well-being," Colter said in a statement. "Football and basketball players generate billions of dollars per year. Players will gain a number of important protections once this union is in place."

In a statement from spokesman Al Cubbage, Northwestern expressed disappointment in the ruling, and said it will appeal the decision to the national office in Washington, D.C. The appeal is expected to be heard shortly.

 The NCAA’s chief legal officer, Donald Remy, also said he was "disappointed" in the regional board’s ruling, adding that athletes play "for the love of the sport, not to be paid."

“Over the last three years,’’ Remy’s statement said, “our member colleges and universities have worked to re-evaluate the current rules. While improvements need to be made, we do not need to completely throw away a system that has helped literally millions of students over the past decade alone attend college.”

The marathon hearing sessions drew considerable attention in Chicago, as Colter testified against his former university. Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald also testified, as did former players and university administrators.

Northwestern argued that education always comes first for its athletes and placed blame on the NCAA system.

CAPA lawyers argued during the hearing scholarships effectively act as compensation for athletes, who are treated as employees due to because of strict rules and special circumstances that which do not apply to normal students. Ohr agreed with these assertions.

UM spokeswoman Margot Winick said the university was "declining comment on this," and it’s unknown if any UM players are planning to form a union.

Desmond Perryman, father of UM football player Denzel Perryman, said he’s skeptical about whether UM players would even form a union, at least initially. He said he has never heard Perryman or other UM players express a desire to be paid, beyond scholarships, or receive other benefits.

“For what all these kids are given, I don't know if it will happen here,” Perryman said. “I know they get compensated by the NCAA paying for their education, but sometimes you feel like this should be a little more because of revenue brought into the school. It can cause a lot of chaos.”

University of Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley declined to comment because he said he didn’t have enough information to form an opinion.  “It's not a 'no comment,'” he said.  “I've simply seen the headline and that's it. I haven't read the story."

Ramogi Huma, president of CAPA and former football player at UCLA, said “this decision clears the way for other FBS football and Division 1 basketball players at private schools within the NCAA to organize.”

Huma worked closely with Colter and the United Steelworkers Union to kick-start the players’ unionization effort.

Heitner said though it’s not mandatory that athletes at private schools form a union, “it is likely that many of them will choose to do so because they can bargain for greater rights.”

Heitner said he doesn’t know if the decision will stand, but if it does, “It would make things very convoluted and potentially blow up the system. [And] pay-for-play might be something these athletes negotiate for, which would run counter with NCAA rules.”

My thanks to former Herald intern Rohan Nadkarni for assisting greatly on this story while I was on assignment at the NFL owners meetings earlier. Please check back later for Heat-Pacers postscripts and Dolphins chatter