Heat signs conference player of year; Examining Dolphins' undrafted rookies, who face an uphill climb; plus Dolphins notes
Quick Heat note today before we get to the Dolphins: The Heat, which already has 15 players signed to fully or partially guaranteed contracts, signed a 16th today: forward Stefan Jankovich, a sweet-shooting 6-11 power forward who was Big West Player of the Year at Hawaii last season.
Jankovich averaged 15.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.21 blocks, 1.2 assists and 24.7 minutes in 33 games (all starts) while shooting 54.3 percent from the floor, 39.3 percent from three-point range and 77.2 percent from the line. He helped the Rainbow Warriors capture the Big West Tournament Championship and advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
In addition to being selected to the All-Big West First Team and to the Big West All-Tournament Team, he led Hawaii in points, rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage for the season and topped the Big West Conference in free throws made and attempted.
He averaged 7.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 13.5 minutes for the Heat in the Orlando Summer League while shooting 53.3 percent (8-of-15) from the field, 40 percent (2-of-5) from three-point range and 80 percent (4-of-5) from the foul line. Entering today, he had logged 26 minutes in two games for the Heat's Summer League team in Las Vegas.
Teams can carry as many as 15 players during the regular season and as many as 20 in training camp.
During a decade of mediocrity, one positive constant has been the Dolphins’ ability to find undrafted rookie contributors: Davone Bess, Dan Carpenter, Damien Williams, Zach Vigil and Neville Hewitt, among others.
But with training camp two weeks away, each of the Dolphins’ 12 undrafted rookies face uphill climbs to make the 53-man roster, though several figure to end up on the 10-man practice squad.
Iowa kicker Marshall Koehn, expected to challenge incumbent Andrew Franks, enters camp as a clear underdog; Franks was more consistent in the offseason program.
San Jose State rookie Ryan DiSalvo, who improved during the latter stages of May/June practices, has a chance to unseat veteran snapper John Denney. Miami would save $650,000 against the cap it keeps DiSalvo instead.
Draft analyst Tony Pauline cited former Louisville linebacker and Homestead High alum James Burgess (90 tackles last season, seven career interceptions) and ex-Florida Tech tight end Gabe Hughes (32 catches, 566 yards, three touchdowns) as Miami’s undrafted rookies that he believes are best equipped to make a team. But both are underdogs to make the 53.
Burgess --- who had 19 passes defended over the past three years, including two against Jameis Winston (and an interception against him) --- wasn’t drafted primarily because of his size (5-11, 227).
“But he should have been drafted,” Pauline said. “Fast, explosive, makes plays around the ball. Traditional weakside linebacker. Size is the only limitation. He would be a nickel linebacker. The concern is he’ll get smothered at the point of attack. Could be an eighth linebacker.”
Burgess said six teams contacted him after the draft but he picked Miami because it’s close to home (Florida City) and “I feel like I can make this team.”
He said some Hurricanes fans have lashed out at him on Twitter because he flipped his commitment from UM to Louisville on National Signing Day four years ago. He said he simply “felt comfortable with [then-Louisville coach] Charlie Strong” more so than he did with then-UM coach Al Golden.
“It was the best decision for my career,” he said. “Played in a bowl game every year. Won a BCS bowl.”
The Dolphins have two other undrafted rookie linebackers: Boise State’s Tyler Gray (51 tackles, three sacks last season) and Akil Blount, who had 75 tackles and returned two interceptions for touchdowns at Florida A&M last season and is the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Mel Blount.
As for Hughes,“if he doesn't make the 53, he will be on practice squad,” Pauline predicted. “Terrific pass catching tight end.” Hughes said his biggest college offers were from Western Michigan, Toledo and Samford.
Former UM receiver Rashawn Scott, who caught 52 passes for 695 yards and five touchdowns for the Hurricanes last season, made a bunch of catches in the offseason program and has polished his route running while working with ex-Dolphins receiver Chris Chambers. But odds are heavily stacked against him and Temple receiver Brandon Shippen, Miami’s other undrafted rookie receiver. One or both could make the practice squad.
Pauline says keep an eye on cornerback Lafayette Pitts, who had four interceptions in four years as a starter at Pittsburgh but was buried on the depth chart in Miami’s offseason program. “When I watched Pitts as a sophomore, I thought he had Darrelle Revis type potential,” Pauline said. “Then his game leveled off. Maybe practice squad.”
The Dolphins' other undrafted rookies: ex-Maryland cornerback A.J. Hendy, former Kentucky defensive end Farrington Huguenin and Toledo guard/center Ruben Carter.
DUARTE PLAYS CATCH UP
• Hughes is waging his long-shot bid for the No. 3 tight end job against veteran imcumbent Jake Stoneburner (five catches, 57 yards and two touchdowns for the Dolphins last season), MarQueis Gray (29 NFL games, 12 catches), Dominique Jones (13 NFL games, three receptions) and Thomas Duarte.
One of Miami’s three seventh-round picks, Duarte not only must catch up after missing all but three of the Dolphins’ offseason practices because of classes at UCLA, but also must prove he is capable of inline blocking, something he practiced last season but said he never once was asked to do in a game.
How good can he be at in-line blocking? "No idea,” he said. “The Dolphins believe in my athletic ability and my ability to become a tight end. So I'm happy with that.”
Said Adam Gase: “We will like his skill set as a receiver. We will see when we get pads on in training camp as far as a run blocker and pass protector.”
• The Dolphins, in recent years, have never felt better about their depth at offensive tackle than they do now.
Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said: “This is going to be the most depth at tackle I've ever been around" and he won't have to "open your newspaper and find a left tackle in the classified." Branden Albert, Ja’Wuan James, Laremy Tunsil, Jermon Bushrod, Sam Young and Dallas Thomas can all play tackle, and Billy Turner said he has received reps there.
• In Sports Illustrated’s ongoing series of exclusive videos on former Dolphins running back Ricky Williams, his wife, Kristin, said Williams had an opportunity to avoid a suspension by submitting someone else’s sample, but didn’t do it.
"The one test where he got caught that had him suspended for the four months, we could have switched it that day if we wanted to,” Kristin said. “That guy, we knew him so well … he tested Ricky and left them both [samples] sitting on the counter and left for 45 minutes and then came back. But Ricky's an honest person. That thought never entered his mind I don't think…. When the drug testers would come, some of them were like family.”
Williams told SI.com that he believes 60 to 70 percent of NFL players use marijuana.
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