June 06, 2016

Monday afternoon Dolphins report: Adam Gase, Vance Joseph address assorted issues

The Dolphins will have seven practices over 11 days, beginning today, before adjourning for summer vacation. Five of those seven, including today’s, are open to the media. We’ll post some observations later, but first, highlights from Adam Gase’s and Vance Joseph’s sessions with reporters a little while ago:

ADAM GASE

• Gase said prefers three-down backs to specialists, and that appears likely to affect how he uses his backs: "Any time you're playing that spot in this offense, you have to be able to do it all. It's not a one-trick pony type of offense. You have to be able to protect. You have to be able to run the ball. You have to be able to catch. So we really don't believe in 'Hey, you're just a first and second down back.' I don't know what that means. We look for guys that can stay on the field all three downs because we're not looking to sub personnel. We want guys that can be in great shape, stay out there and then, if we need to switch somebody out because we're having a long drive, then so be it. But really, whoever the guy is that we're starting with in the series, that's the guy I want to finish."

• Wes Welker was at Dolphins practice today, but Gase said he is not being signed to the roster. “We’re a good outlet for him; lives five minutes away,” Gase said, noting he has a lot of good information to share.

• Gase’s impressions of Vance Joseph: “High energy. It’s a tough scheme to go against every day. Those guys are being held accountable for sure. You look at the energy and effort these guys are playing with… It’s impressive.”

• Is saying this defense is an attack defense an over-simplification or does that sum it up? “That sums it up.”

• On Jermon Bushrod, who returned from shoulder surgery to do team work today: “This is were we are hoping it would end up, to get it going at the end of OTAs and minicamp. We want to be smart, not have any setbacks with him. Every day will be how do you feel the next day. When you have a guy that can play multiple positions…. is critical.”

• On looking at a bunch of potential guards with the first team (front-runner Laremy Tunsil, Bushrod, Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner, Kraig Urbik, Jamil Douglas): “There’s a different rotation everyday. The [offensive line coaches] have an idea of what we’ve run. They see so and so hasn’t had this run or this protection before. So they script it out. You can evaluate the pass protection” more than run blocking without pads.

• On keeping out DeVante Parker with undisclosed issue for the second consecutive practice: (He was running some today). “We’re probably being a little over-protective. Typical of this time of year, you want to make sure they’re healthy enough so not setting back. As long as he can train this summer, that’s the most important thing for us.”

• On rookie corner Xavien Howard: “The guys he’s going against are pretty good. To stick with a lot of these [receivers] has been impressive. The thing you love about this kid is he’s constantly working. Lippett and him are just battling. It’s like ‘who’s going to be the guy?’”

• On Byron Maxwell and Gase trash-talking with each other, Gase said: “We want him to have that swagger. We want him to have that confidence. It gets me going before practice. Today, he came at me hard. It was good.”

 

VANCE JOSEPH

• On Xavien Howard:  “He’s showed us that he has great movement skills. Ball skills. Great lateral quickness. Long arms. Big shoulders. He is built like a safety but has corner skills. Obviously, being a rookie he knows nothing about playing the position at this level. His footwork is really good. His eye-progression needs some work.  Talent wise, he’s what we thought he was going to be.”

• On competition at corner: He said Byron Maxwell, as expected, is likely to start at one cornerback spot. “We’ve got Tony Lippett and Howard competing for the left side. Obviously, Bobby McCain is involved. To be a great secondary, we need three or four that can play.”

• On evaluating defensive line without pads: “You can see the front-four guys as far as quickness and burst and the skill set. For an offensive lineman, it’s tough blocking Mario Williams with no pads.”

• On this group of pass rushers: “We’ve got great potential, with Mario, Cam and Suh. They have a history of being great pass rushers on paper. Until we do it, nothing is solid.”

• On adjusting from defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator: “Now I float from spot to spot. It’s always to find small points you want to perfect.”

• Bobby McCain is the front runner at slot corner (my words, not Joseph’s). Joseph said Jordan Lucas and Tyler Patmon are also playing in the slot.

• And what about Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who was cleared for practice two weeks ago but was working on the side today? “We’re taking it slow with him,” Joseph said. “He had a serious, serious [knee] injury [before the January 2015 Rose Bowl for Oregon]. We’re hoping to get him to camp so we can give him more attention. But right now, we're feeding him some reps slowly, so we can get him back in the groove of playing football."

• Joseph gave an interesting answer when asked about Ndamukong Suh returning for voluntary workouts the past few weeks, after missing earlier sessions: "It means a lot, because ... My philosophy with this is this: It's obviously voluntary. It is voluntary workouts. But it's also voluntary to be good. If guys want to be good on defense, they're going to be in town, they're going to be here working. I get it. It's part of the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement). But if you want to be good on defense - you want to be a good player - you're here. That's how I look at it."

• On Reshad Jones not being here because he’s upset about his contract: "It doesn't hold us back. Obviously, again, that's a contract matter. That's not my area. But it won't hold us back, because when guys aren't here, I treat them as (if) they're injured for the week. I don't even think about it, really. I move on with guys who're here. The guys who are here, that's who we're coaching. That's who we're going to go forward with until he shows up."

• Joseph said he has given no thought to what position Dion Jordan will play if he's reinstated, with defensive end and linebacker the two options. A decision from Roger Goodell is expected before Aug. 1.

• On why Chris McCain was moved from linebacker to defensive end: “He’s a taller outside pass-rusher. It fits better for him to be an end in this scheme than an outside guy.”

• On Cam Wake, returning from last October’s ruptured Achilles: “He’s looked good, looked explosive. He looks great.”

• Quick injury note: Besides Parker and Ekpre-Olomu, also working on the side were Neville Hewitt, Jake Stoneburner and AJ Cruz. Jones (contract), Mario Williams (personal matter) and Thomas Duarte (in school at UCLA) weren't present.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

June 05, 2016

UM stepping up, giving Richt everything he wanted; Dolphins, Heat, Marlins nuggets

 

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

 

With a large gap in athletic department revenue between UM and some of the large public universities (such as Florida and Michigan), UM coaches – under previous athletic directors – often heard “we can’t afford that” when they asked for something. A former UM football coach and an ex-UM basketball coach complained about that privately.

But now that’s generally not the case with a capable athletic director (Blake James) who has excelled at fundraising and negotiated a lucrative deal with Adidas, a Board of Trustees that authorized a 25 to 30 percent pay hike for assistant football coaches and a football coach (Mark Richt) who has been given most everything he requested. A significant jump in Atlantic Coast Conference revenue allocation also has helped.

The upshot is that the UM players are benefitting from this, too, with the hope that it will boost performance.

“Everything coach has said he's going to get for us, he's gotten for us,” offensive lineman Kc McDermott said. “And the list keeps getting bigger.”

The biggest addition will be the planned indoor football practice facility, which will give the players cover from rain, lightning and oppressive heat. UM hopes to announce a lead donor soon.

But there’s more to it. The boost in pay for assistant coaches helped UM land defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, offensive line coach Stacy Searels and defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski at competitive rates, with UM outbidding Georgia Tech for Searels.

“We got all the guys coach Richt wanted based on the pool we established,” James said last week.

One NFL executive said the quality of the UM coaching staff has been significantly upgraded with UM willing to pay more now: “Coach Kul is one of the better defensive line coaches in the country. They’ve got one of the better strength coaches now. The defensive coordinator has done a lot with less in a couple of his previous jobs; he’s a huge upgrade over Mark D’Onofrio. Player development will be better.”

Adidas, in the first year of its UM deal, is giving players more apparel than Nike ever did. “Workout shoes, game shoes, travel gear; as much as the student-athletes need,… which is a win for them,” James said. (This type of thing is noticed by recruits.)

Several players said new machinery has been added in the weight room, at Richt’s request. Also, Richt was given authority to hire more staffers.

“The major difference is we have tons and tons of graduate assistants and coaches now,” McDermott said, while still in accordance with NCAA rules that limit the number of designated coaches. “More people around making sure everyone is doing their own thing.”

And players say this has made a huge difference, too: Richt received the go-ahead to hire a football-only nutritionist, former UM baseball player Kyle Bellamy.

He recently took the offensive linemen to Trader Joe’s “and will tell you, ‘Get this and get that,’” offensive lineman Sunny Odogwu said. “That never happened before. [Bellamy] is amazing. This will pay off in the long run.”

Richt also got the green light to expand the breakfast and lunch options, putting UM on par with FSU’s diet-conscious approach under Jimbo Fisher. Odogwu said players are now greeted with healthy shakes, and more, after practice.

“We needed a nutritionist really bad and we got that,” McDermott said. “The quality of food we're eating is much better. It has taken care of our bodies. Pretty much anything we've ever thought of, coach Richt, he does everything. He donated $1 million of his own money to the indoor facility! He really cares about us.”

Also, UM now pays for the men’s and women’s basketball programs to take a lot more charter flights. (The men chartered every trip last season except Atlanta and Puerto Rico.) UM chartered just a couple of trips each year under Frank Haith.

The benefit? More rested players.

What’s more, Richt was given increased use of a private plane for recruiting, which could help UM land more top players from rural areas.

“I’ve done my best to provide Mark with the tools and resources to be successful,” James said.  “By no means are we one of the largest budgets in the country but through the great support of our university and fan base and great conference, we’ve been able to continue to increase revenues.

“We’ve grown our revenues and budget significantly over the last four years and invested it back into the program. We’ve significantly improved our student athlete experience the last few years from nutrition to team travel to the Adidas deal and the amount of apparel we get. We are putting our student athletes at the top of our list” of who benefits from the cash infusion. 

One hope, of course, is that this boosts the won-loss record in football. It certainly can’t hurt. Kudos to James and the Board of Trustees and everyone else involved for stepping up.

CHATTER

• For those wondering about unsigned cornerbacks Leon Hall and Antonio Cromartie, the Dolphins aren’t pursuing either at this time. But both are on the Dolphins’ list should they have injuries or if their young corners don’t develop as the Dolphins hope and expect.

So far, the Dolphins are pleased with their young corners, with Xavien Howard and Tony Lippett competing to start opposite Byron Maxwell and Bobby McCain the front-runner in the slot.

• A few Dolphins stadium notes: Vice president/stadium renovation Bill Senn said about five percent of seats won’t be covered by the canopy, including seven rows behind the end zones. This will be the only NFL stadium with a non-retractable canopy covering seats… Team CEO Tom Garfinkel says the stadium will “definitely be louder” because “crowd noise will stay in better.”…

LED lights will be on during day games to compensate for shadows and help the TV broadcasts… All 137 suites will be given a fresh look next offseason… If there’s a Category 5 hurricane, it could damage the edge of the roof but won’t rip it off, Senn said… There will be a lot more bathrooms (80 percent more units for women, 30 percent for men)… Drive by the stadium at 3 a.m. and there are 150 people typically inside, working frantically to finish the project. There are 350 during the day.

• Don Mattingly says Derek Dietrich, who has the fourth-best on-base percentage (.403) among all big-league second baseman and has thrived filling in for suspended Dee Gordon, is “a guy that will eventually play every day.”

And with Dietrich able to play third, that’s likely one reason Miami hasn’t decided whether to re-sign Martin Prado, who entered the weekend 21st in baseball in average (.311) but also the only player in the top 96 in hitting without a home run before finally hitting one Saturday.

Dietrich’s WAR (wins over what a replacement player would get) this season is 1.3. Gordon’s was -.01 before his suspension, though it was 4.9 last season.

Dietrich is under team control through 2020.

• After Dietrich recently stayed overnight in Atlanta after being hit by a foul ball, Jeffrey Loria, “stopped in Atlanta to get him and [brought him back to Miami] on his flight, his plane,” Mattingly said. “A lot of those things get overlooked. I know he takes a lot of criticism. But I think he's a really good guy and has a big heart.”

• Though Pat Riley said he’s excited to see point guard Briante Weber (a skilled defender) in summer league, an NBA official who spoke to the former Memphis coaching staff said the Grizzlies were unimpressed by him during his six-game stint there this past season, that he’s limited offensively and couldn’t remember the plays. About one-quarter of his $875,000 salary for next season is guaranteed.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

June 03, 2016

9 a.m. update: UM lands basketball transfer with great bloodlines; Analytics site assesses Dolphins offseason; Dolphins' new safety; TV, UM, Marlins tidbits

9 a.m. update: Virginia Commonwealth 6-10 forward Michael Gilmore has informed UM that he is transferring there, a source said today. This was first reported last night by Scott Golden of hoopexchange.

Gilmore played in 55 games and started 18 in two seasons for VCU, averaging 2.6 points and 2.2 rebounds.

He averaged just 11.5 minutes per game last season but he has at least two appealing skills: He's big and he's a big man with range.

He hit 13 of 33 three-pointers last season (39.4 percent) and shot 47.4 percent overall from the field (37 for 78).

He also has shown the ability to be a decent rebounder when given meaningful playing time.

Gilmore started 18 of the first 24 games for the Rams last season, but his playing time decreased significantly after that point because of the emergence of VCU forward Justin Tillman.

Gilmore's best game came against Oklahoma in the second round of the NCAA tournament, when he matched his career highs in points (12) and rebounds (eight) in 20 minutes.

Gilmore was considered one of the nation's top 100 players coming out of a Jacksonville high school and had offers from Kansas State, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma, Providence and others. He is the nephew of Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore.

Gilmore, who must sit out this upcoming season, has two years of eligibility remaining and will give UM some frontcourt depth when Kamari Murphy graduates after next season.

Meanwhile, UM has one scholarship remaining and is still awaiting word from five-star point guard Derryck Thornton, who is transferring from Duke after one season. Thornton visited UM's campus last month and has a good relationship with Jim Larranaga. He's also considering Kansas, Southern Cal and Washington.

DOLPHINS TALK

We've heard a wide range of opinion on the Dolphins' offseason (the draft, in particular, got good marks) and here’s how analytics site Pro Football Focus, now owned partly by NBC’s Cris Collinsworth, assessed the Dolphins’ offseason:

First, their free agent moves: “After the Dolphins “won” free agency in 2015 and signed Ndamukong Suh to a record deal, some concessions had to be made this offseason,” PFF’s Mike Renner wrote. “Olivier Vernon and Lamar Miller were easily the largest casualties, but losing Rishard Matthews, Brent Grimes, and Derrick Shelby will prove costly as well.

“The issue isn’t so much that they didn’t dish out new deals to their free agents, it’s who Miami decided to replace them with. Signing Mario Williams, PFF’s lowest-graded edge rusher last season, to a two-year, $17 million deal doesn’t fit in with Miami’s larger offseason restocking theme, especially when it forced them to let the younger and more productive Shelby sign elsewhere. Williams had obvious effort concerns last year in Buffalo, but at 31 years old it’s also possible he just might not be the player he
once was. The best thing that can be said about the signing is that because he was cut, Williams won’t qualify into the compensatory pick calculation and the Dolphins will still likely get a third and a fourth next season, according to overthecap.com.

“The big offseason news, though, was the trade with Philadelphia that netted them Kiko Alonso and Bryon Maxwell. Maxwell might be an upgrade from their current situation at cornerback, but he’s still an average cornerback who they’ll have to pay $17 million over the next two seasons. Alonso, on the other hand, didn’t look close to the player he was as a rookie in [Buffalo] and with all his injury issues it’s unclear if he’ll ever get back there. The risk, however, was minimal and it could pay off dividends.”

And as for this 2016 NFL draft:

Round 1 (pick No. 13) Laremy Tunsil, OL, Mississippi
Round 2 (pick No. 38) Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor
Round 3 (pick No. 73) Kenyan Drake, RB, Alabama
Round 3 (pick No. 86) Leonte Carroo, WR, Rutgers
Round 6 (pick No. 186) Jakeem Grant, WR, Texas Tech
Round 6 (pick No. 204) Jordan Lucas, SS, Penn State
Round 7 (pick No. 223) Brandon Doughty, QB, Western Kentucky
Round 7 (pick no. 231) Thomas Duarte, TE, UCLA…

PFF says this: “Even after the trade with Philadelphia that bumped Miami back to the 13th pick, the Dolphins still selected an offensive lineman — Laremy Tunsil — with legitimate top-five talent. The pick also fills an egregious need, after Miami had the lowest-graded left and right guards in the NFL last year. 

“In later rounds, they also nabbed a couple PFF favorites for Ryan Tannehill to throw to in Leonte Carroo (second-round grade) and Thomas Duarte (third-round grade). The heavy investment on the offensive side of the ball will be extremely important in helping Chris Grier to fully evaluate their quarterback before the Dolphins’ opt-out clause at the end of the year.”

PFF’s overall view? Writes Mike Renner:

“Outside of the unnecessary extension for the 34-year-old Cameron Wake and head-scratching signing of Williams, Miami had a decidedly impressive offseason. They couldn’t throw around as much dough as they did a year ago, so they executed a trade with the Eagles to infuse the roster with talent and also targeted a number of budget offensive linemen to plug holes. The defensive line might not have the same punch it did a season ago, but their offensive line figures to be among the most improved units in the NFL.

“Unfortunately, even if the offense takes a step forward from its 2015 form, the defense as a whole still figures to be a problem. Swapping out Grimes for Maxwell is a wash, and Abdul-Quddus is a solid addition, but the front seven will still have issues against the run. If their season ends in a playoff appearance, it will be because Tannehill finally took the next step with a talented line and group of receivers.”

TIDBITS

• One player PFF likes a lot is Isa Abdul Quddus, the likely new starting safety opposite Reshad Jones, who remains away from camp protesting his contract. Jones would be subject to daily fines of $10,000 if he misses the start of training camp. 

Abdul-Quddus said he has spoken a bit to Jones and is eager to play alongside him.

“Great player,” Abdul Quddus said. “I can’t wait to learn from him. I watched him. I know he’s a physical dude. He’s a baller. I can’t wait for him to bring that energy to the field. I feel we’re both versatile safeties. We can both play in the post and in the box.”

Abdul Quddus, who had 57 tackles, six passes defended and one interception in 16 games for Detroit last season (including eight starts), said Thursday that in his first three years in the league, “I really played free safety. Last couple years were first years I played strong. I’ve been watching a lot of safeties.

“I try to make sure everybody is in the right position. I bring a physicalness to the game. I am not afraid to hit anybody, come up and make the plays nobody else wants to.”

• The Dolphins announced their preseason dates and times. They will play Friday, Aug. 12 at the New York Giants at 7 p.m. and Friday, Aug. 19 at the Dallas Cowboys at 8 p.m. They will play Atlanta at 8 p.m. in Orlando on Thursday, Aug. 25 on NBC, then wrap up preseason at home at 7 p.m. Sept. 1 against Tennessee.

• With his game-winning hit last night, Christian Yelich now has four walkoff RBIs in his major-league career; he had two in 2014 and one in 2015. According to Elias, the only player with more walkoff RBIs over the past three seasons is Josh Donaldson, who has seven over that span.

• Ex-Canes file: The 49ers say Ray-Ray Armstrong is in the mix for a starting linebacker job. (If only UM had tried him there instead of playing him at safety). The Sacramento Bee said "to this point in his career, Armstrong is best known for beating his chest and barking at a police dog while a member of the Raiders last year. Armstrong was investigated for the pre-game incident in Pittsburgh in November, but charges never were filed in the matter."... Green Bay cut ex-UM quarterback Ryan Williams and signed ex-UNC QB Marquise Williams... Ufomba Kamalu, trying to make Houston Texans as an undrafted free agent, did a fun ESPN interview here....

Former UM receiver Rashawn Scott got some snaps with others roster longshots at Dolphins' practice this week... And here's a nice ESPN story about the adversity that Steelers first-round corner Artie Burns had to overcome.

• Miami-Fort Lauderdale got a fabulous 18.8 rating for Game 1 of the NBA Finals, fifth among 56 major markets and better than any city outside California or Ohio. Game 1 was viewed nationally by 19.2 million people, the biggest audience for a Game 1 since ABC began airing the Finals in 2002.
 

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... If you missed it, please see the last post for lots of Dolphins, Panthers, Marlins and the latest on UM's contigency plans if their first game needs to be moved, plus the major obstacle UM baseball must overcome.

June 02, 2016

Cameron, Stills and Gase hope to reverse a disturbing Dolphins trend; Marlins, UM, Panthers

 

FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN

 

The list of exasperating trends about the Dolphins in recent years is a long one, and here’s one of many that must change: Talented veteran offensive players coming here and producing less, often much less, than they did elsewhere.

Brandon Marshall went from 10 TD catches in his final year in Denver to three in his first with Miami (2010), with all his stats dropping across-the-board. Mike Wallace went from averaging 17.2 yards per catch in his Pittsburgh career to 12.8 in two underwhelming years here. Brandon Gibson, in two years combined with the Dolphins, didn’t match the yards or touchdowns he achieved in his final year in St. Louis.

Knowshon Moreno went from a 10-TD, 1038-yard season in Denver to blowing out his knee at the start of his Dolphins career. (He has said he would like to return to Miami, but the Dolphins aren’t interested.)

Kenny Stills went from 80 catches and 917 yards in his final year in New Orleans to 27 and 440 in his first season here (2015). “Disappointed with the way things went,” Stills said this week.

Then there’s the curious case of tight end Jordan Cameron. For a poor Browns team, Cameron caught 80 passes for 917 yards in 2013, then averaged 17.7 yards on 24 catches in 10 games in 2014. He was billed as a dynamic offensive weapon when the Dolphins signed 14 months ago, one who would easily replace Buffalo-bound Charles Clay.

Instead, Cameron was asked to block more than ever before and his stats were underwhelming last season (35 catches, 386 yards, 11.0 yards per catch, three touchdowns). His receiving yards ranked just 29th among tight ends. Clay, meanwhile, caught 51 passes for 528 yards for Buffalo.

Backup Dion Sims said today that Adam Gase plans to involve tight ends in the passing game more than the past regime did.

“I am hoping that would be the case,” Cameron said Thursday. “If you look at his offenses in the past, they've used a tight end. He does a good job of putting them in spots to succeed.  He does a good job of putting guys in position to win and finding the mismatches.”

Consider: Last season, Dolphins tight ends (Cameron, Dion Sims and Jake Stoneburner) combined for 58 receptions for 560 yards and six touchdowns. With Gase running the Bears’ offense, Chicago’s tight ends (Martellus Bennett; Zach Miller and Rob Housler) combined for 90 catches for 905 yards and eight touchdowns.

Cameron said one reason he accepted a pay cut from $7.5 million to $6 million this season, instead of balking and asking for his release, is because Gase came highly recommended by friends.  

“For me, having a year with Adam Gase and knowing what he's done with tight ends, I'm looking forward to it,” he said. “I got a lot phone calls regarding coach Gase and his ability to maximize guys and their potential and get everything out of them. One of my good friends, [Jaguars and former Broncos tight end] Julius Thomas, who played for him, he called me immediately and said, ‘You've got to play for this guy.’ It was kind of like a no-brainer... I think I made the right decision.

“[Gase] is young and very vibrant. He has so much confidence in his ability to call plays. That’s kind of contagious and guys feed off that. He’s definitely a player’s coach. He gets it. He knows how to communicate with us. It’s awesome so far.”

Of the pay cut, Cameron said: “It doesn't feel good, but I didn't do much to deserve a raise; I will tell you that much.”

Gase said he wants to maximize Cameron’s skills: “I’m excited to see where we can go with him. The tight end position of this offense has been one of the strengths as far as matchup issues with safeties and linebackers.”

There are a lot of reasons for why nearly all the Dolphins’ veteran offensive additions this decade (excluding Reggie Bush) haven’t performed as well here: a poor offensive line, shaky quarterback play, questionable coaching (often lacking creativity) and in some cases not enough opportunity.

In the case of offensive linemen Tyson Clabo, Marc Colombo, Bryant McKinnie and Darren Colledge, all were well past their prime when they arrived.

Regardless, this trend must change. Extracting more from Stills and Cameron would be a start. And Gase’s track record raises optimism.

• For a look at all of the Dolphins' key special team battles, please click here for our post from earlier today.

CHATTER

Marlins closer AJ Ramos, 17 for 17 on saves, said he has tried not to get into jams partly because he doesn’t want to keep stressing out his parents. “My dad said he needs a new recliner; he’s on the edge of his seat watching [me] and it’s worn out,” Ramos said.

Ramos, who has escaped a few messes of his own making, is holding opponents to a .169 batting average and entered Thursday having converted 26 save chances in a row, dating to last season, which is the third-longest ongoing streak in baseball behind Brad Ziegler (37) and Jeurys Familia (33).

• UM baseball coach Jim Morris, whose team opens NCAA Tournament play Friday, says he has never given a full scholarship to a single player at Miami and that he’s losing a bunch of quality players every year because UM’s tuition/room/board is so high ($64,000 a year). The result has been a 2016 team with five to eight high-end players but very little depth.

“That’s always going to be a challenge at Miami because you’re not going to have 35 guys on a team,” Morris said. “The fact is, the scholarship situation is tough. A lot of our guys… played just about every inning of every game. I’m concerned about them getting tired. We try to practice less, take care of them, do all the things we can to keep them fresh.”

• Good crowd tonight for the Panthers uniform unveiling and I will have some notes from that in the coming days. (George Richards will have a story on the home page about the new uniforms, which received mixed reaction from those in attendance.)

One other Panthers topic we want to address: The Panthers insist Dale Tallon’s power has not diminished amid the front-office shuffling over the past month. But Panthers executive chairman Peter Luukko confirmed the organization quietly implemented a decision-making-by-committee approach this past season, which Tallon was OK with, enough so that he accepted a three-year contract extension.

Beginning this past season, seven people were consulted on all personnel moves: Tallon, owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu, Luukko, Tom Rowe (now the GM) and Eric Joyce and Steve Werier (now assistant GMs). That remains the case with Rowe now GM.

So why have so many voices making a decision on a single trade? Luukko said the Panthers want diverse opinions so “that everybody has a voice” and because there are financial ramifications with every move.

For example, “we could be talking about a player that Eric has seen play 20 times,” Luukko said. “Steve can analyze it from a financial standpoint. Dale took the lead on all the deals [before the trade deadline]. We all had input.”

Luukko said if Tallon and Rowe disagree on a personnel move, Tallon has final say. And if the owners disagree with Tallon?

Then the owners would have final say in that case, but Luukko said “it wouldn’t get that far” and that the Panthers owners have never nixed a move that Tallon pushed for.

Why not have a single person (such as Tallon) have final say on all moves without going around the room? “I’ve never heard in hockey where someone walks in a room and said, ‘I just made a trade,’” said Luukko, a former long-time president of the Philadelphia Flyers.

There’s a perception Viola has pushed for more use of analytics. True? “Yes, but it’s the whole organization,” Luukko said, adding analytics “give totally invaluable information to reinforce a decision or see where it fits financially.”

• At a stadium tour today, the Dolphins reiterated they fully expect the stadium to be ready well before UM’s Sept. 3 opener against Florida A&M, but we hear Orlando has emerged as the front-runner to host that game if it’s not. Marlins Park also has been receiving consideration from UM, but Orlando’s facility could accommodate a lot more fans. UM needs to be able to seat at least 40,000.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Thursday buzz on the Dolphins' special teams battles: kicker, return jobs and more

One of the most interesting things from Dolphins availability today happened when I asked Jordan Cameron who said something to him to make him want to take a $1.5 million pay cut and stay with Miami. He said tight end Julius Thomas, who played for Adam Gase, told him he had to play for Adam Gase... More on this later.

In the meantime, special teams talk:

Of all the Dolphins’ most prominent jobs on special teams, the only one that’s seemingly resolved belongs to the player who was a clear-cut underdog to win a job at this time last year.

Yes, punter Matt Darr is safe, a year after the undrafted Tennessee alum beat out Brandon Fields and averaging 47.6 yards per punt, third-best in the league.

But everything else is in question.

The kicking job is a toss-up between incumbent Andrew Franks and Iowa rookie Marshall Koehn.

“Couldn’t say one is ahead of the other; they have a similar skill set,” special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said Thursday, noting Franks made five of six field goals on Thursday, including a 52-yarder with “15 yards to spare.”

The punt and kickoff return jobs are unsettled among rookies Kenyan Drake and Jakeem Grant, with Jarvis Landry still in the mix and willing if needed, and Damien Williams and others available as fallback options.

Even the long-snapper job is in doubt, with San Jose State undrafted rookie Ryan DiSalvo expected to challenge John Denney.

Franks, who beat out Caleb Sturgis for the job last year, attempted the fewest field goals of any full-time kicker last season, converting 13 of 16, with all three misses over 40 yards and one from 63. But he also missed three extra points in 36 attempts.

His kickoffs were generally good, with 61 percent resulting in touchbacks, 11th-best in the league. The NFL this season will experiment with placing the ball at the 25-yard line after touchbacks, instead of the 20.

“Andrew has come leaps and bounds,” Rizzi said. “Has ironed out his technique. Andrew didn't get a lot of field goal opportunities last year….Some people may think the jury is still out on this guy. I saw a major improvement out of him from training camp, this time last year, until we got to game one. He made a huge jump and that's why he made the team.

“He has a huge leg. I want to see him become more consistent in everything he's doing. We missed three PATs last year. One wasn't on him; it was on the operation. But the makeable kicks that he missed are the ones we want to see. We just want to see him become more consistent. I've seen that in practice."

As for Koehn, he hit 12 of 16 field goals as a junior and 16 of 20 as a senior, including a game-winning 57-yarder against Pittsburgh. But after making all 38 extra points as a junior, he missed six of 53 last year.

Koehn is a better athlete than many kickers. Koehn ran a 4.61 40-yard dash, the fastest by any kicker or punter as far back as NFL.com's records go for the Combine. He was faster than every quarterback except one, almost every linebacker, 10 wide receivers, and five running backs.

“Marshall (Koehn) had a hell of a career in the Big Ten,” Rizzi said. “He kicked in inclement weather. He kicked in some big situations. He made a 57-yard game-winner last year at home.

“He's going to definitely compete for the job. No doubt about it. He has a great skill set. He has a real strong leg. He reminds me a lot of Andrew (Franks), to be honest with you, coming out last year. The only difference is that (Koehn) kicked at a bigger school. But they have a very similar skill set and kicking leg."

As for returns, it would be ideal of Grant and/or Drake seize both jobs, though they are far, far more experienced on kickoffs than punts. Bobby McCain, Tyler Patmon, Isaiah Pead and AJ Cruz also got work on kickoff returns in the one OTA session that was open to reporters this week.

“We are going to have multiple guys back there,” Rizzi said. “I don’t think the deep guy is always going to get the ball. We have got to have as many guys ready to field kicks as possible.”

Grant averaged 24.9 yards and scored four touchdowns on 87 career kickoff returns. Last season, he averaged 26.1 and scored two touchdowns on kickoffs.

Drake averaged 26.6 yards on 19 kickoff returns --- all last season – with one touchdown coming on a 95-yarder against Clemson in the national championship game.

Keep in mind that Landry’s 27.1 career average on 47 kickoff returns was better than Grant’s or Drake’s college averages. Rizzi said Landry will keep the job if he’s the best option, and Landry said he’s fine with that either way.

“If we're going into Week 1, Game 1, the best option for the football team is going to be the guy that goes back there,” Rizzi said. “I still will always use the Antonio Brown example. He's still the Pittsburgh Steelers punt returner and you could argue he's their best player. You could argue he's one of the best receivers in the league and he's still back there returning punts and making game-changing plays.

“I think the thought process is to get more options on the table. We didn't have a lot of them last year. We haven't had a lot of them the last couple of years. So at that point Jarvis Landry was our best option.

“You look at what Jakeem Grant has done in college and if he can bring that same juice and energy and big-play ability. You look what Drake did as a kick returner. If those guys can match what they did in college, then they are certainly going to be great options for us.”

Grant has never returned a punt in a college game, and Drake returned only one (for 19 yards, in 2013). But the Dolphins are comfortable with both rookies handling punts, too.

“Jakeem is a little ahead of where I thought he would be as a punt returner,” Rizzi said. “He really worked it as coming in. Kenyan was a lot better early on as I thought he would be as well…. Grant caught punts all the time, but for whatever reason he didn't do it in games. Jarvis Landry never returned a punt in college either. I think people forget that.”

Denney, 37, has been the Dolphins’ long-snapper since 2005, spanning five permanent coaches and two interim ones. But DiSalvo will be given a long look.

Denney has a $1.2 million cap hit if he’s on the team, with $100,000 in dead money if he’s cut. DiSalvo would have a $450,000 cap hit if he makes it, no hit if he’s cut. So the savings would be about $650,000 if a change is made, with that money adding to the Dolphins’ $16.9 million in cap space and likely being carried over to next season.

“In college, it’s hard to evaluate long snappers because 90 percent of them don’t block,” Rizzi said. “Ryan DiSalvo played for three years in a pro style punting scheme, which is very rare in college these days.  He’s a little bit ahead of the curve. What we saw out of him… was impressive. I worked him out myself.

"I like his personality, body type. He’s going to have a tough time beating out John, who’s been a multiple Pro Bowler. It’s going to be a competitive situation.”

Meanwhile, Rizzi said wants to see a “big jump” not only from Franks, but also from Darr, who could be the Dolphins’ punter for a decade.

“Now some people would say, 'Well gosh, Matt Darr was third in the league in gross punting,’” Rizzi said.

“But there are certainly areas of the game he can improve on. Our net punting could go up better. He did a great job on going-in punts inside the 20. But some things like location, hang time ... little things that he can work on. I'd love to see ... I think the sky is still the limit for this guy. I still think he could be an elite NFL punter, if he's not already.”

For a lot of Dolphins nuggets at other positions, including Rex Ryan taking aim at a top Dolphins player, please click here.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

June 01, 2016

Lots of Wednesday Dolphins nuggets: OL; practice notes; Wake; WRs; the Dolphin with the unusual diet; Rex Ryan lashes out

 Notes and thoughts after another day of Dolphins’ OTA practices on Wednesday:

• On a day that Billy Turner alleged that “anyone that knows football and knows our offensive line knows that we have the potential to be the best offensive line in football,” that group of linemen continued to have some problems with pass protection.

Laremy Tunsil, the projected starter at left guard, is also getting work at tackle and was beaten at least three times on pass rush moves today, by Chris Jones and Chris McCain and Farrington Huguenin.

• Xavien Howard isn’t going to be handed the starting cornerback job opposite Byron Maxwell. Both Howard and Tony Lippett are getting a fair shot to win the job. Neither was awful or extraordinary today.

• The right guard job remains a tossup among Turner, Dallas Thomas, Kraig Urbik and Jamil Douglas, with Jermon Bushrod joining the mix in training camp. (Bushrod remains limited because of shoulder surgery).

Turner said he’s splitting his time 50/50 between guard and tackle:  "I've been all over the place. I've been at right guard with the first group, and I've been at right tackle (with the first group). I've been at right guard with the second group and I've been at right tackle (with the second group). I've been on ... During (the voluntary veterans) minicamp, I was on both sides of the ball, and I think I'm a little more on the right side as OTAs are shaping out and moving along here.”

• Jakeem Grant, Kenyan Drake, Bobby McCain, Tyler Patmon, Isaiah Pead and AJ Cruz all got work on kickoff returns… Pead dropped two passes out of the backfield.

 Adam Gase, on Grant’s speed: "It's impressive. I know a lot of defensive guys have made comments about how quick and how fast he is. It's almost like we have to temple him down a little bit, because ... You guys probably saw today (that) when we do some routes versus air, he can get a little bit out of control. It's learning how to run certain routes at the right tempo. It's almost like the illusion you're running full speed, but you're not really, and you're under control and you can stop on a dime. That's where we need to get him."

• Marshall Koehn, competing with incumbent Andrew Franks for the kicking job, missed his last two field goal attempts today after a strong start.

• Griff Whalen, who made several catches today, has a chance to stick as a fifth or sixth receiver. I asked him about his plant-based diet, an approach he has followed for two years.

Here’s how he explained his rationale for not eating meat: "It's been a little over two years now. For me it was ... growing up I didn't know anything about like nutrition or eating healthy or anything like that. Through college and then the first couple of years after I graduated, I'm kind of that underdog role. I'm looking for anything I can do to give myself an advantage.

“Whether it's training, diet, anything like that. So it was just kind of through a long process of researching nutrition and learning how important that is to training. It doesn't matter how hard you train, there's a certain limit to how much you can do on the field or in the weight room. After a point, nutrition plays a huge part in how quickly you can recover, how hard you can push yourself the next day, back-to-back days and stuff like that. I feel like it's helped me tremendously and given me a big edge, in that regard."

So what are typical meals? "Breakfast is like an oatmeal, fruit, and whatever else I want to throw into it. And then lunch and dinner, a rice and bean kind of dish is pretty typical. Lots of veggies. A salad. I make a lot of smoothies because I can just throw greens and fruit and stuff in there. But rice and beans or lentils, stuff like that is pretty common for me."

• A lot’s at stake for Kenny Stills, who’s going into a contract year. But "I'm not really thinking about a contract year," he said. "It's another year for me. I was disappointed with the way things went for myself individually last year, and as a team last year, and all I can do is try and be better every year."

Gase believes Stills is a good fit for this offense, and Stills said "there's a lot of things that come into being a receiver in this offense and I think he believes that I can do that. I believe I can do all those things and so that's why he seems to think I'm a good fit… It takes a smart, good route-running, fast" receiver.

• Cam Wake worked in team drills today, as he continues his comeback from a ruptured Achilles. “Cam Wake, he's not really a normal human,” Turner said.

• Rex Ryan went off on Mario Williams in the Monday Morning Quarterback this week, apparently unhappy that Williams expressed displeasure about playing out of position and being used some in pass coverage with the Bills last season.

“With some of the comments (he made), do I wish him well? Not really,” Ryan said. “But, he’s on Miami. If he would have gone somewhere else, maybe. He’s a good kid, but I am used to some mean motherf—ers that play out there.

“The Terrell Suggs, Jarrett Johnsons of the world. I screwed them, too — I had them drop (into coverage), too. Not one of them bitched. Von Miller (dropped into coverage) in the Super Bowl. Why? Because that’s what’s asked of him. That’s what his job is. Your job is to play. Coaches spend a hell of a lot more time studying tape and everything else. They are trying to put the team in the best position to be successful, not an individual.”

• Gase believes there’s more that can be culled from Dion Sims: "I think it does come down to consistency. I know that's kind of a repeat line right there, but he has the skill set that you want. There are not a lot of tight ends that you can say (are) an in-line blocker, can play the move position, can catch the ball, can run routes, has good speed and can do a good job in both pass protection and the run game. He has all that ability. It's about doing it week-in, week-out for the entire season."

• Adam Beasley has a story on the home page about the Dolphins moving their Aug. 25 preseason opener to Orlando.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... Check the last post for the Doral/Trump news today, plus more Dolphins, Heat, UM and Marlins.

May 31, 2016

4 p.m.: PGA addresses move from Doral to Mexico; Trump speaks out; Maxwell ready to prove he's worth the investment; Heat, Marlins, UM football and baseball nuggets

4 p.m. update: The PGA confirmed that it has signed a seven-year deal to move the WGC Championships from Doral to Mexico City.

Since the debut of the World Golf Championships in 1999, the intent has always been to conduct these tournaments around the world,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem. “Once it became apparent that we would not be able to secure sponsorship at levels that would sustain the event and help it grow at Trump National Doral, we began having serious discussions with Ricardo and Benjamin Salinas, who expressed strong interest in bringing a tournament to Mexico City to benefit golf and its development throughout Mexico. We are very excited about this new opportunity and what it brings to the World Golf Championships.”
 
The Mexico Championship will be held at to-be-announced facility March 2-5, 2017.
 
The former Cadillac Championship has been held at Trump National Doral since 2007, with Cadillac serving as the title sponsor since 2011. From 1999 through 2006, the tournament was held in Spain, Ireland, England as well as the U.S. 
 
“We greatly appreciate everything that Cadillac, Trump National Doral and Donald Trump have done for the tournament,” Finchem said. “Cadillac has been a tremendous sponsor and Donald has been a most gracious host since taking over the property in 2013. In particular, his commitment to renovating the golf course and the overall facility at Doral was especially appreciated by the PGA TOUR and its members.”
 
“The PGA TOUR has had a wonderful history in greater Miami and at Trump National Doral and we remain interested in returning when the time is right,” Finchem added.

12:40 p.m. update: Donald Trump's spokesperson emailed, saying Trump wanted to share these thoughts on the PGA moving the Doral golf tournament to Mexico City:

"It is a sad day for Miami, the United States and the game of golf, to have the PGA Tour consider moving the World Golf Championships, which has been hosted in Miami for the last 55 years, to Mexico. No different than Nabisco, Carrier and so many other American companies, the PGA Tour has put profit ahead of thousands of American jobs, millions of dollars in revenue for local communities and charities and the enjoyment of hundreds of thousands of fans who make the tournament an annual tradition. This decision only further embodies the very reason I am running for President of the United States."

The Wednesday buzz column is below. First, some breaking news at 9:15 a.m.: The annual PGA golf tournament at Doral, a staple of South Florida sports for 54 years, is relocating to Mexico City, the tournament’s outgoing chairman said Wednesday.

Butch Buchholz, who ran the World Golf Championships at Trump National Doral, said the PGA informed him on Tuesday night that it made the decision to leave South Florida because it couldn’t find a title sponsor to replace Cadillac.

“I believe they are sincere when they said they didn't want to leave an event with a 54 year history,” Buchholz said. "They've got an obligation to their board and they couldn't find a sponsor so they had to move. They don't have a choice. The PGA Tour didn't have a choice. If you don't have a sponsor what can you do?”

Trump foreshadowed the news in an interview with Fox’s Sean Hannity on Tuesday night.

“I mean, I just heard that the PGA Tour is taking their tournament out of Miami and moving it to Mexico as an example,” Trump said. “They’re taking it — it’s at Doral, it’s at — they used one of my places. They’re moving their tournament, it’s the Cadillac World Golf Championship. And Cadillac’s been a great sponsor, but they’re moving it to Mexico. They’re moving it to Mexico City which, by the way, I hope they have kidnapping insurance. But they’re moving it to Mexico City. And I’m saying, you know, what’s going on here? It is so sad when you look at what’s going on with our country.”

The PGA said in December that it would “explore all options regarding the event’s future” in the wake of Trump’s controversial proposal last year to ban Muslim immigrants from entering the United States.

Buchholz said he did not know whether Trump’s comments were the primary reason why the PGA was unable to find a sponsor to replace Cadillac, which informed the tour a year ago that it would not renew.

PGA Tour officials could not immediately be reached.

“Cadillac was going to leave,” Buchholz said. “It had nothing to do with Trump. They said they're changing whole marketing strategy. The tour had almost a year to find a replacement.”

With the tennis tournament on Key Biscayne also threatening to leave because it has been blocked legally from making renovations to the facility, Buchholz – who started that tennis tournament – believes South Florida likely will lose its two spring jewels.

“We are probably going to lose tennis and golf,” he said. "It's not great for your community. They contributed greatly to our community's enjoyment and fans.”

 

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN 

 

Byron Maxwell wants to make this very clear if there’s any doubt: “I’m definitely a No. 1 cornerback.”

The Philadelphia Eagles --- who traded him to Miami --- might not agree, but he better be, because there’s no proven alternative on the Dolphins roster.

Fact is, Maxwell stands as easily one of the team's 10 most indispensable players, when you consider he’s the only veteran starting corner on the roster, and Miami already is relying more on young corners than perhaps any other team in the league.

Here’s the good news:

1) The passer ratings have been subpar (for quarterbacks) and good for Maxwell when he has played the type of defense Miami will employ, including some zone.

Pro Football Focus noted the Bengals played the second most cover-2 in the league under Vance Joseph (now the Dolphins defensive coordinator), and as alert NFL film analyst Ian Wharton of Bleacher Report said here, “that will allow him to use his press ability without asking him to cover in-breaking routes,” which sometimes give him trouble.

Pressing, as Maxwell said Tuesday, “is one of my strengths, what I do. Looking forward to playing that."

2) He has looked good so far, albeit in shorts. “He has done a great job of getting his hands on balls, and it makes it tough on not only the receivers, but the quarterback, because that window is tight,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “When he’s covering a guy, it’s going to be a tight throw."

3)  He was solid from Week 4 through Week 17 last season: one touchdown allowed, two picks and a 76.9 passer rating against. In his three years in Seattle (2012-14), he had very good passer ratings against: 52.4, 57.8 and 78.5.

The more unsettling news:

1) Because of his poor start (including being torched by Atlanta's Julio Jones, who can do that to a lot of cornerbacks), Maxwell allowed an overall 100.7 passer rating in his coverage area last season, and Pro Football Focus rated him 75th among all corners, noting “Maxwell might be an upgrade from [Miami’s] current situation at cornerback, but he’s still an average cornerback who they’ll have to pay $17 million over the next two years.” About $12 million of that is guaranteed, according to overthecap.com.

2) He had the sixth most penalties among defensive backs last season.

3) He “struggles finishing as a tackler, at times even looks lazy,” Wharton said.

4) He hasn’t had big interception numbers recently – two each of the past two years. Brent Grimes, now with Tampa, had nine over those two years for Miami.

Maxwell feels like he has “something to prove” because “you are the new guy. Everyone is looking at you like, 'What can you do?' They watch football. The season I had, the beginning of the season, just wasn’t....” He didn't finish that thought today, but everyone knew where he was going.

“It’s Year 6," he said. "Way more stuff to prove.”

Strangest thing for Maxwell so far? Has to be the fact that Gase, who also calls the plays, has been trash-talking him and the other corners.  

“You would hope head coaches don’t have a side,” Maxwell said, smiling. “He clearly has a side, which is cool. When he’s trash talking me, I say I can’t let DeVante Parker beat me because I’m going to hear Gase in my ear. It’s fun out there. He gets me going.”

Of being the only established veteran in the cornerback room (aside from on-the-bubble corners Tyler Patmon and Chimdi Chekwa), Maxwell said: "It’s a responsibility. It has to be accepted, regardless if I like it or not. But it’s one of those things where you get these young guys, you can mold them, you could create something like how we had in Seattle.”

• For more Dolphins nuggets from today, including one interesting starting battle, please click here.

CHATTER

• Jose Fernandez --- who threw seven scoreless innings tonight (allowing three hits) and moved to 8-2 with a 3-1 win against Pittsburgh --- entered Tuesday’s start on a pace to throw 196 innings, and the Marlins want to keep him “in the 180 range,” Don Mattingly said Monday.

That likely will mean skipping him a start or two, though Mattingly declined to make that official, saying only “We have a plan.”... As Mattingly noted tonight, "It's almost like [Jose] is getting better every time."...

According to Elias, Fernandez, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez are the only pitchers since 1893 to go 6-0 with 50 plus strikeouts in any May....

For Marlins pitching roster news today, please click here.

• Marcell Ozuna, the most pleasant surprise of this Marlins’ season, credits his renaissance (.333, 10 homers) to hitting coach Barry Bonds (“he has kept me focused all the time”) and Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano (who spent time with him in the Dominican Republic last winter and implored him to be a more patient hitter).

The Boston Globe reported during the offseason that Mattingly and Bonds lobbied for the Marlins not to trade Ozuna, who would have been dealt if Cincinnati or Texas met high asking prices.

Mattingly told me this week that he indeed advocated keeping Ozuna last winter but said he couldn’t speak for Bonds.

“I was a supporter of Marcell, seeing on film and the across the field and knowing what happens one year to the next [with a young player],” Mattingly said. “If [the production] was there once, it’s there again. Even last year, really bad [for him] was .260. It wasn’t .200. He wasn’t swinging at strikes before.”

Now he’s more selective, with a .386 on-base average that's well above last year’s .308.

• One more reason why Justise Winslow needs to develop more consistency and confidence in his three-point shot, as Raptors guard Terrence Ross explained:

“He doesn't shoot a lot of them," Ross said. "I don't know if it's that he can't make them. But he doesn't shoot a lot of them. He's working against himself with not shooting it, so people are kind of sagging off."

On the positive side, "He plays physical," Ross said. "He's really strong. He can guard one through four. He works hard. It's a challenge [with him defending you]. He's good.”

• South Florida’s rating for Game 7 of Thunder-Warriors (15.4) was barely below an average Dolphins game last season (15.8), with Miami’s Western Finals ratings consistently ranking in the top 10 in the country, including sixth overall for Game 7. We've become one of the NBA's best markets, from a TV ratings standpoint, since the Big Three era.... For some major network football broadcast news today, please click here.

• Biggest surprises on this UM baseball team that hopes to begin a long NCAA Tournament run on Friday? Coach Jim Morris points to Michael Mediavilla (10-1, 3.23 ERA; “gone from being a set-up guy to a No. 1 starter”) and shortstop Brandon Lopez, who entered this season with a .258 career batting average but is hitting .388 this year, has finally matured and become a legit pro prospect after four suspensions in four years.

Morris marveled at how he has transformed himself from a No. 8 hitter to a capable cleanup hitter.

• UM has made it to the College World Series each of the previous six years it was named a national seed. It's a national seed again this year.

• One of the intriguing position battles this August will be impressive freshman Mike Pinckney against Darrion Owens at weakside linebacker. Owens, coming off a serious knee injury, hasn't been cleared for team drills. "I'm close to 100 (percent), I feel good," Owens told Canesport. "There are days I feel sore, but that comes with the injury. Once that all goes away I'll be back."... Meanwhile, Trent Harris said he's happy to be back at defensive end and is more comfortable there after being forced into action at middle linebacker last year. Middle linebacker should be covered for the next few years, with spring revelation Shaquille Quarterman.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Tuesday afternoon Dolphins tidbits; Major football broadcast news; Marlins news

Today was the first of 10 remaining Dolphins availabilities before training camp, with six of them featuring open practices and four of them (including today's) not open to reporters.

Adam Beasley has a story on the home page posted now about Branden Albert, and I'll have something more in this space later, so check back around 10. In the meantime, a few other notes from the four players made available to us today:

• There are very few positions on the Dolphins without an obvious front-runner to start. But the defensive tackle spot opposite Ndamukong Suh is one of them, with Earl Mitchell and Jordan Phillips battling.

“It’s a competition,” Mitchell said Tuesday after an offseason practice that was closed to reporters.  “Whenever there’s a competition, you want to win.  You never want to look at it like that [as not caring about starting]. That’s the worst thing you can do. Whatever I can do to push him, whatever he can do to push me, we’re both welcoming that atmosphere. Jordan is definitely working hard. He wants to step up and do his part.”

According to Pro Football Focus, both Mitchell and Phillips struggled against the run last season on a team that allowed the fifth-most rushing yards in the league. Mitchell declined to discuss the past on Tuesday, consistent with every player on the team who has been asked about last season.

But he said he’s encouraged partly because of the hiring of Jim Washburn as a senior defensive assistant and pass-rush specialist. He was a longtime respected NFL defensive line coach with the Titans, Eagles and Lions.

“I want to commend coach Washburn, especially,” Mitchell said. “He’s teaching us so much. That is going to be big for us, key for us, learning everything early on.”

New coordinator Vance Joseph’s wide nine defensive scheme should help, Mitchell said, because “it turns everything back, especially in the run game. It takes the read away from the inside guys. You don’t have to read down the line of scrimmage. You can just attack and not necessarily worrying about losing contain on the outside. When you have guys on the outside, it turns everything back on the inside. It makes it easier to attack…. Coach Vance is pretty adamant about having this attack style defense.”

• The Dolphins expect Cam Wake to be back for the start of training camp and Mitchell said even watching him now, nobody would know he had a ruptured Achilles’ last October. But Wake hasn’t resumed doing team drills.

• Cornerback Byron Maxwell is enjoying his practice matchups with DeVante Parker.

“He’s a great player,” Maxwell said. “Not only him — Kenny Stills and you’ve got Jarvis Landry. Those three guys, they could be very special as a core. But me and Parker have been having good battles. He’s a strong kid. He can go up and get the ball, too.”

• Maxwell likes what he has seen from rookie cornerback Xavien Howard: “He was born to be a corner. He’s just athletic. It’s a natural gift. You can see in his hips and the way he moves.”

• With Dion Jordan set to apply for reinstatement from NFL suspension on Wednesday, Mitchell said teammates are prepared to welcome him back. “There’s no hard feelings,” he said.

• Adam Gase isn’t the only coach trash-talking with defensive players. Mitchell says wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson also does it. “It makes the atmosphere better,” Mitchell said.

• Left tackle Branden Albert on Jay Ajayi, who’s expected to replace Lamar Miller as the starting running back: "I think he's going to hit the holes. That's his thing. We're going to open up the holes for him and he's going to hit it. I'm not worried about him tiptoeing through the hole.

“He's going to put his head down, find the hole and he's going to get through there. We need someone else to step up in the running game too.”

BROADCAST NEWS

Brad Nessler, whose contract was not renewed by ESPN, was hired by CBS today to succeed Verne Lundquist, 75, on SEC football games beginning in 2017.

In 2016, Nessler will call three SEC games on days CBS has double-headers. He also will call the Sun Bowl, select college basketball games and possibly some NFL games this season on weeks with lots of AFC games.

Lundquist, in his 53rd year in television, will remain at CBS beyond 2016, calling regular-season college basketball, the NCAA Tournament and golf, including the Masters and the PGA Championship.

“Being a part of the SEC on CBS since 2000 has been the most significant assignment I’ve been given in my more than five decades in this business,” Lundquist said.  “Now, it’s time to step back and take in the aroma of those tulips, those roses, and those daffodils that friends have been telling me about for years. In 2017, I’ll happily step aside from college football and welcome Brad to the booth.  I’ve known Brad for more than 30 years and have always admired his work ethic and his on-air presence.  He shares the same passion for college football that I do. The SEC on CBS is in great hands. Brad and [his former ABC partner, Gary Danielson] will form a great partnership in the years ahead.”

Though ESPN had high regard for Nessler's work, it was not interested in continuing to pay him a high salary, according to a network source. He will be replaced by Joe Tessitore on ESPN Saturday night games.

"Verne has been a friend for over 30 years and someone I've always looked up to in this business,” said Nessler. “I'm not replacing him as it would be impossible to replace Verne.  I am truly honored to carry on where he leaves off and work to maintain the standard of excellence he has set calling the SEC on CBS. I am excited to rejoin the CBS Sports team this season and look forward to working alongside Gary again in 2017.” 

CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus summarized the move thusly: “Verne has set the standard for college football broadcasting. Together with Gary Danielson he has played a key role in making the SEC on CBS the highest-rated college football package in America. After an incredible 17 years, he will be handing the reigns off to Brad, who in his own right is highly acclaimed and respected as one of the premier play-by-play broadcasters in the business. I am very pleased that Verne will still have a prominent role in our college basketball and major championship golf coverage.  We are fortunate to have one more football season to appreciate Verne’s one-of-a-kind storytelling as we pave the way for a seamless and smooth transition to Brad.” 

MARLINS NEWS

• The Marlins activated Mike Dunn from the disabled list, meaning they are no longer the only team in baseball without a lefty in the pen. Edwin Jackson was designated for assignment. The Marlins had high hopes of salvaging Jackson's career, but he had a 5.89 ERA in 10 2/3 innings.

• Reliever Bryan Morris will have back surgery, our Andre Fernandez reports tonight from Marlins Park. There's a chance he could be back in September. It's another blow to the Marlins bullpen, which lost Carter Capps in March to season-ending Tommy John surgery.

Check back tonight for more.

May 30, 2016

NBA Finals schedule; Monday update: Dion Jordan ready to apply for reinstatement; Bosh cap scenarios; UM news today

Here's the NBA Finals schedule, with all games on ABC:

 

Game 1 – Thu  June  2 Cleveland at Golden State           9:00PM EST    

Game 2 – Sun  June  5 Cleveland at Golden State            8:00PM     

Game 3 – Wed  June  8 Golden State at Cleveland           9:00PM     

Game 4 – Fri  June 10 Golden State at Cleveland             9:00PM     

Game 5 * Mon  June 13 Cleveland at Golden State            9:00PM     

Game 6 * Thu  June 16 Golden State at Cleveland            9:00PM     

Game 7 * Sun  June 19 Cleveland at Golden State            8:00PM     

* --- if necessary

 

DION JORDAN NEWS

A member of the Dion Jordan camp told me earlier this month (but asked me not to write at that time) that Jordan hadn't yet applied for reinstatement but would soon, when he had his "ducks in a row," so to speak.

That moment has come. Jordan told Tom Pelissero of USA Today that he will apply for reinstatement on Wednesday.

Agent Doug Hendrickson told Pelissero -- and a member of the Jordan camp told me --- that they believe Jordan has done everything necessary to be reinstated.

But the person in the Jordan camp told me there will be some concern until he's reinstated because the power ultimately rests unilaterally in the hands of Commissioner Roger Goodell and there is some measure of subjectiveness to his decision.

As Pelissero explained in his piece, Goodell will make the decision after receiving a recommendation from doctors jointly selected by the players union and league. Those doctors will interview Jordan, who also must sign a medical release form.

Goodell's decision should come between one and two months after his application for reinstatement.

Hendrickson told Peliserro that he has no reason to think Jordan won’t be reinstated.

“To me,” Hendrickson said, “he should be a blueprint for the NFL system of guys being out for a year in terms of what he’s been doing and how he’s come on of late.”

And the Dolphins have indicated they're prepared to welcome Jordan back if he's reinstated.

Hendrickson told USA Today that Jordan has been tested twice a week and he has not failed or missed a drug test since he was suspended in April 2015.

Pelissero did the interview in the San Francisco office of Tariq Azim, who has been training Jordan. 

"I’m not about to waste it," Jordan told Pelissero of his opportunity to get back in the NFL. “I can't waste it and I [expletive] love doing it. Who doesn’t love running out in front of 30,000-plus fans and you get that rush? But it’s also things that you can get that rush from that can be very satisfying and can carry you on to a successful life after football.

“I just turned 26 years old, so life starts to hit you in the face. Who are you outside of those shoulder pads and helmet? And it’s weird, but I feel like it’s a blessing for me at this point in time to think about it, instead of waiting ‘til they really tell me I can’t play football no more.”

A couple of more highlights from Pelissero's well-written piece:

• Jordan says he “never, ever” had a drug problem. But he was suspended six games in 2014 after testing positive once for ecstasy and one for marijuana.

“Like a lot of rookies, you enjoy being a professional for the first time and having that cloud or whatever,” Jordan said. “I realized that’s not what it’s about. I realized real quick once I got in trouble.”

• Jordan says he stopped using drugs months before he gave the diluted sample near the end of the 2014 season.

So how did that happen? Pelissero said "according to Hendrickson, Jordan had been drinking alcohol and didn’t know he wasn’t being tested for that, so he tried to flush it out of his system."

• Jordan, 6-6, is now a bit under 270 pounds. The past Dolphins regime thought he was better suited to defensive end, not linebacker, because they didn't want to clutter his mind and wanted him to focus on rushing the quarterback (with some responsibilities in pass coverage).

But that might be revisited because the Dolphins have more of a need at linebacker than end. They're set with their top four ends: Cam Wake, Mario Williams, Jason Jones and Andre Branch.

Jordan, the third overall pick of the 2013 draft, has three sacks and 46 tackles in 26 games over two seasons. He has done good work in pass coverage, especially against tight ends such as Rob Gronkowski, so there would be an ability to move to linebacker if the Dolphins choose to change his position.

The Dolphins have been reluctant to discuss much of anything about Jordan, let alone the prospect of a position change. 

BOSH CAP RAMIFICATIONS

I ran this next item in my Sunday Miami Herald newspaper column on May 8, the day after Game 3 of the Raptors series, and I realized last week I had never placed it on-line in this blog. So here it is, factors to keep in mind regarding Chris Bosh’s impact on the cap:

Chris Bosh intends to play next season and the Heat is cautiously hopeful, though nobody can say for sure that he will be able to. So what’s Miami’s recourse otherwise? There are a few options:

If Bosh and the Heat determine he should not play again, three things are needed for his salary to be removed from Miami’s cap, according to the labor deal:

1) A doctor that is jointly selected by the league and players association must agree his condition is career-ending, or severe enough to put him at risk if he continues playing.

2) The Heat then can apply to exclude his salary from its cap no earlier than the one-year anniversary of his last game (Feb. 9) if he played in 10 games in 2015-16 (which he did). If granted, the salary would be removed immediately, giving Miami an additional $25 million in 2017 free agent cap space or room to acquire an expensive player before next season’s trade deadline without needing to trade salary in return.

3) Miami must waive Bosh. If the salary exclusion is granted, and Bosh changes his mind and decides to resume his career, the Heat cannot re-sign or re-acquire him “at any time” should be continue his career, according to cap expert Larry Coon’s labor agreement summary.

Bosh is due $23.7 million, $25.3 million and $26.8 million the next three seasons and this aforementioned scenario allows for him to continue to be paid while removing his salary from Miami’s cap. Keep in mind there is nothing that can be done with Bosh to create cap space this summer, aside from a highly improbable trade.

If the Heat and Bosh determine that he should sit out next season, but aren’t ready to rule him out for his career, then a physician selected by the league and union must agree that it is “substantially more likely than not that the player would be unable to play through the following June 15.”

Miami then could apply to sign a replacement player through a disabled player’s exception, but that application must be made between July 1 and Jan. 15 and Miami could add only one player, on a one-year deal, for no more than the midlevel exception (which was $5.5 million this season and will increase). And if a team has cap space when it applies, it would count against the cap.

Keep in mind that a team cannot apply for removing the player’s salary from its cap if it has applied for the disabled player’s exception that same year, regardless of whether it was granted or not.

If you missed it over the holiday weekend, please click here for new information on the Bosh idea that the Heat rejected and an update on every Heat free agent.

UM REGIONAL SET

UM was named a No. 3 national seed in the NCAA Baseball Tournament and will open against Stetson at 7 p.m. Friday at Mark Light Field (ESPN3). FAU and Long Beach State were the other teams assigned to UM's regional.

FAU, ranked No. 13 nationally, should not be in this regional, out of fairness to UM or FAU. But the NCAA baseball selection committee factors in geography and expenses far more than the NCAA basketball committee does. It would be more appropriate for FAU to be the No. 2 seed in a regional hosted by the team ranked 14th or 15th nationally.

"I thought FAU might come here, to help the draw and cut back on expenses," UM coach Jim Morris said. "We know FAU is good, maybe the best team they've ever had. Stetson is hot. Long Beach State has always been good."

If Miami advances, it would also host the super-regional against the winner of the regional featuring favorite Ole Miss, Utah, Tulane and Boston College, with the winner advancing to the College World Series.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 29, 2016

Exploring where Heat stands with impending free agents and new details on Bosh situation; Dolphins, Canes, Marlins chatter

 

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

This could end up being a summer as simple as resigning Hassan Whiteside and Dwyane Wade, adding a veteran with the $2.9 million room exception, re-signing Tyler Johnson and Udonis Haslem and filling out the roster with veteran minimums. For now, though, there are lots of Heat questions, with under-contract Chris Bosh and nine free agents.

What we’re hearing on each, with July 1 free agency about a month away:

• Whiteside. My understanding, reiterated in recent days, is if all things are equal financially, Whiteside wants to re-sign with Miami. He likes living here and likes the organization.

But we’ve repeatedly heard the Heat’s preference is persuading him to sign under the max (projected to be $21.6 million next season) by selling him on the lack of state income tax, his comfort level here, the roster flexibility created by him taking a bit less; and that Miami can offer 7.5 percent annual raises off the first year salary (compared with 4.5 percent elsewhere). That means a four-year deal starting at $20.7 million with Miami would equal a four-year deal starting at $21.6 million elsewhere.

But if Miami offers, say, $2 million less per year than max offers elsewhere, what would Whiteside do?  That decision hasn’t been made and it won’t be an easy one.

But keep in mind that the next-best center option, Al Horford, has a higher max salary than Whiteside, so it would be easy for the Heat to justify going to the max with Whiteside if that’s required to keep him. And as Pat Riley said, Whiteside is the Heat's summer priority.

Money is obviously very important, but Whiteside has also said this spring that “you want to win more than anything. I don’t really want to be the face of a losing franchise.”

• Wade. One Heat person expects a deal ultimately will be reached paying him at least $15 million, perhaps much closer to, or at, $20 million. The Heat’s preference is for one year, to give it 2017 flexibility.

• Joe Johnson. Miami would like to re-sign him, because he’s one of a limited number of options on the roster who – when playing well – can get you a relief basket. Figure on the Heat dangling its $2.9 million room exception.

But an associate said unlike when he signed here, he isn’t sure Johnson would necessarily be inclined to take less money to stay.

• Luol Deng. The Heat would love to try to find a way to keep him, but even if it finds a taker for Josh McRoberts’ salary, it will be very difficult to create double figures in cap space, if Whiteside re-signs here.

And an Eastern Conference official said he expects Deng to get at least $12 million annually in a two-year deal.

“Not only did I enjoy playing here, but it's an amazing city,” Deng said. “I would love to be here. I can't say one bad thing about being here.”

But the odds remain against a Deng return if Whiteside comes back.

• Haslem. He's expected to stay on a deal at the minimum.

“He can still play,” Riley said. “He played in the Charlotte series and gave us great minutes. That's what we want - a player who wants to play but preaches to the players, 'This is the way you have to be and if I'm going to sacrifice... by not playing, I don't want to hear it from you... You better be working.' He's like Dwyane, like [Alonzo Mourning]. He's a forever guy."

• Amar’e Stoudemire. The Heat is open to bringing him back at the minimum, but it doesn’t sound likely. His lack of consistent minutes bothered him.

"It would have to be a defined role [to return],” his agent, Travis King, said last week. “He loves [Miami] and the team but he loves playing. He’s looking somewhere he can play. He wants to contribute 10 to 20 minutes a night.”

• Gerald Green. He was a good teammate (according to a Heat person) and became a better defender, but his shooting percentage declined significantly and an official who spoke to the Heat said the indication he got was that the Heat will move on if it can find a better option. If it can’t, Green back at the minimum isn’t out of the question.

• Dorell Wright. The Heat is expected to move on because he’s very limited in other parts of his game besides shooting.

Tyler Johnson. The Heat’s only restricted free agent, Johnson said “barring something crazy,” he cannot envision leaving. The Heat is expected to extend a qualifying offer by the June 30 deadline, giving it the right to match any offer, with no other team allowed to offer him a starting salary topping $5.6 million.

Regardless of his salary, his cap hit will be $1.2 million. The Heat prefers him as a shooting guard but knows it might need to use him some at point guard.

• Bosh. The sides remain hopeful he will return next season, barring a setback. So why did Bosh believe he could come back for the playoffs and the Heat resisted?

The Heat was adamantly opposed to allowing him to play while taking blood-thinners because it would be very dangerous for someone on thinners who sustained a cut, or fell hard and started bleeding internally, during a game.

According to a team source, the Bosh camp spent considerable time exploring the idea of Bosh continuing to take those blood thinners, but at a time of day (such as early morning) that the medication would be out of his bloodstream by game time.

Someone with knowledge of the situation said blood tests indicated the medication was out of Bosh’s system after 8 to 12 hours, which would significantly lessen the risk for Bosh playing. But the Heat and team doctors rejected that idea.

None of the doctors involved in Bosh’s case is commenting, but Robert Myerburg --- an expert on treatment of athletes and a cardiologist at U-Health – said even though some of the newer blood thinners can be out of a patient’s system within 12 hours, “I would not use that strategy [that the Bosh camp explored]. There’s too much at risk.

“The drug being out of the system is not what worries me as much as the unprotected time” during games and other times when the blood thinner is out of his system, even more so if he’s subjected to trauma in an area where there was past clotting (in his leg and calf). He said patients with atrial fibrillation can sometimes be taken off thinners when they go on a skiing trip, but this is different.

CHATTER

• Only six active NFL players have a higher career yards-per-catch average than Kenny Stills (16.5), and Dolphins coach Adam Gase said he “definitely” wants to get him involved more after he was targeted just 63 times last season (compared with 165 for Jarvis Landry).

Stills says that excites him and “the numbers don’t lie” about Gase’s offenses.

But the chemistry must improve with Ryan Tannehill. Though a bunch of Stills’ targets were difficult deep routes (and that must be taken into account with this stat), he caught only 42.8 percent of passes thrown to him, compared to 70.4 for Rishard Matthews (now with Tennessee), 66.7 for Landry, 50.9 for DeVante Parker and 50 for Jordan Cameron.

Stills had only two drops last season, so many of the incomplete passes were errant throws by Tannehill. Gase has been impressed with Stills so far this offseason.

• Jordan Phillips has been getting a look at first-team defensive tackle, opposite Ndamukong Suh, and says he has been "losing a lot of body fat,...trying to get in better shape to play longer.” He said he wasn't happy with his rookie season.

"We’re looking for him to make a big step this year," Gase said. "I think for a man his size, he’s pretty quick. He’s powerful. Our biggest thing with him is being able to keep him on the field and get him going and be productive on a consistent basis. Every time – week in and week out – he becomes a guy that whoever’s in there with him, that group is disruptive.”

• The latest example of Canes helping Canes: David Njoku said former UM star tight end Jeremy Shockey, in the past couple of weeks, gave on-field tutoring to UM tight ends Njoku, Chris Herndon and Standish Dobard, “showing us the right way to learn a route. We’re trying to soak in all his knowledge.”

Njoku said learning run-routing from a player as great as Shockey is exciting for the Canes tight ends. Njoku also has cultivated a relationship with former UM tight end Kellen Winslow Jr.

•  Who has Don Mattingly most gained an extra appreciation for since taking over as Marlins manager? Adeiny Hechavarria offensively, he said. “He has a really good swing; didn’t realize how good a hitter he is.”

• This really is absurd, how the Marlins are now 0-5 against the Braves, who are 9-34 against everybody else. Atlanta has outscored Miami, 29-16, in those games. Against every other team, the Braves have been outscored by a combined 83 runs so far this season. What's more, the Braves were 2-20 at Turner Field this season before beating the Marlins on Friday and Saturday.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz