June 16, 2016

4 p.m. update: Al Golden speaks to media for 1st time since UM firing; Dolphins cut QB; Nuggets from Dolphins' final offseason practice Thursday: Grant makes case; lineup news; rookie QB impresses Gase and much more

Quick 4 p.m. update: Al Golden, now the Detroit Lions' tight ends coach, spoke to the Detroit Free Press this week, the first time he has spoken publicly about his tenure at UM which ended with his dismissal last October. Here's what Golden -- who went 32-25 at UM --- told Dave Birkett:

• “I needed this right now. I was a head coach for 10 years. I just felt like – I felt like I was burnt out, and I needed this. It’s been great. I’m coaching offense. I’ve been rejuvenated. Just exposing myself every day to something new in the league....That sense of drain, of burnout, is long gone. This place has (rejuvenated me) and the players are a big part of it.”

• On his UM tenure: "At the end of the day, I took the job without knowing that there was an impending NCAA investigation and eight months into it, it blew up and it took its toll at the end of the day, and that’s it. I haven’t looked back since. I miss the players. I miss the people that were supportive of my family and I, the people that were friends. But other than that we’ve moved on and now I’m looking after a new group.”

• On moving to the NFL: “I think the biggest transition for me is not the individual drills or any of those things because I’ve been a part of it,” Golden said. “I think the transition for me has been the nomenclature and just being introduced to a new system, which until you know it inside and out, you should have a little edge about you. And that’s what I have right now. I have a little edge to learn every day and it’s been awesome.” 

• He wouldn't rule out a return to college football someday. “I think I have too much experience and just because I started young as a head coach, sometimes people look at it like, ‘Well, he’s already been a head coach,’” Golden said. “But I’m not 57. I’m 46, so I started young as a head coach and I’ve got a world of experience and I think this is just the next chapter for me so we’ll see where it goes. It’s too early to start thinking about that, but I know I’m skilled in that aspect of it. I’ve been a defensive coordinator, I’ve been a special teams coordinator, I’ve coached five or six different positions and now I’m coaching on the offense in the NFL”

 

DOLPHINS NUGGETS

• The Dolphins cut quarterback Logan Thomas today, leaving them four quarterbacks for training camp: Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore, Brandon Doughty (see more on him below) and Zac Dysert. Thomas' accuracy was erratic during the offseason program, and frankly, no team needs five QBs in camp.

The Dolphins promoted Thomas from the practice squad to the 53 late last season, and Thomas said Mike Tannenbaum told him he would have a legitimate chance to battle for the backup job this year. But then Moore re-signed and the Dolphins drafted Doughty, whose accuracy has been superior to Thomas' in the offseason program. 

The Dolphins paid $125,000 to keep Thomas late last season. He ended up never throwing a pass for the Dolphins.

• The Dolphins also released defensive tackle Charles Tuaau.

• Amid the doldrums and drudgery of June practices, 5-7 receiver Jakeem Grant has left an impression on teammates with his electrifying quickness and demonstrative personality. Called Mighty Mouse by some and Kevin Hart II by others (because of his light-hearted demeanor and facial resemblance to the comedian), Grant wants to prove he’s more than merely a returner, more than simply a gadget player.

If the sixth-round pick proves capable of being a No. 5 receiver, then there won’t necessarily be a need to keep a sixth (likely Griff Whalen or Matt Hazel). Grant has made a bunch of catches in offseason practices, while also receiving a lot of opportunities on returns.

His work this summer has convinced him that he can get open against NFL defensive backs.

“I’m matched up with safeties that aren’t used to my speed and already have that threat like, ‘Oh my God, this guy’s fast so I can’t let him beat me deep,’” Grant said. “That gives me an edge already and that’s already having them on their heels and having them scared that I’m going to beat them deep. And most of the time, I’m not even going deep. That’s the fun fact about being short. Having that speed and that agility over those guys and being able to open yourself up.”

And what about possibly being jammed at the line? Grant isn’t worried about that, either.

“Being a smaller receiver, we have the quickness over those guys,” he said. “Giving them the illusion I’m going somewhere I’m not. I’ve seen 6-foot receivers get jammed by smaller cornerbacks. If you have the technique down, there’s no way you can get jammed.”

But Grant can sometimes go too fast for his own good.

“Sometimes, it’s almost like we’ve got to slow him down,” coach Adam Gase said. “He’s so fast. He has got to learn to play at that speed, be able to cut, stop. You will see him slipping every once in a while. That’s when he’s going too fast.

“If we can just get him under control as far as how he understands that you pulling back a little bit is still faster than everybody else. Once he realizes that, he’s going to really make strides there and really have a great route tree. He has done a good job of picking everything up.”

Grant appreciates the opportunity to pick the brain of Wes Welker, a fellow Texas Tech alum who has been in a pseudo-coaching type role in practice over the past few weeks.

“Wes set the tone for shorter receivers like me,” Grant said. “Just getting advice from him as a receiver and punt returner is awesome. He’s coached me up on all those aspects.”

• Running back Kenyan Drake became the last Dolphins draft pick to sign a contract but sat out practice with what appeared to be a hamstring injury that he sustained during a punt block drill on Wednesday.

Drake, who has had at least seven documented injuries over the past five seasons, will be ready for the start of training camp, Gase said.

• Gase said the Dolphins have Laremy Tunsil working exclusively on the left side to make it easier for him. Tunsil remained behind Dallas Thomas at left guard all three days of the mandatory minicamp.

He appears Miami’s top option at left tackle if Branden Albert is injured (or if Albert is being rested, in the case of practice).

Thomas, meanwhile, has impressed coaches. “He did a good job [this offseason], kept getting better,” Gase said.

• Gase said seventh-round rookie quarterback Brandon Doughty “has made a lot of strides since he’s been here. He seems to find completions. When I look at a lot of our film for three weeks before this week, even when [he’s] wrong [in] where he was going, somehow he completes the football.

“He kind of has this knack -- He sees the open guy sometimes. You’re like, ‘Why did you throw it there?’ He’s like, ‘He was open.’ He has something about him in that capacity where he can find completions.”

• Jarvis Landry, Mario Williams and Jason Jones had excused absences on the last day of the mandatory minicamp.

• Gase, on his message for players as they begin a five-week vacation tonight: “You always just want them to be smart. A lot of guys in this profession forget who they are, who they represent, understand what kind of situation you’re putting yourself in. That’s the decision you have to make the next 5 weeks: what’s the most important thing in your life.”

Gase also wants them to stay conditioned, obviously: “We can’t have guys that don’t do anything [the next five weeks]. You can’t be grossly out of shape.”

• What has Gase learned about the leadership on this team?

“First thing I’ve learned is there’s more than a lot of people gave guys credit for. If you let guys’ personalities come out, you’re going to see more guys take that leadership role…

“We’ve had a lot of guys step in. If somebody gets out of line, they get straightened out real quick. Not a lot of things have gotten back to me, which is great. As a head coach, the less that gets brought to you where it’s things that are not football related, you are focused more on the important things.”

• Couple notes from the final practice: Isaiah Pead, elevated in Drake’s absence, showed good burst, on both runs and screen passes…With Cam Wake getting a lot of rest, Terrence Fede’s presence was felt as a pass rusher…. Andrew Franks had another good day, hitting from 52 and 51 yards and missing from 64….

We’ll have more Dolphins observations (plus other sports) in our next post.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

June 15, 2016

Wednesday Dolphins minicamp nuggets: Rise of Dallas Thomas, lineup moves, Moore doubted his return; Welker/Reggie Wayne role

 

The notion of beleaguered Dallas Thomas starting ahead of Dolphins rookie first-round pick Laremy Tunsil at left guard this season seems difficult, if not impossible, to fathom. But Thomas has lined up ahead of Tunsil at left guard to open team drills in the first two days of the team’s mandatory mini-camp, and coach Adam Gase said no player will simply be handed a position.

“You’ve got to earn your spot,” Gase said when asked if Tunsil will be a starter. “I don’t think you’ve seen anyone get plugged in and anointed anything. Everybody’s battling. That’s what we want. We want guys to earn their spots. If you’re a veteran player, a lot of guys respect that because they know it’s not going to be handed to anybody.

“Guys know, I’m going to battle for the five spots in the offensive line. Same on defense. I know [cornerback] Tony Lippett isn’t going to be like, ‘Yeah, you take it’ [with second-round rookie Xavien Howard]. I hope not. I hope he battles this thing all the way out. If he’s the starter, great. We’ll be happy. Then I just know we got three really good players there at corner.”

Gase downplayed the importance of who’s playing with the first team, noting that he doesn’t ask offensive line coach Chris Foerster “who do you have starting today….  We are just going to keep working on different groups. We will keep running guys in there.”

Thomas has given up a lot of sacks and pressures in 36 games over three seasons, including 25 starts. Pro Football Focus rated him 80th of 81 qualifying guards last season.

He was beaten by Earl Mitchell in Wednesday’s practice, forcing a Ryan Tannehill incompletion. But Thomas said Foerster has “been real positive with me, telling me I’m doing a good job.”

Thomas also has been getting work at right guard, where Billy Turner has received many of the first-team snaps.

Thomas believes he will be more stout because “I gained a little bit of weight but more muscle than anything. I wanted to be stronger. So far, I did what I said I’m going to do.”

• Rookie running back Kenyan Drake limped to the locker-room after pulling up in a punt blocking drill. Drake grabbed the back of his right leg with what appeared to be a hamstring injury.

He had a slew of injuries when playing at Alabama, including a dislocated ankle, a cracked rib, a sprained ankle, a concussion, a quad contusion, and a broken right arm.

• Matt Moore admitted Wednesday that at one point, he doubted he would return to the Dolphins as their backup quarterback. Before re-engaging his agent in serious contract talks, the Dolphins brought in Brandon Weeden for a visit and booked a visit with Luke McCown, who canceled to re-sign with the Saints.

Meanwhile, Moore visited the Dallas Cowboys. Then Miami summoned Moore for a visit early in free agency.

“There was some doubt,” he said. “It was kind of weird. I came in [to Dolphins offices] for a free agent visit, which I thought was odd. I came in and met the coaches, the new people here. That was the day I signed. A part of me thought I wouldn’t be back.”

Gase said offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen and quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree both advocated Moore’s return.

“Clyde kept coming back to it and so did Bo as far as there are not a lot of guys that can come into that role and can come into the game,” Gase said. “I think he has a winning record and I don’t know how many backup quarterbacks you can say that.”

Moore has a 13-12 record in 25 career starts: 6-6 with Miami and 7-6 with Carolina.

“He has done a great job,” Gase said. “A guy I was with in Denver, Mike McCoy, coached him in Carolina and I always had heard great things about him. We knew what kind of guy he was getting and the fact when you’ve got a guy that supports you like Matt does to Ryan, that’s valuable. Him and Ryan are really close.” 

• Receiver DeVante Parker returned to team drills after missing two weeks with an undisclosed injury.

“We’ve really been missing him,” said Tannehill, who connected with Parker for a 20-plus yard competition against Xavien Howard. “He’s such a talented player and we want to develop him further. He really makes us more dynamic on offense.”

• Former University of Miami and Indianapolis Colts star receiver Reggie Wayne attended practice and spoke to the receivers.

His message? “Stay on the little details,” receiver Leonte Carroo said. “Make every practice count. He said the practices were harder than the games because he grinded every day and exhausted himself. He said he could leave the game happy knowing he put everything on the field.”

Former Dolphins/Patriots/Broncos receiver Wes Welker, who has made several appearances at practice, also has been helping the receivers, Carroo said.  

“Wes Welker talks to us every single day,” Carroo said. “Even in practice, he helps us. As a receiver, it’s great to have two legends like that talking to you. It makes you feel better as a receiver just knowing you can go to the sidelines and those guys who ran this type of offense can help you and talk to you.”

Asked about whether Welker might join the staff, Gase said: “When he wants to come around, he’s welcome. Whether it goes any further than that, it’s a day by day thing with Wes. He knows I’ll always have his back in whatever he wants to do. And we’ll be here to kind of help him grow with whatever he ends up doing.”

• Carroo said Jarvis Landry asked him to participate in workouts with him during most of the five weeks between this week’s minicamp and the start of training camp.

Jets quarterback Geno Smith, Giants receiver Odell Beckham and Steelers receiver Antonio Brown are among others who have participated in those workouts.

“When he offered that to me, I wasn’t going to turn that down,” Carroo said. “This is my job now. I’m going to stay down here and work with one of the best receivers in the NFL.”

• With Reshad Jones returning, defensive ends Mario Williams and Jason Jones were the only players not in attendance at the mandatory minicamp. Both were excused absences for personal reasons… Linebacker Neville Hewitt and receiver AJ Cruz worked on the side because of injuries.

• A day after Andrew Franks nailed all seven field-goal attempts (including a 59-yarder), his competition, undrafted Iowa kicker Marshall Koehn, made 4 of 7, missing from 41, 49 and 59…. Former UM receiver Rashawn Scott made at least three catches in 11 on 11 drills… When Reshad Jones entered team drills, he replaced Isa Abdul Quddus, not Michael Thomas.

Please click here for the latest on Dion Jordan, the players the Heat summoned to Miami for auditions this week, Panthers free agent news, David Samson’s assessment of the Marlins, and some UM recruiting and baseball news.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

June 14, 2016

Jordan's agent expects reinstatement, says Dolphins want him back; Heat camp invites; Heat draft; Panthers news; Marlins; Hurricanes tidbits

 

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

 

Contrary to a published report, the agent for suspended defensive end Dion Jordan said this week that the Dolphins have indicated they are excited about having him back and that he’s in excellent shape.

Commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to rule on Jordan’s bid for reinstatement by the end of July and “I feel very strongly he will be reinstated without question,” agent Doug Hendrickson said by phone. “He's done everything he has been asked to do. We feel very good where we're at. We expect Dion to start training camp with the Dolphins.”

Jordan is owed $600,000 in base salary for 2016 and is due a $1.69 million signing bonus if he’s on the roster on the fifth day of training camp. “They are excited to have him back,” said Hendrickson, who has spoken to the Dolphins. “Every team wants top talent.”

Hendrickson said the Dolphins haven’t indicated whether they plan to keep him at defensive end or move him to linebacker. Defensive end makes sense for 2016, despite the team’s considerable depth there, because asking him to learn linebacker in his first camp back might be too much to ask.

As for a report elsewhere that he isn’t in the best of shape, Hendrickson said: “Dion is in exceptional shape. [Any suggestion otherwise] is a bunch of foolishness. He's been training eight hours a day in San Francisco.  You can’t mimic being in football shape. Once he's reinstated, he will be in football [shape].”

Jordan’s trainer told USA Today last month that he has lost 12 to 13 pounds of fat and was a bit under 270 pounds.

Hendrickson has said Jordan hasn’t failed or missed a drug test since his April 2015 suspension.

According to NFLPA records, Jordan returned $3.35 million of his initial $13 million signing bonus and also returned a $1.69 million roster bonus. He is due to earn $690,000 in 2017, the final year of his contract, with a $2.5 million roster bonus activated the fifth day of 2017 training camp.

“I hope everything work out,” said defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, one of many teammates offering support to Jordan. “Everybody knows how great of an athlete he is.”

• Mitchell said he and Jordan Phillips are splitting first team snaps evenly alongside Ndamukong Suh… The Dolphins surprisingly opened team minicamp drills with Dallas Thomas (not Laremy Tunsil) at left guard and Billy Turner at right guard, but coach Adam Gase cautioned there is no depth chart yet.... For a ton more Dolphins notes from today, please click here.

CHATTER

• Marlins president David Samson’s measured assessment of his team: “We've been relevant for 2 1/2 months and we’re in a position we haven't been the last few years. We have put together a good team.” (Quick aside: The frustration is the 2-7 record against doormats Atlanta and Minnesota)… Samson said the Marlins won’t hesitate to add payroll if they remain in contention for postseason: “Jeffrey Loria’s [approach] has been the same for 17 seasons; when we’re in the race, we add.”….

Though the Marlins have increased their scouting budget – including internationally -- Samson said they’re still not in position to offer big contracts to free agents from Cuba and Japan. But if the front office says “this is a guy we absolutely want, we would have to take a look,” Samson said.

• Though nothing was announced, we hear the Heat summoned these 10 players to audition at a free agent camp this week: shooting guards Rodney McGruder (who played on its D-League team in Sioux Falls, South Dakota), Quinton Upshur (Northern Arizona/Portugal); Brandan Kearney (University of Detroit); Juwan Howard Jr. (son of the Heat assistant/played in Spanish League) and Jabril Trawick (Georgetown/Sioux Falls), plus forwards Okaro White (FSU/Greece), Xavier Gibson (FSU/Greece), Kevin Tumba (Belgium), Kenny Gabriel (Auburn/Turkey) and 6-11 Norvel Pelle, a skilled shot-blocker who was the No. 1 center in the 2011 high school class, failed to qualify at St. John’s and has played in the D-League, Taiwan and elsewhere since.

Players who finished this past season in the NBA cannot be brought in for workouts before July 1.

• Though Miami has no draft pick on June 23, the Heat has been attending workouts for draft-eligible players and Pat Riley said his staff "is putting together the books just as though we had a lottery pick. We'll see whether we jump back in the first and the second if we can. We will be very well educated on the players who may not be [drafted]."

The Heat had two second-round picks in its rotation: Hassan Whiteside, drafted by the Kings, and Josh Richardson, drafted by Miami. So how unusual was this?

Of the 180 players drafted in the second round this decade (2010-15), only 18 were NBA rotation players in the final several weeks of this past season. Counting injured Dallas forward Chandler Parsons as a 19th, that’s 10.5 percent. So what Richardson did wasn’t normal.

• FIU athletic director Pete Garcia declined to say when asked, via email, whether baseball coach Turtle Thomas will be retained, and FIU people expect Garcia to strongly consider UM pitching coach J.D. Arteaga if he makes a change. FIU was 29-29 this season.

• I’m surprised Edgar Michelangeli did another preening bat flip after hitting a home run during Sunday’s game against Boston College, considering Michelangeli admitted Jim Morris told him pointedly “not to do it again” after he did the same thing in the ACC Tournament. ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser says everyone in the ACC is now going to drill him next season.

Morris said Michelangeli toned it down a bit from what he did in the ACC Tourney but needs to "tone it down" further.

• Among the many impressive things Jim Larranaga has accomplished at UM, here’s another: With this week’s oral commitment by 2017 Bowie-Md.-based 5-7 point guard Chris Lykes, Larranaga has landed three top-50 recruits in a year: incoming Bruce Brown (rated 26th by ESPN in 2016 class) and Dewan Huell (28th in 2016 class) and now Lykes (46th in 2017).

In the previous 12 years, UM had only two top 50 recruits: DeQuan Jones, 22nd in 2008, and Durand Scott, 25th in 2009.

ESPN says Lykes (who averaged 22 points as a junior at Gonzaga High) “is a constant threat on the offensive end of the floor. He can go wherever he wants with the ball. His handle and court vision are excellent and he is a crafty passer and finisher.”

And UM is in the mix for another high-end prospect. Malik Newman, rated a five-star player and the No. 8 player overall is the 2015 recruiting class, is reportedly transferring from Mississippi State and will visit UM this weekend, ESPN's Jeff Goodman reports.

Newman, a 6-4 combo guard, visited Western Kentucky last week and visited North Carolina State today. He would be required to sit out a season.

Newman was considered a potential lottery pick when he enrolled at MSU last season but was slowed by injuries and averaged 11.3 points on 39.1 percent shooting. He shot 37.9 percent on threes (61 for 161). He entered the NBA draft but withdrew last month when he got word that he likely would be a late second-round pick.

• Three-star Oak Leaf cornerback Nick Roberts, originally offered by Al Golden's staff, decommitted from UM this week after it became clear the new staff wasn't pursuing him. UM is eyeing other corners.

• A couple things that our ace Panthers reporter, College World Series-bound George Richards, and I are hearing: The Panthers are now very optimistic that they will re-sign impending free agent defenseman Brian Campbell and also want to add another high-quality defenseman, via trade or free agency… The Panthers want to lessen Roberto Luongo’s workload to keep him fresher and will be looking at potential replacements for free agent backup goaltender Al Montoya.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Tuesday Dolphins minicamp nuggets: 2nd-yr player takes major step; Rookie arrives; lineup news; Rookie impresses today; News and notes

We'll have blanket minicamp coverage this week, including Adam Beasley's story today on Ndamukong Suh (who spoke for the first time since December), Armando Salguero's column today on Cameron Wake (who spoke for the second time since his injury), and Armando's posted blog on the Reshad Jones situation and other things. 

I'll have a couple blogs today, including this one:

• No, the pressure of a late-game field goal in December cannot be replicated on a practice field in June. Nevertheless, Andrew Franks’ development this spring has been impressive, with his improved accuracy – and a strong leg – giving him an early leg up on undrafted rookie Marshall Koehn in the Dolphins’ kicking competition.

Franks said Tuesday that his field-goal percentage has been "very high" during the offseason program. On the first day of the Dolphins’ three-day mandatory minicamp, Franks nailed all seven attempts Tuesday, including one from 59 yards.

“I think I’ve only missed three in the past couple weeks --- all over 45, two over 50,” he said. “My strength is I have a strong leg. Long field goals are my true game.

"[And overall], compared to last year, I’m leaps and bounds from where I was. The biggest thing I had to work on was my consistency. I’ve really worked on honing my form. I’m a lot more consistent and I feel a lot more confident because of it.”

After working with longtime NFL kicker Phil Dawson last offseason, Franks spent the offseason studying his own tape, plus tape of Dawson and veteran NFL kicker Adam Vinatieri.

He attempted only 16 field goals last season, fewest of any full-time kicker, and made 13 of them.  

“Because we had so few attempts, it did hurt me I think,” he said. “There’s still a lot of me that hasn’t been seen yet. Coach said he wants to hit more PATs and break that record. Hopefully more field goals as well.”

Franks, who made 33 of 36 extra points, said he wasn’t surprised the Dolphins signed Koehn, who did not kick Tuesday and has been erratic during practices open to the media.

“I figured that would happen,” he said. “I didn’t hit that many field goals. Most people thought this seat is somewhat available, a spot for the taking. I’m still proving I have a spot on this team and it’s my position. I love competition. With Caleb [Sturgis] here last year, it drove me to take his seat.”

Coach Adam Gase said “we’re trying to put our specialists in pressure situations [in practice]. We’re trying to give both [Franks and Koehn] a lot of reps and make it game-like situations.”

• DeVante Parker was held out with an undisclosed injury (not to his surgically-repaired foot), but Gase said he will do some work on Wednesday.

“I kind of screwed that up today,” Gase said. “He should have gone through individuals today; he was cleared. I’m just being a little cautious. My mindset is I want him to be able to train for the next five weeks.”

 Linebacker Neville Hewitt and receiver AJ Cruz also were held out because of injury.

• Besides Reshad Jones, Jason Jones and Mario Williams weren't in attendance. Those two absences were excused.

• Koa Misi, involved in a fight in a Broward nightclub last month (no charges were filed), said he has not been disciplined by the team.

“As of right now, nothing has happened. It was a bad situation and something that I should have walked away from. (I) learned from my mistakes. That’s about all.”

Meanwhile, Misi had a strong practice Tuesday, which has been the norm. “It seems he’s always doing the right thing,” Gase said. “He has put himself in good position. He’s been consistent day in and day out.”

• Nearly a year-and-half after a devastating knee injury, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu was able to participate in all of practice.

“It feels great being back on the field, doing what you love,” he said. “You have to cherish any moment you’re out there.”

• Tight end Thomas Duarte, the rookie seventh round pick, practiced for the first time in weeks because he was completing classes at UCLA.

“It’s tough,” Gase said. “I guess it would be different if was a third, fourth year player. When you’re a rookie and all of a sudden, you come in and we’re on Install 11, that’s got to be a little overwhelming. He’s a smart kid. He looks good. His weight was really good. He was kind of in that zone of what was I going to be. A lot of teams were looking at him as a wide out. We were looking at him as a tight end.

“We want him to be a tight end. We will like his skill set as a receiver. We will see when we get pads on in training camp as far as a run blocker and pass protector.”

• Asked about Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner opening 11 on 11 drills as the first team guards, Gase said: “I don’t even think we really even have a depth chart right now. I’ll walk in the o-line room and every day they have a different lineup of what they’re going with the 1s, 2s and 3. We’re just trying to mix everyone in, give them opportunities.”

Laremy Tunsil and Jermon Bushrod were also paired together at times, and Jamil Douglas and Kraig Urbik also got work at guard.

• Xavien Howard picked off a Ryan Tannehill pass intended for Kenny Stills and also made an excellent pass breakup.

“His ball skills are really impressive,” Gase said. “He picked one off today where I was surprised he came down with it because it was a tough position for him to be in to catch the ball.”

• Gase and Dolphins executives explored holding joint practices with another team but “we couldn’t find anything that really kind of matched up.”

Check back tonight for more Dolphins news, plus Heat, Marlins, Panthers and UM nuggets.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

June 13, 2016

UM time, date set; Monday Dolphins/Canes/media notes: Gase on starting battles; Rookie keeps impressing; UM lands highly-regarded PG; UM-UF football; Football announcing change

Dolphins, Canes and media notes on a Monday:

• Most NFL coaches ideally like to settle on starters by the third preseason game. Coach Adam Gase apparently feels no such obligation.

There are at least three legitimate battles for starting jobs, and Gase doesn’t feel anxious to get resolution anytime soon, certainly not during a three-day mandatory minicamp that runs Tuesday through Thursday.

“As long as we feel good about whatever we’re doing by the first game of the season, that’s all I really care about,” Gase said. “You’d love it if you could walk into training camp and say, ‘Here are the 22 guys that are starting on both sides of the ball.’ I just don’t know how realistic that is.

“We’ll take that thing up to the first game if we have to. If something goes wrong during the season, we’ll make a change. But we’re going to find the best 11 on each side of the ball every week.”

The three most competitive starting battles: one cornerback slot (Xavien Howard vs. Tony Lippett); one defensive tackle position (Jordan Phillips vs. Earl Mitchell) and right guard (Billy Turner, Kraig Urbik, Dallas Thomas, Jamil Douglas, Jermon Bushrod).

• Gase allocates time toward situation drills and with good reason. Let him explain it to you:

“For me, a lot of things that I learned were from (New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator) Josh McDaniels,” he said. Obviously, he was coming from New England at the time. I felt like that was very helpful in my development as a position coach. And then getting with Coach (Chicago Bears Head Coach John) Fox, we focused on something every day, whether it be something short or like a whole period. I guess being around two guys like that, that you learn from – and you go through those experiences – and then you’re able to come to a different place …

“Going to Chicago and getting around a guy like (Bears Defensive Coordinator) Vic Fangio, who was a great guy for me to talk to, because he was so smart (with) the way he thought about things and the ideas he brought to the table as far as, ‘Think about working on this and think about working on this.’ He would talk to me about a lot of stuff like that.

“That was something that I loved because it was things I never really thought of before. Coming here and being around (Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Darren) Rizzi and (Offensive Coordinator) Clyde (Christensen) and (Defensive Coordinator) Vance (Joseph) and (Linebackers Coach) Matt Burke, we talk a lot of situations.

“We keep saying, ‘What do we want to work on today?’ We’ll focus on something, and we try to make sure we educate the players, because you’d be surprised how many times you bring something up and somebody’ll say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that,’ and you start assuming something and that’s the worst thing you can do, because a lot of these guys, they’ve never heard some of this stuff. When you hear it for the first time, you probably screw it up in practice and then you make the correction. You want to try to make it to where when those situations come up on Sunday, you’re not coming back Monday and being like, ‘Alright, we need to do this.’ Instead, you’re ahead of that, you make the right play and you get the right result.”

• Rookie receiver Jakeem Grant keeps eliciting praise from teammates. Here was Jelani Jenkins last week, when asked who has impressed him: “I think Jakeem Grant, he’s done an excellent job in that slot. I mean he’s one of the quickest people I’ve ever seen.”

• One thing evident in the practices that were open to reporters in recent weeks: New receivers coach Shawn Jefferson pushes his players HARD.

“One of the things about Coach Jefferson, he always stresses details – details, alignment, assignment, top of the route," Landry said. He always stresses that when you're at the top of the route, one foot takes you in, one foot takes you out (and) being able to be balanced when you come out of the break to be as explosive as possible.”

• Reshad Jones' offseason contract protest will continue through this week's mandatory minicamp, says NFL Net's Ian Rapoport. He would be fined $76,000 if he skips the three days this week... According to Fox's Alex Marvez, FIU hired Kevin O'Neill, who was fired by the Dolphins in the wake of Bullygate. FIU said he actually began work March 22.

• So what is UM getting in 5-6 Bowie-Md. prep Class of 2017 point guard Chris Lykes, who orally committed to Miami on Sunday?

ESPN rates him the 46th best player in the 2017 class and the ninth best point guard prospect. The ESPN scouting report:

Strengths: Lykes is a tough, competitive scoring point guard that possess excellent speed and quickness. He changes speed and directions on a dime as well. Lykes has a tight handle, probes the defense and has good court vision. He can stop and pop in the open court with range to the arc and will not hesitate to advance pass when a teammate is ahead on the break. Lykes has an excellent pull up jumper off the catch or when attacking off on ball screens. He can run the offense and deliver the ball as he attacks as well. Lykes is explosive for his size and plays with swag.

Weaknesses: Lykes will need to be more of a vocal leader as he runs his team. Work to get others involved more at times and keep working on improving as an on ball defender.

Bottom Line: Lykes is a constant threat on the offensive end of the floor. He can go wherever he wants with the ball. His handle and court vision is excellent and he is a crafty passer and finisher. He can really score the ball in a variety of ways despite his size and compete with toughness. Lykes is a high major prospect because of his ability to score and pass with continued development.

• UM will play Arizona in its College World Series opener at 8 p.m. Saturday. Oklahoma State and UC-Santa Barbara also are in UM’s bracket.

• Respected UF AD director Jeremy Foley announced his retirement today, and the first question that came to mind was whether his to-be-determined successor will be more inclined to schedule UM-UF football games more regularly. As Foley (who I always found to be accessible) explained repeatedly, he didn’t believe it made sense for UM and UF to play annually because of UF’s need for an extra non-conference home game most years. (Left unsaid was the fact UF already has a difficult schedule, with SEC games and FSU every year).

Foley agreed to open the 2019 season against UM in Orlando but indicated no interest in playing Miami beyond that. UF coach Jim McElwain obviously also will have a big say in any decision regarding how often to play UM. 

When asked in April about the 2019 game against Miami, McElwain said: “It’s something we’ve talked about… It’s definitely not one of those things that we’re dodging them, I’ll say that.”

UM AD Blake James has consistently said he's willing to play UF more often, and Mark Richt said last week that he's also interested in that.

I'd be surprised if UF agrees to play UM more, but at least the new AD might take a fresh look.

• Couple media notes: CBS has no plans, at this time, to replace officiating analyst Mike Carey, who won't return to the network's NFL's coverage. But if a good fit becomes available, CBS wouldn’t rule out hiring another former referee. CBS said it mutually decided to part ways with Carey, whose often-inaccurate predictions of replay reviews drew considerable ridicule on social media….

Fox Sports Florida hired former big-league reliever Jeff Nelson as a pre-game and postgame analyst on Marlins games...

In advance of the launch of his HBO series (which will air Wednesday nights beginning June 22), Bill Simmons told The New York Times that he wonders if the real reason ESPN didn’t retain him is because of his criticism of commissioner Roger Goodell, coupled with the fact that Disney CEO Robert Iger previously was involved in pushing for a new stadium near Los Angeles.

“One of my working theories was, maybe this was driven by Iger because he wants a team,” Simmons told The Times.

That prompted this pointed response from ESPN president John Skipper, to The Big Lead: “Bill would rather spin conspiracy theories and be perceived as a martyr than take responsibility for his own actions. Let me be unequivocal and clear and take responsibility for my actions: I alone made the decision, and it had nothing to do with his comments about the commissioner. I severed our relationship with Bill because of his repeated lack of respect for this company and more importantly, the people who work here.”

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

June 12, 2016

Opposing GM explains why it makes sense for Heat to go to max with Whiteside; Dolphins, UM, Marlins nuggets

 

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Though the Heat ideally would prefer to re-sign Hassan Whiteside at something less than a max deal (but ultimately might need to offer that), a competing and respected NBA general manager explained to me recently why it would be short-sighted for Miami to risk losing him over a few million dollars a year, why it’s easy to justify a max deal for Whiteside (starting at a projected $21.6 million) and why he’s going to be offered that by multiple teams.

The GM, who cannot be named because of NBA tampering rules, listed four reasons:

1) Where else, he said, are you going to find a player so skilled at deterring shots (Whiteside's blocked shots average was the league’s highest in 15 years), at rebounding (fourth in the league) and with a developing offensive game where he’s now seen as a player who could average between 15 to 18 points a game? There’s nobody else remotely like that in this free agent class, the GM said.

2) With the big spike in the cap assured to drive up salaries for most everybody, the GM said it’s pointless to offer only $19 million to start – and allow yourself to be outbid – “because that extra $3 million is not going to get you” anything close to an impact player. So just give him the $22 million, the GM said.

3) His annual raises will be offset by another big jump in the salary cap in 2017-18. The cap is projected to be $92 million next season, then rise again to $107 million in 2017-18. The cap is then expected to fluctuate between $105 million and $112 million in the following three seasons, though that could change if the players opt out of the deal after next season (widely expected to happen by the December 2016 deadline) and get an even bigger chunk of the revenue.

Under the current labor deal, Whiteside would be eligible for annual 7.5 percent raises in a four-year deal from the Heat, 4.5 percent from other teams.

4) Supply and demand. The GM said there are so few elite players in this class that Whiteside’s market will be even higher than it would be ordinarily, especially coupled with the fact that more than two-thirds of the teams can clear out $20 million or more in cap space.

Among free agents, Whiteside is the only impact center in the first half of his career. Al Horford, Al Jefferson, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Dwight Howard will be 30 or older by the end of this calendar year. Whiteside will be 27.  

CHATTER

• Among 174 players with enough at-bats to qualify, the only three who entered the weekend hitting below .200, oddly enough, had combined for 905 career home runs: Giancarlo Stanton (193), Prince Fielder (315) and Mark Teixeira (397).

But unlike the other two, Stanton is in his prime, and his numbers entering this weekend series were shocking and horrifying: 1 for 22 with 14 strikeouts with two outs and runners in scoring position, and 17 for 163 (.104) and 109 strikeouts when there are two strikes on him.

Stanton, who sat out 10 of the Marlins’ first 60 games, is pacing about 20 strikeouts behind Mark Reynolds’ all-time single-season strikeout record (223, in 2009).

Privately, the Marlins insist they aren’t overly considered and believe this is simply a slump. The Marlins have not considered asking him to go to the minors, and his permission would be needed anyway, because he has more than five years of big-league service.

• The Marlins have been poking around on veteran relievers, but one person who spoke to them said they don’t much appealing to trade and one attractive piece (Class A outfielder Stone Garrett) is now sidelined indefinitely after being knifed in the thumb in Josh Naylor’s prank-gone-wrong.

• The Dolphins have Antrel Rolle and Louis Delmas on a list of safety options should they have an injury at the position or if Reshad Jones should surprisingly extend his contract protest into the season. Even a person close to Jones conceded the Dolphins seemingly have no incentive to re-do a deal that pays Jones $7.2 million and $7.1 million the next two seasons.

• Dolphins people believe linebacker Kiko Alonso (impressive so far, albeit not in full uniforms) will give the linebacking corps something they’ve lacked. 

“He’s able to decipher things really fast and not bite on decoys,” Jelani Jenkins said. “He’s really good at just instinctually playing in the middle and kind of seeing the bigger picture. [Opposing offenses] don’t really know exactly who’s going to cover who, because we [Alonso and Jenkins] can kind of do both.”

• FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, before and during his speech to Seminoles fans in Coral Gables on Thursday, couldn’t stop raving about Mark Richt: “First time I met Mark was 1989; great human being and one heck of a coach. They’re going to win. It’s definitely going to be just as tough or even tougher [to recruit in South Florida now]. Mark is a great recruiter. Miami is going to have a very good team. Brad Kaaya will be a first-round pick.”

• Fisher said UM-FSU “is such a great rivalry, one of the great ones in college football that I wish we would have a permanent date.”

He suggests early to mid October; it’s Oct. 8 in Miami this year…

Fisher, incidentally, said he has “had inquiries the last couple years” from NFL teams seeking head coaches but hasn’t been tempted. “I’m content where I’m at. You never say never in this business.”

• At the position with its shakiest depth, UM feels good about its starters (Corn Elder, Sheldrick Redwine), with Braxton Berrios noting Redwine simply “gets it. He uses the technique and uses it well. If he gets beat on a release, I don’t see him getting beat on that same release again.”

The question is depth; Texas transfer Adrian Colbert –-- moved by UM from safety to cornerback (where he hadn’t played in a game since high school) --- “is going to be a good corner,” Berrios said Friday after graciously spending nearly two hours with kids at Holtz Children's Hospital in Miami. “He looks good. He’s an athlete, simply put. He can cover. He has speed. His technique is a little bit different from our guys. Obviously, that's something he'll learn.”…

As for the other unproven young corners (Michael Jackson, Terrance Henley, Ryan Mayes), Berrios and receiver Darrell Langham were most effusive about Jackson. “He looks great,” Berrios said. And UM also can use safety Jaquan Johnson to cover slot receivers.

• On Friday, UM's Sept. 17 game at Appalachian State was set for noon, with ESPN or ESPN2 televising. Appalachian State will visit UM in 2021. UM agreed to the home-and-home because it needed another 2016 non-conference opponent.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

June 10, 2016

More interesting evidence of our viewing habits, anti-LeBron sentiment and what SoFlo watches; UM football, Marlins and Panthers nuggets

 

FRIDAY/SATURDAY BUZZ COLUMN

 

This decade’s dramatic rise in NBA interest in South Florida, which has somehow sustained itself nearly two years after LeBron James fled South Beach, remains the most significant local sports television trend of the 21st century.

And though anti-LeBron sentiment partly fuels our enormous ratings for these Finals, it’s hardly the only factor. Evidence remains strong that the Big Three era created a new generation of basketball fans here.

Consider:

• A year after Miami-Fort Lauderdale averaged a 17.7 rating for the Finals (sixth best in the country), our ratings rank even higher for this Cavaliers-Warriors rematch. No market outside Northern California or Ohio has had higher ratings for these Finals than Dade/Broward, which generated an 18.8 for Game 1, a 15.9 for Game 2 and a 16.3 for Game 3.

That means 18.8 percent of all Miami-Ft. Lauderdale homes with TV sets watched Game 1, pretty astounding for a market whose ratings for other sports usually lag well below the national average. For perspective, let’s look at UM’s biggest football game and the Dolphins’ only Monday night game in 2015.

UM-FSU, on a Saturday night in October on ABC, generated an 11.4 local rating, equaling 189,080 homes – compared to 312,417 homes for Game 1 of these NBA Finals. That means at least 123,337 local homes (and even more people than homes) watched Cavs-Warriors but not Hurricanes-Noles.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins-Giants Monday night game drew a combined ESPN/free TV local rating of 15.7 (a shade below the Dolphins’ 15.8 average), or 259,832 homes. That means more than 50,000 Dade/Broward homes preferred to watch the Cavs opener instead.

Our Super Bowl rating for Denver-Carolina (38.1) was much higher than our NBA Finals ratings, but that South Florida Super Bowl rating ranked last among 56 metered markets. Our 6.5 average World Series rating for Royals-Mets last year tied for 43rd among 56.

• Whereas the Heat’s 4.5 average cable rating on Fox Sports Sun this season was fifth-best among NBA teams, the Dolphins (15.8) and Panthers (0.25) were among the lowest among NFL/NHL markets last season and Marlins ratings (1.8) are also believed to be among the lowest among MLB markets this season.

• And it’s not just LeBron animus driving this train. Miami-Fort Lauderdale averaged a 10.6 rating for the Warriors-Thunder Western Conference Finals, seventh among 56 metered markets.

• Some viewers watch merely to root against LeBron, angry either that he left, with the way he left, or both. “Our interest in Miami is 1000 percent about watching this guy get crushed,” said Miami Beach commercial real estate broker Gordon Messinger, a Heat season-ticket holder.

Scott Caesar, a Fort Myers urologist, mused: “It’ll be nice to see him inducted in the Hall of Fame with just two rings. And both have the Heat logo.”

Much of this anger naturally stems from human nature, because LeBron leaving the Heat stirs the same type of emotions the college guy might feel when he's spurned by his girlfriend and watches her end up with somebody else. (He's not exactly rooting for them to win the lottery.) The Twitter hashtag teampetty  was created by one local fan to reflect this sort of sentiment.

But I also wonder about this: Do Heat fans simply feel better about themselves, and their team, if they continue to get evidence to support the notion that only the Heat is smart enough to make LeBron a champion, that this ownership, coaching staff, front office and the Dwyane Wade-led supporting cast is simply better than Cleveland’s?

If so, every LeBron loss in the Finals becomes a source of immense chest-pumping pride. And it’s certainly a reason to tune in.

While there’s no question South Florida is gaining Heat fans, is it coming at the expense of the Dolphins? That’s more difficult to prove, but this anecdote from former Dolphins receiver OJ McDuffie is interesting.

“It's getting annoying,” McDuffie said of declining Dolphins ratings in recent years and the perception of somewhat diminished interest. “I'm a Dolfan. It's hard for me to get my kids to want to go to games, because we haven't been successful enough for them. I will stick with the [Dolphins] until I die. They probably have [lost young fans to the Heat]. My 13 year old would rather go to the Heat games.”

CHATTER

• So what has Miami gotten so far 12 starts into the Marlins career of Wei-Yin Chen, their most expensive free agent pitching acquisition ever? The $8 million signing bonus aside, the Marlins have gotten a pitcher worth the $6 million they’re paying this year, but not – at this rate --- worth the $14 million he's due in 2017 or $17.3 million each of the following three seasons.

He’s 3-2 but his 4.56 ERA is a career-worst and 74th among big-league starters.  He’s managing less than six innings per start and his fastball velocity is a career-low 90.3, down more than a mile per hour from last year.

“So far, some good, some not so good,” he said. “I have a lot to work on. I need to fasten the pace.”

Mark Richt and his staff have gotten a warm reception from high school coaches in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.

“It’s been great, it’s been great," he said Thursday. "I haven’t heard anything but outstanding reviews. I’ve had coaches text me after some of our coaches go to campus and just say ‘hey, [receivers coach] Ron Dugans just came through and I’m really excited about the direction of your program’. I get that on all of them, even my own son [Jon] every once in a while.

“We’ve been very well received. I got out on the road during the contact period in January to a lot of the schools as well. Obviously seeing guys we had committed and also guys we were trying to recruit, but also just going to schools that have 2017s, 2018s, and beyond. So I got a chance to meet a lot of coaches then.

"We did clinics in Palm Beach, Broward, and Dade. Coaches clinics in the spring so we met a lot of coaches then. We had coaches come visit us, we called it Cane talk, on Wednesday nights. It allowed coaches to come in and talk football. I told the coaches today, ‘if you ever want to come on our campus, just give us a little heads up and we’ll talk ball or do whatever you want'."
 
• Richt won't hold the type of satellite camps that have created controversy nationally. “I really believe that if a young man wants to come to Miami, he will come see us. I don’t want to wear my coaching staff out. Like I said, we had 168 opportunities to go and see everybody we thought we needed to see and we did that. We’ve invited guys to come see us at these camps and throughout the summer for unofficial visits and a bunch of them are coming. I’ve learned over the years that if you don’t get them on campus, the chance you get them is pretty slim.”

• I spent the morning with UM players and UM officials at Holtz Children's Hospital in Miami, where they graciously spent time with sick children. (I'll have a lot of info that I'll roll out from this in the coming weeks, including players we heard good feedback on today; Adrian Colbert, the former Texas safety now playing cornerback full-time, is among those that have impressed in informal workouts this month.)

In the meantime, Richt simultaneously spoke to a few media outlets, including the Palm Beach Post, at his on-campus football camp and when asked if he would like to play Florida every year, said: "I’d be more than happy, yeah. Oh yeah. I’d be all for it.”

UM and UF will open the 2019 season in Orlando, but UM said UF has shown absolutely no interest in scheduling any games beyond that.

• Former UM defensive line Jelani Hamilton has surfaced at Akron and tight end Jerome Washington transferred to Rutgers.

• Panthers restricted free agent Vincent Trochek (25 goals, 28 assists this past season) told me a new deal with the Panthers “will get done.”

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

June 09, 2016

Thursday Dolphins nuggets: CB battle intensifies; A bit of injury clarity; CFL experiment; Practice observations and notes

Dolphins nuggets from the final day of OTAs (and check back Friday for Heat, Marlins, UM, Panthers and more):       

• One of the most fascinating battles is the Xavien Howard/Tony Lippett competition at the cornerback spot opposite Byron Maxwell. Adam Gase said both Howard and Lippett have received work with the first team.

“We want to see those guys go against different receivers; that helps the evaluation process,” Gase said. “That evaluation process is going to take time....  The thing we're excited for is those preseason games where we can see live game action where when you screw up, there's nowhere to hide. In practice, it's kind of like, 'Oh, I got beat. No big deal.' But in games, there's nowhere to go. Everybody in the stadium is going to know you got beat."

Gase said of any unresolved starting battles: “We’ll take that thing up to the first game of the season if we have to. And if something goes wrong during the season, we’ll make a change."

Asked about Lippett, Gase said: “He does a good job. Being a Michigan State guy [like Gase], I’m always giving him a hard time.”

On one day this offseason, Lippett had two interceptions after Gase good-naturedly kidded with him.

“He has done a great job,” Gase said of Lippett. “That’s not an easy thing to be able to do [moving from receiver to cornerback]. I love the fact he’s so engaged, he’s competitive. He knows he’s got a fight on his hands. I don’t think he’s going to sit back and say, ‘This guy [Howard] is a second-round pick, he can have it.’ He’s fighting because he wants to be on the field.”

Jarvis Landry said Lippett has “been accepting coaching well. Talking to Maxwell, getting the tricks of the trade. It’s allowed him
to play on an island and have confidence out there. He’s a long corner.”

• The Dolphins already have one of the NFL’s best CFL success stories in Cameron Wake, who has 70 sacks in seven seasons in Miami. Cleyon Laing, 25, is trying to become the next, but he faces an uphill climb at a stacked position.

Laing had 15 sacks in 35 CFL games for Toronto over three seasons, then picked the Dolphins over offers from a handful of other teams, including the Jets. His only previous NFL experience was a brief summer stint with the Raiders after being undrafted out of Iowa State, where he had a nondescript college career (3.5 sacks in four seasons).

“He’s doing a fine job,” said defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who was impressed with Laing when he worked out for the Dolphins earlier this offseason. “He’s rushing hard. He’s playing hard. Evaluation is going to come more in training camp when pads are on.”

Laing, Chris McCain and Terrence Fede are competing for what could be one job, and there might not be room for any of them, if Dion Jordan is reinstated from NFL suspension.

Unless Jordan is moved to linebacker, he would give Miami five defensive ends, along with Wake, Mario Williams, Andre Branch and Jason Jones, who said he also can play tackle.

Laing said he was more of a tackle in the CFL but has played only end for the Dolphins. “There has been some discussion [about tackle] but I don’t want to push too much,” he said. “I’m one of the biggest defensive ends we have. I’m close to 300 pounds. Mixing up my speed and power will be kind of beneficial to me.”

Laing said Wake has been helpful: “He’s definitely kind of shown me the ropes a little bit, coached me up on a couple little things. His actions speak louder than his words.”

• Two weeks after being cleared following a devastating knee injury that had sidelined him for more than a year, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu was back on the sidelines this week.

“There wasn’t a setback with him,” Gase said. “We want to make sure he feels as good as he possibly can going into camp. I keep telling him this: You’ve already won. Everybody said he would never step on the field again. The fact he participated in OTAs in practice, he won right there.

“Right now, he’s playing with house money. We’re going to see a guy that’s going to turn it loose in training camp. He was showing great signs. We want him to get ready for training camp.”

• Gase said the injury that has kept DeVante Parker out of team drills for more than a week is not to his feet. Parker has had two procedures on his feet in past years. The Dolphins have said the undisclosed injury is not serious.

• Gase said he has no idea if Reshad Jones will attend next week’s mandatory three-day minicamp. Jones has stayed away from the voluntary portion of offseason practices because he wants the final two years of his contract to be renegotiated. NFL rules allow him to be fined $76,000 if he does not attend next week’s minicamp.

• Gase was asked if there are any drawbacks to having such a young team. “I don’t know if there really is,” he said. “Unless a guy is hurt, you’re not worried about taking it easy on guys. Almost everybody is under 25. They can run all day. They seem to recover a lot faster.”

• Gase said Kenny Stills: “has taken on almost a leadership type role with the offense. He knows this offense inside and out. He seems like the one guy that knows what you’re supposed to do. He does it right a lot. He’s able to lend more of a hand because his focus is a little smaller than Jarvis’ is. I feel we have two guys in that room that are really kind of like our leaders in that group.”

• Stephen Ross attended today’s practice, and cornerback Bobby McCain said: “When Mr. Ross is in the building, you have to make your presence known and appreciate him… for the opportunity he’s given me and the other guys.”

McCain is working some on the boundary but mostly in the slot. “Most of the time there will be three corners on the field,” he said.

• Kraig Urbik said the Dolphins are splitting right guard snaps pretty evenly among himself, Billy Turner, Dallas Thomas and Jamil Douglas. Jermon Bushrod remains limited after offseason shoulder surgery.

• A few practice observations: Laremy Tunsil inexplicably forgot to block Ndamukong Suh on one play that would have obliterated Ryan Tannehill if tackling were allowed…. Suh wreaked havoc all day, beating Billy Turner a couple of times… Tunsil also was beaten for a sack by Andre Branch. Tunsil was playing left tackle in Branden Albert's absence today....

Leonte Carroo had an exceptional catch over Chimdi Chekawa, who had good coverage on the play. Brandon Doughty made a terrific throw. On the next play, Xavien Howard picked off Doughty when Rashawn Scott failed to turn around for the ball….

Andrew Franks was good on field goals of 57, 44, 33 and 43 twice. He missed from 54…. Chris Jones smothered one running play in the backfield… Earl Mitchell overwhelmed Dallas Thomas en route to a sack….

Jakeem Grant and Griff Whalen handled the punt return duties. Whalen fumbled one of them.

• Besides Parker and Ekpre-Olomu, six others sat out practice: Branden Albert, Matt Moore, Damien Williams, Neville Hewitt, Fede and Jordan Phillips…. Mario Williams (personal reason), Zach Vigil and Reshad Jones did not attend practice.

• My colleague, Adam Beasley, will have a story posted later on Jarvis Landry, who caught passes from Geno Smith (of all people) earlier this offseason.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

June 08, 2016

Lots of Wednesday Dolphins nuggets: Former UM player trying to stick; Receiver battle; Pouncey on change in Tannehill; Alonso and more

Lots of Dolphins talk after a Wednesday OTA that was closed to the media:

The Dolphins’ predicament at receiver includes some measure of clarity at the top of the depth chart and unresolved issues at the bottom, with a former Hurricane, an erstwhile quarterback, a 5-7 jitterbug nicknamed Mighty Mouse and a vegan all competing for jobs.

What’s clear is that barring injuries, Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills should be Miami’s top three receivers, with Rishard Matthews having moved on to the Tennessee Titans. Third-round pick Leonte Carroo also will assuredly be on the team.

Less clear is whether Miami keeps five or six receivers and whether Carroo can emerge as a reliable No. 4 receiver as a rookie.

“We have a bunch of guys that are very fast, very strong, very big,” Carroo said Wednesday. “What separates us is our catching ability. We have a lot of receivers with really great hands. We hold each other accountable.”

Carrroo should earn receiver snaps as a rookie if he plays like he did at Rutgers, where he caught 122 passes in his career, including 29 touchdowns, for an impressive 19.5 yard average, with only three career drops.

“He’s a strong, physical guy that's going to be a weapon for us,” Ryan Tannehill said. “He's going to be able to have some run-after-catch, be physical with the corners and be physical down the field.”

Receivers coach Shawn Jefferson has been counseling Carroo about how to come out of his breaks more quickly. “He wants us to break old habits we may have, a lot of habits we have ingrained,” Carroo said.

But Carroo said it helps that he played in a pro style offense at Rutgers and knows “how to focus on defenses and run your route based on what they do.”

Meanwhile, the Dolphins' other rookie receiver draft pick, sixth-rounder Jakeem Grant, has found seams in the defense and made some plays in offseason practices, but the Dolphins are trying to refine his route running.

“I know a lot of defensive guys have made comments about how quick and how fast [the 5-foot-7 Grant] is,” coach Adam Gase said, making clear he won’t be calling Grant “Mighty Mouse,” the nickname given to him by teammates.

“It's almost like we have to [slow] him down a little bit, because ...  when we do some routes versus air, he can get a little bit out of control," Gase added. "It's learning how to run certain routes at the right tempo. It's almost like the illusion you're running full speed, but you're not really, and you're under control and you can stop on a dime. That's where we need to get him."

Don’t discount Griff Whalen, who caught 45 passes for 487 yards and three touchdowns over three seasons with the Colts and earned the trust of Clyde Christensen, the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator and former Colts assistant. If Whalen excels in training camp, and Grant seizes one of the return jobs, the Dolphins could keep six receivers.

“I was always, especially the first couple of years, kind of that bubble guy,” Whalen said. “I could have been gone any day. I was mostly a slot guy in Indy but after my first two years, it was almost an even 50-50 of outside snaps and inside snaps.”

Whalen has followed a plant-based diet for two years, because “I’m looking for anything I can do to give myself an advantage."

His typical meals? "Breakfast is oatmeal, fruit and whatever else I want to throw into it. And then lunch and dinner, a rice and bean kind of dish is pretty typical. Lots of veggies. A salad. I make a lot of smoothies because I can just throw greens and fruit and stuff in there. But rice and beans or lentils, stuff like that is pretty common for me."

Does he crave any foods after two years of a vegan lifestyle? "I really don't, which surprises me,” he said. “I grew up eating sugar, cereal, candy, ice cream, you name it. They think it has to do with the microbes that are in your intestine and gut that those actually send signals to your brain, which is kind of crazy. So after you go several weeks or a month without eating something, you kind of change that microbe make-up in your body so you don't get the cravings you used to get the same way, if you can get past that point."

On rare occasions, he will splurge with a pastry. “I already found right up the street here on University Drive, there's a vegan bakery that's got some pretty good stuff,” he said. “I don't generally do dessert with a bunch of meals so that would be something I would do.”

The Dolphins have liked Matt Hazel enough to keep him around for two years (2014 on the practice squad, 2015 on the active roster), but his playing time has been limited (five games, no receptions). Hazel has a chance to stick if there are injuries at the position or if he outplays Whalen and/or Grant in preseason.

Among roster long shots at receiver: A.J. Cruz, a former Arena League player who played for Gase in training camp with the Bears last season; Tyler Murphy, who played seven games at quarterback for the Florida Gators and 13 for Boston College; Temple undrafted rookie Brandon Shippen; and former UM receiver Rashawn Scott, who caught 52 passes for 695 yards and five touchdowns for the Hurricanes last season.

Scott, 6-2, said Thursday he picked the Dolphins over post-draft offers from eight other teams partly because he felt a connection with general manager Chris Grier. Scott has been working on his route running with former Dolphins receiver Chris Chambers, who operates a local training facility. He said one of his strengths is that he’s “always going to high point the ball.”

Scott said he has made some catches in OTAs, including a reception from Matt Moore in the back of the end zone. The UM family is close, and Scott keeps in contact with UM quarterback Brad Kaaya, former receivers coach Kevin Beard and former teammate Herb Waters, who is trying to make the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent. Scott also reached out to Detroit Lions tight ends coach and former UM coach Al Golden after the draft.

DOLPHINS NUGGETS

Center Mike Pouncey has noticed a change in Ryan Tannehill, and it’s a significant one in Tannehill’s attempt to continue to develop as a leader.

“He’s always been a leader on this team, but this year I feel like he’s bringing more to the table, more than he ever has before as far as pushing guys and getting guys ready to go,” Pouncey said.

“I’m just glad he’s our quarterback. He’s a guy that busts his butt everyday. He’s the first one in the building, last one out and that’s something you have to appreciate at that position…. We think he’s going to be really good.”

Tannehill, entering his fifth season, has more freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage than ever before, and Pouncey said “this is what he’s been waiting for his whole career, to go up there and be the guy that kind of calls the show.”

The Dolphins have spoken in past years about playing at a faster tempo, but Pouncey said this year it’s really going to happen.

“In past seasons, we tried to run up-tempo but we’d huddle first,” Pouncey said. “And it’s kind of hard to go in huddle, rush to the line and be up tempo. I think us being on the line of scrimmage the whole time and pushing the pace like that is going to get the ball snapped a lot faster.

“With the tempo that we want to have, obviously our offensive line has to be in really good shape. But to our advantage when we go up there sometimes we’re going to snap it fast; sometimes we’re not. And that gives us the advantage on the offensive line. That means the defense is going to play on their toes, ready to jump off the ball. So we should get a lot of offside penalties from the defense and keep the chain moving.”

• Pouncey on rookie Laremy Tunsil: “His feet are really good. We think he was the best player in this year’s draft. We’re lucky to have a guy like that. We’re excited to see what he can do. Obviously everybody looks good without pads on but we’re sure he’s going to come in and do what we expect him to do.”

• Pouncey said the playbook is “simpler” under Adam Gase. “A lot of our players are going to be doing the same thing — it’s different plays but we’re doing a lot of the same stuff when the play’s called.”

• Linebacker Kiko Alonso declined to say whether he has spoken with Dolphins defensive end and former Oregon teammate Dion Jordan, who has applied for reinstatement from NFL suspension.

“That guy is a freak athlete, so he can help any defense,” Alonso said of Jordan. “He has rare athleticism.”

• Alonso said he feels great after knee injuries that cost him his 2014 season and sidelined him five games last season. He said he learned “patience” over the past two years. “I like how I feel, I feel really good. I like where I’m at.”

• Defensive tackle Chris Jones, who started 23 games and had nine sacks for New England in 2013 and 2014, said he’s over the calf and ankle injuries that sidelined him all of last season. The Dolphins claimed him off waivers on April 18 after the Patriots released him.

“It was a huge relief to get picked up here,” he said. “I am fortunate the team gave me a chance.”

Jones, who said he can also play defensive end, was drafted by Houston in the sixth round out of Bowling Green in 2013, at a time when Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph was on the Texans coaching staff. But the Texans cut him four month later.

After a brief stint in Tampa, his career briefly blossomed in New England.

“I have a lot of respect for that staff,” he said of the Patriots.

Jones, 25, could emerge as the No. 4 defensive tackle behind Ndamukong Suh, Jordan Phillips and Earl Mitchell.

He said Suh “dominates every day” in practice and Phillips “is a great athlete, brings a lot physically.”

Please click here for a look at where the Dolphins' stand with their flirtation with Arian Foster, plus more Dolphins, UM and Marlins news.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

June 07, 2016

Jose Fernandez's historic return and the interesting looming decision for Marlins; Canes, Dolphins

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery this century, on average, experienced a slight drop in fastball velocity and declines in several other tangible measures. What they don’t typically do is put up historically great strikeout numbers.

But Jose Fernandez is doing just that, which is what makes a remarkable young pitcher all the more remarkable. Consider:

• Fernandez went 16-8 with a 2.25 ERA before the major elbow surgery in May 2014. He’s 15-3 with a 2.58 ERA since. Batters are hitting .204 against him this season, compared with .183 pre-surgery.

•  A 2014 America Journal of Sports Medicine study analyzed 147 of the pitchers who had Tommy John between 1999 and July 2011 and found average fastball velocity (maximum three years before and three years after) fell from 91.2 before to 90.8 after.

But Fernandez, whose fastball averaged 94.7 pre-surgery, is bucking that trend; he averaged 95.9 last season and 94.9 this season, per Fangraphs.com. His curveball velocity also has risen, from 82.5 his last healthy season to 83.2.

• A fangraphs study of pitchers found comparable strikeout numbers before and after major elbow injuries. But Fernandez’s Ks per nine innings have spiked, from 9.7 and 12.2 in 2013 and 2014 to 13.3 this season.

For perspective, that 13.3 is the second-best among qualifying starters in baseball history, behind Randy Johnson’s 13.4 in 2001. In fact, only eight pitchers who qualified for the ERA title have averaged at least 12 strikeouts per game: Johnson six times, Pedro Martinez once and Kerry Wood once.

• Among all pitches swung at (balls and strikes), batters are making contact on only 66 percent of their swings against Fernandez. It was 77.5 and 70.8 in the two seasons before the surgery. And on pitches outside the strike zone, batters are making contact on an absurd 38.3 percent of their swings against Fernandez, compared with 58.6 in 2013 and 51.8 in 2014.

Besides the improved velocity, the other nuance that has made him harder to hit, Mets manager Terry Collins said, is “movement, late movement on his slider” --- which he’s throwing more of.

And one other thing: Fernandez is 8-0 with a 1.38 ERA and 78 strikeouts over his last eight starts. Elias says he’s just the third pitcher to go 8-0 with an ERA that low and that many strikeouts over an eight-start span, since MLB started keeping track of earned runs more than 100 years ago. The others: Randy Johnson in 1999/2000 and Clayton Kershaw (2014).

“I feel better, stronger than [before the surgery],” Fernandez said.

If Fernandez (who says he loves being here with Don Mattingly as the manager) keeps pitching like this the next two years, and if Giancarlo Stanton (hitting .202) doesn’t live up to expectations, this question must be asked after 2017, knowing this ownership likely couldn’t afford both longterm:

Are the Marlins better off trying to re-sign Fernandez (a free agent after 2018) and instead trade Stanton, who is a year-and-half into a 13-year, $325 million contract (opt out after six) and due $25 million, $25 million and $26 million in 2018 through 2020?

The Marlins are pessimistic about keeping Fernandez, 23, long-term and believe he will seek $30 million per year in free agency. As perspective, Stephen Strasburg signed a seven-year, $175 million deal with Washington last month ($25 million per year), six months before free agency.

Keep in mind that Marlins president David Samson has expressed reluctance to commit mega long-term dollars on pitchers because of the risk of injury. Also keep in mind that in the aforementioned AJM study of pitchers who had Tommy John surgery between 1999 and July 2011, 57 percent of those 147 pitchers returned to the disabled list at some point with throwing arm injuries.

But if Fernandez is dominant and healthy the next two years, and if the sides (the Marlins and agent Scott Boras) can agree on a salary, the notion of dealing Stanton for cheap top young talent in 2018 merits consideration.

CHATTER

• The Dolphins aren’t pursuing Houston free agent running back Arian Foster, who visited Dolphins headquarters earlier this spring, but they will consider him if they have an injury or if their young backs falter. Foster is still working his way back from a torn Achilles sustained Oct. 25.

Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said rookie Kenyan Drake “has been excellent,” and Drake said he’s more prepared for the NFL after learning different formations and other intricacies from Alabama offensive coordinator and former Raiders coach Lane Kiffin.

Drake remains the front-runner to back up Jay Ajayi. Meanwhile, Christensen said he has been unable to judge Damien Williams because he has been sidelined with an undisclosed injury.

Incidentally, the Dolphins did not offer running back Dan Herron a contract after his Monday workout but he remains on their radar should Miami determine it needs help at the position.

Jamil Douglas said he knows he needs to master backup center to solidify his roster chances. He's also getting snaps in the five-way competition at right guard.

He brushed up his work at center by snapping the ball at least 25 times a day throughout the offseason. Is he tempted to practice snapping in his living room?

"Not really snapping," he said. "I'll line up in my living room and put some hats down and whatnot and make my calls based off where my linebackers are and stuff like that. I don't really have anyone to snap to at home so the best I can do is mirror what I'm going to be doing."

• For a lot more Dolphins nuggets from today, including what the new offense will look like, please click here.

• UM would love 6-5 Lawrence Cager to seize one of the starting receiver jobs, and Mark Richt told him to study elite Cincinnati Bengals receiver AJ Green, who played for Richt at Georgia.

“He wants to see me be consistent and be a dominant big receiver,” Cager said.

Brad Kaaya is encouraged: "He got faster from last year."

• ESPN’s Keith Law has UM catcher Zack Collins going 10th overall to the White Sox in Thursday’s draft, and ESPN’s Jim Bowden also has him as the No. 10 prospect.

“I’ve proven to people I can be a catcher at the next level,” Collins said, adding he has learned to be less anxious with scouts watching him. ESPN said “Collins has the best [hitting] approach in the country, regardless of position.”

He hit .364 with 12 homers and 52 RBI in 54 regular season games, despite being pitched around and walking 66 times.

• As for the Marlins, Law has them drafting Alabama prep left-hander Braxton Garrett (0.56 ERA this season, 131 strikeouts in 65 innings) with the seventh overall pick. The Marlins also have closely watched prep right-handers Riley Pint (Kansas) and Forrest Whitley (San Antonio).

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz