March 03, 2015

Suh pursuit has support in Fins' front office; Dolphins, Heat, Canes, Marlins chatter

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

As we mentioned last night, the Dolphins have been discussing making a serious attempt to sign All-Pro free agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. And we received additional word today that at least one key front office member is in favor of it, according to two people in contact with the team.

Suh would cost a bundle (ESPN floated a six-year, $100 million contract), and if the Dolphins go ahead with an offer as expected, they will face stiff competition. But it’s something they are ready to explore.

As most of you know, ESPN’s Mark Dominik, who was Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey’s boss in Tampa and remains close with him, already has said the Dolphins have a “real shot” to get him.

If you include Charles Clay's current $7.1 million cap hit (which comes with the transitional tag but can be reduced as part of a longterm deal), the Dolphins are about $15 million below their $153 million cap, based on numbers from overthecap.com. The Dolphins' cap number is about $9 million above the league cap because of carryover cap space and other adjustments.

If the Dolphins cut Mike Wallace (whose fate remains unresolved), Dannell Ellerbe, Phillip Wheeler, Randy Starks and Brandon Fields, that could save an additional $23.6 million (using post-June 1 designations for Wallace and Wheeler, though that additional savings won't go on their cap until after June 1). That would add to up $38.6 million in space -- at least $5 million of which is needed to sign draft picks.

Even more could be created with a longterm deal that brings down Clay's hit and Mike Pouncey's $7.43 million hit. The Dolphins like Koa Misi, but cutting him would save another $2.7 million. Restructuring Cam Wake or Branden Albert is another option, but there's no indication if the Dolphins are considering this.

Bottom line: Despite Suh’s price tag, it would be possible --- by cutting additional players and creatively structuring contracts --- for Miami to add Suh and be able to upgrade at several other need areas through resourceful spending and the draft.

One way to do it is making sure Suh’s cap hit is fairly modest this year but rises substantially in 2016, when the Dolphins will have ample cap space. The Dolphins have only $102 million in cap commitments for 2016, when the cap is expected to rise to at least $150 million.

That doesn’t include a big payout to Ryan Tannehill --- about $16 million if he doesn’t sign a longterm deal before then. But that $102 million includes a lot of cap commitments that will be substantially lessened by then --- including $14.2 million combined for Ellerbe and Wheeler (neither of whom is expected to be with the team) and $13.7 million for Wallace.

Cam Wake ($9.8 million) and Brent Grimes ($9.5 million) also could be at risk, in another year, with those 2016 numbers.

The Dolphins have left impending free agent Jared Odrick and Randy Starks (who’s under contract) in limbo while mulling Suh and other defensive tackles that intrigue them, including Terrance Knighton, Corey Peters and Tom Johnson. Though they told Odrick they want to keep him and plan to make an offer, there hadn’t been one presented as of early this week.

Though Suh is reportedly in South Florida this week, the agents for free agents can’t legally speak to outside suitors until Saturday. And Suh can't visit a new team until Tuesday, the first day he can also sign with a new team.

So if you can create at least $40-$42 million in space (quite do-able), the Dolphins could sign Suh (if he's willing to structure it in a way with a relatively low 2015 base salary) and a reasonably priced veteran cornerback and a linebacker and a receiver, re-sign Louis Delmas to a reasonable deal off his knee injury, re-sign Derrick Shelby and then use the draft to address receiver, competition at guard (with the thought that Shelley Smith, Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas could compete for two starting jobs) and a slot cornerback (if Jimmy Wilson, who the Dolphins want to keep, is priced out of their market) and a backup defensive tackle.

Would this permutation and a bunch of others be challenging and awfully ambitious? Yes.

Possible? Certainly, but Miami might not get the quality it wants at middle linebacker and cornerback and receiver if it spends big on Suh.

It's all fascinating to consider and at least this Dolphins brass is thinking big.

Dominik, by the way, calls Suh “a generational type of free agent, one of the most significant ever to hit the market.”  

### Stephen Ross certainly has the money for Suh. Forbes said Tuesday that Ross, with a net-worth of $6.5 billion, is the NFL’s second-richest owner behind Seahawks/Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen ($17.5 billion). The Heat’s Micky Arison ($7.1 billion) trails only Allen among NBA owners.

CHATTER

### Among the Dolphins’ three restricted free agents, they want to keep Shelby (with a moderate to high draft tender), conveyed interest in re-signing linebacker Jonathan Freeny but aren’t tendering cornerback R.J. Stanford.

Among their exclusive rights free agents, they want to keep Jordan Kovacs, and Michael Thomas said late last season that the Dolphins told him they are interested in keeping him.

### How unusual was it for Goran Dragic to score 21 points playing just 15 minutes against Phoenix on Monday? Elias Sports Bureau tells me no Heat player had ever scored at least 20 points playing 15 minutes or fewer. It has been done only two other times in the past 15 years in the NBA (Kyle Lowry, Charlie Villenueva).

### Dragic awoke Tuesday with this nifty distinction: He’s the NBA’s only guard shooting at least 50 percent from the field (50.1). One reason is he’s the best finisher in the league, percentage-wise, among guards, inside of five feet (68.2 percent), nearly identical to LeBron James. Of his 372 baskets, 57 percent are layups.

“Back in Europe when I was a kid, I was basically too fast for everybody [so] I was always penetrating,” he said Tuesday. “I’m not afraid to get a body on the big guy, get contact. That’s my game. I never developed a jump shot in Europe. You start to develop your jump shot [as he has in the NBA] and everything is much easier.”

### ESPN reported the Heat has a "level of" interest in signing free agent center JaVale McGee, who was bought out by Philadelphia this week. A bunch of other teams do, too.

### With the Marlins coming up short in their late bid for free agent Francisco Rodriguez, they will open the competition to determine who will get first crack at the eighth inning set-up job, among Bryan Morris (“did a great job with that” last year, Mike Redmond said), ex-Royal Aaron Crow, AJ Ramos (7-0 last year) or Mike Dunn (against lefty-heavy lineups).

Carter Capps, who the Marlins viewed as an ideal set-up man when they acquired him from Seattle, hopes to crack that mix after being limited to 17 games by an elbow injury last season.

He’s the Marlins hardest throwing reliever, with triple figure readings at times on the radar gun and 119 strikeouts in 104 career innings. But “I need to be a reliable guy. At times, I can be really good. At times, really bad.”

Rafael Soriano, who had 32 saves for Washington last season, remains unsigned, but the Marlins aren’t sure how well he would fit into their clubhouse.

### With the transfer of Antonio Crawford and graduation of Ladarius Gunter, UM is down to three experienced cornerbacks, one inexperienced one (Ryan Mayes, who has had a good spring but “has a long way to go,” Al Golden said) and three freshmen summer arrivals.

“We’ll probably be one short; we’ll see if there’s someone available,” Golden said. Expect UM to investigate adding a transfer who’s eligible immediately. Golden said Deon Bush could play cornerback if needed, but he's UM's best safety.

### The UM staff believes it will be just as good at tight end, even with losing NFL-bound Clive Walford, not only because of the emergence of Standish Dobard (the staff calls him “dump truck” because of his toughness), but the intriguing upside of Chris Herndon, David Njoku and Jerome Washington.

Tight ends coach Larry Scott said Washington’s “ceiling is through the roof. You look at yourself and shake your head and say, “We’ve got a special one here.’…

“Njoku looks the part. He had the toughness of a linebacker did but some things as a receiver that made you go, ‘Hmm.’ He’s a 6-4 kid that’s a 7-foot high jumper. Where are you going to find that in big people? He’s another one we’re super excited about. And [Herndon] is so smooth in everything he does. There’s no wasted movement.”

### Of Crawford's decision to transfer, defensive backs coach Paul Williams said: “Antonio’s a great kid. We love him. We wish him well.”

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

March 02, 2015

All-Pro Suh linked to Dolphins; More concern expressed on Canes; Heat-Suns; Marlins

A six-pack of notes on a Monday night:

### The notion of a marriage between the Dolphins and Lions free agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh --- an idea that had seemed highly improbable –-- gained some steam tonight with two developments:    

Mark Dominik, the media person who’s closest to Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey, mentioned the Dolphins as a potential landing spot.

We also received word that there are segments of the Dolphins organization that are very intrigued by the idea of pursuing Suh.

On Monday night, hours after the Lions opted not to put the franchise tag on Suh, ESPN’s Dominik, who was Hickey’s boss in Tampa and remains close with him, listed Miami, Atlanta and Jacksonville as three top contenders for Suh. He said the Dolphins have a "real shot" to get him.

“The last team I would say has a chance is the Miami Dolphins,” Dominik said on ESPN. “When you’re talking about state taxes and you’re in Tennessee, Texas or Florida,… any of those teams has a shot. … Miami is another team I could see being interested in Suh.”

Still, there are factors working against this, including the fact other teams have more cap space. And though the Dolphins could clear more than $40 million in space, they have multiple needs to fill in free agency and privately acknowledge needs at middle linebacker and cornerback.

On the flip side, the Lions were able to accommodate Suh, Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford under their salary cap.

If the Dolphins signed Suh, they could have more that $32 million in cap commitments to Suh and Ryan Tannehill in 2016. Suh wants to be the highest-paid defensive player in football, with the type of contract normally given to franchise quarterbacks.

Suh has played in 78 of 80 regular season games, with those two missed games resulting from suspensions for player-safety violations. He is a four-time first team All-Pro with 36 career sacks.

Bottom line: It would still be somewhat surprising if the Dolphins could pull this off. But it would not be shocking, provided they go ahead with a serious offer.

“We don’t need him or his price tag,” always entertaining Miko Grimes (wife of Dolphins cornerback Brent) said on Twitter.

An Internet report, unconfirmed by The Herald, said Suh is in South Florida tonight. But he isn't allowed to talk to other teams before Saturday and cannot sign anywhere (except for the Lions) before March 10.

### Impressive offensive display by the Heat tonight in this 115-98 win over Phoenix, including a career-high 26 points in 25 minutes from rookie Tyler Johnson; 21 from Goran Dragic (including 10 in the fourth) in just 15 foul-plagued minutes; 17 points (and 10 boards) from Hassan Whiteside before his ejection for tackling Alex Len after Len threw him aside; 16 from Wade and 12 from Michael Beasley.

According to ESPN, Johnson never scored that many points in any game in four years at Fresno State.

Miami (26-33) remained in seventh place in the East. The Heat would have fallen to 10th with a loss tonight.

### Reaction afterward: Erik Spoelstra: "You had two desperate team. We came in feeling this was an absolute must win.... Tyler was fantastic. He looked like the closest facsimile of a young Goran Dragic. He put his head down and attacked the basket. Mike was very good in the fourth quarter... .The guys wanted to get this win for Goran and Zoran. Without saying a lot, we knew this would mean a lot to him."

Spoelstra said "Hassan has to take the next step of being game-planned and being a guy teams aren't going to want to give up dunks and opportunities at the rim. If he did not retaliate, the punishment would have been on Len."

Said Whiteside, who was ejected in the third quarter: "I'm starting to realize a lot more teams are getting physical with me and I'm down for it. That's why I lift weights.... I shouldn't have retaliated. I should have just walked away." (Len also was ejected.)

Said Dragic: "I was a little anxious to do well, so I got into foul trouble. I'm happy with the win."

### Count former UM athletic director Sam Jankovich among those troubled by the state of the UM football program.

“The thing that bothers me more than anything is the team is not improving,” he said. “The team just doesn’t play with the intensity you need or seem to improve. I don’t think Miami has played well since joining the ACC.

“Leaving the Orange Bowl had a real impact on the program. I follow it pretty closely [from Idaho], and I don’t think it looks very good. It’s concerning. They’re losing a lot of the enthusiasm that made the program so great. It’s very disappointing to see the program just existing” instead of thriving.

### Fox gave the Marlins two regional appearances on their national TV schedule, both in prime time: May 22 against Baltimore and July 4 at the Cubs. Two other games will air on Fox Sports 1: May 15 against the Braves, June 23 against St. Louis.

But ESPN hasn’t committed to carrying any Marlins games on its partially-released Sunday night schedule.

In all, 154 of 162 Marlins games will be televised. Of the eight that aren’t on TV, all are on weekday afternoons except a Thursday night 10 p.m. game in San Diego on July 23.

### UM’s basketball season is on life support, with Jim Larranaga saying Miami needs to win Wednesday at Pittsburgh, Sunday at Virginia Tech and two games in the ACC Tournament to earn an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.

Larranaga said the losses to FSU, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech “really do hurt” but “five of the [conference] losses shouldn’t be held against us.”

The bright side of UM closing the regular season with two road games? “We’re averaging five more points on the road in the conference than at home,” Larranaga said.

He said Angel Rodriguez told the team’s trainer that his wrist is feeling a little better.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

March 01, 2015

2 p.m. Monday & 11:40 p.m. Sunday Fins updates; Dolphins looking closely at cornerbacks, d-tackles; Dolphins, Canes, Marlins chatter; Heat cap/tax change

Monday 2 p.m. update: The Dolphins created an additional $7.1 million in cap space this afternoon by releasing cornerback Cortland Finnegan and offensive lineman Nate Garner.

The Dolphins are determined to upgrade over Finnegan, whose release saves the Dolphins $5.5 million in cap space. (Scroll down for potential cornerback targets.) Finnegan, 31, played one season for the Dolphins, producing 44 tackles and one forced fumble but no interceptions in 12 games. 

Finnegan, one of a limited number of NFL players without an agent, said last season that he might retire if the Dolphins did not bring him back on the second year of a two-year contract.

The versatile Garner, 30, played in 74 games --- starting 19 combined at guard, center and tackle --- in six seasons for Miami but was limited to 10 games last season before being sidelined for the remainder of the year with migraine issues related to concussions.

Agent Drew Pittman said Garner is still dealing with those issues related to concussions but did not elaborate. His release saves the Dolphins $1.6 million against the cap.

Those moves left the Dolphins with about $18 million in cap space, with more moves to come. Some of the space was created by carrying over $7.8 million in unused space from last season. 

But some of that space will be used on Charles Clay, who was given the transition tag. That means he will make at least $7 million next season. Other teams can bid on him, but the Dolphins have the right to match.

Quick Sunday night update: Sensing the Dolphins were potentially headed in this direction, agent Drew Rosenhaus said during his weekly segment on WSVN-Fox 7 that he asked the Dolphins to release Brian Hartline so that Hartline could go into the market and explore his options and also give the Dolphins an opportunity to re-sign him.

Rosenhaus said the Dolphins have interest in re-signing Hartline and didn't rule it out. But as Armando Salguero noted, Hartline has interest in teams closer to his native Ohio and with an established quarterback, making the Colts an appealing option. Rosenhaus said he expects Hartline to sign somewhere this week.

Rosenhaus, who does not represent Mike Wallace, also said he believes Wallace will remain with the Dolphins because the team needs him after releasing Hartline and Brandon Gibson. He said he feels that way even though he knows Miami is trying to trade him and also believes they have asked him to take a pay cut (which has been confirmed by people close to the situation).

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SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Besides their desire to upgrade at middle linebacker, the Dolphins also have made cornerback and defensive tackle priorities. What we’re hearing as teams approach the March 10 start of free agency:

### Well before joining the Dolphins’ front office, Mike Tannenbaum said cornerback is critical for Miami in a division with Tom Brady. Tannenbaum also said this a couple of years ago: “The fastest way to lose games in pro football is not to have corners. Other things you can survive, but if you can’t cover on the outside, it’s dismal.”

The Dolphins want to add at least one quality corner to upgrade over Cortland Finnegan, and free agents Kareem Jackson and Brandon Flowers are among those who have been discussed internally, according to a person with knowledge of Miami's discussions. (I'm sure there are other cornerbacks also of interest to Miami; these were merely two of the names we know have been talked about.)

Jackson, 26, a five-year starter for Houston, had three interceptions in 13 games in 2014 and quarterbacks had a 74.1 rating in his coverage area.

Flowers, 29, played for the Chargers in 2014 --- quarterbacks had an 84.2 rating against him --- after six seasons in Kansas City. His family lives in Delray Beach and a friend said the Dolphins would hold some appeal to him. Pro Football Focus rated Jackson 11th and Flowers 15th among 108 cornerbacks for 2014.

PFF said Flowers had “a superb first year in San Diego. Not going to fit in every scheme but put him in the right spot and he’s a top-tier cornerback” and said Jackson “has done very well to rebuild a reputation that looked almost beyond salvaging after his first two years in the league. Jackson has rebounded with some impressive play and can be one of the better No. 2 corners in the league.”

The Dolphins approached All-Pro Darrelle Revis last offseason, but Revis wanted to sign with a Super Bowl contender. A Revis confidante expects the Dolphins to call him again, but it’s highly questionable if Miami has the cap space to seriously compete for him, considering it must address several other needs.

Besides Revis, Tannenbaum also has a history with Arizona free agent Antonio Cromartie (31 picks in nine seasons), so he cannot be ruled out. Cromartie, according to PFF, “rebuilt his rep in the first half of the season but didn’t follow that up with the kind of strong second half that would have everyone expecting a big short-term deal come his way.”

Other corners set to become free agents include Seattle’s Byron Maxwell, Dallas’ Sterling Moore, the 49ers’ Chris Culliver, Jacksonville’s Alan Ball, New Orleans’ Patrick Robinson, the Giants’ Walter Thurmond, Cleveland's Buster Skrine and Green Bay’s Tramon Williams.

Signing a quality free-agent cornerback in this market will be pricey, and it will be interesting to see how much Miami is willing to spend on Jackson or Flowers or any of the others mentioned here. 

Remember, Kevin Coyle strongly implied after the season that the Dolphins cannot go into next season counting on Jamar Taylor or Will Davis as starters. And waiting until the draft to find a starting cornerback to pair with Brent Grimes would be risky.

Upgrading on Finnegan isn't Miami's only cornerback issue. Though the Dolphins want to re-sign slot corner/safety Jimmy Wilson, several teams like him and Miami will have stiff competition.  

### Defensive tackle: A lot hinges on whether the Dolphins can re-sign Jared Odrick (expect Chicago, Jacksonville and others to pursue him; Miami wants to keep him but knows it might be outbid) and whether they keep Randy Starks, who is awaiting word on his fate. He has a $6 million cap hit if he’s on the team, $1 million otherwise.

We're told the Dolphins like Minnesota free agent Tom Johnson, who made only two starts in the past four seasons but had 6.5 sacks in 2014 and was rated 23rd among 81 defensive tackles by PFF.

The Dolphins also like Denver’s run-stuffing Terrance Knighton (12th by PFF), but he would be far more costly and it’s unclear if they will be able to compete financially for him. Atlanta’s Corey Peters (34th by PFF) was mentioned to me as another name on Miami’s radar.

PFF said Knighton plays “some stellar run defense” and is a “streaky pass rusher” and Peters “rebounded nicely from a devastating Achilles injury with a solid 2014.”

Among other tackles available: Detroit’s trio of Ndamukong Suh (Mark Dominik, who worked with Hickey in Tampa, believes the Dolphins might pursue him), Nick Fairley (very costly) and C.J. Mosley; Green Bay’s Letroy Guion (facing felony charges on possession of marijuana and a firearm), Arizona’s Dan Williams, Kendall Langford (the former Dolphin and ex-Ram), ex-Cowboy Henry Melton; and Chicago’s Stephen Paea (skilled pass rusher who graded out below average against the run).

The Jets’ Kenrick Ellis, who has a background with Tannenbaum in New York, is a backup option. Baltimore standout Haloti Ngata naturally would be appealing if he’s released.

The Dolphins are expected to keep Earl Mitchell and like A.J. Francis and Anthony Johnson as fourth/fifth tackles.

### As we noted last week, the Dolphins want to upgrade at middle linebacker and are eyeing a few including David Harris, Mason Foster and versatile Dan Skuta.

CHATTER

### Though the Dolphins think highly of San Francisco free agent Mike Iupati, they have expressed some hesitance to spend a ton on a guard, and there are more pressing needs. They conveyed to Shelley Smith earlier this offseason that they like him and want to give him another chance to compete to start, barring a change of heart. And general manager Dennis Hickey envisions Billy Turner as starting-caliber.

Among free agent guards: Denver’s Orlando Franklin (will get a lot of money somewhere), James Carpenter, Clint Boling, Todd Herremans, Rob Sims, Vlad Ducasse (played for Jets under Tannenbaum) and Willie Colon.

### If the Heat and Goran Dragic agree on a multiyear contract this summer, which many expect, Miami would be above the luxury tax threshold (presuming Luol Deng opts in for $10.1 million) and might not add anything else beyond a few minimum contracts.

### Dragic’s brother, Zoran, is signed next season for $1.7 million and the Heat sees upside with the 6-5 swingman.

Zoran said his strength is “getting in the paint. Everyone knows me as a good defensive player. I know how to play. I just need an opportunity.” Goran is the better shooter, but Zoran said he is “growing as a shooter.”

### According to Elias, Hassan Whiteside --- who appeared in his 50th NBA game Saturday --- is the first player since Shaq to produce at least three 20-rebound games in his first 50 NBA games. (All came this season for the Heat, including two 24-rebound games, both in Heat losses.) Shaq did it six times. Wilt Chamberlain holds the record, having done it an absurd 46 times in his first 50 games.

### Dolphins games attract slightly more than three times the average audience of regular-season Heat games. But while Dolphins games ranked 28th among 32 NFL teams in 2014 local-market ratings, Heat ratings are the NBA’s fourth-highest, with only the Spurs, Cavaliers and Thunder generating higher numbers in their markets.

And whereas Miami-Fort Lauderdale’s 38.7 rating for the Super Bowl ranked last among 56 metered markets, its 8.2 rating for the NBA All-Star Game was seventh.

### So why did Antonio Crawford, arguably Miami’s best slot cornerback, decide to transfer? A UM source said he wanted to be “the guy” --- a full-time starter --- even though he plays a lot here. He wasn't happy with the coaches, primarily because he didn't believe they valued him as much as they should --- even though they tried fruitlessly to get him to stay.

His departure means Ryan Mayes will get every opportunity to become UM's No. 4 corner, behind Artie Burns, Tracy Howard and Corn Elder. Burns made a terrific deflection to prevent a touchdown in practice Saturday.

### We don't put much stock in 2018 oral commitments, but the two that Miami has snagged for that year have familiar names: Al Blades Jr., son of the late great UM player, and Artie Burns' brother, Thomas Burns. Both recruits are defensive backs.

### Please see the last post for a lot more Canes notes (football and basketball) from Saturday.

### Though the Marlins traded a bunch of quality prospects this offseason (Andrew Heaney, Anthony DeSclafani, Austin Barnes), president/baseball operations Michael Hill said the system is “not barren. We have a lot of upper level prospect depth.”

Among those that bear watching: power right-hander Tyler Kolek (picked second overall in the 2014 draft); left-hander Justin Nicolino (some internally like him more than top prospect Heaney, who was dealt to the Dodgers; his strikeout numbers are low but his control is exceptional), J.T. Realmuto (the Marlins see him as their starting catcher in a year or two); right-handers Trevor Williams (a second-round pick in 2013 with a 2.98 minor-league ERA) and Jose Urena (13-8, 3.38 ERA in Double A), and run-producing first basemen Justin Bour and Viosergy Rosa (.292, 95 RBI in Single and Double A last year; 14 RBI in seven Double A playoff games).

### Despite the big offseason, “teams are still overlooking us,” Marlins left-hander Mike Dunn said. “I don’t think we’ve had enough respect. You can’t look past our pitching staff.”

### The Marlins are interested in hosting an NHL game at Marlins Park, just as Dodger Stadium did in 2014. Nothing is close to happening, but it's something they want to explore and pursue.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

February 28, 2015

Saturday afternoon UM report: Canes' NCAA Tourney chances take blow; Two 4-star d-linemen looking to make impact

North Carolina badly damaged UM’s NCAA Tournament chances today by closing the game on a 23-14 run to beat the Hurricanes, 73-64, dropping the Canes to 18-11 and 8-8.

The Hurricanes shot just 42 percent, including 6 for 24 on threes, committed 13 turnovers and were outrebounded 42-29. That was a recipe for failure against the 15th ranked Tar Heels, who were steaming from a home loss to North Carolina State.

So the Hurricanes have no margin for error now. Jim Larranaga said after the game today that he believes UM must win Wednesday at Pittsburgh, Sunday at Virginia Tech and win two games in the ACC Tournament in order to earn an invitation to NCAA Tournament.

"We've put ourselves in a very tough situation to make the dance," Larranaga said.

If UM splits its final two conference games, it likely would need to make the ACC Tournament championship game, at the very least, to have a real shot at being invited to NCAA Tournament.

Angel Rodriguez played only three minutes because of a wrist injury (a sprain) sustained Wednesday when he took a charge against FSU.  "We missed Angel's leadership; he does a lot of other things for us," Larranaga said.

Manu Lecomte started at point guard and shot 3 for 9, finishing with 10 points, four assists and three turnovers.

Sheldon McClellan scored 11 points (4 for 10 from the field) and was in foul trouble throughout the second half.

Tonye Jekiri (six points, eight rebounds) didn’t make as much of an impact as he usually has this season. Also hurtful: Davon Reed shot 1 for 8.

The Hurricanes relied a lot on newcomers down the stretch --– Ivan Cruz Uceda (11 points) Omar Sherman (who had six points but airballed a three during a key stretch late in the game) and Da’Quan Newton (who had some good moments and finished with 10 points, shooting 5 for 7).

Ultimately, UM didn’t have enough. And so a season that started with such promise is now very much on life support.... UM's regular-season home finale was a sellout today (7972).

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Considering the defensive line hasn’t exactly been a strength for the University of Miami football team in recent years, it’s understandable that ballyhooed four-star recruits Demetrius Jackson and Jelani Hamilton weren’t pleased when they were told they would be redshirted last season.

Both spoke Saturday about how the developmental year helped them, and UM is hoping they’ll blossom this fall.

Jackson, a standout at Booker T. Washington, and Hamilton --- a Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas alum --- stand at different stages of their UM careers.

Jackson still has four years of eligibility remaining, and UM coaches expect a formidable rotation at defensive end with Al Quadin Muhammad, Chad Thomas (Jackson’s high school teammate), Ufomba Kalamu, Trent Harris and Hamilton.

Conversely, Hamilton has only two seasons of eligibility remaining, and his redshirt season was unexpected because he played a limited role the previous two years, producing just six tackles as a freshman and four as a sophomore.

“I looked at it as any young, naïve player would,” Hamilton said of redshirting. “I didn’t like it at first. But I saw advantages. I saw it as a chance to develop my lower body. I’m finally healthy. It’s the best I’ve ever felt. My leg is not stinging when I make a tackle.”

Hamilton had an ACL injury as a senior in high school and has undergone knee surgery twice more at UM, including a clean-up procedure a month ago.

Now working at both defensive end and tackle, Hamilton said he’s more responsive to coaching than when he arrived at UM rated by Rivals.com as the ninth-best defensive end in the 2012 class and No. 106 recruit overall.

He said when coaches criticized him previously, “I remember I used to shut down a lot in my freshman year. But not any more.

“When I started off here, I wasn’t very good taking coaching. Some of the things we did here, my freshman year, I was like, ‘Dang, we did that in high school.’ When coaches asked me to do something, I was like, ‘I did this before.’ That was the wrong thing to do. I’m just trying to learn from that experience,… trying to get the coaches’ confidence and trust.”

Jackson, rated by rivals.com as the 17th best defensive end in the 2014 class, had 12 sacks and 13 quarterback hurries as a senior at Booker T. and “was really impressive on [UM’s] scout team” last fall, defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said.

Jackson, who picked UM over Arkansas and Texas, said redshirting “was frustrating at first” but NFL-bound left tackle Ereck Flowers assured him last year that “my day will come.”

In retrospect, Jackson said be benefitted from redshirting. He has raised his weight from 215 to 247, said he’s “way better” stopping the run than a year ago and his instincts are better.

He said UM’s talented young defensive ends spoke last week about the impact they can make over the next few years: “We can all bring something to the game…. Me with my strength and knocking down balls.”

### UM offensive line coach Art Kehoe, the only coach who spoke to reporters Saturday, said four possibilities have emerged at left tackle: KC McDermott (still limited by knee surgery but plans to return to full workouts later this spring), Sonny Odogwu, Trevor Darling and Taylor Gadbois, who’s out for the spring after knee surgery.

Kehoe mentioned Darling and early enrollee Jahair Jones as options at right tackle.

Danny Isidora returns as the starting right guard, and Nick Linder is considered the favorite at center.

### Safety Deon Bush said cornerback Antonio Crawford’s decision to transfer “really hurts. Antonio is a great player.”

### UM hosted about 50 prospects at Junior Day, and Miami Central Class of 2017 linebacker Waynmon Steed orally committed, according to canesport.com.

### Brad Kaaya, who feels comfortable in the shotgun, said he’s working this spring on playing under center and executing play action in those sets.

### Thomas batted down a pass and had a sack during Saturday's practice.

### Trayone Gray was back at practice after missing two sessions because of academic issues… Tracy Howard, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury, did not participate.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

February 27, 2015

Marlins change payroll approach; Loria spending on new things; Boras rejects Marlins offer; Fins cut two

The Dolphins cut receiver Brian Hartline this morning and Brandon Gibson this afternoon in a move that will save them $9.1 million in cash and $6.4 million of salary cap space.

After catching 76 passes for 1016 yards and 74 for 1083 in the previous two seasons, Hartline's numbers dropped to 39-474 last season, largely a result of being thrown a lot fewer passes.

Hartline would have had a $7.4 million cap hit if he had remained on the team without restructuring his contract. But the Dolphins will have $4.2 million in dead money by cutting Hartline.

His 298 catches ranked seventh in Dolphins history.

Hartline's and Gibson’s departures leaves the Dolphins with three veteran receivers under contract: Mike Wallace (whose status remains in doubt for next season) Jarvis Landry and Rishard Matthews.

Of that group, Landry and Matthews are expected to return.  Wallace is opposed to taking a pay cut, which the Dolphins want him to do, per multiple sources.

The Dolphins have $12 million in cap space and that figure will grow.

### Add San Francisco’s Dan Skuta (five sacks, three forced fumbles) to the list of free agents the Dolphins like; he can play inside and outside linebacker.

### Some wondered whether the Dolphins might approach specialists Brandon Fields and John Denneyabout restructuring, but that had not happened as of earlier this week.

 ### Jeffrey Loria’s increased spending has extended beyond player salaries, and the Marlins say the days of wild payroll fluctuations are over and that the current payroll (about $82 million, second-highest in team history) is a reasonable range, with size of future increases dependent on revenue and on-field success.

Asked if payroll would be slashed dramatically if the Marlins underachieve, as they did after 2012, president David Samson said no. “We’re past that,” he said.

Samson said “we want it to be at a point of stability. It’s the ups and downs that have hurt the franchise. We’re trying to become more stable. The team is going to lose money. Jeffrey is writing checks. [But] our revenues are increasing. We want our payroll to increase.”

Every Marlins payroll spike has been followed by a steep reduction --- from $53.5 million in the championship season of 1997 to $13 million the next; from $60 million in 2005 to $14 million the next; to $101 million in the first year in MarlinsPark (2012) to $50 million and $45 million the next two.

The Marlins’ 2015 payroll could top $85 million if Ichiro reaches incentives on plate appearances. Of the $82 million, the Dodgers are covering $10 million (for Dan Haren) and the Yankees are paying $3 million of Martin Prado’s $11 million.

One factor affecting future payrolls is how much the Marlins can command in their Fox cable deal, which they would like to renegotiate and extend. The contract, which runs through 2020, reportedly pays them about $14 million annually --- lowest in baseball.

Meanwhile, Loria this offseason paid for a private jet with first-class seats for the whole team (the Marlins chartered on United last season), hired an assistant hitting coach for the first time (Lenny Harris), hired a chef to make nutritious meals for players, paid a club-record $18 million for draft picks and international amateur players in 2014 and added more than a half dozen employees on the scouting and administrative side.

General manager Dan Jennings said full-time scouts were hired in Mexico and Colombia in the past year and the Marlins now have scouts in every Latin American country.

### Unlike with Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins failed to strike long-term deals with outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, who rejected multiyear offers but cannot be free agents until after 2019.

Yelich was open to it, had the money been higher: “I’m honored to be approached with something like that. I feel like we’re going to be good for a long time and it would be nice to be a part of it.”

Meanwhile, Ozuna said agent Scott Boras advised him to reject it: “He thought I should wait. I’m young.”    

### Mark D'Onofrio said sophomore defensive tackle Anthony Moten has taken "a big leap." Moten has been getting a lot of first-team defensive tackle snaps.

### Trent Harris and Ufomba Kamalu continue to take first-team snaps at defensive end for UM, with Al Quadin Muhammad, Demetrius Jackson and Chad Thomas behind them. It would be surprising if Muhammad or Thomas doesn't emerge as a starter.... Jamal Carter and Dallas Crawford have been sharing first-team safety reps opposite Deon Bush.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Hartline cut; Marlins vow new approach on payroll stability; Loria opens wallet

The Dolphins cut receiver Brian Hartline this morning in a move that will save them $5.9 million in cash and $3.2 million salary cap space.

After catching 76 passes for 1016 yards and 74 for 1083 in the previous two seasons, Hartline's numbers dropped to 39-474 last season, largely a result of being thrown a lot fewer passes.

Hartline would have had a $7.4 million cap hit if he had remained on the team without restructuring his contract. But the Dolphins will have $4.2 million in dead money by cutting Hartline.

His 298 catches ranked seventh in Dolphins history.

Hartline's departure leaves the Dolphins with four veteran receivers under contract: Mike Wallace (whose status remains in doubt for next season), Brandon Gibson, Jarvis Landry and Rishard Matthews.

Of that group, Landry and Matthews are expected to return. Gibson's status also remains in question; he has a $4.2 million hit if he's on the team, $1 million otherwise. [UPDATE: Gibson was cut this afternoon.] Wallace is opposed to taking a pay cut, which the Dolphins want him to do, per multiple sources.

### Add San Francisco’s Dan Skuta (five sacks, three forced fumbles) to the list of free agents the Dolphins like; he can play inside and outside linebacker.

### Some wondered whether the Dolphins might approach specialists Brandon Fields and John Denney about restructuring, but that had not happened as of earlier this week.

 ### Jeffrey Loria’s increased spending has extended beyond player salaries, and the Marlins say the days of wild payroll fluctuations are over and that the current payroll (about $82 million, second-highest in team history) is a reasonable range, with size of future increases dependent on revenue and on-field success.

Asked if payroll would be slashed dramatically if the Marlins underachieve, as they did after 2012, president David Samson said no. “We’re past that,” he said.

Samson said “we want it to be at a point of stability. It’s the ups and downs that have hurt the franchise. We’re trying to become more stable. The team is going to lose money. Jeffrey is writing checks. [But] our revenues are increasing. We want our payroll to increase.”

Every Marlins payroll spike has been followed by a steep reduction --- from $53.5 million in the championship season of 1997 to $13 million the next; from $60 million in 2005 to $14 million the next; to $101 million in the first year in MarlinsPark (2012) to $50 million and $45 million the next two.

The Marlins’ 2015 payroll could top $85 million if Ichiro reaches incentives on plate appearances. Of the $82 million, the Dodgers are covering $10 million (for Dan Haren) and the Yankees are paying $3 million of Martin Prado’s $11 million.

One factor affecting future payrolls is how much the Marlins can command in their Fox cable deal, which they would like to renegotiate and extend. The contract, which runs through 2020, reportedly pays them about $14 million annually --- lowest in baseball.

Meanwhile, Loria this offseason paid for a private jet with first-class seats for the whole team (the Marlins chartered on United last season), hired an assistant hitting coach for the first time (Lenny Harris), hired a chef to make nutritious meals for players, paid a club-record $18 million for draft picks and international amateur players in 2014 and added more than a half dozen employees on the scouting and administrative side.

General manager Dan Jennings said full-time scouts were hired in Mexico and Colombia in the past year and the Marlins now have scouts in every Latin American country.

### Unlike with Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins failed to strike long-term deals with outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, who rejected multiyear offers but cannot be free agents until after 2019.

Yelich was open to it, had the money been higher: “I’m honored to be approached with something like that. I feel like we’re going to be good for a long time and it would be nice to be a part of it.”

Meanwhile, Ozuna said agent Scott Boras advised him to reject it: “He thought I should wait. I’m young.”    

### Mark D'Onofrio said sophomore defensive tackle Anthony Moten has taken "a big leap." Moten has been getting a lot of first-team defensive tackle snaps.

### Trent Harris and Ufomba Kamalu continue to take first-team snaps at defensive end for UM, with     Al Quadin Muhammad, Demetrius Jackson and Chad Thomas behind them. It would be surprising if Muhammad or Thomas doesn't emerge as a starter.... Jamal Carter and Dallas Crawford have been sharing first-team safety reps opposite Deon Bush.

### Please see last night's post for a lot more Dolphins and Canes, plus Heat... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

February 26, 2015

Thursday night: Chatter on Wallace, Fins RBs, Beasley, Jagr; J.T.'s thoughts; Canes add player for 2015

News and notes on a Thursday evening: 

### Though the Dolphins insist there's no decision, a lot of NFL people believe the Dolphins will move on from Mike Wallace, who appears resistant to a pay cut.

“Not surprising; he’s a proud guy,” one NFL source said.

That means unless the Dolphins surprisingly decide to keep him, Wallace would stand to be the latest high-end talent who isn’t a conformist to be jettisoned by Joe Philbin.

At his charity golf tournament last week, Jason Taylor shared an interesting perspective when I asked him whether Philbin would be wise to embrace more flamboyant personalities: 

“Some guys want everyone to fall in line and hold hands and walk in a straight line,” Taylor said. “I like guys that can be disruptive on the field. Sometimes you are going to have personalities that come along with that….

“Often times those guys that have a little edge to them are great for the team. They push each other, keep the waters going. Calm water isn’t always great. You don’t need turds but you need guys that can ruffle feathers a little bit.”

Quick aside: It’s impressive to see what Taylor and Alonzo Mourning have continued to do with their philanthrophic efforts since retiring.

Taylor --- whose foundation raises money to improve the lives of children --- would like to see the Dolphins address linebacker and cornerback but said: “I like a lot of things about the team. I love
the quarterback. There’s not a whole lot of guys in this league I would take over Tannehill. I’m very confident you can win with Ryan Tannehill. You can definitely win a championship with him.”

### On the running back front, the Dolphins will consider a multiyear deal with Lamar Miller later this offseason (not definite, but on the table as a possibility); very much like Damien Williams; have been non-committal with free agent Daniel Thomas; and gave no indication they want to keep LaMichael James.

### Michael Beasley today became the first player to have three different stints with the Heat. Miami, just $1.4 million below the tax threshold, now appears unlikely to use its $2.65 million disabled player exception by the March 10 deadline.

Bill Walker and Beasley --- former Kansas State teammates on 10-day contracts --- won’t push the Heat over the threshold.

### Among players who played in half their team’s games last season, Beasley was 44th in points per 48 minutes (25.2), ahead of Klay Thompson, Tim Duncan, Chris Bosh and others. He was the only one in the top 50 who hadn't been in the NBA this season (before today).

A Heat person said there were concerns last season with his defense, consistency and maturity/focus (improved but room for growth), but Bosh’s injury made Miami interested in a 10-day deal. And the Heat has always liked his offense.

### Beasley met with Pat Riley on Wednesday before Miami committed to signing him. The Heat believes the experience in China helped him.

“It’s like I never left, honestly. I feel great,” he said today after joining the team for a voluntary practice in New Orleans. “I’m definitely blessed and humbled to have another opportunity.”

### Josh McRoberts’ agent said he has heard nothing to change the projection that he will miss the season after knee surgery. But the Heat this week wouldn’t rule out a return.

### Pompano Beach Blanche Ely cornerback Terrance Henley is a late addition to this UM recruiting class, according to Canesport.com. Henley received an offer today after getting the required SAT score. Henley, whose other offers were from Tennessee State and James Madison, had 13 interceptions over the past two seasons.

Henley’s addition is another strong sign that disgruntled cornerback Antonio Crawford won’t return. Crawford has said he’s transferring, but UM isn’t removing his name from the roster in the unlikely event he has a change of heart.

### University School sophomore cornerback Al Blades Jr., son of the deceased UM great, committed to UM this week. Al Blades was killed in a car accident in 2003.

 ### UM people have been raving about two newcomers: tight end Jerome Washington and safety Jaquan Johnson.

“Jerome is really gifted, as we thought,” Al Golden said. “Doing a great job with his hands. Real physical presence. [And] Jaquan is all business. He’s got a chance to be really good.”

### Among goal scorers, Jaromir Jagr today became the biggest name in Panthers history since Pavel Bure. Jagr, acquired from New Jersey for second- and third-round picks, had 11 goals and 18 assists this season and ranks sixth all-time in NHL goals.

Jagr, 43, who was unhappy with his ice time with the Devils, is obviously past his prime but still can make a difference.

“We’re elated,” GM Dale Tallon told Panthers TV voice Steve Goldstein. “It’s great for our franchise. Everyone will ask us about the age but this guy is the finest fit athlete in the league. Nobody works harder. A dominant player still. I’m hopeful he will mentor young guys and help us offensively in the last 20 games. This is a statement for us. This sends a message to our fans and our players that we’re committed and will do what it takes to win. [Owners] Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu said go for it. He’s going to help us on the power play. We have a big forward line now. It will be tough to knock us off the puck.”

Tallon has expressed interest in possibly re-signing him this summer. “I hope a couple more years for him, because he’s willing and able to do it,” Tallon said. “He likes the makeup of our team, the direction we’re headed and he likes our young players.”

The Panthers entered tonight three points out of the eighth playoff spot.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

February 25, 2015

Dolphins/Wallace and Kiper's WR thoughts; Heat-Magic postscripts; Canes notes

A six pack of notes on a Wednesday night:

### For a team that blew more than its fair share of second-half leads earlier in the season, the Heat offered something different, and pretty inspiring, tonight: a rally from seven down with 45 seconds left to force overtime in Orlando --- led by a guy who spent the past two years out of the league – and a 93-90 win in overtime.

Henry Walker shot 2 for 11 on threes tonight, but the two were huge: one with 22 seconds left in the fourth, the other with two seconds left to force overtime.

“We all figured the law of averages would kick in,” Erik Spoelstra said. “Extremely happy for Henry, being he was fighting to get back in this league. He’s a heady player. Made some defensive plays, got the ball moving. I liked the open threes he got. He’s fearless. When it comes, he’s going to keep on shooting them.”

Walker, on a 10-day contract, shot 3 for 13, but Spoelstra trusts him so much that he played much of the fourth and overtime. He had 10 points, six boards, two assists and two steals.

“You can play him with anybody out there and he’ll figure out how to fit in,” Spoelstra said. “We’re very familiar with him, because our coaches have been coaching him for two years. [The Sioux Falls staff] said he was our most impactful player this season. That’s the value of having a developmental program, where guys are coached by your coaches.”

Walker, 27, played 157 games over four seasons for the Knicks and Celtics, averaging 5.8 points, before dropping out of the league the past two seasons and toiling in Austin, Venezuela, the Philippines and Sioux Falls, the Heat’s NBDL affiliate.

Along the way, he changed his name from Bill to Henry (which is his middle name) as a symbol of his maturity.

“It was a long time coming, waiting the past three years to get back to this point,” he told me yesterday. “I came into the league so immature, expected things to be given to me.”

Dwyane Wade, on Walker: “He won the game for us. He picks things up very fast. Great pickup for us. He’s hungry. He has the toughness you want in a player.”

### The Heat overcame poor shooting nights from Wade (18 points, 6 for 19), and Goran Dragic (3 for 10, 8 points, 5 assists). The Heat shot just 38 percent from the field and 6 for 31 on threes.

But Luol Deng scored 21; Miami is 9-0 when he scores 20 or more.

And Hassan Whiteside had 15 points, 13 boards and three blocks. “He’s learning how to keep centers out of the paint without fouling,” Spoelstra said.

The Heat (25-31) remained seventh in the East, 1 ½ games ahead of Brooklyn and Charlotte. “We haven’t had a win like this all year,” Wade said.

### Last year, when Jason LaCanfora reported Mike Wallace was being shopped in a trade, Dolphins sources quickly denied it. That wasn’t the case tonight, and Ian Rapaport’s report that the Dolphins are shopping Wallace might signal the looming departure of Miami's most dangerous playmaker. Sigh.

Update: It's telling that the Dolphins again remained non-committal on Wallace's future on Thursday morning, with Mike Tannenbaum telling WINZ-940 that he's under contract "for now."

Barring Wallace accepting a pay cut (and the trade talks would suggest he isn’t inclined to take a big pay cut here), the Dolphins will take a $9.6 million cap hit if he’s cut without a post-June 1 designation, $5.2 million with a post-June 1 designation (which also carries a 2016 cap hit) or $6.6 million if he’s traded.

If the Dolphins use the 14th pick on a receiver (and we hope they don’t UNLESS they fill their pressing needs at cornerback/linebacker/d-tackle in free agency), here’s Mel Kiper’s ESPN.com assessment of the five receivers he projects as top-20 picks:

Alabama’s Amari Cooper (fourth in Kiper’s mock): "Cooper is a gifted route-runner, a player who should transition quickly and help a team that has building-block pieces on both sides of the ball but still needs more."

West Virginia’s Kevin White (11th): "White is the type of player who doesn't just make plays in the deep passing game, but can make traffic catches underneath and will also turn some short throws into big yards."

Louisville’s Devante Parker (12th): “Parker has as high a ceiling as you can find in this class. He can beat defenders to the ball with his size, leaping ability and catch radius, and he's underrated as a threat to add yards after the catch on short throws.”

UCF’s Breshad Perriman (15th): “One of the bigger sleepers in the 2015 draft class at this point, Perriman is a player I've grown to really like as I've spent more time going through his tape. At one time I had him as a likely second-round pick, but now I see him as a close call in terms of overall ability next to the top few wide receivers in this class. He's got size, and strength, and is going to run really fast at the combine and be a guy who can both stretch defenses vertically and also make plays over the middle and in traffic. He's also got great bloodlines, as I scouted his father (Brett) when he played for Miami."

Ohio State’s Devin Smith (18): “Probably wasn't utilized as much as he would have been in some other offenses, but he was an often dynamic deep threat for the Buckeyes --- a player who has a knack for the big catch, especially when he has to fight for the ball. He's got good speed, he can stretch the field, and he plays bigger than his listed size on contested balls.” 

### Vital win for UM hoops tonight: 81-77 against FSU. The upshot: At 18-10 overall and 8-7 in the conference, UM needs to win at least two of its final three to boost its NCAA Tourney chances: Saturday vs. North Carolina at 2 p.m. on CBS; next Wednesday at Pittsburgh and a week from Sunday at Virginia Tech.

UM entered 69th in RPI, and tonight's win will boost that a bit; Jim Larranaga said a team at 60 or worse doesn’t have a realistic shot at the NCAA Tournament.

Angel Rodriguez shook out of his shooting slump tonight, scoring 25 points and finishing 8 for 14 from the field.

UM led 62-47 before FSU's Xavier Rathan Mayes went nuts, scoring 30 points --- 30! --- in the game's final 4:39. 

### UM’s 2016 recruiting class remains ranked No. 1 in the country by 247sports.com. But UM today lost the only defensive tackle from that 18-player class: Lakeland’s Keyshon Camp, who said he still has Miami No. 1 but wants to consider other options.

Camp recently picked up an offer from Alabama and told Al.com: "I like Alabama because they are known for winning. I was very overwhelmed when they offered. I never thought I could say I have an offer (from) Alabama."

### Great news: Sideline reporter Craig Sager is returning to TNT after beating leukemia.  His first game back: Thunder-Bulls March 5.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

February 24, 2015

Dolphins making LB a priority, inform several free agents they're wanted back; Fins, Heat, Canes, Marlins chatter

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

The Dolphins are making linebacker one of their offseason priorities and have begun informing some of the free agents they want to keep and those they do not. Here's what we're hearing:

### The Dolphins and tight end Charles Clay are in active negotiations and there is cautious optimism that a deal will get done, though not certainty. The Dolphins very much like the Clay/Dion Sims tight end tandem.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins have informed defensive tackle Jared Odrick that they plan to make an offer to keep him. But the Dolphins have confided in people that he might command more than what they’re willing to pay and acknowledge there’s certainly a possibility they might lose him. He could land a deal worth $7 million-plus per season.

### The Dolphins have told multiple people that they want to add a starting linebacker, and they’re expected to pursue the Jets’ David Harris, 31, who had 123 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 2014 and is considered the best free agent inside linebacker.

Mike Tannenbaum, the Dolphins’ president/football operations, drafted Harris out of Michigan in the second round in 2007, when he was the Jets’ GM.

Though Harris played inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense with the Jets, he has the skills to play middle linebacker in a 4-3.

Miami is one of the teams that is believed to appeal to Harris, but it remains unclear how high the Dolphins will go in the bidding. If the Dolphins are outbid for Harris, they have interest in Tampa Bay free agent Mason Foster, 25, who has started 57 games with six sacks and five interceptions in four years for Tampa and was drafted by the Buccaneers when Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey worked there.

If the Dolphins sign Harris or Foster, they could move Koa Misi back from middle to strong-side linebacker, with Jelani Jenkins starting at weak-side linebacker. Joe Philbin has said the move of Misi to middle linebacker last season did not work out "as well as I would have liked it to work." 

Misi's durability concerns them (he missed five games last season), but they still like a lot about him. But they also would like to find an upgrade in the middle if they can, with Harris or Foster looming as potential replacements. 

Though Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe have not been informed of their status, many expect at least one or both will be released. The Dolphins have decided not to re-sign Jason Trusnik, barring a change of heart.

### The Dolphins have an interest in keeping two key free agents in their secondary --- safety Louis Delmas, who played well before a season-ending knee injury in the 13th game against Baltimore, and safety/slot cornerback Jimmy Wilson.

The Dolphins' pass defense was much better before Delmas was injured, and the safety tandem of Delmas and Reshad Jones was generally a strength. And the Dolphins value Wilson's versatility.

### Receiver remains unresolved, but the Dolphins have told people there will be some turnover at the position. They have been discussing a pay cut with Mike Wallace and resolution isn’t really needed until $3 million of his salary becomes guaranteed on March 15. This matter still could go either way.

Baltimore Ravens owner Steven Bisciotti raised eyebrows when he said Tuesday: “Mike Wallace got $10 million. I don’t think anybody thinks that was a good deal.” (It’s actually $12 million a year.)

Brian Hartline, whose current cap number for 2015 is $7.3 million, hasn’t been told what the Dolphins intend to do with him. Same with Brandon Gibson ($4.3 million). The Dolphins want to keep Rishard Matthews ($673,403 cap number).

### As expected, the Dolphins have told people that Mike Pouncey will move back to center. They have interest in re-signing Samson Satele as depth but he figures to have a better opportunity elsewhere.

### The Dolphins want to re-sign Jason Fox, who impressed them late in the season, to be their third tackle behind Branden Albert (who said his recovery from knee surgery is going well) and Ja’Wuan James.

CHATTER

New Heat guard Goran Dragic has been in Miami less than a week and he already loves the Heat.

“They take care of players,” he said Tuesday. “I feel like I’m spoiled here. So much great stuff around. You can be focused on basketball.” He said he’s struck by the fact that “when you talk with some guy in the front office or players, they’re always thinking about a championship.”

### Dwyane Wade marveled Tuesday about how Miami added a quality center (Hassan Whiteside) and excellent point guard (Dragic) in the past few months. 

“It’s pretty amazing,” Wade said. “To find Hassan, a diamond in the rough, that was amazing for a season, and then to make a trade for an All-Star point guard without giving up a starter, it’s pretty impressive. Our front office and ownership continue to show they will do what it takes to put us in a winning circle.”

### Wade is enjoying playing with Dragic: “He’s a point guard who can score – he’s not a scorer who’s a point guard; there’s a difference,” Wade said.

“Even though LeBron [James] gained a lot of attention when he had the ball, the pressure and how quickly [Dragic] drives is a different kind of attention. I’m trying to get used to being open. I’m getting used to not having the ball in my hands and letting our point guard kind of run the show.”

### Quick Dragic nugget: He grew up playing soccer in Slovenia but sustained a leg injury and “my mother said, ‘No more soccer for you.’” So he switched to basketball.

### So what’s the deal with Heat forward Bill Walker changing his name last year to Henry (his middle name)?

He said he did it as a symbol of his maturity and to “change perception.” Some confusion has ensued --- he has gotten some strange looks at games. But "some people don’t even know me. It’s like two different people.”

### Please see the last post from a few hours ago for a lot more Heat chatter, including the back story of why Udonis Haslem is suddenly shooting three-pointers, and role changes for Luol Deng and Mario Chalmers.

### UM still hopes to convince Antonio Crawford to change his mind and stay at UM instead of transferring, but considering his angry tweets and considering the fact he didn't show up to practice again today, he already seems to have one foot out the door.

Crawford, who has good speed, might be UM's best slot corner. Corn Elder and Tracy Howard can also play that position.

### Al Golden said defensive end Tyriq McCord was moved to linebacker because “he rushes the passer well and moves well.” The move was possible because of UM’s depth at defensive end…. James Coley said he could envision using Malik Rosier as a short-yardage quarterback at times next season.

### Biggest surprises for Coley so far? Tight ends David Njoku and Chris Herndon (both have been impressive), running back Gus Edwards, receiver Rashawn Scott and offensive tackle Sunny Odogwu.

### UM hasn’t decided who will replace Ereck Flowers at left tackle; Odogwu has been getting a lot of the reps with others injured. 

"I have to see KC [McDermott] work there, because he has not worked there - him and Taylor Gadbois worked all right tackle last year," Coley said. "And I haven't seen Trevor [Darling] there either. I'm intrigued to see Trevor there."

McDermott and Gadbois continue to recover from knee surgery last season.


Coley said early enrollee Jahair Jones and summer arrival Bar Milo could play left tackle. Both can also play guard.

"Jahair for what we've thrown at him has done a great job," Coley said. "And we have more in right now than we had two weeks into training camp last year."

### Please see the last post for an explanation of why Al Golden hired WQAM's Josh Darrow as his assistant director of football operations.

### Among under-the-radar players the Marlins are very eager to see this spring: Rule 5 left-hander Andrew McKirahan (“power fastball, power breaking ball,” executive Michael Hill said; has 128 strikeouts and 2.16 ERA in 120 minor-league innings) and right-hander reliever Nick Masset (very good for Reds from 2009-11 before injury issues).

### Derek Dietrich has learned first base and left field this offseason, which helps his chances to land one of two open Marlins bench jobs.

Credit Dietrich for working out this winter with Florida Southern in Lakeland; the school's baseball team allowed him to practice catching fly balls in the outfield and scooping ground balls at first base.

A middle infielder by trade, Dietrich said he now has the comfort level to play anywhere but center field, right field or catcher.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Josh Darrow makes unusual transition: broadcasting to UM football staff; Role changes for Haslem, Deng, Chalmers

Though UM hasn't announced his hiring yet, Josh Darrow, UM's new assistant director of football operations, today joined a small group of media members who landed jobs in the "front-office" of a sports team or university.

There are other, much higher profile examples: Former New York Mets general manager Frank Cashen was previously a sportswriter.

Marty Hurney covered sports for The Washington Times before becoming general manager of the Carolina Panthers, a position he lost in 2012.

Several media members have gotten jobs in public relations for teams, but that's not what we're talking about here.

Darrow did good work as WQAM's football sideline reporter, as an architect of SFHSSports.com (which diligently covers recruiting) and previously, as Joe Zagacki's partner on UM basketball games before WQAM eliminated the color analyst position for financial reasons.

Among the reasons UM’s Al Golden hired Darrow: He established a very good rapport with players and parents in reporting for the South Florida High School Sports web site; he is liked and trusted by the UM staff; and he’s sharp (Pennsylvania grad).

He is expected to have a multitude of duties, including organizing clinics, getting UM's message out to recruits and their families through the Internet and other means, among other duties handled previously by Kevin Beard before his promotion to receivers coach.

Check back later this evening for a lot more UM news, plus Dolphins.

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

The Heat’s acquisition of Goran Dragic and loss of Chris Bosh have sent a ripple effect through the rest of the lineup, with several players directly impacted.

For Luol Deng, it means adjusting to playing at least part of the game at power forward, competing against bulkier players.

For Mario Chalmers, it means settling into the role of backup shooting guard after holding down the starting point guard job for much of the past 3 1/2 years.

And for Udonis Haslem, it means returning to the starting lineup at power forward --- a role he handled for five years here previously.

“I really haven’t played four [power forward] since [spring] 2010, before the Big Three,” Haslem said this week. “The last four years, I played five [center]. But I’m a natural four anyway.”

With a premium now placed on power forwards with shooting range, Haslem said the starting power forward job here has changed slightly from when he started at the position from 2004 through 2009.

That’s why Haslem, who had taken only 13 three-pointers in 751 NBA games before Friday, has launched three (and made one) in the past three games since Chris Bosh was sidelined for the season by blood clots in his lungs.

In fact, Haslem said Erik Spoelstra told him before the season that "If I want to play [power forward], I have to shoot the corner three."

“It’s part of our offense,” Haslem said. “If I’m going to play the four, I have to implement that. You’re not going to make all of them, but you have to take them with confidence. I’m going to make some.

“Coach gives me confidence. He sees I’ve been working on that. He’s seen me knock it down a thousand times in practice. I have confidence in shooting it. I’ve just got to take good ones. Take the ones that are open. Don’t force it.”

Erik Spoelstra said he does not “mind him shooting the corner three. He has reinvented himself so many times in 12 years. He can find a way to be effective no matter how we play.”

Though Deng continues to start at small forward, a lot of his minutes are coming at power forward as part of a smaller lineup with Deng, Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic and Mario Chalmers or another wing player. He was terrific Monday, scoring 29 points on 11 for 14 shooting.

“When we get comfortable, we’re going to be quicker [with that small lineup],” Deng said. “We’re going to put teams in a lot of switches they’re not used to, so their defense will not be as organized. There’s definitely advantages to it.”

Deng, listed as 6-9 and 220 pounds, said he played some at power forward in Chicago when Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson were injured.

“It’s definitely different,” he said.

Offensively, playing power forward means “doing a lot of dribble handoffs, finding myself at the top of the key a lot, getting the team into second situations that CB [Bosh] was so good at, spreading the floor, going into the next pick and roll. Now I’m involved in a lot of screens instead of being in the corner.  It’s totally different.”

And defensively, “I’ve got to guard the screen and make the calls for the guards,” Deng said.  “I’m used to guarding the ball…. It’s a different game when you’re battling in the post.”

For Deng, it’s yet another adjustment in a season of transition and tumult.

“We just got Dragic; I’m playing out of position; D-Wade just got back. It’s a lot going on,” Deng said. “The CB news hit us. You kind of appreciate seasons you had in the past where you roll out and play. But we’re all about challenges. My whole life has been about some type of challenge and I’ve always been OK with that.

“[Power forward] is something I can do. The way we want to play here is not think of positions, but you think a lot when you’re the four [power forward]. And that’s something CB was so good at.”

As for Chalmers, the acquisition of Dragic and the recent development of Shabazz Napier means most of Chalmers’ minutes figure to come at shooting guard.

The enjoyable part of playing that position is “being able to attack,” he said. “As a two guard, your main objective is to attack and pass when you can’t get a score. It’s a little bit different mentality.”

Chalmers is easygoing about switching between guard spots. “I was starting point guard, back to reserve two, to starting point guard” and now backup shooting guard again. “You just have to be ready for anything.”

Wade said “I like this role” for Chalmers. “We really need him to embrace it now. When he embraced it earlier in the year, he did unbelievable.”

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