6 p.m.: LeBron's looming return to Miami; 20 notes, quotes, thoughts from Tuesday Fins practice; Two new UM commitments
Barring an unexpected change of heart by the league, Christmas in Miami will feature LeBron James’ much-anticipated return to Miami, in an opposing uniform.
Though the NBA’s schedule will not be finalized and released until mid-August, an unofficial internal schedule of select games has Cleveland playing the Heat in Miami on Christmas on ABC, according to a person familiar with the situation.
The game likely would be played at either 2:30 or 5 p.m. that day, depending on what other game is selected for ABC that day.
ABC wants Heat-Cavaliers that day and the NBA is sensitive to ABC's wishes. James returned to the Cavaliers this offseason after spending four seasons with the Heat.
This would be the Heat’s sixth consecutive Christmas game, but just the second at home during that stretch. Last Christmas, the Heat beats the Lakers 101-95 in Staples Center.
Presuming this year's game materializes, the Heat will have played a Christmas game every year since 2004 with the exception of 2008, when Miami was coming off a 15-67 season. The Heat is 8-2 in its previous 10 Christmas games.
With the schedule still being worked on, it’s unclear if the Christmas game would be the first of what will be three or four Heat-Cavaliers regular season matchups this season.
### In a preseason game scheduled in April, the Heat and Cleveland will play Oct. 11 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Heat's eight-game preseason schedule also includes games at AmericanAirlines Arena against Orlando (Oct. 7), Atlanta (Oct. 14) and Houston (Oct.21), road games at San Antonio (Oct. 18) and at Memphis (Oct. 24) and neutral-site games against New Orleans on Oct. 4 in Louisville and Golden State on Oct. 17 in Kansas City.
TWENTY DOLPHINS NOTES FROM TUESDAY
### Already without Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey for a large chunk of the season, the Dolphins’ outlook at center became more worrisome Tuesday when backup Sam Brenner was carted off with a lower leg injury, and new center Shelley Smith had two more botched exchanges with quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
“Obviously, I’m concerned,” offensive line coach John Benton said. “We’ve got to find a way to be good at that position. Obviously, there are some questions.”
Benton was asked if it is clear to him if Smith is capable of playing center well in an NFL game.
“It’s unclear in the sense there’s a lot unclear until you get to that first game,” he said. “We’ll know a lot after that first preseason game. I’m optimistic. To say confident is probably a little stretch.”
Smith, a guard by trade, has never played center in an NFL game.
Nate Garner took second-team snaps at center after Brenner’s departure, and Joe Philbin expressed confidence in his ability to play the position.
The Dolphins auditioned Samson Satele, the best remaining free agent center, in late June and gave him positive feedback but opted to sign Daryn Colledge instead. They could re-consider Satele if Smith struggles at center.
There have been at least four errant exchanges between Smith and the quarterback in four practices. Coach Joe Philbin said he’s concerned about it.
“We’re asking to be much more accurate in our snaps because what our quarterback needs to do,” said Benton, who spent the past eight seasons as the Houston Texans’ offensive line coach. “We’ve got to refine our shotgun snaps.”
Benton said he has never worked with a team that had five new offensive line starters. He said he wants a starting unit solidified before the third preseason game.
“We’ve got to get to the five, six, seven guys that are going to be involved on game days as quickly as we can,” he said. “I feel like we’ve got the talent. It’s how fast we come together. There really is something to the gel thing, communication, knowing what the other guy is going to do.”
Is it possible to be gelled by the Sept. 7 opener against New England? “It’s got to happen.”
Benton, in his second media availability since being hired to replace Jim Turner, addressed other issues:
### On rookie right tackle Ja’Wuan James: “I’ve been really impressed with Ja’Wuan. He has some obvious rookie growing pains or learning curve. But talk about a great attitude, a great work ethic and a very talented individual. He’s done very well up to [now]. Very optimistic with Ja’Wuan.”
### On why Dallas Thomas is ahead of Billy Turner at right guard: “Somebody has to go ahead of somebody. It’s still a competition. Dallas has shown some good things. Billy has shown some good things. They both have to be more consistent.”
### He said he is not concerned about the right side of the line (Thomas, James) being inexperienced.
“Not really because we’re all learning this offense together, all learning the protection schemes,” he said. “A veteran is going to have a couple tricks up his sleeve. The rookies might not. It comes down to the best on the field. Daryn Colledge and Branden Albert have spent all their time and are most comfortable on the left. I’m not going to mess that up to try to help something else.”
### On Albert: “The situation we’re in, you’re looking for one situation you can say we’re pretty good [there]. Obviously, we’re pretty good with Branden Albert at left tackle.”
### Benton said he watched all of the Dolphins’ offensive plays last season but did not ask for the 58 sacks to be compiled on one tape because the team has a new offensive system and a bunch of new players.
### Unlike his predecessor, Turner, who was fired for his role in the team’s locker-room scandal, Benton said he is “not a yeller screamer guy. I told them I will get upset over effort and repeated errors. Other than that, if guys are working hard, I don’t have a problem.”
### The Dolphins added five new players in the past two days: offensive tackles Tony Hills and Steven Baker, tight end Brett Brackett, quarterback Seth Lobato and defensive end D’Aundre Reed.
Baker got work as the second-team left tackle on Tuesday, and Philbin said: “We wanted to look at some [new] tackles.”
To make room, they released quarterback Brock Jensen, offensive linemen Davonte Wallace and Michael Philipp, linebacker Derrell Johnson and receiver Gerald Ford.
Hills (11 NFL games) and Reed (six) have the most experience among the newcomers.
### Lobato, undrafted out of Northern Colorado, made several strong throws in individual drills. “When he threw, it just looked effortless at times,” Philbin said. “I think he has a strong arm. We don’t know a ton about him, but he made a good first impression.”
### Other than Brenner, injuries weren’t an issue Tuesday, beyond Mike Wallace skipping a part of practice with a sore hamstring.
### The first-team defense got the better of the first-team offense in many of the red zone plays. Several of Ryan Tannehill’s end zone throws were well defended and incomplete in the red zone drills, though he did throw one touchdown in 11 on 11 drills, to Brian Hartline.
### The offensive line was serviceable early on but gave up several sacks late. Dion Jordan had two sacks. On another play, Louis Delmas would have annihilated Tannehill on a blitz if this were a game situation.
### Among highlights from offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s media briefing today: He said “the No. 1 thing we want to do is play with great tempo. I’m trying to get them out of the huddle faster. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable for the line to make the calls that quickly. The quarterback might want them to settle in and make the calls. We don’t want it. We want to go.” Lazor also praised Ryan Tannehill’s development and Charles Clay. Adam Beasley will have a story on Lazor and the offense posted later.
### If former Tennessee Titans receiver Damian Williams remains this impressive, the decision on the fifth receiver job --- among Williams, Rishard Matthews, Armon Binns and others --- will become even more difficult. Williams keeps making catches, including a 30-yarder from Matt Moore against Will Davis.
### Then there’s the other Damien Williams, the undrafted rookie running back who was thrown off the Oklahoma team last fall. Williams took some snaps with the first team on Tuesday and has displayed good burst.
“He’s got good hands,” Philbin said. “The thing you notice about him, he has a little bit of a second gear. I think he’s got that explosiveness. He shuffled one or two times today on a draw, I know we corrected him one time where he kind of danced in the hole a little bit, but typically he’s been decisive. When he really makes up his mind, you kind of see him moving away from people. I think he catches the ball well, I like what he’s done so far.”
### How does Philbin avoid confusion with having two players with the same name on the team? “Parentheses running back, parentheses wide receiver. Well, I kind of know who they are in the team meeting room, so if I'm identifying them, I have to point.”
### Philbin said Marcus Thigpen is “doing some good things at the receiver position, We’ve been featuring him primarily inside, where he’s got a good feel for things. He’s got good quickness and change of direction you like on some of those stop/start type of routes. The competition there is pretty fierce.”
### Mike Wallace, with some straight talk about the Dolphins’ enviable depth at receiver: “We have eight legit guys who can make the team. But we all know that’s not going to happen.”
### Philbin, asked how he has improved as a coach, answered this way: “I have a better rapport, chemistry with the players. I’ve spent more time communicating with them one-on-one and in team meetings. I’ve been doing the bed check every single night at the hotel, knocking on their doors, making sure they’re OK and busting their chops a little bit if they’re awake. I’ve done a better job outlining the expectations. Obviously, the proof is in the pudding.”
### Philbin didn’t like Lamar Miller’s first rushing attempt today and mentioned something to him “in a nice manner.”
Philbin saw improvement from there: “Couple runs today, he was really decisive, quick and explosive. The extra weight will bear fruit for him. He’s stronger, more physical, that should help him break a couple tackles.”
UM picked up two 2015 oral commitments at offensive tackle today: four-star Brandenton-based prospect Tyree St. Louis and three-star Tallahassee prospect Brendan Loftus.
St. Louis (6-5, 299 pounds) is ranked 17th among all tackle prospects by rivals.com, and is rated the nation's 234th-best overall prospect by ESPN. UF and Tennessee were among his numerous other offers.
Loftus, who wasn't offered by his hometown FSU, was rated the 47th-best tackle by rivals.com. Penn State and Wisconsin were among his other offers.
St. Louis is UM's eighth oral commitment in ESPN's top 300 prospect list. Running backs Dexter Williams (84) and Jordan Scarlett (143) are UM's highest oral commits on the ESPN list.