July 22, 2015

Wednesday Dolphins, Heat, Marlins nuggets; Bill Simmons' new home; Al Golden opines on team

Notes on a Wednesday:

### Dolphins teammates have been impressed by rookie Tony Lippett's transition from receiver to cornerback --- Jarvis Landry said his size (6-3) and length make it very challenging for receivers --- and Lippett has approached this very conscientiously.

He said he has been studying tape of tall cornerbacks.

"I've looked at Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman and a lot of tall corners to see how they move," Lippett said. “I know it’s a little challenging for us to move against short guys.”

As a cornerback, Lippett played only 88 snaps the past three years at Michigan State (all as a senior) but earned positive grades against both Rutgers and Penn State. He was thrown at nine times, had four pass breakups and allowed three receptions.

Safety Michael Thomas said “you see the raw skills” with Lippett. “I told him that the way he comes in with a swag ---  like, ‘I'm going to go up and try to catch everything,’ ---  reminds me of somebody I went to school with [at Stanford] who's doing pretty well [Seattle All-Pro Sherman]. I like the way he's competing.”

### Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry, speaking to the New Orleans Times Picayune this week about Miami adding former Saints receiver Kenny Stills: "As the Dolphins, we've always been known as a .500 team. Can’t get over the hump. Can’t make the playoffs. As many weapons as we can add, I’m really appreciative of it because it allows us to be that much more successful.”

### Talking to NBA people at the Las Vegas Summer League, I heard lots of positive feedback last week on Heat addition Amar’e Stoudemire: professional, liked by teammates and doesn’t miss games for minor ailments. Though he has missed a lot of games, his knee must really be acting up for him to sit out.

### Among ways for Miami to make room for impressive rookie guard Josh Richardson: Cutting Henry Walker, finding a taker for Mario Chalmers and choosing between James Ennis and Tyler Johnson.

Walker (who, like Ennis and Johnson, has a non-guaranteed deal) seems most at risk. Walker said his ankle was healthy enough for him to play in Las Vegas, but Heat Summer League coach Dan Craig sat him and told Walker he wanted to “evaluate other guys,” according to Walker.

When Don Shula used to say about veterans: “We know what he can do,” it wasn’t a good sign.

Said Walker: “I don’t worry about it. I worked myself into a good position to be back in the NBA.”

### Despite his summer league struggles, the Heat likes Ennis and has given him positive feedback. Miami is paying for him to participate in a skill development camp in California, which suggests he has a good chance to survive the Aug. 1 deadline when half of his contract becomes guaranteed.

### We hesitate to ever read anything into comments by Chalmers on social media, because he has said in the past that others have misinterpreted his sometimes cryptic messages, that some of his comments that appear related to basketball actually aren't. 

So with that caveat, we present this Tuesday Instagram post from Chalmers, who is being shopped in a trade:

Against the backdrop of Kansas' gymnasium, Chalmers posted: "Back on our old stomping grounds. Had to get away to get my mind right. ###Itseitheryouwantmeoryoudon't

Earlier in the week, Chalmers told The Lawrence Journal-World: "I would definitely love to stay in Miami."

### Former longtime network lead baseball analyst Tim McCarver, in town recently, said one reason why the Marlins’ disappointing season is so surprising is because “they’re the most athletic team” in baseball. “Dee Gordon and Adeiny Hechavarria can make the spectacular play look routine.”

But… “I don’t like managerial changes during the season," McCarver said. "Baseball more than any other sport does that and it’s befuddled me for years, why baseball succumbs to the pressure because a manager in baseball may have less to do with the team than a coach in football, basketball or hockey. Very few times does a team rise above that.”

### The Marlins have received several inquires on Mat Latos, who helped his trade value with a strong seven inning performance in Tuesday's 3-0 win against Arizona.

### Noon update: Bill Simmons, whose contract was not renewed by ESPN, is joining HBO to host a weekly talk show beginning in 2016 and help the network develop sports programming and documentaries. He also will host a podcast. The talk show will focus on sports and pop culture. Simmons is among the nation's most popular sportswriters, if not the most popular.



With UM losing more than half a dozen of its top players off a 6-7 team, what exactly can coach Al Golden count on as being strengths? Golden said Tuesday there are “two things that jump out the most:

“A veteran quarterback [Brad Kaaya] with command, presence and leadership capability and a veteran defense [with] 25 of the top 30 back. We get [defensive end] Al-Quadin Muhammad back. We get [safety Rayshawn] Jenkins back. All the nose tackles that were first-year players are back. Excellent leader in the middle with [linebackerRaphael] Kirby. This is the strongest we’ve been in the front seven. Deon Bush is healthy. Veteran secondary.”

And there’s this: “We have more pass rushers than we’ve had. Many more than we’ve had.”

Golden offered thoughts on his roster, by position:

### Quarterback: Kaaya “has bridged from being a leader to being a commander,” Golden said. “He’s really comfortable in his own skin. When he was a rookie, it was very difficult to ask him to be a leader of the team. No question this year he’s the leader of the offense if not the leader of the team. He’s not a screamer. Very respectful.

“His work ethic is elite, backs it up every day. His body is the biggest difference right now. This time last year, he was 230 pounds. Now he’s 209. He’s quicker and faster. His decisions are better.

“We’re already asking him to do so much more. He would tell you he’s doing more now at the line of scrimmage. His command is better. Can you do more with a veteran quarterback? Yes.”

Golden said backup Malik Rosier “did a lot of good things this spring. He does some things Brad can’t do. We’ll continue to develop packages for him.”

### Running back: “Whether it’s by committee or competition, we don’t want to have a decline there at all” from Duke Johnson, Golden said. “Gus [Edwards is] a very unique running back. He’s 240 pounds. He posted our fastest, if not one of the two or three fastest, on the GPS in the spring; he hit 21 miles per hour. Big back. Working really hard on his body. He will get an unbelievable opportunity."

Golden said he supports Joe Yearby, who’s away from the team dealing with a personal issue but is not suspended. "He’s doing what he needs to do. It’s intensely personal. He’s got our support. This is what he needs to do to become the type of young man he wants to become."

On the field, Yearby "is shifty, makes you miss, great lateral mobility and can cut," Golden said. "We can deploy him like Duke, can put him out [as a receiver] in empty [backfield sets]. He’s tough as nails.

Trayone Gray has made progress; hopefully, we left immaturity with him behind. Very proud of him. Very focused. Very talented kid. Big back at 216 pounds; he was 225. Hard to bring him down.”

And freshman Mark Walton “has made his presence known this summer. He is going to [have] a lot of opportunities.”

### Receiver: “I’m excited about that group. We lost Philip [Dorsett] but Stacy [Coley]had a good offseason” and his “overall strength” has improved, allowing him “to get off press [coverage],” Golden said. “He has a much better approach in the weight room. He’s a much better all-around receiver than he was last year.”

Golden said UM needs Coley to continue excelling with bubble screens but “we need him to be not just that.”

Beyond Coley, “We get Rashawn Scott back. Braxton Berrios has done really well this summer. Braxton posted one of the top 40 times this summer.

Malcolm Lewis is the leanest he’s been since the [gruesome 2012 ankle] injury. He’s 195 pounds…. Herb [Waters] is as big as he’s been. He’s 197 pounds. We have the long kids –[Tyre] Brady, [Darrell] Langham. That gives us a little more of a red zone factor, too. I wouldn’t trade [receiver] groups with anybody.”

### Offensive line: Asked if he can enter camp counting on anyone in particular to be a clear-cut starter, he said: “I’m comfortable with whoever comes out of the race. We have three centers [with Nick Linder atop the depth chart], maybe more. There have been a lot of times we didn’t have three. Nick and Alex Gall can play in there. Having[Hunter] Knighton back will help us tremendously in there.

“At guard, how ever it shakes out, with [Danny] Isidora and [HunterWells and… Gall has had a really good summer. At tackle, Kc McDermott was playing for us a year ago.Trevor Darling was starting for us. We have other guys: Sunny Odogu had a good spring, Jahair Jones. We have some young guys. [Incoming freshman] Tyree St. Louishad a good summer.”

### Tight end: Despite losing Clive Walford to the Oakland Raiders, “overall, we’re deeper and stronger than we were,” Golden said. “Clive taught them well. As much as what [tight ends coach] Larry [Scott] and [offensive coordinator] James [Coley] have taught them, Clive has taught them well. He left a high standard there…

Stan Dobard is being a great leader. [Chris] Herndon is very talented; he’s 260 pounds and really fast. [David] Njoku put on 40 pounds and has adapted. Jerome Washingtonhad had a really good summer.”

### Defensive tackle: Golden said Ufomba Kamalu and Calvin Heurtelou have emerged.

And “I’m really excited about Michael [Wyche],” Golden said. “He’s doing great in his conditioning. Will Michael Wyche make an impact at his body weight and being in the condition he’s in? Yes. [Remember], he had an Achilles [injury] last year [when he arrived].

“That group – Courtel JenkinsEarl Moore is going to benefit from being redshirted,[Anthony] Moten. It’s a much deeper group, much more veteran group.”

Golden touched only briefly on his defensive ends (Trent Harris, AQMDemetrius Jackson at rush end; Jelani Hamilton, Chad Thomas, Kamalu at the other end spot) but said Tyriq McCord will continue to play some end, even though he’s primarily at strongside linebacker now.

### Linebacker: Golden said the communication is much better and it starts with Kirby. If you’re good up the middle and with safeties in terms of communication and leadership, you can do a lot of things.”

Starting linebacker Jermaine Grace has “got high end ability,” Golden said. “He’s always been able to strike, very physical player. He’s one of the fastest players on the team. He’s much stronger, much bigger. Hopefully [will be] around 220 range. He’s 215 now. Got a little work to do now to get him to 220. He cares. He wants to do it right. Kirby has been tremendous for him.”

As for McCord, Golden said he’s “physically the strongest he has been in his career.” With McCord and Darrion Owens, “that SAM position is a lot better than year ago. Both those guys can rush the passer.”

### Safety: Golden said “that competition is going to be awesome. Will be interesting to see how that shakes out.”

Deon Bush, Dallas CrawfordJamal Carter and Jenkins are all competing to start and everyone raves about freshman Jaquan Johnson.  

“Deon Bush is really [showing] maturity,” Golden said. “I really appreciate the growth in his game over the last four months. He’s being more audible, communicating more. He’s very talented.

“Dallas gives you that maturity and poise. Very physical player. Jamal is really physically gifted; he’s doing a good job. Rayshawn Jenkins is back. We haven’t had Jenkins in 18 months. I’m tremendously excited about [freshmen Robert] Knowles and Johnson.”

### Cornerback: Golden anticipates playing Bush some at cornerback. “We’ll treat Deon like Ladarius Gunter [last year],” Golden said, suggesting he could play safety in base defense and possibly play cornerback when “we go to five DBs.”

Excluding Bush, UM has only three natural cornerbacks with game experience: Tracy Howard, Corn Elder and Artie Burns. Beyond those three, redshirt freshman Ryan Mayes “has to keep coming,” Golden said.  

Among freshmen, “everyone is excited about Sheldrick Redwine.  We’ve [also addedMichael] Jackson, Terrance Henley.”

For a lot more of Golden's comments about the team, please see the last post.


### One other note from the ACC media session: FloridaState coach Jimbo Fisher said Tuesday that standout running back Dalvin Cook remains suspended but his longterm status will not be determined until the misdemeanor battery case against him “plays itself out” and Fisher won’t comment about the matter.

Last week, Cook was charged after he allegedly punched a 21-year-old woman in the face several times following an argument outside of a Tallahassee bar around 2 a.m. on June 23.

The incident involving Cook, 19, comes less than a week after former FSU quarterbackDe’Andre Johnson was dismissed from the team after he punched a woman at a different bar near the FloridaState campus on June 24. There was video evidence in Johnson’s case but not in Cook’s.

At least six FSU players have been charged with violence against women during Fisher’s tenure, but there have been few convictions.

"There's no tolerance for hitting women... We've always taken a strong stance against it," he said, adding he was “disappointed” by the recent off-field incidents with his program. "Just like it is anywhere else in the country, you as the head coach take responsibility, and you continue to educate. You hope they don't make mistakes, and when they do, you punish and adjust and continue to educate so they don't do it again."

Fisher said the team devotes at least 40 days to off-field personal development but more will be added. He also confirmed that he has banned his players from bars and clubs.

"I don't think what's happened at FloridaState is relative to just FloridaState," Fisher said. "It happens all over the country. We get more attention because of the success of our program, and we accept that, and our players have to accept that responsibility.

"... You're judged on what you do, and we've had a couple instances like other people have had, too. It's not a FloridaState problem or athletic problem. It's a problem all across our country. There are always issues in the country that are hot spots at the time that get the news. And we don't tolerate [violence against women] and don't accept it."

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

July 21, 2015

11:30 a.m. Tuesday: Golden addresses state of the program, says changes have been made; Dolphins

PINEHURST --- For UM coach Al Golden, the massive undertaking of correcting the myriad problems that surfaced during the 6-7 debacle of 2014 couldn’t start quickly enough. So as his players dispersed following the flight home from the Dec. 27 Duck Commander Bowl loss to South Carolina in Shreveport, La., Golden instead drove straight to the office.

He worked that day, and the next one and 55 in a row overall.

“Being down and feeling sorry [for yourself] --- none of that can help you a bit,” Golden said Tuesday from the ACC Kickoff, where the conference’s coaches met with reporters. “We went right to work. Our coaches went to work. I met with every player more than once.”

Golden also traveled to Dallas to meet with Cowboys coaches and study their system, challenged each of his coaches to propose new wrinkles, consulted with athletic director Blake James and met with every single person at UM whose tentacles touch his program.

“I talked to every department, wanted to make sure all of our values and standards are the same,” he said. “If you’re expecting a different response but not changing the behavior, it doesn’t work. Everyone has to self examine.”

What emerged, Golden said, was a plan that featured substantive changes, many of which he cannot specify for competitive reasons.

But when asked if fans will see clear differences in play-calling and schemes, he said yes.

He said that’s partly because Brad Kaaya is capable of doing more, as a sophomore, than he was a year ago and partly because his defense is more experienced.

“We’ve changed a lot of different things internally,” he said. “Operations, recruiting, different approach with a lot of different facets of the program internally. There are a lot of subtle changes that aren’t as easily [noticed]. We’re excited about the response of the team. Very team-oriented group. We can’t get them out of the building.”

The objective, Golden said, was to make “sure we have one scoreboard and not a bunch of different scorecards. This isn’t golf. If you’re content because your area is good and we lost, it’s not good. We have one heartbeat right now. We’re all responsible for one scoreboard.”

Golden said it does him no good to discuss anything that happened with his program before Jan. 1 but did say of last season: “It wasn’t good enough. You can’t escape the scoreboard. It’s not, ‘My guys did well or my department did well.’ We’re all responsible for results.”

He declined to comment about several remarks that players have made in recent days, including former UM center Shane McDermott citing selfishness on last year’s team and Tracy Howard saying leadership was lacking.

“For me to go back to last year, it doesn’t help anything,” Golden said. “We’re so far removed from that. Seven months, 21 days from that. Ultimately, I’m responsible. We all have to be better, starting with me….. Dwelling on anything last year is not going to help. It’s not fair to the guys not here. They gave a lot to our program.”

Despite relatively low national expectations and the swirl of negativity around the program in recent months, two things delight Golden: how his players have stayed out of trouble and are holding each other accountable for missteps, and how the distractions of the NCAA investigation have finally dissipated, though Golden pointed out that UM is still on probation, with modest scholarship limitations.

“I came here to coach football, man,” Golden said. “I didn’t come to be the dean of discipline… I came to coach Raphael Kirby and… Darrion Owens and… Brad Kaaya. That’s what we’re doing. It’s fun. We’re not dealing with a lot of external stuff. We’re like, ‘Can we start tomorrow?’ The staff gets fuel from that.”

In previous years, “I’ve talked about a lot of things that have nothing to do with our football program,” Golden said. “Last year, we had to answer questions that were awful. It was about four years before I could get my message out. When you see players buying in and being excited about who they are and what they want to be, it becomes fun.

“There’s a lot of trust right now. There’s a bond right now in the room that we haven’t seen in a while. That’s been exhilarating to be around a team like that. When everybody comes on time or is early and has suggestions to make things better, that’s awesome. That’s what we need to keep doing. Get the distractions out of here. Hold each other accountable. I’m excited about the direction of our team.”

He said the fact players are spending so much time together, using the chess boards and card tables that Golden’s wife purchased for them, pleases him greatly.

“There’s a calmless and a poise about our team,” Golden said. “There’s a focus. We’re getting very good leadership. They’re not paying a bit of attention to anything on the outside.”

Golden deflected questions about the pressure on him to turn the program around, insisting: “I don’t feel pressure. I’m in a great organization. I am very fortunate over the last 18 months, a lot of changes at the University of Miami. A lot of things that weren’t there are there now. The training table, lights [installed on the practice field], what’s going on at [Sun Life Stadium with modernization]. I’m grateful to be at the University of Miami.”

Regarding fan and media criticism directed toward him, Golden said: “Nothing I can do about it…. When I got here, we were blindsided” by the NCAA investigation.

In an ACC media poll released Tuesday, UM was picked to finish third in the Coastal Division behind Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Golden insisted anyone can win the Coastal this season.

“It’s incumbent on us to get it back to where we want it to be, and have a model that’s sustainable and can endure,” he said.

### I asked Golden to assess most every position on the roster, and he kindly obliged. Check back later for that. (One quick thing: He suggested safety Deon Bush probably will play some cornerback.)

### Please see the last post for my Dolphins story from late last night and a six-pack of Canes notes.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz  

July 20, 2015

Monday night: What undrafted rookie Dolphins will be this year's surprise?; Canes notes from Pinehurst

From Davone Bess to Dan Carpenter to Damien Williams to Chris McCain, the Dolphins have done admirable work unearthing undrafted gems over the past six years.

There’s a decent chance an overlooked player or two will defy the odds and make the roster this year, and it seems most likely to be at linebacker --- the position Joe Philbin mentioned when asked which undrafted players impressed him this offseason.

A look at the rookie free agents competing for jobs as the Dolphins approach the start of training camp July 30:

### The four linebackers. The Dolphins had draft-able grades on all four rookies they signed: Penn State’s Mike Hull, Cincinnati’s Jeff Luc, Utah State’s Zach Vigil and Marshall’s Neville Hewitt. Vigil impressed in the offseason program and has a realistic chance to stick. But Hull is the most heralded of the group.

He led the Big 10 in tackles (134), and Penn State coach James Franklin said it was a “travesty” that he wasn’t drafted.

Hull always seems to be around the ball, Dolphins linebackers coach Mark Duffner said.

"I honestly think, if Mike can get in the right system and stay healthy, he'll play eight to 10 years in the NFL," Franklin said on his offseason speaking tour, via The Morning Call in Allentown, Penn.

"He's way too productive. I think college coaches and NFL coaches get way too caught up in measurables like height, weight and size. Mike's a guy who, when you see him, he's not going to jump out at you.

“But if you turn on the tape and watch how productive he is and see what kind of leader he is, he's invaluable. Mike's going to find a way to play and to be successful."

Hull, who’s 232 pounds and listed at 6-0, said his size probably worked against him in the eyes of NFL executives. “I believe in my heart I can play at this level,” he said.

Of the four rookie linebackers, it wouldn’t be surprising if one or two make the final 53. “We were very lucky to get all four,” said Duffner, who cultivated relationships with all four before the draft.

Vigil made several good plays in pass coverage during the team’s offseason program. Luc, once a five-star recruit out of high school who transferred from FSU to Cincinnati, “has physicality, really good movement skills,” Duffner said.

### Tim Semisch. The 6-8 tight end from Northern Illinois was the only undrafted player signed among the 20-plus tryout players who auditioned during the Dolphins’ rookie minicamp.

He caught only 10 passes for 100 yards and three touchdowns in three seasons at Northern Illinois, playing mostly as a backup, but displayed good hands and impressive receiving skills in May/June practices.

If he shows enough during preseason, he could end up on the practice squad or perhaps even compete for the No. 3 tight end job, which has no clear front-runner.

Semisch said he never had a chance to show his receiving skills much in college because “we had good success on the ground… And we had five different offensive coordinators” during his college career.

“You see the length, you see the catching radius,” general manager Dennis Hickey said. “Smooth athlete. Tim caught our eye with some of his work on special teams. We really like what he brought.”

### Andrew Franks. The rookie kicker from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., remains an underdog in his competition against Caleb Sturgis, who hopes to return from a quadriceps injury by training camp.

Franks was inconsistent with field goals in minicamp but “his leg has some juice to it,” Philbin said.

Franks made only 37 of 56 field goals at RPI but kicked three field goals of 50 yards or more last season. And 58 percent of his kickoffs went for touchbacks, above the NFL average.

### Christion Jones, Alabama. The three undrafted rookie receivers --- Jones, Kansas’ Nigel King and Maine’s Damarr Aultman --- are all long shots for the 53-man roster, but Jones might have the best chance because of his return skills.

Jones returned two punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns at Alabama and probably needs a couple of big returns in preseason to give the Dolphins strong reason to consider keeping him.

The Dolphins’ top four receivers are set with DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and Greg Jennings, and Rishard Matthews is the front-runner for the fifth job.

But a job could open if there’s a long-term injury; Parker is expected back from foot surgery by the regular-season opener. The Dolphins could start the season with six receivers if Parker has a setback.

The three rookies are competing with veterans LaRon Byrd, Tommy Streeter, Tyler McDonald and Michael Preston.

### Linemen. All seven are major long shots to make the 53, but a couple could end up on the practice squad. On defense, that group includes Georgia defensive end Ray Drew, Bowling Green defensive end Kendall Montgomery and UCLA defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy.

On offense, Southern California’s Aundrey Walker, Oklahoma’s Dionte Savage, Arizona’s Mickey Baucus and Illinois State’s Michael Liedtke are competing.


Please see the last post for my main UM story from day one of the ACC media session in Pinehurst, N.C., including some eye-opening comments from Brad Kaaya and Raphael Kirby and an update on Joe Yearby, who hasn't been with the team recently.

A six-pack of additional notes:

### What UM freshmen have been most impressive?

Kirby mentioned two defensive backs from Killian: safety Jaequan Johnson and cornerback Sheldrick Redwine.

Kaaya agreed about those two and also raved about running back Mark Walton.

"Walton is a great kid; he just gets it," Kaaya said. "He’s got a different mentality. Knows protections already." On the field, Walton's "lateral movement stands out," Kaaya said.

And Kaaya says this about freshman receiver Lawrence Cager, who arrived this summer: "He’s really tall, he’s long, he has a wide catch radius. He can go up high for it. Has made some good plays one-on-one. We have to see during camp [if he can help this season on offense]. A lot of guys look good in shorts and T-shirts."

### Kaaya predicts running back Trayone Gray will surprise people. "He has made significant strides. He had a few issues several months ago, had some issues with class, has really cleaned his act up. He’s going to be a surprise player this year."

### We mentioned a couple weeks ago that UM coaches believe H-back/tight end David Njoku, at some point, is going to be a matchup nightmare for defenses.

And Kaaya today called Njoku "our secret weapon. High jumper in high school. 36-inch vertical. He loves watching Jimmy Graham. Very versatile athlete."

### In many ways, UM defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio patterns his defense after the Seattle Seahawks', and as a result, Kirby said he has been studying tape of Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner.

Kirby said he has watched every 2014 UM game twice. He seems very studious and diligent as he moves into Denzel Perryman's mike linebacker spot.

### Impressive that Kaaya and Kirby flew back to Miami tonight to attend Tuesday morning workouts instead of spending another day in North Carolina on break, as a bunch of ACC players are doing.

Kaaya shows his maturity and leadership in so many ways. He has deleted his Twitter and Instagram apps from his phone and speaks, in some ways, like a senior.

"He’s taking charge of everything he does," Kirby said. "... You see he’s confident, calm, cool, collected.... That was Felicia's son [before]. He's Brad Kaaya now." (That was a playful reference to Angela Means Kaaya, she of the "Bye, Felicia" pop culture reference.)

### Though Ufomba Kamalu has mentioned slight changes in how defensive linemen are lining up, Kirby said there are "not many changes" in how the team plays defense.

"Guys have to do their job," he said. "You can’t have a good defense if one guy decides to do their own thing. It’s hard in college to do [that]. You think about somebody else. You mess around and don’t do your job. "

For years, UM defensive coaches have tried to get players to stop freelancing. Apparently, the problem hasn't completely been eliminated.

### Al Golden addresses the media Tuesday morning. Check back for lots of updates from that... Please see the last post for a lot more Canes from today, as we move from NBA Summer League in Las Vegas to ACC media sessions in Pinehurst... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Eye-opening comments from Kaaya & Kirby about UM's behind-the-scenes problems and how they came to a head; Yearby's status

PINEHURST, N.C. --- The seminal moment for the University of Miami football team this offseason happened on the Greentree practice field before sunrise on a March morning, at an hour when not a single Hurricane wanted to be there, at a time when fed-up players turned to each other and said, essentially, that they had run out of patience with irresponsible teammates.

As quarterback Brad Kaaya explained it to reporters at Atlantic Coast Conference media day on Monday, the players were there that morning doing “pretty rough, physical” workouts, under the supervision of coaches, as punishment because a teammate – whose identify he did not disclose – had committed four rules violations.

For the first violation, a player has to run at 5 in the morning. For his second violation, his whole position unit has to run and do other physically grueling activities at 5 a.m. For a third, that player’s whole unit (offense or defense) must endure that same discipline.

A fourth? The entire team must do it. Before that day, Al Golden’s punishment scale had never reached that fourth stage during Kaaya’s time at UM.

But Kaaya and other players had seen enough violations that they stood there on the field that morning, talking among themselves and making clear this would no longer be tolerated.

“The last straw is when the whole team got out there,” Kaaya said. “It clicked and we said, ‘We’ve had enough. When is it going to stop? We can’t keep having this happen.’ That morning we came together, right before spring break.

“Ever since, it’s been different. It has been cut down tremendously. This summer, we had no major issues. That’s huge for our team. Coach Golden is not having any more nonsense any more. It’s all about business. Team leaders are holding guys accountable. We didn’t want to focus on all the distractions holding Miami back. This team is clean.”

Kaaya said the "same guys" kept getting in trouble and that the rules violations involved “guys skipping class” and tardiness: “guys sleeping late; a lot of it was off field classes, academic meetings. We’ve cut all that out.”

Linebacker Raphael Kirby, who accompanied Kaaya to the ACC event, cited something else that has prompted several of the program’s rules-violators to get their act together.

As part of military-style training that the team participated in last month, six players were charged with selecting teammates to join them on “boat” teams, which entailed a bunch of physically and mentally challenging activities, many of them in Biscayne Bay.

Kirby said players who were selected initially had strong reputations for trustworthiness and work ethic. Those that were "drafted" last? Not so much.

“They know who they are, and they know why they were picked last,” Kirby said. “I’ve seen drastic changes in those guys” since then.

Kirby also said Golden, for the first time, has authorized players to punish teammates who aren’t following the program.

“There were locker-room issues that had to be dealt with,” Kirby said. “Right now, it’s great. This is the most unified I’ve seen since I’ve been here. The mindset of everybody on our team is great.”

Kirby said a few players have been punished by teammates --- the discipline usually is running at 5 a.m. --- but the violators “haven’t fought back or argued,” Kaaya said. “At this point, there are not any guys who are against what we’re tying to accomplish.”

Kirby said it was the players who suggested to Golden that something had to change regarding accountability among teammates.

“Coach had a meeting with all the leaders and that was one thing we brought up,” Kirby said. “And he supported us. He’s done a great job of letting us lead. We’ve done a lot of things to improve our locker-room, our accountability, our attention to detail.”

UM enters this season with expectations lower than at any time in recent history. Regarding one magazine that picked UM to finish seventh, Kirby said: “They don’t really know. Nobody knows…. Our team is going to be a surprise.

“We know how talented we are. But talent is not enough. It takes great teams to win championships. Talent only wins a couple games.”

Kaaya said it’s “fine” if people are underestimating Miami.

“Usually they have us winning something crazy,” Kaaya said. “It’s fine, because once in a while, the target is on everyone else.”

Asked how UM can improve from 6-7 after losing more than a half dozen of its best players, Kaaya said: “It’s not the NFL. At one point, people didn’t know who Philip Dorsett was and Duke Johnson was. No one really knew they would be NFL players….

“We have good young guys. Our coaches know how to recruit. It’s not like we’re recruiting duds. We are recruiting world class athletes. [And] they have gotten better. “


Running back Joe Yearby hasn’t participated in voluntary workouts over the past month while dealing with an undisclosed personal issue, but a UM spokesperson said his status has not changed (he’s not suspended) and he’s expected to participate when practice starts Aug. 6.

UM people briefed on the situation are optimistic that he will not be suspended, though nothing is definite on that front and Yearby must be on his best behavior to avoid discipline.

Check back for a lot more later, from Pinehurst, plus Dolphins news... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... Please see the last 2 posts for parts 2 and 3 of my media enterprise project.


Part 3 of our series on the changing landscape of sports media

Part 3 of a 3-part series on sports media and changes in how fans consume sports.

Eloy Vazquez Jr., a UM and Heat fan living in Los Angeles, admits he has a problem.

Because of advances in technology, fans can check sports news and scores and watch live events virtually anytime and anywhere, and the temptation can be overwhelming.

“I definitely will admit that I have a problem when it comes to checking my Twitter account for the latest [sports] news,” he said. “I am ashamed to admit that I have whipped out my IPhone during a wedding ceremony.

“I have whipped out my IPhone to check the latest updates from the MLB Winter Meetings minutes before a law school final exam. Great use of my time, right?”

Vazquez has plenty of company: A 2012 GMR Marketing study said 70 percent of sports fans who use social media check their devices during a meal, 58 percent do it in the bathroom, 33 percent in meetings and 9 percent in church.

Social media’s impact on sports, and how we consume sports, has grown exponentially. Fans no longer need to wait for ESPN’s SportsCenter or the morning newspaper for the latest updates. Trades and signings are disseminated to the masses as soon as they happen.

“Instant access to news and updates are an invaluable piece to what a fan wants and what a member of the media needs,” Fox announcer Joe Buck said via e-mail.

“That said, the opinions expressed through Twitter can have a negative effect. I believe it scares announcers into the boring middle. Not wanting to state opinion or sometimes be critical because of the response that will follow from the loud minority.

“It almost has become a game between commenters to see who can be the harshest follower or ‘troll.’ I don't believe the opinions and snarky comments represent a solid cross section of the American public.”

To appreciate the impact of social media on sports fans, consider:

### A 2014 study by Perform Sports Media found that 26 percent of U.S. fans use social media platforms to follow their favorite sport, up from 15 percent in 2011.

### One third said they use Twitter --- which launched in 2006 --- to follow sports, trailing Facebook (89 percent) and YouTube (65 percent).

Twitter says the numbers are higher than that, citing its own study that six out of 10 sports fans say Twitter is a main source of news.

### From the start of this year’s Super Bowl to 30 minutes after it ended, there were 43.4 million tweets about the game. Sixty-five million people communicated about the game on Facebook, with 265 million posts.

Former ESPN president George Bodenheimer disputes any notion that it’s primarily young people following sports on Twitter.

“I see older people who are into new media and Twitter,” he said.

Still, some are resistant.

“I don't do any of it nor will I,” said ESPN’s Chris Berman, who turned 60 last month and has said he doesn’t even have an e-mail account. “I don't read it and instant reaction is sometimes not the sharpest. Sometimes it's hilarious.”

Berman said he’s “not knocking” the proliferation of Twitter and social media from a sports perspective, but “it surprises me. I guess it's the continuation of people feeling the need to be in touch all the time. And the attention span is less than it used to be. My kids are in their upper 20s and they feel the need to be connected all the time.”

Besides allowing fans to receive sports news and scores instantly, Twitter also has provided a platform for them to reach out directly to athletes in ways never before available.

Some of the tweets can be confrontational or mean-spirited. And sometimes, athletes cannot resist the urge to fire back.

In February, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin sparred with a fan on Twitter about the way he presents himself publicly.

A year ago, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick tweeted that he did “1000 abs… arm workout… 10 minutes straight on the jump rope [and] two hours study session.”

After a fan responded that the “ab workout won’t help find [an] open receiver,” Kaepernick shot back: “Are you illiterate or just ignorant?”

Some teams are concerned about how their players represent themselves in social media, so much so that the St. Louis Rams held an offseason social media seminar called “Don’t Be That Guy.”

Jets coach Todd Bowles recently implored his players to “lay off the social media smack talk.”

Teams in South Florida and elsewhere monitor their players’ comments on social media, and there have been occasional missteps in recent years.

Just last month, Minnesota Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson apologized for anti-gay tweets in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex couples have the right to marry.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher puts it this way: "I just don’t want to have to make that midnight phone call where you have to say ‘take it down.’"

Some players are now delivering news on their own, without a media filter. Last year, former Yankees star Derek Jeter launched The Players Tribune, an online platform for players to share first-person accounts. Earlier this month, forward Kevin Love wrote an essay on the site to announce he would be re-signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers.


Amid the rise in popularity of Twitter, another trend has emerged: More and more fans are using mobile devices and tablets to check stats, sports news and watch games.

“I don’t think we’ve reached the ceiling yet on how much sports people want and how they want it,” Berman said.

A study by Flurry, Yahoo’s mobile analytics firm, showed use of sports apps soared by 210 percent between August 2013 and August 2014.

So who uses these apps?

Flurry said sports app users are 12.8 times more likely to be football fans, 2.3 times more likely to be single and 2.3 times more likely to be business travelers.

“The tripling of time spent in sports apps is tough to ignore for teams, content providers and advertisers,” Simon Khalaf, Flurry’s CEO, said in his blog.

Through mobile devices, tablets and various digital platforms, fans can watch out of market MLB games (for at least $109.99 per season), out-of-market NBA games ($99.99) and thousands of hours of live programming on the ESPN networks (through the WatchESPN app), and golf and college basketball on the CBS app.

And that’s just a small slice of what’s available. The Miami Herald offers eight team-specific sports apps and one high school sports app.

Heat games are available in South Florida on the Fox Sports Go Ap, but Fox doesn’t have permission to stream Marlins or Panthers games on that platform.

Several apps, including the Score, offer detailed statistical breakdowns. Bleacher Report’s team stream apps provide immediate notification when there’s news on a fan’s favorite team, and SportsManias offers a similar team-specific service.

Verizon customers can download an NFL Mobile app and watch live games for free on their smart phones, and subscribers of Direct TV’s Sunday Ticket also can watch the games on their computers.

And for the first time, an NFL game --- Bills-Jaguars on Oct. 25 in London --- will air exclusively on-line, on Yahoo! (The Buffalo and Jacksonville markets will get the game on CBS.)

“This is an experiment and an opportunity to gather fan feedback on the experience,’” Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s vice president of communications, said of the on-line only London game. “It's a game in a unique window (9:30 a.m. Eastern Time) that enables us to test and try something new.”

Still, some fans want more. Last month, a class-action lawsuit filed in California accused the NFL and DirecTV of violating federal antitrust laws by requiring consumers to purchase all Sunday afternoon out-of-market games, even if the customer wants to see the out-of-market games for only one team. 

“The League and DirecTV offer NFL Sunday Ticket only as all-or-nothing,” the complaint alleged.

The NBA, sensitive to that sentiment, announced recently that it would begin to offer a LeaguePass option allowing fans to purchase games of only one team if they choose, at an undetermined price.

Some viewers have canceled their cable or satellite service over the past few years because so much programming is available now through services such as Hulu.

But a Frank N. Magid Associates poll last June determined that live sports were the biggest help in stopping cable cancellations; only 1.4% of ESPN viewers said they would drop their pay TV subscriptions.

“Sports and movies drove the cable business the last 30 years and I see that continuing,” Bodenheimer said.

ESPN charges cable companies more per subscriber than any other cable network, and those costs are mostly passed on to consumers, some of whom aren’t sports fans and resent having to pay for channels they don’t watch.

But ESPN has vehemently opposed being placed on a pay-extra sports tier, which would reduce its penetration and what it can command from advertisers.

In April, ESPN sued Verizon, claiming the telecommunications company violated its contract when it took channels mostly available on basic cable – such as ESPN and Comedy Central --- and placed them into tiers (sports, entertainment, children’s programming) from which consumers could choose.

But there are new TV options for viewers who have considered pulling the plug on their cable service because of rising costs.

Sling TV, a service launched by Dish in February, offers streaming of ESPN, ESPN2, TNT and a few other sports channels --- but not Fox regional channels or over-the-air networks --- for $25 a month. Apple reportedly plans to launch a similar product.

So what will be the next change in how fans consume sports?

Bodenheimer doesn’t believe the ceiling has been reached for new networks.

“It’s funny,” he said. “We’ve never overestimated sports fans’ desire for product. The more we provide, the more they want to consume.”

Former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson predicts that “eventually you are going to be able to see every sports event in some streaming capacity. There will be pressure outside the home to see anything you see inside the home.

“But I don’t see it materially damaging the basic structure that exists today. I see it complementing. Anyone who’s at home will be watching it on a 53-inch high definition set instead of a mobile phone or on an I-Pad.”

Please see the previous post for part 2 of the series, and please see last week's archives of my blog for Part 1, which focuses on South Florida media....

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz...

We've moved from the Summer League in Las Vegas to ACC meetings in North Carolina. Check back Monday afternoon for our post from Day 1 of the ACC session. (Al Golden speaks on Tuesday). 

Part 2 of our series on the changing landscape of sports media

Part two of a three-part series on sports media and how fans consume sports.

A sports fan might have been puzzled, if not amazed, if someone told him at the dawn of the 21st century, just 15 years ago, that:

### Seven pro sports – the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, tennis, soccer and golf – three major conferences (the Big 10, Southeastern and Pac-12) and a university (Texas) would have their own sports cable networks.

### That some of the Final Four, an NFL wild card playoff game, an NBA conference Finals, a Major League Baseball league championship series and college football’s most important postseason games would move from free television to cable.

### That an NFL game (Buffalo-Jacksonville from London) would be televised only on the Internet next season, except in the cities of the two teams.

### That men’s NCAA Tournament games would be televised on something called trutv.

### That many sports fans would be religiously using something called Twitter to follow breaking news, and that they could watch live sports on mobile devices while shopping.

### That college football would not only authorize a true national championship game, but that it would be televised in some form on six different channels.

The sports media landscape, and how fans consume sports, have changed more dramatically in the past decade than anyone could have ever conceived.

“I’m not sure I saw any of this coming, not sure I saw all the conference and league-owned channels,” former ESPN president George Bodenheimer said in a phone interview. “There has never been a better time to be a sports fan and have access to sports.”

Longtime South Florida radio executive Steve Lapa said it’s clear to him that “people 18 to 34 watch sports very differently than those over 50. The younger people are on their tablets, on their phones, while watching the games. They want more gossipy stuff. It's a different dynamic.”

Examining some of the sports media trends and their impact:

### The advent of new channels. Leagues launched their own networks in 1999 (NBA TV), 2003 (NFL Network), 2007 (NHL Network) and 2009 (MLB Network).

Conferences launched networks in 2006 (Big 10), 2012 (Pacific 12) and 2014 (Southeastern).

Of those seven, NFL Network is believed to have the largest average prime-time audience. From April of 2014 through March of 2015, NFL Net had 380,000 prime-time viewers, on average, compared with 132,000 for MLB Network and 121,000 for NBA TV. Ratings aren’t released for the NHL-owned and the college conference networks.

But none of those channels draw nearly as many eyeballs as ESPN, which averages 2.3 million viewers in prime time, or ESPN2, which averaged 471,000.

For this year’s NFL draft, 7.1 million watched the first round on ESPN, compared with 1.8 million on NFL Network.

“The NFL Network clearly is dominant as compared to the other three league-owned networks, but all the leagues use them as promotional platforms,” said former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson, who runs a media consulting firm and teaches at ColumbiaUniversity.

Fox has attempted to challenge ESPN with its August 2013 launch of Fox Sports 1, which replaced Speed Channel, and Fox Sports 2, which replaced Fuel TV.

Fox Sports 1’s daily viewership has risen 34 percent in the past year, whereas ESPN’s is flat.

But overall, ESPN’s prime time viewership, on average, is more than seven times larger than the audience size of Fox Sports 1, which averaged 314,000 viewers in prime time from April 2014 to March 2015.

NBC Sports Network, with an average of 302,000 viewers in prime time, is even further behind ESPN. CBS Sports Network isn’t rated nationally.

Fox Sports 1 has amassed a strong collection of event programming --- MLB games, Big 10 and Big 12 football, Big East basketball, Sprint Cup races, MLS, the recent Women’s World Cup and more --- but its signature studio show, Fox Sports Live, hasn’t been a threat to ESPN’s SportsCenter.

In an attempt to lure viewers from SportsCenter, Fox Sports Live tried something different: panel discussions featuring retired athletes (Andy Roddick, Donovan McNabb, among others) discussing numerous sports, not only the ones they played.

But during that year-long period, Fox Sports 1 averaged 76,000 viewers for its 11 p.m. airing of Fox Sports Live, compared with 800,000 for SportsCenter, though Fox says its numbers have increased in the past few months.

“Anybody who’s starting up a network with bravado and high hopes and big cash are going to succeed to a point,” said ESPN’s Chris Berman, who has been with the network since a month after it launched in 1979.

“But there are a lot of things other than frontline talent on TV which you need to succeed and we are covered in most of those areas. And our news operation is second to none.”

Berman said one reason ESPN has thwarted challengers is this: “Somehow, someway, we've always had people who always look five, eight, 10 years ahead. ‘HD is coming, let’s get ahead of the curve,’ and we were. We’ve had folks really dialed into the future; we have very forward-thinking people.”

Of ESPN’s continued dominance, Pilson said: “I’m not surprised. I didn’t think [Fox Sports 1’s studio shows] were the best opportunity for Fox to compete with ESPN because there is such a huge public awareness and habit of watching ESPN’s SportsCenter.

“Where Fox [cable] has televised live events, they’ve done reasonably well. They’re very competitive with respect to high profile sports events.”

In fact, Fox Sports 1 said its live event coverage now draws more viewers among men 25 to 44 than ESPN2’s coverage of live events.

In the past year, Fox was awarded U.S. English TV rights to the next three World Cups, and many of the games are expected to air on Fox Sports 1.

College channels also are carving out a niche. The SEC Network, owned by ESPN, reportedly generates $547 million annually in revenue --- fifth among cable sports networks, behind ESPN, NFL, Fox Sports 1 and ESPN2. Conversely, the Big 10 Network brings in $290 million annually.

Besides ESPNU and the three conference-owned networks, ESPN in 2011 launched the Longhorn Network --- covering only University of Texas sports --- in a deal valued at $300 million over 20 years.

The Atlantic Coast Conference has given serious thought to launching its own network. But Pilson said: “I don’t see any of the remaining conferences being able to see the kind of revenue generation that the Big 10 or Pac 10 or SEC has.

“The ACC might do it, but they already have committed their football and basketball rights long-term. And the Big 12 would face difficulties because Texas has their own channel and Oklahoma” has a unique arrangement with Fox Sports to air a lot of its programming.

What other universities besides Texas could pull off having its own cable network? 

“I could see North Carolina doing it, schools with strong intra-state following,” Pilson said.

He said launching one single-school channel in Florida would be challenging because interest “is mixed and shared among three schools.”

### Migration of sports to cable. NFL regular-season games have been airing on cable since ESPN was awarded a Sunday night package in 1987.

But the move of Monday Night Football from ABC to ESPN in 2006, the awarding of a wild-card playoff game to ESPN beginning this past January, and last year’s creation of a full-season Thursday package (with eight games airing only on NFL Network and eight others on both CBS and NFL Net) have taken the NFL’s cable commitment to a new level.

It’s one thing to place regular-season or early-round playoff games on cable. It’s another when championship or semifinal games are moved to cable, which is becoming more commonplace.

The NBA began doing it in 2004 when it placed one of its conference finals exclusively on TNT. TBS has aired an LCS in baseball for the past eight seasons, and last year, Fox televised most games of the National League Championship Series on Fox Sports 1 for the first time.

The semifinals of the Final 4 aired on TBS in April, and the championship game will be carried on TBS for the first time next season (and every other year through 2024), as part of a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal with CBS.

CBS relinquished exclusivity on the NCAA Tournament and agreed to share the games with Turner because it was losing money on its old deal. Under the new contract, CBS and Turner share the $771 million annual rights fee.

And the new College Football Playoff won’t air on free television for at least the next 11 years, with ESPN paying $470 million a year for rights to the two semifinals and championship.

“It was a famous bank robber who said, ‘Why does he rob banks? He said that’s where the money is,” Pilson said. “Cable is where the money is now. Cable has two sources of income: subscriber fees and advertising revenue.

“For a company like ESPN or Turner or Fox – they have this additional revenue stream to outspend broadcast networks with only one revenue stream. The sponsors don’t seem to be complaining and the people who spend money are basically subscribers to cable or satellite.”

Problem is, some fans in low-income homes don’t have cable or satellite service.

Whereas the free TV networks are in 117 million homes, ESPN, ESPN2, TNT and TBS are in 101 to 102 million, truTV in 92 million and Fox Sports 1 in 90 million.

In the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market, about 12 percent of the 1.7 million TV households don’t have cable or satellite. Nearly 69 percent of Dade/Broward residents have cable TV and 19 percent have satellite service.

But there is a bit of good news for the modest number of NFL fans without cable: ESPN said it will simulcast its wild card playoff game on ABC next January.

“Most everyone has to pay for TV of some sort,” Berman said. “The reason some of the events are not on the four networks is they're not quite affordable.”

But Bodenheimer doesn’t expect much more of the attractive sports inventory to migrate to cable.

“I expect broadcast TV will stay relevant,” said Bodenheimer, who has been promoting his new book Every Town is a Sports Town: Business Leadership at ESPN from the Mailroom to the Boardroom.

### Sports web site traffic. Neither the fact that it has increased significantly over the past few years, nor the fact ESPN leads every month in unique hits, is remotely surprising.

But this is: Bleacher Report (owned by Turner) now typically finishes second or third on the list of most-visited sports web sites.

In April, Bleacher ranked second with 36 million unique U.S. visitors, behind only ESPN.com (55.2 million). Yahoo! was third at 32.8 million.

By hiring several respected NFL and NBA writers, Bleacher Report has morphed over the past two years from a site known mostly for fan postings and top 10 lists to one that features columns and reporting from mainstream journalists.

“We’ve been able to achieve incredible year-over-year growth numbers, and have been the number two digital non-league sports site since 2014,” Bleacher Report general manager Dorth Raphaely said.

See the post above this one for part 3. Twitter: @flasportsbuzz   

July 18, 2015

Tracy Howard says big change has happened inside UM team; UM football personnel talk; Heat trade talk and personnel chatter, Dolphins, Marlins


Some feedback we’ve heard from inside the UM football program (coaches and players):

### So how can UM possibly expect to be better after losing arguably six of its top 10 players off a 6-7 team? UM people cite a bunch of reasons --- starting with an improved Brad Kaaya --- but we want to see it to believe it.

We’re also usually skeptical about believing that off-field intangibles contribute significantly to a team’s record. But cornerback Tracy Howard says one such variable has changed dramatically and insists it’s going to make a difference. It’s the accountability issue that former Hurricanes greats talk about all the time.

Howard said leadership on last year’s team wasn’t what it needed to be, which led to mistakes not being corrected and an emotional letdown after the FSU game that caused the season to derail.

“I know how we can be 6-7,” Howard said of 2014. “You got a lot of guys with a lot of talent. But when you got a team that doesn’t really hold each other accountable, you don’t really have a strong leadership. Talent is not enough. You need leadership, a team that is going stick together.

“Alabama is definitely not the most talented team ever, but they’re a team. They believe in what the coach tells them and they believe in their system. That’s why they always come out on top because they believe in what Nick Saban is telling them to do.”

So what has changed inside UM? “This year, guys are holding others accountable,” Howard said. “When the young guys come in, that’s all they know now. Nobody is slacking off. They have to follow. They don’t have a choice. If you don’t like it, you could leave.”

Lack of effort by UM players last season was a problem cited by another player in this space last week, and 2014 Hurricanes center Shane McDermott told The Ticket last week that some players felt “entitled” and “we had a lot of selfishness that we needed to get rid of.”

Shane McDermott said when he visited campus to see his brother (UM tackle Kc McDermott) last week, it was “the hardest I’ve seen them work in a while.”

Why the change now?

“Probably maturity, experience, [tired of] losing,” Howard said. “We came in with such high expectations: me, Herb [Waters], Deon [Bush]. We were going to put us back on the map. No senior has gone out on a good note since we’ve been here. We don’t want that to happen again. We came to make Miami relevant again, win a championship and go to the NFL. That’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said it’s clear that “our players respond to” Howard’s leadership.

The others who are now taking charge and not putting up with teammates’ missteps? Howard cited Brad Kaaya, tight end Standish Dobard, receiver Stacy Coley, Bush ("Deon has changed; he's stepped up and is making a difference") and offensive tackle Kc McDermott.

A UM staffer said Al Golden isn’t letting things slide now and has sent players home even if they’re less than a minute late to a meeting. Howard said Golden always demanded accountability and makes clear he doesn’t blame the coach for last year’s aforementioned shortcomings.

“I know a lot of guys give him a lot of slack but he knows what he’s talking about,” Howard said. "He’s definitely a good coach.”

Everyone --- coaches and players --- deserve blame for UM losing its edge after the FSU game and falling to two teams with less talent (Virginia and Pittsburgh). So what is going to prevent that from happening again?

“If you have your leaders go in the tank, say, ‘Ah, [bleep] it,’ then the whole team will go in the tank because those guys have the most influence,” Howard said.

“We really wanted the [FSU] game bad and it was emotionally draining on us. There wasn’t the same fire [after]. Once they see leaders… not having their heads down” that won’t happen again.

We won’t know until the season starts, and adversity strikes, whether this team has the DNA to respond better than last year’s. But Howard talking about one of the intangible problems, and players trying to fix it, certainly can’t hurt.

### One thing we keep hearing from several players (Calvin Heurtelou and others) is how much a difference defensive end Al Quadin Muhammad is going to make.

Some UM staffers have privately griped that he didn’t deserve the administration’s 2014 fall semester suspension for punching another student who was said to have incited him. Nevertheless, Trent Harris (a favorite of coaches) remains ahead of Muhammad on the depth chart.

### Some feedback on running backs: Not only do coaches and players believe Mark Walton is going to make a big immediate impact, but there are people on the UM staff who believe Gus Edwards has star potential, because of his combination of size, strength and speed, provided he stays healthy (a big if with him).

The staff considers Joe Yearby a game-breaker but believes he must do a better job breaking tackles and not settling for initial yardage before going down. His spring game suspension, resulting from tardiness, was viewed as an anomaly…. Trayone Gray must do a better job holding onto the ball and stop running as up-right. It was a difficult first year for Gray here, but “now it's going smoothly,” he said. “I know the playbook well. I’ve lost 10 pounds. I can be a scatback with power, too.”

###  With only three experienced cornerbacks (Howard, Artie Burns, Corn Elder)  and redshirt freshman Ryan Mayes, UM needs something immediately from at least one summer cornerback arrival (Michael Jackson, Sheldrick Redwine, Terrance Henley).

“I like all three,” Howard said. “Redwine is very smooth, very patient, very mature for a young player. Jackson is very physical. Technique is sound. Henley can run. He’s a track guy. And Ryan had a good spring.”

There’s a belief around the UM program that Burns --– with excellent size, speed and arm length --- can develop into a first-round talent. Though Burns has been very good at times, he needs to consistently play to Golden’s confidence level in him. “I watch Artie and I think he’s easily an NFL corner; fast, physical, great mentality,” Howard said.

UM's first summer depth chart has Howard at one starting cornerback job and Burns and Elder as an either/or at the other.

### UM receivers are effusive about the difference new assistant Kevin Beard is making with this group.

“He played football here and he played wide receiver here. That's an element that's very intangible,” Braxton Berrios said. “He can relate on a personal basis to what we're going through, what we see. He's teaching a lot and we're retaining a lot.

“It has been incredible. We all love him. We all bought in to whatever he says.”


### A general manager with another NBA team told me Mario Chalmers and Shabazz Napier are the players the Heat has been most aggressive in shopping, with Miami preferring to move Chalmers because of his $4.3 million salary.

The GM said the Heat would be content getting back only a second-round pick (or less) for Chalmers. Though Chris Andersen could be moved, the GM said the Heat hasn’t offered him to his team, and that Miami hasn’t shown an inclination to move Josh McRoberts.

### One positive with Napier, who averaged 17 points in Summer League and is due to make $1.3 million this coming season: “He looked quicker this summer,” said Heat assistant Dan Craig, who coached Miami's summer league team. “He's been great in terms of getting into the paint and getting paint touches. We had challenged him [about] getting in the paint more, playing with a higher motor....

"He looks night and day from last summer. His pace and quickness have improved. [And] he's improved his three-point shot."

### The Heat will make rookie guard Josh Richardson an offer to retain his rights but must decide whether to make room for him on the roster or encourage him to play a year overseas. Richardson’s reps want him to be in the NBA and it’s ultimately his choice whether to try to make the team in October.

The NBA “has always been my dream; nobody wants to play anywhere else,” he said, adding he doesn’t know if he would consider a year overseas if asked.

Richardson averaged 11.8 points, shot 8 for 21 on three-pointers with 17 steals and 9 blocks in 10 Summer League games. Does he look ready to be an NBA player now?

“I think he does,” Craig said. “It's just about roster wise what we're going to be looking at in terms of what we really need. When everything is said and done, I think he's going to be right there in the mix.

“He's another guy we're really encouraged by on both sides of the floor. Offensively and defensively, just his overall demeanor.  He approaches the game as if he was an NBA player already. That’s pretty encouraging for a kid coming out of college.”

Problem is, the Heat has 17 players without him. Even if Miami trades Chalmers and cuts Henry Walker, there still would not be room for Richardson unless Miami dumps another player.

### Good move by Dolphins executive Mike Tannenbaum to pick the brains of other smart people this offseason, including meetings with Jimmy Johnson and Spurs general manager R.C. Buford.

### Though Baseball America rates Marlins right-hander Tyler Kolek --- drafted second overall in 2014 --- as the sport’s 46th-best prospect, he has been erratic in Single A this season (4-6, 4.44 ERA), whereas two college pitchers drafted shortly after him are much further along: Carlos Rodon is 3-2 with a 3.80 ERA for the White Sox and Aaron Nola is 10-3, 2.03 in the Phillies’ system.

It’s way too soon to know if the Marlins made a mistake. Baseball America says Kolek, who was drafted out of high school, “needs refinement. The fastball has backed up a little from triple digits last year.”

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

July 17, 2015

NBA coaches assess Heat's moves; Heat summer-league notes; More UM/MLS stadium news; UM recruiting


In my conversations with several NBA head coaches at the Las Vegas Summer League this week, there was unanimous praise for the Heat’s recent personnel moves. Some of the feedback:

### On veteran guard Gerald Green, who signed for $1.4 million: Sacramento coach George Karl: “Explosive guy coming off the bench. Can blow a game open. He reminds me a lot of J.R. Smith when I had J.R. in Denver. Sometimes you don’t like how he plays. Sometimes he’ll drive you a little crazy.

“But in the same sense, he has a power for a bench player that has All-Star talent. Now he doesn’t put it on the court every night. [But] when you have the ability to put it on the court every other game, that’s still a great weapon to have. I think [Heat coach] Erik [Spoelstra] will use him really well.”

New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry called Green “one of those guys that can change a game. You saw that in Phoenix. Once you get him started, it’s hard to slow him down. The way they’re going to push the basketball, he can be a huge factor there.”

Golden State coach Steve Kerr agreed: “Green can score big time, can light it up in a hurry. He got it going against us a couple times.”

Even though Green takes difficult shots at times, Suns coach Jeff Hornacek, Green’s coach the past two seasons, said “you’ve got to let him go, got to let him play, because that’s when he’s at his best. He can shoot from anywhere on the court. He can pull up from deep, 30 feet out. He can get extremely hot. Can put up a lot of points quickly.”

Hornacek previously was critical of Green’s defense last season but says he has the capability to play well in that area: “Almost everyone on this level is athletic. If they put their minds to defense, they can play.” He said it’s “typical of any player” to be more engaged defensively when he’s playing well offensively and that applies to Green.

### The coaches agreed Amar’e Stoudemire, who signed with Miami for $1.5 million, can still make a difference at 32.

“I would be surprised if he can’t give them good minutes, maybe 20 minutes [a game],” Karl said. “Remember Amar’e was one of the first guys who played in the pick and roll game, whatever we call now, that spacing game with a shooting four.

"This kid three or four years ago was one of the best players in basketball. It’s a great pickup. I’m rooting for him. A lot of guys in the NBA are rooting for him that he stays healthy.”

Hornacek: “Amar’e scored 16 points on us pretty easily last year. He’s a veteran guy, knows how to get the ball in the basket. Veteran guys can play a long time. You won’t get the Amar’e you got 10 years ago,
but he’s still pretty good….

Gentry: “Oh yeah [he has something left]. He had a good year last year. He can still get out and run. He can’t do it like he did six, eight years ago but no one else can.”

### The coaches hadn’t seen a lot of Justise Winslow, whose minutes have been limited, but Hornacek said: “I love their two draft picks. That will be big for them, too. Josh Richardson is a very good defender.”


With Justise Winslow and Shabazz Napier sidelined by ankle injuries, the Heat completed summer league play in Las Vegas by squandering a 51-26 halftime lead and losing 73-68 to the Kings in overtime at The Thomas & Mack Center.

Miami, which was outscored 27-1 to start the third quarter, finished 1-4 in Las Vegas after going 5-0 in Orlando.

Guard Josh Richardson, Miami's second-round pick, scored 18 of his 23 points in the first half, closing 8 for 18 from the field and with four steals.

Forward James Ennis (13 points, 9 rebounds) continued to struggle with his jump shot (4 for 16 from the field, 0 for 8 on three-pointers) and committed seven turnovers.

Winslow ended up missing three of the five games in Las Vegas (because of general soreness, the ankle injury and an appearance at the ESPY awards) and played  only 23 combined minutes in the other two.

Heat assistant Dan Craig, who coached Miami's summer league team, said Winslow was too sore to play today.

Queried by national reporters afterward, Winslow said: “I’m looking forward to winning championships. We have the talent to do it…. I can impact the game in so many ways… Summer league really helped me mentally.”

Winslow’s final summer league numbers, including four games in Orlando and six overall: 9.0 points per game, 34 percent shooting from the field (14 for 41), 3 for 12 on three-pointers, 12 turnovers and nine assists.

Napier’s final summer league numbers, in four games: 17 points per game, 36.5 percent shooting (19 for 52), 5 for 14 on three-pointers, 18 assists and 11 turnovers. Napier said he's happy how he played.

Ennis, incidentally, closed summer league with unfortunate numbers: 29.7 percent shooting (19 for 64), just 2 for 23 on threes, 23 turnovers and 11 assists.


### So what's the next step for UM and MLS? City manager Danny Alfonso said both sides will draw up a non-binding letter of intent in the coming days to build a stadium on the site next to Marlins Park.

Alfonso said negotiations will then begin between David Beckham's group and the city. One key point that must be resolved: how and how much Beckham's group will compensate the city for using what's primarily city land for the stadium.

Alfonso said Beckham's group reiterated today that it will pay for construction and also buy out a few private landowners who have property on the proposed stadium site.

As for UM's potential involvement, here's what we wrote in our last post a few hours ago in case you missed it (if you already read it, please scroll down to next item):

David Beckham’s group announced today that it is moving forward with plans for a 25,000-seat soccer stadium near Marlins Park and that UM is not involved “at this time” but that it is still talking to UM and open to more discussions in the future.

So why has the UM/Beckham joint stadium not materialized?

Stadium size appears to be the biggest obstacle.

According to a source close to MLS, when MLS and UM have spoken in recent weeks, MLS has made clear that a 25,000-seat stadium works best for MLS.

UM has responded that it must have at least 40,000 seats in any stadium that it plays in. MLS has hasn’t gone as far as to tell UM that 40,000 isn’t do-able but has been non-committal on the topic. And Friday’s announcement reinforces Beckham’s desire for 25,000 seats.

“As I’ve said before, there isn’t a stadium option I would see working for our program that would have less than 40,000 seats,” UM athletic director Blake James said Friday.

Asked his reaction to MLS saying it plans to build a stadium and is moving forward without UM for now, James said: “It’s an exciting day for soccer fans in the South Florida area. I congratulate them on moving forward. With that said, we are in a contract with Sun Life Stadium and are excited to open our season there on Sept. 5, in many ways in a brand new stadium that will enhance our fan experience.”

Would James have interest in continuing to talk to MLS about a joint MLS/UM football stadium?

“I will always keep all  options open,” James said. “My preference is for the University of Miami to have the best home for football and right now that is Sun Life Stadium.”

Though an MLS source said Beckham’s group would like UM to contribute toward construction costs, a source said Beckham’s group has never made a specific financial request to UM or even given UM any specific proposal for a 40,000-seat stadium.

One possibility: Build a 25,000-seat stadium now with the potential to make it 40,000 later.

Even if MLS and UM could resolve the stadium size, UM’s lease with Sun Life is another significant obstacle.

UM has 17 years on the lease, and the Dolphins are of the mindset to ask UM for a financial buyout if they tried to bolt, according to a source with direct knowledge. The Dolphins were not pleased when former president Donna Shalala said she wants to leave Sun Life Stadium.

So even though UM and MLS have stayed in contact in recent weeks, talks have not progressed to the stage of negotiations.

Beckham’s group hopes to be playing here in 2018.

### So just how good is the group of 22 UM football oral commitments for 2016?

Some say it’s outstanding; others say UM reached on a few players. Rivals.com and ESPN both rank UM’s class fifth nationally.

“It’s really good; and remember, a lot of Internet sites will drop a kid that commits early because they can’t make money off committed kids,” longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said.

“[Receiver] Sam Bruce is outstanding. Jack Allison is the best quarterback in the state. Joseph Jackson looks like he will become an All-American at defensive end; he already looks like he belongs in the NFL.

"Tyler Byrd can be an outstanding safety. Dionte Mullins, Amir Rasul and Ahmmon Richards are great athletes, can play both ways. Shaquille Quarterman reminds me of linebackers Miami had 20 years ago; a real thumper who can play right away. Miami would be top 10-15 even if they don’t sign anyone else.”

The risk, of course, is how many will de-commit before National Signing Day.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Friday 2 p.m.: New information on MLS stadium and obstacle with UM; On Dolphins rookie Jordan Phillips; James Ennis' worrisome summer; More radio changes; Marlins

David Beckham’s group announced today that it is moving forward with plans for a 25,000-seat soccer stadium near Marlins Park and that UM is not involved “at this time” but that it is still talking to UM and open to more discussions in the future.

So why has the UM/Beckham joint stadium not materialized?

Stadium size appears to be the biggest obstacle.

According to a source close to MLS, when MLS and UM have spoken in recent weeks, MLS has made clear that a 25,000-seat stadium works best for MLS.

UM has responded that it must have at least 40,000 seats in any stadium that it plays in. MLS has hasn’t gone as far as to tell UM that 40,000 isn’t do-able but has been non-committal on the topic. And Friday’s announcement reinforces Beckham’s desire for 25,000 seats.

“As I’ve said before, there isn’t a stadium option I would see working for our program that would have less than 40,000 seats,” UM athletic director Blake James said Friday.

Asked his reaction to MLS saying it plans to build a stadium and is moving forward without UM for now, James said: “It’s an exciting day for soccer fans in the South Florida area. I congratulate them on moving forward. With that said, we are in a contract with Sun Life Stadium and are excited to open our season
there on Sept. 5, in many ways in a brand new stadium that will enhance our fan experience.”

Would James have interest in continuing to talk to MLS about a joint MLS/UM football stadium?

“I will always keep all  options open,” James said. “My preference is for the University of Miami to have the best home for football and right now that is Sun Life Stadium.”

Though an MLS source said Beckham’s group would like UM to contribute toward construction costs, a source said Beckham’s group has never made a specific financial request to UM or even given UM any specific proposal for a 40,000-seat stadium.

One possibility: Build a 25,000-seat stadium now with the potential to make it 40,000 later.

Even if MLS and UM could resolve the stadium size, UM’s lease with Sun Life is another significant obstacle.

UM has 17 years on the lease, and the Dolphins are of the mindset to ask UM for a financial buyout if they tried to bolt, according to a source with direct knowledge. The Dolphins were not pleased when former president Donna Shalala said she wants to leave Sun Life Stadium.

So even though UM and MLS have stayed in contact in recent weeks, talks have not progressed to the stage of negotiations.

Beckham’s group hopes to be playing here in 2018.

Here was the Beckham Group statement today: "Today's meeting with Mayor Regalado was another positive step toward bringing a world class soccer club to Miami. We're still in the early planning stages and several viable options still exist, but our preferred stadium location is the former Orange Bowl site. David, Marcelo and Simon are thrilled by the initial outpouring of support we've received from our fans and we're excited about sharing our plans with the City, County and community soon."




LAS VEGAS --- When coach Erik Spoelstra said earlier this offseason that the Heat wants to quicken the tempo, that was viewed as good news for small forward James Ennis, because few players on the roster are better suited to playing fast.

But then the Heat added Justise Winslow in the NBA Draft. And then Miami signed swingman Gerald Green, a player with similar athleticism but a far better three-point shooter and a more polished offensive player. And then Ennis began what he calls a “terrible” run in Summer League, one that ends Friday when the Heat plays Sacramento (4:30 p.m., NBA TV) at The Thomas & Mack Center.

With an Aug. 1 deadline looming at which point a large chunk of his $845,059 salary would become guaranteed, Ennis hopes two disappointing weeks in Orlando and Las Vegas don’t offset the promise he showed last season and don't tempt the Heat to move on from him.

“It definitely bothers me,” Ennis said of his summer performance, which includes shooting 31 percent and averaging 11 points in Orlando and 5.0 points in Las Vegas.

“This is the worst summer league I’ve played. I played better my first year coming from college and from overseas. I know I’ve gotten better, but I’m not proving it. That’s what gets me upset. It seems like I haven’t gotten better.

“I have no answers right now. I don’t have a clue [why this is happening]. I’m probably over-thinking things. I’m probably not playing with a clear mind. My mind is cluttered, so it’s taking away [things] I’m good at.”  

Knee tendinitis has bothered him this summer, but he’s not using it as an excuse.

“His injury hasn’t helped him,” said Dan Craig, who is coaching the Heat’s Summer League team. “He hasn’t really gotten consistent play. [And] when you're not a guy that has the ball in their hands all the time, you're more of an on-the-move, cutting offensive weapon.”

Ennis went into this offseason hoping to improve his shooting and ball-handling.

But he has shot 15 for 48 overall and 2 for 15 on threes this summer.

"Nothing is falling for me,” he said. “I’m working on my shot everywhere. Left wing is my favorite spot.”

Last season, Ennis shot 32.6 percent on threes (31 for 95). “He’s been really working on his three-point shot,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.

As for ball-handling, Ennis has more turnovers (16) than assists (nine) in Summer League.

He said the coaches have been imploring him to “do what I do best –-- energy, run the floor, play with a clear mind. If I can’t play with a clear mind, nothing is going to be positive for me.”

Here’s what can’t be questioned about Ennis, beyond the athleticism: He’s “a great runner,” as Spoelstra said, usually plays with great energy, can be disruptive defensively at times (17 blocks and 25 steals last season), shoots free throws well (79 for 94, 84 percent last season), goes through bursts where he rebounds highly efficiently, fills the lane on fast breaks (20 dunks last season) and has good chemistry with Dragic.

The Heat outscored opponents by 28 points in 191 minutes when Ennis and Dragic were on the floor together last season; that plus/minus ranked 10th-best on the Heat among two-man lineups. (Luol Deng and Chris Andersen were first at plus 70). That dynamic with Dragic could boost Ennis’ case to remain on the team.

“He plays at a fast pace like me,” Ennis said. “He runs. I run. Once he came to the team, that’s why I think I got more transition points. I can run on the side of him. That’s a good plus.”

Because Spoelstra wants to play faster at times, he’s expected to experiment with several small lineups during stretches. Ennis, 6-7, said he could play guard or either forward position in those lineups. He said he played power forward at least twice last season and is prepared to again.

But all that depends on whether Ennis is even on the team. His chances could hinge partly on whether Miami can dump a veteran or two in trades. The Heat has 17 players, plus unsigned second-round pick Josh Richardson, and is trying to trade Mario Chalmers.

Asked whether the roster situation is weighing on him, Ennis said: “Everything enters my mind.”


### Dolphins defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, who won’t necessarily need to play quite as much with the signing of C.J. Mosley, “can be a better NFL player” than college player. That’s the prediction of Mike Stoops, his defensive coordinator at Oklahoma.

Stoops said teams asked him about the criticism that Phillips would go stretches during games without making an impact. “Jordan would be the first to say he probably could have made more plays and needs to make more plays,” Stoops said.

“Getting his body into shape; that's the biggest obstacle for him to overcome. Coming off the back injury last year, we were sensitive to re-injuring it and over-using him.”

Stoops told me he’s bullish on Phillips’ NFL potential because “you don't see guys that can do what Jordan can do athletically [at 325 pounds]. He can be an every down player.”

Stoops said Phillips is very good against the run and “for a guy that big, his pass-rushing skills can develop. He is just scratching the surface. He’s a great kid.”

### With Giancarlo Stanton and Dee Gordon injured, the most visible, conspicuous Marlins person (second row) at Tuesday’s All-Star Game was Laurence Leavy, the North Miami Beach-based attorney know as Marlins Man, because he shows up everywhere wearing his orange Marlins jersey.

Leavy went to sports events 301 days last year and recently attended 21 events in 21 days (including the NBA and NHL finals and Preakness and Belmont) in 11 different cities.

When he sat behind the Warriors bench during the NBA Finals, “a Warriors coach said, ‘Stop watching our plays.’” The Royals (during last year’s World Series) were the only team to ever ask him to remove his Marlins jersey before telling him it was “a big misunderstanding.”

Leavy said Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria “once told me, ‘I know it’s not easy for you [wearing that jersey] because I know a lot of people hate the Marlins.”

### The Marlins' starting pitchers coming out of the All-Star game against Philadelphia: Jose Fernandez, Tom Koehler and Dan Haren.

### One quick broadcast note: Colin Cowherd is leaving ESPN and ESPN Radio and reportedly might head to Fox.

We're told that moving Dan Le Batard to 10 a.m. is an appealing option that ESPN has discussed internally. Jorge Sedano also warrants consideration for that slot if ESPN and Le Batard decide to leave Dan where he is.

[Friday noon update: SI's Richard Deitsch reports Le Batard is the clubhouse leader for Cowherd's slot].

"We've enjoyed a mutually beneficial run with Colin for over a decade," ESPN president John Skipper said. "He came to national prominence on ESPN with his unique perspective on sports and society. Endings also bring new beginnings, for ESPN and Colin, and we thank him and wish him the best."

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

July 15, 2015

Heat's Ennis despondent; A look at South Florida media and sports fans: What we're watching and listening to among our teams, local sports talk radio

Couple quick Heat notes from today's 75-64 loss to Atlanta in Las Vegas: I've seldom seen a player tougher on himself than James Ennis was after his one-point, 0-for-7 shooting, three turnover game --- perhaps his worst performance in a disappointing summer.

He called his summer league performance "terrible. Worst summer league I've ever played. No answers right now. I'm not playing how I should play. My mind is cluttered. It seems like I haven't gotten better. I don't feel the same."

The Heat has 17 players under contract (not counting unsigned second-rounder Josh Richardson), but four have non-guaranteed deals: Hassan Whiteside (who's obviously on the team), Ennis, Tyler Johnson and Henry Walker.

### Justise Winslow missed his third game in the last five.

Dan Craig, who is coaching the Heat's summer league team, said Winslow was healthy enough to play Wednesday but he was allowed to attend the ESPYs in Los Angeles instead because "it's important when you accomplish something like [he did winning a title at Duke]. The whole franchise was behind him." Winslow was there to support Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who's nominated in the best coach category.

### The Heat concludes summer league play at 4:30 p.m. EST Friday against Sacramento.

### If you missed it, please see my last post for a player's candid perspective on the UM football program.


In the coming days, The Herald will be rolling out my three-part project on sports media, which explores notable trends, changes, new techology, new ways we consume sports and more.  

I'm posting the first part of the series in my blog because that's the one most germane to South Florida. Essentially, the numbers show --- among many other things --- that the perception of this market as a "football town" is no longer accurate.

Here's part 1 of my series:

South Florida’s broadcast sports landscape is filled with peculiarities and curiosities.

We’re considered a football town, but our Super Bowl rating this year was the worst of any major city in the country.

The Dolphins are perceived to be our first love, but no market with only one NFL franchise watched its team on television less than South Florida has in recent years.

LeBron James left town but our Heat television ratings remain strong.

Several major media companies believe South Florida has enough sports fans to support four all-sports radio stations. Yet none of the three based in Miami-Dade or Broward rank in the top 12 in audience share for their targeted male demographic group.

Examining notable evolutions in South Florida sports media and what sports fans here are watching:


### Dolphins ratings keep declining.

Among markets with only one NFL team, Dolphins ratings in Miami-Fort Lauderdale were the lowest of any NFL market last season, which was also the case in 2013.

Overall, Dolphins games averaged a 16.9 rating in 2014, down from 17.7 in 2012 and 17.1 in 2013 and a drop from the team’s halcyon years.

That means 16.9 percent of Miami-Dade/Broward homes with TV sets tuned into a Dolphins game, on average, in 2014, with one ratings point equaling 16,327 homes.

In the Dolphins’ defense, their ratings are higher than local regular-season ratings for the Heat or University of Miami football, and they always rank at or near the top of most-watched programs on local television during any particular week during the season, according to Nielsen Media Research.

But Dolphins’ ratings pale in comparison to ratings in many other NFL markets. For perspective, the average rating for the home team’s games in 2014 was 45.5 in Denver, 42.8 in New Orleans, 38.2 in Pittsburgh and 36.1 in Kansas City.

Last season, Dolphins’ ratings were higher than local ratings for only other three teams: the Jets, Giants and Raiders --- all of which play in markets with two NFL franchises and divided loyalties.

And here’s another way of looking at this: The Dolphins’ highest rating last season was a 22.0 for the Denver game. That means, coincidentally, that 22 NFL teams averaged a higher rating than Miami’s highest Dolphins rating all year.

Executives at NBC-6 and WFOR-CBS 4 declined to discuss why this is the case, but at least two factors appear to contribute:

The large number of transplants living in South Florida who have no allegiance to the Dolphins; and the fact a sizable portion of South Florida’s population, and Nielsen-metered homes, primarily watch Spanish television.

“In many of the Hispanic homes here, football was not their No. 1 sport. That hurts the ratings,” said Bernie Rosen, who ran WTVJ NBC-6’s sports department from 1960 to 1985 and worked there for 65 years before retiring in 2013.

“But the thing that hurts the Dolphins ratings most is just losing.”

But neither the Dolphins’ sustained mediocrity nor the transplant factor explains why South Florida’s 38.7 Super Bowl TV rating this year was the lowest of 56 metered markets.

### South Florida’s college football ratings are pretty pedestrian, too.

Among those 56 major markets, Miami-Fort Lauderdale’s 12.3 rating ranked 51st for the Ohio State-Oregon national championship game in January. West Palm Beach was 21st with a 20.4.

The 10 UM football games that aired on ABC or one of the ESPN networks averaged a 7.3 rating in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market, decent but hardly extraordinary.

### Heat ratings are holding up well post-LeBron. Dolphins games still draw more than three times as many viewers as Heat games, as they should, considering there are far fewer games in the NFL than the NBA.

But whereas Dolphins ratings in South Florida rank among the NFL’s lowest, Heat ratings rank among the NBA’s highest.

Heat games on Sun Sports (excluding ABC, ESPN and TNT games) averaged a 5.0 rating this past season, down from a 6.8 the previous season but still good enough for fourth in the NBA, trailing only San Antonio (8.4), Cleveland (7.9) and Oklahoma City (7.2).

“Ratings, like attendance, retail sales, social media following and pretty much every other indicator of the health of a franchise were very strong this year because Miami Heat fans have, over time, become the most engaged, loyal and rabid fans in all of professional sports," Heat president/business operations Eric Woolworth said.

What’s more, the Warriors-Cavaliers NBA Finals averaged an impressive 17.7 rating in Dade/Broward, higher than Dolphins ratings locally and ranking sixth among 56 major markets.

### Marlins ratings are on the upswing.

Despite the team’s disappointing first half, Marlins ratings are somewhat on the rise, up 19 percent compared with Marlins cablecasts before last year’s All-Star break.

Marlins games on Fox Sports Florida are being viewed on average, by 31,511 people in this market, compared with a 27,000 per-game final average last season. That 27,000 ranked ahead of only Houston’s 8000 in 2014, according to Sports Business Daily.

Thanks largely to the Marlins, Fox Sports Florida says it’s the No. 1 rated cable channel in prime time in Dade/Broward on nights the Marlins are playing.

### Panthers ratings continue to lag.

Games this past season on Fox Sports Florida averaged a 0.17 rating, equal to fewer than 3500 viewers per telecast, and the lowest for any NHL team in four years, since Panthers games averaged a 0.16 rating in 2010-11.

Panthers ratings dropped 19 percent from 2013-14, surprising considering the team remained in playoff contention until late in the season this year.


There are two ways of looking at sports talk radio in this market, both accurate:

A) South Florida sports fans are fortunate to have so many options, with four English stations airing sports around the clock. The fourth, WMEN-640, is based in Palm Beach but has listeners south of it. A fifth station primarily serves the West Palm Beach market.

B) The market is oversaturated, lacking enough fans to justify so many all-sports stations.

Argument B is supported by this: Among men 25 to 54, the target demographic group for sports talk radio, none of the sports stations ranked in the top half among the market’s 35 radio stations in May or June.

For the May Nielsen ratings book, 104.3 The Ticket ranked 18th with a 2.5 share in that target demographic group, WQAM-560 was 21st with a 1.7 share and WINZ-940 was 28th with a 0.3.

In the June book, The Ticket climbed to 15th among men 25 to 54 and extended its lead over WQAM among all listeners (1.9 share to 1.0).

Palm Beach-based WMEN-640 isn’t included in Nielsen’s Dade/Broward ratings book. Its shares are substantially higher in Palm Beach, where its signal is much stronger.

So does South Florida have too many all-sports stations?

“Four is a lot,” said longtime South Florida talk show host Hank Goldberg, who now hosts an afternoon-drive time show for WMEN. “I can’t think of another market that has that many. Sales have become more important than ratings; that’s a bigger priority for these stations.”

Steve Lapa, former general manager for WMEN, said there are enough sports fans in the tri-county region to support four, or five if including the ESPN station in West Palm Beach.

“But you have to break out of the constraints of sports radio” and appeal to a broader audience, Lapa said.

Nielsen ratings, which are shared with only those willing to purchase them, combine the audience of sister stations 790 AM and 104.3 FM – without specifying the audience size on each station - which gives The Ticket an inherent advantage in comparisons with one-signal stations such as WQAM.

So it’s no surprise The Ticket consistently beats WQAM in the afternoon and evening and also beats WINZ in every day part. The Ticket, which has a marketing partnership with The Miami Herald, also has the market’s only locally-based talk show that airs nationally: Dan Le Batard’s show, which produces strong local ratings.

But in the 6-10 a.m. slot, WQAM’s Joe Rose drew a higher share than The Ticket’s Jonathan Zaslow and Joy Taylor in three of the past five ratings books, with The Ticket winning in June. That’s the most competitive battle between the two stations.

Entercom, which is awaiting approval of its acquisition of The Ticket from Lincoln Financial, hasn’t said what it plans to do with the two sports stations.

The company is searching for a new general manager to replace Maureen Lesourd, who said months ago that her vision was to have different programming on each signal.

WQAM also has a new owner, CBS Radio, and a new program director (Ryan Maguire). The station made a major lineup change this week when it decided to drop Adam Kuperstein and Channing Crowder and instead air four four-hour talk shows (Rose, Orlando Alzugaray, Marc Hochman with Zach Krantz, and Alex Donno).

“Would we like to do better? Sure,” WQAM general manager Joe Bell said. “But we’re not going anywhere.”

Meanwhile, despite owning radio rights to the Dolphins and Marlins, WINZ’s ratings remain low.

The Dolphins moved their games there in 2010, in a six-year contract, partly because parent company Clear Channel (now called IHeartMedia) was willing to simulcast the games on one of its FM stations (WBGG-105.9) and also because of WINZ’s willingness to air considerable ancillary programming, including a Dolphins show from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays.


Whereas sports radio coverage has expanded over the past decade, weeknight coverage of sports on television has diminished, except at WSVN-Fox 7.

WTVJ NBC-6, WPLG ABC-10 and WFOR CBS-4 have all reduced the time allocated to weeknight sportscasts in recent years, which is in line with a national trend.

“Part of it is understandable progression, but I think it’s sad,” Rosen said. “It started three or four years ago. You may get a news director that thinks sports is hurting the ratings. That’s the biggest joke in the world. Don’t ever believe that.”

Several months ago, NBC-6 canceled its 6 p.m. sportscast altogether, except on nights there’s significant sports news.

“In a market of this size, to do away with sports at 6 p.m. is absolutely terrible,” Rosen said. “The news director at NBC 6 [Migdalia Figueroa] doesn’t like sports, and the general manager has allowed her to do everything she wants to do. Whatever they put on instead hasn’t helped them one bit.”

NBC-6 management declined to comment for this article.

Rosen said team restrictions have made it more difficult for television to cover the local teams than earlier years.

“Don Shula allowed us to come on the field and watch the practices,” Rosen said.

Now, Dolphins reporters can watch only the first 30 minutes from the stands for regular season practices (and nothing at all beyond that), though that’s customary in the NFL. And the Dolphins have been far more media friendly during the past two years than they were in the several years prior to that.

NBC-6, Fox-7 and ABC-10 continue to air a Sunday night sports program, which is considered a local station’s signature sports offering, but WFOR-4 canceled its show two years ago, which the station declines to explain.

NBC-6 decided to keep its Sunday night show after initially informing some employees that it would be canceled at the end of last year.

The full series --- including parts 2 and 3 --- will be posted on the home page in a few days.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz