April 22, 2016

Who's visited the Dolphins among their 30 allowed non-local visits? Here's the majority of them; Mayock, Collinsworth on Dolphins; Local radio news

 

NFL teams are permitted to bring as many as 30 non-local players to team headquarters to meet with coaches and executives and do medical tests.

Local players, unlike non local-prospects, are able to work out at Dolphins headquarters. And unlike the non-local players, South Florida high school and South Florida college prospects don’t count among the 30 visits.

Last year, the Dolphins drafted three players who visited: DeVante Parker, Jordan Phillips and Cedric Thompson.

Unlike the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Dolphins (and most teams) do not confirm or announce their draft visits. I've independently confirmed 20 of the maximum 30 non-local players who have visited the Dolphins. Here they are, by position: 

CORNERBACKS

Ohio State’s Eli Apple

Houston’s William Jackson

Baylor’s Xavien Howard

Samford’s James Bradberry

LSU’s Rashard Robinson

Southern Cal’s Kevon Seymour

North Carolina Central’s Ryan Smith

 

RUNNING BACKS

Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott

Alabama’s Kenyan Drake

Utah’s Devontae Booker

Washington’s Dwayne Washington

Eastern Michigan’s Darius Jackson

 

LINEBACKERS

Clemson’s B.J. Goodson

 

TIGHT ENDS

UCLA’s Thomas Duarte

California’s Stephen Andersen

 

DEFENSIVE ENDS

Clemson’s Kevin Dodd

 

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

Texas A&M’s tackle/guard Germain Ifedi

 

RECEIVERS

Rutgers’ Leonte Carroo

Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant

 

SAFETIES

Middle Tennessee State’s Kevin Byard

 

Note: A couple of visits reported elsewhere did not, in fact, materialize. One of them: USC safety/linebacker Su'a Cravens. He was scheduled to visit the Dolphins, but it was canceled because of a schedule conflict.... The Dolphins also conducted private on-campus workouts with a bunch of players they didn't bring to Davie, including UCLA linebacker Myles Jack.

Regarding our 20-player list, a couple of the aforementioned players broke the news of their own visits. A couple were first reported by NFL Net's Ian Rapoport and our friend Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post and Houston Chronicle. My esteemed colleagues, Armando Salguero and Adam Beasley, also mentioned interest in some mentioned above.

 

MAYOCK, COLLINSWORTH WEIGH IN

Here's what NFL Net's Mike Mayock told me today on a conference call, regarding the Dolphins' pick at No. 13: “If Elliott got to 13, they would have to be excited. He could go as early as 4 to Dallas, 10 to the Giants, 11 to Chicago. William Jackson and Eli Apple are both a little raw for different reasons. I think I know what they want down there. They want long press corners for Vance Joseph. Both of them [Apple, Jackson] can do that.

“William Jackson has got better ball skills than Eli Apple. Eli Apple tackles a little better. Is it too early to take either of them?

"Not really because there's going to be a run of corners. If they believe either can step in day one and compete, either would be really solid picks.”

• Cris Collinsworth, one of the investors in Pro Football Focus, did his mock draft for the site this week and has the Dolphins picking Elliott. His assessment:

"Elliott is the type of running back who can immediately take pressure off of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He's one of the few backs I've seen in recent drafts that you feel comfortable handing the ball to, throwing the ball to and having him stay in and block (he allowed just one pressure in pass protection in 2015).

"In today's spread offenses in college, it's just difficult to find guys coming out like that anymore. Miami still has weaknesses at the guard position that they need to address, but that's something they can do in later rounds and sometimes the best way to protect your quarterback is to run the football. Elliott would be a great replacement for departed free agent Lamar Miller, having ranked No. 1 in yards after contact per attempt in 2015 among this year's RB class."

• Please click here for more of what we've heard on the Dolphins' draft plans.

RADIO NOTES

A few items on local radio:

• 790 The Ticket is still searching for a replacement for 1-3 p.m. co-host Eric Reed, who left the business recently, and there's interest in NBC 6 anchor Adam Kuperstein, who has been filling in on the show in recent weeks.

But here's the problem: Kuperstein has been named a co-host on NBC 6's new 4 p.m. newscast that will debut this summer. So Kuperstein couldn't do the show out of 790's studios. NBC 6 and Ticket GM Doug Abernethy are discussing the viability of Kuperstein hosting the radio show from NBC 6's studios.

"Great talent," Abernethy said of Kuperstein, adding that Kuperstein doing a show off-site "gives me cause for concern."

Abernethy said Leroy Hoard will remain the co-host regardless of who is selected to replace Reed.

• Abernethy said he is not ready to name Chris Wittyngham as Ethan Skolnick's permanent co-host in afternoon drive. But it's clear it's going to happen. "We're high on Chris and what he's done," Abernethy said.

• Abernethy isn't sure who would replace Wittyngham alongside Josh Friedman on the night show. And Friedman remains a candidate for the 1-3 show if the Kuperstein scenario doesn't work out.

• In the March ratings book that Nielsen shares only with subscribers (not sportswriters), 790 The Ticket beat WQAM 560 in the ratings book, with a 1.9 share to WQAM's 1.4 in the key demographic group for the sports radio genre (men 25-54).

From 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. (the hours of The Ticket's morning program), The Ticket's show (Jonathan Zaslow, Brett Romberg) and WQAM (mostly Joe Rose) each had a 2.6 share in that men 25 to 54 demo. (Since then, Amber Wilson began work as Joy Taylor's successor on The Ticket's morning show.)

From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Dan Le Batard's hours on 790), The Ticket had a 2.0 compared with WQAM's 1.8 (one hour of Rose, three hours of Orlando Alzugaray). Remember: Those are only Le Batard's local numbers and don't take into account not only his large audience from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. nationally, but also the millions who download Le Batard's show.

During the 9 to 10 a.m. hour, Le Batard has a 2.6, Rose a 2.2.

From 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. (Marc Hochman's WQAM hours), The Ticket has a 1.7 share to WQAM's 1.5. 

From 4 to 7 p.m. (Skolnick's Ticket hours), Skolnick had a 2.3 to WQAM's 1.4, which also includes an hour of Alex Donno or other 'QAM programming.

At night, The Ticket has a 1.9 to WQAM's 0.3, largely a function of there being more local interest in hearing Heat radiocasts than Panthers radiocasts.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

April 21, 2016

Lots of Dolphins draft nuggets on what they're considering; more player workouts and more; Whiteside; Wade; UM, Panthers notes

FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN

A six-pack of Dolphins notes:

• With Miami not likely to land free agent Josh Norman, cornerback remains a high priority, though we hear a few other players also intrigue the Dolphins with their first-round pick if they fall to their range at No. 13.

If the Dolphins rate a non-cornerback as the best player on their board when they're picking at No. 13, there's a belief they could still land a quality corner at 42 and/or 73, a prospect such as UM’s Artie Burns (if there at 42) or Baylor’s Xavien Howard or Virginia Tech's Kendall Fuller or Samford's James Bradberry, among others.

Drafting two corners is very much a possibility.

Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott’s visit here Tuesday went very well, he would welcome the Dolphins drafting him if he slips to 13, and Miami has strong interest, according to someone involved. He already has a lease on an apartment in Miami, though that has nothing to do with any possibility of him landing with the Dolphins.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins recently sent a contingent to Los Angeles to conduct a private workout with UCLA’s Myles Jack, the draft’s best linebacker. There’s Dolphins interest if he surprisingly slips out of the top 10.

• What about UF’s 5-10 Vernon Hargreaves, who could be the best corner available at 13? Though he cannot be ruled out if he’s the best player available, I do know this: There is some resistance to Hargreaves among some Dolphins scouting/front office people who believe he’s undersized and see him more as a nickel back. Miami’s preference is a big, physical boundary corner.

The Dolphins prefer bigger corners in general and are intrigued by Houston’s William Jackson and Ohio State’s Eli Apple, two 6-1 corners who visited. Jackson at No. 13 is certainly a possibility, but analysts disagree about whether Jackson is good value at 13. (Mel Kiper says he’s not.) Most pundits have Apple in the 20s or lower.

One Dolphins official said trading down from 13 for a corner would be a consideration, if there's not a player at 13 that Miami covets in that range and if it believes one of the tall corners would be available later in the first round.

• Besides Jack, Elliott and the corners, the Dolphins have closely studied a handful of first-round front-seven defenders, including Clemson defensive ends Kevin Dodd (visited, but 13 is higher than projected) and Shaq Lawson and linebackers Leonard Floyd (Georgia), Reggie Ragland (Alabama) and Darron Lee (the Ohio State product is Kiper’s choice for the Dolphins, but at 6-1, 232 pounds isn’t their ideal size preference).

Ragland told Sirius XM tonight that he made seven visits in the past two weeks, and the Dolphins, Bears and Saints have shown the most interest in him. And we've also been told the Dolphins like Ragland.

• As one of several fallback options, the Dolphins have discussed taking one of the top offensive tackles if one slips and moving him to guard, though 13 is high for a guard. Kiper said he would take Texas A&M guard/tackle Germain Ifedi (who visited Miami) in the first round. But 13 would seem too high.

• The Dolphins, looking for a skilled returner who could lessen Jarvis Landry’s workload on special teams, have been in touch with several. They summoned Texas Tech’s 5-6 Jakeem Grant to Davie this week; he had four kickoff returns for touchdowns in his career and a 26.2 average last season. At UCLA, they auditioned Devin Fuller (24.2 kickoff average last season), among others.

They’re open to finding competition for kicker Andrew Franks and dispatched special teams coach Darren Rizzi or other staffers to privately audition several, including Texas’ Nick Rose and Albright’s Daniel Sobolewski.

• One team official said the past coaching staff didn’t use tight end Jordan Cameron to his strengths and expects that to change… Dolphins conversations remain ongoing with free agent defensive end Jason Jones, with both sides interested. 

CHATTER

• The latest Hassan Whiteside historic feat: In shooting 8 for 8 in Game 2, he became just the second active NBA player to make all his shots (minimum eight) in a playoff game, according to Elias. The other: Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka, who was 11 for 11 in a 2012 postseason game…. What’s more, Whiteside is second this postseason (behind Steph Curry) in ESPN’s complex NBA efficiency ratings, after finishing eighth during the season.

• This is the first Heat team ever to score at least 115 points in two consecutive playoff games. For perspective, do you know how many times the Heat did this in non-overtime situations in four regular seasons with LeBron James? Just once: in November 2012, with 119 against Denver and 124 against Phoenix.

During the LeBron years, the Heat also reached 115 in two games in a row on two other occasions, with one of them going to OT and another going to triple overtime.

• What Dwyane Wade continues to do around the rim, at 34, and his ease in getting there is quite impressive.

He’s 8 for 9 on shots within five feet in this series, best among NBA guards, including one of them created Wednesday by an amazing stutter-step move on Jeremy Lin.

“I felt good to be able to do [that],” Wade said, his body helped by work with new trainer Dave Alexander over the past year.

Wade had 261 of those baskets (within five feet) this season, behind only Andrew Wiggins and James Harden among shooting guards and he made 62.7 percent of those shots within five feet (top five).

And there's this: Of the 100 NBA players who dunked at least 30 times this season, Wade was the only one who didn’t miss any (36 for 36).

“He’s like a big man that plays guard; it’s amazing,” Whiteside said. “Probably the best guard I’ve ever seen around the basket. I joke with him all the time and tell him, 'I think you were supposed to be a seven-footer.' Just the way he maneuvers in the paint. He’s got left and right hand jump hooks.”

• Wade and Courtney Lee were talkative with each other in Game 2, but Wade assures: “Just having a little fun with the game. I like that guy. I respect him.

“The guy's been in the Finals before. Very tough defender. Nothing wrong with a little talking back and forth. No disrespect either way.”

• For an in-depth look at the Heat’s amazing offensive evolution, please click here.

• The Hornets ruled Nic Batum (ankle) as out for Game 3 and said his status will be re-evaluated after that.

• Don’t underestimate the impact that Panthers general manager Dale Tallon’s trades are making.

He clearly got the better of last summer’s Boston deal, with Jimmy Hayes finishing with 29 points for the Bruins and Reilly Smith producing 50 points for Florida (25 goals) and now tied for the NHL lead in postseason points (eight).

Tallon gave up future second- and fourth-rounders for Jiri Hudler (12 points in 23 games here) and a third-rounder for Teddy Purcell (13 in 19 games).

“They've been huge for us,” coach Gerard Gallant said Thursday. “They're veteran players, very skilled and they add a lot of depth and experience to our lineup, especially this time of the season.

“Reilly has been outstanding. I'm pleasant surprised, but it's not a shock he has 25 goals. He’s playing with good players.”

• Some historical perspective on Game 5 of Panthers-Islanders: The team that wins Game 5 of a 2-2 series has won 78.4 percent of NHL playoff series.

• UM coach Mark Richt has no patience for any off-field problems and warned his players last week not to "hang around with fools."...  

Defensive back Jonathan Abram, who left Georgia after Richt left and transferred to a junior college, told Canesport.com that he's considering joining Richt at UM. Abram started four games for Richt last season and can play safety and corner, though some consider him better suited for safety.

He said UM "is up on my radar" along with Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Abram would be required to sit out next season, per NCAA rules.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Exploring the Heat's mind-blowing offensive renaissance and the Heat's and Hornets' perspective on all of this

So how can this be happening? How can a team that averaged more points than only lowly Philadelphia for the first 3 1/2 months of the season transform into the Eastern Conference’s most prolific scoring team after the All-Star break, then generate Golden State-type offensive numbers in building a 2-0 first-round playoff lead against Charlotte? And doing all of this without leading scorer Chris Bosh?

“I don't have that answer. I just know we needed to,” Dwyane Wade said late Wednesday night of the Heat’s faster tempo and offensive renaissance since February. “When we lost Chris, we needed to change what we were doing. Luckily, we had the
personnel for guys to be able to do it fast and it's worked for us. You've got be able to adapt and we've done it.”

The numbers are staggering: The Heat went from averaging 96 points before the All-Star break to 107.4 after, behind only the Warriors, Oklahoma City, Portland and Houston. That's the fourth biggest jump in NBA history (with a minimum of 10 games after the All-Star break), Elias said Thursday. (TNT incorrectly reported it was the largest increase.)

Miami went from shooting 46 percent overall pre-break to a league-best 48.7 post-break, and from 32.3 on three-pointers to 36.5 after. 

The postseason numbers are shock- and awe-inducing, with the Heat entering Thursday night’s slate of games averaging 119 points in the playoffs --- 10 more than any other team and shooting 57.8 percent in postseason and 52.9 percent on threes. Even Goran Dragic, who predictably has thrived playing at a faster tempo, admits he’s a bit surprised by the extent of the Heat’s offensive growth.

“I like the fact the individuals in this locker room, once they realized we had to switch things up when Chris was out, that everyone was comfortable doing it,” Wade said. “To me, it made all of our jobs a lot easier.

“We were able to let go of guys a little bit. We really let Luol [Deng] go, see what he can do. Hassan [Whiteside] was a pleasant surprise offensively. It just all worked out for us.”

With his team sputtering offensively, Erik Spoelstra knew “we had to do something” and implemented offensive changes in late January, then made more at the All-Star break when Bosh was sidelined.

The team’s faster pace has been well-chronicled; Miami went from 94.7 possessions per 48 minutes in the first half of the season (29th in the league) to 97.7 after (18th).

But Miami and Charlotte averaged only 90.4 possessions apiece in the first two games (lowest among playoff teams), and so this offensive explosion goes beyond pushing pace. This is also about peak player performance.

Deng, who shifted from small forward to power forward when Bosh was sidelined, went from averaging 10.6 points before the break to 15.2 after, and 23.5 so far in postseason. Dragic improved from 12.6 to 17.3, Whiteside from 12.2 to 17.5.

Josh Richardson shot a league-best 53.3 on threes after the All-Star break, 20 percent before. And Joe Johnson averaged 13.4 points on exceptional 51.4 percent shooting since joining the Heat. And Wade has been at peak efficiency this postseason, as we explain here with some interesting numbers about his mid-range game and how he does with extended rest.

In the case of Dragic and Deng, in particular, the faster pace has gone hand-in-hand with improved production.

“It's really a credit to the coaching staff to realize that in order to fill in for what Chris brings to the team, it had to be a team effort,” Deng said. “We knew we had to play fast. I realized after the break in Atlanta, by setting quick screens and cutting and being aggressive, I had a lot better looks than in the first half. Then the whole team believed in it. Our energy was a lot better.”

In a lengthy analysis after Miami’s 115-103 win on Wednesday, Hornets coach Steve Clifford said slowing this steamrolling Heat offense isn’t as simple as changing schemes or lineups and some Heat players are making perimeter shots that the Hornets generally would be comfortable with Miami taking.

Keep in mind that the Hornets were ninth in the league in scoring defense this season, allowing 100.7 points per game.

“They aren't running sets that we're having trouble with coverages on; it’s one-on-one stuff,” said Clifford, who has praised Spoelstra for putting different players on the baseline at various times, creating headaches for opposing defenses. “[And in Game 2] they shot the ball really well from the perimeter. They made a lot of shots you can live with.”

Clifford put it this way: “You start every game with what can you live with. Dragic hit three threes, all step-back threes. You go into most games saying if he’s going to shoot step-back jumpers off the dribble from above the break, you can live with that. Justise Winslow shot a high percentage from 17, 18 feet. Most nights you are going to say that’s something you can live with.

“Richardson and Deng you've got to take away. [But] you can't take away everything. My point is that [distance shooting] is not their strength. Is Dragic a guy that’s capable of making threes? Yes he is. Is that what you want him doing versus driving to the basket? Yes. On nights he's going to make three for three [on threes], they’re probably going to win.

“Dragic makes two threes, and all of a sudden we're overextending. We're opening up driving gaps. Winslow hits a couple jumpers, then all of a sudden, we're giving Wade room, [Joe] Johnson room. You have to stay with the game plan. When those guys hit jumpers and we got spread out, that's when Wade got going. If Wade has room, he's getting in the paint against anyone.”

So can this offensive carnival continue when the series shifts to Charlotte on Saturday?

