May 12, 2015

Tidbits, chatter on new Fins WR group, with thoughts from Sean Payton, evaluators; Heat (Wade, Bosh); Marlins, Canes

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN  

Have the Dolphins come out ahead this offseason by replacing receivers Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson with DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Greg Jennings?

From a cap standpoint, yes. From a talent standpoint, probably, if Parker is as good as the Dolphins believe he will be.

From a chemistry standpoint, the Dolphins believe they will be better, though Rishard Matthews figures to be unhappy if his trade request isn’t granted.

Chatter on the Dolphins’ revamped receiver unit:

### There were troubling issues with last year’s group, beyond blated salaries and cap numbers. Everyone knows about Wallace’s complaints about lack of targets and the group’s poor yards-after-catch metrics.

But former Dolphins receiver Chris Chambers --- who spent two weeks as a Dolphins assistant coach during training camp--- noticed something else that bothered him.

“The older guys, Mike and Brian, even though they played well at times, could have set a better example in that room, as far as learning and not joking around,” Chambers said. “Because if they start joking around, the rookies and second-year guys will start joking around.

“Some days it could have been more serious to set a better example. The receiver coaches taught well, but the room needed to be tightened up a bit. Greg Jennings will help that. He will be way more professional and he played at a high level. He is going to show the [young receivers] so much. He’s almost like a third coach, a player/coach.”

Bottom line: Chambers said the "culture" in the receivers room needed changing.

He believes the dynamic between Ryan Tannehill and the receivers will improve because “when you have guys under him in age, it will work better.”

Three of Miami’s top four receivers are now younger than Tannehill. And the room will have fewer veterans with complaints about Tannehill, their playing time or the offense.

Chambers said this group of receivers will “exceed [last year’s] once they get experience. They’ll be really good. For us to have a basket-catching guy with a stronger catch radius [in Parker], that will help. You don’t have to hit him in stride as much as you did with Mike Wallace.”

(Quick aside: Chambers is doing some interesting stuff that we'll address in a blog later this week.)

### This could get tricky for offensive coordinator Bill Lazor: The Dolphins now have four top-three caliber receivers (Parker, Jarvis Landry, Jennings, Stills), meaning at least one – barring injury --- won’t play as much as accustomed.

Parker played most of Louisville’s offensive snaps when healthy last season. Jennings played 85.6 percent of Minnesota’s, Landry 62.3 percent of Miami’s, and Stills 54 percent of the Saints’.

But whoever ends up the No. 4 receiver here could end up playing less than than half the time, about as much as Gibson last season (45.3 percent of Miami's offensive snaps). And Matthews played only 19.3 percent of the time as the No. 5 receiver.

So the veterans will need to subjugate their egos.

### The expectation is for Parker to start immediately and presumably turn into a Pro Bowl receiver eventually, as Odell Beckham Jr. did for the Giants.

The Dolphins say Parker began working on-field with Tannehill this week.

"I watch this kid [Parker] and he looks like Mark Clayton," Dolphins executive Nat Moore told the team's Finsiders web site. "He caught everything in his range, has an unbelievable skill set and catches the ball out front, has got good, soft hands, and runs good routes. His future is unlimited."

### One thing the Dolphins love about their new group is reliability.

Consider this: Last season, 78 NFL receivers played at least half of their teams’ offensive snaps.

Of those 78, Landry caught the second-highest percentage of balls thrown to him (80 percent).

Stills caught the third-highest (78.8 percent; it helped having the Saints’ Drew Brees throwing to him) and Jennings the 25th-highest (67 percent).

Parker also did well in this area and caught an impressive 12 of 24 deep balls (20 yards-plus) for 424 yards and four touchdowns.

These stats, naturally, have a lot to do with the quarterback and the distance of balls thrown. But these numbers matters to the Dolphins, as Joe Philbin said with regard to Stills.

### Saints coach Sean Payton predicts Stills “will contribute in a big way right away” here.

“He's extremely explosive,” Payton told me. “The other thing about Kenny is in his first year, he knew all the positions. He's a smart guy. He's versatile.

“The learning part comes very easy. Can play X. Can play Z. Can come inside. He's got real good transition skills in his routes.

“A lot of the time, one of the challenges for young receivers is getting acclimated to the system, the terminology, the route tree. That came very quickly for him. For Kenny, learning a new system will come very quickly. He's someone in two years you saw quick growth. He's sudden. Has got good hand/eye coordination. Can catch the ball in funny positions."

### There were reports that the Saints weren’t happy with Stills’ maturity level. But Payton said that wasn’t a concern of his.

So why trade him after only two years (for linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and a third-round pick)?

“A couple changes we made really dealt with trying to improve our defense,” Payton said.

### Parker ultimately should end up replacing Wallace as Miami’s No. 1 receiver. But in comparing Stills and Wallace, keep this in mind:

Stills is considerably cheaper, with a $585,000 salary and cap number in 2015 compared with Wallace’s $9.9 million for both… Stills was thrown 28 fewer passes than Wallace last season (80 to 108) but still had 69 more receiving yards (931 to 862).

Stills led the league in yards per catch in 2013 (20.0) and was 26th this past season (14.8). Conversely, Wallace was 65th and 57th.

But here’s the caveat, and it’s a big one: Stills was catching passes from Brees, who’s excellent at the deep ball, whereas Wallace was catching balls from Tannehill, who’s statistically among the worst in that category. And that skews the numbers.

Consider: Last season, of the 14 passes thrown to Stills that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, 71.4 percent were deemed catchable by Pro Football Focus.

Conversely, of the 24 deep passes thrown by Tannehill to Wallace, only 29.2 percent were catchable.

### The good news, according to ESPN.com analyst and former Browns scout Matt Williamson, is that Stills is very effective on intermediate routes.

“Stills is not as fast as Wallace, but he’s better underneath than Wallace. It fits the quarterback’s skills better,” Williamson said.

### Williamson said “Jennings and Hartline are about the same; maybe it’s a slight upgrade for Miami. Jennings is pretty good after the catch. And he will be good in the locker-room.”

### One question is how much Jennings’ skills will erode at 31. NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly, the former Redskins and Texans general manager, has concerns.

“I wouldn’t count on him to make a difference,” Casserly said. “There are receivers you have to defend against. He’s not one of them. He’s good route runner, will be reliable. But he’s not a guy that’s going to change the defense.”

CHATTER

### Here’s what’s encouraging about Marlins reliever A.J. Ramos, who is expected to have opportunities to close, with Steve Cishek removed from that role:

Batters have hit .183 off him in his career (170 innings), with 193 strikeouts and .140 off him this season.

“He has the makeup to close,.. nerves of steel,” said Marlins vice president/player development Marty Scott, who expects Cishek to straighten himself out. “You projected him to be in that role at some point.”

### Though the Marlins continue to talk with Scott Boras about unsigned former Nationals closer Rafael Soriano, keep in mind he blew seven of 39 save chances for Washington in 2014. And he has had a less-than-stellar clubhouse reputation, a concern a Marlins person expressed in the spring. [Update: The Marlins decided Wednesday not to pursue Soriano at this time.]

### When Henderson Alvarez returns, a case could be made to try starter Tom Koehler in a set-up role (or even as a closer) and here’s why:

He has allowed batters to hit .133 in the first time through the lineup this season and .228 in his career, with a sizable dropoff after that. This season, batters are hitting .385 against Koehler in his second time through the order.

### Because Dwyane Wade said last year that he’s eager to see how much he can command next summer, when the salary cap rises considerably, everyone has expected he would not opt out of a contract that would pay him $16.1 million next season. Opting in seems to make the most sense.

But it's curious that Wade was non-committal after the season ended, and his agent this week declined to say if he will opt in.

If he surprisingly opted out, he would figure to re-sign here on a multiyear deal, and the Heat thus wouldn’t have cap space (even if Luol Deng also opted out), assuming Goran Dragic stays. (Unless Miami dumps additional salary such as Josh McRoberts or Mario Chalmers.)

### Chris Bosh, on NBA TV tonight: "Yes, I will be ready on Opening Night.  I’m looking forward to being the best version of myself in 2015-2016 at the start. I’m very excited, this has given me time to think and reflect on my life and everything that’s going on. I miss basketball right now and I think that’s good for me.”

### Has UM's 6-7 season hurt the school financially this offseason?

Though some donors threatened to withhold money if Al Golden was retained, athletic director Blake James said “we are on pace to be at or near where we were last year."

And UM associate athletic director Jesse Marks says season ticket renewals are pacing ahead of last year at this time, noting fans are excited about the stadium modernization.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz        

May 11, 2015

Tuesday morning: Another Cishek disaster; Bosh working playoffs; Dolphins personnel moves; Brady fallout; UM president and Canes recruiting notes; Marlins

Two quick Tuesday AM notes:

### If you went to bed before 1 a.m., you missed another Steve Cishek meltdown.

He blew his fourth save in seven chances (and his second in two days), allowing a three-run homer to Scott Van Slyke in the ninth, giving the Dodgers a 5-3 win.

Christian Yelich had put the Marlins ahead 3-2 with a two-run homer in the top of the ninth.

"You just can't continue to let that happen," Fox analyst Tommy Hutton said. "It's devastating to a ball club. You've got to find somebody else to close games while Cishek irons it out. You have to make a change... You see fastballs up, you see sliders down over the plate."

Asked what he plans to do, manager Mike Redmond said: "I don't know. We'll figure it out. We can't keep blowing late leads.... Anytime you have leads late and can't hold onto them, it crushes you."

Cishek: "All I needed to do was get three outs and I continue to let the team down."

A.J. Ramos (1.06 ERA) is the top internal candidate to take over closer duties if Redmond removes Cishek (10.32 ERA) from the role, which is the obvious move at this point.

But the Marlins likely need to add bullpen help, whether it's a bid for free agent Rafael Soriano or through a trade.

Meanwhile, Giancarlo Stanton struck out three times Monday and is hitting .240. "Most of the pitches he's swinging and missing at are pitches out of the strike zone," Hutton said.

The Marlins fell to 15-18.

### Heat forward Chris Bosh will be part of a crew filling in for Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Shaquille O'Neal and Ernie Johnson in TNT's studio for its playoff double-header Tuesday.

The usual TNT crew will be in New York for Turner's Up Front presentation.

Bosh will join Grant Hill, Isiah Thomas and host Matt Winer in Turner's studio for the Bulls-Cavaliers, Clippers-Rockets doubleheader.

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

Tidbits on a Monday afternoon:

### Twenty six players tried out for the Dolphins this past weekend, as of 6 p.m. today, only one of them was offered a contract: Tim Semisch, a 6-8 tight end, who was a backup at Northern Illinois last season and has only 10 career receptions (for 100 yards).

But Semisch intrigued the Dolphins this weekend with his receiving skills. If he develops, he could become a red zone threat.

Miami's roster stands at the maximum of 90 after four moves today: the signing of Semisch, the claiming of offensive lineman Donald Hawkins off waivers from Dallas (where he appeared in one game last season); and the release of both tight end Ryan Taylor (who has appeared in 58 NFL games, mostly for Green Bay) and offensive lineman Mark Asper.

Hawkins went undrafted last year out of Texas, where he started at left tackle.

Here's how the roster stands on offense (This roster was released by the Dolphins before the Hawkins/Alper move, so disregard Alper below):

             
             
             
             
             
             
MIAMI DOLPHINS POSITIONAL ROSTER
As of May 8, 2015
          NFL  
Name Pos. Ht. Wt. DOB Exp. College
             
QUARTERBACKS (4)
Freeman, Josh QB 6-6 240 1/13/88 6 Kansas State '08
Moore, Matt QB 6-3 220 8/9/84 8 Oregon State '07
Bethel-Thompson, McLeod QB 6-3 230 7/3/88 1 Sacramento State ‘11
Tannehill, Ryan QB 6-4 220 7/27/88 4 Texas A&M '12
RUNNING BACKS (5)
Gillislee, Mike RB 5-11 216 11/1/90 3 Florida ‘13
Miller, Lamar RB 5-10 224 4/25/91 4 Miami (FL) '13
James, LaMichael RB 5-9 195 10/22/92 4 Oregon '11
Ajayi, Jay RB 6-0 216 6/15/93 R Boise State '15
Williams, Damien RB 5-11 221 4/3/92 2 Oklahoma '14
WIDE RECEIVER (12)
Jones, Christion WR 5-11 187 12/20/92 R Alabama '15
King, Nigel WR 6-3 210 10/9/92 R Kansas '15
Stills, Kenny WR 6-0 194 4/22/92 3 Oklahoma '13
Parker, DeVante WR 6-3 211 1/20/93 R Louisville '15
Landry, Jarvis WR 5-11 202 11/28/92 2 LSU '15
McDonald, Tyler WR 6-3 190 5/9/91 1 South Carolina State '13
Matthews, Rishard WR 6-0 215 10/12/89 4 Nevada '12
Preston, Michael WR 6-5 213 6/1/89 3 Heidelberg '10
Byrd, LaRon WR 6-4 220 8/18/89 3 Miami (FL) '11
Hazel, Matt WR 6-1 202 1/23/92 1 Coastal Carolina '14
Jennings, Greg WR 6-0 195 9/21/83 10 Western Michigan '05
Aultman, Damarr WR 5-11 198 1/13/92 R Maine, '15
TIGHT ENDS (6)
Sims, Dion TE 6-4 265 2/18/91 3 Michigan State '14
Taylor, Ryan TE 6-3 254 11/16/87 5 North Carolina '10
Cameron, Jordan TE 6-5 249 8/7/88 5 Southern California '10
Stoneburner, Jake TE 6-3 249 8/25/89 2 Ohio State ' 13
Lynch, Arthur TE 6-5 255 6/17/90 1 Georgia '14
Robinson, Gerell TE 6-4 220 10/13/89 2 Arizona State '13
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (15)
Pouncey, Mike C 6-5 305 7/24/89 5 Florida '11
Walton, J.D. OL 6-3 305 3/24/87 6 Baylor '09
Walker, Aundrey OL 6-6 315 1/15/93 R Southern California '15
Asper, Mark T 6-6 321 11/8/85 2 Oregon '12
Thomas, Dallas G 6-5 315 10/30/89 3 Tennessee '13
Savage, Dionte OL 6-4 343 2/10/92 R Oklahoma '15
Brenner, Sam C 6-2 310 4/27/90 2 Utah '13
McClendon, Jacques OL 6-3 324 12/10/87 4 Tennessee '09
Baucus, Mickey OL 6-8 293 2/13/92 R Arizona '15
Liedtke, Michael OL 6-3 305 1/15/92 R Illinois State '15
James, Ja'Wuan T 6-6 315 6/3/92 2 Tennessee '14
Albert, Branden T 6-5 310 11/4/84 8 Virginia '09
Linkenbach, Jeff OL 6-6 325 6/9/87 6 Cincinnati '09
Fox, Jason T 6-6 310 5/2/88 6 Miami (FL) '10
Douglas, Jamil OL 6-4 300 2/28/92 R Arizona State '15
Turner, Billy G 6-5 313 10/17/91 1 North Dakota State '14
PRACTICE SQUAD (0)
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             

### We'll run the defensive roster later this week.

### So Tom Brady, suspended for four games, will miss one AFC East game (against Buffalo) but no games against Miami and the Jets. That compromises the integrity of the AFC East race, but it's unavoidable unless leagues start suspending players against specific opponents, which would set a dangerous precedent.

Unless the suspension is reduced on appeal, Brady will miss the NFL's Thursday night regular-season opener against Pittsburgh on NBC, CBS regional telecasts at Buffalo and Jacksonville and a CBS 4:25 p.m. double-header game against Dallas. (CBS also has Denver-0akland in the late window that day.)

Brady's return will be an NBC-televised Sunday night game at Indianapolis on Oct. 18.

The Patriots also were docked $1 million and must relinquish their 2016 first-round pick and 2017 fourth-round pick.

### Do not tell Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon, under any circumstances, that he’s leading baseball in batting average at .439. Gordon, like Christian Yelich, goes out of his way to avoid seeing his batting average. “It’s not good for the mind,” Gordon explained.

Gordon has studied two excellent former leadoff hitters –-- Juan Pierre and Chone Figgins --- and keeps in touch with both. Gordon is so gifted that he said he believes he could have been an NBA player; Louisville coach Rick Pitino, a big Marlins fan and season-ticket holder, wanted to sign him as a point guard out of high school in Avon Park, Fla.

Why did he pick baseball? “My dad made me,” Gordon said. That would be former big-league pitcher Tom Gordon.

“You don’t want to put down anybody, but I think he’s a little bit better than what Jose Reyes was in his prime because he’s incredibly fast,” Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels told Philadelphia media.

### A high-ranking UM official who has spent time with new UM president Julio Frenk said he doubts Frenk will inject himself into decisions regarding the future of Al Golden if next season is disappointing and Frenk likely will defer to what athletic director Blake James believes is best.

### Charlotte (N.C.) based three-star center Ebuka Izundu will announce his college choice on Wednesday, and UM is a finalist with Arkansas and Cincinnati, according to the Charlotte Observer. He averaged 21 points, 15 rebounds and 6 blocks last season.

### DeAndre Burnett, who said recently that he's leaving the UM basketball team, announced on Twitter that he's transferring to Mississippi. A UM official said Burnett indicated he wanted more shots.

### Wonder how UM feels about this: Hallandale three-star cornerback Deion Jackson told Canesport's Matt Shodell that he is "75 percent" committed to UM but that if USC (his favorite team since 2004) should offer him, he would de-commit from UM. Temple is his only other offer.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 09, 2015

Heat has options but difficult choice if it lands 10th pick; Behind-the-scenes on La'el Collins and how close Dolphins came to getting him; Fins chatter

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

The Heat has less than two weeks to sweat out what awaits in the May 19 NBA Draft lottery, when Miami has an 87 percent chance to snag the 10th pick, a four percent chance to procure a top three selection and a nine percent chance to have no draft choice at all.

As most of you know, if the Heat's pick falls below 10, Philadelphia gets it.

As the Heat travels the globe evaluating prospects --- in Europe a week ago and Chicago this coming week --- a few things have become clear:

### If Miami ends up selecting at No. 10, there should be several skilled wing players available, but few elite shooters.

### A wing player might not necessarily be the highest-ranked player on the board at No. 10, with several power rotation players projected to go from the mid lottery through the late teens: Kentucky center Willie Cauley Stein, Latvian power forward Kristaps Porzingis (both are projected to go higher than 10), and power forwards Trey Lyles (Kentucky), Myles Turner (Texas), Kevon Looney (UCLA; some have him falling into the 20s); Bobby Portis (Arkansas) and Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky.

Miami is in good shape with its power rotation but needs at least one more wing player with three-point range, one who can be developed behind Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng.

The Heat likely would love to add Duke 6-6 small forward Justise Winslow, who averaged 12.6 points and 6.5 rebounds, shot 48.6 percent overall and 41.8 percent on threes (46 for 110).

“Blessed with an elite NBA body and athleticism and plays with a crazy motor every second he's on the floor,” ESPN’s Chad Ford said.

But Ford has him going seventh in his mock draft and an Eastern Conference scout said there’s no way Winslow would fall to No. 10.

The scout also said he doubts FC Barcelona 6-8 swingman Mario Hezonja would last to No. 10, either. Pat Riley recently was in Spain scouting Hezonja, a skilled three-point shooter who also is adept at attacking the rim.

So if both are gone at 10, that would potentially leave these wing options: small forwards Stanley Johnson (Arizona), Kelly Oubre (Kansas) and Sam Dekker (Wisconsin) and shooting guards R.J. Hunter (Georgia State) and Devin Booker (Kentucky).

Among that group, “Oubre has the most upside, Booker the sweetest stroke, and Hunter might be the most prepared to come in and contribute right now,” Ford said.

But some evaluators believe Oubre, despite his athleticism, should be picked in the 20s --- not the lottery --- after one inconsistent season at Kansas (9.3 points, 44 percent shooting, 35.3 percent on threes).

Ford, in his mock draft, has Miami selecting Arizona’s Johnson, who averaged 13.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and shot 44.6 percent overall and 37.1 percent on threes (43 for 116). Johnson is very good driving to the basket but needs to work on his stroke.

"He's one of the most NBA-ready players in the draft, can play the two and three, and he's a fierce competitor,” Ford said. “He can back up both Wade and Deng if they come back or take a starting role if one of them decides to leave.”

But Ford has started to second-guess his pick for Miami and now says he might instead take Dekker, who shot 52.5 percent overall last season but just 33.1 percent on threes, down from 39.1 percent three years ago.

"Dekker is bigger, he's a better athlete, and when freed a bit from the constraints of Wisconsin's system, I think Dekker blows up," Ford said on ESPN.com. "He, too, is ready to play right now in the NBA and I think there's a swagger to him that Pat Riley will appreciate. I'd love to see [Johnson and Dekker] go head-to-head in workouts, but if I was drafting today, I think I'd take Dekker over Johnson and I think, in five years, I'd be right."

Booker, who made 41.1 percent of his threes in his one season at Kentucky, “might be the best shooter in the draft,” said Ford, who has him going 17th in his mock.

The 6-6 Hunter averaged 19.7 points but his three-point shooting plunged from 39.5 percent two seasons ago to 30.5 last season.

The NBA scout told me if Miami is picking 10th and Winslow and Hezonja are off the board, “I would take Booker at 10” among the other wing players, “then Johnson, then Oubre. Booker is the best shooter of those five [Booker, Johnson, Oubre, Dekker, Hunter].

"Johnson has an unbelievable physique and he can create his own shot but he’s a little overrated. Hunter’s shooting last season concerns me.”

With the way Riley values experienced players, trading the No. 10 pick isn’t out of the question, though having a top prospect at a low cap number has considerable value.

And what if the Heat surprisingly lands a top three pick?

Duke center Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky power forward Carl Anthony Towns are expected to go 1-2 in some order, with the third pick potentially Ohio State point guard DeAngelo Russell or combo guard Emmanuel Mudiay, a former Dallas prep star who opted to play in China instead of college.

And if Miami gets leapfrogged by any of the teams seeded 11th to 14th in the lottery, then it will sit out the first round and bemoan its misfortune. The Heat does have a second-round pick, 40th overall.

BEHIND THE SCENES ON LA'EL COLLINS

So how close were the Dolphins to landing coveted offensive lineman La’el Collins?

Tantalizingly so.

Agent Deryk Gilmore told me that Collins said at one point last week that he thought he would like to be a Dolphin, and that Collins had narrowed his choices to Miami and Dallas.

“I thought I would be coming to Miami for games this season,” Gilmore said.

Gilmore said even though no flight was booked, he and Collins intended to fly to Miami at around 3 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, with "the intent to sign" if he liked it here, before Collins told him at 10:45 a.m. Thursday that Dallas “is where I need to be.”

Among the deciding factors: Collins was immensely impressed with the Cowboys during his visit to Jerry Jones’ home on Wednesday night, and Collins has family in Dallas and Houston.

Before visiting Jones' home for dinner, Collins felt he knew the Cowboys from a football standpoint but needed to get to know them more as people.

So Collins, accompanied by his mother, broke bread with Jones, Jason Garrett, Tony Romo, Jason Witten, three Pro Bowl offensive linemen and Dallas' offensive line coach. Jones had set the stage for the visit by calling Collins directly the previous day.

The call and the visit had a profound effect on Collins. 

“Those are guys who have been faced with challenges throughout life,” Collins said of the Cowboys. “I fit right in with those guys. So, when I take the field with those guys and this team, I fit right in."

Gilmore said: "He felt, 'I can win a Super Bowl here, and it could be one of the greatest offensive lines in history.'"

In retrospect, Gilmore said there’s nothing the Dolphins could have done differently.

The Dallas/Miami contracts were identical, and the fact Miami could offer him only a guard spot, not a job at tackle, wasn’t a deciding factor, even though Gilmore said Collins' preference longterm is to play tackle.

Dallas also might play him at guard initially, Gilmore said.

“He felt great about playing between Mike Pouncey and Branden Albert,” Gilmore said. “The Dolphins should be commended for how hard they fought. Miami was pulling out all the stops.”

That included e-mailing a video with Dan Marino and other Dolphins officials making a personal appeal for Collins to sign; a call from Stephen Ross to Collins’ agent; and a visit by four Dolphins players (Jarvis Landry, Kelvin Sheppard, Mike Pouncey and Anthony Johnson) to meet with him on Tuesday in Baton Rouge.

“The players coming was huge,” Gilmore said. “The players chartered the flight on their own.”

Gilmore did an outstanding job making the best of a difficult and unprecedented situation, one in which a projected first-round pick went undrafted because he was loosely linked to a murder investigation, though police always said he wasn't a suspect.

By telling teams Collins wouldn't sign if drafted after the third round, Gilmore and co-agent Darren Jones made it possible for Collins to pick his own team.

Gilmore said 29 teams expressed interest in Collins and that he and three other agents at Priority Sports were involved in the process of determining which were the best fits to present to Collins.

Numerous factors were considered, including cost of living, which teams had strong offensive lines, which teams had quarterbacks who could get the ball out quickly, among other considerations.

Initially, Gilmore and his colleagues split the most appealing teams into two lists of eight.

Collins was asked to rank them from a lifestyle standpoint, and the agents ranked them in the other areas that were important criteria.

One of the Priority Sports agents informed each team the exact financial terms that Collins would accept, which was the most an undrafted free agent could be paid (three years, $1.6 million).

The list of contenders was whittled to six; Gilmore declined to disclose the four besides Miami and Dallas, though those two were ultimately the finalists.

Gilmore asked Collins which of those six he would like to speak with via Skype. But Collins prefered visits and wanted to take only two: Miami and Dallas.

Though he visited the Dolphins before the draft, he ultimately never made it back to South Florida a second time. In the end, Jones and the Cowboys made a lasting impression.

"It was two great organizations, two great owners," said Gilmore, who credited Dolphins president/football operations Mike Tannenbaum, his former colleague at Priority Sports, for helping push Miami to the upper tier of contenders.

"Mike was extremely influential getting them to the forefront," said Gilmore, who predicted the Dolphins will be very successful luring high-end free agents under Tannenbaum's guidance. (They already have with Ndamukong Suh.)

"Mike worked so hard at this. I felt I let him down," Gilmore said. "The Dolphins are a class act. Stephen Ross is a class act."

But this was ultimately Collins' decision, one he made after sleeping on it Wednesday night.

"He was thinking maybe Miami and then he woke up Thursday and felt like '[Dallas] is where I need to be,'" Gilmore said.

DOLPHINS CHATTER

### Former UM basketball player Joe Thomas, who tried out for the Dolphins as a defensive end the past two days, said he hadn’t played football since Pop Warner, before high school, and hadn’t even met or worked out for the Dolphins before this weekend.

About a month ago, he told a graduate assistant on the UM basketball staff that he wanted to try football, and that assistant and an agent began contacting NFL teams.

The 6-7, 245-pound Thomas, who transferred from Niagara to UM last summer, said the Dolphins were the only team to show interest in auditioning him and his invitation to rookie minicamp surprised him.

He chose to play defensive end “because it feels the most natural, like when you’re going up for a rebound.”

He said he didn’t play football in high school because “I didn’t have time. But I’ve always loved football.”

Another former UM basketball player, Rafael Akpejiori, tried out at tight end this weekend but dropped at least two passes. He was on the UM football team last season but said he didn’t play in a game because he wasn’t eligible, something UM never disclosed.

### While Akpejiori struggled, Tim Semisch, a 6-7 tight end from Northern Illinois, made a couple of impressive receptions. The Dolphins have discussed signing him to a contract.

### Asked who has stood out in rookie minicamp, Joe Philbin mentioned undrafted Colorado State running back Dee Hart, who attended on a tryout basis. “He is really doing some good things,” Philbin said…. Tennessee running back Marlin Lane also showed good speed after catching a ball in the flat.

### Penn State rookie linebacker Mike Hull picked off a pass from Chase Rettig on Saturday and had some good moments this weekend. Penn State coach James Franklin said it was a “travesty” that Hull wasn’t drafted.

### Dolphins linebacker Chris McCain, commenting on Twitter tonight about the Patriots: "Pretty sure the deflatriots thought about deflating the footballs after that week one @$$ whooping. Super Bowl should be stripped."

Incidentally, Philbin said McCain has been working at linebacker this offseason. McCain said he split practice snaps between linebacker and defensive end last season.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 08, 2015

Sixteen nuggets, views from the first day of Dolphins rookie minicamp

News and views from the first of the Dolphins’ two-day rookie minicamp: 

### Most impressive development? DeVante Parker’s exemplarary work, which wasn’t surprising but still encouraging to see.

Several passes weren’t especially well thrown, but in all but one case, Parker was able to make the catch by extending his hands or contorting his body. On one play, he lost his footing and still made the catch.

The guy is like a vacuum around the football. Once the veterans begin practicing with the rookies, it will be fascinating to see him matched up with Brent Grimes.

Armando Salguero will have a column on Parker posted later today.

### Tony Lippett, primarily a receiver at Michigan State, began his transition to NFL cornerback Friday by making an interception on a ball that was thrown right to him. But he also was beaten for several completions and his technique understandably needs work.

One of the Dolphins’ four fifth-round draft picks, Lippett already has a head start on his switch to defense, having played cornerback during his freshman season and for the final four games of last season.

“It’s definitely an adjustment [but] I have a good comfort level,” he said.

The Dolphins’ tallest cornerback at 6-3, Lippett said he trained at the position before the draft alongside two other cornerbacks that were drafted: Washington’s Marcus Peters and TCU’s Kevin White.

The biggest adjustment in moving to cornerback?  

“Not turning my head when I see the receiver break,” Lippett said. “I’m used to turning my head.”

He said his experience at receiver will help him at cornerback because “I know certain things with wide receivers, when they want to break.”

His move to cornerback late last season at Michigan State “wasn’t really my decision” but he’s OK at either position.

The coaches and front office are intrigued. “We just thought this guy had potential. We really like him,” coach Joe Philbin said.

General manager Dennis Hickey said in evaluating Lippett at cornerback, he liked “how natural he looked. He didn’t look out of place.

“He’s got length, he’s got ball skills, he’s a fluid athlete. We were encouraged by what we saw on tape, followed up when we worked him out as a corner. He’s a quality receiver too, but we’re really intrigued by what he can do for us as a corner.”

### The biggest takeway on Jordan Phillips Friday: The man is NFL-strong. And he’s self-aware, acknowledging that he simply didn't do enough at Oklahoma to be a first-round pick. Check out Adam Beasley’s story on Phillips, which will be on the home page later.

### Fifth-round cornerback Bobby McCain had two nice pass breakups but also had a blatant hold when tryout receiver David Porter beat him off the line. McCain also got work returning kicks.

### Fifth-round safety Cedric Thompson made a nifty play on Alabama receiver Christion Jones in coverage. Thompson makes himself be noticed.

### The Dolphins were non-committal about the future of receiver Rishard Matthews, who has asked for a trade or his release because he wants to play more.

Asked whether Matthews will be on the team to start training camp, Hickey said:  “It’s a competitive situation. There are a lot of things that have to be played out before we get to our 53-man roster.” 

### Asked about which undrafted players he’s especially excited to add, Hickey mentioned the linebackers --- all four of whom ranked in the top 14 in college football in tackles last season: Penn State’s Mike Hull, Cincinnati’s Jeff Luc, Utah State’s Zach Vigil and Marshall’s Neville Hewitt.

“It’s a good group; I like the way they did things today,” Philbin said of the four linebackers. “They seem to be real serious. They were productive players in college.”

Hewitt had a nice play in coverage during the afternoon session.

### A few thoughts on the other undrafted free agents who signed contracts with Miami, a group including receivers Jones (Alabama), Nigel King (Kansas) and Damarr Aultman (Maine); offensive linemen Aundrey Walker (Southern Carolina), Dionte Savage (Oklahoma), Mickey Baucus (Arizona) and Michael Liedtke (Illinois State); defensive ends Ray Drew (Georgia) and Kendall Montgomery (Bowling Green); defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy (UCLA); kicker Andrew Franks (RPI) and punter Matt Darr (Tennessee):

Jones, who returned two kickoffs for touchdowns at Alabama, seems pretty polished. He looks like he might be worth keeping around into August, at the very least…

Drew had a sack today. His stats were modest at Georgia (39 tackles last year), but he has good initial quickness and an interesting skill set. He blocked three kicks at Georgia last season --– one field goal and two PATs. That special teams acumen will earn him a long look…

Franks was just 37 of 56 kicking field goals at RPI in New York, and he made one and missed one Friday, both from 43 yards. Caleb Sturgis will clearly be the favorite in that competition.

### Besides the drafted player and the undrafted players who were signed, another 26 players participated on a tryout basis, including quarterbacks Hutson Mason (Georgia) and Chase Rettig (Boston College) and two former UM basketball players who never played in a college football game: 6-9 tight end Raphael Akpejiori and defensive end Joe Thomas, who played for the UM basketball team last season after transferring from Niagara.

“They’re good athletes; we want to get them exposure here and see how potentially could fit,” Philbin said.

Difficult to see Akpejiori making it because of shaky hands; he dropped a pass Friday. Thomas had a sack and has enough size (6-7, 245) and physicality that he didn’t seem overmatched today.

### Mason was the more impressive of the two quarterbacks Friday. But he doesn't have a rocket for an arm and Miami already has four veteran QBs under contract.

### The Dolphins also are giving a tryout to FIU offensive lineman David Delsoin, FAU center Braden Lyons and Florida tight end Tevin Westbrook.

The most inspirational player receiving a tryout, as we noted Tuesday, is Fort Lewis (Colorado) guard Arthur Ray, who was diagnosed with bone cancer shortly after accepting a scholarship to Michigan State in 2007, then underwent nine surgeries on his left leg in two years.

### Among the tryout players, Colorado State (and former Alabama) running back Dee Hart, the 2010 High School Player of the Year, showed good speed and shiftiness. But he’s small at 5-9, 187.

### Timoty Semisch, a 6-8 tight end from Northern Illinois, made a couple of nice catches. 

### Four players who ended last season with the Dolphins also are permitted to participate in this two-day rookie mini-camp: receivers Matt Hazel and Tyler McDonald, defensive end Emmanuel Dieke and safety Shamiel Gary.

Hazel was very impressive today, catching a TD pass on Gray and a making a terrific 30-yard catch against Lippett, who had good coverage.

### There was a lot of praise for running back Jay Ajayi on his first day.

Hickey said “we were very excited” that Ajayi “was still there in the fifth round. He brings the ability to play all three downs, he’s a power back but yet still has elusiveness.”

Said Philbin: “I like his size. I like his production on tape. I thought he did some good things on special teams” Friday.

Ajayi said: "I'm very motivated by what happened in the draft."

### Fourth-round pick Jamil Douglas, transitioning from tackle to guard, said “things happen so much quicker” at guard. “You have to be quick with your hands.”

Incidentally, the draft picks were often separated from the other players so they could be given private instruction from coaches.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 07, 2015

Randy Shannon returns to town as a Gator, embraces new job; Dolphins, Marlins, Heat chatter

FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Randy Shannon was back on his home turf now, just three miles from the University of Miami campus where he became the first member of his family to earn a college degree, helped the Hurricanes win three national championships (two as an assistant coach, one as a player) and made history as UM’s first African-American head football coach.

But as Shannon stood behind a podium addressing about 30 University of Florida football fans inside a Coral Gables museum on Tuesday night, there was something jarring about the visual:

Shannon was dressed in a bright orange shirt sporting the Gator logo, talking about how the Gators “are my family” now, and punctuating his closing remarks with the traditional Gator chomp, the one that can irritate any warm-blooded Hurricanes fan.

So isn’t this all a bit strange, working now for Miami’s arch rival as the Gators’ associate head coach, co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach?

“Being back in Coral Gables is kind of ironic, being a graduate of the University of Miami,” he conceded before addressing the fans. “But I work for the University of Florida, which is a great institution, a great place.”

Four and a half years after UM dismissed him with a 28-22 record --- which happens to be Al Golden’s record at Miami --- Shannon seems like a man very much at peace.

“I’m happy; I’ve enjoyed it a lot,” he said. “Being back in the state of Florida has been unique. The embracement of all the coaches in South Florida has been unbelievable. [New Gators coach Jim McElwain] has been unbelievable…. I love [Gainesville]. It’s a college town. No traffic.”

Bouncing back from his firing at UM was, of course, not nearly as difficult as what Shannon overcame as a child growing up in Liberty City.

At 3, his father was murdered. His older twin brothers became addicted to crack cocaine when Shannon was 10 and died of AIDS, as he did his sister.

But Shannon was a survivor, always has been. He was an all-state football player at Miami Norland, started at linebacker for UM’s 1987 national championship team, played 17 games over two seasons for the Dallas Cowboys, and distinguished himself for his defensive acumen as an assistant coach for the Dolphins and Hurricanes before being promoted to replace Larry Coker as UM’s head coach in December 2006.

His players graduated and were law-abiding, but he didn’t win enough games to the administration’s liking. After UM fired him, he spent some time at ESPN, one season as Texas Christian’s linebacker coach and two years as Arkansas’ linebacker coach.

Not long after his firing, Alabama coach Nick Saban invited Shannon to visit. There, he met McElwain, Saban’s offensive coordinator at the time.

“Said maybe three or four words to Jim,” Shannon said.

Years later, when McElwain was hired away from Colorado State last December to replace Gators coach Will Muschamp, Shannon got a call.

“He said, ‘It’s Jim,’” Shannon said. “I said, ‘Jim who?” 

McElwain broached the idea of Shannon joining his staff, then called him again after Arkansas’ bowl game and said, “I’m serious. Would you like to be a part of Florida?”

Shannon was intrigued. Even in all his years as a Hurricane, there was a respect for the Gators program.

“It’s the brand that makes Florida special,” Shannon told the audience. “The Florida brand is bigger than the University of Miami brand. I’m being honest with you.”

A fan asks him, essentially, how he can reconcile being a Miamian working for the Gators.

“I’m invested in Miami because I’m from Miami,” he said. “But I’m invested in Florida. That’s my family.”

Still, old habits are tough to break. At the museum on Tuesday, he began to answer a question by saying, “Our biggest emphasis at the University of Miami,” eliciting chuckles from the crowd, before catching himself.

Shannon’s skills as a savvy defensive technician (he’ll share coordinator duties with well-regarded former Mississippi State coordinator Geoff Collins) complement McElwain’s talents as an offensive mastermind, and Shannon very much has McElwain’s ear.

One of the first things Shannon told McElwain is that he needs more coaches to recruit South Florida. “I said, ‘I can’t do it by myself,” Shannon said.

McElwain agreed and assigned six coaches to Dade, Broward and Palm Beach recruiting. The move has paid dividends.

Four of the Gators’ nine oral commitments for 2016 are South Florida-based, including Vosean Joseph, a three-star linebacker from Miami Norland, Shannon’s alma mater.

“When I first arrived in January,” recruiting for the Gators in Miami “felt a little strange,” Shannon admitted.

When high school coaches see Shannon, they naturally tease him about being the Hurricane now working for the enemy.

“All the time, they joke,” he said. “When I first arrived at Florida, [UF athletic director] Jeremy Foley said, ‘That F must be blowing your chest up. How does it feel, that green turning into blue now?’ We joke about it all the time.”

He said his relationship with South Florida high school coaches “help out a lot. The South Florida area especially is one of the areas we need to get into. Florida was successful when they had a lot of guys from South Florida on the football team.”

Though the Gators, like Miami, have been in a down cycle (7-5 last season), Shannon sees many reasons for optimism.

He is “very excited” about the offensive creativity of McElwain, whose Colorado State teams averaged 36 points each of the past two seasons; says incoming running backs Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite are “game changers with phenomenal speed” and vows “we are going to make people know the Gators are back. We are going to do a lot of great things.”

At 49, Shannon has no idea if he will ever get another head coaching job. But “I don’t think about it no more,” he said. “What I think about is the job I have at hand.”

Even if requires the longtime Hurricane to do the Gator chomp.

CHATTER

### The Dolphins have declined Rishard Matthews’ trade requests in the past, so it would be surprising if it’s granted this time, at least initially. Matthews would be a No. 5 receiver if he sticks, and he’s probably better than that.

He’s cheap ($660,000), a good special teams player, generally produces when called upon and is insurance in case one of the top four receivers is injured. Matt Hazel would be among candidates for the No. 5 job if Matthews’ request is granted. See Adam Beasley’s story on the home page for more details.

### One of the more interesting stories of Dolphins rookie minicamp Friday and Saturday will be watching Michigan State receiver Tony Lippett at cornerback, a position he played as a freshman but only four games since then (all last season). 

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio sees him excelling there: “He is not going to get beat deep because he's got two or three inches on most people, very long arms, and he's got great deep ball judgment.”

### A few days after Dolphins receiver DeVante Parker’s mother said she was happy the Cleveland Browns didn’t select him four spots before Miami did, The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported the Browns thought he wasn’t tough enough and didn’t love the game enough. A lot of people, including the Dolphins, would vehemently disagree with that.

### The Dolphins had reached agreements in principle with five of seven draft picks as of 6 p.m. Still awaiting deals: Jamil Douglas and Tony Lippett. [9 p.m UPDATE: Both Douglas and Lippett also have agreed to terms.]

### It’s obviously unrealistic for Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon to sustain his .430 average, entering Thursday. But for perspective on how remarkable he has been, consider he entered Thursday on a pace for 284 hits, which would break Marlins teammates Ichiro Suzuki’s single-season record of 262 (with Seattle in 2004) and shatter Juan Pierre’s Marlins record of 221 that year.

### ESPN's Hubie Brown and Heat TV voice Eric Reid were among five people casting first-place votes for Heat center Hassan Whiteside for Most Improved Player, with Whiteside finishing fourth behind Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green and Rudy Gobert….

With a June 29 deadline, the Heat is waiting before deciding and informing Michael Beasley whether it is picking up his 2015-16 option. Whether Miami keeps its draft pick (91 percent chance) could factor in. Henry Walker also stands his risk, with his deal including partial guarantee thresholds if he survives past a few dates over the next several months.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 06, 2015

Heat notes (lottery, Whiteside); Dolphins (Collins, Brady); Panthers' GM addresses issues

Some Dolphins, Heat and Panthers items on a Wednesday night:

The Heat announced today that Alonzo Mourning will represent them on the podium of the May 19 NBA Draft Lottery. General manager Andy Elisburg also will attend the lottery in Secaucus, New Jersey and observe the lottery procedings in a sequestered room before the results are unveiled later in the evening to everyone on the podium and to the rest of the world.

Miami, as most of you know, has an 87 percent chance of having the 10th pick, a 1.1 percent chance of landing the first pick, a 1.3 chance of securing the second pick and a 1.6 chance of getting the third pick.

Miami cannot pick between 4 and 9. And the Heat has a 9 percent chance of falling outside the top 10, which would require the pick be forwarded to Philadelphia to complete a 2010 trade with Cleveland.

The NBA draft is June 25.

### Though he had a strong case, Heat center Hassan Whiteside won't win the NBA's Most Improved Player award.

ESPN reported the award will go to Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, who raised his scoring average from 13.1 to 20.0 and dramatically improved his shooting.

### La'el Collins' appeal to NFL teams received another boost today when the Baton Rouge police department confirmed that paternity tests showed he was not the father of the infant child of his murdered ex-girlfriend.

The child was delivered after the child's mother, Britney Mills, was killed. But the infant died days later from lack of oxygen.

ESPN's Josina Anderson reported that Collins also passed a polygraph test.

### The Baton Rouge Advocate reported the Cowboys are the latest team to schedule a meeting with Collins. The Dolphins continue to have strong interest... CBS reports the Dolphins are expected to be a finalist....

Bleacher Report's Jason Cole said Collins prefers to sign with a team where he could play tackle. But Collins said before the draft that he's OK playing guard or tackle.

### The Wells report on the Patriots' deflated ball scandal asserted, among other things, that it was "more probable than not" that Tom Brady was generally aware that Patriots employees were taking air out of footballs to give the Patriots a competitive advantage.

There's no way of knowing yet whether Brady will be suspended.

But if he's suspended early in the season, the Bills would gain a competitive advantage over the Dolphins and Jets.

That's because Buffalo plays New England in the second week of the season. And if he's suspended for multiple games, he would be more likely to miss that game than New England's first game against the Jets (the Patriots' sixth game) or Dolphins (their seventh).

Leagues never suspend players for games against a particular opponent, and doing so here would set a precedent that the NFL assuredly would have no interest in setting. 

But if the league decided Brady deserved a three-game suspension, the fairest thing to do from an AFC East standpoint would be to sit him for New England's first game against the Jets, Bills and Dolphins.

The rest of the AFC would justifiably complain about that, but because he's still arguably the best player in the division, it would preserve the integrity of the division race more than simply suspending him against the Bills and letting him play against the Jets and Dolphins. 

Crazy thought? Probably. But the league is always talking about the importance of division games. We won't hold our breath.  

PANTHERS TALK

A few Panthers notes that we haven't had a chance to get to amid the NFL draft, Marlins news and the Heat season ending: 

### The Panthers finished 25th in scoring (2.41 goals per game) and even after re-signing Jaromir Jagr, general manager Dale Tallon intends to add “speed and scoring on the wings.”

He said he probably will address that need through a trade because in “the free-agent market, there’s not a lot of that type of player. Basically trade or draft. It would be nice if we could make a deal to get another sniper. That would make our team really whole.”

### Beyond that, Tallon sees no other pressing need.

“It’s a tweak slightly," he said. "We know what our needs are and it’s not a lot. We’re in good shape. We’re starting to get depth in our organization. We’ll probably go with some of our young guys. We want to see how our kids do.”

### Owner Vinnie Viola has authorized Tallon to spend to the cap ceiling, which isn’t set. That might not happen.  But “we’ll be in upper third probably [in player payroll],” Tallon said.

### Tallon was non-committal on the team’s three unrestricted free agents: winger Tomas Kopecky (could return), winger Scottie Upshall (seems less likely to return) and goalie Dan Ellis.

Could Ellis’ good work late in the season motivate Tallon to re-sign him to challenge Al Montoya for the backup job behind Roberto Luongo? “We haven’t talked about it but you are probably right,” Tallon said.

### With even more quality prospects on the way to supplement the high-end young players already on the roster, Tallon said: “I’m excited about the next decade. I think it’s going to be great.”

But Tallon wants improvement in “shootout overtime success more than anything.” Florida won only eight of 18 shootouts…. On special teams, the Panthers' 16.3 percent success rate on power plays was 24th in the league. And the Panthers scored only one short-handed goal, fewest in the league.

### Unless his contract can be moved, the Panthers need more from center Dave Bolland, who has four years left on an onerous five-year, $27.5 million deal. He had 23 points (six goals) in 53 games.

### Plus/minus leaders on the Panthers: Aaron Ekblad had the best (Tallon can't stop raving about him) and Kopecky the worst.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 05, 2015

Lamar Thomas on his prized pupil, DeVante Parker, and what Dolphins asked Thomas; Fins, Marlins, Canes chatter

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Long before the Dolphins made DeVante Parker their first-round draft choice, a Dolphins scout had a question for Lamar Thomas, the former Hurricanes and Dolphins receiver who is now Louisville’s wide receivers coach:

“If we drafted DeVante in the first round and in five years if he’s not successful, why would it be?” the scout asked.

Thomas had a good answer: “That means that you guys will have done an awful job developing a quarterback.”

Excluding Parker’s family and Dolphins officials, there was perhaps nobody happier about Miami drafting Parker than Thomas was.

“The crazy thing is he has heard so many Dolphins stories from me,” Thomas told me. “After the draft I told him, ‘Now it’s time to make your own.’”

Thomas said the Dolphins will love what they’re getting.

“I think the world of the kid,” he said. “To have him in my room last year was awesome. He already had a first-round grade last year and he came back to school to finish his degree; his grandmother wanted him to graduate. I almost wanted to cry when he hurt his foot last season.

“His hand/eye coordination and ball catching radius are amazing. He knows how to adjust his body. He can get off jams. As a route runner,… he does a lot of good things. He’s good at slants, hitches, comebacks.”

Thomas said Parker studies diligently and "is like a sponge" absorbing things. When Parker was injured last season, he told Thomas he wanted to come back and dominate. 

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin asked Thomas if “I was surprised how fast DeVante ran [at the NFL Combine]. I said I was disappointed he was a 4.45. [Louisville cornerback] Charles Gaines runs a 4.3 and I saw DeVante run by Charles Gaines a lot. It's like a Jerry Rice type of speed where DeVante can accelerate.”

The receivers that Parker reminds him of? Thomas mentioned Cincinnati’s A.J. Green (a four-time Pro Bowl selection) and retired former Jaguars receiver Jimmy Smith (a five-time Pro Bowler).

Thomas disputes any notion that Parker is not strong enough, noting he benched 365 pounds last year.

Dan Marino texted me [during the draft] and said, ‘We got your guy,’” Thomas said. “I told Danny, ‘You would have loved to have this guy on your team. He would have made you even better.’”

And Thomas got another recent phone message that meant a lot to him.

“DeVante sent me a text that shocked the hell of out me. He said, ‘Coach, I appreciate everything you've done for me this season, not only being my coach but my mentor.’ That was awesome. I’m so excited he’s with the Dolphins.”

CHATTER

### If the Dolphins succeed in signing LSU offensive tackle/guard La’El Collins, they will emerge from this draft with four of Mike Mayock’s top 67 players: Parker (ninth), Collins (16), defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (35) and running back Jay Ajayi (67). Plus, they used their third-round pick to acquire Kenny Stills, who led the NFL in yards per reception with the Saints in 2013.

### The Dolphins are giving a rookie minicamp tryout this week to a cancer survivor –-- 25-year-old Fort Lewis (Colorado) guard Arthur Ray Jr., who was diagnosed with bone cancer shortly after accepting a scholarship to Michigan State in 2007, then underwent nine surgeries on his left leg in two years. Doctors told him he would be lucky to walk, let alone play football.

### Please see the last post for details on Dolphins players' visit with La'el Collins today, as well as information on the SEC starting quarterback that will take snaps at Dolphins rookie minicamp this week.... Update: Michael Cauble of the ABC affiliate in Baton Rouge reports tonight Collins won't sign anywhere until he is officially cleared by police.

### Zach Hocker, who was a seventh-round pick by the Redskins out of Arkansas last May, was supposed to challenge Caleb Sturgis for the Dolphins' kicking job this summer. But Hocker apparently didn't do enough to impress the Dolphins, who released him Tuesday.

Instead, Sturgis' competition will be undrafted rookie Andrew Franks, who hit only 37 of 56 career field goals at RPI in New York but excels at kickoffs. Franks worked out privately for Dolphins special teams coach Darren Rizzi before the draft. 

### Among the things Marlins first baseman Michael Morse has done to try to snap out of his month-long slump to start the season: He asked Andre Dawson (the Marlins’ special assistant to the president) to watch him and tell him exactly what he sees.

Dawson suggested Morse use a lighter bat “to have more bat control,” and Morse has been trying that.

Keep in mind Morse --- who entered Tuesday hitting .193 (third-worst among big-league first basemen) has hit below .279 only once in his past five seasons (.215 in an injury-wracked 2013). So the odds are he will snap out of this.    

Mike Redmond played Justin Bour ahead of Morse for the second consecutive game tonight, but Morse told our Manny Navarro tonight in Washington D.C. that he has no problem with that at all.

"I'm always just about winning," said Morse, who signed a two-year, $16 million deal this past winter. "I'm happy for anybody that gets a chance to play — especially Bour. He's swinging the bat awesome."

Incidentally, the first baseman that the Marlins tried to sign before Morse, Adam LaRoche, is hitting just .211 with three homers and nine RBI for the White Sox.

### After trading ace prospect Andrew Heaney in the Dee Gordon deal with the Dodgers, one high-ranking Marlins official said he thought left-hander Justin Nicolino ultimately would be better than Heaney.

And Nicolino is justifying the faith; he hasn’t allowed an earned run in four consecutive starts (spanning 24 innings) at Triple A, where he’s 2-0 with a 0.63 ERA.

But with their bullpen struggling, what the Marlins really need is hard-throwing relievers Carter Capps (0-1, 2.79 ERA) and Nick Wittgren (3.38 ERA) to reach their potential at Triple A and earn a promotion to the Marlins.

### Asked by WQAM-560's Marc Hochman if he wonders how UM could have gone 6-7 and have seven players drafted, Al Golden said Tuesday: “It's not about me.... If you want to go back to critiquing the team on its performance, go ahead. But right now this moment is their's...

"I hate to attach anything remotely negative to those kids accomplishing their dream.... We put that season to bed five months ago.”

Here's more of what Golden had to say about that question:

"Well, I think, from my standpoint it’s really about the kids. I hate to attach anything remotely negative to those kids accomplishing their dream, guys. At the end of the day, we put that season to bed five months ago.

For these guys, it’s about them and whatever we can do to help them as they finish out their careers. Some of them are graduating. Obviously a lot of them went to the Combine, and went to all-star games, and have been around working out. So, to see them transition from doing all those things I just mentioned and then having their name called is nothing but awesome. So, I’m happy for those guys at the end of the day.

And, again it’s been a long drought for us – seven years since we’ve had anyone in the first round. So, I know the way our team’s looking at it, the way our staff’s looking at it, this is the first of many to come as opposed to the culmination. So we’re excited for those guys and obviously we can learn a lot from them in terms of how to be that. Those guys didn’t have a lot of defects and that’s why they went high, which is great."

### UM cornerback Ladarius Gunter, who some thought would be drafted, signed with Green Bay.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

4 p.m. update: Fins players meeting with Collins; Dolphins auditioning SEC quarterback

Several Dolphins players traveled to Baton Rouge, La., on Tuesday to meet with LSU offensive lineman La’El Collins in an attempt to persuade him to sign with the Dolphins.

The Dolphins did not send coach Joe Philbin or any coaches or team officials to the meeting. That would have risked violating an NFL rule limiting contact in certain circumstances between undrafted players and coaches, according to the league.

Jarvis Landry and Anthony Johnson, who were teammates of Collins at LSU, posted pictures of themselves flying to Louisiana for the meeting. Mike Pouncey joined them on the flight, according to a picture posted on Instagram. There were initial reports that former LSU player Kelvin Sheppard also would be part of the Dolphins’ contingent.

A source close to Collins said the Dolphins have emerged as a possibility for Collins but there’s a lot of interest from other teams and it’s too early to establish a front-runner.

The Buffalo Bills, who met with Collins on Monday, as well as New England, Tampa, Chicago, Detroit and the New York Giants are among the teams that have expressed interest in Collins, according to media reports. ESPN reported that it’s unlikely Collins will sign with the Bills.

The Dolphins declined to discuss the players’ meeting with Collins, whether they asked the players to meet with him or whether they paid for the plane.

Collins was expected to be a first-round draft pick before his name was linked to a former girlfriend who was murdered. The Baton Rouge police department met with Collins on Monday and said he is not a suspect. But no arrest has been made in the case.

Johnson, who played with Collins at LSU, said on Twitter that he was “going [to] bring my brother back to South Beach.”

Dolphins coaches and front office officials met with Collins during a pre-draft visit and team headquarters, so there was no urgency for them to meet with him again. And there's also the question about whether any such meeting would have violated NFL rules.

Bills coach Rex Ryan met with Collins at a Baton Rouge restaurant on Monday night, but the NFL said teams cannot meet with players who were eligible for the 2015 draft at their campus or residence if the player has withdrawn from school (Collins did not enroll at LSU for the spring semester and the NFL told LSU it considers that withdrawing, according to LSU's sports information director) and if the school’s final exams have not concluded. LSU’s final exams conclude on Saturday.

Asked whether a player would be permitted to meet with a team at a restaurant, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said players "would not be able to meet at a restaurant in the player's city."

So does that mean Ryan violated an NFL rule? The league declined to comment.

The Dolphins' pitch to Collins could offer several attractive elements: the likelihood he could win a starting job at guard; the lack of a state income tax in Florida; and the fact he would be reunited with two players who were teammates at LSU.

Teams can offer Collins a contract for as much as $1.58 million over three years.

If Collins signed, he would immediately become the front-runner to beat out Dallas Thomas, rookie fourth-rounder Jamil Douglas and veteran Jeff Linkenbach for one of two starting guard spots. The Dolphins privately project Billy Turner to be one of their starting guards.

It's also possible the Dolphins could play Collins at tackle and move Ja'Wuan James to guard, though there's no indication that is being considered.

Collins has said he's OK playing guard or tackle. But Collins could maximize his value for his second professional contract by playing left tackle, because tackles tend to command bigger contracts than guards in free agency.

QUARTERBACK ADDED

Former Georgia starting quarterback Hutson Mason will audition for the Dolphins during their two-day rookie minicamp this week.

If he impresses, Mason could be signed to compete with Josh Freeman and McLeod Bethel Thompson for the No. 3 job, if the Dolphins keep three quarterbacks.

Mason threw for 2168 yards, with 21 touchdowns and four interceptions last season, and completed 67.9 percent of his passes. He topped 200 yards passing in only one game: 319 against Florida.

Here's the scouting report on Mason, from NFL.com's Lance Zierlein:

Positives: "Accuracy is his calling card. Throws receivers open. Plus ball placement and touch. Most accurate quarterback in SEC on deep throws, completing 51.9 percent during 2014 season. Has understanding of where to put the ball to maximize receivers' chances and minimize interceptions. Plays with calm demeanor and maintains poise in pocket. Shows pre-snap recognition of blitzes and is ready with adjustment.

Negatives: "Weak arm. Short-arm thrower who doesn't generate power from his lower half. Floats perimeter throws. issues throwing behind post routes on play-action. Feet won't frighten defense. Just three completions for more than 43 yards. Generally defaults to the safe throws."

Overall: "A game-managing pocket passer with arm strength that is below the desired NFL level. Must play in timing-based offense. Mason displays the football intelligence, accuracy and poise worthy of an NFL camp. Must prove his intangibles can overcome his lack of arm."

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

May 04, 2015

Dolphins reportedly will meet with La'El Collins; Dolphins to audition five-star RB; More Fins draft postscripts

Some Dolphins notes on a Monday (updated at 10 p.m.):                 

### We reported this afternoon that the Dolphins planned to pursue LSU offensive lineman La'El Collins once he is cleared of involvement in the murder of an ex-girlfriend.

And that pursuit apparently has begun. Collins will meet with the Dolphins on Tuesday, a day after he met with police in Louisiana in the morning and the Buffalo Bills in the evening, according to a report Monday night in the Baton Rouge Advocate.

The Dolphins declined to comment.

Collins, a second-team All-American in 2014, met with police in Baton Rouge on Monday to discuss the murder of an ex-girlfriend, Brittany Mills. Mills was eight months pregnant at the time of her murder; the baby, Brenton, was successfully delivered after the shooting but died a week later.

After the meeting on Monday, the Baton Rouge police department said "Collins fully cooperated with investigators and is still not considered a suspect in the homicide of Brittany and Brenton Mills."

Collins, who went undrafted because of the ongoing police investigation, met with Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan on Monday night and will have meetings with several other teams after his session with the Dolphins on Tuesday, according to the Advocate.

The newspaper said Collins' agents, who declined to comment, have heard "from almost every team."

The Dolphins will have considerable competition to sign Collins, and he probably could maximize his value for his second contract if he signs with a team that would play him at left tackle instead of guard.

If he joins the Dolphins, he likely would play guard, though right tackle Ja'Wuan James is versatile enough to play guard. Collins said before the draft he would be OK with playing tackle or guard.

“Every team, every scout, every coach, offensive line coach from teams that have worked me out has said definitely I'm a left tackle," he said at the time. 

“I believe in my abilities. And I think the fact that I'm even in the conversation to be able to play guard or tackle at the next level is huge, that's value. Being able to play both positions is something I love to carry on my shoulders. I feel like I can fit in anywhere, plug in anywhere."

Any team can sign Collins to a three-year deal worth as much as $1.58 million. He could become a free agent after two years if a team agrees not to place an exclusive tender on him.

The Dolphins expressed interest in Collins before the draft and brought him to Miami for a visit.

Dolphins linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, who also attended LSU, has publicly lobbied the Dolphins to sign him.

"Need the whole 954/305 to reach out and support my LSU fam (Collins) and get him to Miami,” Sheppard said on Twitter.

Sheppard later deleted that tweet. The Dolphins apparently want to pursue Collins quietly.

Dolphins defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, another former LSU player, also is tweeting support for the move.

### The Dolphins are giving a mini-camp tryout to running back Dee Hart, a former five-star recruit who won the 2010 Hall Trophy for the best high school football player in the nation.

Two knee surgeries hampered his development at Alabama, where he ran for 166 yards on 43 carries in two seasons before transferring to Colorado State a year ago.

Hart, 5-9, ran for 1275 yards and 16 touchdowns, while averaging 6.6 yards per carry, for the Rams last season, and also caught two touchdown passes.

Hart left the Alabama team before his February 2014 arrest for possession of marijuana and giving false information to police.

“Dee is one of the most competitive guys on the team,” Nick Saban once said. “Maybe the only guy on the team I’m taller than.”

### According to a UM source, the Dolphins also are giving a tryout to former Miami basketball player Raphael Akpejiori, who was on the Hurricanes’ football team last season but didn’t play.

### Factoid we discovered about the four linebackers added by the Dolphins after the draft:

All were ranked in the top 14 in the country in tackles last season.

Utah State inside linebacker Zach Vigil ranked second with 154, Penn State outside linebacker Mike Hull was tied for fourth with 138, Cincinnati inside linebacker Jeff Luc was tied for eighth with 133 and Marshall inside linebacker Neville Hewitt was tied for 14th with 123.

Hull, 6-0 and 235 pounds, was named the Big 10’s Linebacker of the Year and was third team All-American. CBS draft analyst Dane Brugler said Hull “has excellent diagnose skills and is the type of player that the ball carrier seems to find every snap” but “lacks ideal size/strength for the NFL and can be overwhelmed by blockers in the open field.” 

Luc, 6-1 and 256 pounds, was the nation’s top inside linebacker prospect when he committed to Florida State in 2010, but transferred to Cincinnati because of lack of playing time. He blossomed last season, with 6.5 sacks.

“Luc might be the most imposing inside linebacker in the country,” CBS’ Rob Rang said. “His powerful build and aggressive nature make him an ideal run-stuffing presence in the middle. [But] scouts worry that Luc lacks the lateral agility and speed, however, to handle coverage duties, making him strictly a two-down defender in the NFL.”

Vigil, 6-2 and 240 pounds, had nine sacks last season, and Hewitt, 6-1 and 231 pounds, had five sacks.

Though the Dolphins haven’t announced any of their post-draft roster moves, the signings of Vigil, Hull and Hewitt were confirmed to The Miami Herald by their agents. The signing of Hull was reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The Dolphins are looking for a third starter at linebacker alongside Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins. Chris McCain and Sheppard are considered the top contenders for that job, with Spencer Paysinger and Jordan Tripp also in the mix.

### Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who has skipped the Dolphins voluntary workouts in recent days, arm-wrestled his friend, billionaire Warren Buffett, on an appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box on Monday morning.

Suh let Buffett win; Buffett cracked, “I’m toying with him.”

Suh and Buffett met when Buffett was an honorary coach during a game against Oklahoma, and former Cornhuskers coach Tom Osborne later arranged a meeting between them.

“We sat down and it was like speaking to my father,” Suh said, adding the opportunity to talk with Buffett about money was “a pleasure and honor.”

Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and second-richest man in America at $71.8 billion, said of Suh: “This guy is smart, believe me. I admire him a lot. He listens. He asked the right questions.”

Suh, once dubbed a “secret finance nerd” in The Wall Street Journal, said during Monday’s CNBC appearance, that “I’ve always loved numbers. So I like to be involved and understand what’s going on and not just be a person that always wants to take great advice.”

FINAL DRAFT ANALYSIS

Here’s how three draft analysts assessed Miami’s draft:

### ESPN’s Mel Kiper: “The Dolphins had one of my favorite picks of Round 1, and they didn't have to move to get their guy. DeVante Parker has the chance to be special and fills a clear need for them. I could have seen him going with any of the four picks ahead of Miami -- St. Louis, Minnesota, Cleveland and New Orleans -- so getting him at No. 14 was a good value. Jordan Phillips has first-round physical ability and third-round tape, so landing in Round 2 just about averages things out.

“The addition of Ndamukong Suh was impactful, but Miami can use the depth behind him or put Phillips and Suh on the field at the same time. If Phillips plays at Suh's effort level on every snap, there's a potential stud here. Jamil Douglas could play right away, given the need at guard, and though I thought Bobby McCain was a bit of a reach given some other cornerbacks available when he was taken, that's splitting hairs again.

“Jay Ajayi is a tough runner who fell on injury and ball security concerns, but if he's healthy, he can be really good. Tony Lippett is a player I expected to go earlier. If there's a question, it's the lack of a linebacker earlier on. The Parker pick really elevates this draft for me, and they can hope the coin flip on Phillips' becoming really good works out. But ultimately, I see one certainty here, and injury risk in a number of places.”

### ESPN’s Todd McShay: “I really liked the pick of Louisville's DeVante Parker. He was the No. 9 player on my board, and he gives QB Ryan Tannehill a true No. 1 wide receiver. His speed, leaping ability and ball skills as a vertical threat are a nice complement long-term alongside Jarvis Landry, who was a very effective slot receiver as a rookie in 2014.

"Oklahoma DT Jordan Phillips is a risk-reward pick, as he's one of the 10 or 12 best prospects in this draft based purely on his physical gifts, but his effort was way too inconsistent at Oklahoma. Ajayi was a great value on Day 3. The Dolphins really need a power runner, and Ajayi adds versatility as an excellent pass-catcher out of the backfield.”

### CBS’ Rob Rang, who gave Miami a B plus: “In the weeks leading up to the draft Miami explored trading up into the top 10 to land a dynamic receiver, but ultimately didn't have to as DeVante Parker slid to the Dolphins at No. 14 overall.

“Parker's length, speed, body control and huge catch radius make him a potential No. 1 target for Ryan Tannehill in Bill Lazor's aggressive passing attack, and fifth round pick Tony Lippett could surprise as well (whether at receiver or cornerback). Jay Ajayi's knee is a concern but he has franchise-back talent. Jordan Phillips and Jamil Douglas are potential future starters along the line of scrimmage.”

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz          

May 02, 2015

Fins add 4 LBs tonight; Lots of reaction, analysis on Dolphins' Day 3 picks; Eye-opening Canes item; Heat, Marlins

The Sunday buzz column, with lots of Dolphins, Canes, Marlins and Heat, is below.

First, a 7:30 p.m. and then a 10:45 p.m. update with Dolphins post-draft signings:

The Dolphins, who did not select any linebackers in the draft, have signed four highly productive ones in the first hour after the draft: Penn State OLB Mike Hull (a third team All-American last season with 140 tackles, one pick and two sacks); Utah State inside linebacker Zach Vigil (154 tackles, 9 sacks last season); Cincinnati inside linebacker Jeff Luc (133 tackles, 6.5 sacks) and Marshall inside linebacker Neville Hewitt (123 tackles, 4.5 sacks, one pick).

The Dolphins had shown a lot of interest in Vigil and Hewitt throughout the process, as we noted earlier this week. Vigil is listed at 6-2, 240; Hull at 6-0, 231; Luc at 6-1, 256; and Hewitt at 6-1 and 231.

Other players added by the Dolphins tonight (with a caveat that while at least a couple of the names below have signed, others of these players might be just be coming in for tryouts this week, which won't be clarified until the Dolphins formally announce the names in a few days):

### Georgia defensive end Ray Drew. Had just 39 tackles, one sack last season but CBS' Rob Rang said his "relatively pedestrian statistics can be explained by the block-eating role he was asked to play at Georgia. He quietly emerged as one of the SEC's better and more versatile defenders."

### Tennessee punter Matt Darr. (Unlikely to unseat Brandon Fields.)

### RPI kicker Andrew Franks. Excels at kickoffs; special teams coach Darren Rizzi flew to New York to work him out two weeks ago. Caleb Sturgis already had one serious challenger: former Arkansas kicker Zach Hocker, the Redskins' 7th-rounder last season.

### Maine receiver Damarr Aultman. Had 48 catches for 498 yards last season.

### Illinois State offensive lineman Michael Liedtke. Played left tackle last season but well suited for guard.

### Tim Semisch, a 6-7 tight end from Northern Illinois, will try out for the Dolphins this week. He had just 10 career receptions for 100 yards.

### Bowling Green defensive end Kendall Montgomery. The Miami Pace High alum had two sacks last season. His agent said it's a contract, not a tryout.

### Alabama receiver Christion Jones. He had 19 catches and 264 yards last season after catching 34 the previous year. He averaged 23 yards on kickoff returns last season after scoring touchdowns on kickoff returns of 90-plus yards each of the previous two years.

### UCLA defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy. The 6-5, 330-pound tackle had three sacks last season.

### USC G/T Aundrey Walker. NFL.com's assessment: "Despite a promising start to his career, Walker has faded into irrelevance over the last two seasons and was a rotational player in 2014. His lack of functional strength and footwork might doom his draft chances."

### Kansas receiver Nigel King. Caught 30 passes for 537 yards, a 17.9 average last season. King has good size at 6-3.

### TCU 6-0 receiver David Porter. Caught 39 passes for 392 yards and three touchdowns last season. He's coming in for a tryout with the Dolphins.

### Arizona offensive tackle Mickey Baucas. Started at left tackle and "boasts an intriguing build with great height and long arms," CBS' Rob Rang said. ###############################################################################

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

In the past 18 drafts, only one of the Dolphins’ fifth-round draft picks (Reshad Jones) has emerged so far as a longterm starter; a few others were decent (Chris Clemons, Caleb Sturgis, Donald Lee, Nolan Carroll), but most were forgettable: Tony Bua, Cecil Collins, Josh Kaddu, John Nalbone, among others. That’s worth keeping in mind when assessing a Dolphins draft that included four fifth-rounders and just three other picks.

But the Dolphins need at least a couple of Saturday’s fifth-rounders to become good players, and here’s a pearl of hope: The Dolphins snagged Jim Kiick, Bryan Cox and Zach Thomas in the fifth round.

Some reaction on Miami’s four fifth-rounders on Saturday and its fourth-round pick, Arizona State guard Jamil Douglas:

### Memphis cornerback Bobby McCain: NFL Network’s Mike Mayock: “Ironically, he will be competing with Brice McCain for that nickel spot. Quick footed. This kid is feisty. [But] he’s too short to play on the edge. Tough, competitive kid.” (Brice McCain is the heavy favorite for that job.)...

ESPN’s Mel Kiper: “What I love about this kid is when he picks a pass off, he can take it the distance [did that four times in college]. This kid is an interception waiting to happen. What he needs is more consistency. Can be a nickel back right away and maybe develop into a starter. Needs a little more consistency. Also did a good job as a kick returner.”…

ESPN’s Todd McShay: “Really good instincts. Good feel for the game.”… NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein: “Lacks desired height and frame to be an outside cornerback. Undersized slot corner. His 19 passes defended and 11 interceptions over his last 22 starts are indicative of his athleticism and talent to play on the next level.”… Draft Insiders’ Tony Pauline: “Rarely has mental breakdowns or gets beat. He lacks deep speed but offers potential in nickel or dime packages and on special teams. Underrated corner with solid ball skills.”

### Boise State running back Jay Ajayi: Kiper: “A downhill runner. He’s a little loose with the football at times, especially when he gets into traffic. He’s got to shore that up. He runs with explosive aggressiveness, toughness. He is a physical runner. Can really challenge guys. You talk about a guy like Marshawn Lynch. This guy runs with that power and explosion. He’s got to block in pass protection a lot better than he did.”…

McShay: “He’s a great receiver out of the backfield. Very light on his feet. I don’t see quite as much power as [Kiper] sees. I see tough, hard running. Really impressive. Born in London to Nigerian parents. Moved to United States in 2000. Had a chance to play for the Nigerian national team; he was that good of a soccer player.” McShay said the concern is Ajayi had “673 offensive touches the last two seasons” which “really took a pounding on his body.”

ESPN’s Bill Polian: “The one thing Miami needed more than anything in the run game was somebody who could stick it up in there, hang in there with toughness. And this kid does.”… ESPN’s Adam Schefter said Ajayi flunked some physicals because of a knee issue; the Dolphins say they aren’t concerned…. Ajayi caught 50 passes for 535 yards and four touchdowns last season and has a good chance to wrest the third down job away from Damien Williams.

Mayock: “Unfortunately, Jay slid for something out of his control. The medical is the question mark. On the positive side, he has great pad level, acceleration and burst. I like his patience. His knee is bone on bone and teams don’t know how long they will get high level production. His tape is outstanding. He’s one of the toughest kids in the draft. They needed that big back to complement Lamar Miller.”

NFL Net’s Daniel Jeremiah said he rated him as a top-20 player in this draft… Pauline:  “Solid downhill grinder who can carry the load for a team on the next level. Large, powerful runner best on the inside.”

### Minnesota safety Cedric Thompson: Kiper rated him the draft’s 10th-best safety. “You love the way he plays,” Kiper said. “His game day tapes are very solid. He’s adequate in coverage. He’s a good tackler, he makes plays, very instinctive. Those kind of guys make it in this league, guys who can set up a defense that are consistent week to week, that understand how to play the game.”

NFL.com’s Zierlein disagrees with Kiper in one regard: “Above-average athletic traits and size, but instincts and awareness are below average. Takes too long to commit once play direction was been declared. Played as deep safety and near the line of scrimmage. Has enough size to match up against tight ends.”

Pauline’s thinking is more in line with Kiper’s: “Instinctive run-defending safety who keeps the action in front of him. Must earn his living on special teams.” 

### Michigan State cornerback Tony Lippett, a former receiver who played corner as a freshman and in four games in 2014: NFL Net’s Charles Davis: “I always thought corner was the right spot for him.  That length [6-2 1/2] can take away some of the [concerns about his] speed. He is going to have to play with the same intelligence that Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner play [to compensate for mediocre speed]. No false steps.…

Mayock: "I really want to see if he could be an NFL-quality corner because the length intrigues me. With all those big-bodied wide receivers, more and more teams are looking for corners that are 6-feet and above. He is going to have to be a Richard Sherman type corner.  [Sherman and Browner] are guys that have to use length to their advantage at the line of scrimmage.'

### Douglas: Kiper said he should be “solid” but “you would like him to play with a little more power.”… McShay: “Really smart player, 3.92 GPA. Impressive with his awareness picking up stunts and blitzes.”…

Tony Pauline: “Douglas was a terrific college lineman and possesses the skills necessary to start at guard in a run-oriented system.”

Zierlein again is the dissenting voice here, claiming Douglas “fails to generate push at the point of attack” and “shows very little fire in his play. Looks like he’s going through the motions.”…

Joe Philbin said he likes Billy Turner (a front-runner to start) at right guard, so it makes sense that Miami will put Douglas at left guard to compete with Dallas Thomas, Jeff Linkenbach and perhaps J.D. Walton.

 CHATTER

### How unusual is it for a college team to finish below .500, as UM did last season, and then have at least seven players drafted months later, as Miami did?

I studied the previous 11 drafts (entering this one) and found no team with that many draft picks that finished with a losing record the previous year.

Over those 11 drafts coming into this one, 48 teams had at least seven players selected in a single draft. Of those 48 teams, 33 won at least 10 games the previous season.

Only two of those 48 teams won fewer than eight games the previous year --- coincidentally, UM, which went 7-6 under Randy Shannon in 2010, then had eight draft picks in 2011. Also, South Carolina, which went 7-6 in 2008 and then had nine picks.

And now UM has seven players picked after going 6-7. Amazing.

By the way, the Gators, who went 7-5 last season, had eight players drafted today. Remember, UF had one game canceled for weather reasons last season.

And this will make blood boil further for Canes fans: McShay said “if used properly,” defensive end Anthony Chickillo, the seventh Cane picked today (by Pittsburgh in the sixth round), “will be a much better player in the pros than college.”

### Not only did Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon enter Saturday leading baseball in batting average (.423) and not only is Adeiny Hechavarria fourth among shortstops in average (.318) and first in RBI (16), but defensively, “look at the metrics,” president/baseball operations Michael Hill said. “Has there
been a better middle infield in baseball than ours? There has not been.”

If Hechavarria’s offensive evolution --- from .227 in 2013 to .276 last season to now this – continues over the next few years, his agents will have made the right gamble by declining the Marlins’
longterm contract offer this past winter. He’s under team control through 2018.

Not chasing pitches out of the zone “is the No. 1 thing” that has changed with Hechavarria, Hill said. “Omar Vizquel hit [.220, .247, .230 his first three seasons] but was playing Gold Glove defense. I’m glad it’s come along faster for Hech. Defensively, we knew he was one of the best.”

Incidentally, Gordon’s 34 hits were the most ever in a player’s  first 20 games as a Marlin, and then he had three more in the 21st game. And he has remained on fire since.

### More good news: Left-hander Justin Nicolino, who could be in the rotation next season, has now gone four starts in a row (24 innings) without giving up an earned run at Triple A.

### As of Saturday, Luol Deng hadn’t decided whether to opt out of the second year of his two-year deal (worth $10.1 million), according to his agent. He could pursue a longer deal somewhere by opting out.

If he opts in, and Goran Dragic re-signs as expected, the Heat will be well into luxury tax territory and Pat Riley couldn’t commit to the Heat’s willingness to use a $3.4 million exception (its best tool to improve). “Transcendent players change [owner] Micky [Arison]’s mind very quickly,” said Riley, who has been scouting draft prospects in Europe.

But transcendent players aren’t available at $3.4 million. And if Deng opts out but Dragic stays, Miami would not have cap space to replace Deng beyond an exception.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz