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10 posts from July 2014

July 31, 2014

1:20 p.m.: Olsen suspension; Heat signs Williams; Wade looks ahead, speaks on LeBron and other issues; Marlins trade fallout; Dolphin, Canes, Bosh

1:20 p.m. update: NBC 6's Adam Kuperstein reports that UM quarterback Kevin Olsen will be suspended at least one game for a failed drug test, his second suspension in the past nine months. (A Herald source has confirmed the suspension.)

That means Jake Heaps, the transfer from Kansas, likely will be UM's starter in the season opener at Louisville. Ryan Williams hopes to take the job back when he returns at some point; he's targeting mid-September.

UM has been concerned about Olsen's maturity for months, even before this latest failed test. After Olsen completed 7 of 21 passes in the spring game, a UM official said the program would be in trouble if it didn't add another quarterback.



1 p.m. update: The Heat added a 13th player today by signing journeyman 6-9 forward Shawne Williams to a guaranteed contract at the league minimum ($1.2 million), according to agent Happy Walters. The team has a team option for 2015-16. 

Williams averaged 5.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 36 games for the Lakers last season (including 13 starts), while shooting 38 percent from the field and 32.6 percent from three-point range (42 for 129). He also spent 23 games last season with the Lakers' Developmental League team.

He has appeared in 251 NBA games, including 36 starts, over six seasons with Indiana, Dallas, the Knicks, Nets and Lakers. His career averages: 5.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 40.3 percent shooting from the field and 33 percent on threes.

His best chances of contributing is if he displays the three-point shooting touch he did for the Knicks in 2010-11, when he hit 85 threes and hit 40 percent from distance. He's ideally a stretch four but also can play small forward and even some shooting guard. His rebounding numbers improved last season, which helps his chances if that trend continues.

Williams, who has averaged 21 minutes per game each of his past three NBA seasons, was drafted 17th overall by Indiana out of Memphis, in 2006.

The Heat now has 11 players with guaranteed contracts, and two non-guaranteed (Justin Hamilton and James Ennis), though half of Hamilton's salary for next season is guaranteed with the passing of a deadline today.


No, this was not the preferred course, not the way Dwyane Wade envisioned his Heat journey continuing, without the game’s best player alongside.

But Wade has handled the move gracefully --- accepting an $8 million pay cut, never expressing displeasure about LeBron James bolting to Cleveland even after Wade opted out of a lucrative contract and never attempting to persuade James to stay because of respect for his friend's wishes. 

And Wade’s initial disappointment has been replaced by motivation and determination to prove his skills have not diminished.

“I need it, I need it,” he said Friday of doubts about whether he can handle a bigger load.

Before the second day of his fourth-annual Fantasy Camp at the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood, he spoke of needing something “to challenge you” later in your career. This will undoubtedly do it.

“I can’t go back five years,” Wade, 32, cautioned, two days after Pat Riley said Wade might be able to return to what he was before James arrived.

“I ain’t trying to go back five years,” Wade said. “If we all could, we would, but that’s not likely … I really don’t know how it’s going to be. I’m used to something from the last four years. Until we get into training camp and the preseason games, you really don’t know how it’s going to be yet.”

But he knows there will be more shots, more responsibility, assuredly a higher scoring average (he was at 26.6 the last season without James and 19.0 last season) and an overriding need to stay healthier than last season.

He missed 28 games last season, with 13 attributed to “rest” for his knees, and has no intention of doing that again.  Asked if he expects to play in 75-plus games, Wade indicated that was the plan.

He hopes coming to camp lighter will reduce some of the load on his knees. While declining to divulge details, he said he weighs less than he did to start training camp last season and will continue to lose more. He’s doing it by following the Paleo diet program that was used last summer by Ray Allen, who recommended it to Wade and James.

Wade has finished the most restrictive 30-day part of the diet (“very tough”) and will continue the program all summer, before reincorporating carbohydrates when training camp begins.

“I’m not where I want to be. I’m not at the training camp weight I want to be at,” he said. “You take away all the good things we all love to eat. You’ve got to add more asparagus, more zucchini, it becomes a big part of the diet. It’s very challenging. One of the hardest things I’ve done. “

Wade offered clarity on several issues involving free agency.

He said based on conversations with James and instinct, he knew James would sign with Cleveland when they both disembarked from a Las Vegas to Miami flight on July 10, but that James did not tell him with certainty until the next day, shortly before his announcement.

“We had a long flight back from Vegas, and I probably knew then, without him telling me at that moment,” Wade said. “You can tell where someone’s heart is and what they’re thinking. Me as his friend, I just support him. As crazy as that might sound, I’m supportive of my friends and doing what makes them happy. You’ve got to do what makes you happy, selfishly. The decision to go back home was that.”

He said the Heat never asked him to come to Las Vegas to recruit James and he was there merely to spend time with James and enjoy himself.

“Just hanging,” he said. “You don’t really talk about the future, basketball every day.”

He said he did not opt out of the last two years and $42 million of his contract based on the belief James definitely would return.  He said he did it to give himself and the team more flexibility, even though he told his agent early in the process that he would not consider offers from other teams.

Wade took a two-year, $34 million contract instead of a longer deal some had expected. He said a shorter deal gives himself and the team more flexibility for the summer of 2016, when the cap could skyrocket to as high as $80 million, according to some projections. He trusts the organization will do right by him.

“You do what you feel is right,” he said of opting out and taking a pay cut. “I’m blessed financially. Not saying I want to give all my money away. I understand the position we’re in, if you want the success you want, you have to give a little.

“I’ve been the front-runner on that. I have taken the responsibility of trying to help put us in the right position as much as I can. It gives us a better chance to succeed. I will be a part of this organization for many, many years to come in some capacity. Hopefully, I can always help some way. I’ve been able to do it as a player. Hopefully, further on I can do it as well.”

He said after James announced his decision, he called Chris Bosh to gauge his intentions and that Bosh needed another hour or so to decide, before opting to stay with Miami instead of leaving for Houston.

Wade said he called only one Heat free agent target: Pau Gasol. He called him twice because he loved the idea of adding Gasol to the Big Three. But that was unlikely to happen even if James had stayed.

“Ownership has done a great job recovering from [James’ exit],” Wade said.  Riley “did a good job of recovering as good as you can. Obviously, we still have some work to do. It’s our job to come back next year and get the continuity we need. It’s a good Eastern Conference. It’s about how fast you can become a good team. Some teams, like ourselves and Cleveland, need to work to be that team because other teams are already ahead of them because they’ve been together. I’m confident in the guys we have.”

The immediate future includes his wedding; he and longtime girlfriend Gabrielle Union will marry on Aug. 30.

The longterm future? Wade hopes that includes finishing his career here.

“It’s very rare in sports” to play for one team,” he said. “I’m 11 years in, going into my 12th. It means something to me, my family as well. I’m blessed we have great ownership, great management. It’s a great city. I was put in a great position. So it made it easier for me to say, ‘Miami is my home.’”

### Wade spoke to two print/Internet reporters (myself and Ethan Skolnick) after the news conference, but his only one-on-one basketball-heavy broadcast interview was with WQAM, a title sponsor for his event, and airs on Danny Rabinowitz’s show at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.

“We have good talent,” he said in that WQAM segment. “Obviously, other teams have younger guys that have talent.”


### The good news on the Marlins’ six-player trade with Houston today: Right-hander Jarred Cosart has a 10-8 career record (very good considering how poor the Astros have been) and solid 3.57 career ERA, can hit the upper 90s on the radar gun (according to GM Michael Hill), is only 24 and won’t be a free agent until 2020.

He will be a clear upgrade in the rotation over Jacob Turner (5.69 ERA) and projects as a No. 3 or more likely No. 4 starter. And the Marlins needed an extra arm next year, considering Jose Fernandez MIGHT not return from Tommy John surgery until around the All-Star break….

Kike Hernandez can play second base, shortstop, center field and left field and has had a terrific year offensively (.337 in 67 games in Triple A Oklahoma City) and .284, with one home run in 28 games for the Astros. “We love the bat, and he’s a solid defender,” Hill said. If he keeps hitting like this, he could be the second baseman next season. And he’s under team control for six more years....

Outfielder Austin Wates, who was assigned to Triple A, gives the Marlins “a premium base stealer,” as Hill put it. He’s 98 for 121 in steal attempts in his career and he has hit between .293 and .310 in all four of his minor-league seasons (.309 this season)….

There are still serious questions about whether Jake Marisnick --– one of three players dealt to Houston --- would hit major league pitching.... Giving up third base prospect Colin Moran wasn't easy, but Casey McGehee is under team control through 2015 and the Marlins will want to keep him beyond that if his 2015 season is anything like his 2014 season.

### The bad news: Cosart has been awful in July, relinquishing 21 runs in 21 1/3 innings… He has allowed too many base-runners this season (170 in 116 innings). "He's got some delivery issues," ESPN's Keith Law said... Cosart's 4.41 ERA for the season ranks 80th of 94 qualifying MLB starters, and his .267 batting average against ranks 71st (though much, much better than Jacob Turner’s .319)….

Though Hernandez has made himself into a very good hitter, the hope is he doesn’t revert to his offensive form last season, when he hit .236 in 116 games in the minors….

The Marlins gave up a valuable 2015 competitive balance draft pick and they could ultimately regret trading Moran if he becomes a .300 big-league hitter. Moran was hitting .294 at Class A Jupiter.

“He’s going to a really special player,” Houston GM Jeff Luhnow said of last year’s No. 6 overall pick.


### Even with three more botched snaps Thursday (involving Nate Garner --- who took the first-team center snaps --- and David Arkin), Joe Philbin still insists: “I’m confident we can get it fixed.”

But even beyond the snapping issues and one or two unsettled offensive line positions, the passing game is not where the Dolphins want it.

“We still had a drop or two,” Philbin said. “We still had maybe an accuracy issue here or there. When the plays present themselves to make, we’ve got to do a better job making them on a more consistent basis.”

Brian Hartline put it this way: “You can see it coming along. You can see guys, myself included, playing better, playing faster. [But] we’re nowhere near where we want to be. We’re still working on timing. We’re still working on getting in and out of the huddle faster, getting lined up faster, maintaining our tempo through the heat. That will come with time.”

### The undrafted rookie running backs, Damien Williams and Orleans Darkwa, are both pushing Mike Gillislee, and Williams has been more impressive than Daniel Thomas at times.

“They are both fundamentally sound football players,” Philbin said Thursday of Williams and Darkwa. “I thought in the last drill we had, I think we ran an outside zone to the left and they do a good job of ball security. They are not afraid to step up there in pass protection. I like the group. I think it’s a good, young group.”

### Really like how the secondary is coming along. Reshad Jones has had a good camp, Louis Delmas appears to be an upgrade over Chris Clemons, Cortland Finnegan has been solid and Jamar Taylor seems much improved. And Brent Grimes remains one of the team's best players, of course.


### Chris Bosh, speaking Thursday morning to 790 The Ticket’s Jonathan Zaslow and Joy Taylor, said of his five-year, $118 million contract: “The [Heat] stepped right up to the plate. That made my decision easy. It makes me feel special and extremely motivated. There wasn’t much to think about.”

### Bosh said he was “shocked” by LeBron James’ departure but “that got me excited for the next chapter, to rise up to the challenge. It gives us an opportunity to play with a chip on our shoulder. It’s revitalized my attitude toward basketball a little bit. We have a very good team.”

### Of assuming a bigger role offensively, Bosh said: “It’s cool to be in that situation again. I’m a much better player than I was the last time in that position.” 


Linebackers coach Micheal Barrow is leaving the program, going on a sabbatical because of a family medical issue. Barrow played at UM from 1989 to 1992 and has been on the coaching staff for seven seasons. Canesport.com said that Barrow's mother is sick and he wants to care for her.

Hurlie Brown will move from running backs coach to linebackers coach to replace Barrow, and Tim Harris --- who joined the program earlier this year --- will become running backs coach.

Former UM receiver Kevin Beard replaces Harris as assistant director of football operations.

July 30, 2014

Riley opens up: Said he is shocked over LeBron leaving, said it has fired him up, much more; 15 Dolphins notes

A few minutes ago, Pat Riley spoke to seven reporters, including myself, in his first public comments since LeBron James left for Cleveland.

Here's most of everything he had to say:

 ### On LeBron’s departure: "Like Micky [Arison] said, both of us were shocked, but you recover. I don’t want to go back in history, but after 45 years, I think I’ve been around at least 15 transcendent players that have walked out the door – either left the team, retired, got traded, went somewhere else and you move on. We were shocked, but we recovered. People in this country have the right to do what they want to do. He wanted to go home. In our statements, we respected that. It was a tough blow."

### DId Riley feel like he was misled? "No. I don't think I was encouraged either. That's this business. They were free agents."

He said he reached out to LeBron through texts and emails throughout the free agent process but didn't get a response, though he obviously did get the meeting in Las Vegas two days before LeBron announced he was leaving for Cleveland. "I sent him a lot of emails and texts. I was communicating a lot with him. No response."

### On his late-June press conference encouraging players not to run out the door, he said he wasn't thinking at the time that LeBron would leave. "I wasn’t thinking that at all. My message that day was born out of just getting beat by a great team by 70 points in five games. We got our ass handed to us. You know how I react when things don’t go well. I get upset. We all get upset. That’s how I was after the particular loss. It wasn’t about making a direct comment to any one player because everyone on our team was a free agent or ready to become a free agent except Norris Cole. My message was we are going to come stronger than ever."

### Riley declined to say if he knew – when he met with LeBron in Las Vegas - that LeBron had met with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert four days earlier.

"There wasn’t anything in that meeting that told me that wasn’t going to happen [that LeBron was going to leave]. I’ve moved on quickly from that. We are going to build another championship team and that’s it. This business, as we find it, is tough. Sometimes you have those tough calls and sometimes things happen to you that you don’t like but you’ve got to move on."

### Riley said he went into free agency "with the thought he was coming back. I was selling that to players.”

He told LeBron before free agency he would tell players that. “He never said to me, No don’t do that. I went in with that premise and found out on the 10th [that wasn’t going to happen]. We were both very shocked when he did not come back. I was thinking all along he would come back.”

### Is he hurt by LeBron leaving? "I don’t get hurt. Very rarely do I get hurt. My wife will hurt me. My daughter might hurt me. You have an instinct about certain things. As soon as something happens, I had to react and we did. The hurt didn’t last very long."

### Can Riley see himself going through this in 2016 when the Heat has ample camp space?

"Yes, I can. It has fired me up. I don’t like to get beat at anything. I want this team to be as competitive as it has ever been. The team might not be as formidable from the social media standpoint as the team we had the last four years but a solid team that will be a great team to cover.

That process didn’t take anything out of me other than this one notion: Every [so often], you have a chance to build a generational team. You’re not going to win 10-12 years in a row. That chain has been broken prematurely. We are going to try to make it another generational team. That’s what my objective is."

### "There is no doubt we lost a great player" but he still expects to compete for a championship. "We’re not going to go in with this roster thinking there’s anything less than that. That’s how I am as a man."

### On Wade: "We are going to see where we are with him. With what he’s doing this summer and what he’s doing with his body and what he’s going to be doing with his conditioning, there is a possibility dwyane can return to what he was before he ceded a good part of his game to LeBron. And the same thing with Chris. A strong personality and strong player dictates a certain style of play that takes away from other great players. Dwyane and Chris sacrificed a lot. I think you will see both players probably have the best years they’ve had over the past four years."

### If LeBron had stayed, “we were always looking at 2016 as a possibility to be a player" in free agency, which the team will be now. "All of our players were aware of that. We always wanted a window in 2016.”

### Riley called Carmelo Anthony's agent after LeBron left but "that dance card had been punched. We were a little bit late to that party. I made a call but we were late in on that one." Anthony didn't resign with the Knicks until a couple days later.

### On giving Bosh a five-year, $118 million maximum contract: “Everything was off the table as soon as LeBron left. Whatever plans you may have had at that time, how you were going to negotiate with certain players was off the table. If something generated itself in two or three hours, you had to respond to that. He’s the most versatile big man in the NBA. That’s what the market was for him, and Micky stepped up to the plate, and we have a key, key component to this team. I’ll be damned if I was going to let him walk out the door and he didn’t want to either."

### On what he still needs to address: "The one area we want to shore up is another perimeter player who can swing between 2 and 3, maybe 2, 3, 4. We’re not in a rush now. Another wing man and also another big. We’ll be scanning the market."

"I always slot CB at the center spot, even though he plays across the board. Having Chris, Justin Hamilton at center, McRoberts and Haslem at 4, Deng, Ennis, Granger at 3. Wade, Cole, Chalmers, Napier."

### On Deng: “I truly believe if we were able to sign him that day [they met with him July 5, before LeBron left], he would have signed. He liked our team, competed against us for a long time. That discussion had to take a number of meandering rows. He knew we wanted him, would try to do whatever we could to get him.

At that time, when you took a look at our bottom line, we could have used all of our exceptions or gobbled up enough room to have maybe 10 or 11 million in cap space if you wanted to go that way."

### Why was Granger a priority? “I have been in this with players who have had injuries and had setbacks. It takes some time. He got caught up in a very awkward situation of coming back to a team where he really was the star [in Indiana].

"Three or fours years ago, think about the playoff series we had with Danny out there. Going through what he went through and then to come back, and having Paul George and Lance Stephenson be where they were. He has sort of been through the grinder. I have always liked him as a player. He’s a swing player, can play the four spot, can shoot from an outside, a good defender. It was low risk, high reward and he wanted to be here regardless of what the situation was.”

### On Josh McRoberts: “He flew under the radar a little bit. Last year was a breakthrough year for him. He’s a high motor guy. He’s a very high IQ from a basketball standpoint. He can shoot the basketball and he’s ultra competitive. The fact he led all stretch fours in assists and assist to turnover ratio. He can get three, four layups a game for some of our players on backdoor cuts. He can stretch the floor with a three. He’s an athletic guy, sort of a younger Chris Andersen that can do a few more things with the basketball. He felt he would be a great complement for Chris Andersen. When we go small, at times he plays the five."

### Except for LeBron, "all the guys wanted in here. Nobody tried to back out of this thing and tried to move somewhere else. For five or six hours, it was doing business as usual [when LeBron] left."

### Riley said "right now, we have not made any decisions" on Greg Oden. "He’s still on our board. We are going to give Greg some thought.”

### What about Michael Beasley? "Still a consideration. We talked to his people the other day."

### On Napier and whether LeBron's tweet praising him during the Final Four influenced the Heat drafting him: "The night of the draft, I said LeBron had good taste. We always liked him. We were not sure at that time, knowing Mario would be a free agent, whether we were going to be able to sign him back. We wanted to protect ourselves and we like him. He struggled this summer somewhat shooting the ball but we still feel he has a tremendous upside as a player. No truth to the fact that draft pick was made because of [LeBron’s] tweet.”

### Why give Chalmers two years and $8.3 million?

“We like him. Mario is a big game player. He learned more than ever in this series that you can never take anything for granted at this level of play when you’re playing championship caliber basketball. You’ve got to be in your best form and best mind. Sometimes, going to Finals four years in a year, you take it for granted....

"We’re looking at Mario differently in this roster. He’s a point guard but we’re also looking at him as a two. It’s big in this league, big for our coach. Mario can be very effective as a long armed 2 who can shoot the three. We are happy to have him back."

### The team we had over the last four years was a generational team. That generational team may have been disrupted temporarily. We have positioned ourselves not only temporarily to add players like Dwyane and Chris" in free agency in 2016.

"In 2016, there is going to be just about every team in the league is going to have more than $10 million in room. It tells how teams are positioning themselves for the future. The way the NBA is today, you always have to look ahead of the time at those possibilities. If you can and haven’t become roster matured with a great team, you want to be looking at that opportunities. We are going to be very competitive."

### He said Ray Allen's agent told him he "has not made a decision about anything. I’ve talked to his agent about a half dozen times." Allen has been considering retirement and the Heat can offer him only the $1.4 million minimum to re-sign.

### Riley opened with this: "To be able to put together and to get all the guys back we wanted and to add guys like Josh McRoberts and Luol Deng and Danny Granger and Shabazz Napier and James Ennis, I feel very good about where we are, with 12 guys under contract. We feel very good. Unlike a lot of the prognosticators, people who judge where we may be in the Eastern Conference, I feel that we are up to the challenge and going to be as competitive as anybody in the Eastern Conference. I feel great right now today making sure we have Chris signed and the core of our foundation and we’ll go from here."

### How competitive is the East? "Once the games begin to be played, we’ll find out. After 20 games, teams settle in and they usually are who they are going to be the rest of the year. There has been some change. Sometimes teams have a tendency to break through, get to a certain level and take a step back. If Derrick Rose is healthy, Chicago is going to be formidable. Is Cleveland going to be as good as everybody thinks they are? Nobody really knows. I am going to put my team in the mix with all those teams to be just as competitive."

### On James Ennis: "We see upside, athleticism, three—point shooting. He can stuff up the stat sheet. He can make six threes, get to the lane. Very athletic, high motor player. He needs a lot of work. He’s still really raw. For him to go to Australia was the best thing for him. Led the league in scoring, almost became the MVP. As we tracked him all year, we felt this was going to be a very good prospect.”

### Justin Hamilton's contract becomes partially guaranteed Aug. 1, and Riley said the Heat will keep him past that deadline.

### On James Jones going to Cleveland: "We wish him nothing but the best. He was a good soldier here the past six years.”

### Please see the last post for 15 Dolphins notes, quotes, tidbits and thoughts from Wednesday's practice, and another non-Riley Heat note.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz          

More Dolphins O-line changes; 15 notes, quotes, nuggets from camp; Wednesday Heat items

Please see below for a Heat schedule note from Wednesday.

Meanwhile, here are 15 items to chew on from Wednesday’s Dolphins practice:

### The Dolphins shook up their first-team offensive line, which is once again the team’s most worrisome position, during Wednesday’s practice after two more botched snaps from center Shelley Smith, giving him four over the past two days.

During the second half of team drills, Nate Garner replaced Smith with the first team at center, while rookie third-round pick Billy Turner replaced Dallas Thomas with the starters at right guard.

Meanwhile, Thomas got some work at right tackle, a position he played at times in practice last season.

Branden Albert is set at left tackle, while Daryn Colledge (left guard) and Ja’Wuan James (right tackle) are likely starters.

But the two other positions have proven problematic in light of Mike Pouncey’s hip surgery, which will force him to miss a chunk of the season.

Smith, who has never played center in an NFL game, has mishandled at least six snaps in five training camp practices. He lost his spot with the first team Wednesday after a low snap resulted in a fumble that was recovered by Isaaka Aaitui.

Smith said he wasn’t surprised he was replaced by Garner, who started two games at center last season and 19 games at various positions in his five seasons. But if the Dolphins determine Smith isn’t the answer at center, Smith would seem the logical starter at right guard.

### The Dolphins’ depth at center remains limited. Sam Brenner, who filled in for Pouncey at center during a practice in late June, missed practice Wednesday with an ankle injury. The Dolphins hope he can return in a few days.

### Free agent Samson Satele, who auditioned for the Dolphins on June 30, remains on Miami’s radar and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Dolphins go back to him if the center situation worsens. But the Dolphins are still looking at internal options.

### Coach Joe Philbin said in March that it was important to determine Thomas’ best position and leave him there. That still hasn’t happened. Thomas already has played three positions in the past two months: both guard spots and now tackle.

“We’ll see if he looks that much more comfortable [at tackle],” Philbin said. “I doubt that will be the case but it could be. I told the staff I want to see some guys in some different spots.”

### Besides Brenner, Pouncey and Knowshon Moreno, Mike Wallace (hamstring injury) also missed practice.


### Dolphins special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said Wednesday he wants improvement in the return game and also more consistency from second-year kicker Caleb Sturgis.

Rookie receiver Jarvis Landry and former Titans receiver Damian Williams are incumbent Marcus Thigpen’s top challengers for the punt and kickoff return jobs. A few rookies, besides Landry, are also in the mix, including former Oklahoma running back Damien Williams, who's battling for the kickoff return job.

“We put a depth chart up. Is [Thigpen] number one? Yes, because he has the most experience,” Rizzi said. “We will have other guys do it. We have a lot of options, a lot of competition. We have some insurance policies like Brent Grimes. There are probably more options on the roster for that job than we’ve we have had.”

In his second year as the Dolphins’ primary returner, Thigpen slipped to 19th in punt returns last season (7.8 average) and 18th in kickoff returns (22.5).

“We’ve got to get better in the return game as a whole. All 11 guys, not just the returner,” Rizzi said. “There were a lot of situations where our blocking could have been better. We got to get back to where we were in 2012, when we were top five in both categories.”

The Dolphins are eager to see Landry return punts and kickoffs in preseason games. “Obviously, the guy has good hands,” Rizzi said. “He has good judgment, very good athletic ability. The second step is can he do it with people around him, [with] gunners in his face?

“The question of whether he can do it in game time is going to be the biggest thing. He’s going to have some opportunities for sure [in preseason games]. He didn’t do it a lot in college [at LSU]. They had Odell Beckham doing it.”

### As for Sturgis, the Dolphins decided not to bring in another kicker to compete with him even though his 76.5 percent accuracy on field goals (26 of 34) ranked 29th of 32 kickers, ahead of only Houston’s Randy Bullock, New Orleans’ Garrett Hartley and Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski.

“He’s got to get more consistent,” Rizzi said. “He had that lapse in the middle of the year where he had a 1 for 5 spell. A kicker can’t be on a roller coaster ride. You go out there for one play and you’ve got to get it done. Bottom line.”

Though there isn’t another kicker on the roster, “the specialist world is a little different from everywhere else,” Rizzi said. “You don’t necessarily need a guy in camp to feel pressure. There is always competition. It may not be in the building. [But] I have a lot of confidence in Caleb Sturgis.”

Sturgis was 8 for 10 from 40 to 49 yards but just 3 for 7 on field goals of 50 yards or longer.

### The offense was sloppy during Wednesday’s practice, with far too many drops on catchable throws. Brian Hartline dropped two after he beat Jamar Taylor and scored on a 70-yard passing play from Ryan Tannehill. Even Jarvis Landry had his first drop of training camp. Armon Binns, Stephen Williams and Gator Hoskins were among others with drops.

Tannehill continued to mix the good with the bad. His TD strike to Hartline was perfectly thrown. He ran for 25 yards on a read option and his accuracy on intermediate routes in the middle of the field has been pretty good.

But he also threw an interception to Cortland Finnegan to end teams drills and threw an interception to Jamar Taylor when he underthrew Hartline on another bomb.

On another play, Tannehill waited too long to throw deep to Kevin Cone, thus allowing Taylor and Walt Aikens to successfully defend the play. Also, defensive linemen Jared Odrick and Cam Wake knocked down two of his passes Wednesday.

Give the Dolphins’ defensive backfield credit; they’ve made a lot of plays in this camp. And Tannehill hasn’t been awful. But we’re still waiting for the day that Tannehill is super impressive, without any poor decisions. It hasn’t happened yet through five days.

### The Dolphins want to continue making use of Dion Jordan on special teams when his four-game regular season suspension ends.

“Dion played 300 plays on special teams,” Rizzi said. “He was exceptional on the return team as a blocker.”

### Philbin, asked why he believes his run defense is better this year than last year, when the Dolphins were 24th in that category: “We’re getting more guys to the football. I’m excited about our defense. They look good so far. Randy Starks, I told the team I think he’s practicing better than I’ve seen him practice.

“Our front has a chance to be pretty good. The changes we made at linebacker. Louis Delmas plays fast. Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler – I like what they’re doing. Philip has really improved. Dannell, the benefit of being the mike, has quickened his transition to outside linebacker.”

### Speaking of defense… A couple of quick thoughts from defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle today: “We’ve got very good speed on defense…. I’m extremely pleased with how Koa Misi has progressed taking on the challenge of becoming the Mike backer in the defense. There’s very few guys I’ve ever been around that have worked as hard as he has to get ready….

"This is the deepest group I think we’ve had in all the positions, guys that as you go down the list have proven that they are capable of competing in the NFL… I think our young corners are really starting to come along.” Yes, lots of happy talk. But the defense has been sharp through five days. Adam Beasley will have more on the defense in a story to be posted later.

### Cam Wake was among several Dolphins who were wearing a T-shirt with slogans that were selected by the players. Among them: “I am a warrior and member of an unbeatable team… I will always place the team first… I will never quit. I am a professional…. I am a Miami Dolphin.”

Philbin said the idea was hatched during his meetings with players. “The great teams I’ve been around, the players take control of them,” Philbin said. “The best thing to do is to give them some ownership. They did a good job, gave some consideration to it.”

The T-shirt is not being sold to the public.

### Rookie fifth-round pick Walt Aikens, who started his career as a safety at Illinois and finished it as a cornerback at Liberty, has been playing both positions.

“You look at him and say, ‘Hmm.’ He kind of looks like a safety,’” Philbin said. “He’s going to continue to get work at both spots.”

### Philbin, on his running backs: “Lamar Miller – I like everything he’s done. Daniel Thomas – he’s had a solid camp so far.”

### Undrafted California rookie linebacker Chris McCain has made a mark so far, including an interception of a ball that Pat Devlin tried to throw away.

“Chris McCain has impressed with his athleticism,” linebackers coach Mark Duffner said. He’s got good quickness, pretty good awareness. He’s going to give us a lot of value with the versatility he presents.”

### Among others who impressed us Wednesday: Former Oklahoma running back Williams (has shown more recently than Mike Gillislee), Dion Sims (nice lunging catch from Tannehill); Dion Jordan (knocked down a pass from Matt Moore); and Taylor, who recovered from getting beat to make at least three very good plays on the ball, including the pick on Tannehill’s second deep-ball attempt.


No, the Heat won’t be showcased to the nation to the extent they were when LeBron James played here. But the networks aren’t going to ignore them either.

TNT wants to televise a Heat game during the first week of the season, and according to a league official, the tentative schedule includes a Washington-at-Heat game on Thursday, Oct. 30 on TNT --- two days after the season opens.

The person said there’s still a chance that game and other early-season games could change, so keep that in mind. But Turner wants to show the Heat early in the season. As we reported yesterday, Cleveland-Miami is also listed as a Christmas ABC game on a tentative league schedule.

The Heat-Wizards game, if it isn’t changed by the league, could be Miami’s first or second game. There’s a chance Miami could open on the road the night before, but that’s undetermined. 

### The Lakers worked out Michael Beasley today in Los Angeles, according to ESPN. The Heat has been non-committal with the free agent forward.

### The Marlins are aggressively pursuing a starting pitcher in a trade before Thursday night's trade deadline, and Fox said the Marlins might acquire Boston's John Lackey. But Herald colleague Clark Spencer reports there is no chance of that happening.

Brad Hand and Jacob Turner have pitched well in the fourth and fifth slots in the past couple weeks but the Marlins want a proven arm in their bid to earn a playoff spot.


July 29, 2014

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.



### 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. 

July 27, 2014

10 p.m.: Fins add QB; Arison's letter to Heat fans; Heaps ready for UM battle; Dolphins' OL signing; 20 more notes, quotes, thoughts from Dolphins camp

10 p.m. update: We hear the Dolphins are expected to announce they're signing undrafted Northern Colorado rookie QB Seth Lobato to replace Brock Jensen, who was cut earlier today.

Lobato will be Pat Devlin's newest challenger for the Dolphins' No. 3 quarterback job, with Devlin still the front-runner.

The Dolphins liked Lobato before the draft but ended up signing North Dakota State's Jensen, who failed to impress through three days of camp. The Colts signed Lobato after the draft before cutting him in June.

Lobato, 6-6, started three years at Northern Colorado after transferring from Colorado. He threw for 2725 yards, 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season and completed 56.8 percent of his passes.

The Dolphins originally wanted UM's Stephen Morris to be Devlin's competition for the No. 3 job, but Morris accepted an offer from Jacksonville instead of an offer from the Dolphins immediately after the draft.


On Twitter today, Heat owner Micky Arison sent an open letter to Heat fans, avoiding a reference to LeBron James' departure but making clear his optimism for the future. "We are not done, not even close," Arison wrote in a letter dated last Thursday.

Here is his letter, which is obviously far classier than Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert's letter when LeBron left Cleveland:

"While what your Miami HEAT has accomplished in the last four years has been historic, there’s a bigger picture that more clearly defines the success we have enjoyed as a franchise.  Since I took control of the team in 1995 and brought Pat Riley in to run our Basketball Operations, the HEAT has made the Playoffs in 16 of those 19 full seasons, with five Eastern Conference titles and three NBA championships highlighting those Playoff appearances. The HEAT are one of only seven teams to have won a championship during that span and, of those seven teams, we are one of only four teams to win multiple championships. To get an even better idea of our record of excellence, consider that of the six NBA franchises established at or around the time the HEAT joined the NBA, only one other team has even appeared in the NBA Finals, with only the HEAT winning an NBA title.

"From blockbuster trades for Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal, to drafting Dwyane Wade, all of whom are future Hall of Famers, to executing the most significant free agency acquisitions in league history when we acquired Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, your Miami HEAT have established themselves as an elite NBA franchise and have maintained a consistent level of on-court excellence, defining our legacy as a championship organization.  The fact that we have done all of this before celebrating our 30th Anniversary points out that we are the youngest NBA franchise to achieve this type of success and one of only 15 NBA franchises to win an NBA championship in the league’s 68-year history. And while those accomplishments speak for themselves, I’m here to tell you something else:  we are not done; not even close.

"Pat Riley is fond of saying that the only thing you can count on in life is change and those that embrace change are best prepared to emerge successfully.  So while the names on the back of the jersey may change from time to time, the constant presence of the name “Miami” or “HEAT” on the front guarantees that our goal remains the same: to put a competitive team on the floor capable of competing for the ultimate prize. As a Miami HEAT fan, this is what you have come to expect from us. We are laser-focused on the present and the task at hand of defending our Eastern Conference championship with the East being described as “wide open,” while also positioning ourselves for maximum flexibility and maneuverability in the future. 

"Our returning core, led by three-time NBA champions Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, two-time champion and nine-time NBA All-Star Chris Bosh, two-time champions Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole and NBA champion and fan-favorite Chris “Birdman” Andersen have once again shown their commitment to winning by doing what is necessary for the benefit of the team.  In addition, we welcome NBA All-Stars Luol Deng and Danny Granger, versatile veteran big man Josh McRoberts, two-time NCAA champion Shabazz Napier and exciting young talents like James Ennis and Justin Hamilton, who are coming off of very impressive showings at both the Orlando and Las Vegas NBA Summer Leagues.  Our roster is comprised of players capable of versatility and who are out to prove something to the rest of the league.

"Like Dwyane said when he announced his return to the HEAT, I am a #HEATLifer.  That’s how I want you to feel about your role as a Miami HEAT fan -- that you are a #HEATLifer – “all in” with us for what is sure to be an exciting 2014-15 season and an incredibly bright future where we will look to add to our three NBA championships. 

 Micky Arison


The Jake Heaps/Kevin Olsen quarterback battle will be the most fascinating story of UM camp, with Heaps' starting experience at BYU and Kansas giving him one clear advantage.

Freshmen Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier will be given a chance when practice starts Aug. 5, but it would be very surprising if either starts Labor Day night in Louisville. Al Golden will cut the quarterback competition from four to two fairly early in camp, and Heaps and Olsen are front-runners to be those two.

UM expects Ryan Williams to be back at some point this season but genuinely doesn't know when that will happen. Williams keeps saying he's targeting September, but that would be far sooner than players typically return from ACL injuries. 

Some comments from Heaps from today's conference call:

### Heaps said "it's absolutely vital" he wins the quarterback job. "I didn't come here to be the backup. You have to come and earn that. Nobody is going to give that to you. I have the ability to perform to the level this team needs."

### "I'm a pro style quarterback, a drop back quarterback. I can read defenses extremely well, manage the game. My strengths fit really well with what we're trying to do here. [Offensive coordinator James] Coley's offense is a true pro-style offense. I feel good about who I am, feel very confident in my abilities as a passer."

### Heaps, who transferred from Kansas this off-season after the Jayhawks changed quarterbacks and offensive style, said: "It's been vital to show [UM teammates] what a hard worker I am. The only way I can gain their respect is" through work ethic and "show these guys how much I love the game and be out here every single day." 

### What does he need to improve on? "When the pressure is coming on, making sure I'm making the right decision. I'm definitely not a runner, but I'm confident in my abilities in being mobile and moving around in the pocket."

### UM "was a situation it was too good to turn down [with] the personnel here and how talented they are. This receiver corps is extremely strong."

### "I've been here since the end of June and engrossed myself in football. I've stayed in the dorms, studying football 24/7. I feel very comfortable with where I'm at. I've been here [in the football building] as much as I possibly can. The only time I go back to my dorm room is to sleep."

### Heaps, on Al Golden: "I wouldn't say it's a disciplinary style. But doing things the right way is how I would describe it."

### Heaps, on UM's freshmen quarterbacks: "Brad is more of your true drop-back passer. Malik is more throwing and running. Those guys are going to be good here."

The good news on Heaps: He has a strong arm, is very bright, set several freshman passing records at BYU and has experience starting 28 games combined for two schools (BYU and Kansas).

The bad news: ESPN’s quarterback rating system ranked him 126th of 127 qualifiers last season. His completion percentage (49) ranked 123rd of 127, though he was hurt by a ton of drops. He twice has left schools after being beaten out, at BYU in 2011 and Kansas after last season.

The hunch here is if Heaps and Olsen are comparable in August, Heaps would have the edge because of experience, especially with such a difficult opening game. But Olsen could win it by clearly outplaying Heaps in August. We'll see.



Koa Misi’s adjustment to middle linebacker, a transition that had been progressing smoothly, was put on hold Sunday when he left midway through practice with a foot injury.

Trainers worked for a while on Misi before he walked barefoot to the locker-room, holding his left shoe. Misi later told associates that somebody stepped on his foot but he will be fine.

Before that setback, the Dolphins had been encouraged by the results of their linebacker shuffling early in camp and during the team’s offseason program.

Misi has shown promise at middle linebacker, a position he hadn’t played before for the Dolphins, and Dannell Ellerbe has looked comfortable in his move back from middle linebacker (which he played inconsistently for Miami last season) to weak side linebacker (the position he played a lot for Baltimore) .

Early in Sunday’s practice --- the third overall and first in pads --- Misi wrapped up Lamar Miller for a negligible gain, and Ellerbe smacked Miller for no gain.

Misi wasn’t made available to speak to reporters after his injury Sunday, but he said Friday that middle linebacker is a good fit for him because “I can see plays unfold a little bit better. I feel pretty good, a lot better than I did at OTAs.”

Of Misi, coach Joe Philbin said: “I don’t know if there’s a guy on the team that has worked harder since April 21 in terms of studying and putting in extra time.”

Ellerbe likes playing weakside linebacker because “I played weakside four years before I came here. I’m more natural at that spot. I’m used to not letting things get outside of me. As long as I get to stay in one position and master that position, I feel like I’ll be good.”

And Ellerbe said Misi should thrive at middle linebacker because “he’s just so aggressive. He’s fast, explosive, has everything to be a great mike.”

Though the Dolphins have the same three starting linebackers as a year ago --- Ellerbe, Misi and Philip Wheeler --- they hope the shuffling will bolster a run defense that ranked 24th and allowed 124.9 yards per game. Philbin said the linebackers are playing faster than they did last season.

“We’re doing good [but] still have too many mental errors,” Ellerbe said. “We’re getting to the ball. We just have to get our hands on the ball.”

Wheeler said “we look more comfortable because we’ve been here another year. Dannell and I are getting familiar with things.”

Misi has missed games (four, two and one) in each of the past three seasons.

After Misi’s injury Sunday, Ellerbe shifted back to middle linebacker, with Wheeler and backup Jelani Jenkins alongside. But Jason Trusnik also has received considerable work at middle linebacker.

### The Dolphins are signing offensive tackle Steven Baker, who has played for four teams but appeared in no NFL regular-season games since being undrafted out of East Carolina in 2012. The Dolphins will need to release a player before adding him to the 90-man roster.

### Besides Misi, receiver Brandon Gibson and running back Mike Gillislee also left practice early.

Gibson, who had knee surgery to repair a torn patella tendon last October, went inside the team’s training facility midway through practice. He later changed from pads to shorts and then walked off the field with an ice pack on his knees.

### Cortland Finnegan finished practice but sat out a good chunk of team drills, with Jamar Taylor replacing him on the first team.

### Deep throws to Mike Wallace remain problematic; through three days of camp, quarterbacks have connected with Wallace on one of six long balls. Matt Moore threw the only deep balls to Wallace on Sunday, misfiring on both.

### Right tackle Ja’Wuan James gave up another sack to Cameron Wake but said he will benefit in the longterm from battling with Wake throughout camp. Wake said when he beats James on a play, James will ask him what happened and how he can improve.

“He does a good job schooling me,” James said. “This is the best situation for me, going against that every day.”

James said he was “excited” when he was told Dallas Thomas was being shifted from left guard to right guard, which allows the former Tennessee teammates and roommates to play alongside each other.

### Backup guard Billy Turner, the team’s third round pick, “is far ahead of where he was in the OTAs, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Philbin said. “He has good movement skill but he… really needs to learn the concept of leverage.”

### Two pick-sixes Sunday: Dion Jordan intercepted Ryan Tannehill’s screen pass and would have returned it for a touchdown if the play had continued… Trusnik intercepted Matt Moore in 7 on 7 drills and would have returned that for a touchdown, too.

### Good to see Lamar Miller slither through a hole in the second-team defense for what likely would have been a long touchdown run if the play had been allowed to continue. What the Dolphins want to see from Miller is hitting holes quickly and also making something of plays where the blocking isn’t necessarily great. Adam Beasley will have a story on Miller posted on the home page later.

### Rishard Matthews nearly made a diving one-handed catch of a deep ball from Tannehill, but it was ruled incomplete. Matthews, who took Gibson’s spot, was impressive Sunday. He’s going to play somewhere in the league this year, even if it isn’t here. (And it still might be here.)

### In 7-on-7 drills, Tannehill delivered a beautiful deep ball to Jarvis Landry, who beat Will Davis and would have scored a touchdown if the play had continued. So don’t be concerned with Landry’s disappointing 40-time at the Combine; his play speed is very good. Plus, Landry catches everything thrown to him.

### Rookie cornerback Walt Aikens is being used at safety, which seems to suit his skill set. He broke up a poorly thrown deep ball from Matt Moore to Brian Hartline.

### Like what I’m seeing from AJ Francis, who makes a notable play or two every practice. Francis looks like Miami’s fourth-best defensive tackle.

### At times, Ryan Tannehill continues to take too long to throw, a point reinforced to him by an angry fan at Sunday’s invitation-only practice. Even on a play when Tannehill had lots of open territory to run, he seemed indecisive before taking off.

Tannehill generally has been accurate with passes over the middle and his deep ball to Landry was beautiful. But there have been a few poor decisions in every practice, including the Jordan pick and a near interception by Jimmy Wilson.

### Sunday’s embarrassing moment: Daniel Thomas tripping over grass and falling after getting a handoff, without a defender touching him.

### Rookie draft picks Jordan Tripp and Terrence Fede made a couple of impressive plays snuffing out running plays.

### Smart move by the Dolphins to use Jason Fox at backup left tackle Sunday for the first time in camp, with Nate Garner flipping over to backup right tackle. Fox would be the better option if Brandon Albert goes down (perish the thought).

### I asked Joe Philbin who has stood out among his backup tight ends. Here’s how he answered: “Dion Sims had the most reps out of any tight end yesterday on tape. You see a lot of potential there. The run game is something we want to really emphasize. We’re looking for guys that can really get moving at the point of the attack. His body type, his ability, lead us to believe he can be one of those type of players.

“Mike Egnew and Arthur Lynch have been solid. Gator Hoskins has shown he’s very bright. He’s got good poise, can adjust on the field. Kyle Miller came up with a couple nice catches yesterday.”

### Shelley Smith has performed competently at center through three days. “Shelley is doing a good job,” Albert said. And left guard Daryn Colledge looked good in Miami’s first day in pads.

“[Colledge] has played nine years, knows the game, been around the block,” Albert said. “You need that on your offensive line. [But] we’ve got to get better.”

 ### The Dolphins are giving Randy Starks, Earl Mitchell and Jared Odrick an equal chance to be the two starters. I would be surprised if Starks doesn’t start. Philbin said Starks “is finishing plays a little better. Really pleased with what I’ve seen.”

And with Mitchell, “I like the way he comes off the ball,” Philbin said. “Outstanding motor. I like his pursuit of the football. He has had some good pass rush plays early in camp. He’s a natural leverage player.”

### The Dolphins are off Monday, then practice five consecutive days, concluding with a 9:30 a.m. session at Sun Life Stadium next Saturday.


July 26, 2014

Dolphins Day 2: Intriguing receiver battle and 20 more notes, quotes, tidbits and thoughts

### If there’s one position on the Dolphins with more NFL-caliber talent than roster space available, it’s at wide receiver.

The Dolphins have seven receivers who have started multiple NFL games, as well as a highly-regarded rookie second-round pick in Jarvis Landry, promising rookie sixth-rounder Matt Hazel and converted running back Marcus Thigpen, their primary returner the past two years.

Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson will be the team’s top three receivers, and Landry obviously will make the team and projects as the fourth receiver.

That would leave Rishard Matthews, Armon Binns, Damian Williams and Thigpen as the primary challengers for the fifth receiver job. Teams often keep five receivers, but the Dolphins could keep six if Thigpen is one of them.

“I like the group - it’s the deepest it’s been since I’ve been here,” Joe Philbin said. “Things have a tendency to sort themselves out once these practices and preseason games take place. There will be some special teams things that will maybe impact a couple of those decisions.”

Binns, who sustained a torn ACL and MCL early in last year’s training camp, has looked good throughout the offseason program and during the first two days of camp.

“I feel great,” said Binns, who has 24 career receptions and previously made five NFL starts for Cincinnati.

Having this kind of depth at receiver “makes everyone better, will do nothing but help us,” Binns said. “I’ve been cut. I’ve made teams. If you can play, somebody will find you and you will be on a roster.”

Williams, who made 17 starts in four seasons for Tennessee but just one last year, produced two impressive plays during Saturday’s practice: a diving 40-yard catch on a throw from Ryan Tannehill and another when he caught a short pass and juked Jamar Taylor for a sizable gain. He has 106 career receptions but just 15 (for 178 yards) last season.

Matthews caught 41 passes for 448 yards and two touchdowns last season and made five starts but is at serious risk of not making the team. On Saturday, he caught a pass but was stripped by Taylor, and Jason Trusnik grabbed the ball in the air. Matthews threw his arm in frustration.

The team has privately questioned his focus in the past --- Matthews admitted to being late to a couple of meetings earlier in his career --- but Philbin praised his work in the offseason program and Matthews said he and Philbin are on the same page after meeting this offseason.

### Thigpen, who caught nine passes for 112 yards during his first two seasons, has looked smooth as a receiver early in camp.

Thigpen, Williams, Landry, undrafted rookie Rantavious Wooten and cornerback Brent Grimes have fielded punts early in camp. If the Dolphins believe Landry can be a productive returner, Thigpen would be in serious jeopardy.

The Dolphins always have the option of moving Thigpen back to running back, of course.

### The Dolphins are intrigued by 6-5 receiver Stephen Williams, who started three games for Arizona in 2010, but he’s a major long shot, as are Wooten and Hazel (each possibilities for the practice squad), Ryan Spadola, Kevin Cone and Gerald Ford.

### What about trading a receiver for help elsewhere? That doesn’t seem realistic, because the Dolphins presumably aren’t trading their top four receivers, and neither Binns nor Matthews would net anything of value in return.

### Gibson, who suffered a torn patella tendon against New England last October, has looked good early in camp, catching several passes. “Last year’s offense, I did a lot of intermediate type stuff,” he said. “I hope I get to get downfield a little bit as well. I know I can help the team [downfield].”

### Though none of this should be overstated, Ryan Tannehill is now 1 for 4 on deep throws to Mike Wallace through two days of camp. Both attempts were incomplete Saturday, including one in which Tannehill held the ball too long, thus squandering a chance to hit an open Wallace. By the time he threw it, safety Reshad Jones had good position and made an interception. By the way, Philbin wants to expand Wallace's "route tree."

### Taylor, limited last season by the effects of offseason sports hernia surgery, said there’s a dramatic difference in how he feels and he believes that will translate to how he plays. Though he was beaten on the deep throw to Williams, his strip of Matthews was outstanding.

“I can move [now],” he said. “I was running real slow [last year]. I run way faster.

“My breaks are better. Even if a receiver is catching it, usually I’m right there. It’s a blessing to be out here and be able to move. As a DB, you need your legs. You need to be able to turn and twist and run. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be on the field.”

Taylor was on the field for just 45 defensive plays last season, and all four passes thrown against him were caught, for 100 yards.

### The Idaho Statesman quoted Taylor in April as saying: “It was to the point last year I thought I was done playing football. I don’t want to play anymore.”

But on Saturday, he said: “I didn’t question if I wanted to play football. Let’s get that straight. The thought was can I still do this? I’m anxious.”

### As for fellow second-year cornerback Will Davis, he has been beaten a couple times but also has had some good moments, including a deflection of a Tannehill pass on Saturday.

Said Philbin: “I like what Jamar and [Will Davis] are doing. They’re improved.”

### Liked the play-calling Saturday, including several read-option plays. And here’s progress: Only one botched quarterback/center exchange, after three on Friday! And new center Shelley Smith wasn’t involved in that mishap. Saturday’s regrettable exchange was between Sam Brenner and Pat Devlin.

### With the team not practicing in pads until Sunday, there are certain things (especially in the running game) that are difficult to gauge.

But it was encouraging to see Dion Jordan make a terrific play against the run Saturday, rushing to the ball and stopping Daniel Thomas for no gain.

The Dolphins have given Jordan substantial work early in camp, even though he will be suspended for the first four games after testing positive for a banned substance.

“It’s a delicate balance,” Philbin said. “Dion needs work at defensive end, He needs work on fundamentals. We have to be cognizant that we’re getting ready to play a game. It’s a balancing act. We are going to have to find the right mix.”     

### It’s not a surprise that Cameron Wake has beaten rookie right tackle Ja’Wuan James several times early in camp.

But Philbin said of James: “I like what I’ve seen first two days. Very smart. Very aware. I like his poise. He’s very coachable. He learns. He listens well.”

### Branden Albert, meanwhile, was beaten by Olivier Vernon for a sack for the second day in a row, with Vernon easily manuevering around him.

### If I’m the Dolphins, I would be very afraid that defensive coordinators will try to exploit the inexperienced right side of the offensive line (Dallas Thomas and James) with blitz packages.

### Injury stuff: Defensive tackle Isaako Aaitui (cyst near his ear) and linebacker Jelani Jenkins (undisclosed reason) left practice early. Defensive end Derrick Shelby, recovering from knee surgery, was again held out.

### Jarvis Landry, besides having excellent hands and excelling with YAC, also has a knack for finding soft spots in a zone, as he did Saturday on a pass from Matt Moore.

### Lamar Miller had a fumble but also made a very good adjustment on a 15-yard pass from Moore. Even with Knowshon Moreno returns, a case could be made for Miller to remain the starter; Moreno is the better third-down option because he’s better in pass protection.

### As for Daniel Thomas, he got some work with the first team and has looked good at times --- dating back to OTAs --- but also dropped an easy catch Saturday.

### Moore’s interception Saturday wasn’t an awful throw; Jimmy Wilson tipped a pass to Charles Clay and Brent Grimes picked it off. But Moore’s accuracy has been less than ideal; several times, receivers had to bail him out by diving or contorting their bodies for catches.

### The more than 1000 fans in attendance Saturday might have noticed a drone overhead at practice. But it wasn't a spying device sent by Rex Ryan or Bill Belichick. Instead, it was the Dolphins taking pictures of fans for an artistic project. Saturday's crowd was much better than Friday's, by the way. Sunday's 8 a.m. practice is open only to a select group of season-ticket holders.

### And there’s this, from the Law & Order file of the blog:

The attorney representing Dolphins center Mike Pouncey and his brother, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, tells my colleague Adam Beasley that the lawsuit filed against them Thursday "is a complete sham" and that his clients plan to counter-sue "for malicious prosecution and defamation."

The original lawsuit, filed in Miami-Dade court Thursday, claims that the brothers roughed up three club-goers at South Beach's Cameo the night of their birthday party earlier this month.

"The plaintiffs and their lawyers are perpetuating these lies in a bid for notoriety and financial gain," said Jeff Ostrow, the Pounceys' attorney.

July 25, 2014

Twenty notes, quotes, tidbits and observations from first day of Dolphins training camp

### If the Dolphins open the season with the same starting offensive line that took the field for the first day of practice on Friday, they will be using a center (Shelley Smith) who has never played a single snap at that position in an NFL game, a left guard (Daryn Colledge) that wasn’t even on the team a month ago and a right guard (Dallas Thomas) who played three offensive snaps last season.

That group, bookmarked by new tackles Branden Albert and Ja’Wuan James, gave up many of the at least half-dozen sacks relinquished by the offensive line on Friday. Cameron Wake beat James at least twice for sacks. Randy Starks, Wake and Jason Trusnik collected sacks during a four-play sequence late in practice.

“Today wasn’t the practice we wanted to have,” Ryan Tannehill said. “Balls on the ground and sacks.”

Joe Philbin said “we had the ball on the ground way too much” and that stemmed from at least three poor center-to-quarterback snaps, two involving Smith and Tannehill.  

Smith, who expected to be the starting right guard, instead has been shifted to center in the absence of Mike Pouncey, who is expected to miss potentially seven games after hip surgery.

Smith took snaps at center during the offseason program but his center experience during games is limited to a few snaps at Colorado State and in high school. He never has started a game at center at any level.

Smith said he wasn’t informed of the position switch until Thursday but wasn’t surprised.

He said “we don’t know yet” whether his move to center will continue until Pouncey’s return, but that’s Miami’s preference if Smith proves he can handle it.

“It will be a new challenge for me,” Smith said. “I’m looking forward to it. The biggest adjustment, especially in this offense, is getting guys in the right position to be successful. Guys are ready to step up and fill in until [Pouncey] is back or if he’s not back, fill in the whole year.” (Nobody expects Pouncey to miss the season, but I found it curious that Smith said that.)

Philbin opted for Smith as the starting center instead of Sam Brenner, who took second-team snaps there.

### With Smith shifting to center, the Dolphins inserted Colledge at left guard, the position he has played primarily in his career. The Dolphins passed on Colledge during the first phase of free agency but signed him in late June after Pouncey’s injury.

“I’ve taken 9000 reps at left guard and 500 reps at probably every other position,” said Colledge, who has started 124 of 128 NFL games, including every game for Arizona last season. “But I will swing over if that’s what’s needed.

“The guys behind me are actually ahead of me in the system and physically. I haven’t played football since [late December]. I have some rust to knock off. Hopefully, my vet savviness will eventually catch back up.”

### Thomas played left guard during the entire offseason program but shifted to right guard partly because Colledge is more at ease on the left side.

Thomas said he’s comfortable on both sides because he practiced on both sides last year. But moving to the right requires “rethinking everything. It’s different. Footwork is different. I have way more work to do.”

### Colledge said having five new offensive line starters “almost never happens. You don’t always need a bunch of Pro Bowlers. You need five guys that can line up every week.”

Albert, who was beaten by Olivier Vernon for a sack, said Tannehill is “going to get hit. It’s part of the game. But not 58 times.” The Dolphins, as many of you know, allowed a franchise-record 58 sacks last season.

### A few highlights from Stephen Ross’ media briefing: It was interesting that the first player he mentioned was rookie receiver Jarvis Landry, declaring that Landry “is going to bring a lot of excitement to this team.” You can be sure Ross has heard that sentiment from his football people… Ross said the Dolphins have made a “major improvement” at offensive coordinator with Bill Lazor…

He wouldn’t go as far as to say that the Dolphins need to make the playoffs for Joe Philbin to keep his job... The canopy which will cover the stands at Sun Life Stadium will be in place for the 2016 season… Is there a chance to reclaim the market with LeBron James off to Cleveland? “Miami wants to support a winner,” he said. “Football is the No. 1 sport in this country and the area.” (Adam Beasley will have more from Ross in his story to be posted later.)

### While refusing to offer details, Dion Jordan expressed remorse for his four game regular-season NFL suspension that resulted from testing positive for an undisclosed banned stimulant.

“It sucks,” he said.

Jordan, who received substantial practice time Friday and will be permitted to play in preseason games, said he learned “you have to be accountable. The older you get, the more people depend on you. If nobody can depend on you, you’re… worth nothing. I’ve got to grow up and take it as a lesson. I made a decision that jeopardized myself and the team.”

### Besides Pouncey, Knowshon Moreno and Derrick Shelby --- who both had arthroscopic knee surgery this summer --- also sat out practice, with Pouncey and Moreno placed on the physically unable to perform list. The Dolphins expect Moreno and Shelby to be ready for the start of the season.

### Tannehill, who completed only 6 of 36 passes of 20-plus yards to Mike Wallace last season, completed one of two of those throws to Wallace on Friday. He under-threw Wallace once (Will Davis had tight coverage) but Wallace beat Jamar Taylor on a long strike in 7-on-7 drills.

Overall, Tannehill was 1 for 3 on deep balls, with Brent Grimes and Reshad Jones offering tight coverage on a slightly overthrown bomb to Damian Williams.

“There were times last year when I could have made plays on the ball--jumped over a couple guys,” Wallace said. “That’s my main thing: coming back to the ball. Knowing that not every ball is going to come far. Some are going to drop short. When the ball is not perfect I’ve got to make plays on it.”

### Wallace, on his state of mind: “I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been. I feel really comfortable. I know everything about the team. Last year, I felt kind of like a rookie in a new environment. I love the environment, love the coaches. I think the guys are a lot more comfortable understanding their roles, the whole team in general. Coach [Bill] Lazor coming in with some energy for us, a big shot of energy, a nice variety of plays. He brings a different type of excitement to the table. I love coach [Mike] Sherman but coach Lazor is a different type of guy so I’m excited about it.”

He also said: “I need to be more of a complete receiver instead of a one-dimensional guy.”

On pundits predicting the Dolphins won’t do much this year, Wallace said: “I don’t listen to that stuff. I don’t care. I know what we have on our team. They sleep on us. We’re going to wake their ass up.”

### Randy Starks, Jared Odrick and Earl Mitchell alternated with the first team at defensive tackle. Starks and Mitchell were on the field for the start of team drills, for what that’s worth.

### Cortland Finnegan lined up with the starters opposite Brent Grimes at cornerback and made two nifty breakups of Tannehill passes to Wallace. Jamar Taylor and Will Davis were the second-team cornerbacks, with Jalil Brown and Walt Aikens the third-team corners.

### Talk about inauspicious starts: On the first play of team drills, Tannehill was forced to call timeout. That was immediately followed by a botched snap.

### What did we see from Lazor’s offense today? Among other things: Bubble screens, quick passes, a read option play, Tannehill throwing on the move (some by design, some by necessity), spread formations, multiple sets (including one with tight ends Dion Sims and Michael Egnew both lined up as receivers), considerable use of tight ends in the passing game, play-action fakes and several passes to running backs (Lamar Miller made a particularly nice catch on one of them).

“Spreading the field is going to be a big key,” Tannehill said. “The offense is pure timing and throwing to spots.”

### Ugh! moments of the day, beyond the offensive line play: Michael Egnew dropping an easy pass, all alone in the flat, and Gerald Ford dropping another one. But Egnew, running with the second team, also made a nice catch later.

### Best play of the day? A phenomenal diving catch from rookie receiver Matt Hazel, a play covering 45 yards.

### Dannell Ellerbe, the team’s third-highest-paid defensive player in terms of annual salary, left the field in nickel situations, with Koa Misi and Philip Wheeler remaining on the field.

### Here was the backup offensive line, from left to right: Nate Garner (not the ideal backup left tackle choice), Billy Turner, Brenner, David Arkin and Jason Fox.

### A.J. Francis and undrafted rookie Anthony Johnson were the fourth and fifth defensive tackles and are front-runners for those roster spots. Teammates like Johnson’s upside.

### Asked if he addressed rookie hazing with his players, which at least one rookie complained about privately last season, Philbin said he “talked more about respect for one another” and “being focused on football.” Dennis Hickey declined to say whether rookie hazing would be banned.

### UM assistant coaches Art Kehoe and Hurlie Brown were on the field, guests of the Dolphins.

### If you missed it, please see the last post for Heat notes from Thursday. Twitter: @flasportsbuzz


July 24, 2014

Beasley, Oden in limbo; Heat mulling veteran free agent options

Some Thursday Heat notes as we await Friday's first Dolphins practice:

### Even with potentially three roster spots to fill, the Heat continues to be non-committal with free agents Michael Beasley and Greg Oden, with the team neither closing the door on a return in conversations with their agents nor offering them a contract to this point, either.

The Heat --- which will have 12 players under contract as soon as Chris Bosh’s deal is announced --- cannot offer any remaining free agents any more than the veteran minimum, which tops out at $1.4 million.

Jared Karnes, Beasley’s agent, said Thursday he has had more than one conversation with the Heat but “nothing has resulted in a deal. [Other] teams have called expressing interest. There has been quite a bit of activity the past four days. Teams are encouraged by his career best field goal percentage (49.9), second-best three-point percentage (38.9), top ten efficiency for all small forwards and his attitude when asked to play a reduced role.”

Among all players who appeared in at least 20 regular-season games, Beasley was 47th in points per 48 minutes, at 25.2.

Beasley, who has been working out with Kevin Durant in Los Angeles, averaged 7.9 points last season in 55 games and made two starts but played just 23 minutes in the playoffs.

As for Oden, the Heat has not informed his agent, Mike Conley Sr., if the team wants him back.

“They said they’ll get back to us,” Conley said. “A couple of teams have inquired. He wants to be able to play.”

Oden averaged 2.9 points and 2.3 rebounds in 23 games, including six starts, while shooting 55.1 percent from the field but logged just seven minutes during the postseason.

Meanwhile, the Heat believes it’s unlikely Ray Allen will return to the team. Allen, who is touring China, told China media outlet Sina he plans to take a full physical before deciding whether to play next season.

An associate of Allen said Thursday he has not made a final decision about whether to play next season, and The Boston Globe reported he is leaning toward joining former Heat teammates LeBron James, Mike Miller and James Jones in Cleveland.

The Cavaliers could offer only the $1.4 million minimum to Allen, who made $3.2 million last season.

UPDATE: Allen's agent, Jim Tanner, released this statement at 6 p.m. in the wake of the Boston Globe report: "The reports that Ray intends to play for the Cavs are unfounded. He has not yet decided if he will play next season or for which team." (But Tanner obviously didn't rule out Cleveland, either.)


Count former Charlotte small forward/shooting guard Chris Douglas-Roberts among remaining free agents who interest the Heat.

Douglas-Roberts, 6-7, averaged 6.9 points and 2.4 rebounds and shot 44 percent overall and 38.6 on three-pointers in 49 games for Charlotte last season, including eight starts. He's an improving offensive player and a capable defender.

The Heat is looking for another veteran small forward or shooting guard to supplement Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Danny Granger. The Heat's preference would be for a player not only with shooting range but the ability to competently defend opposing wings.

Small forward James Ennis, who impressed the Heat during summer league, is also under contract, and point guard Mario Chalmers can play shooting guard if needed.

Besides Douglas-Roberts, other veterans free agent wing players still available include Shawn Marion, Jordan Crawford, Chris Singleton (the Heat has reportedly inquired), Heat incumbent Toney Douglas, MarShon Brooks (his agent has reached out to the Heat), Jordan Hamilton, Francisco Garcia, Omri Casspi, Jerryd Bayless, Rasual Butler, Shannon Brown, Ronnie Brewer, Hedo Turkoglu, James Anderson, Dahntay Jones, and former Heat guard Roger Mason Jr.

### Once Bosh’s deal is signed, the Heat will have five power rotation players under contract: Bosh, Chris Andersen, Josh McRoberts, Udonis Haslem and Justin Hamilton, whose contract becomes partially guaranteed Aug. 1.

The Heat might add another veteran power rotation player at the minimum at some point before training camp, with available options including Oden, Emeka Okafor, Elton Brand, Nazr Mohammed, Charlie Villanueva, Ryan Hollins, Ekpe Udoh (no contact with Miami), Byron Mullens and Greg Stiesma.

Andray Blatche is available, but questions about his professionalism and maturity dissuaded Miami from pursuing him in past years, and the Nets reportedly parted ways with him this summer because of those issues.

Similar questions also have come up about Crawford, one of the most skilled wing players still available, though he has insisted in interviews this year that he has matured. Still, Crawford cannot be discounted if he's still available and willing to take a minimum deal closer to training camp.

### The NBA schedule is expected to be released sometime in August, later than usual. The NBA is considering having the Heat play Cleveland on ABC on Christmas, according to a league source.

An involved official said a part of the network TV schedule was essentially finished with the assumption James would return to the Heat, then had to be discarded when he signed with the Cavaliers.

### For those who asked, the blog was inactive the past couple of weeks because of a combination of vacation and Miami Herald local news assignments (which are required annually for Herald sports writers).

There will be some Dolphins and Heat posts in the next couple of weeks, as I juggle numerous other  assignments. And the more substantial posts you're accustomed to, including info on UM and other fodder, will return at some point in August.

July 05, 2014

Buzz will return

The blog will return later this month.

July 03, 2014

10 p.m. LeBron news; Heat free-agent chatter on players Miami has called about, Heat's own free agents; Beckham/MLS news

An evening Heat free agency update, including tonight's developments, can be found below. First, a quick David Beckham/MLS note:

Though Beckham's group has made clear that Beckham wants his proposed MLS team to play in downtown Miami, Broward County commissioner Stacy Ritter told me today that the team has now expressed willingness to speak to Broward County about a soccer-specific stadium.

Ritter said Brian Ballard, one of the team's lobbyists, conveyed that Beckham's group is now willing to listen to what Broward officials have to say. Those talks are expected soon, she said.

It's too soon to tell the level of the Beckham group's interest in this idea, but at least they told Ritter that Beckham & Co. are open to considering it.

Ritter said county-owned land near the Panthers' arena (BB&T Center) would be a "great fit" for the stadium.

"Beckham's group was very unhappy with the parcel that Miami-Dade wanted to provide," Ritter said. "We're easier to deal with than the county to the south."

Beckham's top two choices for a stadium --- the Port of Miami site and the boat slip site next to AmericanAirlines Arena --- were both rejected by local government officials, and Beckham's group has said it's not enthusiastic about a site near Marlins Park because the land is "spiritually tainted" in the wake of  the Marlins' controversial ballpark deal.

Beckham's group has said it's assessing its options regarding Miami.


Heat free agent chatter:

### Amid news that LeBron James’ agent has been listening to pitches from several teams, the pressure has escalated on Heat president Pat Riley, who --- along with coach Erik Spoelstra --- is meeting with center Pau Gasol and others in Los Angeles, hoping to convince a high-end free agent to take considerably less money to sign with Miami.

Problem is, James to this point hasn't made a commitment to return to the Heat, and his agent, Rich Paul, this week met with at least four teams (Phoenix, Houston, Dallas and Cleveland), according to ESPN, which also reported that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is flying to Cleveland to meet with Paul. Yahoo! said Houston was not granted a meeting, spoke to Paul by phone and has moved on.

Yahoo! reported that Paul suggested to Cleveland, Dallas and Phoenix that they might be brought back to Cleveland to meet with James next week if Riley doesn't quickly improve the Heat's roster. James was on vacation this week and did not meet with any teams.

The Heat fully expects James will re-sign.

One associate of James told me that he still makes the Heat the clear favorite to keep James but also that the four-time MVP is "weighing all his options" and "wants to see how things play out" with the Heat's roster, which he wants upgraded. As has been reported, James wants the maximum money allowed, and the Heat is fine with that.

But that associate also said it's very difficult to envision him signing with Phoenix or Houston. (Dallas did not come up in the conversation with the associate.)

The associate reiterated that the idea of playing again in Cleveland again at some point appeals to James and said the Cavaliers cannot be ruled out this summer. 

The Cavaliers don't look ready to win big now, and that's critically important to James, but that would change quickly if James commits and if Cleveland trades Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love, who reportedly would be receptive to signing with the Cavaliers longterm if James is there.

If Riley cannot lure a high-end free agent such as Gasol or Trevor Ariza or Luol Deng, the Heat instead will focus on adding several reasonably-priced players.

The Heat’s cap space is projected to be substantially less than the $12 million cited in one national report.

If Chris Bosh accepts a first-year salary of $15 million and Dwyane Wade $13 million, the Heat would have in the range of $6 million to $7 million in space, presuming James signs at the maximum $20.7 million. (About $2 million more could be added by dumping Norris Cole.) The Heat also would have a $2.7 million "room" salary cap exception in this scenario.

Yahoo! reported tonight that Bosh and Wade have not agreed to salaries and are reluctant to taking severe pay cuts, though they will take reductions. Still, Bosh has told associates he plans to return to the Heat, and Wade also plans to return, of course. 

Unless the Heat can convince one of the pricey free agents to take considerably less than market value, the Heat might be better served by operating as a capped-out team.

Under that scenario, the Heat could not use cap space but could use a $5.3 million midlevel exception, a $2.2 million trade exception and a $2 million bi-annual exception and also preserve Bird Rights to re-sign its own free agents, which would allow Miami to give raises to Ray Allen (who made $3.2 million last season) and Chris Andersen ($1.4 million).

### The Heat has strong interest in adding one or two veteran wing players. Among free agents that Miami has reached out to, according to people with direct knowledge: New Orleans’ Anthony Morrow (8.4 points, 45.1 percent three-point shooting last season); Oklahoma City’s Caron Butler (10.5, 39.4) and Utah’s Marvin Williams (9.1 points, 35.9 percent).

Other affordable wing players potentially in play include Alan Anderson, Shawn Marion, Jordan Hamilton and restricted free agent PJ Tucker. The Heat and Nick Young’s agent also had a preliminary conversation.  Chandler Parsons would help, but he's restricted (giving Houston a chance to match) and will get better offers elsewhere, perhaps $10 million a year or more.

The Heat so far has not pursued Dallas free agent Vince Carter beyond an initial inquiry.

### Among point guards, the Heat has been in communication with representation for a few veterans, including Jameer Nelson and Kirk Hinrich. Sacramento's Isaiah Thomas, a restricted free agent, is also on Miami's radar. (Teams have three days to match an offer in restricted free agency.)

An initial inquiry was made on Ramon Sessions, but the Heat has taken it no further, and nothing had materialized with Steve Blake as of Thursday. Miami didn’t pursue Darren Collison before he agreed to terms with Sacramento on Thursday.

### Among power rotation players, the Heat called to express interest in Charlotte power forward Josh McRoberts, among others, but he might be too costly if the Heat uses its primary exception money on a wing player. Chris Kaman, who has attracted Heat interest in the past, agreed to terms with Portland tonight, according to reports. The Heat likes Lakers power forward Jordan Hill --- who could command mid-level type money ---- but is focusing on bigger names for now (Gasol, Deng, etc.).

### Besides Gasol, Riley is trying to meet with others in California, Yahoo reported! The Heat also might meet with Ariza, but Gasol and Ariza are seeking considerably more than what Miami can offer.

Oklahoma City, San Antonio and New York also are trying to obtain Gasol at a bargain-basement price. Yahoo! reports Gasol wants $10 million but hasn't ruled out taking the $5.3 million exception.

Ariza has instructed his agent to try to work out a deal with the Wizards before engaging other teams, The Washington Post reported.

The Heat is interested in Deng, and Deng likes the Heat, but agent Herb Rudoy said “we don’t know yet” if the Heat will be a serious contender for him or whether Deng will even meet with the Heat.

“We haven’t talked money [with Miami],” Rudoy said. “We’re waiting for the Big Three to sort out.” Deng also has interest from the Clippers, Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas, among others.

### Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer would have interest in the Heat if Chicago uses the amnesty provision on him, according to an associate. The Bulls have until July 18 to decide whether to wipe Boozer’s $16.8 million salary off their cap.

But if the Heat uses all its cap space before the amnesty period, or if it uses its cap exceptions instead of cap space, then the Heat would not have the money to make a bid for Boozer in the amnesty process (at more than the minimum, obviously) unless it somehow got back under the cap, according to cap expert Larry Coon. The team with the highest bid would claim him, and he would become a free agent only if there were no bids.

### Ray Allen has been leaning toward playing (he likes playing with LeBron) but hasn’t informed the Heat definitively. He and Andersen will be invited back.

James Jones also is expected to be asked back, though that has not been conveyed.

The Heat called about Rashard Lewis, Greg Oden and Michael Beasley early in free agency and indicated interest in speaking further next week or beyond.

“They didn’t commit to bringing Greg back but they were happy with his progress,” said Oden’s agent, Mike Conley Sr.

All three players have interest in returning.

### As for Mario Chalmers, the Heat called him and made clear the door has not been closed to a possible return. But Chalmers is unsure of Miami’s level of interest, according to a very close associate. Several teams have inquired about Chalmers. 

### Though the Heat inquired about Kyle Lowry and Marcin Gortat --- who resigned with Toronto and Washington --- Miami never made an offer to either, according to someone with direct knowledge.

Please see the story on the sports home page for details on Dion Jordan's suspension.... Also, Fort Lauderdale Gibbons three star Class of 2015 DE Richard McIntosh orally committed to UM, opting for Miami instead of UF, Wisconsin and others.