“We can't expect to take this same offensive game on the road,” Wade said. “If that ever happens praise God, thank you. We can't expect that at all.

"We got to expect to win these games with our defense and our defense has to be better. That's our job and the coaches’ job to give us a game plan where we can do a better job defensively to try to hopefully take away some of the things they hurt us with.”

• The Heat is traveling to Charlotte today (no practice) and will practice there on Friday.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... Check back tonight for a lot of Dolphins, Heat, Panthers and Canes.

April 20, 2016

Postscripts, Reaction and Wade stuff after Heat's Game 2 win; Dolphins summon ball-hawking safety; Heat notes

Dwyane Wade talk and 10 other notes from the Heat's 115-103 win in Game 2 against Charlotte:

• Wade was asked the other day when was the last time he felt butterflies in a playoff game. He mentioned Game 4 of the 2013 Finals in San Antonio, which the Heat won to even the series at two en route to Wade’s third championship.

 “Always trying to stay even keel in those moments,” he said.

 No Heat player has exuded more coolness, more nerves of steel under pressure than Wade, and his first two games of this 2016 postseason --- while devoid of any late-game drama --- combined high efficiency with highlight-reel stuff.

Wade hit an array of difficult jumpers, electrified the crowd by blocking a Kemba Walker jump shot and once again dominated his matchup with Courtney Lee.  Wade has had life and lift in his legs, looking active and spry and explosive.

The performance was an aesthetic and statistical success: 28 points, 11 for 22 shooting from the field and 6 for 7 from the line, eight assists, three rebounds, two steals  and the block on Walker, which gave him 154 blocks in 154 playoff games, second all-time among NBA guards, behind Michael Jordan, who had 158 in 179 games.

“Wade was unbelievable,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “He was hitting his jumper. If Dwyane has room, he is getting in the paint against anybody.”

And Wade --- who has scored at least 20 points for the 100th time in 154 Heat playoff games --- was big when the game became uncomfortably close late.

He drove to the basket, drew a foul and hit two free throws to push the Heat’s lead to 10 with 3:42 left, then made a dashing spin move on Lee for a jumper to make it a nine-point game with 2:45 to go. Then he scored in transition, off a Justise Winslow pass, to push the margin to double figures with 1:37 to go.

Wade’s mid-range game hadn’t been quite as effective this season, and his overall 45.6 shooting percentage was a career low, well below his 54.5 two years ago and his 48.8 career mark. Wade often has finished as the NBA’s highest-percentage shooting guard in his career but slid to seventh this season, behind J.J. Redick, Klay Thompson, Gary Harris, Evan Fournier, Andrew Wiggins and Alan Crabbe.

He also finished seventh among shooting guards in scoring average at 19.0.

His shooting accuracy slipped to 34.3 percent from 10 to 16 feet this season and 38.7 percent from 16 feet to the three-point range, according to probasketballreference.com.

But Wade’s entire offensive game has flourished in this series, his jumper smooth and silky. On Tuesday, he hit five jumpers of at least 12 feet, as well as several shots closer to the rim, including a snazzy finger roll.

He scored 15 in the first half, then delivered again late. He has 15 assists, just three turnovers, in this series.

“I’m always going to put pressure on the defense,” he said. “I was taking what they gave me.”

Hassan Whiteside, who caught an alley-oop from Wade said: "D-Wade is probably the best guard I've ever seen around the basket. I joke with him all the time and tell him I think you were supposed to be a seven-footer. Just the way he maneuvers in the paint. He's got left and right hand jump hooks. He's like a big man that plays guard. It's amazing."

The extra rest couldn’t have hurt Wade. He had two days rest between Games 1 and 2 and was at his best statistically this season with two days rest, averaging 21.8 points and 48.7 percent shooting.

There will be one day’s rest between games starting after Game 3, and for at least much of the next round, if the Heat advances. With one day rest, Wade was also very good this season, averaging 18.7 points and 47.2 percent shooting.

But Wade shot only 40 percent this season on the second night of back-to-backs (13 games), and there shouldn’t be any of those in postseason.

Wade said feeling healthy this time of year is a huge help. “I feel good. It allows me to penetrate to the basket.”

• Al Jefferson said he would be surprised if Nic Batum (ankle) plays again in this series.

• The Heat's rookies came up big. Josh Richardson was terrific, with 15 points on 5 for 9 shooting. Justise Winslow (4 for 6) had nine points and four rebounds. "It's a confidence boost knowing that coach has enough faith in me to leave me out there," Richardson said. "I cherish moments like that."

• This is the 14th time in franchise history that the Heat has taken a 2-0 lead in a series. They've won each of the previous 13.

• The Heat has won their last 13 first-round games at home.

• Hassan Whiteside's 8 for 8 shooting was the best by a Heat player in postseason franchise history. On his journey, he said: "It's just a testament to hard work. Mentally, I'm really tough. It's just another chapter of my life." He had 17 points and 13 boards.

• This was the first time in postseason history the Heat has scored 115 points or more in consecutive games. Miami has topped 100 points in 17 home games in a row.

• The Heat's 43 points in the second quarter were its most in any quarter in franchise postseason history. The Heat shot 84.2 percent in the second, highest in franchise history.

• The Hornets have lost 12 postseason games in a row, one short of the Knicks' postseason record.

• Marvin Williams is shooting 1 for 17 in the series after going 0 for 10 tonight. Unreal.

• Hornets coach Steve Clifford: "Goran Dragic shot 3 for 3 from the three-point line. Ifhe does that, they are more than likely going to win."

 

DOLPHINS TALK

Adam and Armando have thoroughly covered the Josh Norman story in their forums, so a couple other things here:

On the final day NFL teams were permitted to bring in draft prospects for visits, the Dolphins summoned a ball-hawking defensive back with a knack for interceptions.

Per league sources, Middle Tennessee State 5-11 strong safety Kevin Byard visited the Dolphins today, the last of his 16 visits. He’s a potential mid-round pick after snagging 19 career interceptions. That career total of 19 picks ranks 17th among all college football players since 1976, according to collegefootballreference.com.

Here’s what CBS draft expert Rob Rang said about him: "A four-time all-Conference [USA] choice (including back-to-back first team honors), Byard has consistently stood out, easing concerns about his ability to make the jump to the NFL. He's built like a traditional strong safety but is a fluid athlete with excellent awareness to read the eyes of quarterbacks and set up his blocks on returns, recording 377 yards off interceptions returns alone over his career.

“If he can ease concerns about his straight-line speed, Byard could be the highest drafted Blue Raiders prospect since receiver Tyrone Calico was taken 60th overall in the 2003 NFL Draft…. Does an excellent job reading the eyes of the quarterback and gaining proper position with aggressiveness and timing at the catch point, showing strong hands and hand-eye coordination to pluck the ball….

“Byard's knack for creating big plays has earned him attention throughout his career but there are holes in his game, including a lack of ideal physicality and playing speed. Against the elite competition he'll face in the NFL, the former two-star recruit will once again have to buck the odds.”

Chronologically, Byard had four, five, six and four interceptions in his four seasons and returned two of them for touchdowns (both as a freshman). He has returned only one punt in four seasons, but he scored a 76-yard touchdown on that return.

For a look at the Dolphins' search for a running back, please click here.

PEARL'S PASSING        

On the day of his passing, former Heat coaches on Wednesday remembered Dwyane “Pearl” Washington as a shy, kind person who did his best work at home during the Heat’s inaugural season.

Washington, who captivated college basketball fans with his flair, deft ball-handling skills and creativity as a Syracuse point guard and then scored the most points in the Heat’s first ever regular-season game, died after a battle with cancer. He was 52.

Washington was beset with medical problems since a brain tumor was first diagnosed in 1995. He had surgery last August after a recurrence of the tumor. In recent weeks, he needed a wheelchair to move around and required continuous medical care.

“It's sad,” said Heat announcer Ron Rothstein, who coached Washington in his only season with the Heat. “Way too early for him to have to go.

“I remember him as a high school player… He was a man amongst boys. I heard [Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim] say basically he was a shy guy. You would think a guy who played with his flair and dominance - you would expect something a little bit different. He was quiet, wasn't really that outgoing, wasn't loud in the locker-room."

Washington was born on Jan. 24, 1964 and was a New York City playground legend growing up in Brooklyn. He got his nickname as an 8-year-old when he was compared to former NBA star Earl "the Pearl" Monroe.

He was the nation’s most highly recruited basketball player after averaging 35 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists as a senior at Boys and Girls High.

Washington committed to Syracuse and averaged 15.6 points, 6.7 assists and 2.7 rebounds for the Orangemen and --- with Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin and others --- were among the brightest stars during the Big East Conference’s halcyon years in the 1980s and 1990s.

His signature move was the crossover dribble that froze defenders.

Washington was drafted 13th overall by New Jersey in 1986, but his game and undersized frame (6-2) did not translate well to the NBA.

He averaged 8.9 points and 3.6 assists in two seasons with the Nets, including 71 starts.

The Heat took him in the 1988 expansion draft and Washington led the Heat with 16 points in the Heat’s first regular-season game, a 111-91 loss to the Clippers.

Washington appeared in 54 games, including eight starts, during the Heat’s inaugural season, averaging 7.6 points, 4.2 assists and shooting 42.4 percent from the field.

“Great guy,” said Heat broadcaster Tony Fiorentino, an assistant coach on Rothstein’s staff. “He had an unbelievable season at home. He didn't play well on the road.

“One time I was at a clinic and he was there with three teenage kids around him and he dribbled and six hands and nobody touched the ball. He was a magician with the ball. He didn't have the best of bodies to play in the NBA and that's why he didn't last in the league very long. One of the best all time high school and college players.”

The Heat did not retain him and he spent the next two seasons playing in the Continental Basketball Association before his career ended.

“I don't think he expected not to succeed as an NBA player,” Rothstein said. “That threw him off for a while. He made something of himself. He got educated. He got a good job with the New York City Board of Education, doing special projects.”

Washington is the second confirmed player who has died from the original Heat team, which went 15-67 under Rothstein.

Pat Cummings, also a member of that team, died of what were reported to be natural causes in 2012, at age 55.

•  Duke coach Mike Krzyewski has maintained a close relationship with Justise Winslow, reaching out several times recently to the player who helped lead Duke to a national title in his one season with the Blue Devils.

Before the Heat-Hornets series, “he told me good luck,” Winslow said. “He texted me Happy Easter the other day... He called me on the phone. We talked. Wished me luck. Just talked about personal stuff.”

This past winter, Krzyewski appeared in an ESPN promotional ad involving Winslow. After watching an ESPN clip of Winslow dunking in a Heat game, Krzyzewski asks one of his grandsons to send Winslow a text complimenting his athleticism and defense during his rookie season.

The grandson then sent Winslow a series of emojis: two flames, a pair of 100s, three biceps and a basketball. Winslow responded with emojis, and one of his grandsons told Krzyzewski: “He says thanks.”

• Game 4 of the Heat-Hornets series was set for 7 p.m. Monday, with Fox Sports Sun and NBA TV televising. Game 5, if needed, will be at 8 p.m. next Wednesday on TNT and Sun.

• For a look at what Mark Richt said today, please click here.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

April 19, 2016

Wednesday noon: Richt gives thoughts; A look at the Dolphins' search for a RB, including Elliott and other backs they've summoned; Heat/Whiteside; Jagr; Marlins

Wednesday noon update: Some thoughts from UM coach Mark Richt, making his first (brief) appearance on the ACC's regular teleconferences a few minutes ago:

• On Brad Kaaya: "I am very systematic in how I teach quarterback play, timing, progressions of reads, when I want the ball out. He could have been a little resistant or slow to come around to it. He was not that at all. He was super coachable, super teachable. When you cover something in a meeting, and then you take it to the field, sometimes guys will lose it. He is able to take stuff from the meeting to the field as good or better than anyone I've been around. He can tell you after a rep what he saw, why he did what he did, as well as anyone I've been around. His peripheral vision must be very good."

• On having some good skill players: "The former staff did a good job of recruiting these young men. There's definitely a good bit of talent here. I don't know if there's any position I feel we have enough depth. There are guys with great skill sets. There are some midyear kids who came in, very talented, guys I like a lot that I think are going to play."

• "On the field, we're asking them to play with a lot of energy. Every coach has a specific way they want drills to be run. We want them to finish full speed. Every play we run in 11 on 11 type situations, there's a way we want them to finish. There's a certain time we want them to stop, whether it's a whistle being blown. We're expecting them to go full speed until they get to that point. We're trying to define to them what it means to play hard. If guys are loafing, we are going to discipline it and ask them to rise to the level of play we're asking them."

• Richt was struck by how "smoking hot" it was at "8, 9, 10 in the morning. It's good for us. Our players are used to it more than I was as a coach. We practice in the mornings, which I'm not used to. Haven't done that in any place I've been before."

• "Overall, I'm very pleased with what happened [this spring], mostly because of our players and how they responded to us. They're trying their very best to do everything we've asked them to do... We've got a long way to go in a lot of areas. If we've got a good plan, which I think we do, these guys will try with all their heart to get it done."

 

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

The Dolphins need a running back to share carries with Jay Ajayi and plan to draft one. And the draft’s clear-cut best back, Ohio State’s gifted Ezekiel Elliott, visited with Dolphins coaches and executives at team headquarters the past two days, is leasing a Miami apartment (because he likes the region and trainer Pete Bommorito is based here) and would welcome Dolphins interest. The Dolphins really like him.

“They have a hole at running back; I think it would be a pretty good fit,” he told ESPN's James Walker.

But it’s highly questionable if Elliott will be there at 13; ESPN’s Mel Kiper said Tuesday he’s heard talk of the Dolphins trying to move up to get him after previously moving down from No. 8 to acquire Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell.  

One friend of Elliott believes the Eagles are most likely to take him at No. 8, with the Cowboys (4), Giants (10) and Bears (11) also showing interest. Kiper has him rated as the fifth- or sixth-best player in the draft. [1:45 p.m. Wednesday UPDATE: The Eagles have acquired the No. 2 overall pick in the draft from Cleveland.]

The Dolphins were very interested in picking Todd Gurley at No. 14 last year, if he had still been on the board. (He wasn’t.) So is Elliott as gifted as Gurley?

“This guy is not Todd Gurley,” said NFL Net’s Daniel Jeremiah, who has him going eighth. “He's not at that level, but this guy's got a chance to be a Pro Bowl running back for a long period of time.” 

Draft analyst Tony Pauline agrees. While he said by phone that Elliott is “perfect in that middle round one area and can make defenders miss,” he also said he’s "a bit overrated,... doesn't have elite burst [and is] a step down from Todd Gurley."

ESPN’s Todd McShay has Elliott going eighth to the Eagles. He “has the skill set to be an every-down RB from Day 1,” McShay said. “He's an exceptional blocker and a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, while also showing great vision and suddenness in the open field. The Dolphins need some semblance of a run game to take the pressure off Ryan Tannehill.”

Pro Football Focus, which studied every one of Elliott’s carries, concluded that “he isn’t Adrian Peterson or even Todd Gurley as a runner. In extreme nitpicking terms, Elliott doesn’t have the blinding athleticism and cuts of the best runners in the NFL and may not go the distance when a big enough hole opens up.”

 But… he “blocks better than any back in this class,… is a monster after contact and may be the most well-rounded running back to come out in years.” PFF notes he had more than 1000 yards rushing after contact last season. Only one other draft-eligible back did that (Alabama’s Derrick Henry) and Elliott had 106 fewer carries.

• If the Dolphins don’t take Elliott, who else could they land? They’ve summoned Utah’s Devontae Booker and Arkansas’ Alex Collins to team headquarters, and they’re legitimate second-day possibilities, though Kiper said Tuesday he sees Collins as a fourth-rounder.

Booker averaged 4.7 yards per carry with 11 touchdowns last season.

Here’s how CBS’ Dane Brugler and Rob Rang assessed Booker: “Booker has been the workhorse of the Utah offense, averaging over 30 touches per game, but durability has also been a concern due to his high volume of carries and violent run style. Along with questions about ball security and age (will be a 24-year-old rookie), Booker will be dinged by some teams throughout the process due to these factors.”

Collins didn’t count as one of Miami’s 30 allowed visits because he’s a South Florida kid, but Dolphins officials took him to dinner, like a top-30 experience, the night before his workout.

Collins, who averaged 5.8 per carry with 20 touchdowns last season, “is a physical runner, but needs to improve his pad level and ball security to be more reliable at the next level,” Brugler said.

“Although he won't consistently create on his own, Collins has an excellent blend of quickness, patience and power to get what is blocked for him and contribute as an NFL rookie.”

• Other second-day options: Alabama’s Derrick Henry (many rate him the draft’s second-best back behind Elliott), Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon, Indiana’s Jordan Howard, UCLA’s Paul Perkins, Notre Dame’s CJ Prosise, Arkansas’ Jonathan Williams (Kiper raved about him today and he's a possibility here) and Alabama’s Kenyan Drake (who was invited to Dolphins headquarters).

Henry averaged 5.6 yards and scored 28 touchdowns on the ground last season and McShay has him going 56th and only the second running back taken in the first two rounds (after Elliott).

“This is a straight-line explosive back, and you see it on tape,” McShay said. “Henry has a ridiculous size-speed combo, running a 4.54 40 at 247 pounds. His game is really about getting downhill. He's a bulldozer when he gets going.”

Drake – Henry’s college teammate who has attracted Dolphins’ interest --- suffered a broken leg and broken arm at Alabama but averaged a robust 6.4 yards per carry in college.

• Besides Elliott, Booker and Drake, we’ve also confirmed two other running backs among the Dolphins’ 30 permitted visits: Washington’s Dwayne Washington and Eastern Michigan’s Darius Jackson.

Washington, a 6-2, 226-pound potential late-round pick or free agent, averaged 6.0 yards on just 47 carries last season and 12.6 yards on 25 receptions. Washington, who has 21 college touchdowns, turned pro after his junior season… Jackson, 6-0, averaged 5.2 yards per carry last season and scored 14 touchdowns.

• Pro Football Focus studied tape of every running back in this draft. Among all of them, PFF says Henry is best in short yardage; Perkins best in space; Dixon the best receiver; and Elliott the best blocker…. Henry and Perkins were the most elusive backs in the class, forcing 86 and 85 missed tackles. Booker forced 71, Collins 60.

• Later-round options: UF’s Kelvin Taylor, Illinois’ Josh Ferguson, TCU’s Aaron Green, San Jose State’s Tyler Ervin, Western Kentucky’s Leon Hall, California’s Daniel Lasco, Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington, Auburn’s Peyton Barber, West Virginia’s Wendell Smallwood and Navy’s Keenan Reynolds.

• Please click here for a look at a speedy returner/receiver summoned to Dolphins offices this week.

CHATTER

• Goran Dragic said any slight fuels Hassan Whiteside more than most players, and though Whiteside indicated Tuesday that he’s over his initial disappointment about not winning Defensive Player of the Year, Heat players expect him to be driven by this.

“[Look] what happened before the All-Star break, when he got thrown out of the [Spurs] game and everyone was talking down on him, and Chris Bosh goes down and he carries us the way he did,” Luol Deng said. “It speaks to how he reacts when things like that happen. He's going to come out and be dominant.”

Dragic said Whiteside said to teammates that he should have won the award. Erik Spoelstra offered a new goal Tuesday: “He can be Defensive Player of the Playoffs for us.”

Whiteside said he's over the disappointment. "It was yesterday," he said. He said he heard from a bunch of people --- teammates, friends, etc --- and reaction "was mixed. Some people were happy for me. Some people thought I should have won it. But it's yesterday. Ain't nothing I can do about it."

• Whiteside’s agent, Sean Kennedy, told The Charlotte Observer last year that he called every team multiple times in 2013 and 2014 when Whiteside was looking for NBA work, before the Heat signed him in November 2014.

Hornets GM Rich Cho said he never personally got a call, but Charlotte nevertheless opted not to even give Whiteside a tryout. (I believe Kennedy that he reached out to every team, and more teams should have auditioned Whiteside beyond the four who did --- Lakers, Raptors, Grizzlies -- who signed him and cut him --- and of course, the Heat).

Whiteside indicated Tuesday that not getting a tryout from the hometown Hornets was more hurtful “just because it was two blocks away.”

Does he think much about the Hornets not signing him? “I thought about it, but it's a blessing in disguise because I'm here,” he said. “Who knows what would have happened if I went to Charlotte? I've got a great front office, great coaches here, great teammates. Everything worked out.”

• If you missed my story about Heat players explaining why players take less money to play here, please click here.

• There’s plenty of Heat and Panthers support in the Marlins locker-room. Jose Fernandez, who has taken a liking to the Panthers’ Aaron Ekblad, has a Panthers jersey displayed in his locker. Marlins pitcher Tom Koehler has Dragic’s jersey in his locker; they met recently and “I just like the way he plays – hard, fast-paced,” Koehler said.

• Disconcerting entering Game 4 of Panthers-Islanders on Wednesday: The great Jaromir Jagr’s postseason goal drought has now stretched 34 games, and for perspective, his longest regular-season goal drought was 16 games (during November and December 1990, his rookie season).

He’s 0 for 9 on shots in the playoffs after scoring 27 goals on 143 shots during the regular season, with that 18.9 shot percentage ranking sixth in the league among players who appeared in at least 15 games.

• More Marlins history tonight, but not the type they wanted: The Nationals hit four homers off the Marlins in the seventh (two off Adam Conley, two off Chris Narveson). That's the first time that has happened in Marlins history, with Miami falling to 4-8 with this 7-0 loss... Narveson, who came in allowing hitters to bat .357 off him, remains a liability, even worse than nine-lives ex-Marlin Brad Hand (which didn't seem possible). Yes, Mike Dunn is missed... Conley, who entered the seventh pitching a shutout, had eight strikeouts and now had 19 in 13 2/3 innings.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Why do Heat players keep sacrificing money? Exploring the issue; Plus Heat nuggets; Dolphins summon more prospects; UM, Panthers, Trump

BUZZ COLUMN

There's a lot to appreciate about this Heat organization and this roster, and here's one that shouldn't be overlooked: Six players (more than one-third of the roster) took less money to play here than they could have made elsewhere, either this year or past years.

Joe Johnson said he turned down several substantially higher offers to sign with the Heat. Goran Dragic left several million on the table to re-sign here last summer. Amar’e Stoudemire said he bypassed more than three times as much money elsewhere to join the Heat.

Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh gave up between $10 million and $15 million apiece during the Big Three era. Other Heat alums, including LeBron James and Ray Allen, did likewise.

Heck, even ex-Heat guard Beno Udrih agreed to give up $90,000 so Miami wouldn’t surpass the tax threshold, allowing the Heat to sign Johnson.

It’s no coincidence this sort of thing has happened most frequently in the NBA’s two most successful markets over the past decade: San Antonio and Miami.

So why does this keep happening here? Of the six players who took less money from the Heat than they could have made elsewhere, either this season or at some point in the past, three factors are typically cited: a desire to win, the quality of the organization, and the players’ inclination to give the Heat flexibility to sign other players around them.

But Haslem said all this sacrificing has produced a domino effect that keeps reaping rewards.

“It’s a first-class organization, winning organization, and you see how Pat [Riley] and Micky [Arison] work together, how the players are treated, how we love being here,” he said. “And [players] see other people make sacrifices and they start to wonder, ‘Why is everybody sacrificing to be there? Why is everybody sacrificing to stay there?’ When they get a chance to be a part of it, then they buy in.”

One constant we found about the mechanics of how these sacrifices evolve: None of the players said they discussed taking less money directly with Riley. So this has not been a case of Riley or the Heat circumventing agents and imploring the players to take one for the team.

So much exactly have Heat players given up over the years that they could have made elsewhere? It’s impossible to calculate in Wade’s case, because there are a lot of ways to do the math. But it’s well above $15 million if he had insisted on max contracts along the way, (before his $20 million salary this year) or even in the most conservative estimate, at least $6.5 million.

With Dragic, the sacrifice was at least several million, though he said he doesn’t know the precise amount.

“When the time came and we negotiated, [agent Rade Filopovich] said we can get more somewhere else,” Dragic said. “But the most important thing for me was to be in the right place to try to win a championship. I didn’t even want to question that. Because it’s a winining culture here. Everybody wants to win, at least the players that are here. You want to put yourself in a good situation that you can develop your game, that you can get better and get the highest prize.

“I’m happy here. I went through some struggles but I’m really happy I’m part of this team. Everything looks good now.”

Dragic took five years and $85 million. He could have made more per year by signing hypothetically with the Knicks, who could have offered that $85 million over four years. He also could have pressured the Heat to top $90 million, knowing Riley gave up two draft picks for him.

But Dragic knew Wade was a free agent, and as a result, he didn’t push for more.

“If we didn’t sign D-Wade, that would not be good for us, because he is such a tremendous player and our leader,” Dragic said. “When you sign somewhere, you want to be around good players and good leaders.”

In taking a prorated amount of $1.4 million from the Heat, Johnson eschewed a $2.4 million offer from Oklahoma City and $2.8 million from Atlanta, in addition to a minimum offer from Cleveland, because “for me, it wasn’t about the money. It was more about being happy. I’ve been in a tough situation the past few years. I just felt for me and my family it was best to be here. At this stage of my career, it’s about what a guy is playing for.”

Johnson, who has made more than $190 million in his career, said the fact players keep taking less to play here “says a lot about the organization and how they handle things. It’s been great since I’ve been here. A lot of stories you hear about the Heat, it’s always positive. And it’s not a bad place to live, either.”

In Stoudemire’s case, he took the $1.4 million from Miami despite having “much higher offers. I had offers a little above the midlevel. I wanted to take that sacrifice in order to win.”

Though the Heat still had exception money available, Stoudemire said he never asked Riley for more money when they met last July.

The best sacrifice story in Heat history? It will be hard to top what Wade did for Haslem in 2010, and what Haslem did in return.

After James and Bosh agreed to join the Heat, “I said [to them], ‘Listen, who do we want on this team?’” Wade said. “It was consistent that we wanted UD on this team.  I wanted UD here for selfish reasons. I didn’t want him to have to go somewhere else. It’s his organization as much as mine.

“They wanted him here because they know what he brought to us – that toughness, that veteran leadership we needed. Everyone made a conscious decision on the phone and said, ‘Hey, how much we need to give back?’ I was willing to give more back because of our relationship. I would give more because UD means that much to me.”

Haslem, who had five-year, $34 million offers from Denver and Dallas, then agreed to take $20 million over five years from Miami. “Even though it was below what I was offered [elsewhere], it was worth it,” said Haslem, who was genuinely touched by the Big Three’s willingness to do this.

So why do Heat players keep taking less money to stay?

“It’s guys wanting to be a part of the players in the locker-room and just feeling you can be a part of something special,” Wade said. “I think that speaks volumes. It’s a beautiful city to play in. There are not many cities like this. A lot has to do with the organization and the individual players that have been here.

“When people hear millions of dollars [sacrificed], they go crazy. Nothing compares to winning. You can make all the money in the world, but if you want to win and you’ve never won, it’s going to mean something to you more than the actual dollar.”

That has been the case here, and in San Antonio, where the Spurs stars also keep sacrificing.

• For a lot of Heat nuggets from Monday, including why Dragic got a "mental day," click here.

CHATTER

• The Dolphins have used a sizable amount of their 30 predraft visits on cornerbacks and running backs, including Ohio State tailback Ezekiel Elliott, who is visiting Monday and Tuesday.

Among others summoned to Davie: Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd (potential second-rounder with 12.5 sacks last season), Texas A&M second-round offensive Germain Ifedi (Miami sees him as a guard, as our Armando Salguero noted), Rutgers receiver Leonte Carroo (20.7, 10 touchdowns in eight games last season) and Texas Tech receiver Jakeem Grant, who visited Monday, with a source confirming The National Football Post's report about Grant's visit.

Grant is an interesting prospect; he's only 5-6 but very explosive. Grant, who wasn't invited to the NFL Combine, ran a 4.38 in the 40 at his pro day and had a 36 1/2 inch vertical leap.

"With that speed and quickness, Grant could get a look as a return specialist in the NFL," NFL.com analyst and former Cowboys executive Gil Brandt said.

Grant returned four kickoffs for touchdowns in his carer at Texas Tech, including two last season. His overall college return average of 26.1 ranked just 54th nationally.

He also caught 90 passes for 1268 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.

Of Dodd, CBS’ Rob Rang and Dane Brugler said “based on traits, Dodd checks several boxes with the size, length, athleticism and strength potential to be effective in the NFL. He also improved his ball awareness and discipline as his reps increased last season, showing encouraging growth that indicates he isn't near his football ceiling. His quick, strong hands allow him to rip his way through would-be blocks and he uses his long arms to lasso ball carriers.”

Miami also has studied his defensive end teammate, Shaq Lawson, who’s an option at No. 13.

• The 2019 UM-UF football game in Orlando, which is nearly finalized, will be the season opener, UF athletic director Jeremy Foley e-mailed. That means UM will have tough consecutive openers: Miami plays LSU in Arlington, Tx. to open the 2018 season…

We hear UM four-star defensive end Scott Patchan sustained a torn ACL in the same knee for the second time. A UM official said last week that October is an optimistic timetable for his return, but Patchan isn't buying that. Patchan tweeted a few days ago that he doesn't plan to miss any games.      

• Privately, some involved are attributing Donald Trump’s polarizing views/persona for the PGA Tour’s difficulty so far finding a new title sponsor (to replace Cadillac) for the Doral tournament at Trump National Doral (which has left the tournament at risk) and for a drop in group ticket sales at last month’s event. Cadillac dropped its sponsorship for reasons unrelated to Trump.

The tournament is declining comment at the PGA’s request.

• Amazing: Per ESPN, Giancarlo Stanton’s number 450-foot home runs since 2009 (29) far exceed who’s No. 2 since then, Justin Upton (17). And Stanton didn't debut until 2010! 

And Stanton, according to Elias, has hit 10 home runs in the 31 games that he and Jose Fernandez have both started together. The Marlins are 9-0 in those games.

• Panthers coach Gerrard Gallant, with his team down 2-1 against the Islanders, said Monday: "I was happy with the game we played last night. Tough one to lose in overtime. We had a bad seven minutes.... I thought we played really good in three games. This series could be [2-1] the other way. Our young players have been outstanding for us."

Game 4 is Wednesday in Brooklyn.... Vincent Trocheck skated today, according to Gallant, and hopes to play in this series.... Roberto Luongo will start Wednesday night. "Luo's our guy," Gallant said.

• Panthers home attendance rose from 66.1 percent capacity to 80 this season (11,265 to 15,384) and TV ratings rose 43 percent, though games still drew audiences much, much smaller than Heat games (.025 percent of Miami-Dade/Broward homes compared with 4.5 for Heat).

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

April 18, 2016

Analysts suggest draft picks for Dolphins

Here’s how draft analysts weigh in on what the Dolphins’ should do at No. 13:

• NFL Network’s Mike Mayock: “If Elliott got to 13, they would have to be excited. He could go early as 4, 10 to the Giants, 11 to Chicago. William Jackson and Eli Apple are both a little raw for different reasons. I think I know what they want down there. They want long press corners for Vance Joseph. Both of them [Apple, Jackson] can do that.

“William Jackson has got better ball skills than Eli Apple. Eli Apple tackles a little better. Is it too early to take either of them? Not
really because there's going to be a run of corners. If they believe either can step in day one and compete, either would be really solid picks.”

• ESPN’s Mel Kiper: Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee: “[Colleague Todd] McShay will give me grief for taking Lee this high, but I like his upside and think he fits in early on as an outside linebacker who can get into gaps as a blitzer, cover in space and be a disruptive force on the defensive side of the ball. There are going to be growing pains, but I'm betting on Lee.”

He suggests Miami take Baylor cornerback Xavien Howard at 42:  “[There’s] a clear need at cornerback and Howard is a fit in the
second round. He's not coming in to fix the cornerback situation overnight, but that doesn't happen even with the top corners in the
draft, and the physical tools are there to develop.”

• McShay: Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson. “Mario Williams and Cameron Wake are both getting up there in age, so the Dolphins need to find a way to infuse some youth along their D-line in this draft. The more I watch Lawson, the more I love his game. It wasn't a fluke that he led the nation with 25.5 tackles for loss; he plays with a combination of quickness, power, technique and relentlessness that is hard to stifle."

• GM Junior’s Russ Lande: “Probably [Clemson corner] Mackensie Alexander would be my first choice. Sure, you would like to see more picks [he had none in college], but I’ll trade the picks for pass breakups.”

• NFL Net’s Charles Davis: Elliott, if there. If not, “and Hargreaves is still there, Hargreaves would be my highest rated
corner. It’s Hargreaves, Eli Apple, William Jackson, Alexander in that order. Hargreaves has everything.”

• CBS’ Rob Rang: Lee, an undersized former quarterback and safety “with outstanding athleticism, including closing speed and
explosiveness as a hitter. Miami’s linebackers struggled to make big plays a year ago. Lee remains a bit raw after leaving Ohio State as just a redshirt sophomore but his talent is obvious.”

• NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein: Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd. “Cameron Wake will be a 35-year-old free agent next season, and Mario Williams appears to be a band-aid addition to the defensive front. In other words, defensive end could definitely be in play here despite the Dolphins' need at cornerback.”

Monday Heat notes (an eye-grabbing trend from Charlotte; Dragic; Wright and more); Dolphins add former Patriots starter

In an under-the-radar pickup, the Dolphins have claimed former Patriots starting defensive tackle Chris Jones off waivers.

Houston cut Jones in training camp in 2013 after drafting him in the sixth round out of Bowling Green that April. Tampa then picked him up and released him after a short stint, but the Patriots then signed him and made him into a productive starter.

Jones, who is 6-1 and 295 pounds, had 11 starts, six sacks and 54 tackles in 2013.

Then he had 12 starts, three sacks and 25 tackles in 2014.

He spent last season on the physically unable to perform list with a calf injury, and the Patriots cut him on Friday.

The Dolphins were looking for more depth at defensive tackle behind Ndamukong Suh, Earl Mitchell and Jordan Phillips. Earlier this offseason, they conveyed interest in re-signing CJ Mosley, who was cut by the Dolphins after an injury last season, but nothing has materialized yet on that front.

Jones, 25, is due $1.7 million, non-guaranteed, in 2016.

HEAT TALK

Please check out Manny's and Ethan's Heat blog for a look at Hassan Whiteside's interesting reaction to finishing third in Defensive Player of the Year voting. And please click here to see who voted for Whiteside and some famous people who left him off their ballots altogether.

Some other Heat nuggets from Monday:

• Determined to make sure his team is not overconfident after a 32-point win in Game 1 on Sunday, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra came armed with ammunition on Monday, pointing out Charlotte’s success this season in games following blowouts.

“Every time they’ve had a double-digit loss this year, they’ve come back to win,” Spoelstra said. "That’s for a reason. They’re well coached. They have gritty, tough players.”

Well, actually, the Hornets haven’t done it every time, but more often that not. Charlotte was 11-6 this season in games immediately following double-digit losses. Four of those wins came against Toronto, Memphis, Indiana and Boston.

What’s more, since Jan. 30, Charlotte has won five in a row --- by an average of 15 points per game --- after double-digit losses. (The wins came against the Lakers, Indiana, Phoenix, Orlando and Boston.)

“The biggest adjustment they're going to make,” Heat forward Luol Deng said, “is they're going to play a lot harder than they did.” 

And Goran Dragic said: "We expect a totally different game. They're going to come out with a lot of energy.”

• Dragic said the combination of running an offense, trying to play at an up-tempo pace when the opportunity arises and being pinballed on screens while trying to defend explosive Kemba Walker can be exhausting.

Spoelstra said he gave Dragic “a mental day” break from practice Monday, allowing him to get “ice baths" and observe.

“They're going to screen. They're going to hit you, try to get their guys open,” Spoelstra said. "The more they create that separation that leads to extra defenders on the ball, which in turn leads to three-point opportunities for them…. [Dragic] is a conscientious, determined defender. He’s embraced how we do things.”

Walker scored 19 points, two below his regular-season average, but had just one assist and two turnovers. Dragic scored only nine but played a great floor game (10 assists, 1 turnover).

Though Dragic said he was fueled by energy and adrenaline, he admits this series is challenging “especially when you're defending such a quick guy and terrific guy [in Walker]. You try to save energy on offense. It's tough. Most of the time I play pick and roll, they're blitzing me. I've got to get off the ball and pass to the open guy. It's different.”

• The Heat was whistled for 24 fouls in Game 1, easily topping its 18.3 average this season (fourth-fewest in the league).

Only two Heat opponents shot more free throws against the Heat than Charlotte’s 37 on Sunday.

“I think we came out with so much aggression,” Spoelstra said. “It’s unlike us. For the most part this season, we’ve had habits of not fouling.”

• With Deng making 11 of 13 shots in Game 1 and Whiteside hitting 9 for 11, they became just the second pair of teammates in the shot-clock era (since 1954-55) to shoot better than 80% while attempting at least 10 field goals in a playoff game, according to Elias.

The first also did that for the Heat: Shaquille O'Neal (12-for-14) and Jason Williams (10-for-12) in Game 6 of the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals against Detroit.   

Also, Deng’s 84.6 percent shooting was the second-highest in Heat playoff history, behind O’Neal aforementioned game.

• Dorell Wright, who scored eight points in four minutes to end Game 1 in his first Heat appearance since April 2010, is already “very immersed in the Heat’s system,” Spoelstra said.

 “He’s spending a lot of time in pre-practice and working to fast-track. The most important thing is he’s a Heat guy. So his work ethic, he’s the first one here. That speaks volumes to everybody else. I think what you saw even in those minutes when the game was out of reach, that he has veteran experience and a definable skill that you can throw out there. That won’t ever change. He can shoot the ball."

Wright, referencing the old sitcom Married with Children, cracked after Game 1: “I have a new nickname for myself. It’s Al Bundy. I’m straight off the couch.”

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz.... Please check back late tonight, or in the morning, for lots more Heat, plus Dolphins, UM, Panthers and Marlins. 

April 17, 2016

9 a.m. update: Whiteside finishes 3rd in Def. Player of Year voting and unmasking voting; Whiteside's dominance; the neat Winslow/Wade moment and a lot of nuggets/reaction from Heat's playoff opener

9 a.m. update: Hassan Whiteside very much wanted to win the Defensive Player of the Year award. Despite finishing with the NBA's highest blocks per game average since 2000-01 (Theo Ratliff), he'll have to settle for a third place finish.

The NBA announced today that the Spurs' Kawhi Leonard won the media vote, with 547 votes (as part of a weighted vote factoring in first, second and third place votes). Golden State's Draymond Green was second with 421 and Whiteside third with 83. The rest of the top five: the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan (50) and Atlanta's Paul Millsap (21).

Leonard got 84 first-place votes, Green 44 and Whiteside two. Of the 130 voters, the two who voted were Whiteside: Heat announcer Eric Reid and Hornets announcer and former NBA guard David Wesley.

Voters submitted three names (first, second and third place) and a bunch of them didn't even list Whiteside.

Seven prominent ones who fall into that category: HBO's Bill Simmons (had Leonard, Green, Millsap as his top three), ESPN's Brian Windhorst (Green, Leonard, Tony Allen), ESPN's Hubie Brown (Green, Leonard, Jordan), TNT's Marv Albert (Leonard, Jordan, Green) and TNT's Ernie Johnson (Green, Leonard, Avery Bradley); ESPN's Michael Wilbon (Leonard, Green, Jordan); ABC's Mike Breen (Leonard, Green, Jordan).

Of the 17 national announcers who work national jobs for rights-holders ESPN or TNT, only four put Whiteside on their ballots: Chris Broussard, Jon Barry, Mike Tirico, Mark Stein. All had him third.

Seventeen players got votes. Whiteside was the only Heat player who received votes. LeBron James got two third place votes.

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The Heat's playoff opener was a breeze, a 123-91 stomping of Charlotte, with Miami setting a record for points in a postseason game (eclipsing the 121 against Oklahoma City in the NBA Finals). Luol Deng was magnificent, with 31, and Ethan will have a column about him posted later.

Beyond Deng, a bunch of other stuff from Game 1:

•  So now we know: Postseason Hassan Whiteside is very much like regular-season Hassan Whiteside: highly productive, efficient, disruptive defensively and prone to dunking on people and then celebrating with a bicep flex.

Not that anyone should have been surprised, considering Heat president Pat Riley said last month of Whiteside’s evolution: “In my 50 years [in the NBA], I have never seen that kind of phenomenon.”

In his NBA playoff debut, Whiteside was a force, filling the box score with 21 points (on 9 of 11 shooting), 11 rebounds and three blocks in 26 minutes.

“I tried to do everything perfect,” Whiteside said. “It’s a blessing for me to play in the playoffs against my hometown team.”

He set the tone early, scoring 10 points to help the Heat build a 28-15 lead in the first nine minutes. Then he added nine points, five rebounds and two blocks in the third, helping the Heat stretch a 17-point halftime lead to 23 after three.

“He was laser focused and locked in,” Dwyane Wade said. “I love when he’s communicating on the defense end. He dominated the game like he should.”

Despite Whiteside’s early dominance, Hornets coach Steve Clifford said he would continue to start Cody Zeller and bring Al Jefferson, one of his most accomplished players, off the bench.

“I wouldn’t see the point in changing our lineup right now,” Clifford said. “We have to be able to score with Al Jefferson in the post because Hassan Whiteside does struggle to guard him in the post.”

Whiteside, who was three for five on free throws, scored 12 of his 21 points with Zeller in the game, nine with Jefferson on the floor. Five of his nine baskets were dunks, and three others were within two feet.

"We made it easy for him," Jefferson said. "He's too talented and the guys around him play with him too well. He got easy shots and offensive rebounds and dunk after dunk. You got to make it tough for him. You've got to make it physical for him, and we didn't do that."

The Heat outscored Charlotte by 19 during Whiteside's 26 minutes.

“I didn’t try to put any pressure on myself,” Whiteside said. “I just tried to play as hard as I could and hope for the best.”

In Game 1, Zeller had nine points, seven rebounds and was a minus 20 in 20 minutes. Jefferson had 13 points and five rebounds and was a minus 11 in 23 minutes.

In one third-quarter sequence, Whiteside forced a Jefferson miss in the post, grabbed the rebound and dunked on a lob from Goran Dragic on the other end.

“I feel like I handled [the Jefferson matchup] well,” Whiteside said. “He’s a really good post player.”

Clifford said there are two ways “to try to keep Whiteside’s shot-blocking at a minimum, which we haven’t been good at.
One is obviously if you can post the ball and go directly at him. The other way is to move him around.”

Neither especially worked in Game 1.

What pleased Erik Spoelstra was Whiteside’s “approach to the details,” including on “screening, pick and roll coverage, protecting the rim… It was very good.”

Whiteside’s playoff christening wasn’t perfect, as his friend, Shaquille O’Neal, pointed out in TNT’s studio at halftime.

“I saw good Hassan; I saw bad Hassan,” O’Neal said. “He’s got to understand this is the time of year you make a name for yourself.”

O’Neal criticized Whiteside for slapping at the ball in one sequence, allowing Jefferson to drive around him.

“This was stupid Whiteside,” said O’Neal, who dined with Whiteside on Lincoln Road during the All-Star break. “He’s got to stop doing silly stuff.”

For the most part, though, this was a splendid initial playoff sojourn for Whiteside, who’s poised to get a max contract this summer.

Wade said "the growth for him is going to be how he's going to make the adjustment once they make the adjustment to him."

Whiteside, still motivated against one of many teams that passed on him, said he felt energized tonight.

“I really felt at home,” Whiteside said. “My last name being Whiteside; I really love seeing a lot of white” with the Heat again using a White Hot postseason theme.

 ROOKIE TALK         

Udonis Haslem spent the past few days counseling rookies Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson about the type of intensity to expect in the playoffs.

 Both seemed thoroughly prepared, and hardly overwhelmed, by the moment, in Game 1 on Sunday.

 “We need them to not play like rookies and the special ones don’t,” Dwyane Wade said. “These guys have been locked into what they have to do and they’ve been doing it.”

Winslow played efficiently (eight points, four rebounds, one assists, one steal, a drawn charge and a plus 18 in 27 minutes) and outperformed Charlotte’s Frank Kaminsky, the player who was selected ninth, one spot ahead of him in last June’s draft. Kaminsky was scoreless in 18 minutes.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford told me earlier this season that Charlotte’s decision to take Kaminsky over Winslow “was difficult, because Justise is a good player. But so much of it is need. Justise’s position, that versatile three/four, is what we have in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist [who missed most of the season with injury]. But we were really high on Frank anyway.”

Winslow and Kaminsky posted similar numbers this season. Kaminsky averaged more points (7.5 to 6.4), Winslow more rebounds (5.2 to 4.1) and Winslow shot narrowly better (42.2 to 41.0). Winslow played 2232 minutes, Kaminsky 1708, with both players appearing in at least 78 games.

During one neat moment, Winslow made a Eurostep move, which Wade has perfected, and Winslow pointed to acknowledge Wade.

“The moment was perfect to give him a salute,” Winslow said. “I did the move facing our bench. It was cool to pay tribute, to pay respect for the mentorship we had the past six months."

Wade said Winslow “is a student of the game. That’s my guy. I love that guy. He's one of the best rooks I think that I've had here. He just turned 20 years old. He's a fast learner.”

As for Richardson, he shot just 3 for 11 but hit two threes, scored eight points, had five rebounds and three assists and was a plus 22 in 34 minutes.

Richardson led the league in three-point shooting since the All-Star break at 53.3 percent (48 for 90).

• In his 100th playoff game, Erik Spoelstra won for the 64th time. That’s the fifth most wins by a coach in his first 100 playoff games. Pat Riley and Phil Jackson own the record with 71. Chuck Daly had 66, Billy Cunningham 65.

• The Heat has gone on to win 16 of the 20 playoff series in which it won the first game, including 14 of the past 15, dating back to Wade’s first postseason.

• The Heat has won 12 consecutive first-round playoff games at home, dating to a 2010 loss to Boston… Miami has scored 100 points or more in 16 consecutive home games.

• Besides setting a franchise-record scoring mark, the Heat’s 41 first-quarter points tied for its most in any quarter of a playoff game in franchise history. The Heat also scored 41 in 2006 against the Nets.

• The 32-point margin of victory is tied for the fourth highest in franchise postseason history. The largest: a 37-point win against Chicago in the 2013.

• Dwyane Wade scored 16 points and moved past Kobe Bryant for second-most postseason points since 2004 (with 3497). Only LeBron James (5044) has scored more in postseason since then.

• The Hornets have lost 11 postseason games in a row, third longest in NBA history and just two behind the Knicks’ record (13 playoff losses in a row from 2001 through 2012).

• Udonis Haslem, who played one minute, is playing through the pain of a torn plantar fascia on his left foot.

“I’ve seen the man play through, literally, a broken foot for two months in the playoffs,” Spoelstra said.

• The Heat’s increase from 96 points per game before the All-Star break to 107.4 after was the biggest such jump in NBA history, according to Turner Sports.

• Dorell Wright, appearing in a game for the Heat for the first time since April 2010, entered late and scored eight points in the game’s final four minutes, including two three-pointers.

"I have a new nickname for myself," Wright said. "It's Al Bundy, I'm straight off the couch. I've been working through."

• Goran Dragic had just nine points (2 for 8 shooting) but played a great floor game, with 10 assists and 1 turnover.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

April 16, 2016

Lots of thoughts, postscripts, reaction, stats from UM's spring scrimmage; Dolphins bring in veteran

Fifteen nuggets and thoughts from UM’s spring football game this afternoon at Lockhart Stadium:

• Brad Kaaya completed an impressive spring with a strong day, finishing 29 for 47 for 345 yards and three touchdowns: two to Chris Herndon and another to Braxton Berrios. He had at least five passes dropped, including two by David Njoku.

He threw one interception, on a great play by Corn Elder, but was generally sharp. He hadn't thrown a pick in two previous scrimmages this spring.

“I handled it pretty well,” he said of learning Mark Richt’s offense. “I mastered it pretty well.”

 He said this summer is about “improving footwork” and mastering the offense to the level Aaron Murray did under Richt at Georgia. “I watch a lot of Aaron Murray; he was like a machine; every single [time] he did the right thing.”

• There was no clarity with the backup quarterback job, and Richt withheld judgment.

None of the four stood out above the others. Malik Rosier was 2 for 6 for 27 yards; Evan Shirreffs 1 for 5 for 11 yards and an interception to Jaquan Johnson at the end of the first half (Richt blamed himself for calling the play); and Vincent Testaverde was 1 for 6 for 4 yards.

UM didn’t give statistics for Jack Allison, but he had a couple of incompletions and threw at least one potential pick.

• Berrios was terrific, contorting his body to make a couple of his eight catches for 127 yards. He showed good speed on his 43-yard touchdown reception from Kaaya.

When a reporter said he looked fast, he joked that the reporter sounded surprised. He said his speed is a function of finally feeling healthy. “Braxton got a lot better,” Kaaya said.

Among the other receivers, Cager caught five passes for 58 yards but dropped an easy one when he was all alone. Malcolm Lewis caught two for 28 and Darrell Langham 2 for 27.

Richt repeatedly indicated he didn’t think the second team receivers (who were Darrell Langham and walk-ons) were able to create much separation.

Richt cited a “lack of guys able to make plays [on the second unit]. Defensive backs swallowed up the second unit of receivers. It was tough sledding with the second team on offense.”

When I asked Richt if he expects freshmen receivers Sam Bruce, Ahmmon Richards and Dionte Mullins and JC pickup Dayall Harris will play right away this fall, he said: “They’ll have to play. These guys will get a boatload of opportunities. If they’re not afraid to play major college football, they will play in the games.”

• Among the tight ends, Herndon had a big day, with six catches for 76 yards, including the touchdowns of 13 and 22 yards. Njoku had four for 17 but also dropped two passes. Standish Dobard caught one pass for four yards before an undisclosed injury.

• Mark Walton outperformed Joe Yearby, Walton finishing with 56 yards on 10 carries, with Yearby limited to seven yards on seven carries. Gus Edwards was effective with the second team offense, rushing 16 times for 57 yards.

And Richt made a point to note how Trayone Gray “has really elevated himself” this spring, though his stat line Saturday was mediocre (8 carries for 20 yards).

• Defensively, the first group was Chad Thomas and Al Quadin Muhammad at defensive end; RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton at defensive tackle; Shaquille Quarterman, Mike Pinckney and Jermaine Grace at linebacker; Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter at safety; and Corn Elder and Sheldrick Redwine at corner.

The second team defense included Trent Harris and Demetrius Jackson at defensive end, Gerald Willis and Courtel Jenkins at tackle; Juwon Young, Zach McCloud and Mike Smith at linebacker; Robert Knowles and Johnson at safety; and Ryan Mayes and Michael Jackson at cornerback.

• Among the defensive linemen, Demetrius Jackson, Willis, AQM and Thomas – in particular --- got pressure on the quarterback. Willis was credited with two sacks. AQM and Jackson were each credited with a sack.

UM credited its other sacks to linebackers Grace and Quarterman (one apiece). Quarterman had seven tackles Saturday and was usually around the ball. The kid is the real deal.

Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz spoke afterward about how impressive it is for Quarterman, Pinckney and McCloud to make such an impact as early enrollees.

“What all three did is not easy to do and they deserve a lot of credit,” Diaz said. “They certainly made a mark.”

Young, playing with the second group, led UM with eight tackles, according to stats provided by the school.

• Elder was beaten on several plays but also made two terrific ones: the interception on Kaaya and an exceptional play on a pass to Berrios in the end zone. He also had a third pass breakup on Cager. “Elder had a great day,” Diaz said.

Redwine was beaten at times at the other cornerback spot, but he wasn’t awful by any means. A No. 3 corner still needs to emerge. Michael Jackson dropped a potential interception on a poor throw by Allison. Terrence Henley had a deflection.

• Diaz has been irritated by poor tackling in his defensive backfield. He said it improved Saturday with one glaring exception: Jamal Carter whiffed on a tackle on one of Herndon’s touchdowns.

• Diaz seems puzzled by the lack of enthusiasm by his players after a good play. “They make a good play and walk like they’re going to detention,” he said. “We do something good and don’t get excited about it.”

Elder said that might be a function of defensive players still learning the defense and “guys trying to perfect everything. But [Diaz] says he wants to see us excited when we make plays.”

• Michael Badgley made a 27-yard field goal but was wide right from 44. Overall, he had a good spring.

• Several Hurricanes didn’t play: Stacy Coley (hamstring), center Nick Linder (shoulder), linebacker Darrion Owens (knee), center Alex Gall (knee), right tackle Sunny Odogwu (knee), defensive end Scott Patchan (knee) and fullback Gage Batten.

Gall was on crutches but Richt said he won’t require surgery and will be back for the fall. Linder should elevate this offensive line when he returns.

• With Linder and Gall out, Tyler Gauthier got reps at center. Richt said the offensive line play overall was “not bad. The [defense] was blitzing and twisting and we ran the ball well at times.”

• After the scrimmage, Richt told his players he was “thankful for how much hard work you put in” but “we’ve got to learn to finish better” and the “only way to get there is staying conditioned.”

He also said this “time of year, all kinds of stupid stuff happens all around the country,” making clear he wants his players to avoid trouble.

Richt told us that lack of depth is one concern of his with this roster.

• Richt said more than 300 alums came to a function on Friday night and “we enjoyed each other’s company, shot the breeze, told war stories.”

Former players and coaches were allowed to stand on the sidelines at Saturday's game -- a group that included Edgerrin James and for a time, Howard Schnellenberger.

For my Saturday morning post on the Dolphins bringing in a veteran player for a look (plus lots of Heat and media notes from Friday night), please click here. Twitter: @flasportsbuzz