04/07/2014

Nets speak out about why they've had Heat's number; Al Golden addresses issues; Dolphins' offer declined

During the Big Three era, the Heat has firmly established that regular season success against Miami often doesn’t extend to the playoffs.

But beating the Brooklyn Nets once this season --- something Miami still hasn’t done --- would provide, at the very least, some positive reinforcement amid the possibility of the teams meeting in the second round of the playoffs.

Brooklyn enters Tuesday’s game at AmericanAirlines Arena having gone 3-0 against the Heat this season and with the confidence of knowing it matches up well against the two-time defending champions.

All of the games have been close, with Brooklyn winning by one on Nov. 1, by nine in double overtime on Jan. 10 and by one on March 12 in Miami.

“All we have to know about Brooklyn is we haven't beaten them this year, including the preseason,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.

The teams would meet in the second round if Miami finishes with the top seed in the Eastern Conference (the Heat is one game ahead of Indiana) and if Brooklyn (the likely fifth seed) wins its opening round series against Chicago or Toronto. Brooklyn, which is 32-13 since Jan. 1, is 2 ½ games behind the fourth seed (Chicago) and 2 ½ games ahead of the sixth seed (Washington).

Asked Monday if the Nets have the best chance to knock off the Heat among the Eastern Conference contenders, guard Joe Johnson said: “I think we have a good chance. We can play with any team in this league. We’ve proven it.”

Said Nets point guard Deron Williams: “We like our chances in a seven-game series against anybody.”

But also keep this in mind: The Heat went 1-3 in the regular season against Boston and 0-3 against Chicago in 2010-11, then ousted both in five-game playoff series. In 2011-12, Miami again went 1-3 against Boston during the regular season, then eliminated the Celtics in a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals.

Nets forward Paul Pierce, who played on those Celtics teams, mentioned that Monday before Brooklyn’s practice at AmericanAirlines Arena. (The Heat took Monday off.)

“It really means nothing in the playoffs,” Pierce said of the Nets’ regular-season success against Miami. “Last couple years we [Boston] beat them three times in the regular season also, wound up losing to them in the playoffs. They have the experience as a unit together and they’re the champions. They’re the team to beat.”

But Pierce added: “We match up pretty good with them. Size wise, they’re not an overly big team. If you can match them in quickness and intensity, especially on their home court, you give yourself a chance. The way we shoot the ball, we can pretty much play with anybody when we’re on.

“We don’t like to see them getting up and down, getting dunks, crowd getting into it. That’s pretty much their game. Keep them away from that, and I think for the most part we’ve been able to do that. That’s why we’ve fared pretty well against them.”

Williams concurred, saying: “We’ve done a good job of controlling the tempo and playing our game in the three games against them.”

And Kevin Garnett said another reason for the Nets’ success against Miami is “we get exceptional ball movement. We have different weapons. When we’ve played them, we’ve played to a high level of confidence and been aggressive. Against great teams, you have to do that.”

The Heat had won 13 regular-season games in a row against the Nets heading into the season, but the Nets reshaped their roster by adding Pierce and Garnett, among others.

Both teams could be short-handed on Tuesday. Dwyane Wade, Greg Oden and Chris Andersen all remain questionable with injuries, and Wade told ABC on Sunday that his strained hamstring, which has caused him to miss six games in a row, isn’t where he wants it to be. Brooklyn coach Jason Kidd said Garnett will miss Tuesday’s game because the Nets are being cautious with his back.

A few themes developed in the Heat’s previous losses to Brooklyn. Among them:

### The Nets out-rebounded the Heat by 10, 10 and four in the three games.

### The Heat averaged 16 turnovers in the three losses, with LeBron James committing 14.

### The Heat has had just seven, nine and seven fast break points in the three games.

### Pierce averaged 20.6 points in the three games against Miami – well above his career-low 13.5 scoring average this season. “Games against the Heat, he’s played great,” Johnson said. “I look forward to him continuing that.”

Johnson blitzed Miami for 32 points in one of the wins. There have been some unexpected twists, too, including point guard Shaun Livingston hauling in 11 rebounds in one of the games.

Even though Miami played one of the three games without Wade, the Nets were without Garnett and Williams for one of those games, as well. And Nets center Brook Lopez, out for the season with a foot injury, missed two of those games.

### As expected, Alonzo Mourning was formally announced as a member of the 2014 class for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Mourning, in brief comments at the Final Four on Monday, said: “I’m humbled and truly honored.” He said he was grateful to John Thompson, his coach at Georgetown, and to Heat president Pat Riley.

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Some tidbits from Al Golden’s weekly Monday morning interview with WQAM’s Joe Rose, Golden’s first public comments since Ryan Williams’ torn ACL:

### Golden said he has no idea if Williams will be ready to play at the start the season. (Recovering from the surgery in 4 ½ months would be awfully ambitious, but quarterbacks generally can return more quickly than, say, running backs. It’s certainly possible Williams could be back during the season.)

“We don’t know what the diagnosis is. We have no idea,” Golden said. “The fact there was no swelling is a great sign in terms of the recovery. If it remains that way, they’ll be able to do the surgery immediately. If there’s any silver lining, it’s that.”

Williams suffered the injury when he was running into the end zone during Friday's scrimmage; there was no contact with a defender.

“We were confident he was going to be OK,” Golden said. “It was one of those freak deals. He was just running. There was no swing of the knee.”

Golden said he’s “disappointed for the young man.”

(Some quick perspective on QBs and ACL injuries: Though it’s not a game, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray plans to drop back, roll out, plant his feet and throw at Georgia's pro day April 16, less than five months after his torn ACL.

"He looks great," agent Pat Dye told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "His body composition looks great, his knee looks great, he's moving around really well, he's not favoring it at all.” But again, that’s different from being game-ready.

Another recent example: Browns QB Brian Hoyer, who tore his ACL last October, was given a five-month prognosis because it wasn’t a complete tear.) 

### Golden stopped short of giving the job to Kevin Olsen, though he’s the very likely starter at this point ahead of Gray Crow and summer arrivals Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier.

“Clearly there will be a competition if Ryan will be out,” Golden said. “…Was Kevin improving? Yeah, everyone in the building could see that.

“Olsen came in and did a really good job [in Saturday’s scrimmage]. Everyone left with a really good feeling for what Kevin could do by the way he conducted the second half of that scrimmage and led the two-minute drive. His preparation is better. His process is better. You’re starting to see his personality on the field, which is important.

“Olsen and Gray Crow will get a great opportunity here in the next three days. But Rosier and Kaaya clearly have to step up their game, too.”

### Duke Johnson and early arrival Joe Yearby, who have missed the spring with injuries, will be taking snaps in controlled settings this week, mostly in individual drills and walks-throughs, Golden said.

“They’ve been doing great,” Golden told Rose. “We’ll get them out there. We’ll protect them. I see both of these guys running full speed and being back, I’m guessing May if not at the end of this month. Duke is 206 pounds, really changed his body.”

### Golden said receiver Rashawn Scott “has made the biggest difference this spring. He has changed the whole dynamic there. Malcolm Lewis, on Friday night, was the best we’ve seen Malcolm since his freshman year. He was never 100 percent [last year]. He had five catches for 103 yards the other night."

### What defensive player impressed Golden the most this spring? “The safety play,” Golden said. “The safety play has changed dramatically this spring. Deon Bush is healthy and playing with more confidence. Jamal Carter is no longer a freshman. Dallas Crawford brings a toughness, that blue collar mentality, that work ethic, don’t back down to anyone. Those three jump out."

Golden said “the most consistent guy” on defense has been linebacker Raphael Kirby. “He needed that going into his junior year. Those guys at linebacker have been more consistent and bigger.”

And cornerback “Artie Burns has really come on of late. Can’t wait to get Ladarius Gunter back out there.”

### The Spring game, scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday at Sun Life Stadium, will be different than past years.

Golden said because of injuries, UM can’t field two separate teams. So “it’s just going to be offense vs. defense. Some one-on-ones, then seven-on-sevens, then put the ball in various spots…. Fans are going to love it, kids are going to love it.” UM says it will use only a 50-yard field for Saturday's spring game. Alumni will be on the field.

Fans are encouraged to arrive at 3 p.m. for assorted activities.

QUICK DOLPHINS NOTE

The Dolphins made an offer to receiver Nate Burleson, who signed with Cleveland on Sunday night. Burleson picked the Browns because he believed he would have a better opportunity to earn playing time there. The Dolphins have more veteran, accomplished receivers than Cleveland, so Burleson's move makes sense.

Miami is plenty good enough at receiver with Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews and Armon Binns. Hartline, Gibson and Binns are returning from significant knee injuries, but the Dolphins have said they expect all three to be ready to start the season.

The Dolphins have made offers to every free agent who has visited during the first few months of Dennis Hickey's GM tenure. All accepted except Burleson and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson.

04/06/2014

9 p.m.: Fins lose out on WR; Dolphins draft buzz: Right tackles, upcoming visits and more; Heat, Marlins, UM chatter

9 p.m. Sunday note: Veteran receiver Nate Burleson has decided to sign with Cleveland instead of Miami. The Dolphins wanted to sign him, but he saw a better opportunity with the Browns because they have fewer veteran receivers.

The Dolphins are still in good shape at receiver with Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews and Armon Binns. Hartline, Gibson and Binns are coming off significant knee injuries, but the Dolphins have said they expect all three to be ready for the start of the season.

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SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Dolphins NFL draft chatter:

### The Dolphins, who will be aggressive in filling their right tackle need in the draft, continue to be heavily linked to Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin, and nobody will be surprised if he’s the pick at No. 19. But a team official says the Dolphins would be happy if they could somehow snag Michigan’s Taylor Lewan, who is projected by most analysts to be gone by their pick at No. 19. An associate of Lewan said he is aware of Miami’s interest.

And Lewan isn’t the only Michigan tackle on Miami’s radar. So is potential third-rounder Michael Schofield, who played both tackle and guard in college. The Dolphins have told people they like him.

The concern would be if Lewan and Martin are both gone by No. 19. The Dolphins could trade up or hope that one of the second-round tackles falls to their pick at No. 50, which would be risky.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper projects Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio and Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson to go in the late 20s, and Virginia’s Morgan Moses in the 40s. Stanford’s Cameron Fleming could be an option with Miami’s third-round pick at No. 81, and Miami has expressed interest. Ohio State’s Jack Mewhort might be, too.

And the Dolphins this week will audition and dine with UM’s Seantrel Henderson, a potential third-round right-tackle option who couldn’t finish UM’s Pro Day on Thursday because of dehydration.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has said he “thinks the world of Taylor Lewan,” and the high regard for Lewan inside the Dolphins apparently extends beyond Ross.

Mel Kiper projects Lewan ninth to Buffalo: “He has the prototypical length as a pass-blocker and really gets after it as a run-blocker.”

NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said Auburn’s Greg Robinson, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and Lewan are all top-10 talents. The only chance of Lewan falling rests on teams growing concerned about a couple of off-field issues.

Lewan's former teammate, kicker Brendan Gibbons, was expelled from Michigan in December for reportedly violating the school's student sexual misconduct policies in 2009, when he was accused of rape by another student. The alleged victim accused Lewan of threatening her, claiming he said he wanted to rape her if she pursued charges against Gibbons.

Speaking at the NFL Combine, Lewan insisted he made no such comment. "It's a situation between two people," Lewan said, alluding to Gibbons and the woman. "I've said a lot of dumb things, but those are not things I've said. I would never disrespect a woman like that. I consider myself a guy who holds doors, not threatens people."

Lewan also faces an April 18 arraignment in connection with an incident on Dec. 1, following Michigan's loss to Ohio State. Two Buckeyes fans claim they were assaulted by Lewan, who was charged with three misdemeanors.

“I wasn’t in any fight,” he said. “That’s not who I am off the field.”

Lewan added: "I definitely play through the whistle. I also think that's a weakness because everyone likes to comment on that. But I like to play through the whistle and put people in the dirt as much as possible."

As for Schofield, Kiper said he’s “underrated. I think maybe round three, round four. Michael Schofield can be a starting right tackle in this league."

### Kiper said Martin makes sense for Miami because of his “versatility, durability. He’s technically sound. Doesn’t have the arm length [but] worthy of being the 19th pick.”

But Kiper believes Martin might be snapped up by Pittsburgh at 15 or Baltimore at 17, and as a result, he advocates Miami taking Louisville safety Calvin Pryor at No. 19 in that scenario (which doesn’t make a lot of sense) and addressing offensive line with Nevada tackle/guard Joel Bitonio in the second round and Mewhort in the third.

### The Dolphins might draft two tackles --– one early and one later. They flew to Delaware to private audition potential late-round pick Erle Ladson and will bring in Purdue late-round tackle Kevin Pamphile for a workout this week.

### If the Dolphins go for a guard in the second or third rounds, possibilities include Stanford’s David Yankey, Clemson’s Brandon Thomas, Mississippi State’s Gabe Jackson, UCLA’s Xavier Su’a Filo, Bitonio and LSU’s Trai Turner. And Dolphins offensive line coach John Benton flew to Gainesville to work out and meet with Gators guard Jon Halapio, a potential mid- to late-round pick.

### Among players auditioning for the Dolphins this coming week: Former FSU and Miami Central High running back Devonta Freeman, who ran for 1016 yards (5.9 per carry) and 14 touchdowns in 2013.

### The Dolphins, deep at receiver, invited Clemson’s Martavis Bryant, a potential second-rounder, to visit team headquarters. He has good speed (fifth-fastest time at the Combine among receivers), good size (6-4) and caught 42 passes for 828 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

Teams can bring as many as 30 non-local players to team headquarters, but Miami to this point has not asked many of the prominent offensive linemen to visit South Florida, having spent time with all of them at the NFL Combine. Miami is using some of its visits for players not invited to the Combine, including two Arizona Wildcats: cornerback Shaquille Richardson and outside linebacker Marquis Flowers.

CHATTER

### With Ryan Williams going down with a torn ACL in UM's scrimmage on Friday night, one encouraging development is that Kevin Olsen has played well in the past two scrimmages. He threw an exceptional pinpoint pass to Stacy Coley for a touchdown Friday, even though the play was well defended by Jamal Carter. Olsen's only mistake was an interception by Tracy Howard on a throw late in the scrimmage. UM people say Olsen has clearly improved.

Also encouraging: Receiver Malcolm Lewis, who wasn't himself last year after the horrific 2012 ankle injury, looked very good Friday, with a touchdown reception and another long catch-and-run down the sideline.

### During a playful “true and false” segment with ESPN Radio’s Dan Le Batard recently, Chris Bosh answered “true” when asked if he and LeBron James will be with the Heat this season.

Asked off the air about that, Bosh said he wasn’t being whimsical despite the light-hearted forum.

“That’s how I feel,” he said. “We have a good thing going and you want to continue to keep it going. We have the ability to win, a great locker-room, great city, great weather. It’s an easy decision.”

And LeBron agrees? “We’re different people, but I would think he thinks that way,” Bosh said.

### The Heat pays attention to plus/minus numbers (though in larger samples sizes than these), and consider that in the five games since James Jones joined the rotation, Miami has outscored opponents by 56 points in 112 minutes with Jones on the court.

Since Rashard Lewis and Udonis Haslem started getting significant minutes, Miami is plus 21 with Lewis on the floor and plus 49 with Haslem. The play of all three leaves Erik Spoelstra with interesting decisions.

“It’s a unique skill set to not play and be productive,” Jones said. “It takes a special person to be able to deal with this.”

### After Friday's double-overtime loss to Minnesota, the Heat has now lost eight games this season after it held double-digit leads, its most since losing 13 such games in 2007-08, when Miami went 15-67. Last season's Heat team lost only two such games.

"We have a long, long, long, long, long way to go," Bosh said late Friday night. "We have a lot of improving to do."

 Where? He pointed to "consistency on defense" for starters. Bosh said "the schedule has been brutal; I've never been part of anything like this."

### Howard Schnellenberger and Jim Kelly were two of the most significant figures in the UM football program’s rise to prominence more than 30 years ago, and Schnellenberger has been offering support to Kelly during his battle with cancer, initially by phone and now through texts. (Dan Marino visited Kelly in the hospital Thursday.)

“What a great leader,” Schnellenberger said. “He took his offensive line out for dinner every Thursday. He’s everybody’s friend, an ordinary guy that does extraordinary things.”

Surgery isn’t a current option for Kelly, who this week will begin six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation to treat a recurrence of cancer that has spread throughout his mouth.

Kelly attended Friday's Knicks game as a surprise gift for his daughter and told MSG Network: "Right now, we're praying for a miracle. Just keep praying for me. We need them." But he added: "I am getting better." A doctor at his hospital said "Kelly's condition remains very treatable and potentially curable."

### By the way, Schnellenberger, now an ambassador-at-large for FAU, said he doesn’t buy the notion that parity makes it unrealistic for UM to return to past greatness: “They have the same pool to recruit from. They have three times the facilities we had. They should be able to recruit better than we did. I’ve been disappointed [in the results]. But the NCAA thing was a real albatross. They have the right coach. [But] he has a real need to win.”

Schnellenberger said FIU firing Mario Cristobal last year --– which was followed by a 1-11 season under Ron Turner --– “was the poorest decision ever made. That will be a stain on their program for 20 years.”

### After winning tonight, Jose Fernandez is now 11-0 in 17 career starts at Marlins Park. Only two other pitchers since 1910 have not lost a game in their first 17 starts at their home ballpark: William VanLandingham (18, 1994-95) and David Palmer (21,1979-84).

### A prediction from Marlins vice president/player development Marty Scott: Outfielder Alfredo Silverio, who was a very good prospect for the Dodgers before a 2012 car accident that sidelined him two seasons, “will be the surprise of our organization. He made a play in the outfield that looked like Roberto Clemente. He will be something special.”

Silverio, 26, who’s playing for Double A Jacksonville, hit .306 with 42 doubles, 16 homers, 85 RBI and a remarkable 18 triples in Double A for the Dodgers in 2011.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

04/05/2014

Media column: Major TV changes for Final 4, MLB; Local radio changes; Personnel moves

WEEKLY MEDIA COLUMN

Two over-the-air changes will be ushered in this weekend, both of some historical significance by broadcast standards:

### For the first time, the national semifinals of a Final Four not only will be televised on cable, but on multiple cable networks at the same time.

TBS will carry a traditional broadcast of Saturday’s games as part of a joint partnership with CBS, a move that continues a decade-long migration of some of sports’ marquee events from free television to cable.

It already has happened with Monday Night Football, the NBA conference finals, one of Major League Baseball’s League Championship series, and most recently, college football’s national championship game.

And now TBS will air two of the three Final Four games, with CBS televising Monday night’s championship. That will be the case in 2015 also, barring a change.

Beginning in 2016, TBS will air the entire Final Four every other year, alternating with CBS.

And there will be a twist to Turner’s coverage this weekend.

Whereas TBS will show a traditional broadcast, TNT and TruTV will air simultaneous telecasts from the perspectives of the teams competing, with different announcers who will be encouraged to show bias. (No kidding.)

For example, TNT will air a Gator-flavored broadcast of the UF-Connecticut game, with Orlando Magic (and former UF) announcer David Steele and longtime Gator Basketball Network analyst Mark Wise on the call. Former Heat guard Rex Chapman will be the analyst on the Kentucky-flavored broadcast of the Kentucky-Wisconsin Final Four semifinal on TNT.

CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said “you could see” more of this type of approach in the future.

CBS and TBS have combined their best talent on the Final Four since their partnership began in 2011, and that will continue this weekend, with Steve Kerr and Greg Anthony joining Jim Nantz on the game call.

The big on-air talent change will be Turner’s Ernie Johnson serving as host, instead of longtime Final Four host Greg Gumbel, who will assume a lower-profile role.

Because Johnson is Turner’s signature host, “we thought it made sense to have Ernie be the primary host on Saturday, and to make a change halfway through [on Monday] didn’t make much sense,” McManus said.

CBS moved the tip-off time of the championship game from 9:30 to 9:10 p.m., with a pre-game show at 8:30.

### For the first time this century, baseball’s World Series rights-holder will begin a season without Tim McCarver as its lead analyst.

Former big-league second baseman Harold Reynolds and Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci replace McCarver alongside play-by-play man Joe Buck on Fox’s lead announcing team, beginning with a Dodgers-Giants game on Fox Sports 1 at 4 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s never easy to replace an icon, the greatest baseball analyst of all time,” Fox Sports president Eric Shanks said. “[With]… Harold and Tom, there’s a ton of upside here. I hope people give this a chance before we make a judgment.”

Verducci will become the only person who wasn’t a former player, coach or manager serving as a lead analyst for a major network on any of the major sports. In fact, he will be only the second non-player or coach to ever work as an analyst in the booth for a World Series. Howard Cosell was the other.

“This is a natural progression for me,” Verducci said. “This is my 33rd year covering baseball. I [have] institutional knowledge.”

Buck said he was “blown away” by Verducci’s aptitude for the job when they did practice games together. Buck said it would have been a two-man booth if Verducci hadn’t displayed a relevant perspective different from Reynolds’.

As for Reynolds, he continues his career comeback after being dropped by ESPN in 2006 after a sexual harassment complaint against him. He also will continue to work for MLB Network.

Both analysts weighed in on the Marlins before the season started. “I think they have a chance to make a big move,” Reynolds said, adding he expects them to contend by next year.

Said Verducci: “They are a lot closer than people think. They need to convince Giancarlo Stanton that this is a place close to winning.”

### Fox has shifted much of its Saturday afternoon MLB package to Fox Sports 1. Fox will carry games on eight Saturday nights in May, June and July; four Saturday afternoons in September, as well as a league championship series and the World Series.

### McCarver hasn’t retired, incidentally. He will announce 30 St. Louis Cardinals games this year for the team’s cable rights-holder.

### WINZ-940, in its first year as the Marlins rights-holder, decided not to air a call-in show after games.

### Personnel moves: Curtis Stevenson, at least on an interim basis and perhaps longer, will replace Greg Likens on Joe Rose’s WQAM-560 morning show. Likens took a job as host of the Dolphins-owned weekday program on WINZ-940, which has been expanded an hour to 4 to 7 p.m.…. CBS hired former Dolphins quarterback Trent Green as an NFL game analyst… Noted college football writer Bruce Feldman left CBS for Fox.

NBC lured Good Morning America co-host Josh Elliott from ABC and will give him a role on Triple Crown races, the French Open and the Olympics. And he will do interviews and features for NBC’s NFL pre-game show… Michael Strahan is in line to become co-host of ABC’s GMA, according to the New York Daily News, but Fox said that will not affect his position on the network’s NFL pregame show.

04/04/2014

7 p.m. Friday: LeBron's prognosis on Wade health; Heat, Dolphins, Marlins, Canes chatter

### A strained left hamstring sidelined Heat guard Dwyane Wade for a fifth consecutive game on Friday, but Heat players say he’s improving and LeBron James said tonight that Wade “probably” will return “within the next week.”

There doesn’t appear to be concern about Wade’s availability for the start of the playoffs in two weeks.

But there is some uncertainty about a timetable. Udonis Haslem said Friday “it’s hard to tell” when Wade will play in a game again.

“He’s out there a few minutes at practice, not too heavy,” Haslem said. “He’s moving pretty well. He’s getting better. Hopefully, he’ll be back a couple of games before the playoffs. I’m sure that’s what he’s hoping for. It’s nothing we want to push. We need him for the playoffs.”

After losing six of its first 11 games without Wade this season, the Heat has won 11 of its past 12 games when Wade has been sidelined.

But there will be another adjustment when Wade returns, and players are hopeful they can work through that before the playoffs start.

"It may be a little bit of a rhythm thing," LeBron James said earlier this week. "It's something you can't take for granted. Obviously, we've been together for almost four years now, but you can't take those opportunities for granted. We haven't practiced much together. We haven't played as much. So see what happens when we get out on the floor. It's going to be very challenging. But I think it's something we can figure out."

### Spoelstra said Greg Oden is again doubtful for tonight with a back injury, and Ray Allen --- working his way back from a stomach virus --- will be a game-time decision.

### James said he does not want to sit out any of the remaining games, but Spoelstra was non-committal about whether he was on board with that. “I’m taking everything day by day,” Spoelstra said.

If the Heat enters the final two games in play for the No. 1 seed, would that affect how many players Spoelstra rests? Spoelstra wouldn’t bite on that question either, saying: “We’ll get to that point when we get to that point.”

But Chris Bosh said today: “I don’t think we have the luxury this year [to rest in late-season games]. In the past, things were kind of settled in and we knew what was going to happen. At this point last year, we were well ahead for the No. 1 seed and were able to do what we do. Now it’s more of a race. We’ve waited a long time to get to this point, where we… feel some pressure. You’ve got to enjoy it…. I gave hope up about rest a long time ago.”

The Heat and Indiana enter tonight essentially tied for the No. 1 seed, with Miami ahead by percentage points and having played two fewer games than the Pacers. Here's how their remaining schedules compare:

Heat: vs. Minnesota, vs. Knicks, vs. Brooklyn, at Memphis, vs. Indiana, at Atlanta, at Washington, vs. Philadelphia.

Pacers: at Toronto (tonight), Atlanta, at Milwaukee, at Heat, Oklahoma City and at Orlando.

### Spoelstra indicated he doesn’t need clarity about his rotation heading into the playoffs. With Udonis Haslem, Rashard Lewis and James Jones inserted back into the lineup amid injuries and other issues, every player except Justin Hamilton has received at least some meaningful minutes in the past month. Lewis and Jones have been playing ahead of Shane Battier and Michael Beasley during the past week.

“Everybody has a role that can help us,” Spoelstra said. “That’s where you hope you are as a team --- where you put together enough depth where everybody can help you. The depth is absolutely paramount and our guys get that. In the playoffs, nobody remembers how many minutes you played. People just remember moments.”

### Either San Antonio or Oklahoma City very likely would have homecourt advantage against the Heat in a potential NBA Finals matchup. OKC finished 4-0 against the Spurs this season.

“The difference between OKC and Miami is you can look at Miami and say, ‘They’re going to win because they do everything right,’” TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal said. “With OKC you have to say, ‘If their jumper is falling, then they’ll win. If they can score on the inside, then they’ll win. If [Thunder point guard] Russell Westbrook is playing under control, then they can win.’” 

### Besides Stephen Morris, two others who received positive reviews at UM’s Pro Day Thursday: guard Brandon Linder and punter Pat O’Donnell.

### All seven of UM's 2015 oral commitments in football are rated three-star prospects by rivals.com. Bowman Archibald, rated 14th among tight ends, is given the highest marks at his position, according to Rivals.

### Entering Friday, no player in the big leagues has driven in more runs in the first few days of the season than Marlins third baseman Casey McGehee (eight). And Giancarlo Stanton is right behind him with seven.

### Some historical significance of the Marlins’ win Thursday, according to Elias:

Before rallying from a 5-3 deficit to win 8-5 against Colorado, the Marlins had lost their previous 113 games when trailing by multiple runs in the seventh inning or later. The Marlins' last victory of this type came on July 4, 2012 against the Brewers. In that game, they were down by four runs in the seventh and won 7-6 in extra innings.

The only other team in the last 25 seasons (since 1990) to lose 113 consecutive games when trailing by two or more runs in the seventh or later was the Tigers, who had a 128-game streak from July 2002 to August 2003.

### One positive to keep in mind on receiver Nate Burleson, who is visiting Dolphins headquarters today after dining with team officials last night: His 5.7 average for yards-after-catch last season (on 39 catches) was outstanding --- 20th in the league and far better than anyone with the Dolphins. Brian Hartline averaged 4.1, Mike Wallace 3.8.

Burleson will fly to Cleveland tonight to meet with the Browns on Saturday, then make a decision on his future in the next few days.

Heading into their visit with Burleson, the Dolphins had made offers to every free agent who has visited.

04/02/2014

10 p.m. Thursday: Burleson/Fins update; Seantrel controversy; Tidbits from UM Pro Day

10 p.m. update: Here's one final tidbit on what has become the world's longest blog post:

Heard tonight that receiver Nate Burleson plans to visit Cleveland after completing his Dolphins visit on Friday. Burleson dined with at least one Dolphins coach tonight and will meet with Dolphins officials at team headquarters Friday. (A veteran of his caliber is not expected to do an on-field workout.)

Burleson will then head to Cleveland on Friday night to meet with the Browns over the weekend.

So a decision on his future is not expected for a few days. Please scroll down for more on Burleson.

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3:30 p.m. Thursday update:

Tidbits from UM's Pro Day today:

### ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported a short time ago that Seantrel Henderson "quit" halfway through UM's Pro Day today and thus "didn't help himself."

David Levine, Henderson's agent, told me Henderson "did not quit" but could not participate in the final two drills because he was "dehydrated and felt sick."

Levine said Henderson met with Giants general manager Jerry Reese after the workout and did film work with Reese, and that Henderson also met with offensive line coaches from the Bengals, Jets and Seahawks after the on-field workouts concluded.

Levine said Henderson told all four teams that he didn't finish the on-field workout because of dehydration.

Saying he quit "was quite a mischaracterization," Levine said.

Levine said Henderson competed the bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, ran the 40-yard dash and did assorted individual drills before leaving the field early.

Henderson will dine with Dolphins officials next Thursday night, then work out for Miami (along with numerous other players with local ties) on Friday.

Hurricanes players Henderson, Stephen Morris, Allen Hurns, Asante Cleveland and Pat O'Donnell were invited to that Thursday dinner with Dolphins officials.

Reporters heard Henderson saying after Pro Day on Thursday that he was tired. He did not stop to talk to reporters.

Henderson weighed in at 339 pounds --- eight pounds heavier than during the season.

Henderson's physical skills are held in high regard by NFL teams, but there remain concerns among some NFL people about the fact that he was suspended at least three times at UM (including at least one for marijuana use) and the fact that he couldn't permanently hold down a starting job at UM because of inconsistent play. 

### Quarterback Stephen Morris was impressive today, according to officials from two NFL teams in attendance. Though the plays were not being defended, Morris and Eduardo Clements said Morris completed nearly all of his 67 throws. The only ones that weren't caught were dropped. "I got a lot of positive feedback [from NFL teams]," Morris said.

Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, who previously held that position at UM, said Morris "looked really good today."

Morris will visit the Denver Broncos (who have Brock Osweiler as Peyton Manning's backup), Cleveland (which could draft two quarterbacks) and Carolina (where former Canes great Ken Dorsey is the quarterback coach).

Morris said his mechanics are much better because he has recovered from his troublesome Achilles' injury.

"When I was dealing with my Achilles', I wasn't even throwing off my right foot" last year, Morris said.

He has been working in Los Angeles with Tom House, the former MLB pitching coach who has become a guru on quarterback menchanics. During his work with House, he bonded with NFL quarterbacks Andy Dalton, Terrelle Pryor and Matt Barkley. 

(Susan Miller Degnan has more quotes from Morris in her UM blog, and Manny Navarro will have a full story on Pro Day posted later.)

### Allen Hurns said he "felt like I dominated" his private workouts with Houston and Cincinnati.

### Tight end Asante Cleveland also looked good today, according to an NFL official in attendance. He met with Philadelphia Eagles people last night and has a visit scheduled with Arizona.

### Miami's Joe Philbin was the only head coach in attendance. The Dolphins' Dennis Hickey, the Giants' Jerry Reese and Tennessee's Ruston Webster were the three general managers in attendance. Detroit senior personnel director James Harris also attended.

### The Dolphins sent 11 staffers to UM's Pro Day.

### Among other familiar faces on hand: Packers executive and former UM great Alonzo Highsmith (whose son AJ auditioned) and former UM tight end and assistant coach Rob Chudzinski (who was fired as Cleveland Browns coach after last season and is now a special assistant to Colts head coach Chuck Pagano). By the way, UM would have considered Chud for the head coaching job if Al Golden had left for Penn State.

### Every NFL team had an official in attendance except Chicago and Washington, according to UM. Six CFL teams also were represented. (Jacory Harris is still with the Edmonton Eskimos, by the way.)

### Tough break for UM defensive tackle Curtis Porter, who suffered a hamstring injury during the 40-yard dash and couldn't finish his workout.

### Eighteen UM seniors auditioned, plus former Canes players Aldarius Johnson, Davon Johnson, Vaughn Telemaque and Dyron Dye (who was tossed off the UM team last season because of his connection to the NCAA investigation, landed at Bethune Cookman and then received permission to work out Thursday).

Ray-Ray Armstrong, now with the St. Louis Rams, attended Thursday to offer emotional support for Dye, his former teammate at UM and Sanford Seminole High.

Richard Gordon, Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle and Micanor Regis were among other former Canes observing.  

### Fisch, on returning to UM: "It was great, a blast to see so many players that I coached or recruited. I visited with the coaching staff, Al, and all the players and coaches. The biggest difference is when you're the coordinator here and it's Pro Day, you're trying to give information that will help. When you're coming here in our capacity, now you're trying to get information. ... I know most of these guys, but it's still interesting to find out how did they work this year."

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9:45 a.m. update:

The Dolphins are bringing in veteran receiver Nate Burleson for a visit starting this evening --- a surprising move considering Miami’s depth at receiver.

Burleson, 32, has caught 457 passes for 5630 yards and 39 touchdowns in 11 NFL seasons. He spent his first three seasons with Minnesota, then four with Seattle and the past four with Detroit.

The Lions signed him to a five-year, $25 million contract in 2010 but cut him in February to clear $5.5 million in cap space. The Miami trip will be Burleson’s first free-agent visit since the Lions released him.

Burleson, 6-0, played in nine games for Detroit in 2013 and started eight, finishing with 39 receptions for 461 yards (11.8 average) and one touchdown.

In 2012, he had 27 catches for 240 yards in six games, including five starts.

But he missed 17 games because of injury over the past two seasons.

Last season, Burleson broke a bone in his arm in a car accident caused by his attempt to keep a pizza from sliding off the passenger seat of his car.

Burleson posted a photo on his Instagram account of a letter from DiGiorno Pizza offering him a year’s worth of free pizza along with a pizza cutter to use once they’ve been prepared. It read thusly:

“Hello Nate. We hope you are feeling better after your recent car accident and are on the road to recovery! DiGiorno Pizza understands the challenges that come with carryout and delivery so we’re sending you a gift along with a year supply of DiGiorno pizza so you can skip carryout.”

Burleson’s best NFL season was with the Vikings in 2004, when he caught 68 passes for 1006 yards. He was named a member of the Seahawks’ 35th anniversary team.

He is the first player to return three punts for 90-plus yards, but the Lions did not use him as a punt or kickoff returner last season. He hasn't returned a punt in an NFL game since 2009.

The Dolphins so far have offered a contract to every free agent that has visited, and Burleson’s visit is somewhat surprising because the Dolphins already have four solid receivers in Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson and Rishard Matthews. Also, Joe Philbin has said the team likes Armon Binns, who is coming off a knee injury that sidelined him all of 2013.

Gibson and Matthews are coming off knee injuries, but Philbin has said that both will be ready for the start of the season.

CBS’ Jason LaCanfora has reported that the Dolphins are trying to trade Wallace, but the Dolphins have vehemently denied that and Wallace’s understanding is that the CBS report is not true.

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Offensive tackle Jason Fox was the only acquisition announced by the Dolphins Wednesday, but we hear three other players also signed.

Those three --- receivers Kevin Cone and Mike Rios and quarterback Jordan Rodgers --- will try to overcome odds and earn a roster spot in the coming months.

The Dolphins signed those three after auditioning five players today. Former Houston Texans receiver Lestar Jean, a Norland High and FAU grad, and former West Virginia receiver J.D. Woods also auditioned but were not offered contracts, at least as of Wednesday afternoon.

All five players auditioned in front of general manager Dennis Hickey, coach Joe Philbin and the offensive coaching staff.

Rodgers, the brother of Packers star Aaron Rodgers, signed with Jacksonville after going undrafted out of Vanderbilt last June but was cut by the Jaguars on July 22.  Tampa Bay signed him to its practice squad Oct. 7 after Josh Freeman was released from the roster. The Buccaneers released Rodgers in February.

So in less than a year, he has now been a member of Florida’s three NFL teams.

Rodgers, 6-1, began his college career at Butte Community College, then played two years at Vanderbilt. In seven starts in 2011, he threw nine touchdowns, 10 picks and completed 50 percent of his passes. He was much better as a full-time starter as a senior, throwing 15 TDs, five interceptions and completing 59 percent of his passes.   

Rios is a nice story: He grew up in Kendall and played high-school ball at Belen. FIU showed interest in him coming out of high school, but he signed with Marist, where he set school records for career touchdowns (17) and receiving yards in a season (1173).

He signed with the Arizona Cardinals after going undrafted last April. The Cardinals released him in July only because he was injured, with a broken foot.

Rios auditioned at Marist’s Pro Day a couple weeks ago, and the Jets showed some interest. Rios, 6-2, ran a 4.38 in the 40 before last year’s draft.

Rios, who grew up a Dolphins fan, said signing with Miami is “a dream come true. I had an opportunity to sign with them after the draft last year but I thought had a better opportunity with Arizona.”

He noted “I’m Cuban and I’m happy to represent all Cubans” in his bid to make the Dolphins. He's also trying to become the first Marist player to appear in an NFL regular-season game.

Cone, who attended Georgia Tech, has played in 28 games in three NFL seasons with the Falcons, mostly on special teams. He has one career reception, for 12 yards.  Cone, 6-2, ran a 4.37 in the 40 coming out of college.

Jean, who also auditioned today, has 10 receptions for 186 yards and a touchdown in two NFL seasons, both for Houston. Woods, the other receiver who tried out today, grew up in Naples and was cut by the Steelers last August.

If he makes it to training camp, Rodgers will compete with front-runner Pat Devlin for the No. 3 quarterback job. The Dolphins also figure to add a quarterback either late in the draft or after the draft --- someone who will get snaps during rookie mini-camp and attend training camp if invited.

### Please check out the last post if you haven't read the Wednesday buzz yet. It has lots of UM info, plus Dolphins, Heat and Marlins.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

04/01/2014

UM players opine on idea of unionizing; Dolphins, Canes, Marlins, Heat chatter

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

All it takes is one player, just one, to form a union, convince teammates to join and throw the University of Miami football program into a place the administration very much does not want it to go.

In the wake of last week’s National Labor Relations Board ruling that Northwestern University football players are university employees and can form a union and collectively bargain, UM players on Tuesday offered diverse views about whether it would and should happen here.

“It would be smart” to unionize, senior-to-be tight end Clive Walford said, adding he would consider starting one. “Getting paid would be everyone’s desire.”

Asked if launching a union at UM is realistic, senior-to-be offensive guard Jon Feliciano said: “I think so. If it starts turning out good at Northwestern, people would start doing it here. But if nothing really happens, no one will follow. We have a lot of wild personalities on this team, so there’s a bunch of people that might try.  It’s not my main focus right now. But if we do start a union, I would not be opposed to it.”

The NLRB decision, which has been being appealed by Northwestern and sharply criticized by the NCAA, would affect only private schools such as UM.

Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter said he’s not pushing for pay-for-play per se but reportedly would like players to receive stipends, be compensated for commercial sponsorships and possibly get health insurance. A UM official said providing health insurance for all players would be extremely expensive.

Feliciano said football players who live off campus receive -- as part of the "room and board" part of their scholarship -- a $1200 check each month for 10 months annually, which he said he uses toward rent, food and utilities.

He said having UM pay the players that amount in May and August, as well --- “when we don’t get checks” –-- would be helpful. “Just take care of us” that way, said Feliciano, whom Al Golden has identified as a near-certain starter.

Feliciano said players should be paid, beyond scholarships, if they “find a way to pay everyone equally. [The NCAA makes] a lot of money off TV, endorsements. Everyone is wearing UM stuff.” (It’s difficult to envision UM participating in pay-for-play beyond the enormous scholarship costs, but we’re in unchartered waters here.)

Injured Duke Johnson isn’t permitted to speak to reporters this spring, but two other future faces of the program --- Stacy Coley and Kevin Olsen --- said they would not want to spearhead union efforts at UM, though Olsen said “I could probably see that happening here” and Coley likes the idea of getting health insurance from UM.

By the way, UM quarterback Ryan Williams indicated he has no interest in getting involved in starting a union at UM.

And of course, all of this is moot if the NLRB decision is overturned on appeal or if UM players don’t ever unionize. But a UM source said the school is definitely concerned about the potential implications, both logistically and financially.

CHATTER

### Mike Wallace is not concerned about a CBS report that the Dolphins are continuing to try to trade him because his understanding is that it is not true. The Dolphins, privately, have vehemently denied the report, and Jason LaCanfora is the only reporter claiming Miami is shopping Wallace.

Though Ryan Tannehill has been throwing to receivers for more than two weeks, Wallace has been out of town. Wallace told me previously that at some point this offseason, he and Tannehill need to work on their deep-ball chemistry.

### Dan Marino on Monday confirmed interest in working for the Dolphins and said Pittsburgh is the only other team he would work for. A friend of Marino said a job on the Dolphins’ football side appeals to him, and meeting with free agents could be one element.

But the question is how much, if any, road work and scouting Marino would be willing to do. And if he’s expecting final say on personnel, that’s not going to happen. As noted in this space Sunday, owner Stephen Ross said he plans to talk to him.

### Cornerback Dimitri Patterson, released by the Dolphins last month, signed with the Jets today and will make $3 million in a one-year deal.

### Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan couldn’t stop raving about Chris Andersen last night: “His energy, his toughness, his flair; sometimes guys like that mean as much as your stars.” And also consider this:

At 66.3 percent from the field, Andersen is positioned to post one of the five highest shooting percentages since the turn of the century. Only DeAndre Jordan (this season and three years ago), Brandan Wright, Tyson Chandler and Shaquille O’Neal have shot better than Andersen's current percentage over those 13 seasons (minimum 200 attempts). Jordan’s 68.6 in 2010-11 is the NBA's highest since 2000.

### So who drew more eyeballs when the Heat and Marlins went head-to-head Monday? Heat-Raptors was viewed in 7.0 percent of Dade/Broward TV households (on Sun Sports), compared to 3.4 for the Marlins (between FSN and ESPN2), though that was a huge increase in audience over the 2013 Marlins opener.  

But because they have a larger capacity, the Marlins drew far more people to their game, with both games selling out.

### The Dolphins will audition several UM players --- including offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, quarterback Stephen Morris, receiver Allen Hurns, d-tackle Curtis Porter and guard Brandon Linder --- next week. FIU defensive tackle Isame Faciane is among other local players invited to that Dolphins workout.

Ten of the players also have been invited to dinner with Dolphins position coaches the night before, including Henderson and UM tight end Asante Cleveland. Henderson, by the way, also has been invited to visit the Steelers and Vikings.

### Among spring surprises at UM: Offensive coordinator James Coley said emerging sophomore-to-be tight end Standish Dobard has surpassed senior Beau Sandland, behind injured starter Clive Walford. Dobard is a skilled blocker with soft hands and the ability to make plays downfield. Drops have been an issue for him in practice in the past but less so recently.

### Among the behind-the-scenes issues playing out at UM in recent days: UM originally ruled that Bethune-Cookman’s Dyron Dye (kicked off the UM team last summer) couldn’t audition at its Pro Day this Thursday because he was mentioned in the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations. But UM changed its mind in recent days, aware Ray-Ray Armstrong was allowed to audition at UM under similar circumstances last year.

### Please see the last post, from earlier Tuesday, for a lot more UM notes, as well as Chris Bosh's amusing take on Indiana's pursuit of the No. 1 seed in the East.

### The Marlins never expected Colin Moran, their third baseman of the future, would be ready for the big leagues at any point this season, and now the start of his season at Single A Jupiter has been delayed at least three weeks by a knee injury. (There's no tear, according to the team.)

What’s more, outfielder Brent Keys, one of the Marlins' other top hitting prospects, is out indefinitely with what the team fears could be a bulging disk. Keyes hit .341 last season and was the Florida State League's Player of the Year.

### Marlins closer Steve Cishek's first save of the season tonight was his 30th successful conversion in a row, the longest ongoing streak in baseball. And the Marlins are 2-0 for the first time since 2009, when they opened 4-0.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Tuesday afternoon update: Lots of tidbits from UM football practice; Heat, Marlins chatter; NFL TV hire

Tuesday afternoon chatter: 

### With only two practices, one scrimmage and the spring game remaining in spring ball, Al Golden said Ryan Williams remains ahead in the quarterback competition. (This is a recording, because we've heard that all spring.)

“Kevin (Olsen) is getting better,” Golden said. But “Ryan has done a good job holding off” Olsen and obviously, Gray Crow.

But Golden said he wants more leadership from Williams and others on offense.

"We're getting more leadership on defense right now than we're getting on offense, which is the first time in a while (that happened)," Golden said. "We need Ereck Flowers and Jon Feliciano, Clive (Walford) and Duke (Johnson) along with Ryan and Kevin, guys like that to step up. Phillip Dorsett and Stacy Coley (too).”

### UM 6-9 senior forward Raphael Akpejiori has been watching practice (and catching some balls while being observed by receivers coach Brennan Carroll). He plans to  practice with the team in August.

"We're going to see what he can do," Golden said. "You can't coach 6-7 and all that other stuff he can do. But he can run. I had a chance to say hello to him a couple of times, not really in depth, but he seems like a great kid."

Could he actually help?

"At some point this must have been the conversation about Jimmy Graham or Antonio Gates or any of those young guys, so we're looking at it like `Hey, the young man seems motivated, he wants to do it, he's learning it.' If he can do it we'll accommodate him, no questions asked." "Offensive coordinator James Coley said: “We’re short right now, and if [Akpejiori] can come in here and play, that would be great.”

### Golden said Standish Dobard “is setting the standard” at tight end.

Said Coley: “He’s tough. He has that Louisiana in him. He’s a guy if you’re going to squat on when you’re running a route, he’s going to run you over. He has brought it every day. Right now, Standish is wearing orange, Beau [Sandland] is not.”

### Golden said that Earl Moore and Calvin Heurtelou were standouts at tackle in the scrimmage.

"(Heurtelou) might be our strongest D line guy [physically] right now," Golden said. "Now it's reducing mental errors."

### Defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said Jermaine Grace “made a lot of plays [in Saturday's scrimmage]. Didn’t have mental errors. Has a ways to go, but doing a good job.”… He also is “proud of what Raphael Kirby has done” at two linebacker positions…. He said safety Dallas Crawford “did what I knew he would do when the lights went on. Physical guy. Great feel for playing the game. For what he’s done in a 10-day period [moving over from running back] is really remarkable, not making mental errors.”…

### D'Onofrio said tackle Earl Moore has been “steady. He’s gotten better. Kind of the light went on. Earl has been really consistent. The thing that hurts us right now is Olsen Pierre is not out there. Ufomba Kamalu has gotten better.”

### More D’Onofrio: He said Alex Figueroa and Tracy Howard lost their black jerseys today because they are “not up to the standards” in the scrimmage. “It’s just about being consistent. We love Tracy. We want [black jersey] to be something special. You’ve got to grade out higher to be at level of a championship.”

### Al Quadin Muhammad is out with an ankle injury and Olsen Pierre with a concussion. UM is hopeful both will return this spring.

### D’Onofrio said Jamal Carter “has had a great spring with his competitiveness and passion and willingness to try to get better. He’s an example of a guy that benefited from bowl practices.”

### Coley, asked who has impressed him this spring: “Ryan Williams has a good command of the offense. I’m impressed with his ability to change plays and get us into great calls at the line… Taylor Gadbois has set himself apart at right tackle… Walter Tucker has had a really good last two days… D’Mauri Jones has gotten better every day.”

### Coley said Kevin Olsen has “made some nice throws” but needs to improve his communication with other players at the line of scrimmage so that they recognize the play he’s calling.

### The staff wants more from Gus Edwards. “What Gus has to grow into is a big guy that moves fast all the time,” Coley said. “Sometimes big guys choose when they want to go fast.”

### Coley, on the state of his offense: “We still have to play our brand of football. We’re not there yet. We want to be a tough team, physical, a team that people want to play us and have a bye week.”

### Coley likes the Rashawn Scott is “finally playing at 204. He’s not the 196 pound receiver any more.”

HEAT, MARLINS, NFL TV

### Now that the Heat has pulled ahead of Indiana (by percentage points), you’ve got to love Chris Bosh’s take on the situation.

"You know, that's why when the Pacers were talking, 'Hey, No. 1 seed, home court!' It's like, hey, it's August. Calm down a little bit. We know how it is. We know it's a marathon. That's one of the conversations you have to have amongst yourselves, and it's a reason to go out there and play hard every day. Saying it to everybody, shouting it from the mountain top, that's not our style." 

LeBron James continues to downplay the value of claiming the No. 1 seed.

### A few tidbits about Jose Fernandez’s debut Monday, courtesy of Elias: He’s only the second pitcher to have nine strikeouts and no walks on opening day in the past 16 seasons (Jered Weaver was the other) and the 16th ever….

He’s also only the second pitcher to earn a win on opening day after being voted the Rookie of the Year the previous season. The only other man to do that is the Giants' John Montefusco, who was the National League's top rookie in 1975 and then started and won San Francisco's season opener in 1976....

Most impressive: Fernandez is now 10-0 all time at Marlins Park, with a 1.21 ERA.

### CBS today hired former Dolphins quarterback Trent Green as a game analyst. He fills the opening created by Dan Dierdorf’s departure, but he’s likely not going to replace Dierdorf on the network’s No. 2 announcing team. That slot could go to Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts, with Greg Gumbel also still a candidate to maintain his spot on the No. 2 team.

03/31/2014

Monday afternoon update: Philbin challenging Miller; Dolphins, Heat, UM, Marlins notes

Some Monday tidbits:               

### Joe Philbin made clear this past week that while he likes Lamar Miller and that he has all the skills to thrive as an NFL back, Philbin is pushing him for more.

There's a good chance Miller could go from starter to backup with the addition of Knowshon Moreno.

“We want to see him make more explosive runs here and there," Philbin said of Miller. "His pass protection improved but there’s still room for development there. He can do all three things a running back needs to do -- he has good running skills, he can pass protect, he can catch the football. We thought Lamar played well."

But… “We’ve got to break more tackles. I may have been guilty of overcoaching, harping on the ball security issue. He really did a good job of that. At some point, running backs need to break tackles. It’s not that he didn’t break any. But he’s got to break some more. There is room that we could potentially utilize him more [as a pass receiver]. He has good natural hands, good speed.”

Moreno figures to be the back who catches the majority of passes among the team's running backs. Miller will compete with Moreno for the starting job, but Moreno enters as the favorite.

### Why has the run defense gotten worse over the past two years?

Here was Philbin's explanation: “They’re not magical things. But at times, the gap soundness was compromised. There are some missed tackle that led to explosive runs. That’s been a culprit. It’s been more an issue of fundamentals, technique, staying within the scheme, making sure we’re all tied together.”

Philbin and Dennis Hickey didn't say it, but it's obvious, as we have stated, that the move from Karlos Dansby/Kevin Burnett to Dannell Ellerbe/Phillip Wheeler made the Dolphins worse against the run.

And unfortunately, the Dolphins did not pursue the top run-stopping linebackers in free agency (Brandon Spikes, Jon Beason, Darryl Sharpton). They made an offer to D'Qwell Jackson, who graded out below average against the run, but he opted for the Colts.

### Queried by Bay Area reporters, Philbin said he wishes San Francisco-bound Jonathan Martin “the best. I hope his career goes in a positive direction. Jonathan came into work every single day and worked his butt off.”

### Philbin said Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson are progressing well in their recovery from significant knee injuries and both are expected back for training camp.

### Philbin didn’t sound like the Dolphins are determined to have a natural fullback on the roster. “Priority wise, it’s not at the top of our list.” 

### According to Newsday out of New York, former Dolphins cornerback Dimitri Patterson is visiting the Jets today.

### The Heat says Dwyane Wade (hamstring), Greg Oden (back) and Ray Allen (stomach virus) are all doubtful for tonight's game against Toronto. Mario Chalmers (thigh bruise) was able to complete practice this morning and is a game-time decision.

### The Heat can pull even with Indiana for the top seed in the conference if Miami wins tonight and if the Pacers lose at home against San Antonio.

### Though UM scored six touchdowns in Saturday's scrimmage (which was closed to the public and media), keep in mind that four of them came on red-zone drills inside the 10-yard line.

But the defense was victimized by a length-of-field drive engineered by Ryan Williams and culminating in a touchdown run by Walter Tucker. The UM defense was without a key piece (Olsen Pierre) as well as without (obviously) key summer arrivals Michael Wyche and Chad Thomas, among others. 

### Though linebacker remains a concern, we hear Alex Figueroa has had a good spring; Denzel Perryman has played well in his move back to middle linebacker; and Jermaine Grace has made strides. UM wants to forge a role for Grace on defense, potentially on third down. What's more, early arrival Darrion Owens had two sacks Saturday and has made a strong early impression. And Al Golden said Raphael Kirby was the best of the linebackers in Saturday's scrimmage.

### The Marlins' batting order for their opener tonight against Colorado, barring a last-minute change by Mike Redmond: 1) Christian Yelich; 2) Jeff Baker; 3) Giancarlo Stanton; 4) Casey McGehee; 5) Garrett Jones; 6) Jarrod Saltalamacchia; 7) Marcell Ozuna; 8) Adeiny Hechavarria; 9) Jose Fernandez.

Please see the last post for more Dolphins, Heat, Canes and Marlins notes.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

03/30/2014

"Clutch" nuggets on Marlins, Heat, Dolphins RBs; Ross to speak to Marino; Fins, UM, Marlins notes

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

A few timely South Florida-flavored points to consider on the topic of “clutch” play:

### The Marlins’ performance in the clutch, offensively, must change as much as anything about this team, as they await Monday's season opener. Besides being generally unproductive last season, Marlins batters were abysmal in the clutch (two outs and runners in scoring position).

Last season, MLB teams hit .232 and averaged 200 runs in that situation. The Marlins hit .193 in the clutch, ahead of only Milwaukee, and scored 151 runs.

Giancarlo Stanton hit .259 but with a league-high 22 clutch strikeouts. Among others: Logan Morrison, dealt to Seattle, hit .167 in the clutch, Adeiny Hechavarria .215, Ed Lucas .107 (3 for 28), Rob Brantly .192, Jeff Mathis .133, Christian Yelich .111 (2 for 18), Marcell Ozuna .226 and Derek Dietrich .130.

How have the Marlins’ new starters done historically in the clutch? The news is mixed.

New catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit .283 in 60 clutch at-bats in 2013, which was ninth among qualifying catchers – a big jump from .210 in his career. New third baseball Casey McGehee, who spent 2013 in Japan, has been excellent in the clutch throughout his MLB career (.318). New second baseman Rafael Furcal, who will begin the season on the disabled list, is a .261 career clutch hitter, .287 in those situations late in close games.

But Miami’s new first basemen have been poor in the clutch in their careers: Garrett Jones at .188, Jeff Baker .181. In Furcal's absence, Baker will start at second base on opening day, Monday against Colorado.

### Though Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was correct in saying he probably should have given LeBron James the last shot of the Pacers game last week, keep in mind that Chris Bosh entered the weekend with the NBA’s highest shooting percentage (minimum 40 attempts) on shots in the final five minutes of games with a margin of five points or fewer.

Bosh is shooting 54.5 percent on those shots (30 for 55), compared with 47.6 percent for James (40 for 84) and 36.4 for Dwyane Wade (8 for 22).

### Daniel Thomas exasperated the Dolphins with his inability to consistently convert in clutch situations (third and fourth and short). New Dolphins running back Knowshon Moreno will be an upgrade there.

In his career, Moreno has gotten a first down on 28 of 42 rushing attempts on third and fourth down when he needed two or fewer yards for a first down (67 percent). Conversely, Thomas has converted just 13 of 25 (52 percent), and Lamar Miller only 2 of 7 (28.6 percent).

CHATTER

### Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said he will talk to Dan Marino about a potential job within the organization. But he said he has “no idea” what it might be.

### A bit more on Moreno: "Solid contributor but not a No. 1 back,” ESPN’s Bill Polian said. “Most of his success from 2013 was a function of the [Denver] system. His acceleration to the hole is the reason” why Polian gave him a “minus” grade for speed.

But “the rest of his game is good,” Polian said. “He just doesn’t hit the big plays you need from a No. 1 running back.”

Pittsburgh-bound LaGarrette Blount expected Miami interest, but the Dolphins never called him, and he isn’t nearly as good as Moreno in pass protection, which is being prioritized by Miami.

### Moreno's one-year, $3 million deal leaves the Dolphins with just over $16 million in cap space, with a little less than a third of that needed to sign draft picks.

### Postscripts from last week’s NFL owners meetings: Though some have criticized Miami’s signing of cornerback Cortland Finnegan, one competing general manager insisted it was a smart move because “he’s tough and physical” and might regain his previous form in a defensive system better suited to him.

Finnegan’s coach in St. Louis, Jeff Fisher, said “you get to that age [30] where you have to be aware of [potential loss of speed]. But when he was playing for us, he could still run.”…

Chiefs coach Andy Reid, on what Miami is getting in Branden Albert: “Great leader and an All-Pro. As good a player as he is, he's an even better person. He'll take care of your left side and do a great job for you. Pass blocking, run blocking – he’s good at both.”…

Fisher said even though Shelley Smith started only two games for the Rams in 2013, he’s a starting-caliber guard, plus “an outstanding run blocker and very physical.”

### Among coaches, there were mixed views expressed about whether Joe Philbin was culpable for not knowing about the bullying in his locker-room. One coach said it was obvious on HBO’s Hard Knocks in 2012 that Philbin was too detached and spent too much time in his office.

But Carolina’s Ron Rivera said: “A coach can't know everything. Coaches are held to a standard that sometimes is impossible. These players are men. I don’t know how we’re responsible for what they do.” Saints coach Sean Payton said: “How Joe is viewed in our circles is outstanding.”

### The last time the Marlins gave a three-year contract to an American League East catcher in his late 20s, who was coming off his best offensive season (John Buck), it was a disaster.

But the Marlins insist there’s no concern Saltalamacchia will be another Buck. “I don’t see any similarities; Jarrod is more of a contact guy, a gap hitter,” Marlins executive Michael Hill said.

The Marlins gave Buck $18 million over three years after he hit .281 for Toronto in 2010 – after never hitting better than .247 in any previous season. He bombed in Miami (.227, .192).

This offseason, the Marlins gave Saltalamacchia, a career .246 hitter, a three-year deal worth $21 million, after he hit .273 for Boston in 2013. The Marlins love how Saltalamacchia has taken charge of the pitching staff and believe he became a more disciplined hitter last year.

### Giancarlo Stanton, on the Marlins' decision not to bring in the Marlins Park fences: "I reiterate that they need to be brought in, in years to come. And it's not just my opinion. It's everyone's opinion here. And everyone's opinion on visiting teams."

But Marlins president David Samson said: "Where the fences are has helped us more than hurt us. We do measure it, because we've got smart guys. We're not ready to tell you permanently what we're doing; we're still studying it."

Over the past two seasons, Stanton actually has hit more home runs at home (31) than on the road (30). But Miami had only 31 home runs at home in 2013, compared with 59 on the road.

### The Mirage and 12 Nevada casinos have the Marlins at 100 to 1 to win the World Series. Only the Astros, at 200 to 1, face longer odds.  

### UM wouldn't allow reporters to watch Saturday's scrimmage, but it did release a few details. Among them: Ryan Williams and Kevin Olsen took all the snaps... Williams made some nifty throws: a long TD pass to Phillip Dorsett and a sharp throw to Rashawn Scott for a big gain... But Williams was sacked by Anthony Chickillo and Al-Quadin Muhammad for a safety on the first play of the day. Muhammad had a sack on another play.. Stacy Coley made a couple of terrific catches.... UM ran for four touchdowns and threw for two....

Impressive early enrollee Darrion Owens made his mark at linebacker Saturday, generating pressure on the quarterback....  Artie Burns intercepted a pass.... Gus Edwards and Walter Tucker looked good running the ball... Safety Dallas Crawford stuffed a running play for a loss... Williams said this is the most physical the offensive line has looked since he has been here. But offensive penalties were a problem, Jon Feliciano said.

### Following in the footsteps of the more accomplished Jimmy Graham, UM 6-9 forward Raphael Akpejiori plans to try out for the football team in the coming weeks, according to multiple reports.

03/29/2014

Marlins coming up with new ways to try to get you to attend their games

When the Marlins moved into their new ballpark in 2012, they said they expected to average at least 30,000 spectators per game and sell 15,000 season tickets annually, at least for the first few years.

They fell short in the first year (27,400 and 12,000), then predictably nose-dived in both categories last season after slashing payroll, dropping to 19,584 distributed tickets per game in 2013 (ahead of only Tampa) and selling just 5000 season tickets.

And now, even after an offseason devoid of any public relations disasters, the Marlins are still trying to reach 5000 season tickets, just days before the March 31 opener. They’re hoping five factors ultimately will boost attendance:

### A better team. With the addition of four new starting position players and an augmented bench, the Marlins aren’t likely to endure another 100-loss season. But nobody is predicting playoffs.

“The ballpark is fantastic,” Marlins president David Samson said. “But now it’s time to match the ballpark with the product, and I don’t mean as a payroll. I mean as the result.”

### Lower ticket prices. The Marlins reduced prices for every seat, with an average cut of 25 percent on season tickets and 20 percent on single game tickets. Some season-ticket prices were dropped as much 69 percent, and some single game tickets as much as 55 percent.

The lowest-priced seats are now $9 on weekends and $12 on weekends.

“It’s supply and demand,” Samson said. “We want more people. We didn’t perform the way we should have performed. We’re going to lower prices.”

Samson said stubhub.com will not be permitted to charge anything less than $6 for Marlins tickets.

### A “rewards plus” points system similar to the type of programs that airlines and major hotel chains use.

Sean Flynn, the Marlins’ senior vice president/marketing, said the program will be available only to season-ticket holders this year, but to all ticket holders beginning in 2015.

Here’s how it works: Season-ticket holders will receive varying amounts of points for buying tickets, actually attending the games, posting Marlins-requested messages on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram and purchasing merchandise at the team store. At some point in the next year, fans also can earn points by clicking on news stories on Marlins.com, buying concessions and other Marlins-related activities.

Points can be redeemed for tickets to future games, suite access, bats or baseballs used in games, retail items and passes to concerts or other Sun Life Stadium events.

The perks for the fans who earn the highest level of points: participating in batting practice or walking out with the lineup card (accompanied by manager Mike Redmond) before the game.

“We had two goals: to retain customers and to grow our fan base,” Flynn said. “Increasing attendance is a longterm goal when we open it up to all fans.”

The Marlins are not sharing with the general public a specific breakdown of how many points are needed to redeem what prizes, but Flynn said season-ticket holders will have that information on a secured portion of the Marlins web site by Monday. Flynn said season ticket holders are automatically enrolled.

### Faster games. The Marlins played the fastest games in the majors last season, largely because they scored fewer runs than any other team in baseball. Samson believes the slow pace of games might be hurting attendance and has told players to hurry it up.

“Our focus in Miami is pace of game,” Samson said. “It’s very important to me. The games are going too long."

MLB games averaged 2 hours, 59 minutes during the 2013 regular season and 3:22 in the playoffs.

"If we want to engage fans 18-49, we have to play faster," Samson said. "[In the new replay system], there needs to be a call on the field, a replay, and an overturn within 60 seconds. Period. We're not going to put up with 3 1/2-hour games. Our fans don't want it."

Samson said the Marlins also will encourage batters not to step out of the box as often or pitchers to step off the mound.

“For us, these four-hour games and 3 1/2-hour games, it can't happen," Samson said. "We are studying all of our home games, and we're finding out what can we do to shave our running time. This is a Marlins thing, because I've had it. Our fans have had it. There should be 2-hour, 35-minute games."

Commissioner Bud Selig told me last week that he agrees with Samson's contention that the pace of games must improve, and he's working on it.

Is Samson convinced this market will support baseball to the level the team expected in a new ballpark? “Yes, because it’s our job,” he said. “We failed so far, but we’re getting better. It’s our job to give our fans a winning franchise and a stable franchise.”

### More entertainment. Saturday night concerts no longer will be limited to the west plaza. There will be concerts and parties (with disc jockeys) in the Clevelander area on the east plaza on select Saturdays, beginning April 5, when DJ Laz hosts.