01/21/2015

Kiper on Canes' talent; Draft chatter; More from Hickey; Bad signs for Wallace; UM recruiting

A six pack of notes on a Wednesday night:

### Here's what Mel Kiper had to say when asked on a conference call today about the talent level at UM: “It’s not where it needs to be but it’s getting closer and closer. Depth wise is where they have to build that up. [Brad] Kaaya at quarterback, build around him.”…

Among UM's top draft prospects, Kiper said Ereck Flowers “has versatility [to play] left tackle or right tackle. I have him going in the first round. Maybe 19 to Cleveland… Duke Johnson is a heck of a player. He’s a second round talent who you may be able to get in the fourth round.”…. Kiper said Denzel Perryman is a second-round pick and Phillip Dorsett a second or third-rounder….

Kiper said he ranks Clive Walford "as the fourth tight end. Can stretch the middle of the field. Will play faster than he tests. Early to mid day three [pick]. He’ll make someone look good. He’ll make your team, be a No. 2 tight end, will contribute"…. He said Shane McDermott and Jon Feliciano will be late-rounders or priority free agents.

### For the third time in two weeks, the Dolphins declined to say if they want Mike Wallace back, and this marriage seems headed to divorce unless someone can knock some sense into Joe Philbin and Dennis Hickey and convince them that subtracting one of their top players isn't going to help.

The Dolphins are closely studying receivers at the Senior Bowl this week; they met with UM’s Dorsett, among others.

There are three receivers projected to go in the 7 to 17 range. The one who will be most often linked to Miami as a possibility at No. 14 is West Virginia’s 6-3 Kevin White.

“He’s got the size,” Kiper said. “He’s going to high point the ball and go get it. He had a few drops. He had a great year. A little more consistency is needed. He’s the third best receiver in this draft, behind Alabama’s Amari Cooper and Louisville’s Devante Parker. I have him going 15th to San Francisco. Receiver is a very strong, very deep position.”

Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong could be the fourth-best receiver in this draft “depending on how he runs,” Kiper said. But No. 14 might be too high for him.

Among receivers in the next two tiers: Auburn’s Sammy Coates, Oklahoma’s Dorial Green-Beckham and Dorsett, among others.

### It wouldn’t have been possible for Hickey to be any more evasive when asked about Wallace today. Here were the four questions asked about Wallace and his answers. It’s almost painful to read Hickey’s non-answers and we apologize in advance because you will never get back the next 40 seconds of your life:

Dennis, were you disappointed with the Wallace situation? “I think we’re all frustrated with the way the season went. I think to a man, every person in the organization, whether it be from Mr. Ross to Coach Philbin to myself to the individual players, and the goal is to use that as motivation as we approach the offseason and to work together. All right, this is where we were, this is where we were 8-8. That’s the reality. Confronting the reality of where we were, OK, what do we have to do to get better and to take that next step as a team?”

Dennis, will what happened with Wallace at the end of the season play a factor in whether he returns? “We’re looking at all things with our players and evaluating, that’s part of our process. I always talk about the process and we try to look at it as systematic approach with different sections of the season and just taking and looking and that’s what we’re doing now. I know the coaches have gone back and looked through cutups and different analysis, whether it be in the passing game, the running game, individual players, groups of players, you know all those things and that’s what we’re looking at and that will guide the decisions upcoming.”

Does Wallace fit the team’s culture? “We look at all those things with our players and again it was a disappointing finish. There’s no sugar coating that, but you have to look at the season in totality, players in totality. We see, we evaluate players on a daily basis, every practice, every meeting, all those things. We are constantly looking at players and that’s what goes into looking at players in totality as we make decisions.”

When will there be a resolution with Wallace? “With all players that we’re working through, whether it be upcoming free agents, guys on the roster, those are the decisions that we’re making as we go through the process right now, both as a coaching staff and it’s something we do collaboratively. Personnel staff, we’ve been looking at it. Coaching staff’s been looking at it. We’re going together and that will guide our decisions upcoming.”

Yikes! Like banging your head against the wall trying to get answers.

Bottom line: Philbin likes conformists and has never shown any inclination to keep players he doesn’t know how to handle or control.

Does Wallace deserve blame for his behavior? Absolutely. But throwing him overboard, and creating yet another need on a team with at least a half-dozen of them, solves nothing. It means the Dolphins will again need to address receiver this offseason when they need to be concentrating on defensive tackle, cornerback, guard, linebacker and safety.

### We mentioned in this space on Sunday that the Dolphins conveyed to Billy Turner that they see him as a 2015 starter if he can seize the job. Today, Turner was one of a couple young players that Hickey brought up without prompting.

“We feel like Billy Turner really made a lot of strides at the end of the year,” Hickey said. “He had a setback with an injury late in training camp, late in preseason, that kind of set him back. But all of the things we liked about him, he’s definitely shown and you really saw a progression every day in practice. Just bringing a physical mentality, a toughness, punch, athleticism and we’re excited about what he’s going to bring to the table in 2015. We’re really pleased with his development and what it’s going to bring to the table.”

### Hickey on Damien Williams: “We liked what Damien brought to the table and the ability to play on all three downs and also contribute on special teams. Again, that’s a big part for young players, earning their playing time by contributing on teams.”

Hickey on Lamar Miller: “We’re really happy with Lamar’s season and how he progressed and how he grew and the production that he had. We definitely were pleased with the season that he had.”

### Hickey, asked if he can understand how some people may perceive Mike Tannenbaum’s hiring as a demotion for Hickey: “My role hasn’t changed. I’m still evaluating, I’m still putting together a 53-man roster and I am just excited about adding Mike to our team and working together with him because there is so much that he brings to the table. This is what I like to do. This is what I have grown up doing, the evaluating aspect and putting together a draft board and working on the problem solving of roster building and all those things. Mike brings a lot of experience with that, but he also brings a lot of experience to a lot of different aspects in an organization.”

### Therrell Gosier, a three-star receiver from Pompano Beach Blanche Ely, de-commited from UM, leaving the Hurricanes with two receivers orally committed: four-star Towson, Md.- based prospect Lawrence Cager and three-star Baton Rouge-based Terrell Chatman.

UM is also in the mix for Booker T. Washington’s four-star Antonio Callaway (see Manny Navarro’s blog for details on that.)

Gosier isn’t a big loss; he was considered a project.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

01/20/2015

Marlins still sorting out issues: Jose, Haren, Ichiro, bullpen, bench, batting order; Heat, Dolphins, Canes chatter

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

The Marlins open spring training on Feb. 20 with what appears to be their best team in many years, but also with several issues that must be sorted out over the next two months. Chatter on five of those issues:

### Achieving clarity on Jose Fernandez and Dan Haren.

Fernandez, coming off Tommy John surgery last May, will throw off a mound in spring training, and owner Jeffrey Loria expects him to return sometime after June 1.

“We’re still thinking June, July area” for his return to the majors, Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said Monday from Jeff Conine’s annual charity golf tournament.

“Once we get him on the mound, we’ll get a little more clarity. When you’re dealing with those injuries, you’re always cautiously optimistic.

“He’s worked extremely hard. He’s done a tremendous job doing everything he needs to do to get himself back. We won’t put a timetable on it. We don’t want him to feel any pressure.”

As for Haren... Though he has asked for a trade to a West Coast team, no team has made an offer, and Haren told the Marlins he will report to spring training if he's not dealt.

The Marlins would try to accommodate Haren if they get a trade offer, but they’re not calling teams at this point, either.

Because the Marlins are keeping the $10 million given to them by the Dodgers whether they trade Haren or not, there has been considerable internal discussion about what to do if a viable trade option emerges. The Marlins planned to allocate that $10 million to pay Mat Latos if Haren had retired. So Haren’s $10 million isn’t necessarily in the budget.

There's some sentiment internally not to give him away for peanuts because the Marlins believe Haren (13-11, 4.02 ERA in 2014) is still a quality starter and will be effective pitching at Marlins Park. But they're also sensitive to his trade request. It's all moot if no team makes an offer. But if a West Coast team loses a starter to injury in spring training and makes an offer for Haren, the Marlins will face an interesting decision.

Remember, that Dodgers deal wasn't about Haren; it was about getting Dee Gordon and the $10 million to add a high-end starter (Latos).

Asked if Haren will likely be on the team, Hill said: “Our expectation is he will be in spring training and be ready to be one of five and help this club where it wants to go until October. He’s made it clear his preference is to be on a West Coast club and we respect that. But we’re trying to put a championship club together and if something doesn’t materialize for him, we’ll be excited to have him as a Marlin.”

So far, Haren’s only public comment has been this tweet last week: “Today, I watched six episodes of Family Feud and I cried watching Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I think I’m ready for baseball to start.”

What if the Marlins deal Haren? Then right-hander David Phelps (15-14, 4.21 in three seasons with the Yankees) or lefty Brad Hand (3-8, 4.38 ERA last season) would be the likely fifth starter.

The Marlins also are keeping tabs on free agent James Shields (14-8, 3.21 for Kansas City last season), but it's highly unlikely they will sign him. They could get involved only if Haren is dealt and if the market drops significantly below the five years and $100 million-plus that Shields is seeking. Don't count on the latter.

### Signing Ichiro Suzuki or another fourth outfielder.

The Marlins have offered a one-year contract in the $2 million range to Ichiro and the Marlins remain optimistic, but not certain, that a deal will be struck.

Ichiro, a 10-time All-Star, likes the idea of playing in Miami but has been waiting to see if an opportunity arises where he could earn more playing time elsewhere. Resolution is expected soon.

Ichiro, 41, remains effective; he batted .283, .262 and .284 the past years and hit .462 (6 for 13) as a pinch-hitter last season. He played all three outfield positions for the Yankees in 2014 but just 18 games in center over the past two years. 

If Ichiro signs elsewhere, the Marlins likely would trade for a fourth outfielder or sign Nate Schierholtz, 30, who hit .195 for the Cubs and Nationals last season but .251 with 21 homers and 68 RBI for the Cubs in 2013. But Ichiro remains the clear preference.

### Firming up the bench.

This will be one of the toughest decisions of the spring. Three slots should go to the veteran fourth outfielder, backup catcher Jeff Mathis and Jeff Baker (.264).

If the Marlins stick with a 12-man pitching staff, that leaves two other backup position jobs from among infielders Donovan Solano (.252 in 111 games last season), Derek Dietrich (.220 but 14 homers in 106 big-league games)  and Jordany Valdespin (.214 in 54 games), first baseman Justin Bour (.284 in 74 at-bats last season) and a few non-roster invitees: infielder/outfielder Don Kelly (can play six positions; hit .245 in 95 games for the Tigers last season), infielder/outfielder Tyler Colvin (.239, 49 homers in six seasons) and infielders Reid Brignac (.222 in seven seasons) and Scott Sizemore (.240 in four seasons).

The Marlins sent Dietrich to instructional league to learn first base and left field, which means he can now play five positions.

### Sorting out the bullpen.

This also will be challenging (barring injuries), because the Marlins have quality depth. Steve Cishek (39 of 43 in saves), Bryan Morris (8-1, 1.82), Mike Dunn (10-6, 3.16, one save), A.J. Ramos (7-0, 2.11) and Aaron Crow (6-1, 4.12, three saves for the Royals in 2014) will hold down five of the bullpen jobs.

That leaves a bunch competing for two jobs: potential front-runner Carter Capps, limited to 17 games by a shoulder injury last season, Hand (who’s out of minor league options) and Phelps if Haren is in the rotation, Andre Rienzo (6-8, 5.89 ERA for the White Sox the past two years/acquired for Dan Jennings), hard-throwing Rule 5 left-hander Andrew McKirahan (2.16 ERA in the minors), Sam Dyson (3-1, 2.14), Preston Claiborne (3-2, 3.79 in 62 games for Yankees in the past three seasons) and Nick Masset (18-14, 4.02 career ERA; did good work for Reds before injuries).

### Establishing a batting order:

Mike Redmond wants to experiment with combinations before deciding. He hasn’t determined whether to hit Christian Yelich second or third or Giancarlo Stanton third or fourth.

Martin Prado factors into that decision. “You could hit him fourth,” Redmond told Marlins radio announcer Glenn Geffner.

Michael Morse is another cleanup option against right-handers if Stanton hits third.

CHATTER

### Hassan Whiteside, who sustained an ankle injury tonight, said Heat executive Alonzo Mourning has assumed a mentoring role with him. Zo invited Whiteside to his home and took him to dinner at Hillstone in Coral Gables, where they bumped into Erik Spoelstra.

“Alonzo wants me to be a dominant force,” Whiteside said. “He wants me to average a double/double and break all his records.”

The Heat said Whiteside didn't to travel to Charlotte, where the Heat plays Wednesday. Luol Deng (illness) also didn't make the trip.

### The feedback from a person inside the Heat locker-room is that Shabazz Napier is more humble since returning from his NBDL stint and showing a better attitude than he displayed when he wasn’t playing much before his demotion. Spoelstra said Tuesday that his work ethic has “improved greatly.”

Napier conceded that not playing much in recent weeks, until the past week, “was tough for me” during losses.

His assist-to-turnover ratio is among the league’s worst and “a lot of my turnovers come on dumb decisions,” he said earlier today. “I will be good for a good 2 1/2 quarters and then I'll turn the ball over with dumb decisions. I've got to patch that up.”

Napier had four assists and two turnovers in 16 minutes tonight against OKC.

### The Heat, up by one at halftime against Oklahoma City, was outscored by nine in the second half and has now been outscored by a league-worst 201 points after intermission.

### UM has four oral commitments from players in Rivals.com’s final ranking of the top 250 prospects: running backs Mark Walton (69) and Jordan Scarlett (188), offensive tackle Tyree St. Louis (172) and receiver Lawrence Cager (240).

And UM is a finalist for three in the top 100: California-based linebacker John Houston (30) and defensive end Rasheem Green (33), who are teammates, and Washington D.C.-based defensive back Marcus Lewis (80); UM is his leader.

Among uncommitted players in the rest of Rivals' top 250, only one other is said to be considering UM: running back Dexter Williams (120), who previously decommitted from Miami.

Green and Houston have the same final four: UM, USC, Oregon and Arizona State. Miami has been considered an underdog for both players because of distance, but Green told Canesport that UM is “still in good shape” with him.

### NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah said Philip Dorsett was the "star" of Senior Bowl practice today. "So explosive," Jeremiah said.

### The Dolphins told Walt Aikens he needs to be more mature and professional and not be tardy. He was de-activated for the season finale after a neighbor called police about noise at his home from a domestic incident; there was no arrest and no allegations of violence.

The Dolphins indicated to Aikens they see him more as a safety than cornerback; Miami gave him reps at both in practice.

### The Dolphins said in recent days that ticket prices will be raised for some, but not all, seats in the lower bowl next season. Beginning next season, the first row of seats will be moved 24 feet closer as part of stadium renovations.

Upper bowl seats will remain comparable in price to 2014, but the team declined to say if any of those seats will increase in price. An announcement is expected in a couple of weeks.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

01/19/2015

Late Monday night notes: Wade health, Dolphins draft, UM recruiting, UM recruit raises concern

A six-pack of notes on a Monday night:

### Looks like Dwyane Wade’s newest injury won’t sideline him nearly as long as the last one.

Wade, who has missed the last 2 ½ games with a lower leg issue, participated in the entire practice Monday and hopes to play Tuesday against Oklahoma City if he has no setback in the next 24 hours.  

“It felt OK,” he said. “I will see how it feels Tuesday.”

The Heat listed the injury as a hamstring, but Wade said: “I think it was a muscle in the back of my leg. A muscle I kind of pulled in [last Tuesday's Lakers] game.”

Wade missed eight straight games with a hamstring injury earlier in the season.

### It’s almost impossible to overstate how much Chris Bosh loves playing with Hassan Whiteside.

“He’s able to guard those bigger guys; it is taxing, physically and mentally,” Bosh said. “I have more of an offensive load this year. He buys me a little time. Sometimes I still will be asked to play those [screen and] rolls against those big guys. When you’re guarding 50 or 60 screen and rolls a game, that’s tough. I thank him every day. Him and Bird are my best friends.”

### The Dolphins will have a full contingent of scouts at the Senior Bowl this week, and there’s one player in the game who would make a lot of sense with the 14th overall pick, if he’s still available (a huge if): Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton.

“An absolute force at his position,” NFL Network’s Charles Davis said today. “Can run all day. The stamina is what will surprise. When he runs, the ground shakes.”

Besides being a force against the run, “the upside is this guy can rush the passer,” Davis said.

Said NFL Network's Mike Mayock: “He’s awesome. At 350, 360, he has great feet. He’s relentless."

Mayock said the only nose tackles like Shelton, "who can play every snap, [are] Vince Wilfork and Dontari Poe. That cat’s special. I believe he’s a top 10 pick.”

Shelton compares himself to Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata: “Has always been an idol for me growing up.”

### The Dolphins, who say they are not sure if Mike Wallace will be retained, will be closely evaluating several deep threats at this week’s Senior Bowl, including Ohio State’s 6-1 Devin Smith, UM’s 5-10 Phillip Dorsett, and Kansas State’s 5-11 Tyler Lockett.

“Tyler Lockett is going to win in man to man all day long,” Mayock said. “He’s going to have a dominating week.”

There are also three 6-3 possession-type receivers in the game: UNLV’s  Devante Davis, Washington State’s Vince Mayle and Michigan State’s Tony Lippett. All would be possibilities if the Dolphins cut Brandon Gibson.

### UM needs impact defensive tackles, and the Hurricanes are now very much in the running for Jacksonville-based four-star tackle Kendrick Norton, rated the nation’s 15th-best DT by rivals.com.

Norton enjoyed his UM visit and has three finalists: Miami, Mississippi and Auburn.

### A few years ago, then-Plantation American Heritage running back Sony Michel told me that one reason he opted for Georgia over UM was the lack of crowd support at Hurricanes games.

So it was hardly a shock when three-star Georgia linebacker Mohamed Barry told Canesport’s Matt Shodell today that Hurricanes attendance is working against UM in his evaluation of the program.

"One thing I don't like about Miami is the loyalty of their fans; that struck me,” he said. “A lot of fans not going to games when they're not winning, not going when it's not that much of a big game. That's one thing I hope Miami does fix. In general they should support their university. When people look at games, I went back and looked at three games they played. And Miami vs. FSU --- that game I still found some open holes [in the Sun Life stands]. If I'm playing there, I want to feel like everyone's supporting the program."

Barry told Shodell that there’s a lot to like about UM, and that the Hurricanes and Kansas State are tied as his front-runner.

Please see the last blog for a lot more on UM.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

01/18/2015

UM players, coaches grow weary of negativity; Players offer theories for 6-7 record; Kehoe states case; Dolphins, Heat, Marlins chatter

SUNDAY/MONDAY BUZZ COLUMN

It’s part of the rhythmic nature of sports: Time heals the hurt of a disappointing season; hope builds as the next one approaches. But much of the optimism has been drained from this University of Miami fan base, replaced by an atmosphere so full of anger that players and the head coach have begun to speak out about it.

Every week, there’s a new symbol of discontentment: from prominent former players calling for a coaching change, to Duke Johnson’s mother asserting half the team would transfer if it could, to a “fire Al Golden” sign popping up behind ESPN's set at the College Football Playoff, much like the one removed from Bank United Center during a UM basketball game.

Then four-star UM oral commitment Mark Walton announced that negativity is hurting UM's recruiting efforts.

Then a Canes fan paid for a banner to fly over AT&T Stadium before Monday’s championship game in Arlington, Texas, saying: “The U Part 3: [president Donna] Shalala/BOT [Board of Trustees] killed Miami football.”

And this, too, was telling: Michael Irvin said nobody can blame his nephew, four-star safety Tim Irvin, for committing to Texas because Tim Irvin “lives in Miami and hears how players are killing the coach.” (Irvin flipped to Auburn on Sunday.)

The negativity is wearing on people in the program. One UM coach who requested anonymity said it’s having a corrosive effect.

Golden said he’s aware of it but that commenting on the impact of it would do him no good. But he told canesport.com: “People are flat out cruel. I feel bad for the seniors. They got tired of it.”

That appears to be the case.

“It’s surprising and it’s hurtful,” departing linebacker Denzel Perryman said of fan anger in recent months.

Brad Kaaya said he didn’t expect this much negativity when he came here. Nor did he expect to be 6-7, presumably.

“We’re aware of it; it’s a tough environment, a small demographic that’s really vocal,” Kaaya said last month. “Some people can turn on you at any moment. For the last couple months, I’ve gotten all kinds of crazy stuff tweeted to me.

“I don’t look at it, and most guys ignore it because it gets in your head, especially a lot of the negative stuff, and will make you play bad. [My message] is we’re going to turn this around. I didn’t come here to be mediocre.”

His mother, Angela Means Kaaya, has become the voice of optimism on social media, railing against the negativity on Twitter.

Departing center Shane McDermott said some fan behavior --- including posting Golden’s home address on a web site --- has been “a little extreme, what they’ve been doing. But we need to perform better. I feel bad for coach Golden because he works his butt off.”

But Phillip Dorsett said the reason this team keeps losing is obvious to him: “When a play is called, everybody has to do their job. You can’t have one player doing their own thing when everybody else is doing what they’re supposed to do. There’s always something.”

Perryman blames "guys freelancing" for the underachieving.

Whereas Johnson’s mother says “kids are tired of this crap,” Duke Johnson says: “I wouldn’t say it’s all coach Golden’s fault. I wouldn’t put it all on him.” He said UM fans need to “relax.”

But Johnson’s mother is not alone in her concerns. Among complaints raised by several parents during conversations in recent weeks: lack of halftime adjustments; the defense playing too much soft zone; the read-and-react defensive philosophy; players being misused; defensive players being asked to learn too much (“the system is too sophisticated for a lot of these kids,” one said).

Offensive line coach Art Kehoe has a unique perspective because he was an assistant on all five championship teams. He has seen championship-caliber coaching up close.

“I don’t want to be an eternal optimist because we definitely have problems we’ve got to solve,” Kehoe said last month. “We have to get better in the red zone. That hurt us in the Pittsburgh game. We have to get better in short yardage. We have to get a little bit tougher up front in the o-line. None of offense, defense or special teams is up to standards of Hurricanes fans….

“We haven’t been where we should be in probably a decade in terms of BCS, top 10, top 20, winning the ACC, being in the national title picture.”

But, Kehoe said: “I’ve been with Howard Schnellenberger and Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson and Butch Davis and Larry Coker and they all have their pluses and minuses. I look at this guy [Golden] and he’s relentless and he’s a winner. People need to understand, whether we run out of time or not, what he’s doing is right.

“I want to see it come to fruition because he’s a good man, a good leader, a superb coach. I know, in my heart and soul, we’re going to win. I may be proven wrong, but I don’t think so. I think we’re going to win big.”

So where does the optimism come from, beyond his faith in Golden?

“Al knows we have a potential All-American quarterback,” Kehoe said. “Just he alone is going to make us take a jump next year. [Kaaya] has got that ‘it’ factor. He’s just so cool to me. He’s not full of himself --- just a determined, purposeful cool dude. He’s got California swagger, kind of like being a John Wayne type. He’s not trying to be cool. He’s just cool. Our players look up to him and like him.”

Former UM All-American center Brett Romberg said Kehoe called him and former UM offensive lineman Joaquin Gonzalez to chew them out in October after they publicly criticized the coaching staff.

"They’re entitled to their opinion,” Kehoe said. “I love Joaquin and Brett. We talked. They’re two of the best players I ever coached, two great leaders. I just wanted to tell them… we’re addressing every single thing we can, whether it’s the way we practice, the way we plan. We’re visiting pro football teams [the Dallas Cowboys] and college teams, getting ideas. This guy [Golden] exhausts every avenue of trying to be better.”

Kehoe insists he has no issue with ex-players voicing complaints.

But with every setback, the swirl of negativity ratchets up.

“Al talks about ignoring the noise to our players all the time,” Kehoe said. “If anyone is going to ignore the noise, he is. He’s a master at it.”

But Golden’s fully aware of it, telling Canesport that “everyone is too busy bitching to accept the progress that has been made.”

### None of the uncommitted players who were on UM's campus this weekend committed in the aftermath of their visits.

But according to multiple reports, UM made a favorable impression on four-star Washington D.C. safety/cornerback Marcus Lewis (told Rivals that UM is now his leader over Kentucky and Washington State, with Ohio State and Michigan also potential options for him), three-star New York based defensive end Austrian Robinson, three-star New Jersey-based linebacker Saleem Brightwell (top three of Michigan State, UM and Pittsburgh) and Georgia-based three-star linebacker Mohamed Barry (a Kansas State commitment).

UM's two four-star running back commitments, Mark Walton and Jordan Scarlett, were among 17 players on campus. Walton told Canesport that he remains "pretty solid" to UM but will visit Louisville, West Virginia and Georgia. Scarlett, who plans to visit UF and FSU, said he is "solid" to Miami. 

CHATTER

### Besides retaining defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, Joe Philbin decided not to fire any of his assistants, though defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers reportedly is expected to become Jets defensive coordinator.

Some Dolphins players would have preferred Philbin promote Rodgers to coordinator. Players have criticized Coyle for strategic decisions as well as his rotation of defensive linemen. Rodgers is very well liked by his players.

### Beyond Ja’Wuan James and Jarvis Landry, the 2014 draft picks that the Dolphins are most bullish about are guard Billy Turner (the front office conveyed to him that it sees him a potential 2015 starter if he can seize the job) and defensive end Terrence Fede.

There are maturity issues with Walt Aikens, mixed views on Jordan Tripp and uncertainty with Matt Hazel and Arthur Lynch, who said he's healthy after recovering from a fracture in his lower back.

### Strange year for the Heat’s Luol Deng: He’s shooting far better (49.8 percent) than during his past three seasons (41.2, 42.6, 43.1), but his 14.1 scoring average is his lowest in six years and well below the 19.0 he averaged for Chicago last season before his trade to Cleveland.

Two reasons for this: He’s taking fewer shots and he’s making just 71.8 percent of his free throws, well under his career mark (77).

“I've got to take more shots; I know that,” he said. “There are some games I feel comfortable trying to be more aggressive and do more. And there are a lot of games where I'm kind of trying to find my way.”

### Nate Robinson, the explosive 5-9 point guard with an 11.1 career scoring average, reached out to the Heat after his buyout from the Celtics, but after two days, Miami still hadn’t responded. Robinson's scoring could help off the bench, but the Heat has typically avoided point guards that small.

### Please see the last post for a player-by-player assessment of the Heat as the season nears the halfway point.

### The Marlins have advanced conversations with 10-time All-Star Ichiro Suzuki and are cautiously optimistic that a deal will be struck. Until a deal is done, it's always possible that a team could swoop in with the ability to offer more playing time than the Marlins could. Ichiro would be a fourth outfielder here and the Marlins are appealing to him, according to an associate.

### The Marlins, who have gone to arbitration with only four players total in the previous five years, will do so with three players in the coming weeks.

Matt Latos asked for $10.4 million; the Marlins are offering $9.4 million. Mike Dunn is asking for $2.6 million; the Marlins countered at $2.35 million.

And pitcher David Phelps, acquired from the Yankees, asked for $1.87 million; the Marlins offered $1.4 million.

Unlike some teams, the Marlins cease negotiations once arbitration figures are exchanged.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

01/17/2015

A player-by-player assessment as the Heat nears the season's midpoint

With the Heat reaching the season’s midpoint on Tuesday against Oklahoma City, a look at where each player stands after 40 games:

### Dwyane Wade: The good: Ranks 10th in the league in scoring at 22.1 and fourth in field-goal percentage among shooting guards, at 49.5.

With more playmaking responsibilities, his assist average (5.6) stands at its highest since the season before LeBron James’ arrival.

The concern: Has missed 10 games because of hamstring issues, after missing 28 last season due to injuries and maintanance on his knees. At least his knees haven’t been a problem this year…. Committing 3.2 turnovers per game, fourth-worst among shooting guards.

Bottom line: Still a very good player, elite on some nights, but durability remains an issue. He turned 33 on Saturday.

### Chris Bosh: The good: Ranks 12th in scoring at 21.6 and has generally raised his game in the wake of LeBron’s departure.

The concern: Rebounding has been OK (7.7 per game, 29th in league) but not exceptional; keep in mind he averaged 10.0 and 10.8 in his final two seasons with Toronto. And his shooting percentage (47.5), while solid, is his lowest since his second season.

Bottom line: More often than not, Bosh has met expectations, at least from an offensive standpoint. But he hasn't exceeded expectations. And because of the limitations of the Heat's supporting cast, more is needed from Bosh for the Heat to climb above .500 and have any chance to advance past the first round.  

### Luol Deng: The good: Shooting far more accurately (49.8 percent) than anytime in the past six years… Defense has been an asset, particularly in recent games.

The concern: Deng is at his best offensively when teammates get him the ball when he’s cutting or on the move. But in too many games, he has been an afterthought or passive offensively, with 10 games of single digit scoring, compared with nine all of last season for Chicago and Cleveland…. His 71.4 percent free-throw shooting is well below his career average (77).

The bottom line: When the Heat plays well, Deng usually also plays well. That isn't a coincidence. But the overall impact hasn't measured up to the $10 million salary.

### Mario Chalmers: The good: Scored at least 20 points in five of the Heat’s first 14 games (none since) and his 10.7 scoring average is a career high.

The concern: On pace for career lows in shooting percentage both overall (39.7) and on threes (27.3: 33 for 121).  Has made at least half his shots from the field in only four of the Heat’s past 20 games, including 15 for 43 on the recent West Coast trip…. Averaging a career-high 2.3 turnovers.

Bottom line: After teasing with several big games early in the season, Chalmers has descended into the type of shooting slump that doomed him late in last year's playoffs.

### Norris Cole: The good: Assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.56-to-1 is slightly about average (23rd of 47 qualifying point guards).

The concern: His 38.8 shooting percentage is third-worst among point guards who have started at least half their team’s games… Shooting a dismal 24.7 percent on threes (21 for 85).... Has had some good moments defensively, but like all of the Heat’s point guards, has also allowed too many blow-bys.

Bottom line: If Cole doesn't improve significantly, it's difficult to envision Miami extending the $3 million qualifying offer needed to make him a restricted, as opposed to an unrestricted free agent, this summer.

### Chris Andersen: The good: Shooting 62 percent from the field, eighth among all players with a minimum of 25 appearances…. His 11.5 rebounds per 48 minutes is average for qualifying centers (tied for 27 of 56).

The concern: Has missed 15 games with assorted injuries… Scoring average down from 6.6 to 5.1, partly because there are no longer LeBron-delivered lobs.

The bottom line: Has been starting out of necessity recently but seems miscast in the role. His $5 million salary would hold value in a trade.

### Hassan Whiteside: The good: The season’s most pleasant surprise, Whiteside ranks fifth among all NBA players (minimum 15 games) in rebounds per 48 minutes (18.5) and first in blocks per 48 minutes (6.3). Scored in double figures in six in a row (including 23 against the Clippers) before foul trouble limited him to four points in 15 minutes Friday against Sacramento….

The concern: His 6.9 fouls per 48 minutes ranks in the top third for most fouls, per 48 minutes, among NBA centers.

Bottom line: While the growth and production have been impressive, and the skill set is intriguing, the sample size remains too small to make any definitive judgments. Quality backup? It would seem so, at the very least. But quality starter? That very much needs to play out.

### Danny Granger: The good: After sitting out 20 of the Heat’s first 28 games, Granger scored 18, 21 and 14 points in three games in a row in late December.

The concerns: Since then, has shot 7 for 35 in seven games, dropping his overall accuracy to 38.9 percent…. Twice as many turnovers (20) as assists (10).

Bottom line: Though he’s moving better than he did earlier in the season, he’s clearly not the player who was an offensive force for Indiana in his prime. The hope is that he can make enough threes to justify continued minutes.

### Shawne Williams: The good: Shooting a career-high 42.7 on threes (56 for 131). Started the Heat’s first 17 games (just five since) and played well at times, including 16 points in a win against Toronto.

The concern: Doesn’t have any other clearly above-average skill besides three-point shooting. Averaging 3.5 rebounds as a “stretch” power forward and has had lapses defensively.

Bottom line: Minutes in the second half could hinge on how well Granger plays, as much as anything.

### Udonis Haslem: The good: Though playing time has been modest (26 games, 14.7 minutes per), the energy, defensive effort and rebounding can still make a difference at times, including Friday against the Kings. His 13.0 rebounds per 48 minutes rank in the top third among power forwards.

The concern: Shooting percentage has dipped to 43.0, well below his 51.4 and 50.7 percent shooting in the past two seasons.

Bottom line: Seems likely to play only when Bosh, Whiteside or Andersen has injuries or foul trouble.

### Shabazz Napier: The good: At times, displays a craftiness lacking in the Heat’s other point guards…Shooting 37.1 percent on threes, ranking 24th of 89 point guards who have appeared in a game.

The concern: Vulnerable defensively and his 1.28-to-1 assist to turnover ratio ranks 83rd of 89.

Bottom line: Over the next 42 games, the Heat needs to get a better feel about whether he's a potential starter. He makes some creative passes that the Heat's other point guards simply cannot, but defensive shortcomings and looseness with the ball are troubling.

### James Ennis: The good: Energy and athleticism have helped in short bursts and defensive awareness has improved.

The concern: Needs to boost his 31.4 percent three-point shooting to earn more playing time.

Bottom line: Expectations after a dynamic preseason have been tempered, but Ennis could be a potential longterm rotation player if he can become a more consistent three-point shooter from the wings.

### Justin Hamilton: The good: Has kept an NBA job, for whatever that’s worth.

The concern: Despite having decent range, has shot only 6 for 30 on jumpers, isn’t a big deterrent at the rim and his rebounding is subpar for a 7-footer. Didn’t make much of a case during five December starts.

Bottom line: Size could keep him bouncing around the league for a few years, but Hamilton possesses no singular skill to suggest he's anything more than a journeyman.

### Josh McRoberts: The good: Shot 52.8 percent and displayed deft passing skills during his 17 games.

The concern: A likely season-ending knee injury leaves the Heat not completely sure how good this team would be with him…. His 7.3 rebounds per 48 minutes rank among the league’s worst for power forwards.

Bottom line: The Heat played well at times with McRoberts on the court, but Yahoo! reports the Heat was willing to part with him in its recent bid for Nets center Brook Lopez. And McRoberts' subpar rebounding numbers would be a longterm concern if cast as a starter. 

### Tyler Johnson: Incomplete. Appeared in just one game since signing 10-day contract.

Bottom line: Athleticism and diversity of his game are intriguing, and his three-point shooting improved in the NBDL. Worth an extended look.

Please check back Sunday afternoon for the Sunday buzz column, with lots of Canes, Dolphins, Marlins and Heat... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

01/16/2015

2 p.m. Saturday: Network announcer suspended after solicitation of prostitute; Big recruiting weekend on tap for UM; Dolphins address UM stadium situation

Quick 2 p.m. broadcast note: CBS and Turner suspended basketball analyst Greg Anthony indefinitely today, a day after he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute in Washington D.C.

But there was one difference in how the networks handled the matter. CBS announced that Anthony, the network's lead college basketball analyst, will not work again for them this season.

But Turner declined to say whether Anthony would return to the network's NBA coverage this season.

"Greg Anthony has been suspended indefinitely and we will have no further comment at this time," Turner said in a statement.

Anthony, the former NBA point guard, was arrested at 5:46 p.m. Friday in a prostitution sting. He was scheduled to work today's Michigan State-at-Maryland game with Ian Eagle, but CBS yanked him from that assignment.

His arrest leaves CBS in a difficult spot, because the network already had lost its co-lead NCAA analyst, Steve Kerr, during the offseason. Kerr, as most of you know, left to coach the Golden State Warriors.

So who will CBS pair with Jim Nantz on the FInal Four? 

The most logical options include Clark Kellogg (who replaced Billy Packer as CBS' lead analyst in the winter of 2008 before being shifted back to the studio last year), Bill Raftery (who works primarily for Fox but has had permission to work the NCAA Tournament for CBS), Reggie Miller, Len Elmore, and Doug Gottlieb, or some combination of two of those five. 

Mike Gminski and Jim Spanarkel also worked the tournament for CBS last year. 

CBS also could try to seek permission from ESPN to use Jay Bilas (who previously worked NCAA Tournament games for CBS) or even Dick Vitale, but I'm not sure what ESPN's incentive would be to do that. Both have exclusive contracts with ESPN.

On Turner, Anthony had been alternating with Grant Hill and Chris Webber as the analyst on games not worked by TNT lead analyst Reggie Miller. Anthony's suspension likely will result in more assignments for Webber and Hill.

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With National Signing Day approaching on Feb. 4, it’s a big weekend of recruiting visits for UM, which has a legitimate chance to snag as many as six uncommitted players who are expected on campus.

The six to keep an eye on:

### Jacksonville-based four-star defensive tackle Kendrick Norton. This is a position of need for the Hurricanes; UM’s only oral commitment at DT is three-star Bradenton-based Ryan Fines, who projects as a backup, according to recruiting analyst Charles Fishbein.

Norton recently named a top five of Miami, UCLA, Michigan, North Carolina and Mississippi. Regarding Miami, he told Wolverines.com: "I have a good relationship with the coaches. My mom loved the coaches. It's beautiful down there, and I can stay  relatively close to home."

Rivals.com rates him the 15th best defensive tackle in this class and the 198th best prospect overall.

### Washington D.C.-based four-star defensive back Marcus Lewis. Rated by rivals.com as the No. 6 safety and 93rd-best player overall in this class, Lewis already has de-committed from two schools: Virginia Tech and Florida.

Besides UM, he’s also visiting Kentucky and Washington State. Rivals.com tabs Kentucky as the favorite but UM as a dark horse.

He would be a key addition, because UM has lost out on a few defensive back targets, including Westminster Christian’s Tim Irvin. UM already has one high-end safety commit in Killian’s Jaquan Johnson.

### New Jersey-based three-star linebacker Saleem Brightwell. Miami and Pittsburgh appear to the strongest contenders for Brightwell, who’s rated the nation’s 49th-best outside linebacker by Rivals.com. Michigan State is also in his top three, but he hasn’t committed to visiting there.

UM has two linebacker commitments (West Palm Beach’s Charles Perry and New Jersey’s Jamie Gordinier) and would like to add one or two more.

### Booker T. Washington four-star receiver Antonio Callaway. Callaway, whose season was cut short by a torn meniscus, hasn’t said how he’s leaning. He will visit Florida next weekend and Alabama the weekend after. And Callaway reportedly grew up with thoughts of playing at Florida.

UM already has three oral commitments at receiver, including four-star Maryland-based prospect Lawrence Cager, whose comments this week haven’t been entirely consistent. One day this week, he spoke of possibly flipping to Alabama if the Crimson Tide can fit him into this class. But the next day, he reaffirmed a strong commitment to UM. We’ll see.

### New York-based three-star defensive end Austrian Robinson. Robinson has named Maryland as he leader, and he’s also planning to visit Mississippi and Ohio State the next two weekends, after his UM visit this weekend. He told rivals.com that Maryland is the favorite simply because it’s the only one of the four that he’s visited.

But a strong visit this weekend would boost the Hurricanes’ chances. UM has two defensive ends committed: four-star Scott Patchan (already on campus) and Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons prospect Richard McIntosh Jr.

### Royal Palm Beach three-star offensive tackle Fred Johnson. He already has named UM as his clear front-runner. If he commits, he would be the seventh offensive lineman in this class. He has spoken of also possibly visiting UF, LSU, Tennessee and/or Virginia Tech.

Several UM oral commitments also are visiting --- Fines, Gordinier, defensive back Robert Knowles, offensive linemen Tyler Gauthier, Hayden Mahoney and Tyree St. Louis and four-star running backs Mark Walton and Jordan Scarlett.

The one that particularly bears monitoring is Scarlett.

Scarlett told our Manny Navarro this week that he’s only 85 percent committed to UM because of “how their season went. It wasn't the best season out of all my options of the schools. And I just feel like I don't want to miss on an opportunity of taking visits and seeing what's out there."

He will visit UF and FSU the next two weeks to determine if he believes either is a better fit than UM.

Incidentally, Orlando based four-star running back Dexter Williams, who de-committed from UM a few weeks ago, told The Orlando Sentinel that Miami remains in the mix and he also plans to visit Notre Dame and Texas A&M.

Williams said he decommitted from Miami because “I was kind of worried about the coach’s job” but added “I still have a lot of interest in Miami” and that Hurricanes coaches have been recruiting him “harder and harder” recently.

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Adam Beasley will cover the Dolphins' angle of the Sun Life Stadium modernization in a story to be posted shortly.

A couple of UM items from today's Dolphins press conference:

### As we reported previously, the Dolphins said today that UM's capacity at the stadium will be 55,000 and that capacity will be achieved by placing very large vertical banners in the upper end zones. Those banners, as displayed in the Dolphins' news conference today, will have a large "U" on them.

Athletic director Blake James told us those upper end zones seats might be opened for select games when demand warrants.

Capacity for Dolphins games will be 65,326.

### Ross said the Dolphins didn't ask UM for any input on the renovations. "We're spending all the money and they're benefiting," Ross said, before adding that the Hurricanes are a good tenant.

### Once the canopy is in place for the 2016 season, 92 percent of the seats will be in the shade for Dolphins games, compared with 17 percent now.  

Please see the last post for the weekly media column, in case you missed it... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

01/15/2015

Media column: From tickets to TV ratings, how Heat interest now compares with LeBron era; Dolphins, NFL, NCAA TV notes

FRIDAY MEDIA COLUMN

Asking and answering sports media and business questions:

### We know the Heat’s win total has plunged without LeBron James. But what about local interest in the team? Has that dropped, too?

There are a few ways to measure this. For starters, the Heat has sold out all 19 home games, extending its home sellout streak to 224. That’s paid attendance, not bodies in the seats, which the Heat declined to disclose.

But White Glove International CEO Michael Lipman, whose company partners with the Heat on re-selling tickets, said Heat tickets on the secondary market are generating far less money this season than last. But he said that has resulted in more paid tickets being re-sold to people who want to attend games.

For premium seats, “tickets are down a third of the price from last year,” he said. “The premium seat holders are taking a loss on the seats when they re-sell. For upper bowl seats, the average ticket price was $60 to $80 last season on the secondary market. Now they’re going for $30 to $40.

“Lower-bowl seats are 20 to 30 percent cheaper. But more fans go to the games now because it’s more affordable [in the re-sale market]. And the Heat has done a good job branding the product.”

But for non-marquee games, there seem to be more unfilled seats in the lower bowl than last season.

The challenge for the Heat will be this offseason, because the multiyear contracts for many of the premium seats are expiring.

As for TV ratings, 5.1 percent of Dade/Broward homes with TV sets have been watching Sun Sports’ Heat cablecasts on average, down 23 percent from the 6.8 for Heat games both at this point last season and overall last season.

But that 5.1 rating is still very solid, ranking fourth-highest among NBA teams. (One local ratings point equals 16,328 homes.)

Nationally, the Heat has dropped in merchandise sales from first overall last season to eighth from October through December 2014. That’s obviously tied to LeBron, whose jersey was the most-sold both last season and during the past three months.

One other point: There doesn’t appear to be a significant post-LeBron effect so far for businesses around AmericanAirlines Arena. Bruce Earl, regional manager of the Bayside Hooters, said his business is comparable to last season both before and after Heat games. But Bayside restaurants likely will feel an impact without a long playoff run in May and June.

### Most dumfounding comment of the NFL playoffs so far?

Had to be ESPN’s Skip Bayless, after Andrew Luck outplayed an erratic Peyton Manning in the Colts’ win at Denver, inexplicably insisting that Colts owner Jim Irsay “made [a] big mistake dumping Peyton for Luck. Peyton has had three straight better seasons.... Is it possible that, subconsciously, the Broncos wanted no part of Seattle in another Super Bowl?” Huh?

### Why did NBC’s Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, who are universally praised, come under fire last week?

For leaving some viewers with the perception that they were defending commissioner Roger Goodell in summarizing the Robert Mueller investigation of the league’s handling of the Ray Rice fiasco.

As cameras focused on Goodell watching the Patriots-Ravens game, Michaels said “the report… outlined several improvements the league should make, some of which have already been implemented.”

(Deadspin reported Michaels discussed this with a producer during a commercial break, but NBC Sports chief Mark Lazarus told Newsday that Michaels and Collinsworth weren’t instructed what to say.)

Collinsworth said: “The decision to initially suspend Ray Rice for two games was a mistake. Roger Goodell has admitted that. I never once in all my dealings with the commissioner doubted his integrity.”

Collinsworth is absolutely entitled to his opinion. But here’s the problem: The topic was too complicated, too nuanced, to cover in less than a minute of air time during a competitive playoff game. If they were going to raise the issue, they owed it to the audience to give a more detailed account.

Michaels could have noted the inconsistencies that still exist, including that the Associated Press stands by its story that a woman in the league office confirmed receiving the Rice video tape long before Goodell claimed he saw it --- something Mueller couldn’t substantiate because all 128 female employees (who weren’t under oath, incidentally) denied knowledge of it.

The issue should have been addressed in the pre-game show, not uncomfortably shoe-horned into a playoff telecast.

### With CBS and Fox each airing conference championship games Sunday, who has the better game presentation?

The announcing teams (Jim Nantz/Phil Simms and Joe Buck/Troy Aikman) are comparable, but CBS has the slight edge in game production, partly because Fox inexplicably refuses to list the entire starting lineups early in games, instead opting to superimpose the names of a few impact players.

Fox has the far better officiating expert in Mike Pereira. CBS’ Mike Carey lacks Pereira’s TV presence and seems hesitant at times when explaining whether calls should be reversed.

Fox uses Pereira correctly by asking for his opinion before referees rule on a challenge. CBS sometimes doesn’t summon Carey until after the replay challenge has been ruled on. And when Carey’s opinion is solicited before the replay review, his success rate on predictions isn’t particularly high.

### As we noted in the last post from earlier today, ESPN's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have the Dolphins selecting Washington outside linebacker Shaq Thompson 14th overall in their mock draft. Any dissenting opinions from draft analysts?

Absolutely! NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah has Miami selecting Mississippi State inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney. "He has the size to bang inside with linemen and plenty of speed/atheticism to make plays in coverage," Jeremiah said.
 
He also fills more of a need than Thompson would because McKinney could play middle linebacker --- a position that Miami will explore upgrading partly because of Koa Misi's durability issues.

### To whom did former All-Pro Ed Reed give his "you are who we thought you were" award on Showtime's Inside the NFL?

To the Dolphins and Chargers, for starting strong but then fizzling late.

### How did South Florida’s ratings stack up for the College Football Playoff title game?

Not well, comparatively. Among 57 major markets, Miami-Fort Lauderdale’s 12.3 rating (12.3 percent of TV households) ranked 51st --- though that’s higher than every UM game this season except UM-FSU. West Palm Beach was 21st (20.4).

### This year's College Football playoffs drew monster TV ratings. (The championship, predictably, was the most-watched program in cable TV history.) But what’s the new challenge with next year’s playoffs?

Whereas this year’s semifinals were on New Year’s Day, next season’s semis --- hosted by the Orange and Cotton bowls --- will be on New Year’s Eve, when some fans would prefer to be out partying.

Each of the four semifinal games played at the OB over the next 11 years will start at 5 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, but the OB won’t know if it’s the early or late game until after the matchups are set.

### Strangest part of ESPN’s college football championship Megacast Monday?

Had to be the strained, at times awkward dialogue among the motley crew of analysts on ESPNU. Mark Schlereth, Jay Bilas, Julie Foudy, Barry Melrose, Aaron Boone and Michael Wilbon texted, scarfed down food, demonstrated how to use a vuvuzela, discussed cast members of The Mary Tyler Moore show and desperately tried to fill air time with lots of “wows” and virtually anything they could think of, no matter how irrelevant.

This was akin to forcing six people with different interests to sit together for 3 ½ hours at a party and asking bystanders to watch.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

01/14/2015

10 a.m. Thursday: Kiper's pick for Dolphins; UM announces early enrollees; Heat linked to Lopez; Marlins sign reliever

Quick 10 a.m. note: ESPN's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have the Dolphins selecting the same player at No. 14 in their first mock drafts: Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson.

Kiper, on ESPN.com, says "the great thing about" the 6-2 Thompson "is he's not just a freak in the athletic sense. He's also a freak in his football instincts. This is a kid who has played safety, linebacker and in 2014 was every bit a future NFL running back when the Huskies asked him to help out there for a few games. Ideally, he ends up at weakside linebacker, perhaps in the Lavonte David mold, using sideline-to-sideline speed to disrupt attack angles and chase down ball carriers and underneath pass-catchers. He can also use his big-time explosiveness as a gap blitzer and coming off the edge. There's developmental work to be done here, but maybe not much because the football instincts are so good."

Kiper has Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton and Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley being chosen with the two picks before Miami's selection, and West Virginia receiver Kevin White and Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes in the two picks after.

Also, Kiper has Jameis Winston going first to Tampa Bay and UM offensive tackle Ereck Flowers 19th to Cleveland. His entire first mock draft is available on ESPN.com's "Insider" package.

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A six pack of notes on a Wednesday night: 

### UM had hoped for six to eight early enrollees in this recruiting class. As it turns out, the school confirmed that only three scholarship players are enrolling this week --- all four-star prospects. UM announced three walk-ons also are enrolling early.

The early arrivals on scholarship are Bradenton-based defensive end Scott Patchan (a well-regarded prospect coming off an ACL injury), Killian safety Jaquan Johnson and junior college tight end Jerome Washington.

Here’s how ESPN assesses each:

On Johnson: “Overall Johnson grows on you the more you watch him. At first glance he can be a bit difficult to appreciate his movement skills, but he consistently makes plays with the ball in his hands. There are a variety of roles in which this prospect could bolster a roster. As a cornerback he would have to see significant reps to prove he belongs there, but his skill set and talent level indicates this could be a nice fit. Very exciting prospect. Needs to get in the weight room.”

(UM will play him at safety; the staff likes his instincts and intelligence. In interviews, he comes across as a conscientous young man who spends ample time studying film.)

On Patchan: “Athletic prospect with good length and could potentially be a player who could drop into coverage depending on the defensive scheme. Will need to add size and strength to be a consistent defensive end with his hand in the ground but has the upside with size and growth potential.”

On Washington, who has been playing for a club team in New Jersey: "Interesting prospect. Possesses some very good raw, natural tools and can come to a program with a good deal of time to develop. Hasn't faced high level competition and will need to develop. But a tight end with nice upside. Initial contribution may be limited but could grow into a highly production and real good FBS tight end."

The three walks-on: Vinny Testaverde’s son, Vincent, who completed 15 of 26 passes for 116 yards for Texas Tech last season; Joel Evans and Marcus Lugo.

UM provided no information on Evans or Lugo, but Lugo is a former tight end at Cypress Bay. Rivals.com and ESPN list Evans as a running back from Durham.

### Less than three weeks after orally committing to UM, four-star Towson, Md.-based receiver Lawrence Cager told rivals.com that he’s also considering Alabama, which is recruiting him but is waiting to see if it can fit him into its 2015 class.

“Alabama and Miami are really the only schools in it,” he said.

But later, he said: "I still feel good about Miami." Auburn also is pursuing him.

### According to ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk, the Heat has shown a “strong interest” in Nets center Brook Lopez, who is reportedly being shopped.

Lopez, 7-0, would be appealing because his contract expires after next season (the Heat wants a ton of 2016 cap space) and because he’s an offensively-skilled big man.

But his history of health issues (feet, ankle, back) would be cause for concern. Since playing in all 82 games in his first three seasons, Lopez has played 5, 74 and 17 games the past three seasons. He has missed 10 games this season.

Lopez, 28, is averaging 14.7 points and 6.4 rebounds after averaging 20.7 and 6.0 in 2013-14.

Lopez is earning $15.7 million this season and has a player option next season at $16.8 million.

Unless the Heat was willing to part with Luol Deng, acquiring Lopez would require dealing three to five supporting cast players to make the deal work from a salary cap perspective.

The Heat cannot package its $2.65 million disabled player exception with other assets in a trade.

### Though Joe Philbin hasn’t fired any coaches, he also has declined to say that all of his assistants will be asked back. Once Philbin is comfortable saying that Kevin Coyle is definitely going to return, the Dolphins are expected to convey that publicly. To this point, that hasn’t happened. According to multiple reports, defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers is the top candidate to join new Jets coach Todd Bowles as New York's defensive coordinator.

### Though every Dolphins receiver beyond Jarvis Landry stands at risk, there’s no indication that any is asking to leave at the moment.

Rishard Matthews’ former agent conveyed to Dolphins management in August that Matthews preferred to be sent somewhere where he would play more than he would here, but the matter was quickly dropped when Dennis Hickey said that wasn’t going to happen. And Matthews’ new agent hasn’t made that request.

And though the Dolphins haven’t committed to keeping Mike Wallace, Wallace told me in December that he very much likes playing here and the lack of deep balls hasn’t made him re-assess that.

### The Marlins continued to add bullpen arms, signing veteran reliever Nick Masset to a minor-league contract. The right-hander is 18-14 with a 4.02 ERA in six seasons.

He was 2-0 with a 5.80 ERA in 45 innings for Colorado last season after missing the previous two seasons with shoulder problems and thoracic outlet syndrome. Before that, he had a 3.05 ERA in parts of four seasons with the Reds.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

01/13/2015

Tallon, MacLean assess Panthers at midway point; Dolphins, Canes, Heat, Marlins news and notes

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN 

With the Florida Panthers reaching the midpoint of its season on Tuesday, we solicited perspective on where they stand, position by position, from general manager Dale Tallon and Delray Beach-based Doug MacLean, who guided the Panthers to their only Stanley Cup Finals and now works as an NHL studio analyst on Rogers SportsNet in Canada.

Tonight's 8-2 setback at Winnipeg was among the Panthers' most lopsided losses of the season. But overall, the first half has been a success: 20-12-9 and 49 points, which leaves them three points behind Boston and the Rangers (who are tied for seventh/eighth) for the final playoff spot, but also with games in hand on most teams in the top eight (but not the Rangers). In the East, the top three teams in the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions make the playoffs, as well as two wild card teams.

The season has “exceeded [my expectations] a little bit,” Tallon said. “It has jelled a little quicker than we anticipated. We have solid pros that really care and good leaders that have helped push our young guys along. We are right where we need to be. We’re knocking on the door and now we have to push in.”

The Panthers entered Tuesday 25th of 30 teams in goals per game (2.38) and 29th in power play percentage (13.1), but trading for another scorer “is not my mindset,” Tallon said.

“The big star scorer is the one thing we all strive to get in this league, but they’re hard to find," Tallon said. "We’ll build from within. We’ll get a lot of picks this year; we have good kids in the minors now.”

As far as completion of Tallon’s master plan is concerned, “we’re halfway to 60 percent there,” he said. “This is the second phase of the young guys. We’re in great position cap wise. [Owner] Vinnie Viola has said we can go get whatever we need.”

Tallon would consider pursuing a top free agent scorer eventually “if you need that one guy to put you over the top… Right now, we’ll draft and mentor and develop and see where it takes us.”

MacLean’s take: “Guys who don't compete and don't play hard --- that's been a problem here, but not this year. These guys are playing different than they have the past couple years. The Gerard Gallant/Roberto Luongo combo has re-energized that group. There were terrible vibes about the organization in the past. Now there are good vibes. Vinnie Viola has helped that. There will be two, three points separating the bottom three playoff teams. Do they get in? I hope so. Everything is positive and trending up.”  

Assessing the roster by position:

CENTERS

### Tallon: He likes the upside here, with still-developing Nick Bjugstad (15 goals, 25 points/new six-year contract) --- “Nick has size, speed, skill, desire” --- and Aleksander Barkov (3 goals, 8 points) – “we haven’t seen the best of Barkov. They will have some inconsistencies at their age, but [we have] two big, strong center-men.”  And “we’re deep up the middle, with [Vincent] Trocheck, Dave Bolland and Derek McKenzie.”

### MacLean: “You don’t know if Bjugstad is polished enough to be another Eric Staal [the Carolina Hurricanes star], but he might slide in right under those top guys. Maybe a top five to 10 center down the road. No. 1 center men are hard to find, and he’s a legitimate one. And Barkov has a huge upside. Has a chance to be a real good player. If you have Bjugstad and Barkov up in the middle, you’re in good shape.”

DEFENSEMEN

### Tallon: “Very solid group moving forward. [Rookie] Aaron Ekblad (24 points, team-best plus-12 plus/minus) has just been terrific. He has had very few bad games, unbelievably steady offensively and defensively. Amazing maturity. Willie Mitchell and Brian Campbell have had really solid years. Dimitri Kulikov is coming into his own. Dylan Olsen and Erik Gudbranson are a great pairing. And we have a great crew of young guys on the farm and in colleges and juniors.”

### MacLean: “Ekblad has been a major surprise with what he has brought offensively. They put him with Brian Campbell and you wondered is that the right move to play him with a guy as loose offensively as Brian. But he’s been great with Brian. I’ve been surprised how much Ekblad can create. I coached him in the prospects game in Calgary and marveled at how polished and mature he was. I would have said he would be very good No. 2-3 defenseman. Now, listening to Denis Potvin, I am thinking he might be a No. 1.”…

“Willie Mitchell was a really good signing. He’s a battler, high quality guy and has the smarts to make up for deterioration [in skill]…. I like what Campbell is doing. He’s had to change his game. He’s been good with the kids. You don’t like the $7 million [salary] but you like him on your team….

"Dmitri Kulikov is an erratic player, not as tough as Robert Svelha was, but you don’t give up on those guys. I kept hearing Kulikov would be traded. But he’s still a kid and you don’t trade young kids. I like Gudbranson better than Kulikov; he’s meaner and tougher. He can someday be a Willie Mitchell type of guy. I don’t know if he has the leadership of a Mitchell but he could be a much better player than Mitchell.”

GOALTENDER

### Tallon: Luongo (ninth in goals against average at 2.23) “has been fantastic. World class guy on and off the ice, how professional and classy he is.”

### MacLean: “He might not be in the top 10 [among NHL goaltenders anymore], but he's playing like he's in the top 10.” And MacLean loves what Luongo has done to change the culture.

WINGERS

### Tallon: Jonathan Huberdeau has three goals in his past four games to push his season total to seven and “it’s very encouraging to see him come back to his old form. Jimmy Hayes had 13 goals; that has been a real bonus for us. Jussi Jokinen [third on the team with 23 points] has been terrific. Brandon Pirri will score for us in the second half.”

### MacLean: “You want Huberdeau to take a step because in juniors it looked like he would be a superstar. Tomas Fleischmann, Sean Bergenheim, Scottie Upshall, Brad Boyes, Jussi Jokinen and Dave Bolland are veteran guys that have to play their role. You will not see them get better than what they are.”

MacLean likes the upside of Hayes, though “he isn’t the same [caliber] talent as Bjugstad.”

Everyone knows another established scorer would help, but MacLean said he wouldn’t trade one of Panthers’ high-end young players to acquire one.

“Fight for the 6th, 7th, 8th seed and keep your young guys,” MacLean said.

“If Ekblad and Bjugstad and Huberdeau and Barkov become stars, then unrestricted [free agent] wingers will say, ‘I have a chance to play with those guys,’ and then it becomes an attractive place for them. Then people want to come there.”

COACH

### Tallon: “I felt [Gallant] was the right guy, from his ability to deal with young guys and veterans and his overall way about him. He’s passionate and very knowledgeable but keeps it very simple. Doesn’t overcomplicate the situation and utilizes everyone.”

### MacLean: “I coached Gerard in juniors, taught him in high school and coached him in the NHL. I had to fire him in Columbus, because my owner made me fire him. That was the worst day of my life. Gerard knew that and we remained great friends. He's learned a lot.

“Technically, he's fine. It's the ability to manage the group, manage the people around you and Gerard is really good at that. The players respect him and like him; he's honest with them. He's a straight shooter.”

CHATTER

### Samson Satele, aware Mike Pouncey wants to resume playing center, said he hopes the Dolphins re-sign him and give him consideration at guard. But he hasn’t played guard in an NFL game.

### We hear defensive tackle Jared Odrick --- who was fined $15,000 by the Dolphins for yelling at a coach during the Baltimore game --- will be high on the list of targets for a few teams. Miami hasn’t told him if he’s wanted back. That doesn't mean they don't want him back. But Dennis Hickey is being very deliberate in evaluating free agents. 

### ESPN's Adam Kaplan says well-regarded defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers is a "probable" target of new Jets coach Todd Bowles for New York's defensive coordinator job. They previously worked together with the Dolphins.

### New Dolphins executive Mike Tannenbaum has said previously in his NFL Network analyst role that in a division with Tom Brady, cornerback must be a priority for Miami. Expect that message to be conveyed to Dennis Hickey. Incidentally, Jamar Taylor underwent shoulder surgery for a torn labrum but expects to be fine for OTAs.

### Thoroughly impressive 90-74 UM win tonight at No. 4 Duke, snapping the Blue Devils' 41-game home winning streak, which had been the nation's longest. As is often the case, UM (12-4, 2-1) did it with terrific guard play: Angel Rodriguez had 24 points, five steals and five assists; Manu Lecomte 23 points and Sheldon McClellan 14 points.

And center Tonye Jekiri, who is vastly improved, had a double-double (10 points, 10 boards).

"If there was any team I felt confident in beating, it was them," Rodriguez told ESPN. "We match up great with them."

Said Jim Larranaga: "I didn't know how we would respond. When a team extends their defense like Duke does, it opens up driving lanes if you have guards good enough to get by the pressure."

### FSU coach Jimbo Fisher says the Seminoles’ indoor football practice facility gives them a big advantage in recruiting, and UM athletic director Blake James said he’s exploring building one.

More than 15 practices were disrupted by lightning or rain last August and September. “Everyone realizes it’s a necessity, and we’ll continue working on it,” James said. “Florida State’s cost $15 million. It would probably be in that range.”

But James said it won’t be a bubble because of hurricane codes.

### One reason Al Golden chose to observe Cowboys camp is because he has been friends with Cowboys coach Jason Garrett for many years… Bovada.com put UM’s odds at 75 to 1 to win the national title next season --- 35th-best in the country and tied with Michigan, Penn State, Utah, Washington and West Virginia. Ohio State is first (5 to 1), TCU second (15 to 2), FSU seventh (16 to 1) and Florida tied for 14th (33 to 1).

### Not only did Hassan Whiteside enter Tuesday's game against the Lakers having scored twice as many points in his past four games as he did in his entire first two NBA seasons with Sacramento (58 to 29), but consider this: When Whiteside is in the game, Heat opponents shoot only 50 percent on shots within five feet of the basket (ranking Whiteside third among all centers). When Whiteside is on the bench, opponents make more than 62 percent of those shots, among the worst in the league.

[1 a.m. update: Whiteside had 15 points, 9 boards and 5 blocks in tonight's 78-75 Heat win at the Lakers, which moved Miami (17-21) to within 1.5 games of Cleveland (19-20) for sixth in the East. Dwyane Wade left in the first half with a strained hamstring.]

### The representative for arbitration-eligible Marlins closer Steve Cishek (39 for 43 in saves in 2014) broached the idea of multiyear deal, but the Marlins prefer to go year-to-year with him. He’s a free agent after 2017.

### Though the Marlins made a multiyear offer in an attempt to get Jose Fernandez under contract past 2018 (when he becomes eligible for free agency), they were left with the strong impression that agent Scott Boras prefers to take his clients into free agency.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

01/12/2015

Dolphins continue to need to address positions that should have been solved; Heat, Canes hoops

So the Denver Broncos today fire a coach who went 46-18 in four seasons. The Jets fire a coach who guided them to two AFC Championship game appearances.

The Dolphins? No, we’re good. Nothing to see here.

No need for staff changes, at least not now, not after another failed season makes it 23-25 in Joe Philbin’s three years and leaves Miami stuck on one winning season in the past nine.

There’s an undercurrent of irritation for Dolphins fans watching the Colts not only because Jeff Ireland deemed Michael Egnew the better choice in 2012 over the guy playing under his nose at FIU, T.Y. Hilton, (selected 14 spots later) but also because Joe Philbin couldn’t handle a gifted young player (Vontae Davis) who was immature but neither a thug nor a distraction.

His only crime? He behaved like a kid sometimes, needed bathroom breaks at practice.

And so we saw Davis do yesterday what no Dolphins defensive back could do in a similar situation Nov. 23 in Denver, when the Dolphins --- like the Colts on Sunday --- entered the fourth quarter with an 11-point lead. The Dolphins squandered that cushion; the Colts, conversely, didn't give the Broncos an inch. 

Not coincidentally, we saw Davis make exceptional plays on the ball Sunday. We saw him play the type of game the Dolphins haven’t gotten from a cornerback playing opposite Brent Grimes all year.

To understand the extent of what the Dolphins foolishly gave up in trading Davis for a second-round pick (that turned into Jamar Taylor), consider: Quarterbacks had a league-low 38.8 rating in Davis’ coverage area this season. He had four picks and didn’t allow a touchdown.

The cornerbacks who played alongside or opposite Grimes for Miami?  

Cortland Finnegan had a 102.1 quarterback passer rating in his coverage area. Jimmy Wilson, who played mostly in the slot, had a 129.1 rating against, excluding his snaps at safety.  

Taylor was 93.6. Will Davis had the best of the group (73.9) before his knee injury. Grimes, who had another good season, was at 84.8.

But the bigger issue is this: With a handful of positions, the Dolphins remain the hamster on the wheel, cyling through player after player but never fixing problems for very long, either because they procure a player who isn’t a longterm solution or add good players who have issues the Dolphins find problematic (attitude, injury, excessive bathroom breaks, too vocal, a bad habit of bullying teammates).

Three positions where that wheel-on-the-hamster remains an issue:

### Cornerback: The Grimes signing was among the best Ireland ever made. No issue there.

But in the past six years, the Dolphins have used a first-rounder (Vontae Davis), two second-rounder (Sean Smith and Taylor), a third-rounder (Will Davis) and several lower-round picks on corners, including fourth-rounder Walt Aikens, who has earned little to no trust from the coaching staff because of on-field missteps and off-field maturity issues.

They’ve churned through a bunch of free agents (Richard Marshall, Dimitri Patterson, Cortland Finnegan).

And so they’re again left needing serious help at a position that frankly should have been solved when Davis and Smith were drafted in the first two rounds in 2009. They foolishly didn't try to re-sign Smith, who has been solid for Kansas City.

### Guard: Since 2008, they’ve invested a fourth-rounder (Shawn Murphy), three third-rounders (John Jerry, Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner), gave millions to Joe Berger and Richie Incognito, Lance Louis, Shelley Smith and others.

And though Turner has the physical attributes to perhaps develop into a starter --- and it’s too soon to give up on Thomas --- the Dolphins enter the offseason without a single above-average NFL guard on their roster, presuming Mike Pouncey returns to center, which is his strong preference.

### Receiver: The issue here is not talent. As Armando Salguero cogently detailed on his blog, the conundrum concerns money (Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson) and attitude (Mike Wallace and Rishard Matthews) --- issues that put every member of this group at risk except Jarvis Landry.

And so after making Wallace the highest-paid free agent in 2013 with a $61 million deal, and awarding contracts worth $35 million to Hartline and $10 million to Gibson and deeming Brandon Marshall too much of a distraction for Philbin and a young quarterback, and whiffing on fourth-rounder Clyde Gates and third-rounder Patrick Turner, and churning through journeymen Anthony Armstrong, Legedu Naanee, Davone Bess, Marlon Moore, Greg Camarillo and a partridge and a pear tree, the Dolphins need to again spend another spring worrying about a position that should have been solved.

Unlike guard and cornerback, there's enough talent already at the position. But it's the other stuff that will assuredly result in turnover at receiver.

A friend said Matthews, who has been fined numerous times for being overweight and tardy over the past three seasons, asked for a trade in late August, but Dennis Hickey said no.

Hickey appears to value Matthews more than Philbin does. But Matthews is still cheap ($673,000 cap hit) and he outplays his contract.

You could probably add linebacker to this list, too. But at least the Dolphins solved offensive tackle and have found a young quarterback who's ascending, at the very least.

Couple other quick items:

### Despite Hassan Whiteside's good work Sunday against the Clippers (23 points, 16 rebounds), Erik Spoelstra said he will stick with Chris Andersen as the starter Tuesday against the Lakers.... Whiteside became the first Heat player other than LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to produce at least 15 points and 15 rebounds in the same game since the Big Three came together, according to Elias.

### UM has a big opportunity Tuesday for a huge resume-building win at Duke (9 p.m., ESPN2). Duke is sixth in RPI, Miami 76th.

Duke is coming off a road loss at NC State and "I'm sure they'll be fired up to be back at home and we're looking forward to the game," Jim Larranaga said.

Of having to face a Duke team coming off a loss, Larranaga said, "As far as coming off a loss --- I can't remember the last time they lost two conference games back to back. I'm sure it's been a while. They're such a well balanced team. They have the premier low post player in the country (Jahlil Okafor); he is surrounded by outstanding perimeter shooters that really can stretch you defense. They put tremendous pressure on the ball defensively, making it very hard to run any kind of offense." 

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz