11/13/2014

Marlins and Stanton discussing richest contract in baseball history

Determined to keep their All-Star slugger long-term, the Miami Marlins and  Giancarlo Stanton are in serious discussions regarding what would be the richest contract in baseball history, a deal that would exceed 10 years in length and be worth $300 million or more, a source told The Miami Herald.

Fox Sports reported earlier in the day that Stanton, 25, and the Marlins had discussed a 10-year deal worth at least $300 million. Three sources disputed that 10-year figure, with two of them insisting the contract under discussion would be longer than that.

The Marlins are very hopeful Stanton will accept the deal, but there is no indication how seriously Stanton is considering it. Stanton’s agent, Joel Wolfe, has not responded to requests for comment in recent days.

Stanton would not be eligible for free agency until following the 2016 season, but the Marlins are eager to secure a long-term commitment from him.

The Marlins have said they have no intention of trading Stanton even if he rejects their offer. If Stanton chooses to take a one-year deal, he could make $13 million or so next season if the matter goes to arbitration this winter.

“I’d say it’s a safe bet Giancarlo is hitting in the Marlins lineup next year and the next year,” Marlins general manager Dan Jennings said Wednesday.

Besides offering at least $300 million, the Marlins also appear receptive to consider allowing a partial or full no-trade clause, which would be a departure from previous club policy, as my colleague Clark Spencer noted this week.

A $300 million deal would be the richest guaranteed contract in baseball history, topping Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, $275 million deal with the Yankees in 2008.

Miguel Cabrera signed an 8-year, $248 million contract with the Detroit Tigers but that deal could reach $292 million over 10 years if the Tigers exercise two option seasons.

That $300 million would be on the par with the $303 million the Marlins have spent combined on their entire major-league roster the past five seasons.

Stanton hit .288 with 37 home runs and 105 RBI in 145 games this year before his season ended when he was struck in the face with a pitch on Sept. 11 against Milwaukee.

At the time of his injury, Stanton led the National League in home runs (37), slugging percentage (.555), OPS (.950), total bases (299), extra-base hits (99), RBI (105), walks (94), at-bats per HR (14.5) and was on pace to become the first player to lead the NL in homers, RBI and slugging percentage since Dante Bichette in 1995.

Stanton ended up finishing first in the National League in home runs and slugging percentage but second in RBI behind the Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez, who had 116.

Stanton and Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw are top candidates for the National League MVP award that will be announced Thursday evening. [Update: Kershaw won it. Stanton finished second.]

The Marlins have had two factors working against them in convincing Stanton to take a longterm deal: 1) The appeal of returning to his native Southern California and playing for the Dodgers; 2) Stanton needing convincing that the Marlins are prepared to do what it takes financially to be a perennial contender.

But an offer of $300 million obviously would command anybody's attention.

The Marlins also have discussed contracts with Stanton that would run five or six years in length. But Marlins management is intrigued by the idea of what would essentially be a lifetime contract.

A source close to Stanton has said that even though he's fond of Southern California, he enjoys living in South Florida.

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

11/12/2014

Wednesday night report: Dolphins rift; Fins CBs, OL; UM football and Heat notes

Notes on a Wednesday night:

### Former Herald colleague Jeff Darlington, now doing good work with NFL.com, reported today that Dolphins offensive coordinator “Bill Lazor’s relationship with players is rocky” and that “his abrasive tenor has worn thin on some" and that there's a "rift" between Lazor and several players.

Three reactions: 1) We’re not surprised. We heard earlier this season that some players were taken aback because Lazor is, well, demanding. He wants things done exactly his way and he’s not shy about expressing that. Players who don't do it his way will hear about it.

2) This shouldn’t be a concern. The Dolphins’ offense and Ryan Tannehill, while still inconsistent, are performing better than they did under Mike Sherman. Regardless of whether some of his players like him or not, Lazor generally has done a good job.

3) There are a few offensive players on the team who aren’t happy about their role; it’s easy for most Dolphins fans to figure out who they are. None of those players are going to feel warm and fuzzy about Lazor, though none of them obviously has criticized him publicly.

### With Cortland Finnegan ruled out for Thursday's game against Buffalo, the Dolphins want to see at least one of their second-year corners distinguish themselves. Though Jamar Taylor and Will Davis have had their moments, neither has played as consistently as coaches would like.

Taylor said he has heard some people speak critically of his performance against Detroit and quibbles with that portrayal.

“I gave up a pick route and an under route that I hadn’t seen in a game before. I won’t make the same mistake again,” he said. “But I competed my butt off. I think I played pretty good.”

### Ja’Wuan James said before moving to left tackle to replace injured Branden Albert during last Sunday’s game, he hadn’t played left tackle since high school except some snaps against Dallas in the preseason and one snap against Green Bay.

### Dolphins players seemed more amused than annoyed by Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin saying Buffalo would beat Miami’s “ass.”

“Don’t make those kind of comments before a game,” Mike Pouncey cautioned.

### Now at right tackle, Dallas Thomas cannot be overwhelmed by Mario Williams on Thursday like he was against Tampa’s Gerald McCoy in preseason when Thomas was playing guard. But coaches insist Thomas is much improved since August.

“I thought he hung there and competed well the other day,” Joe Philbin said of Thomas, who was rotating at left guard before moving to right tackle. “You figure, hey, you are playing left guard, then the next play you are playing right tackle and you’re on the road against a pretty good defense and some pretty good players. I thought he held his own.”

### How has Mike Pouncey done at right guard? “I think he’s done a nice job,” Philbin said. “I like the group that we’ve had out on the field. I like the way they compete. I like the way they work together. I like the chemistry of those guys. It’s a good group, a smart group, tough guys.”

Pro Football Focus rates him 56th of 78 guards, with three sacks and 10 hurries allowed.

### Besides Finnegan being out, Daryn Colledge is doubtful for Thursday's game. Charles Clay, Dion Sims, John Denney and Kelvin Sheppard were listed as questionable.

### So the Heat follows its best win of the season (Sunday at Dallas) with this inexcusable eyesore tonight against an undermanned, lottery-bound Indiana team. Not sure which is worse about this 81-75 loss: Miami’s 8 for 18 shooting on free throws or 53-28 rebounding deficit.

The Heat entered 27th in the league in rebounding, despite Chris Bosh’s good work on the boards in the first seven games.

Bosh had his first poor game of the season tonight: 9 points, 3 for 13 shooting and 2 rebounds in 33 minutes.

"We missed free throws. We didn't move the ball. We just didn't play a good game," Bosh said. "We're going to learn from our mistakes. This was a bad one."

### Luol Deng shot just 2 for 10, making him 8 for 28 in the Heat’s three losses. He’s 38 for 61 in the Heat's five wins.

### UM coaches thought Michael Wyche would be a major factor for them at defensive tackle this season. Conditioning issues prevented that early in the season, but “he’s starting to have an impact on the defense,” Al Golden said. "He’s done a good job keeping his weight down.”

Having Wyche in the rotation is “keeping us fresher and healthier.”

### Against FSU’s high-powered passing attack, Golden says it will help that Miami has five experienced, skilled corners: Ladarius Gunter, Artie Burns, Corn Elder, Tracy Howard and Antonio Crawford.

“We only have six [corners] in the program,” Golden said. “The number is low but the experience is high.”

### Though FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said UM is better than the team that lost in Tallahassee last November after entering 7-0, Golden declined to give an opinion on the topic.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

11/11/2014

Exploring reasons behind UM's defensive improvement; Simms sold on Tannehill; Dolphins, Heat

BUZZ COLUMN

The UM defense that faces its biggest challenge Saturday is so improved from a month ago that it actually ranks higher than undefeated FSU’s defense in most significant statistics, including yards allowed per game (11th; FSU is 50th) and scoring defense (27th to 34th).

So with UM allowing just 314 yards per game over the past three, what's the explanation for the turnaround?

Here are 10 reasons cited this week by coaches, players and others inside the program:

### Dramatically better linebacker play, which is critical to this defense. “I don’t know if anybody is more improved over the past four weeks than Raphael Kirby,” Al Golden said.

Denzel Perryman --– somewhat neutralized against Nebraska and Georgia Tech --- has been a force the past three games against Cincinnati/Virginia Tech/North Carolina (27 tackles, his most over a three-game stretch this season).

Thurston Armbrister has continued his surprisingly good work (he has a team-high seven tackles for loss), and Jermaine Grace (two sacks and two fumble recoveries in this three-game stretch) is blossoming before our eyes.

### Alignment tweaks and maximizing blitz calls. Strategy is the topic that many fans gravitate toward in discussing this defensive resurgence because their eyes tell them UM is playing more aggressively and taking more chances.

Safety Nantambu Fentress conceded today that UM has “made some adjustment” with alignments, with safeties lining up closer at times, including on the goal line, and “wider” some other times.

"We want to be precise in the alignments," Fentress said of the linebackers and defensive backs. "It's fine-tuning."

But aside from that, Fentress insists coordinator Mark D’Onofrio “hasn’t changed anything.” Al Golden maintained “we haven’t changed play calling.” 

Raphael Kirby said D’Onofrio is “not changing the scheme. He’s been calling the same calls. Just the way we execute them is different. We don’t feel we can be stopped.”

And though some fans and ex-players are skeptical of this --- judging by social media ---  D’Onofrio absolutely swears UM hasn’t blitzed any more the past three games than previous ones.

But here’s the difference nobody can dispute: The blitz calls have been more successful recently.

To wit: When D’Onofrio had safety Deon Bush blitz against Nebraska, the Cornhuskers threw a 40-yard TD pass. Against North Carolina, Bush, Artie Burns and Corn Elder got to the quarterback for sacks on blitzes.

“We’ve been running corner blitzes all year,” Golden said, bristling when asked by another media person if this is something new.

When D’Onofrio sent Kirby on a run blitz on a third and inches on Virginia Tech’s first possession, Kirby made a tackle for loss. “The time he calls the [run blitz], he’s doing a great job,” Kirby said.

D’Onofrio said Monday UM’s cornerbacks actually are playing less man coverage than a year ago. Cornerbacks are lining up closer to the line at times, with some of UM’s corners more comfortable doing that than others.

But players insist there has been no philosophical change, and in fact, D'Onofrio --- much earlier in the season --- encouraged one of his cornerbacks to play closer to the line.

Though UM fans tweeted still shots from the Nebraska and Georgia Tech games showing corners playing well off receivers, I’ve also seen still shots of UM corners playing very tightly on receivers in the Nebraska game. So this issue shouldn’t be overstated.

### UM has been forcing more turnovers (eight the past three games) and been much better defending third downs (UNC and Virginia Tech were 8 for 27).

### Simple stuff such as better tackling. “So much better than earlier in the season; dramatically better than a year ago,” Golden said. “If we miss a tackle, we’re missing to our leverage so we don’t give up explosive plays.”

And UM is making fewer mental errors; it’s no coincidence that UM hasn’t had a practice shortened or moved inside by weather in the past few weeks after more than 15 were interrupted in August and September. Fact is, UM can't accomplish nearly as much when practices are moved inside.

As Tyriq McCord said, everyone on defense now knows where they’re supposed to be, and practice and experience are significant reasons for that.

### Personnel changes. On third-down passing situations, UM is now often using Chad Thomas, Anthony Chickillo, McCord and Darrion Owens --- a quartet that has played well together… Elder and Burns are playing more at cornerback, and though Tracy Howard still plays, he has been less prominent. Why? Elder and Burns are faster than Howard and more consistent tacklers.

### Time of possession. UM, which has lagged in the bottom quarter nationally in TOP, has a 99 to 81 minute edge over the past three games largely because its running game is thriving. That means the defense is on the field less and isn’t being worn down. That's big.

### Level of competition. Don’t overlook this. Stopping the run has been UM’s biggest weakness until recently, and Georgia Tech is third nationally in yards rushing per game and Nebraska 10th.

The last three opponents? Cincinnati is 72nd, Virginia Tech 98th and North Carolina 103rd.

FSU, by the way, is 101st, but Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene, etc. compensate for that in the passing game.

### Young players developing. Newcomers Thomas, Owens, Calvin Heurtelou, Courtel Jenkins and Michael Wyche have made strides in recent weeks, as have sophomores Burns, Elder and Grace.

### Bush's good work. Tentative last season because of a sports hernia, he’s playing faster and has done his best work recently, including a sack and interception against North Carolina and a forced fumble vs. Virginia Tech.

### A more stout defensive line and a much-improved McCord. Again, level of competition is a factor here. But McCord --- who at one time was undersized to play defensive end --- has held up better against the run recently and has two sacks in the past three games. And his 46-yard interception return vs. Cincinnati was exceptional.

“He’s gotten stronger, is playing more physical,” Golden said. “He’s stronger than he has been. He always had the ability to pass rush. He’s better on first and second down than he has been.”

Anthony Chickillo has been very solid recently, and the defensive tackle work has been competent. But McCord has made the biggest strides among the defensive linemen, considering his previous shortcomings against the run.

By the way, some have asked whether Golden has become more involved in defensive game-planning in the past month.

I asked him that today, and he said he has not been, but quickly added that he always has been involved in game-planning on offense, defense and special teams. Fentress said Golden hasn't attended any more defensive meetings recently than he has in the past and hasn't spent any more time with the defense during practice.

### The comparison of the UM and FSU defenses might surprise you. As noted, UM is 27th in scoring defense (21.9); FSU 34th (22.3). UM is 10th in passing yards allowed per game, FSU 80th.

UM is 31st in rushing yards relinquished per game, FSU 35th. UM is 33rd in sacks, FSU 83rd.

And UM is 46th in third down defense, FSU 81st.

"For the coaches and players, I think they deserve some credit for doing a great job thus far," D'Onofrio said Monday.

By the way, FSU has played five games without end Mario Edwards, one of three five-star players who start for the Seminoles, along with Eddie Goldman and Jalen Ramsey. UM has two five-star defensive players (Howard and Thomas), but neither starts.

CHATTER

### CBS lead NFL analyst Phil Simms, who works his first Dolphins game of the season Thursday, said by phone Monday that Ryan Tannehill “so far this year has won me over. I definitely notice a difference. I’ve been really, really impressed; he’s finding the right guys, throwing in rhythm, he looks stronger. And what really impresses me is he is more natural and really letting the ball go.”

Simms now believes Tannehill can be an above average NFL starting quarterback.

But even though he likes Tannehill’s ability to run the read option, he cautions that when an opponent “is fairly good and they’re ready for it, it’s useless. It’s a good thing but I wouldn’t want to see a steady diet” because of the injury risk.

### Simms likes this Dolphins team and “was fairly impressed with how they adjusted” Sunday after losing Branden Albert.

“They’ve got guys who can make plays to win games: wide receivers, the quarterback, many guys up front, their safeties, their corners,” he said. “It’s hard to pick out a severe weakness in this team; I don’t know if there is one.

“What stands out is how many dynamic players they have. You can see it forming for them. [But] they let the Green Bay game get away and they lost a tough one to Detroit. Those are the kind of situations that determine your year.”

### After being thrown just one pass Sunday, Brian Hartline is on pace for 76 targets --- well below his 127 last season. The NFL’s 18th-most targeted receiver last season, he’s 60th in targets last season. No wonder he’s gone from 23rd in receiving yards last season (1016) to 73rd this season (269).

Agent Drew Rosenhaus, on his weekly WSVN-7 Fox segment Sunday, good naturedly called for the Dolphins to find ways to maximize Hartline’s talent, as any good agent would.

Hartline said Tuesday he doesn’t want to broach the issue with coaches: “Coaches can use me as they see fit.”

### For viewers in South Florida who don't have NFL Network, don't despair: WFOR-4 will simulcast Thursday's Dolphins-Bills game.

### Rookie Shabazz Napier is shooting just 37 percent and has a mediocre 1.89-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. So why is he playing so much in the fourth quarter?

The Heat plays well with Napier in the lineup. Consider that Miami has outscored opponents by 21 points with Napier on the floor (that's plus 21, for those unfamiliar with plus/minus), compared with a plus 1 for starter Norris Cole. Mario Chalmers, who also plays a lot late in games, is plus 18.

"Things are just settled when he's in there," Erik Spoelstra said of Napier. "He does a good job of getting the ball to the right places."

### Chris Andersen, who has missed five of the Heat's first seven games with a rib injury, is probable for Wednesday's game against Indiana.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

11/10/2014

Monday 8 p.m.: Miller update; Dolphins' Lazor and Coyle and UM's Coley and D'Onofrio offer views

Quick 8 p.m. update: Lamar Miller said his shoulder is feeling fine and he will play Thursday. He said he could have played more than 11 snaps Sunday if needed... Cortland Finnegan (ankle) and Daryn Colledge (back) could not participate in the Dolphins' light practice (which was dubbed a walk-through) --- not a good sign regarding their availability for Thursday...

Nine players were limited in practice: Ryan Tannehill, Charles Clay, Miller, Koa Misi, Dion Jordan, Dion Sims, Jimmy Wilson, Kelvin Sheppard and John Denney. Tannehill has injuries to his ankle (not new) and his right (throwing) shoulder, which is new.

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Some Monday thoughts from the four prominent coordinators in town --- the Dolphins’ Bill Lazor and Kevin Coyle and UM’s James Coley and Mark D’Onofrio.

Bill Lazor

### On changes on the offensive line necessitated by Branden Albert’s injury: “I thought at some point in his career, hopefully later than this, Ja’Wuan James would be a left tackle because I saw his ability to move. He’s very athletic, very knowledgeable. I thought there was a chance this would happen. No one wanted this to happen now with Branden Albert. He’s performed well for a rookie offensive tackle….

Dallas has continued to get better and better. He’s been prepared to make this move. He played pretty well.”

### On Buffalo’s imposing defensive line: “I’m excited for our guys to rise to the occasion. This was one of the fronts that gave us some trouble [in week two]. We gained momentum in the second half, were able to capitalize with enough points.”

### He said Lamar Miller’s carries were limited (11) because “going into the game, there were questions how well he would feel. We expected there would be more of a rotation. Any running back in the ninth game is going to be banged up. I have pretty good faith in Lamar. He really wanted to play in the game and he will really want to play Thursday night.”

### On Ryan Tannehill’s difficulty with the long ball, including an overthrow to Mike Wallace on Sunday: “We’re still working to put the good part together in the game. I feel good where we’re headed. I wish we had hit the last one we threw. It’s my job to help get it better. We’ve addressed the mechanics, trying to get people on the same page. I choose to operate with the belief that the next one will prove to everyone he can do it.”

### Is he concerned teams might defend the read option more effectively, as Detroit did? “Whatever you do offensively, you have to keep moving. You can’t do the same thing over and over. They study what you do. You have to have the next step ready, if you continue to do the same thing with the same look, teams will have a better chance to stop you.”

### On LaMichael James, who was promoted from the practice squad: “I’ve seen a guy that can really operate in space. I love the way he runs routes. I love the way he’s decisive and hits the hole fast. He’s excited to have an opportunity.”

### He said Billy Turner, a tackle at North Dakota State, is working mostly at guard in practice but also is getting some work at tackle. Lazor likes his “explosive power.”

### The Dolphins have had the most red zone opportunities in the league but are fifth-worst in efficiency: “It’s a broken record. We’ve got to do a better job. We’ve got to be more detailed and get it done. We have a good plan going in. I will be the optimist and say this will be the week.”

### On Jarvis Landry: “Every time he touches the ball, you get the feeling he’s trying to score a touchdown. Love his attitude. Love [how he's] very detailed in his routes. He’s on track to be a really good player.”

Kevin Coyle

### Anything Reshad Jones could have done differently on Detroit's game-winning touchdown?

“The quarterback did a good job getting outside the pocket, sidearm throw, snuck it in there. I wish we would have made the play."

### Coyle, on his defense being unable to hold a late lead against Green Bay and Detroit: “The series before I thought was going to be the last series of the game [Sunday]… [On the last drive], the quarterback made some great throws. They have outstanding players on their team, as does Green Bay. We have got to win in those situations. But I have great confidence in our defense and the way we’re playing. We played great in the red zone, great in sudden change.”

### On Brent Grimes: “He played a heck of a game. You saw what a great competitor is made of. He more than held his own.”

### Coyle said he had Dion Jordan help in coverage on Calvin Johnson a few times because “we were utilizing Dion with his height and length. He was on him. Dion loves the challenge. Dion did a heck of a job.”

### Why not use Dion at SAM linebacker instead of defensive end? “When you’re not in base defense maybe one third of the time, we have our plan in base defense and we have our plan in sub defense. We’re in sub defense two out of three plays and that’s where his role continues to grow.”

### On Jamar Taylor, who will be needed a lot Thursday if Cortland Finnegan doesn't make a surprisingly quick recovery from an ankle injury: “Jamar competed. There are some things he can do better and he will. We will have an opportunity with him. Will Davis is another guy we’re going to keep developing.”

Taylor and Davis “have worked hard. They are getting more comfortable with the system. Only time in games is going to tell" if they're up to the challenge.

### On defending Bills receiver Sammy Watkins, who had eight catches for 117 yards in their Week 2 meeting: “They hit a couple crossing routes on us. We have a better feel for who he is now than we did back then. Now you’ve seen more of a body of work from him.

"This is a different team from the one we played earlier. The quarterback change has been significant, has affected their style of offense to a degree. They play best when they’re running the football. That will be our challenge – to defend their run game. [Tight end] Scott Chandler has been a thorn in our side.”

Please see the last post for a lot more Dolphins notes.

James Coley

### On FSU’s defensive line: “Their defensive tackles are really low. They're big bodies, probably the biggest d-line we've faced to this point. That's one of their strengths is they're very strong. They know what they're doing."

### Why has FSU started slowly in some games? Coley said "they've gotten some very unfortunate field position with some turnovers, and a lot of teams are going to have good opening scripts and they cash in. But they do a really good job of adjusting. That coaching staff is experienced. ... Their kids lock in and the game begins for them."

### On FSU standout Mario Edwards, who has recovered from injury: Coley said, "Whenever you 're playing an exceptional big guy on the defensive front you feel them. When they're not healthy you don't as much. Mario is a special player, you feel him when he's full go. It makes a difference."

### On what he wants from his receivers, who haven’t been a big factor in some games: "Just the ability to make big plays, being able to win one-on-ones and really cash in, making people pay when we have certain calls," Coley said.

Mark D’Onofrio

### On what he will tell his defense heading into the FSU game: "Don't get caught up in the moment, try to do too much. Our guys have played well in the last month, played well in some big games. At the end of the day it's all about preparation, how they practice, and our guys are doing a good job of that. We pride ourself in 12 one-game missions, but this is a game that has big magnitude. We know that. As far as us asking the kids to prepare, nothing really different."

### Will UM take more chances because of FSU’s talent level on offense?

"I don't think this game's any different," D'Onofrio said. "We've pressured quite a bit. It's just situations dictate it, personnel dictates it, what's going on in the game will dictate that. We're going to run our defense, the same one we've been running the last two years and hope we execute well."

### On FSU’s offense: "There's a reason they've won as many games as they have. They don't really have a weakness as far as what I've seen. A great quarterback, a lot of running backs, a lot of guys that can get the ball and a veteran o-line."

### On Jameis Winston: “You know how confident he is, and rightfully so. He has a great arm, brushes off any mistake that he makes. He has that `it' factor for a quarterback. I don't see any of that changing. He has a great set of tools."

Again, please see the last post for a lot more Dolphins news... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Philbin on Miami's plan without Branden Albert; Bills player guarantees win; Dolphins chatter

A 1 p.m. Monday Dolphins update:

As expected, the Dolphins placed left tackle Branden Albert on injured reserve, ending his season. Running back LaMichael James has been promoted to the 53-man roster, according to James' agent.

Joe Philbin indicated the Dolphins will move forward with how they finished the game Sunday: with Ja’Wuan James at left tackle and Dallas Thomas at right tackle.

“What you saw is probably what you’re going to get,” Philbin said. “Ja’Wuan has always gotten a little bit of work at left tackle [in practice]. Dallas has gotten some work at tackle. We’ll make it work.”

How did James do at left tackle Sunday after Albert's injury?

“He held up well,” Philbin said. “It wasn’t perfect. He’s a pretty good athlete.”

Regarding Thomas, Philbin said: “I like what he’s done. He’s clearly much, much further along than he was a year ago. We have a lot more confidence in him. Just his ability in one game to play left guard and then flip over and play right tackle, and function relatively well speaks a lot to his level of preparation, his intelligence, those types of things. I think he’s making good progress. I like what he’s done.”

### Albert tore his ACL and MCL, a injury that has a recovery time of 9 to 12 months.

On Albert, Philbin said: “A pro. A good professional. A hard worker. Always had upbeat, positive attitude.”

### The Dolphins promoted James because they are concerned about Lamar Miller's separated shoulder, which limited him to 11 snaps on Sunday. James, drafted 61st overall by San Francisco in 2012, has 41 career carries for 194 yards (4.5 average). He requested his release before the season, hoping to find a more meaningful role elsewhere.

BILLS LOOMING

Since Joe Philbin and Ryan Tannehill became the Dolphins’ coach/quarterback tandem, the Buffalo Bills have flummoxed Tannehill, frequently overpowered the Dolphins’ offensive line and defeated Miami in four of their five meetings.

And at least one Bills player is confident that will happen again Thursday when the teams meet at Sun Life Stadium.

“We’re going to go out and we’re going to beat that ass. Point blank. Period,” cornerback Leodis McKelvin told reporters after the Bills’ loss to Kansas City Sunday.

Philbin’s response? “Football is going to be decided on the field. That’s really what’s important.”

The Bills are hardly the ideal opponent for Miami on a short work week, even more so considering left tackle Brandon Albert’s season-ending knee injury leaves the Dolphins more vulnerable against the Bills’ dominant defensive front.

“I think the Bills are built to beat us,” linebacker Philip Wheeler said after the Bills’ 29-10 drubbing of the Dolphins in Week 2. “They have a good scheme against us every year. Their defense stops our offense. Their offense runs the ball on us.”

Philbin did not answer specifically when asked why the Bills pose problems for Miami. Instead, he cited only the Week 2 meeting.

“In week 2 we didn’t get off to a very good start,” he said. “We had a lot of negative plays --- five negative plays in the first half on offense. A blocked punt in the first half. We had two 28-yard passes [against] that we felt were more mistakes, schematic things on our end. We never had momentum in that game. We have to learn from those things and make sure those things don’t happen in the rematch.”

Among some of the problems that have emerged against Buffalo during the Philbin/Tannehill era:

### Tannehill has completed only 52.4 percent of his passes in five career games against the Bills, well below his 60.5 percent career average. His 67 passer rating in those games is well below his 81.6 career rating.

And he’s averaging only 157.6 passing yards per game against Buffalo, with seven touchdowns and five interceptions.

### One reason Tannehill has struggled against Buffalo is Miami’s inability to slow the Bills’ pass rush. Buffalo has sacked Tannehill 18 times in the five games, including four times in their September meeting and seven times in Miami’s 19-0 loss at Buffalo last December.

Mario Williams and Kyle Williams each have four sacks against the Dolphins in their past three meetings, and Jerry Hughes has two in the past two games against Miami.

A Mario Williams sack late in their October meeting at Sun Life Stadium last year led to a Tannehill fumble and set up Buffalo’s game-winning field goal in a 23-21 victory --- an embarrassing loss for the Dolphins considering the Bills were playing Thad Lewis, Buffalo’s No. 3 quarterback at the time.

And now the Dolphins will face that physical front four without Albert, arguably their best player in the first half of the season. A diminished, reshuffled offensive line could spell trouble against a Bills defense that leads the league with 34 sacks. (The Dolphins, by the way, are tied for third with 28 sacks.)

### The Bills have run for 120, 203 and 113 yards in their past three games against the Dolphins. Conversely, the Dolphins produced just 90, 14 and 80 yards rushing in those three games.

The Bills will be without C.J. Spiller, who had 69 yards on 12 carries against Miami in September but is now out indefinitely, possibly for the season, with a collarbone injury.

But they still have Fred Jackson, who returned from a groin injury Sunday against Kansas City but received a light workload, with three carries for 10 yards.

Jackson had just 24 yards on 12 carries in the September game but ran for 105 on 18 carries in the Bills’ win against Miami last December.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins have averaged just 3.0, 1.2 and 3.8 yards per rush in their past three games against Buffalo. And their top running back, Miller, likely will enter Thursday's game still limited by a shoulder injury.

As noted above, Miller played only 11 of Miami’s 61 offensive snaps Sunday against Detroit, finishing with 10 yards on four carries. Unless Miller shows he is capable of more work with the shoulder injury, the Dolphins again will need to also rely on Damian Williams, who had 34 yards on seven carries, and Daniel Thomas, who had 14 yards on five carries.

Williams played 26 snaps, Thomas 23, and Williams also made an impact as a receiver (3 for 27).

“We need to do better,” Philbin said of the running game. “I didn’t think there were a lot of gaping holes we missed, but there were a couple of opportunities for more yards than we got.”

The Bills, who were quarterbacked by E.J. Manuel during their Week 2 meeting, are now led by Kyle Orton, who has 10 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 98.4 passer rating in five starts.

Some other Monday thoughts from Philbin and notes from Sunday:

### The biggest challenge playing Thursday: “It’s a quick turnaround," Philbin said. "Preparation aspect shifts toward the mental preparation.”

### On Dion Jordan’s progress, Philbin said: “I like it. He played a variety of positions in a lot of different jobs. Overall, he did a good job.”

### Pro Football Focus gave James by far Miami’s worst grade of any offensive player, which seemed harsh. PFF justified it by pointing out that James allowed five quarterback hurries and struggled in run blocking. But James was competent when he moved from right tackle to left tackle after Albert’s injury.

PFF gave Miami’s second-worst grade to right guard Mike Pouncey, who allowed two sacks and four hurries.

### Against Detroit, Jarvis Landry was targeted 10 times, Charles Clay nine and Mike Wallace eight. Conversely, Brian Hartline was thrown only one pass, which was completed.

Here’s how the receiver snaps broke down: Wallace 53 (of 61 possible), Hartline 46, Landry 38, Brandon Gibson 30 and Rishard Matthews nine.

### Defensively, PFF gave its highest grades to Derrick Shelby, Jelani Jenkins and Earl Mitchell and the lowest to Jamar Taylor, who allowed 6 of 7 passes thrown in his coverage area to be completed, for 62 yards, in his 23 defensive snaps.

Taylor figures to play a lot Thursday if Cortland Finnegan doesn’t make a surprisingly speedy recovery from an ankle injury sustained in the second half Sunday.

### Defensive snap count notes from Sunday: Among linebackers, Jenkins played all 67 and Koa Misi 65. Philbin Wheeler played just 21.

On the defensive line, Jared Odrick played 57, Olivier Vernon 55, Cam Wake 53, Dion Jordan 30 and Mitchell and Shelby 21 apiece.

### Tannehill was 18 for 19 for 135 yards and a touchdown when he wasn’t facing quarterback pressure Sunday (a 113.8 rating). But when he was under pressure, he was 9 for 19 for 87 yards and a pick (38.7 rating).

### Please check back later for comments from the Dolphins’ coordinators, who will address the media at 4:30... .Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

 

     

10/30/2014

A college football playoff primer

Buzz posts will resume in a week or so. In the meantime, here's my in-depth look at the new college football playoff system. Speak to all of you soon...

After years of clamoring for a college football playoff, fans get their wish this season and for at least the next 11 after that.

But it might not be exactly what many of you had in mind.

An 8- or 16-team tournament would have been more inclusive and potentially more captivating, but college presidents instead opted for a four-team, three-game playoff system which they believe will be an improvement over the Bowl Championship Series.

Unlike the BCS, which was in place from 1998 through last season, there will be two national semifinal games, with the winners advancing to the championship. And unlike the BCS, a committee --- not a convoluted and confusing computer formula --- will determine the participants.

The College Football Playoff (CFP), which has set up its headquarters in Dallas, might not be immune from controversy, however.

If one team hypothetically finishes unbeaten and six finish with one loss, the committee will need to somehow decide which of the one-loss teams to invite to the four-team playoff and which to exclude, considering factors such as strength of schedule and common opponents.

The committee will release a top 25 poll every Tuesday for the next six weeks, beginning last night. 

Some questions and answers on the new system:

### How will the committee select the four teams invited to the playoffs?

The process will be similar to the one used for selecting schools for the NCAA basketball tournament.

Beyond won-loss record, the CFP says it will consider strength of schedule, conference championships won, head-to-head competition, comparative outcomes against common opponents “and other relevant factors that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance.”

The CFP says committee members “will have flexibility to examine whatever data they believe is relevant. They will also review a significant amount of game video.”

### Are there any conference restrictions regarding what four teams can be selected?

No. There is no limit to the number of teams that can be chosen from one conference, unlike the BCS system. The committee will select the top four teams and seed them, with the top-seeded team playing the No. 4 seed and the No. 2 seed meeting the No. 3 seed.

### So who’s on this committee?

A mix of prominent people who have been involved in college athletics, plus former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former AirForceAcademy superintendent Michael C. Gould.

The others on the inaugural committee: Athletic directors at Arkansas (Jeff Long), Southern California (Pat Haden), Clemson (Dan Radakovich), West Virginia (Oliver Luck) and Wisconsin (Barry Alvarez). 

Also serving: former NCAA executive vice president Tom Jernstedt; former USA Today college football reporter Steve Wieberg, ex-Stanford/Notre Dame/Washington coach Tyrone Willingham, former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese and former Nebraska coach and athletic director Tom Osborne.

Former NFL quarterback Archie Manning, one of 13 people originally named to the committee, said he will not participate this season because of a medical issue. So the committee will have 12 members this season.

Most committee members will have three-year terms, but some will serve a shorter or longer term to allow for a rotation of members. The committee members won’t be paid, but their expenses will be reimbursed.

### But what about potential conflicts of interest with the committee members? Will schools with committee members have an advantage over others?

That’s not supposed to happen. Committee members will be recused from voting on a team if they or an immediate family member works for the school “or has a professional relationship with that school.”

They cannot be present for deliberations about their schools but they can be asked questions about their schools.

That means all of the current or former athletic directors will not be able to vote on their current or most recent school. Also, Gould will not be permitted to vote on Air Force (his alma mater) and Rice will not be allowed to vote on Stanford, where she has served as a professor and provost.

### When will the committee start releasing polls?

The committee’s ranking of 25 teams will be released every Tuesday night on ESPN for six consecutive weeks, beginning this week. 

The two national semifinal matchups will be announced at 12:45 p.m. on Dec. 7, and the final top 25 poll --and the matchups for the other marquee bowl games --- will be disclosed at 2:45 p.m.

### So what happens to the Associated Press poll?

It will continue to be released, but unlike past years, it no longer will have any bearing in determining a champion. Nor will the computer rankings that were used by the BCS. Only the CFP committee’s poll will carry weight in determining matchups.

### When will the semifinal games be played and what network will televise them?

Both semifinals will be played on the same day, either on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. This season’s semifinals will be on Jan. 1 in New Orleans and Pasadena, Cal.

The championship game will be played on a Monday night, with the 2015 game scheduled for Jan. 12 in Arlington, Tx.

ESPN will carry both semifinals and the championship game for all 12 years of the contract.

### Where will be the semifinal games be played?

The semifinals will alternate among six bowls: The Orange (South Florida), Sugar (New Orleans), Rose (Pasadena, Cal.), Cotton (Arlington, Tx.), Fiesta (Glendale, Ariz.) and Peach (Atlanta), with each hosting four semifinals over the next 12 years.

The Orange Bowl semifinals will be played on Dec. 31 in 2015, 2018, 2021 and 2024.

### And where the championship game will be played?

Three championship games have been awarded: to North Texas in 2015, Glendale, Ariz. in 2016 and Tampa in 2017.

### Will Sun Life Stadium get a championship game?

Possibly. Sun Life (and several other stadiums) lost out to Tampa for the 2017 game, but South Florida plans to bid for the championship in years it’s not hosting a semifinal. Cities are not permitted to host the title game and a semifinal during the same season.

Sun Life Stadium officials hope South Florida’s attractive winter climate, the ongoing renovations to the stadium and the region’s rich college football history will help it snag at least one title game during the 12-year contract.

But competition is stiff, both from the five other bowl cities in the playoff rotation, and several other markets that are not, including Tampa, the San Francisco Bay Area, Minneapolis, San Antonio, Orlando, Indianapolis and Jacksonville.

If Sun Life Stadium is awarded a championship game at some point during the 12 years, it would also host the Orange Bowl that year.

### How will it be decided which playoff teams will play in which bowls?

Geography will be considered, especially for the top two seeds. For example, when the national semifinals are played in the Orange and Cotton Bowls --- which will happen next season --- the Seminoles most likely would be sent to the Orange Bowl if they are the No. 1 seed.

### How will matchups be decided for the marquee bowls that aren’t hosting national semifinals?

In the case of the “contract” bowls (Orange, Rose and Sugar), the bowls and the conferences with which they are contracted will determine the matchups, based on the selection committee’s final poll.

For example, in the eight years when it does not host a national semifinal game, the Orange Bowl will get the ACC champion.

If the ACC champ is involved in the playoffs, the OB instead would get the next-highest-ranked ACC team in the final CFP poll against the highest ranked non-champion from the Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame.

The champion (or next-highest ranked) teams from the Big 10 and Pac-12 will meet in the Rose, and the Big 12 and SEC will square off in the Sugar.

For the “host” bowls (Cotton, Fiesta and Peach) the matchups will be determined by the selection committee.

### OK, so we know the Orange Bowl will have an ACC team during the eight years when it doesn’t host a semifinal. But who will the opponent be?

The opponent generally will be the highest-ranked available team from the SEC (but not the conference champion), Big 10 (but not the conference champion) or Notre Dame, based upon the selection committee’s rankings.

But here’s the catch: Notre Dame cannot be selected for the OB more than twice over those eight years. Also, the SEC and Big Ten each must have at least three OB appearances over those eight years.

So there might be some years when the ACC team isn’t playing the highest-ranked available team from the SEC, Big 10 or Notre Dame.

### But if the Orange Bowl ends up with a regular-season rematch, can it force the committee to come up with a different matchup?

Yes, but all involved parties (ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Notre Dame and the Orange Bowl) must agree. If it’s an attractive matchup, the OB wouldn’t necessarily oppose a rematch.

### Will the Orange Bowl continue to be played at night?

Often, but not always. For its four semifinals, the games will be played at 5 or 8:30 p.m., with the committee and ESPN deciding which slot to give the Orange and which slot to give the Cotton.

For its eight non-semifinal games over the next 12 years, two will be on Dec. 30 at 8 p.m., two will be on Dec. 31 at 8 p.m., two will be on Dec. 31 at 1 p.m. and two will be on Jan. 1 at 1 p.m.

### Where does the new system leave the non-marquee conferences?

The highest-ranked champion of the other five Football Bowl Subdivision conferences (the American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt), as determined by the selection committee’s final poll, will play in one of three host bowls (the Peach, Fiesta or Cotton) that are part of the national semifinal rotation.

It would be difficult to imagine a team from one of those conferences being selected for the four-team playoff, though it’s not prohibited. 

### What happens to the ACC champion during years the Orange Bowl is hosting a national semifinal?

If the ACC champion isn’t part of the four-team playoff, it would play in the Fiesta or Peach bowls.

### How often will committee members meet?

The group will meet weekly, in the Dallas area, on Mondays and Tuesdays, then will reconvene Dec. 6 to determine the playoff teams and the pairings.

### Who will select the matchups for the more than two dozen bowl games that aren’t part of the semifinal rotation?

Individual bowls will continue to select those matchups. Most have conference tie-ins.

For example, the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl on Dec. 22 at Marlins Park will match BYU against an American Athletic Conference team. The inaugural Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 23 at FAU Stadium will match a Conference USA team against a Mid-American Conference team.

### Why is the committee releasing polls so far in advance of selection of the four playoff teams?

"That's what the fans have become accustomed to, and we felt it would leave a void in college football without a ranking for several weeks," Long said. "Early on there was some talk that we would go into a room at the end of the season and come out with a top four, but that didn't last long.”

Each week, the ranking process will begin from scratch, with no weight given to the previous week’s rankings.

### How can fans buy tickets to the championship game?

The CFP says there are two ways: A) Through a random drawing in which 1000 tickets are made available in February of the year before the championship game.

Winners of the drawing have the right to purchase two tickets. The random drawing for this season’s title game is closed.

B) Through a “Team Tix forward market” in which 2500 tickets are made available though Nov. 24, 2014. 

Fans may make reservations to purchase tickets for any particular team, with prices determined by demand. Then if that team qualifies for the national championship, that fan will be able to purchase tickets at face value. See collegefootballplayoff.com for more information.

### Will the committee members be expected to attend games?

The CFP says “members will not be expected to attend games in person” but “they will be expected to watch video extensively.”

### How much is ESPN paying for TV rights to the CFP?

Quite a lot:  $7.3 billion for 12 years. Conversely, the most recent contract with the BCS paid almost $2 billion over four years — $495 million per year for five games.

With Brent Musburger demoted to the SEC Network, Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit will call the championship game for ESPN this season and for the foreseeable future.

Buzz posts will resume in a week-and-a-half.

10/29/2014

Bill Lazor assesses Dolphins offense; Philbin's thoughts

Regular posts in this space will resume in a bit over a week. Please check back Thursday for a college football post and then please return in a bit over a week for the resumption of regular blog posts in this space. 

In the meantime, here's a look at what Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said this week, plus a few other notes:

### Lazor, on what concerns him: “We are not productive enough [in red zone offense]. It doesn’t take a lot to change it.... We have to continue to get more [chunk plays], and we have to continue to emphasize explosive passes because it’s hard to go the whole distance to make them. To me, our third-down conversions now are not great. How do you get the third downs better? You don’t get in it. You make some explosive plays one first and second (down). That will help.”

### Lazor, on why the execution in the first half has been slow: "When you look at our players, you just have to deal with the details of why did we have some problems up front early in the [Jaguars] game? Why did we have some really, I thought, simple assignment errors?... There’s no answer.

"You would think at this point of the season those things are behind you, but they weren’t. We have to deal with the reality. So I’ll take the burden for me knowing how fast the Jacksonville defense has been starting its games. Did I do a good job of getting us started? Obviously not, after the fact I can say that."

### Lazor, on Dallas Thomas, who's in line to continue filling in for guard Daryn Colledge if Colledge isn't cleared to play: "I’m really excited about Dallas Thomas going forward. When you watch him all through the preseason, I wasn’t here last year, but I saw how he played last year. I saw him in OTAs, I saw him in camp, I saw him in the preseason and I saw him when he came in the Buffalo game. I think the guy has improved every time he has played. He wasn’t perfect [Sunday], but I think he is a bright spot, and I think he has a really good future.”

### Lazor, on Brian Hartline: “I think Brian is a guy that is used to having a lot of production and he wants to contribute. He has confidence in himself and his ability to contribute and I have confidence in him. It’s a long season, so sometimes you go through little waves, up and down. If he’s frustrated with certain things right now, I have pretty good confidence that he’ll be able to channel that into being more productive. I think people around here have known Brian long enough. I don’t know if we have a harder worker on the field, at least in my history of football that’s the most important thing that will translate into production. I think it will show up.”

### CBS is sending the Dolphins-Chargers game to 67 percent of the country, with Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts on the call. If you live outside South Florida, please see 506sports.com for a map of where the game is going.

### Joe Philbin, asked by San Diego media today about why his team has been playing better recently: "The last two games, we are plus-five in the turnover margin. I think that’s a pretty good place to start and give yourself a chance to win football games is protecting the football. The one game we lost in that stretch I think we were minus-three in the turnover margin and we lost the game on the last play of the football game to a pretty good football team.

"I think maybe our offense is starting to come together a little bit. It’s still not there, but I just think we are playing a little better overall football. I think we are tackling better on defense. I think we are protecting the ball a little better on offense. We are getting more takeaways defensively also.”

### Philbin, on what he liked about Ryan Tannehill's 50-yard throw to Mike Wallace on Sunday (besides, obviously, the fact the pass was completed): “We showed that clip to the entire team, just showing the trust there has to be between, number one, the protection that the quarterback can sit there and go through his progression, and number two, the quarterback having faith that the wide receiver is going to be at the appropriate spot at the right time.

"When you freeze the camera where Ryan was letting the ball go, Mike was totally covered. He wasn’t open at all, but they were on the same page. We got the ball in the right spot. The receiver was where he was supposed to be, and lo-and-behold you have a big play.”

### Good to hear that Dolphins special adviser Dan Marino has been watching film some with Ryan Tannehill, as Tannehill detailed today. Marino was reluctant to pop his head into meetings early in the season because he didn't want to do anything to step on the coaches' toes.

But the coaching staff has made Marino feel welcome. And Marino has attended several practices recently.

10/28/2014

Heat notes: Deng, Granger look to recapture games; PGs, Bosh and more: Golden, D'Onofrio address issues

Heat notes as we approach Wednesday's season opener:

### Danny Granger’s knee issues the past two seasons, Luol Deng’s pedestrian play in Cleveland, and their diminished offensive efficiency leave a strong impression that the Heat’s two most pedigreed imports, especially Granger, aren’t what they used to be, that they’re on a downward arc.

But remember this: It was just 20 months ago that Deng was playing in a second consecutive All-Star Game. And it was just 2 ½ years ago that Granger was scoring 19 a game.

And neither would qualify as old: Deng is 29, Granger 31. Both spoke privately in recent days of how driven they are to regain their edge, though Granger knows his bench role will keep his scoring numbers modest.

“A lot of people have written me off with my injuries,” Granger said. “I’m highly motivated.”

With Deng, the falloff has been far more subtle --- reflected not in his scoring average (which has ranged from 15.3 to 17.6 the past five years) but in his shooting percentage, which has plunged from 47.1 in his first seven seasons to 42.4 his past three, including 41.7 during a nondescript 40-game stint for Cleveland last season. His 5.7 rebounding average in 2013-14 was his lowest since his rookie season.

“Distractions do happen but I’m talking about major things,” he said of last season’s trade from Chicago, where he spent his first nine-plus seasons. “That was the first time I had been traded and I was looking for a place to live in the middle of the season. It was a new situation that I really had a hard time with. That was the first time I had been traded. It was a new situation I really had a hard time with."

He blamed his “shooting dip” --- his 30.2 percent shooting on threes ranked among the worst for small forwards last season --- on “me playing terrible.” But he’s determined to fix it. Heat coaches have helped him with balance and footwork.

“I’ve really thought about it and I’m focused on bringing my shooting percentage up, especially the threes,” said Deng, a career 32.9 percent shooter on threes. “I’ve got to be more patient with it. When I was shooting those threes well, I was very patient with it.

“That’s what I’ve got to get back to. This year my shooting percentage should come back up because of the way we move the ball and spread the floor and the spacing. It’s getting back into being in one place and being comfortable with the situation.”

A skilled defender, Deng said he’s at his best offensively “when I’m not predictable. I want to be a guy where I slash, I cut, I get three or four baskets that way, I get a tip-in, I get two threes, I get a midrange shot, I get a basket off the post. That’s what I want to focus on, where I can help the team in so many different ways. Just walk off the floor knowing I did something today.”

Granger said he feels the healthiest he has been since knee problems limited him to 46 games the past two years.

Though he has started 425 of 556 NBA games, he’s at peace coming off the bench and said winning the NBA’s sixth man award “is definitely a goal. It’s a possibility with my role and the way I score.”

After averaging 24.1, 20.5 and 18.7 points over a three-year stretch in Indiana, he played only five games in 2012-13 and 41 with the Pacers and Clippers last season, averaging 8.2 points and shooting just 37.8 percent.

He vows to become a more efficient player here, basing his faith not only on his improved knees but also the reasons Deng cited regarding the Heat’s system.

“That’s one of the reasons I came to Miami; their team shoots 50 percent,” Granger said, aware that since-departed LeBron James was a major reason for that. “They have a lot of layups, a lot of open threes, things some other teams just don’t get, which is why they shot such a high percentage. I definitely think I will be able to do that here. I’m definitely going to be over 40 percent, probably 45, 46.”

One Heat official said of Granger: “He really is huge for us. He’s not 35. He’s 31. He has his footing again.”

Granger concedes: “I’ve probably lost a little athleticism. But I never was the fastest or jumped the highest. I always played a different type of game. I don’t think I’ve lost much.

“The only thing really stopping me the last few years was my knees. I’m definitely in my prime, definitely have a lot of good years left.”

Both Deng and Granger have the canvas to prove that here. Much rides on it financially, with both holding 2015-16 player options: Deng’s for $10.1 million, Granger’s for $2.1 million.

### A scout who has watched the Heat this preseason: “Norris Cole is a backup player, but he’s more of a natural point guard than Mario Chalmers. It might be a modest stroke of genius on Erik [Spoelstra’s] part to play Chalmers as your backup two and maximize what he does best, which is score. He’s much better than Shannon Brown as Wade’s backup.

"Shabazz Napier eventually will be the best of the three as a point guard. As a team, their talent is very comparable to Atlanta, Toronto and Brooklyn, behind Cleveland, Chicago and Washington.”

Dwyane Wade said he is imploring Chalmers to play point guard with the same type of attacking mentality he uses at shooting guard.

### Pat Riley picks his spots now when he speaks to players, but Shawne Williams said Riley firmly delivered this message to the team: “Refuse to be denied.” Riley, Williams said, also implored them “to have an edge.”

### The Heat was last in the league in rebounding last season and that again remains a concern, with Miami outrebounded by 35 in preseason.

Josh McRoberts will help when he's fully healthy, but he ranked just 37th among power forwards in rebounding last season, at 4.8 per game.

But the Heat didn’t want another year of Greg Oden, nor did it want the baggage of Andray Blatche (who signed in China) or Andrew Bynum, who is again out with knee problems.

### Jeff Van Gundy and Chris Bosh agree on this: Bosh must get to the line more.

“Put the ball on the floor and go to the freaking basket!” Rick Barry implored Bosh on WQAM last week.

Last season, Bosh took fewer free throws per game than any center/power forward that averaged as many points.

Because he has played progressively less in the post --- which he vows will change --- his free throw attempts plunged from 590 his last season in Toronto, to 471 his first season in Miami to 272 last season.

“One of the things I’m looking forward to is getting to the free throw line a lot more and shooting 90 percent,” said Bosh, a career 80 percent free-throw shooter.

### In 12 Nevada casinos, the Heat is 35 to 1 to win the title, the 10th shortest odds but behind the Knicks (30 to 1) and Wizards (30 to 1), among others.

### When the Heat meets the Wizards in its season opener Wednesday, Washington will be without injured guard Bradley Beal and suspended power rotation players Nene and DeJuan Blair.

GOLDEN, D'ONOFRIO SNIPPETS

### UM coach Al Golden said today that he's gotten involved recently in play-calling on offense and defense.

"On the fourth and two from the two, that's my call and it didn't go so well the other night," he said.
"Georgia Tech fourth and one from the 30, again that was me. There's a lot of those, and timeouts, constantly going back and forth trying to communicate, share what we see, plot a course for each series. People think it's about the game, it's really about each series, how they're playing, certain groupings, formations and [then the coach decides] how you are going to approach the next series."

### Golden, on emerging linebacker Jermaine Grace: "His preparation has been better, his maturity and poise has been better, his confidence. Being more vocal in the meeting rooms to show he knows what he's doing and is confident and can bring that to the game. All those things are starting to happen. He's going to play a pivotal role because... we do need his ability to change direction and break on the ball and his speed in games."

### Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio said one reason UM has improved defensively is "we've had fewer mental errors each week since the beginning of the season while playing more guys. That's a good sign that guys are learning the defense and we're bringing guys along. We've improved our depth and knowledge and our execution of the scheme. That's the biggest thing."

### D'Onofrio calls North Carolina, which visits Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, "the best team we've played, no doubt, on offense."

### D'Onofrio, on walk-on safety Nantambu Fentress, who had nine tackes against Virginia Tech: "I love the guy. He's been unbelievable. He's been fun to coach. I've always challenged him: 'You can be more than a special teams guy, you can be a starter here, don't sell yourself short. You're tough, you're smart, you're competitive. Don't ever take a back seat to anybody.' I just knew at some point that he'd be a hard guy to keep out of the lineup."



### Susan Miller Degnan and Manny Navarro have a blog on the UM page about UM's latest injury, to left tackle Ereck Flowers. Please see their story about that.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

10/27/2014

Monday 1 p.m.: Philbin's remarks; Lineup decisions, Jordan, Tannehill, other notes; UM and UF TV news

1 p.m. update:

Some comments from Joe Philbin and others during this afternoon's day-after-game press briefing:

### Philbin: "We have to make a lot of corrections. We need to play better, which I'm confident we will.... I didn't think our third-down passing game was very good. That has to get better.... You never want to give the ball away at the five yard line, like we did late in the game.... The production overall offensively wasn't good enough."

### Philbin, on the Dolphins allowing seven sacks in the past two games, said "there have been some shortcomings" in blocking but that Ryan Tannehill could have gotten the ball out more quickly once or twice.

### Philbin, on his reaction to some of his players being upset about Sunday's performance: "Some wise man said dissatisfaction is the basis of all progress. It's good. [But] I told the team there's no need to apologize for the game. We made some plays when we had to."

### Philbin said his defense spends "a lot" of time on interception returns. "There's semi-art to it," he said. The Dolphins had two interception returns for touchdowns Sunday, by Louis Delmas and Brent Grimes.

### Philbin said Jonathan Freeny, who had a sack, "quietly has been making a lot of progress. He's gotten better."

### Is Philbin worried that Koa Misi's ankle could be an issue all season? "I hope not," he said.... Philbin had no update on Daryn Colledge's migraine issues. 

### Kevin Coyle said Dion Jordan "played well for his first opportunity back. I thought he gave really good effort and made an impact on special teams as well as on defense."

Coyle said Jordan played some on first down "because he's gotten bigger and stronger. We planned on having a pretty good rotation with our front people."

### Coyle: "I don't think we played poorly against the run. I think we can play better against the run.... Koa's activity, his physicalness we miss. [But Jason Trusnik] did a good job."

##############################################################################################

10 a.m.: A few Dolphins items:

### Dion Jordan ended up playing 42 percent of the team’s defensive snaps Sunday --- 30 in all, as coaches mixed and matched defensive linemen and often played only two linebackers. Jordan finished with two tackles on defense and one on special teams.

Here’s how defensive snaps were spread out among Miami’s defensive ends: Cam Wake played 46 (of 71 possible downs), Derrick Shelby 38, Olivier Vernon 37, Jordan 30, Terrence Fede 9 and Chris McCain 7.

Among the team’s defensive tackles, Jared Odrick played the most, as usual, with 55. Randy Starks had 34 and Earl Mitchell 33. And, as usual, some of Shelby’s snaps were at tackle.

### Whether it’s a coincidence or not, Philip Wheeler’s playing time has plummeted since he was beaten for a touchdown pass in the closing seconds of the Green Bay game.

After playing just 11 snaps against Chicago, Wheeler logged just 14 against Jacksonville. Surprisingly, journeyman reserve Kelvin Sheppard played 17, by comparison. And Jonathan Freeney, who had a sack, played six snaps.

Jelani Jenkins played 66 of 71 possible snaps, and Jason Trusnik --– filling in for Koa Misi at middle linebacker --- played 53. For the second week in a row, the Dolphins often played with only two linebackers --- a move that left Wheeler on the bench for much of the game.

### Beyond the starters, the Dolphins split their fifth-defensive back duties between Jamar Taylor (32 snaps) and Michael Thomas (23). Will Davis played seven snaps and Walt Aikens played five late in the game.

### Brent Grimes (interception return for touchdown) and Cortland Finnegan again had solid days. Both allowed completions on two of four passes thrown against them, for 19 and 26 yards, respectively.

### Offensively, the Dolphins had four three-and-outs after having just seven (a league low) in their first six games.

Also troubling: Ryan Tannehill has been sacked seven times in the past two games after being dropped 10 times in the first five games.

Two of the three sacks Sunday were allowed by Daryn Colledge, who played just 10 snaps before leaving with a migraine. Pro Football Focus blamed the other sack on Ja’Wuan James, who has allowed just two through seven games of his rookie season.

### The good news on Tannehill: He finally completed a deep ball, the 50-yarder to Mike Wallace. The bad news: On throws of 10 yards or more, he was just 3 for 9 Sunday (for 107 yards).

### Tannehill targeted Wallace seven times but just two were caught…. Brian Hartline, who was targeted four times, had more drops (two) than receptions (one).

### Here’s how the Dolphins split their 59 offensive snaps at receiver: Wallace and Hartline each had 45, Jarvis Landry 31, Brandon Gibson 27 and Rishard Matthews 16.

### Among running backs, Lamar Miller got 43 snaps, Daniel Thomas 16 and Damien Williams none.

### The Dolphins rested Mike Pouncey as a precaution for their final 15 offensive snaps…. Dallas Thomas ended up playing 48 snaps and Nate Garner 15 in relief of Colledge and Pouncey.

### Pro Football Focus gave the Dolphins’ highest offensive grade to Dion Sims, who played 25 snaps. (Charles Clay played 47.)

### It appears that it’s going to be more difficult to make the playoffs than last season, when the Dolphins could have snuck in at 9-7 if they had beaten the Jets.

The problem is that there are 11 teams in the AFC with winning records, plus Houston at 4-4. If the Patriots (6-2) win the division, the Dolphins (4-3) likely would be competing with San Diego, Kansas City, Buffalo, Houston and three AFC North teams  (we exclude the division winner here) for two wild card spots. That makes a win vital on Sunday against the Chargers.

TV NOTES

### CBS-4 picked up the ACC Network's telecast of UM-North Carolina at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. If the game exceeds three hours --- as most college football games do --- CBS-4 will switch the start of CBS' coverage of the 3:30 p.m. UF-Georgia game to Channel 33, then move the Gators game to CBS 4 once the UM game is over.

Quick broadcast note: In major markets metered by Nielsen, the Green Bay-New Orleans game had an 11.4 rating Sunday night, compared with an 8.2 for the competing World Series game.

That 39 percent difference is the NFL's largest margin of victory in five head-to-head matchups between World Series games and Sunday night football over the years, according to NBC.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

10/25/2014

Van Gundy, Collins, Isiah, Miller assess Heat; Dolphins, Hurricanes, Marlins chatter

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

With the start of the NBA season days away, where does the post-LeBron Heat stack up in the East?

I asked four TV analysts off the air and here's what they told me:

### ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy: “Cleveland and Chicago are the favorites, but I like Miami as well as anybody after that. It’s a 45-to-50 win team with a real chance to get to the Eastern Conference Finals. They will guard and share the ball and won't beat themselves. They will be very solid playoff contender. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are going to have great years.

“The last four years have been hard to take the second role for Wade. He’s still a great player and I see him playing in the 70s [as far of number of games]. I don’t see him diminishing in skill. I love Josh McRoberts, and Luol Deng is still very good.

If their team had come back intact, it would have been hard for them to be as excited about the process as they are now. There are a lot of people who will feel the responsibility to play well and that sense of responsibility will grow after you lose a great player.”

There’s another reason Van Gundy is bullish on the Heat: “Great coaches find every possible way to energize a team. Erik Spoelstra proved he was a great coach the first two years when Wade and Udonis Haslem were his best players and they made the playoffs. His finest hour as an NBA coach will be the next four or five years and he will prove he can take the loss of James and put out an outstanding team.”

Van Gundy said even though the James/Kevin Love/Kyrie Irving trio is “clearly the best trio in the East, are you sure that the Bulls’ top three of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and [Pau Gasol] is better than the Heat’s top three?”

Van Gundy isn’t certain of that because of Rose’s health.

“Miami will match up well [with Chicago],” he said. But “barring major injuries, I can't see Chicago or Cleveland not finding a way to the Eastern Conference Finals.”

### NBA TV’s Isiah Thomas: He asserts this Heat team is comparable in talent to the 1993-94 Bulls, who overcame Michael Jordan’s baseball-inspired retirement the previous offseason to win 55 games and finish third in the conference with a cast of Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc, Horace Grant and role players, before losing in the second round to New York.

“This Heat team is similar to that Chicago team,” Thomas said. “They have championship intelligence, like the Bulls did. They’re still one of the two top or three teams in the East. If Derrick Rose is healthy, Chicago is the favorite because they have a defensive mindset and you have to give Chicago the edge [over Cleveland] from a coaching standpoint. There will be a learning curve for Cleveland to get on the same page.

“But the Heat isn’t going to go away. Dwyane will figure out how to help this team win. They have PHDs in championship basketball.”

And Thomas predicts Mario Chalmers will blossom in his new combo role of point guard and backup shooting guard.

### ESPN’s Doug Collins: He ranks the Heat between third and sixth in the conference, clearly behind Cleveland and Chicago and nestled in a tier with Washington, Toronto and Charlotte, but ahead of Brooklyn and Atlanta.

But he said he doesn’t believe this Heat team is as good as the aforementioned 1993-94 Bulls.

“I would not make that comparison,” Collins said. “I don’t see anyone on that team being as great as Scottie Pippen. Those teams played together a long time.”

Also, Collins has concerns about Wade’s health.

“I don’t know if there is a team with more questions marks than the Heat,” he said.

“I like the names on paper but they are older and Wade missed 28 games last season. How can they be the team they want to be if he misses 28 games? How many is he going to miss? Can Bosh go from a No. 3 to a No. 1 option? He can no longer be just a spot-up shooter.

“I love Luol Deng and how hard he plays. But how much mileage does he have on his legs? Can his efficiency be lifted?”

He likes the McRoberts pickup --– “very good playmaker, has a nasty side to him” --- but said Danny Granger “is not mobile enough to defend small forwards any more. He’s a hybrid four. Maybe he can be Rashard Lewis for them.”

### TNT’s Reggie Miller: “They will be competing for one of those top four slots. I could see them easily slipping as low as sixth possibly. You don’t get to four straight NBA Finals, winning two of them, without some championship resolve.

"To have Dwyane Wade, Erik Spoelstra, Chris Bosh, and then to add Josh McRoberts and Luol Deng…these are guys that understand what winning is all about. Are they still going to be that championship force? No, but they understand what it will take to compete at the highest level. A veteran team like that… knows how to win.”

### News note: The Heat reduced its roster to the maximum permitted 15 by cutting UNLV rookie center Khem Birch. The Heat instead kept rookie shooting guard Andre Dawkins, who shot 7 of 12 on threes in pre-season after shooting 42.1 percent on three-pointers for Duke last season.

DOLPHINS CHATTER

### Against every team Miami has played this season, an opposing coach or player has gone up to Jarvis Landry to praise him, Landry tells us.

“But I’m nowhere near my potential,” he insists.

Remember that pre-draft criticism of Landry’s speed?

“I hope they keep underestimating my speed,” he said. “Thirty one teams passed on me because of my speed. I don’t consider myself one of the fastest guys, but I have good enough speed to separate and make plays.”

Brian Hartline said Landry "puts a lot of pressure on himself," so much so that "at times we tell him good job, and it’s still not good enough for him."

### Where has Ryan Tannehill most improved?

For starters, he’s making faster decisions, which was a point of emphasis after Bill Lazor’s hiring.

When given 2.5 seconds or less to throw, he has a 94.8 passer rating and 69.6 completion percentage, compared with 84.8 and 65.3 last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

Also, on intermediate throws across the middle (10 to 19 yards), his passer rating is an astounding 130.1 --- 47 points higher than those same throws last year.

### For those concerned about Tannehill possibly getting injured on read option plays, keep in mind that the Dolphins don't seem to be.

Tannehill and Joe Philbin indicated they're not worried about it, and Philbin hasn’t placed a per-game limit on how many times Tannehill runs the read-option.

Philbin said he was fine with Tannehill fighting through tacklers for extra yards on one long run against Chicago. But he likes him to slide when he's about to take a direct hit.

### Jelani Jenkins has been so impressive that even Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, between quarters of their recent game, told him to keep up the good work.

### Philbin has been spending Thursday nights watching the final minutes of close NFL games from the week before, hoping to “learn” things he should and shouldn’t do based on their success rate in other games.

### The Dolphins have cut and re-signed a bunch of players over the years (former offensive lineman Ray Feinga is the modern day poster child for that), but Daniel Thomas might be the rare player who looks better his second time around. He’s averaging 5.4 yards on 14 carries and 14.2 yards on five receptions.

During his time away, he changed his number (from 33 to 30) hoping it would change his luck, and bemoaned that he didn’t pursue a career at safety (Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops thought he would be a good one) instead of running back.

“When I was [unemployed for a month], I started questioning the whole thing, got down on myself,” said Thomas, who's averaging much more than 3.7 yards per carry for the first time since his Kansas State days. “People don’t understand how hard it is. My dad was getting impatient, calling my agent, asking what’s going on.”

CHATTER

### The Marlins front office will meet with Jeffrey Loria this week to finalize an offseason plan, which likely will include trying to add a pitcher and first baseman (Adam LaRoche --- whose $15 million Nationals option is expected to be declined --- is among several hitters who likely will get a call from the Marlins during free agency).

Only one Marlin, catcher Jeff Mathis, has a player option; his agent said the Marlins indicated they likely will exercise it, at $1.5 million.

### MLB.com said the Marlins might need to move in the fences at Marlins Park to increase the chances of Giancarlo Stanton accepting a multiyear offer. But the Marlins do not want to do that.

Stanton hit .310 with 24 homers and 67 RBI at home this season (much better than his road numbers) but has said he still would prefer the fences be closer.

### Among ACC schools, Clemson ranks second, FSU ninth and UM 14th in rivals.com's rating of oral commitments for the 2015 football signing class.

### An AFC scout who believes this UM team had underachieved --- before Thursday --- lists four Hurricanes players in his top 100 draft-eligible prospects: juniors Duke Johnson and Ereck Flowers and seniors Denzel Perryman and Philip Dorsett.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz