September 17, 2015

Heat adds John Lucas; Thursday Dolphins nuggets: Several young defenders getting chance to play meaningful snaps; Dolphins notes

The Heat added point guard John Lucas III to a non-guaranteed training camp deal on Thursday, giving them 19 players under contract, according to multiple sources.

Lucas, who lost out to Carlos Arroyo in a training camp bid for a Heat roster spot in 2009, has played in 237 NBA games for five teams over seven seasons, averaging 4.8 points and 1.5 assists, while shooting 38.4 percent from the field and 34.5 percent on three-pointers.

Lucas, 32, averaged 4.7 points and 2.9 assists in 21 games for Detroit last season. He was cut by the Washington Wizards after spending four days with them last October, then played in China through January (averaging 26 points and 7.0 assists) before joining the Pistons in early February and finishing the season with Detroit.

His agent, Bernie Lee, said: "I have absolutely no comment on anything regarding John. I understand there is a report about him working out somewhere but would tell you he works out a lot. Hopefully whoever saw him thought he looked good."

According to a team source, the 5-11 Lucas has been working out for the Heat for the past couple of days,

He's the fifth point guard on the roster --- joining starter Goran Dragic, backup Mario Chalmers, Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson. Dwyane Wade and Justise Winslow also can play point guard.

The Heat previously planned to sign undrafted VCU point guard Briante Weber, but that fell through because the Heat determined he was not yet fully recovered from major knee surgery in February. Weber's agent said he hopes Weber joins the Heat's D-League affiliate in South Dakota by December.

Lucas, the son of former NBA player and coach John Lucas, is a long shot to make the team, unless the Heat trades Chalmers, who was shopped earlier this summer. Chalmers had some cryptic tweets earlier this week, but they were not believed to be about his Heat future. As of this afternoon, he has not been traded.

NBA teams can carry 20 players in training camp but no more than 15 once the regular season starts.

Of the Heat's 19 players under contract, five have non-guaranteed deals: Lucas, incumbent forward James Ennis, forwards Greg Whittington and Keith Benson and shooting guard Corey Hawkins. Guard Tyler Johnson's contract is partially guaranteed.




Growing up in Utah, Zach Vigil remembers hearing the name of another Zach --- former Dolphins star Zach Thomas --- and thinking, “That guy is pretty cool.” Now, years later, Vigil hopes to follow in Thomas’ footsteps – as an unheralded middle linebacker who was sold short by NFL teams in the draft.

Vigil is the most improbable of a handful of young Dolphins defensive players who are receiving meaningful opportunities early in the season.

There’s second-round pick Jordan Phillips, who had Miami’s only sack Sunday. There’s second-year defensive end Terrence Fede, who filled in for injured Olivier Vernon against the Redskins and produced the most tackles of any Miami defensive lineman (six) in 38 snaps.

And there’s Walt Aikens, who has competently handled a starting safety job since a torn ACL ended Louis Delmas’ season in mid-August.

But Vigil’s rise is the most surprising, because he wasn’t drafted out of Utah State. He didn’t even bother watching the last day of the draft, instead spending the time with the family’s 14 horses that are used to help the Vigils hunt elk and deer.

He said several teams inquired about him after the draft, but he preferred Miami because defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle and linebackers coach Mark Duffner “took the initiative to reach out to me before the draft.”

Coyle, who split middle linebacker snaps evenly between Kelvin Sheppard and Vigil in the opener, said Vigil first caught his eye “back in the spring. He led the nation in tackles in college. Sometimes you may not think he looks the part, but yet he finds the ball.”

Vigil was delighted recently to meet Thomas, who was a fifth-round pick in 1996 and was a first-team All-Pro five times.

When Thomas addressed the team last month, “I was pretty attentive,” Vigil said. “He's somebody you can model after because he came in every day and did the work. That's something I've always done my whole life. He’s someone you can aspire to.”

Vigil is accustomed to being overlooked. He didn’t have a single scholarship offer when he walked on at Utah State.

“The NFL, at the time, seemed improbable,” he said. “I just wanted to earn a scholarship so my parents wouldn’t have to pay.”

He finally got one after two years and received valuable mentoring from another Utah State alum, Bobby Wagner, who was a first-team All Pro linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks last season.

“The big thing about Zach is his confidence,” linebacker Jelani Jenkins said. “Everybody can feel his confidence as a mike linebacker. He finds the ball. He gets off blocks. That's why we like him.”

Vigil is surrounded by other NFL neophytes who are trying to make a mark on this Dolphins defense.

Phillips, who said he “could have played better” in 11 snaps in the opener, was tired of hearing that he didn’t play hard every down at Oklahoma and has displayed a more consistent motor since coming to the Dolphins.

“There were too many people saying I was lazy, so I said I’ve got to fix it,” he said. “I don’t think my effort is in question anymore.”

Veteran defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, who has been paired with Phillips on the second team, said: “The young man can play football, no doubt. He has all the tools. He still has to learn the game. It's something that's going to take time. I'm trying to help him out as much as I can. Right now, it's basic stuff he can get better at, as we all can.”

Phillips said Ndamukong Suh and Derrick Shelby also are mentoring him.

As for Aikens, the former fourth-round pick out of Liberty has improved dramatically in his second season, especially in maturity and attention to detail.

“He’s night and day from last year to this year,” Dolphins safety Michael Thomas said. “He’s taking his job seriously. He’s being a pro this year. I’m proud of him. He has all the skills you can ask for. He’s a big, athletic skill player, fast, physical --- the type of presence you need in the backfield.”

Aikens said he quizzes himself on defensive calls --– and has others quiz him --– “just to stay on top of the defense. My football IQ has [improved]. When you understand the game more, you can play faster and use your athleticism.”

Coyle said Aikens’ first NFL start was “solid. Did some good things. He has a few things that we need to clean up, but overall he showed some good range in the back end and I thought played with some poise and confidence that we’re hoping now we can build on.”

### Reshad Jones' status for Sunday remains very much in question because of a hamstring injury, but keep in mind that cornerback Zack Bowman can play safety. A Dolphins official said recently that Bowman's versatility, and ability to play safety, was one reason he earned a roster spot, in addition to his experience and special teams acumen.

If Jones can't play, Michael Thomas likely would start at safety alongside Aikens.

### Tight end Dion Sims said today he's starting to feel better after Sunday's concussion, but a Dolphins official stopped the interview before he could say when he expected to return. 

Jack Stoneburner, who figures to be Jordan Cameron's backup, said there were some key plays that Miami couldn't use this past Sunday without a second healthy tight end.

### Sims and Derrick Shelby (eye) didn't practice today.

Jones, Cam Wake (hamstring) and Vernon (ankle) were limited.

### CBS is sending Sunday's Dolphins-Jaguars game to every Florida affiliate; plus Atlanta, Savannah and Albany, Ga; Dothan, Alabama; and New York City.

Why is New York City getting the game? CBS must show a 4 p.m. game there because the Giants are playing at 1 p.m. on Fox. Those living in a portion of the Florida panhandle won't get the game if they're served by the CBS affiliate in Mobile, which is showing Houston-Carolina instead... Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker and Steve Beuerlein --- CBS' No. 6 team --- work the Dolphins game.

September 16, 2015

Wade excited about this Heat team, addresses assorted issues; Spoelstra's big news

Months after tense, at times rancorous, contract talks culminated in a one-year, $20 million deal with the Heat, Dwyane Wade on Wednesday night reiterated his desire to finish his career in Miami and endorsed management’s offseason reworking of the roster.

“I thought Pat Riley and Micky Arison and Nick Arison did a great job of building this team,” Wade said before being inducted into the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s Sports Hall of Champions at Marlins Park.

“We have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to be, to get into the playoffs and hope to compete for a championship…. [But] I really like this team. We’ve got a lot of depth… I love playing with veteran guys.

“When you can add youth like Justise [Winslow] and… [second-round pick] Josh [Richardson], when you add those guys into veteran guys, it could be special. We have all the ingredients. We just have to make sure we mix it right. It’s going to be a long journey of ups and downs and highs and lows. Hopefully at the end we end on a high.”

After four consecutive years of playing deep into June, Wade “enjoyed” a lengthy layoff this offseason, with Miami missing the playoffs for only the second time in his career.

“I’ve been so blessed to be able to play in five Finals and many playoff series and many meaningful games,” Wade said.

“Sometimes you don’t get a break. And life keeps going. To get a break from basketball for a while, not saying I want to be out of the playoffs. Once it was reality we weren’t getting in, you had to say it wasn’t meant to be. There’s a reason for this. Hopefully that reason shows its face this year.”

The Heat begins training camp Sept. 29, likely at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, and Wade is eager “to get things going, get around the guys, start building that bond. And you hope what you build is special enough to have a memorable season.”

Wade appeared slim and in very good shape Wednesday but said he has added back some weight after losing “a lot” earlier in the summer. “I’m good; I’m in basketball shape,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Wade told 790 The Ticket that he changed his workout approach this summer.

“For myself, I will be turning 34 this year,” he told Ethan Skolnick and Israel Gutierrez. “I'm going into my 13th year. A lot of people didn't think I would make it this long with the way I play, the style of play.

“This summer was trying to challenge myself with my body. The last couple of summers I worked with my amazing trainer, Tim Grover. This summer I decided to switch trainers and go a different way to give my body a different experience. I'm working with a trainer down here named Dave Alexander.

“I've been feeling good. I've been working on my body. Hopefully when the moments come, you can live up to the moment. For me, going into my 13th year, especially coming off last year, it's doing whatever I can to help this team win. I've always done that.”

Wade’s summer included spending several days working out and bonding with most of his Heat teammates and coaches in Los Angeles.

“The L.A. thing was all Chris Bosh; Chris came to me,” he said. “I thought Chris did an unbelievable job of stepping up and being a leader and getting all of us together to get to Joshua Tree and spending time with the coaches and working out at his house in L.A. It’s something we hadn’t done before.

“Last year was a tough year for everyone. The summer and LeBron [James] leaving and everyone was all up in arms. We put this team together and we had a lot of injuries going on and the team never got a chance to really learn each other, get to know each other. We didn't do the things we had done in the past to kind of build that bond or chemistry. Everyone was kind of to themselves.”

Getting together in Los Angeles last month “was an idea to say, we've got to do it different this year. We've got to deal with this brotherhood, build this bond sooner if we want to compete the way I think we all do.”

Wade said being inducted into Miami’s Sports Hall of Champions left him “at a loss for words… I’m overwhelmed and appreciative. I love the city. Everyone knows it.

“There’s a business side of everything. But my heart, and where I always said I wanted to be, was here. I started my career here and I would like to finish it. I came here just happy to be here, just wanting to make this organization proud for drafting me as the fifth pick.”

### Wade said he wore a Jets jersey at Sunday’s New York-Cleveland game because he’s “very, very good friends with [Jets receiver] Brandon Marshall.”

He told The Ticket: “I don't know why people in Florida like to test my faith in my belief and my love for Miami because I wear a jersey to a game. I'm in this community. I have done everything I can from a basketball standpoint, to help this town be successful and I will continue to do that. The
heart is there, the love is there…. Don't question my loyalty, you all. Do not question my loyalty.”

Also inducted into Miami’s Sports Hall of Champions on Wednesday: tennis legend Chris Evert (who was unable to attend because of illness), golf legend Jack Nicklaus and former MLB player and general manager Woody Woodward.


In a response to feedback from season-ticket holders, the Heat has moved four Friday/Saturday home games from 7:30 to 8 p.m.: Nov. 21 (76ers), Dec. 5 (Cavaliers), Dec. 18 (Raptors) and March 25 (Magic).

### Heat coach Erik Spoelstra announced on The Ticket that he got engaged this summer.

His fiancée: Nikki Sapp, a former Heat dancer and dance instructor who has run an art gallery in Los Angeles.

“We found out in LA,” Wade said. “We gave him a hard time. We’re happy for him. Never thought I’d see this day.”

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

September 15, 2015

Hurricanes adapt offense to the times and why it could benefit them longterm; Dolphins, Marlins chatter


When UM’s Al Golden and James Coley analyzed their offense this offseason, they knew they simply could not ignore the way college football is played today, the way more and more teams spread the field with receivers and have their quarterback stand in the shotgun and chuck it everywhere, flummoxing defenses and practically daring teams to try covering fleet-footed receivers and tight ends with linebackers and safeties.

And that evolution in college football, Coley tells us, factored “a lot” into the UM’s staff decision to transform this offense into more of a pro-style/spread combo that UM people joke they’re not even sure what to call.

For the first two games of the season, UM quarterback Brad Kaaya hasn’t lined up under center a single time in the first half and very, very few times at all, with UM instead using both the shotgun and the pistol (in which the quarterback is closer to the center than in the shotgun).

Against FAU, UM ran out of the I-formation, with two backs behind Kaaya, only twice, both on the goal-line. UM has alternated deftly between two-, three- four- and five- receiver sets, with ample use of tight ends and H-backs. A few times, UM used an empty backfield. No-huddle offense also has been weaved in.

Against lesser competition, it’s working. Miami is averaging 44.5 points (21st in the country), but the comparison to last year’s point total (29.2, 62nd) is meaningless because of the quality of competition so far.

But the new approach is clearly helping Miami’s running game, because teams can’t fill the box with eight defenders when receivers are so spread out. It’s no coincidence Joe Yearby is averaging 7.0 per carry.

“These guys are more suited to the pistol or shotgun,” Golden said of Yearby and Mark Walton. “It has helped us, created some cutback lanes.”

 So what exactly is UM now?

“To say we’re a complete spread team, I don’t know,” Coley said. “There are still classifications of a pro style that spreads it out. I like to call ourselves a tempro team --- I mess around with the offensive staff and say ‘espresso.’ We want to be able to play with multiple tempos.”

Kaaya calls it an “amoeba” offense: “We still have pro style answers to certain defensive looks we see. But we're playing a lot faster and getting the ball in our playmakers’ hands a lot. It's a lot more efficient. Guys have less mental errors. We're allowing the players to make plays instead of making them think extra hard.”

UM’s objective is clear: Get its skilled backs, receivers and tight ends in space, where they can outrun or outmaneuver less athletic or slower defenders.

UM has become more of a catch-and-run offense, with shorter, higher percentage passes. Kaaya’s completion percentage is up (58.5 to 62.7) but his yards per attempt is down (8.5 to 7.8).

UM’s offensive coaches visited Southern Cal and borrowed concepts from the Trojans, as well as the Dallas Cowboys.

“That’s something you do in the offseason: You say, ‘How can I use these guys?’” Coley said. “We’re going to put them in position where they can make plays.

“We did a lot of work in the offseason. We didn’t stop. We were here and there and everywhere [like] Paul McCartney’s [song]. We made some adaptations in our game and every week we plan on showing a little bit more.”

UM has held some things back that it will unveil Saturday and beyond.

And don’t overlook this: This style is precisely the way a lot of high school players like to play, so this can only help UM with recruiting.

“It’s so much fun,” backup quarterback Malik Rosier said of UM’s new style. “Me and Brad come home and we’re like, ‘We have such good players on our team.’

“We feel like this year, [with] spreading out a little more, we have great receivers, great backs. Getting them in open space, making one-on-one matchups is our goal.”

The quarterbacks love playing in the shotgun because “it’s what I did a lot in high school and growing up in California,” Kaaya said. “The shotgun fits our offense more. It’s good. It gets me back there so I can see the whole field and scan everything out, especially for passing situations. It also spreads the run out, too.”

One advantage of the traditional pro-style offense is that it prepares quarterbacks for the NFL. But UM, once known as “Quarterback U,” hasn’t had one drafted before the seventh round in, shockingly, 23 years, since Craig Erickson was plucked in the fourth in 1992.

That should change in a couple of years with Kaaya, and Coley makes clear that “I still believe in developing the quarterback” besides winning games.

“Some of these other places the quarterback will look over with three seconds left on the clock and they’ll tell him to throw to the Z and it works for them,” Coley said. “That’s great, but that doesn’t work for that guy when you go to the pros.

“I still put a lot on the plate of the quarterback.  Even though we’re using multiple tempos and we spread it out, there’s still a lot on his plate. He’s still in charge of the mike [linebacker] declarations, the run checks.”

### Please see the last post for 11 more Hurricanes notes from Tuesday afternoon.


### No ex-Dolphin on TV is more critical of the Dolphins than NFL Network’s Heath Evans (his latest shot was calling Ndamukong Suh a bully the other day and saying Suh should be suspended four games), and ex-Dolphins cornerback Sam Madison --- Evans’ teammate in 2005 --- finally had enough, tweeting: “I wish #heathevans would have never put on a Miami Dolphins jersey. #hater #soft and so one-sided.”

Evans’ Twitter response? “You would know Sam… You were a great player and always tough to play against! Hope you’re doing well!”

Madison expanded on his feelings by phone, saying that Evans "played six games here. What gives you the right to say all these things? It seems like you give nothing but negative energy to our organization. Undeserved stuff. Don't keep doing it."

I enjoyed my interaction with both Madison and Evans during their time with the Dolphins, but Evans' criticism of the Dolphins --- including Suh --- seems over the top.

### Zach Vigil’s rise from undrafted rookie to competing for the starting middle linebacker job is even more improbable considering the Utah State walk-on didn’t receive a single scholarship offer out of high school.

“Usually you don't see people come in undrafted and act like you own the place,” linebacker Jelani Jenkins said. “That’s what I like most about him. He acts like he owns the place.”

### You can't dispute this about new Dolphins kickoff returner Raheem Mostert: The guy has blazing speed. He ran a 4.32 at Purdue's pro day this past spring.

### Nicest gesture by a Dolphins player this season? Probably Suh buying La-Z-Boy recliners so all the defensive linemen can sit in comfort while they meet, discuss strategy and watch tape in the defensive line room. “That’s very big of him; we’re here more than we’re home,” Cameron Wake said.

### Though some Marlins officials would like to hold onto outfielder Marcell Ozuna, an associate of Jeffrey Loria said Loria is disappointed in Ozuna and very much open to trading him this offseason. Miami would look for a young (inexpensive) quality starting pitcher in return.

### Butch Davis, who has said he would love to coach again (unlikely to happen at UM), was named honorary bowl committee chairman of the Miami Beach Bowl at Marlins Park.

Davis, who works for ESPN, has been out of coaching since North Carolina dismissed him after the 2010 season. This will be Davis' second new association with South Florida; he's also doing a weekly segment on 790 The Ticket.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Tuesday Hurricanes notes: Injuries, Golden's views, position updates

A few UM football tidbits from Tuesday:

### One should get one of two injured receivers back this week against Nebraska.

The recovery time for Braxton Berrios’ type of knee sprain is typically two to four weeks; he didn't practice today and though Saturday against Nebraska hasn’t been ruled out, the Oct. 1 game at Cincinnati seems more plausible. Berrios has made progress but not as much as UM hoped, Al Golden said.

But Stacy Coley is back from a hamstring injury and said he’s feeling fine and will play Saturday.

### Does UM need a No. 1 receiver to emerge? Al Golden doesn’t necessarily think so. “Herb Waters had 100 yards last week, Rashawn Scott had 100 yards the first week,” he said. “I don’t know who’s one. Those guys can be No. 1.”

### Odd stat: UM is 6 for 24 on third downs but 5 for 5 on fourth downs this season.

“As our defense has improved over the past 15 games, so has our ability to go for it on fourth down,” Golden said. “We need to catch the ball better on third down.”

### Golden wants to get the tight ends more involved in the passing game, not only starter Standish Dobard but backups Chris Herndon and David Njoku.

“We have to do a better job getting them the ball,” Golden said. “They can catch it. Stan is the most versatile. Chris and David can get vertical. I’d like to see them a little more active.”

### Kc McDermott is making a push at tackle, and Golden wouldn’t rule out changes on the offensive line. “I’m not displeased with the offensive line,” Golden said.

### What freshmen have impressed besides Mark Walton?

“We played a bunch,” Golden said. “Sheldrick Redwine has done a nice job. Quan Johnson on special teams has been awesome. Kendrick Norton has done a really nice job. Richard McIntosh has done a nice job. [Tyree] St. Louis, [Tyler] Gauthier done a nice job. I’m pleased with the group overall.”

### Though UM seems to have blitzed more at times, Mark D’Onofrio said he doesn’t believe that’s the case. “Don’t know that it’s a conscious effort,” he said. “I was disappointed we missed some sacks” against FAU.

### After years and years, UM is still waiting for a dominating defensive tackle to emerge.

Anthony Moten “did a good job” in practice last week and started ahead of Courtel Jenkins on Friday, but Jenkins played well. Calvin Heurtelou is entrenched as one starter.  Michael Wyche has been a disappointment (my words) and was on the scout team.

### With Darrion Owens out for the year, Trent Harris probably will see some time at linebacker, along with Tyriq McCord. “That’s what they are, outside linebackers,” D’Onofrio said of those two.

### UM has four veteran safeties who want to play --- Deon Bush, Dallas Crawford, Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter, but Bush said that hasn’t bred any negative feelings.

“On Friday, Jamal made a great play and knocked the guy out,” Bush said. “That gives all the other safeties a boost. During a game, there is no competition amongst us. When I see Jamal go out there and knock somebody out, it brings a joy to everybody.”

### ABC has a split national at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, with some viewers getting UM-Nebraska and others getting Ohio State-Northern Illinois. But those who don’t get the Canes game on ESPN will see it on ESPN2.

Please check back tonight for a lot more Canes items and other stuff.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

September 14, 2015

3 p.m. Monday: Fins make six roster moves, cut LaMike James; Tape analysis of how run defense was gashed; Notable snap counts, PFF grades, notes

Note: We'll be updating this blog with Dolphins news and press conference comments throughout the day.

First, a look at the six roster moves today:

The Dolphins have added undrafted Purdue rookie running back/kickoff returner Raheem Mostert from Philadelphia's practice squad, according to his agent, Brett Tessler. Mostert averaged 26 yards per return on 88 kickoff returns in his college career, including a nation-lead 33.5 yards per return as a freshman in 2012.

Mostert has a very good chance to be the Dolphins' kick returner Sunday if he performs well in practice. He replaces LaMike James, who was cut earlier today after fumbling a kickoff on Sunday.

Mostert averaged 5.6 yards per carry on 136 career rushing attempts at Purdue, including 5.7 last season.

He led the NFL in total yards in preseason for the Eagles and averaged 32.4 yards on five kickoff returns.

The Dolphins cut Jonas Gray to make room for Moshert, but Gray will be re-signed to the practice squad, according to agent Sean Stellato.

To replace James, the Dolphins promoted tight end Jake Stoneburner from the practice squad.

The Dolphins need a second healthy tight end on the roster, to supplement starter Jordan Cameron, because Dion Sims sustained a concussion early in Sunday's game. Joe Philbin said it is too early to know how long Sims will be out. He must pass the NFL's concussion protocol to be cleared to play.

Stoneburner, who was released in the last round of cuts, "is smart, can do a lot of different things," Philbin said. "Knows the offense well. Has good hands. Catches the ball well."

James and Jarvis Landry were involved in an altercation at the start of a special teams meeting last week (please see the last blog for our scoop on that), but Philbin said nothing off-field figured into the decision to release James.

Landry, who scored on a 69-yard punt return on Sunday, is expected to continue handling punts. 

Miami also cut guard Sam Brenner, who was on the 53-man roster, and re-signed Jacques McClendon, who had been released on Friday for financial reasons.

The Dolphins would have been obligated to pay McClendon his entire $745,000 salary this season if he had been on the roster at 4 p.m. Saturday. Now, if he's cut again, he won't be paid for anything more after that point.

Brenner will return to the Dolphins' practice squad if he's not claimed by another team off waivers.

### Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said middle linebacker is now an open competition between Kelvin Sheppard and undrafted rookie Zach Vigil. Both played 19 snaps Sunday, by design.

"We felt they both did a lot of good things in preseason," Coyle said today. "We let them know they both would be sharing time. They split the number of reps. Both did a good job. We’re building some depth there. a veteran player that played well and a young player that hung tough. We will play the best players as the season involves. We will give them a chance to establish who may be the starter."

### Ndamukong Suh had two tackles in his first game and Coyle said "he can play better. He knows that. He was amped up, wanting to really do well, took him a little to get settled down. They tried to scheme us. They didn’t run at Ndamukong. They ran away and when they did they had people down on his legs, cutting and chopping him. As the game wore on, he did better."

### Reshad Jones, who missed a few plays late in the game with a hamstring injury, said he's feeling fine.

### It's too early to tell if Olivier Vernon will miss time with an ankle injury. He wasn't at full strength Monday but wasn't wearing a boot, either.

"He got leg whipped in the shin," Coyle said. "As he tried to maintain his balance, his foot hit a strange way. He’s a tough guy and wanted to come back out there but we could see he wasn’t himself."

### Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor blamed himself for Miami's red zone delay of game penalty that pushed the Dolphins back to the 10 yard line on a third down in the second half. The Dolphins had to settle for a field goal. Lazor said he didn't get the play in quickly enough.

### DeVante Parker, coming off June foot surgery, played only one snap. What does Philbin need to see from Parker to incorporate him more in the game plan?

"That comfort level for everybody, for him for us," Philbin said. "That rhythm, the anticipation, trust versus certain coverages. He’s moving better and better each time he’s on the field."

### Lazor said Rishard Matthews "earned" his starting job. But he also said he wishes Kenny Stills had played more than his 23 snaps. Matthews had 45. (See below more snap count info.)

### Coyle, on his run defense Sunday: 

"There were a lot of little things we need to address. Part of it was the anxiousness to go out there the first game. Sometimes you can overdo some things. We’ve got to get off blocks. They did a good job on the backside of plays --- low blocking, chop blocking, cut blocking on the backside of plays and we didn’t play that very well in the first half.

There were way too many 5 yard runs, 6 yard runs and we didn’t tackle as well. There were times we made [contact] after 3 yards, and he squirmed and it was second and four instead of second and seven. We’ve got to play better across the board. Our players know that. We’ve got our share of [improvements] to make."

 ### Philbin said Branden Albert, playing for the first time since a major knee injury last November, showed a little "rust" but "I was encouraged by his movement."


11 a.m. report: The Dolphins presumed Ndamukong Suh would be the panacea for a run defense that relinquished 121 yards per game last season (24th in the league) and a gruesome 165 yards per game over the final six.

Suh’s presence assuredly will help, but the Dolphins’ run defense Sunday in Washington wasn’t remotely better than a year ago.  

The Dolphins were steamrolled for 161 yards on the ground, more than twice as many as the 69 yards rushing per game that the Suh-led Lions allowed last season on average, a figure that led the league. Of the 28 NFL teams that began their seasons before Monday night, only Green Bay permitted more yards on the ground than Miami in Week 1.

There were myriad issues Sunday which led to the Redskins averaging 4.4 yards per carry (seventh-worst among teams that had played a game before Monday): Defensive linemen sealed off on blocks, uninspired middle linebacker play, missed tackles, among others. On multiple occasions, the Dolphins were victimized by legal cut blocks, in which offensive linemen hit a players’ knees.

The Redskins had 15 rushing attempts that gained five yards or more, which is unacceptably high from Miami’s perspective.

A review of the tape showed that nine of those 15 went to the opposite side of Suh, who was double-teamed at times. Another happened with Suh out of the game and another was a sweep to Suh’s side, but far enough away from Suh that he wouldn’t have been expected to make the tackle.

That means four of 15 runs that gained five or more yards were run in the general area of Suh. On one of them, a six-yard gain by Alfred Morris, Suh was tossed to the ground and Reshad Jones missed a tackle. On two other six-yard runs by Morris, Suh was simply sealed off, rendered a non-factor on the play because of good blocking. Middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard was in position to make the tackle but couldn’t on one of those two plays.  And on the fourth, a third-and long, Matt Jones ripped off eight yards, with Suh blocked effectively and Cameron Wake missing a tackle.

But what about the other 11 runs of five yards or more? Examining those:

### On the run with Suh out of the game, CJ Mosley couldn’t dislodge quickly enough from a block, and Morris gained six yards.

### On the sweep to Suh’s side (a five-yard run by Jones), Wake was sealed off and Jelani Jenkins missed a tackle.

### On the nine runs of five yards or more that were run to the side opposite of Suh, several factors contributed. Earl Mitchell couldn’t dislodge from blocks on five of those plays, was tossed to the ground on another and simply ran by the play on another.

Olivier Vernon also was sealed off on four of those five plays, and Terrence Fede couldn’t get free from a block on two others. Zach Vigil took a poor angle on one of those plays, an 11-yard run. Jordan Phillips couldn’t dislodge quickly enough on one of those plays, a 10-yard run by Morris.

Nine of the 15 runs of five yards or more happened in the first half. The run defense was somewhat better in the second half, but the Redskins sill ran for 67 yards in the second half. The good news: The Dolphins held the Redskins scoreless in the second half, and that's the most significant statistic.


### The Dolphins made an NFL-high 68 trips inside the red zone last season but scored touchdowns only 51 percent of the time, ranking 21st in the league.

The Dolphins’ red zone work was even worse on Sunday, with Miami scoring 10 points on three trips inside the Redskins’ 20.

On Miami’s first sojourn inside the 20, Damien Williams was stopped short on a fourth and 1 when Ryan Kerrigan ran unabated to tackle him and Dallas Thomas couldn’t hold a block on Jason Hatcher.

The Dolphins scored a touchdown on their second trip inside the red zone, on Ryan Tannehill’s four-yard touchdown pass to Rishard Matthews.

But on their third trip inside the Redskins’ 20, Miami had to settle for a field goal even after having a first and goal from the 3. Tannehill was largely to blame for that. Flushed from the pocket, he unwisely threw a short pass to Jarvis Landry – which lost seven yards – instead of throwing it away. After Tannehill ran for five yards on the next play, Miami had a delay of game penalty, pushing the ball back to the 10. On third and goal, Tannehill threw a short pass to Landry, which took the ball to the three. Miami then settled for Andrew Franks' field goal to tie the score at 10.

### Notable offensive snap counts: Every starting offensive lineman played all 57 snaps except Branden Albert, who missed two plays after sustaining a blow to the head. Doctors determined he did not have a concussion and he returned to the game…

With Dion Sims limited to three snaps because of a concussion, Jordan Cameron played 56 of 57 snaps and offensive lineman Jeff Linkenbach played seven snaps, five of them at tight end.

Among receivers, Jarvis Landry played 54 of the 57 snaps, Rishard Matthews 45, Greg Jennings 39, Kenny Stills 23 and DeVante Parker just one.

Among running backs, Lamar Miller had 46 snaps, Damien Williams 13.

### From Pro Football Focus’ grading of the game: Though he appeared to play decently, right guard Jamil Douglas was given Miami’s worst grade, a minus 4.7. Right tackle Ju’Wuan James was given Miami’s best grade (a plus 2.2)….

PFF said Dallas Thomas allowed two of the Redskins’ four sacks. Mike Pouncey yielded one and Tannehill also allowed one by taking too much time to throw…

On throws of 20 yards or more, Tannehill was 2 for 6 for 54 yards. Cameron’s diving catch accounted for part of that yardage…

Tannehill was 5 for 6 for 34 yards when blitzed (129.9 rating) and 17 for 28 for 192 yards (81.2 rating) when he wasn’t.

### Landry was targeted the most of any Dolphins receiver and caught 8 of 12 balls thrown to him for 53 yards. Matthews was thrown five passes and caught four for 34 yards, dropping the other.

Jennings and Stills were each targeted three times, with Jennings catching one and Stills catching one (Tannehill misfired on a potential TD thrown to Stills).

### Notable defensive snap counts: Brent Grimes, Brice McCain and Jelani Jenkins played all 79 defensive snaps. Among Miami’s safeties, Reshad Jones missed four snaps because of a hamstring injury late in the game. Walt Aikens played 60 and Michael Thomas 23….

The Dolphins used only three cornerbacks on defense, with Jamar Taylor logging 46 snaps as the third corner….

The Dolphins split middle linebacker snaps evenly between Sheppard and Vigil, with each logging 19 snaps. Koa Misi played 73 of Miami’s 79 snaps and Spencer Paysinger played one snap…

Suh, who played 82 percent of the Lions’ defensive snaps last season, played 85 percent Sunday (67 of 79). Mitchell also played 67, CJ Mosley 12 and Jordan Phillips 11….

Among defensive ends, Wake played 58, Vernon 30 (he missed a lot of time with an ankle injury), Fede 38 and Derrick Shelby 33.

### From PFF’s grading of the game: PFF gave Suh a minus .1…. Vernon had PFF’s worst grade for a Dolphins defender (minus 3.5)… Grimes had the best grade (2.6)… PFF gave Sheppard and Vigil the same grade --- minus .3.

### Taylor was targeted eight times and allowed seven completions, for 54 yards… McCain allowed three of four passes thrown against him to be caught for 49 yards but also made spectacular interception… Grimes was very good (two of five completed against him, for 22 yards, and an interception)… According to PFF, Miami’s safeties allowed only six yards of completions against them. Outstanding.

### NBC made a big deal of Ndamukong Suh grazing the head of Alfred Morris when Suh got up off the ground after tackling Morris, with Mike Florio suggesting that Suh could be suspended.

But the NFL said Monday that Suh did nothing wrong and won’t face any disciplinary action. Michael Signora told our Adam Beasley that the play was reviewed by the league’s senior football operations staff and “while there was contact between the players, Suh’s action was not deemed a kick.”

Please check back after 3 p.m. for highlights from the Dolphins coordinators' mid-afternoon press conferences.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

September 12, 2015

Two Dolphins players have physical confrontation in meeting; Several Dolphins have urgency to prove their worth; Vegas embracing Fins; Canes, Marlins

Jarvis Landry and LaMike James apologized to their Dolphins teammates on Thursday after they had a physical confrontation during a special teams meeting on Wednesday, according to five sources. The confrontation involved pushing and shoving between the two players.

From what we hear, Landry --- a jovial, fun-loving guy --- was joking around at the start of the meeting. James appeared to be in a bad mood, and whatever Landry was joking about rubbed James the wrong way, prompting James to lash out physically. A source said Landry did not level any personal attacks at James.

Pushes and shoves were exchanged before teammates broke up the altercation. Neither player was injured; James suffered a shoulder injury this week and was limited in practice Thursday, but that injury happened while blocking in a blitz pickup in practice, according to a source. James is expected to play today. Landry also will play, of course.

After the incident in the meeting, Landry later apologized to James and told James he was always available to talk if James ever needed anything. Neither player has been suspended or disciplined by the team, nor does this appear to warrant that.

Both players apologized in front of the team a day later. Another player on the team said both players told the team that they were sorry they created a distraction.

Coincidentally, both players are competing for return jobs on the team (see the note below about that), but that was not believed to be a factor in their incident.

The view here: The incident appears to be an anomaly in a locker-room filled with players considered high-character, so it shouldn’t be cause for great concern.



There are people with any franchise whose standing with their teams can best be summarized by two words: It’s time. As in: It’s really time to show what you can do, because after a while here or elsewhere, we need you to be available and productive and justify our faith.

Coach Joe Philbin sits at the forefront of the It’s Time club, his 23-25 career record hardly what Stephen Ross envisioned when Ross hired him.

Chatter on a half dozen other Dolphins who also belong in that group, as a new season dawns Sunday:

### Dallas Thomas. The front office and coaching staff largely overlooked the seven sacks allowed last season (all of which came during his snaps at tackle), because when they probe deeper, they insist they see a player with starting talent. His last extended chance to prove it begins next Sunday, when the 2013 third-round pick lines up as the starting left guard.

How much better a player is he than a year ago?

“It’s tremendous, it’s crazy, it’s night and day,” he said. “I feel stronger because I wanted to put on more muscle and drop the fat and keep the weight the same. And I didn't go home this offseason. I worked out here. That played a role.”

But Branden Albert said Thursday that “Dallas has to learn not to be a one-hit wonder and always do it.” One former teammate said he wishes Thomas would play with more toughness.

At least there has been growth in preseason. He didn’t allow a sack or pressure in 61 snaps at guard and one sack in 38 snaps at tackle.

Philbin said even though there have been games last year they “wish he played better,” he still “deserves this opportunity.”

Among those drafted a short time after Miami selected Thomas 77th in 2013: Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan (seven picks in two seasons) and Cowboys starting safety J.J. Wilson (three picks last season).

### Jamar Taylor. The contribution in his first two seasons has been modest for a second-rounder, though for reasons largely beyond his control: a sports hernia as a rookie, a shoulder problem last year and a quadriceps injury this preseason that played a role in Brice McCain beating him out.

But he has been solid when available this preseason, and Brent Grimes swears he’s going to be “a great player.” Simply becoming a quality No. 2 or No. 3 corner would do.

What do the Dolphins like about him? “He has exceptional ball skills and is a really good athlete,” defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo said.

“Nobody is like Grimes, but Jamar can move and turn and twist. The guy works as hard as anybody I’ve ever been around. He’s here all the time. Trains unbelievably. Is a student of the game. If he can just stay healthy and play, the sky is the limit for him.”

Taylor has had a lot of passes thrown against him completed in his first two seasons (37 of 53) but Anarumo said: “That’s not just him. Sometimes it’s pressure. Some of those things getting charted may be a zone dropper and the ball goes in front of him; that’s where you want the ball to be caught and he has to come up and tackle.

“That stuff I don’t get all tied up into. He’s got to be able to win his one-on-one battles in man coverage and I think he’ll be fine.”

### Will Davis. Off an ACL tear, Davis has allowed too many sizable plays in his career (14 yard average per reception, on 20 catches) and struggled in preseason before a two-interception finale that clinched his roster spot.

But the Dolphins loved his play-making skills when they plucked him in the third round out of Utah State in 2013, and the quarterback rating in his coverage area was only 77.9 last season before his knee injury. The key has been convincing him to play less recklessly, to be more disciplined in taking chances and more sound in his technique.

“That was one thing I know coaches wanted, for me to be more disciplined,” he said. “They love my athleticism; they love my aggressiveness and the way I play the ball in the air. They tell me that all the time. When you have that gift, it’s hard not to use it.”

The likable Davis, a quintessential glass-half-full guy, said the ACL injury “was a blessing in disguise because some of my athleticism has been taken away so I have to be more technical. I don’t have that explosiveness right now that I used to have so I have to be real technical.

“Back in the day, I could take a false step and still come back and make a play. I can’t do that now. I’ve been playing great technique. When I do get it all back, I can make great plays.”

### Kelvin Sheppard. He’s different from the others on this list because he has only been here a bit over a year. But this could be Sheppard’s last chance to prove he’s a quality starting NFL middle linebacker, a job he held for 24 games over two years in Buffalo before being traded and seven games in Indianapolis before being released last August.

This Dolphins front office thinks more highly of Sheppard than some others in the league do, and Sheppard believes he can thrive as a starter here because “I’m 10 pounds lighter than in Indianapolis, more mobile. And I’m very comfortable with this defense; it’s similar to the system I played at LSU. This whole preseason, I haven’t had to block linemen” because Ndamukong Suh often obliterates them.    

### Koa Misi.  Unlike the others on this list, Misi has been an above-average starter, a valuable contributing piece when he’s at his best.

But as much as defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle and Philbin love his effort and motor, Philbin also has said – speaking in general – that one big key for players is being available. And Misi’s durability has becoming increasingly worrisome; he missed 16 games over the past five seasons, including five in 2014. A calf injury sidelined him much of camp.

“It’s frustrating; I never want to be on the sideline,” he said. “I’ve tried to be [proactive with injury prevention] by taking care of my body, getting massages.”

Now he’s returning to strongside linebacker --- a position he has had most of his NFL success – after a year in the middle. This is a big year for him, considering he has a $4.3 million salary and $4.9 million cap hit if he’s on the team in 2016, with just a $1.1 million hit if he’s not.

### Coyle. Miami’s defense has seemingly diminished in every season of his tenure, from seventh in points allowed in 2013 to eighth in 2014 to 20th last season.

Players have griped about some of his decisions, including putting Philip Wheeler on an island in coverage on Andrew Quarless on Green Bay’s winning touchdown last October, to using slow linebackers at times in coverage on speedy running backs, to occasionally putting Cam Wake in coverage (though Wake has never complained).

Before deciding to keep Coyle, Philbin ordered him to simplify, to streamline some of his packages, and players say that has helped.

Those changes have made the defense “a lot easier,” Sheppard said. “We have a lot of young guys that are going to contribute this year and it allows those guys to use their raw natural talent and play fast instead of thinking.

“Coach Coyle has spent a lot of time this offseason trimming down the defense and it's not to where it's football 101 and every quarterback in the league knows what we're doing. It's not so much he cut out half the playbook. They've broken it down and simplified it as far as concepts.”

After Ross gave Suh the richest non-quarterback contract in history, Coyle will be expected to deliver a top-10 defense.

Coyle loves what he has to work with: “The excitement stems from the fact that you see so much potential in the group. We’ve exhibited a real ability to defend the run. We’ve been solid in the back end; we haven’t given up many big plays throughout preseason with our first and second group primarily.”


### Not only do Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason rate Miami the fourth-best team in the AFC, but consider this: So many people have been betting on the Dolphins winning the Super Bowl that the MGM Grand and 11 other Nevada casinos dropped the odds from 50-to-1 this past spring all the way to 15 to 1. Only eight teams have shorter odds.

“The public has really embraced the Dolphins,” said Jay Root, who runs the MGM Grand’s sports book. “It’s a little surprising the amount of money and tickets we’ve written on them. They’re always popular but people have doubled down.” The Dolphins have shorter odds than even the Ravens, who are 18-to-1.

The only teams with shorter odds: Seattle, Green Bay, New England, Indianapolis, Dallas, Denver, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

### The Dolphins have had robust discussions about how much to use Jarvis Landry on returns and this week they practiced – and gave strong thought – to using LaMike James on kickoffs and Landry on punts.

Landry’s career averages: 28.1 yards on kickoffs (fourth in the NFL in 2014) and 8.2 on punts. James’ career averages: 28.4 on kickoffs, 10.9 on punts.

### It will be interesting to see if Philbin feels less “queasy” this season and takes more chances.

According to a study by Football Outsiders, Philbin ranked in the middle of the pack in aggressiveness in 2014. Excluding second-half catch-up situations, Philbin went for it three times in seven chances on 4th and 1 but never went it on 4th and 2 in nine chances.

### UM begins this season with more players on 53-man NFL rosters (38) than any other college program; LSU is second with 36.

### Updating where the UM rookies stand: Duke Johnson, is Cleveland’s No. 2 running back behind Isaiah CrowellEreck Flowers is the Giants’ starting left tackle…

Phillip Dorsett is the Colts’ No. 3 receiver and punt returner… Clive Walford is Oakland’s No. 3 tight end and Jon Feliciano is the backup right guard… Undrafted rookie Thurston Armbrister is a backup linebacker in Jacksonville, and undrafted Ladarius Gunter a backup cornerback in Green Bay.... The Steelers cut sixth-round pick Anthony Chickillo but signed him to their practice squad. And Shane McDermott is on the Carolina Panthers' practice squad.

### At this point, the Marlins lean toward tendering an offer to pitcher Henderson Alvarez, who’s coming off shoulder surgery and could make about $4 million in arbitration if Miami keeps him. The decision will come down to his medicals before the early December tender deadline. He said he should be ready to pitch by February.

But it's less likely the Marlins tender $2 million reliever Aaron Crow, who’s coming off Tommy John surgery. Crow said he might not be ready until April and the Marlins feel good about their young relievers. So Crow, the Marlins' first acquisition last offseason, might end up never throwing a regular-season pitch for Miami.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

September 11, 2015

Dolphins say their revamped offensive line will surprise people; Dolphins, Heat roster moves; UM

The Dolphins’ most scrutinized unit will take the field against the Washington Redskins on Sunday with a rookie fourth-round pick at right guard (Jamil Douglas) and a left guard (Dallas Thomas) determined to prove he’s better than the player who struggled mightily at times in the past.

And, oh yes, there's also a left tackle coming off major knee surgery (Branden Albert), a center fresh off a season at guard (Mike Pouncey), and a right tackle (Ju’Wuan James) whose rookie season was disrupted by a need to fill in at left tackle.

None of this turnover and tumult seems particularly unsettling to the Dolphins’ starting offensive linemen.

“We are going to surprise people,” Albert assured this week. “Everyone doubted us last year and I think they’re doubting us again.”

As Thomas said: “We want to prove to people we are not the weak link.”

So from a coach’s perspective, is there confidence or concern about this group?

“I think there are concerns when you have unknowns,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “I am hoping that we answered most of those. The best teams I have been on typically have had the same five guys play the majority if not all of the games, maybe not every snap.

“We can’t predict what is going to happen in the future. [But] I feel pretty confident we are going to have a good group out there.”

The biggest questions about this offensive line swirl around the new starting guards (Thomas and Douglas) and the fact that Albert, a two-time Pro Bowler, is coming off major knee surgery.

Albert admitted he’s “nervous because I haven’t played football in 10 months. And I’ve never played against this defensive line.”

The Dolphins are optimistic Albert will return to his Pro Bowl-caliber form and are also hopeful the young guards are ready to become reliable NFL starters.

Coach Joe Philbin has remained a strong supporter of Thomas, even when he faltered last season in a fill-in role at offensive tackle.

“He’s always pitched in and I think last year he took snaps at three different positions in games for us,” Philbin said. “That’s a valuable asset and trait to have in the National Football League. He’s still a young player.”

Lazor said the faith in Thomas is based on the fact that he “is a very improved player from what he has been in the past. It has been pretty constant improvement.” 

Douglas seized the right guard job by outplaying Billy Turner in preseason.

“His level of professionalism for a young player is really impressive,” Philbin said. “He doesn’t seem to get flustered and he he’s picked up the system well. When he’s in there, he’s done a good job, he’s really been solid.”

Albert said Douglas “has a lot of heart. You have to have a lot of heart to go up against [Ndamukong Suh] every day in practice. He’s putting up a fight.” And Pouncey said Douglas is “stronger than me.”

The Dolphins also want to see another step from James, the 2014 first-round pick.

Pro Football Focus rated James only 80th among 84 offensive tackles last season, but those numbers are skewed because they include James’ uneven work at left tackle, filling in for Albert. The Dolphins believe James’ performance at right tackle was much better than those numbers suggest.

“I’ve seen improvement all the way around,” offensive line coach John Benton said. “His protection has improved. He’s a more consistent player. Maybe a little more physical.”

James said he studied each of his 1069 rookie snaps on tape this offseason.

“Each week, I would watch a game and really pick my bad ones first so I could build off them and what I wanted to focus on coming into the OTAs,” he said. “I would look at it before workouts. I would say, ‘My footwork was bad there’ and then work on it.”

James assessed his rookie season thusly: “I feel you can't really put a good or very good on it. I have got to be more consistent in my technique and everything.

“On the right side, I was getting to a level I was comfortable. Then I moved to the left, had some struggles. I'm hard on myself.”

Pouncey, meanwhile, is thrilled to return to center, where he was a Pro Bowler in 2013. Rewarded with a five-year, $52 million extension this past offseason, Pouncey selflessly offered to play guard last season when he returned from injury in the fifth game, because Samson Satele was playing well at center.

“You have to get used to talking to everybody again,” Pouncey said of playing center. “For the most part, it’s where I’m comfortable. It’s like the back of my hand. I want to be the best center in the NFL.”

Lazor said of Pouncey: “The biggest thing I can say is I love the way he runs the show. That’s what the center has to do and he’s built for it because… he’s a student of the game. Mike is exactly what we want.”


Feeling they needed a big back in reserve to replace injured Jay Ajayi, the Dolphins promoted former Patriots running back Jonas Gray from their practice squad. They also promoted guard/center Sam Brenner from the practice squad to the 53-man roster and released quarterback Logan Thomas and guard/center Jacques McClendon, as we broke earlier today on Twitter (@flasportsbuzz).

The Dolphins might sign Thomas to the practice squad; they're still intrigued by his skill set as a developmental quarterback.

The deadline to guarantee vested veterans’ salaries for the entire season is 4 p.m. Saturday, so cutting McClendon saves the Dolphins from paying his $745,000 base salary. He would be paid week to week if the Dolphins bring him back at any point this season.

Gray said he has caught on quickly to the Dolphins’ system. “All you have to do is learn the game plan,” he said.

Gray averaged 4.6 yards on 89 carries for the Patriots last season but was cut by New England last weekend. He joins starter Lamar Miller, top backup Damien Williams and LaMike James as running backs on the 53-man roster.

Ajayi is eligible to return from short-term IR for Miami's eighth game of the season.

### The Dolphins listed tackle Jason Fox (concussion) as doubtful for Sunday. Nobody is ruled out or questionable.

Branden Albert (knee), DeVante Parker (foot), Jamar Taylor (thigh) and LaMike James (shoulder) are listed as probable and expected to play.


The Heat's roster, which had been nearing the maximum-permitted 20 players, was reduced to 18 this week when the team decided against going through with a camp invitation to undrafted Virginia Commonwealth point guard Briante Weber because he is not yet at full strength after February knee surgery. had reported that the Heat was signing Weber.

His agent, Bill Neff, told me several hours ago that he hopes Weber can join the Heat's D-League affiliate in South Dakota by December, if not earlier. “He’s very good defensively, fits their style,” Neff said. "There were a lot of teams interested; the Heat were the best recruiters."

Miami auditioned 345-pound ex-Georgetown center Joshua Smith at AA Arena this week but did not immediately make an offer. He remains a possibility as Miami considers options to fill out its camp roster.

If you missed it, please see the last post for a roundtable discussion on the state of UM football and Fox’s odd plan to cover tonight’s UM-FAU game… Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Media column: Fox with odd way of covering UM-FAU; UM football roundtable discussion; Patriots cheating

When UM plays at FAU at 8 p.m. Friday, the announcers calling the game for Fox Sports 1 will be 2700 miles away, sitting in a studio in Century City, a neighborhood in Los Angeles’ Westside.

This type of arrangement isn’t unusual for international soccer broadcasts or NBA games held overseas. But it’s highly unusual for college football.

So why is Fox having Rob Stone, Dave Wannstedt and Matt Leinart announce both Thursday’s Louisiana Tech-Western Kentucky game and Friday’s UM-FAU game from a studio in California?

Two reasons:

### The network wants to give Wannstedt and Leinart an opportunity to be game analysts, but it would be difficult if not impossible for them to work Friday’s game in Boca Raton and then be back in Los Angeles to handle their main job as Fox college studio analysts on a 4 p.m. pre-game show.

With Wannstedt having worked at UM, “he was a no-brainer to use [on this game],” said Brad Zager, Fox’s vice president of remote operations. “We have a group in studio that could really call a good game.”

Sideline reporter Petros Papadakis will be Fox’s only on-air presence at Friday’s game.

### Zager said handling game production from the studio --- as well as keeping the announcers there --- allows Fox to use additional technical toys.

“We can use virtual graphics, stuff that isn’t available on a Conference USA broadcast,” Zager said. “Wannstedt can draw plays on a greaseboard and Leinart can do demonstrations.”

Fox insists this isn’t an attempt to save money and Zager said Fox won’t attempt to conceal that the announcers are in California.

“It’s an experiment,” Zager said. “Can we do a college game and have the viewer not lose anything by having the announcers and camera in studio? It’s an opportunity to see if it’s something that works.”


Now that UM’s pseudo-preseason game is over (no disrespect to Bethune Cookman), we’ll get a slightly better sense of where UM stands Friday against FAU and a much better idea on Sept. 19 against Nebraska. We assembled a panel of three UM-savvy ESPN analysts to assess the state of the Canes program: Desmond Howard, who lives in Miami; Danny Kanell, who follows UM closely; and Brock Huard, who worked five Hurricanes games last season. 

A couple of questions from separate conversations with each:

### Do you think Al Golden can turn this around and how much does coaching have to do with their problems?

Kanell: “I have to believe Miami needs to contend in the Coastal if not win the division to buy the staff some time. You inherited a rough situation with [the NCAA], but it’s a bottom-line business, especially in a program like Miami, and you have to win games. It definitely seems like it’s time for those results to start showing in the win/loss column…. I like Al Golden. When they hired him, I thought he was the right one for the job.

“[But] coaching is definitely a fair criticism. Fans watching at home can look and say, ‘Why aren’t there eight or nine guys in the box when you’re playing Georgia Tech, which runs a Triple option and runs the ball 80 or 90 percent of the time, and especially when you’re a team that struggled on the defensive line?’ That’s frustrating to watch….

“Brad Kaaya played incredible in the first half against Florida State and then the coaching staff got a little too conservative. If they had kept the pressure on, they probably would have beaten Florida State…

“They’ve been very susceptible against the run. They haven’t been able to generate much pass rush [last season]. The trenches to me will determine the success of this team.”

Huard: “Al’s got to win this year. Anytime you go 6-7, the buck stops with you. When I spoke to Al last season [after several losses], he said, ‘We’re not doing our job. We’re not winning in the defining moments.’ It comes down to winning in the fourth quarter, to your quarterback, to coaching, to finding difference makers….

“Too often schematically, they’re letting a lot of people dictate to them. … I don’t think there is any fan base or any of the local media I have heard from more following games than Miami games. They underachieved last year. There is not a ton to debate with that. One through 22, they were pretty good. That could have been an 8 or 9 win-team. You would never say they were outclassed with talent, outside of inexperience in the wrong spots.”

Howard: “How do you make [6-7] make sense with that team? How do you rationalize that? People say we’ve had the type of talent that should be reflected in our record. I still think Al’s a good coach. They have to win the games they’re supposed to win. If they did just that last year, you have nine, maybe 10 wins.

“They’ll be above .500 this year. I would be shocked if they’re not. Nebraska will tell us where they are. If Mark D’Onofrio gets that defense to where they need to be, FSU can be an exciting game because Everett Golson has always been turnover-prone.”

### What other factors would you cite for UM’s decline, besides the residual effects of the NCAA investigation?

Huard: Deficient depth and “a real dormant atmosphere” at games, as well as facilities he says simply don’t measure up with some other schools despite recent upgrades.

Asked if he sees a difference in facilities when he visits other campuses, Huard chuckled. “Oh yeah. You go to Fayetteville, Arkansas or Starkville, Mississippi and you see what the money in that conference has done; it’s elevated everyone. The way you compete is to build a Taj Mahal. But if you win, you can overcome it, like Pete Carroll did at USC.”

### Do you see Brad Kaaya becoming an elite quarterback?

Huard: “I would say he could be better than pretty good. But I can’t say great. He needs to make strides physically to grow his game. When things were clean in front of him, he’s really good. When it’s not clean, and he needed to be a difference maker, it wasn’t there. Talking to offensive coordinator [James] Coley, he has to avoid peoples’ mistakes in front of him. To be great is a high standard. I don’t know if he can be aMarcus Mariota or Jameis Winston.”

Kanell: “I think he can be great. What impressed me the most was his composure, poise, confidence, playing in big-time situations. I feel like Kaaya could be the guy to get Miami out of this downturn. The sky really is the limit for him.”

Howard: “I don’t like to jump the gun but he’s going to be a really good quarterback. Really mature for his age.”


### A year after UM declined HBO’s offer to be the subject for a full-season college version of the NFL series Hard Knocks, the Pacific-12 instructed Arizona turn down HBO’s offer because the Pac-12 Network is doing a similar show.

### The Steelers' coach-to-coach communication was disrupted during tonight's opener at New England when the Patriots' radio broadcast started blaring in the Pittsburgh coaches' headsets.

To which NBC's Cris Collinsworth had a great response: "Every team that I know of has some story about what happens to them in this stadium."

In fact, this week's ESPN piece that detailed the Patriots' long history of cheating noted that "at Gillette Stadium, the scrambling and jamming of the opponents' coach-to-quarterback radio line... occurred so often that one team asked a league official to sit in the coaches' box during the game and wait for it to happen. Sure enough, on a key third down, the headset went out."

### Among ESPN’s 48 NFL commentators, former NFL cornerback Eric Allen is the only one who's predicting the Dolphins will win the AFC; he has them losing to Seattle in the Super Bowl. Jon Gruden predicts Miami will win the AFC East.    

### ESPN faces a tough call on whether to bring back baseball analyst Curt Schilling next season after two incidents in the past three weeks.

He was suspended after comparing radical Muslims with Nazis on Twitter, saying "It's said that only 5-10% of Muslims are extremists. In 1940, only 7% of Germans were Nazis. How'd that go?" He accompanied that with a picture of Adolph Hitler.

Then he was banished for the remainder of the season and playoffs after he wrote an angry letter to a writer from in which he criticized the web site’s coverage of him and more significantly, questioned the credibility of ESPN NFL reporter Chris Mortensen. ESPN has little tolerance for ESPN-on-ESPN crime.

### Craig Minervini fills in alongside Tommy Hutton on Marlins-Nationals games on FS-Florida on Friday and Saturday because Rich Waltz received permission to call an Arizona-Nevada college football game on CBS Sports Network.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

September 09, 2015

Wednesday night notes on Bosh, Dolphins (returners, C. McCain, WRs, Gray), Canes (WRs, RBs), TV (NFL, Tebow)

A six-pack of notes on a Wednesday night:

### The fact LaMike James was listed as the Dolphins’ first-team punt and kickoff returner was news today to both James and incumbent returner Jarvis Landry.

Landry said he hasn’t been told if he will be used at all as a returner, and James said has been given no indication how many returns he will handle.

Joe Philbin has told reporters to believe what’s written on the depth chart unless and until we’re informed otherwise.

Landry, who obviously will have a heavy workload offensively, didn’t seem concerned about whether he would be used on returns.

“I will leave it up to [special teams coordinator Darren] Rizzi,” Landry said. “To an offensive guy, to have the ball in your hands [as a returner] is a good thing.”

Landry ranked fourth in the NFL in kickoff return average last season (28.1 yards) and 14th on punts (8.2).

James, in preseason, averaged 27.8 yards on kickoffs and 7.6 on punts.

And this is encouraging: James returned 16 kickoffs as a member of the 49ers, averaging 28.4 yards, slightly higher than Landry’s top-five-in-the-league average last season.

James also returned 23 punts for the 49ers, averaging 10.9 yards, which is 2.7 yards higher than Landry’s average last season.

James said returning punts this preseason initially felt “foreign to me,” but he now has more of a comfort level.

### Chris McCain, beaten out by Kelvin Sheppard for the open starting linebacker job, said today he was “a little disappointed” by his preseason but hopes to play in the “jack” role that now-suspended Dion Jordan handled last season. McCain has trained in that role all offseason.

McCain said playing jack is a "fun job" because it allows him to do a lot of things, including rushing the quarterback and handling some coverage assignments.

“I’ve just got to make the most out of [my snaps],” he said.

Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was non-committal when asked Monday whether McCain would have a role exactly like Jordan had last season, which typically entailed 20 to 30 snaps per game. But Coyle also said he wants to use all of his defensive players early in the season.

### Though Rishard Matthews had a strong preseason and started the third preseason game, he did not voice displeasure today about being surpassed on the depth chart by Kenny Stills.

“I don’t think it matters,” Matthews said. “What they put out and what we know are different. I know there will be a healthy rotation. My biggest issue was being able to contribute more. As long as I’m out there more. Right now, it’s not an issue.”

Asked why Stills has moved past Matthews, Philbin said: “We like all those guys. I think they have all had a good camp and I expect all of them to contribute, so I wouldn’t read too much into anything, really.”  

### The odd thing about Jonas Gray is he could go from practice squad to starter if Lamar Miller ever had to miss a game with an injury (hopefully not).

Gray essentially is the second-most NFL accomplished back on the roster, based on his 4.6 yard per carry average for New England last season. Dolphins backup running back Damien Williams averaged 3.4 yards per carry last season.

Gray “is a good football player,” Philbin said. “He’s obviously had production since he left us and we like his body type. We think he’s a good scheme fit. He was a hard worker the last time he was here. I’m glad to have him back.”

Gray spent the 2012 offseason and training camp with the Dolphins before being released in late August of that year. He said he was “shocked” New England cut him last week but “I can’t blame them.”

He said he wants to show the Dolphins “how I’ve grown as a player and person.”

He ran for 201 yards against the Colts on a Sunday night last season and “I think about [that] a lot, what it could have turned into.”

### The type of knee sprain that UM receiver Braxton Berrios sustained on Saturday often sidelines a player two to four weeks. But Berrios is progressing relatively well, and a return Sept. 19 against Nebraska is not completely out of the question, though UM isn’t counting on that. A far more likely return would be Oct. 1 at Cincinnati, though that's not certain, either.

Berrios might wear a knee brace initially; one is being prepared for him. Berrios' injury is to his left knee --- not the knee surgically repaired last year.

As for Stacy Coley, his hamstring injury is healing and he could be back against Nebraska.

Without Berrios and Coley, UM’s top three receivers Friday at FAU will be Rashawn Scott, Herb Waters and Malcolm Lewis.

“The [next] guy should be pretty good,” offensive coordinator James Coley said. “Right now, we’re banking on Tyre Brady,... Lawrence Cager... and Darrell Langham to do good.” D’Mauri Jones is the only other scholarship receiver available…

Al Golden said Scott has “the ability” to be the team’s go-to receiver. “I’m very pleased with him; he’s matured.”…

Coley, incidentally, made clear that he and the coaching staff intend to continue using three running backs. “I think [Joe] Yearby may get the nod [to start Friday] but who knows?” Coley said. Coley likes that Mark Walton plays “with an edge.”

### Chris Bosh, appearing on CBS' Late, Late Show with James Corden, reiterated "I'm ready to play" after his battle with blood clots. Bosh will resume workouts with the team next week.

### Couple of broadcast notes: Tim Tebow, cut by the Philadelphia Eagles, was rehired by ESPN as an analyst on the SEC Network’s pregame show, beginning Saturday from Nashville…

CBS is sending Sunday’s Dolphins-Redskins game to 27 percent of the country, mostly in the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and parts of Minnesota, Michigan, Mississippi and Louisiana. See for a map. Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts, CBS' No. 2 team, were assigned to the game.... With CBS losing the U.S. Open to ESPN, this will be first time in several years that CBS gets a double-header on the opening Sunday of the NFL season.

For our South Florida-based readers, the other Sunday afternoon TV games, besides Miami-Washington, are Baltimore-Denver (4:25 p.m., CBS) and New Orleans-Arizona (4:05 p.m., Fox). And of course, every out of market game is available on DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket package.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz  

September 08, 2015

Schnellenberger ready for UM-FAU surprise, addresses decline of UM; Dolphins chatter; Dolphins add Gray; Dan Jennings update


Howard Schnellenberger says it will be “bittersweet” when the school he led to a national title walks past the statue of his likeness, then onto Howard Schnellenberger Field, in Boca Raton on Friday night --- marking the first time that UM plays in the FAU stadium he worked tirelessly to build as the program’s coach and architect.

FAU is 0-15 against teams from power five conferences since 2008 --- with an average margin of defeat of 35 points --- but Schnellenberger insists the 16-point underdog Owls have a decent chance to win this game, two years after UM drubbed FAU 34-6 at Sun Life Stadium.

“I watched UM in their spring game and then I watched FAU in our stadium and after I looked at both, I said, ‘Geez, there’s not much difference between these teams,’” said Schnellenberger, who now works as an “ambassador at large” for FAU.

“We have a quarterback in his fourth year that’s a winner. And our team is better than a year ago,” he added. “This will be a pretty close to even game. Wouldn’t it be something if we won by one point?”

Schnellenberger, 81, led UM to its first of five national titles and went 41-16 as Hurricanes coach from 1979 to 1983. Nearly two decades later, he launched and coached FAU’s program, going 58-74, winning two bowl games and advancing to an FCS playoff semifinal before retiring after 2011.

There’s no question about his rooting interest on Friday.

“I’m pulling for the team that’s paying me,” he said of an FAU job that mostly involves fund-raising and giving speeches. “That doesn’t take anything away from my feelings for Miami. For this game, my heart and soul are involved with this [FAU] team.

“I’m fulfilling my promise to [wife] Beverly. When I took this job here I promised we would win a national championship in my lifetime. I haven’t been able to get that done. I can still help make that promise come true. This is big game for us.”

Friday’s matchup was the type of game Schnellenberger dreamed of hosting when he helped raise $70 million to build this 29,412-seat stadium --- which was completed in 2011 and is the only college football facility that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. Friday’s game is a sellout, with UM selling its allotment of 4200 tickets.

A full house will be quite a change for FAU, which averaged just 14,122 fans last season, ranking 121st of 129 schools. (UM was 40th at 52,518 and FIU 127th at 11,966.)

So can this FAU team draw fans?

"Just wait until we beat Miami,” he said. “That will answer your question. Remember, this is South Florida. The Dolphins didn’t have enough people to start a fist fight when Don Shula got down there. We will be the lone wolf on Friday night.”

The only other college football game on TV Friday will be a nondescript Utah-Utah State matchup on ESPN2, airing opposite UM-FAU on Fox Sports 1.

Schnellenberger tried to persuade UM to play FAU years ago --- he called coach Larry Coker directly --- “but the answer was a flat no because I didn’t have a big enough stadium. They had no interest in playing us.”

But once FAU moved from Lockhart Stadium to its own facility, UM was willing to schedule a three-game series with two games at Sun Life.  

Former UM president “Donna Shalala and our [former] president [Mary Jane] Saunders, two women, got together and said we ought to have a game and it came to pass,” Schnellenberger said.

UM asked FAU if it would be interested in moving this year’s game to Sun Life to accommodate more fans, but FAU declined.

“Of course not,” Schnellenberger said. “You are getting two home games. You are going to play the damn game in our stadium.”

FAU athletic director Patrick Chun said no thought was given to moving this game to Sun Life because “we want to deliver the college football experience to our students, faculty, staff and fans in FAU Stadium. There is always a heightened level of excitement and anticipation for the home opener.

“Adding to this fever is the opportunity to play host to a respected opponent. Ultimately we are creating an event like none other in Boca Raton and Palm Beach County.”

Schnellenberger, who likes Al Golden as a coach, believes UM will be very good again soon but “I don’t know if they can do it in a year. They can make progress this year.”

Why has the program fallen off?

“All the crap with the NCAA and the bad decisions they made with their coaches,” he said. “Worst thing they ever did was let Larry Coker go. That threw the whole program in a tailspin and they didn’t hire the right coach. 

“Randy Shannon is a good young man but didn’t have nearly enough experience to handle that program. Golden has been a yeoman handling all the NCAA stuff.”


### Dan Jennings, aware that he’s not being retained as manager, hasn’t told the Marlins if he will accept an offer to return to the general manager job after the season, according to people close to the situation.

The Marlins expect he will return to that GM position unless an enticing job with final personnel authority is offered to him elsewhere. Jennings had been mentioned as one of numerous possibilities for the Seattle GM job.

In Miami, the GM is second in the baseball hierarchy behind the president of baseball operations (Michael Hill). And owner Jeffrey Loria obviously has say in every important baseball decision.

Even though Jennings would have been happy to continue as manager, the Marlins want to instead hire an experienced one from a long list of potential candidates.

In his press briefings in the past few days, Jennings has declined to discuss his future or say whether he would be happy returning to the GM role.

### Jonas Gray, added to the Dolphins' practice squad today, might be the Dolphins' second-best running back, but agent Sean Stellato said the team gave him no indication if or when he would be promoted to the 53-man roster. Any team can pluck Gray off the practice squad and put him on its 53-man roster at any time.

Damien Williams and LaMike James are the backup running backs on the Dolphins' roster, behind Lamar Miller. Jay Ajayi isn't eligible to return until game eight (week nine), according to short-term IR rules.

"Miami was the first place that gave Jonas an opportunity and he feels comfortable with the organization," Stellato said.

He said Tennessee was impressed by Gray during his visit there today but the Titans want to see what they have at running back before making a roster move at the position.

Gray ran for 412 yards on 89 carries (4.6 average) and five touchdowns last season for the New England Patriots, who surprisingly cut him over the weekend. He had 201 yards in a Sunday night game against the Colts last season but generated only 33 yards on 12 carries in preseason.

### Both Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason independently rated the Dolphins the fourth-best team in the AFC in a segment on Showtime's Inside the NFL tonight.

"Ryan Tannehill has gotten better every year. This is a breakout year for him," Esiason said.

Both analysts had New England and Denver in their top three. Simms surprisingly omitted the Colts from his top five, citing their lack of a pass rush; he had the Ravens third and Steelers fifth.

### Center Mike Pouncey, a two-time Pro Bowler, speaking about his move back to center after a season at guard: “Pro Bowls are not good enough any more for me. I want to be All-Pro. It’s something I’ve never done in my career.”

### Extra points are about to become more exciting, Dolphins fans.

Besides the fact they’re 10 yards longer than past years (33 yards, instead of 23), keep in mind that rookie Andrew Franks missed eight of 123 PATs in college at RPI. But the Dolphins say Franks is a much better kicker than the one who struggled with consistency in college.

As The Finsiders' Greg Likens noted, this is the first time in Dolphins history that the team is going with a rookie kicker and rookie punter. 

Please see the last post to see what Pat Riley said on The Dan Le Batard Show today... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz