09/13/2014

Postscripts, notes, quotes, thoughts from UM's win against Arkansas State

Postscripts from UM’s 41-20 win against Arkansas State on Saturday afternoon at Sun Life Stadium:

### If this was a harbinger of what we’re going to see from Brad Kaaya over the next few years, this is going to be a fun ride.

Aside from the one late interception, Kaaya was brilliant in his third college start: 16 for 24 for 342 yards and four touchdowns. The 342 yards is a UM record for a true freshman, according to the school.

His first two deep passes to Phillip Dorsett couldn’t have been better thrown, with the first going for a 63 yard touchdown and next covering 51 yards. He barely overthrew Dorsett on another deep ball later in the game.

Dorsett helped pad Kaaya’s passing yardage by taking a short pass for another 63 yard score in the third quarter.

But Kaaya was also sharp on intermediate routes, including a strike to Clive Walford for a 21-yard gain in the second quarter. James Coley smartly called several bubble screens (to Malcolm Lewis, in particular) and a nifty wheel route to Walford for a 19-yard touchdown. And Kaaya was very good executing play fakes.

“It felt good to start fast,” Kaaya told WQAM afterward. “All week long we talked about the shots we were going to take downfield. We came out of the gate full speed…. Going into the game, we had a few play actions set for Clive Walford. They left him wide open a few times…. Having a guy like Duke Johnson going into the game, the opposing defense is always thinking run. That helped on the second play, where we called play action (on the 63-yard TD pass to Dorsett)….

“Louisville week was a weird week," Kaaya added. "We had just finished camp. Other guys were out on sync that week, Monday game. We didn’t get back from Louisville until 6 a.m. and we couldn’t practice the next day. Having a full week of practice helped get our timing down. Just sticking to a routine is really essential. Teams that constantly practice properly --– those things win.”

Said Al Golden: “I thought he ripped it today. Some of the things that may not be noticeable to the casual viewer --- the line of scrimmage presence, the check to get us into the long run, the throw to Phillip down the sideline was an adjust. Freshmen don’t do that. Last week, he was almost trying to push it, aiming it. He was ripping it all day.”

UM entered the game just 3 for 23 on third downs --- worst in major college football --- but Kaaya completed four of his first five third-down passes for 45 yards. UM finished 5 for 12 on third downs.

Kaaya exited in the third quarter but returned for a series in the fourth after Arkansas State closed UM’s lead to 41-20. Kaaya threw his only interception to end that one series that he played in the fourth quarter, and Coley told him it was Coley's fault.

Kaaya became the seventh quarterback in UM history to throw at least four touchdown passes in a game. UM said that has happened on 15 occasions in school history.

If Kaaya had stayed in the game throughout, he could have approached 400 yards passing --- something that has been done only 11 times by UM quarterbacks.

### Dorsett had 138 receiving yards in the first quarter and closed with 201 (on four catches) --- the third highest total in UM history behind Eddie Brown’s 220 in 1984 against Boston College and Wesley Carroll’s 208 in 1990 versus California.

“It’s exciting,” Dorsett said of his day. “Have to keep doing what I’m doing. Can’t get complacent. Every time I have games like this, I have to make sure I work harder. We’re a real unselfish group.”

Dorsett has eight catches this season, four for touchdowns.

“It’s a trust in Brad a lot more,” Dorsett told WQAM. “Brad is more comfortable with us back there. He’s a lot more poised. He knows we have his back.”

### Other Canes receiving numbers: Walford 3 for 57, Braxton Berrios 3 for 44 (including a six-yard touchdown), Malcolm Lewis 3 for 11; and Duke Johnson 2 for 20.

UM did this without Stacy Coley, who missed the game with a shoulder injury.

### More from Golden, on WQAM: “Coaches did a good job of identifying what we’re going to see from this group. I felt confident all week. [The four practice] days were good for Brad. We executed really well. I thought we played physical on defense. We were running to the ball and striking. The safeties were physical.”

### UM’s running game was solid, with 146 yards on 35 carries. Johnson had 90 yards on 14 carries, including a 33-yard TD run, and Gus Edwards broke tackles on both his carries, with one going for a 27-yard touchdown and other gaining 11 yards. Joe Yearby’s numbers were modest (10 for 32), and Trayone Gray got two late carries for nine yards.

### Arkansas State finished with 28 more plays than UM (89 to 61) but was outgained by the Hurricanes, 488 to 321.

“The defense got so much better –-- light years [ahead],” Dorsett said.

### UM held A-State to 120 yards in the second half and Miami's pass rush was terrific after intermission, including one scintillating sequence featuring three straight sacks (two by Ufomba Kamalu and one by Deon Bush on a blitz). Thurston Armbrister collected his fourth sack of the season, Miami’s fourth and final sack of the game.

“We’re at the point now where it’s not how long is he going to continue to do this,” Golden said of Armbrister. “He is what he is. He’s long, strong, 240 pounds, has better stamina than he has ever had.”

Anthony Chickillo deflected a pass. Raphael Kirby had an interception on a fake punt. And besides the sack, Bush also had six tackles and a forced fumble.

"It was a good day overall," Bush said on WQAM. "Still made mistakes we have to correct on Monday. At the end of the day, it was a W against a good team. It took a lot of studying and conditioning" against that high tempo.

"I don't think there's any coach in America that works harder than [Mark] D'Onofrio," Bush said. He's a whiz at the game, has us in all the right plays all the time."

### A-State averaged just 3.6 yards on its 89 plays. “It’s yards per play and red zone stops,” Golden said. “[A-State] has good talent, they’re quick. Our guys responded really well. We had to play a lot of guys because of the pace of that first quarter.”

### Concerns? UM’s third-down defense had some very good moments Saturday but wasn’t good enough overall, allowing conversions on 9 of 21 attempts. A-State quarterback Fredi Knighten was 7 for 10 for 89 yards on third downs, closing 22 for 40 for 217 yards overall.

UM missed too many tackles, with Jamal Carter whiffing on at least two. Tracy Howard’s coverage remains shaky at times and he had a pass interference call.

And UM committed too many penalties (11 for 93). “The selfish penalties will kill you,” Golden said of Kamalu slamming down the Arkansas State quarterback.

### Golden said: "I wish we had gotten a little more from the twos… Chad Thomas, Darrion Owens, the twos played a lot of football for us."

### Al Golden said in the postgame news conference that he expects suspended Al-Quadin Muhammad to return to UM next semester.

### Four-star running back Jordan Cronkrite de-committed from UM, telling a Gator web site that UM coaches haven't called him recently. But UM still has oral commitments from two other four-star backs: Jordan Scarlett and Dexter Williams. And another highly-regarded back, Booker T. Washington's Mark Walton, said he hopes to graduate a year early, next June, and enroll at UM next summer.

 ### Please check back later for the Sunday buzz, including lots of Heat, Dolphins and Giancarlo Stanton chatter… Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

09/12/2014

Media column: Highlights, lowlights and thoughts on the Ray Rice coverage; Media notes

MEDIA COLUMN

The Ray Rice story, thrust again into the national spotlight this week, produced both exemplary and delinquent journalism.

Some thoughts on media coverage:

### It was awkward enough that ESPN’s Chris Berman and Trent Dilfer attempted to discuss the controversy during Monday’s San Diego-Arizona game, a challenge that was simply too daunting for two broadcasters who don't announce many NFL games. But the conversation careened when Dilfer inexplicably commended the NFL’s handling of the case.

“The NFL sent a strong message,” Dilfer said, as viewers’ jaws dropped.

Amazingly, Berman didn’t dispute that assessment and instead offered a rambling soliloquy about how the NFL could become a leader on the issue before he was mercifully interrupted by a blocked punt.

And this also was odd: Dilfer said he spoke to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti after the video was released but never said what Bisciotti told him. And Berman, incredibly, didn’t ask.

### Fox and Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade, after showing the elevator video, offered this: “I think the message is take the stairs.”

Kilmeade assured everyone the next day that “domestic violence is a very serious issue for us.” Too late for damage control, Brian.

### There have been three suspensions of announcers because of comments made relating to the Rice story: Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman (by ESPN earlier this summer) and Ted Robinson, who was benched two games by the San Francisco 49ers and Pac-12 Network this week for saying on air that it was “pathetic” that Janay Palmer married Rice after the incident and criticizing her for not speaking up about being punched.

### Norah O’Donnell, a very good political reporter, asked most, but not all, of the key questions during her CBS interview with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who didn't have a good answer when she asked how TMZ could obtain the video but the NFL could not.

And when Goodell said it “was ambigious” about what happened in the elevator, O’Donnell posed the obvious follow-up:  “But what was ambiguous about her laying unconscious on the floor being dragged out by her feet?”

After Goodell said: “There was nothing ambigious about that… We did not know what led up to that,” O’Donnell shot back: “But what changed? On the first tape she was lying unconscious on the ground, being dragged out by her feet. Did you really need to see a videotape of Ray Rice punching her in the face to make this decision?”

But there were other questions that O’Donnell should have asked: What did Rice and Janay specifically say happened in the elevator? What, if anything, did she say to convince Goodell that a lenient two-game suspension was warranted?  Why didn’t he ask the casino for the video, which is legal? And why did Goodell interview Janay with Ray Rice present --- something that’s highly inadvisable with domestic abuse victims?

### Best journalism on the story: 1) TMZ not only obtaining the elevator tape but correctly reporting that Goodell never asked the casino for a copy. 2) AP reporting that a law enforcement official sent the tape to an NFL official. 3) ESPN’s Outside The Lines filling in more details, including confirmation that Rice spat on Janay twice before punching her.

### Joy Taylor, sister of Jason Taylor and co-host of 790/104.3 The Ticket’s morning show, wrote a powerful column with first-person perspective:

“I will never forget the first time I was abused,” she wrote. “Everything happened so fast, the attack, the police, my family getting involved, it was the worst night of my life. Until the next time it happened, and the next, and every time after that. When I hear the names that people call Janay Palmer (Rice) I cringe knowing that I was ridiculed the same way. Idiot. Stupid. Weak. I know the judging looks, the shame, the excuses…

“I have endured years of abuse since I was a child. I never thought as an adult I would allow someone to take my power and control me. I defended him and stood by him. I lied for him… I made the decision to forgive my abuser, and I suffered the consequences.”

Taylor, 27, told me that her father “was emotionally and mentally abusive until I was 16… when my parents divorced.” She said the man who physically abused her was a former boyfriend but “no charges were every brought because I didn’t press charges. Eventually, I stopped telling anyone about the abuse because it was so frequent.”

We encourage you to read Taylor’s essay on theticketmiami.com or through her twitter account, @JoyTaylorTalks.

### ESPN made the sensible move by using accomplished reporters (Adam Schefter, Chris Mortensen) and former team executives (Louis Riddick, Andrew Brandt, Mark Dominik) to analyze the case on their evening editions of SportsCenter instead of relying on former players to state the obvious.

### CBS, which debuted its new Thursday NFL package this week, devoted 25 minutes of its pre-game show to the Rice story, and the highlight was James Brown's thoughtful commentary calling for the outrage over this story to be "channeled to truly hear and address the long-suffering cries for help by so many women and do something about it. Like an ongoing, comprehensive education of men about what healthy, respectful manhood is all about. And it starts with how we view women. Our language is important. For instance, when a guy says, ‘You throw the ball like a girl,’ or ‘You’re a little sissy,’ it reflects an attitude that devalues women....

"Consider this: According to domestic violence experts, more than three women per day lose their lives at the hands of their partners. That means that since the night of February 15 in Atlantic City, more than 600 women have died. So this is yet another call to men to stand up and take responsibility for their thoughts, their words, their deeds."

### During that CBS pre-game show, Deion Sanders --- who two years ago was cited for misdemeanor assault in an incident that resulted in the arrest of his wife (they have since divorced) --- oddly and akwardly felt compelled to tell viewers that he has never "abused" anyone and wouldn't partake in that "nonsense." 

### For those who wondered about this: The assault charge was dropped against Rice earlier this year after he agreed to enter a pre-trial diversion program, and ESPN legal expert Roger Cossack explained that Rice cannot be prosecuted for the assault now because it would be a case of double jeopardy.

Some legal experts disagree with that and say double jeopardy is not in play in this case because Rice did not plead guilty, according to the Wall Street Journal.

### What was lacking in sports cable network coverage was the absence of any medical expert who could have offered insight into how common it is for victims to stand by their abuser, as Janay Rice has done, and why they do it.

### It was uncomfortable but fascinating to see Ed Reed squirming on Showtime’s Inside The NFL set, as he tried to reconcile the violent man he saw on tape with the former teammate he respected. Reed felt clearly conflicted.

### A bit much: Boomer Esiason claiming he would have left the set of Inside the NFL if Showtime had aired a replay of the TMZ elevator video. Esiason said he was concerned about the damage it would do, psychologically, to Janay Rice. But the damage had already been done.

Ultimately, Showtime made a defensible decision to not replay the video because it had been aired numerous times by other outlets.

### NFL free agent linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who has no affection for Goodell because of his handling of the Saints’ Bountygate scandal, said on Twitter: “I know firsthand the commissioner will go great lengths to ‘gather all the evidence,’ but he purposely did not in this instance. If the commissioner had really asked for the video, he would have made it very public and very clear that the casino refused to give it to him.”

### No surprise that ESPN’s Keith Olbermann, who has hammered Goodell repeatedly in recent weeks, called for the commissioner’s resignation on Monday, alleging he and others orchestrated a cover-up and that “Goodell is an enabler of men who beat women.”

AROUND THE DIAL

### CBS is sending Sunday's Dolphins-Bills game to a very small part of the country: Miami-Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Fort Myers/Naples, Tampa, most of New York (but not New York City) and Erie, Penn. 

The game will be called by the lowest team on CBS' depth chart: Philadelphia Phillies announcer Tom McCarthy and former NFL safety Adam Archuleta.

### More migration of sports to cable: Fox announced that it is moving as many as five National Championship League Series games to its cable network, Fox Sports 1. Only Games 1 and 6 of the NLCS would air on Fox.

### According to Sports Business Journal, the NBA is nearing extensions with Turner and ABC/ESPN that would dramatically increase their rights fees. In return, the NBA won't create a new package for Fox or NBC. 

### Sun Sports --- Rich Waltz, Tommy Hutton, Craig Minervini and the production crew --- did terrific work handling Thursday's Marlins coverage in Milwaukee, which included Giancarlo Stanton being hit in the face with a pitch, benches clearing and absurd umpiring calls.

The network showed prudent restraint by not airing video of a stadium employee sweeping Stanton's teeth off of home plate. Hutton's outrage --- which percolates from time to time --- was warranted, and it amused us when Hutton admitted on air that he had to make an effort to keep from cursing.

Please see the last post for a lot of on-field (non-media) news from Friday.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

09/11/2014

9 p.m. Dolphins/drug update; Al-Quadin gone from UM this semester; Stanton update; More comments besmirching Luol Deng

9 p.m. update:

Dolphins players Dion Jordan and Reshad Jones --- both suspended for the first four games of the season --- will be reinstated under the league’s new drug policy, the NFL’s web site reported Friday. But exactly when they would return to the team remained unclear.

Hours after the players union announced Friday that it has reached an agreement with the league on a new drug policy, the NFL said Friday night that no deal has been struck and “significant unresolved issues” remain.  According to ESPN, the major unresolved issue is whether players being reinstated from suspension would be eligible for games this weekend.

Jordan and Jones were optimistic about their suspensions being lifted, but the players and the Dolphins were still awaiting word from the league on Friday evening.

Jordan tested positive for an undisclosed amphetamine, but under the new agreement, use of amphetamines during the offseason no longer will result in a suspension for a first-time offense. But in-season positive tests for amphetamines would result in a suspension.

Jones has not disclosed the drug he took but recently complained that his positive test -- which was appealed and upheld -- was not for "anything that helped me play better. That's not me. If that was me, I would have really gone out and gotten big and faster, but I didn't. I don't have to do that."

Neither player has practiced with the team since the preseason, and the Dolphins would need to release two players to make room for them. Jordan has been working out in Los Angeles.

Other players whose suspensions reportedly will be lifted include Denver receiver Wes Welker and Dallas defensive back Orlando Scandrick. Cleveland receiver Josh Gordon’s season-long suspension will be cut to 10 games, according to multiple reports.

Among changes in the new drug policy, as detailed in an NFLPA news release:

### The NFL immediately will begin testing for human growth hormone. According to the NFLPA, players “have the right to challenge any aspect of the science” of the test. The collection of blood specimens is prohibited on game days.

### The threshold for a positive test for marijuana will increase to 35 nanograms per millimeter, up from the previous limit of 15 ng/ml.  Players had complained that 15 ng/ml was too low, asserting they could test positive if they were merely in the vicinity of second-hand spoke. The NFLPA says “there will be additional steps for players who test positive for the substance before suspension.”

### Players who are convicted or plead guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol will receive a two-game suspension. But players rejected an NFL proposal to immediately suspend a player arrested for DUI before the case is adjudicated.

### An independent arbitrator will hear appeals for all positive drug test violations. The NFL and NFLPA will jointly select and pay three to five arbitrators.

### NFL and team employees, agents and NFLPA officials could face fines up to $500,000 or termination if found to have breached confidentiality of players on drug-testing matters.

“We stood up and fought for what was right,” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said in a statement. “Twenty-five years ago it was NFL players that set out to make the game clean by asking for and collectively bargaining the first drug testing policy in professional sports. Today, this union and these player leaders have approved a policy that will serve the game well for generations of players to come.”

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Noon update: ### Defensive end Al Quadin Muhammad is no longer enrolled at UM and will not be allowed to play football this season, the school announced today. But he will be allowed to return next semester if he chooses.

UM hopes that he will return to UM next semester but it was not clear if Muhammad will choose to do that.

Muhammad is being punished for a confrontation with a roommate that left the roommate with a broken nose. The incident happened a while ago, and the former roommate has since graduated.

The UM football staff isn't happy with this decision, which was made above the athletic department.

According to someone involved in the process, the ultimate decision maker in cases of this kind is vice president of student affairs Patricia Whitely.

Muhammad told UM that he hit the roommate in self-defense, according to UM athletic department person. There were conflicting statements when witnesses were interviewed.

Al Golden held Muhammad out of UM's first two games, meaning he will not lose a year of eligibility.

Muhammad, a sophomore, was a four-star prospect coming out of Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey, rated the nation's No. 3 weakside linebacker prospect and 49th best player overall. He had two sacks as a freshman.

He's the second four-star prospect UM has lost this week (with Muhammad, at least for a semester). Freshman safety Kiy Hester transferred to Rutgers because of a family medical issue.

### The Dolphins listed Koa Misi and Billy Turner as doubtful; Mike Pouncey, Jordan Tripp and Terrence Fede as out; and nobody as questionable on their final injury report for Sunday's game in Buffalo. Nine players, including Randy Starks and Mike Wallace and Philip Wheeler, are probable.

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11 a.m. update on Marlins star Giancarlo Stanton, who suffered multiple facial fractures after being hit in the face by a pitch last night in Milwaukee:

### Jeffrey Loria has arranged for a private jet to take Stanton and his family back to Miami today. Stanton spent last night in a Milwaukee hospital.

### Stanton did not lose consciousness and the Marlins believe the fractures will heal without surgery. He had bleeding inside his mouth. He will need dental work on three teeth when he returns to Miami, Fox Sports' Craig Minervini said.

### Yahoo report that Stanton "legitimately wants to come back" this season, but Mike Redmond has said he's unlikely to play again this year. The season ends Sept. 28.

### Yahoo said Stanton had a "tooth lodged in his cheek" and the hole in his lip was "so big" that the doctor's index finger fit in it.

### Dr. John Martin, a Miami-based oculo-plastic surgeon, said Stanton was fortunate the ball did not hit his orbital bones: "He's lucky. He could have lost his vision if that had been the case. The orbital bone
is there to protect the eye, but with a ball going 88 miles per hour, it could have crushed the bones completely and you could lose your vision completely or lose your eye completely."

### If this is indeed the end of the season for Stanton, as the Marlins expect, then let's put his season in perspective: Stanton leads the NL in home runs (37), slugging percentage (.555), OPS (.950), total bases (299), extra-base hits (99), RBI (105), walks (94), at-bats per HR (14.5).... He was on pace to become the first player to lead the NL in homers, RBI and slugging percentage since Dante Bichette in 1995...

He drew 24 intentional walks.... His 154 career homers are tied with Dan Uggla for most in franchise history... According to ESPN, he has seven home runs of 450 feet or more this season. No one else in baseball has more than two.

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Many of you might have seen the racially-charged comments that Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry made about new Heat forward Luol Deng before he became a free agent this summer.

More comments besmirching Deng came to light tonight in an audio recording obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The tape, from June 6, includes Ferry discussing Deng as a potential Hawks free agent target.

Ferry has told reporters he was merely reading the comments from a scouting report written by someone else but he never says that on the tape obtained by the AJC, causing some to suspect that some of those comments might have been his own interjections. (You can make your own conclusion if you listen to the tape on the ajc.com web site.)

Among the Ferry comments, the majority of which came to light tonight through reports from the AJC and Yahoo Sports: “He’s a good guy overall but he’s not perfect. He’s got some African in him. I don’t say that in a negative way.

"He’s a guy who would have a nice store out front that’s beautiful and great but he may be selling some counterfeit stuff behind you. For example, he can come out and be the unnamed source for a story and two weeks later said that's absolutely not me and can't believe somebody said that, but talking to reporters you know it's him….

"He could be a lawyer in the locker-room when the coach is not around, but when the coach is around could be the greatest guy in the world… In Chicago, they will tell you he was a good guy for their culture but not a culture setter. He played hard and all those things but he was very worried about his bobblehead being the last one given away that year or there is not enough stuff of him in the team store. He's a little bit of a complex guy.”

During the meeting, a Hawks official -- identified by Yahoo as part-owner Michael Gearon Jr. --- said: "Oh my God, that comment sounds like [Donald] Sterling" and worries whether it might end up on TMZ.

The Hawks made a two-year, $20 million offer to Deng, according to Yahoo. But he opted instead to take essentially the same offer from the Heat.

Two days ago, Deng offered a thoughtful respond to Ferry’s “African” comments. It will be interesting to see if he responds to the additional comments made public tonight.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told USA Today this week that he does not believe Ferry should lose his job.

DOLPHINS NOTES

### NFL Network's Ian Rapaport reported tonight that Dion Jordan --- suspended four games for amphetamine use --- would be among the players who would immediately become eligible to return once NFL players approve a new drug policy. Reshad Jones also remains hopeful that his four-game suspension would be reduced or ended.

### Philip Wheeler said today that he's more comfortable playing and tackling with a cast on his hand than he was a week ago and expects to play Sunday. Koa Misi is expected to miss the game with a sprained ankle, with Jason Trusnik filling the middle linebacker job in his absence. 

Trusnik not only never received any major college offers to play college football, he didn’t land any Division 2 offers either.

“I didn’t think anything was going to work out with football,” said Trusnik, who attended Division III Ohio Northern and is certified to teach pre-kindergarten through third grade. "I thought I would get a good education and get a job.”

But something interesting happened along the way. He became a Division III All-American at Ohio Northern, was signed by the Jets as a free agent and eventually ended up a Dolphin.

His growth as a linebacker has been “considerable,” Philbin said.

Trusnik has made 15 career starts, 10 of them with the Browns in 2009.  “Everybody wants to be a starter in the league,” he said.

What stand outs about Trusnik, according to linebacker coach Mark Duffner, is his competitiveness, toughness and how well he prepares himself.

“You are going to get everything he's got from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head,” Duffner said. “He’s a physical player and over his career, he's gotten to be a pretty instinctive player.”

### Jelani Jenkins will replace Dannell Ellerbe at weakside linebacker.

When former general manager Jeff Ireland drafted Jenkins in the fourth round in 2013, he envisioned a player who could be an asset in pass coverage on third down, potentially more. Jenkins flashed those skills Sunday, when he stuck closely to the Patriots tight ends and running backs.

Jenkins was a track star in high school in Olney, Md., and was both a Parade All-American and the nation’s No. 1 linebacker prospect when he entered UF. But as the Dolphins’ shortest linebacker (6-0), he has had to prove he can hold up against the run, which has been a question.

“As a linebacker, you want to be effective on all downs and that’s one thing I’ve had to prove,” he said. “I think my [run defense] has improved.”

Duffner said what helped Jenkins against New England is that “he played fast. That’s what we want him to do.”

### Philbin said today new linebacker Kelvin Sheppard has picked up the system well. He graded out significantly below average against the run in Pro Football Focus ratings the past two NFL seasons (for the Bills in 2012 and Colts in 2013) but was very good against the run as a rookie for Buffalo in 2011 after being drafted in the third round from LSU.

“I’m a very physical linebacker,” he said. “I love getting downhill against the run. This offseason, I worked my butt off on my third down coverage.” He said he “and some of my former teammates are still trying to figure out” why he was cut by the Colts last month.

### One wild card in the equation is Chris McCain, who came to the Dolphins as a linebacker but played mostly defensive end in the opener, when he collected a sack in 15 defensive snaps. He returned from illness today and said he split time between linebacker and defensive end in Thursday's practice.

“He’s shown flashes of productive play at outside linebacker,” Duffner said. “The more we can get him repetitions, the more we will see improvement. He’s continuing to get opportunities.”

09/10/2014

Wednesday night quick hits: Moreno's theatrics; Dolphins, Hurricanes, Beckham/MLS

A six-pack of Dolphins, Hurricanes and MLS/David Beckham notes on a Wednesday night:

### Want to amuse Dolphins players? Just ask them about Knowshon Moreno’s strange behavior during games. (Hey, whatever works.)

Let Ryan Tannehill explain it:

“When it’s a TV timeout and we’re all sitting in the huddle talking with each other and he’s five yards away, flexing and looking into the crowd, it’s different,” Tannehill said today. “I’ve never been around anyone that does that. It’s kind of fun. I look at him and I’m like, ‘Guys, do you see this guy?’ They’re like, ‘Yeah, he’s out there.’”

“He’s kind of off on his own, talking to himself, staring off into the crowd, but he’s intense. He’s focused on what he has to do, he runs hard and I love it. I love being in the huddle with him.”

### The Dolphins are trying to bring new linebacker Kelvin Sheppard up to speed very quickly, because he could be one of only four or five healthy linebackers on the active roster Sunday if Philip Wheeler joins Koa Misi, Jordan Tripp and out-for-the-season Dannell Ellerbe on the sidelines.

(Chris McCain’s status is in doubt because he has missed the past two days of practice with an illness. He played through a hip injury last weekend.)

One concern about Sheppard: During his three-plus year career with the Bills and Colts, 50 passes have been thrown with Sheppard in coverage and 39 have been completed, for 354 yards, or 9.1 per reception.

In practice this week, Jason Trusnik has been playing middle linebacker (in place of Misi) and Jelani Jenkins has been getting first-team snaps at Ellerbe's weak-side linebacker spot. Jonathan Freeny and Sheppard can play Wheeler's strongside linebacker spot. Wheeler has been limited in practice because of a thumb injury that hampers his ability to tackle.

### It will be interesting to see what kind of damage Cam Wake can do on Sunday against former Hurricanes player Seantrel Henderson, now Buffalo’s starting right tackle after being drafted in the seventh round this past May.

Bills coach Doug Marrone said that “anything we heard that was a red flag” about Henderson "has been just the opposite. We’ve had no [problems] at all… It’s a credit to the young man.... He's a heck of a football player. What's there not to like?”

Henderson allowed a sack Sunday against Chicago.

### Beyond Brad Kaaya and Braxton Berrios, the next UM freshman positioned to make the next-biggest impact is KC McDermott, who is about even with Taylor Gadbois in the right tackle battle.

They shared snaps against Florida A&M last Saturday, and it wouldn’t be surprising if McDermott eventually surpasses Gadbois, who played poorly in the opener.

“I’m very hard on him,” said KC’s brother, UM center Shane McDermott. “I need to remember he’s a freshman. I yell at all the freshmen. We need to hold them to a higher standard.”

### Al Golden has declined to say what he will do when Ryan Williams is healthy, but let’s make this clear: UM’s priority this year isn’t developing Kaaya; it’s winning, and Golden intends to do what he believes gives Miami the best chance to win.

Now, if the staff can develop Kaaya, and if UM believes he gives them the best chance to win, that would accomplish two things at once, and the Hurricanes would be happy with that.

But Golden doesn’t want to commit to Kaaya publicly, beyond a game at a time, because he wants to give himself the flexibility to make a change should one be needed. UM won’t consider playing Williams until he has the mobility to escape oncoming pass rushers.

### Though MLS’ two preferred local stadium sites were rejected, David Beckham told Bloomberg News today that "Miami will happen.. I said I want to bring a team here and I will take a team to Miami. There are speed bumps along the way and we’ve come up against those.

"I’ve been very cheeky in a way because I’ve gone into Miami and I said ‘OK, I wanna build Old Trafford or Wembley stadium next to Buckingham Palace. My dream was to have our stadium on a waterfront. It’s not worked out like that and we have alternative sites. It will happen.”

Beckham’s group has been studying sites in downtown Miami and near downtown. A site near Marlins Park remains a possibility.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

09/09/2014

Dolphins players appreciate Philbin's major changes; Golden's future; Marlins; Heat

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Joe Phibin’s best move as Dolphins coach? Hiring bright, demanding offensive coordinator Bill Lazor to replace Mike Sherman.

His second-best move? Displaying the self-awareness and courage to change, to become more visible and engaging with his players. This is not just window-dressing; some players believe the new approach has made him a better coach.

“It’s like night and day,” quarterback Matt Moore said of the difference in Philbin's comportment around the team. “It’s not like it’s necessarily talking to the boss all the time. It’s a lighter friendship. He’s always around now. If it’s lifting, meetings, he’s always there. I love it.

“You just didn’t have that kind of relationship the previous years I’ve been around here. Tony Sparano was nothing like that. The last two years [with Philbin] were not like that, not anything close to where it is this year. He has done a really good job.”

One result of Philbin’s new approach, Moore said, is that “everyone is more open. There’s more open communication. It’s lighter in here.”

Or, as Mike Wallace put it Sunday: “Just the entire year there’s a whole new vibe. I feel a lot more confident in him. Just the way he’s acting around the team, the way he’s interacting with the players; that’s going to take us to the top.

"I’m not going to say he’s the most entertaining guy. He’s still pretty boring. He’s just showing a lot more intensity with the players. He’s out of his comfort zone.”

Credit Philbin for realizing, after last year's bullying scandal, that he needed to spend “less time overalyzing the tape --- sometimes that has been a problem of mine in the past” --- and “more time visiting with [players] one-on-one, being more available,” as he explained this week.

The more relaxed Philbin was on display recently when safety Louis Delmas approached him during practice and playfully repudiated his left-handed high-five, a moment captured on Showtime's Inside the NFL.

“Never left hand, never,... form of respect,” Delmas said. “In Africa or Haiti, I’d cut your wrist off for that.”

Said Philbin: “You serious? OK, I got you.”

Here’s what else players have witnessed from Philbin, besides the unusual nightly bed checks during training camp: He has danced in front of them at least twice --- including once in a team meeting. He brought in a comedian, Gary Owen, to perform for them during the preseason.

He’s allowing cell phones in the lunch room for the first time, hip-hop and other music to be played during practice and eliminated the rule they must wear suits on flights home from road games. He meets regularly with several veterans, seeking their input.

“He’s letting us have more fun,” said defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, who came over from Houston during the offseason. “His dance move broke us up.”

Jared Odrick said: “There are clearer lines of communication now and more communication overall. And anybody who likes Seinfeld as much as he does is great with me.”

Whereas Philbin is more popular with his players than ever before, it’s interesting that 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has lost some support in his locker-room, according to a report this week from NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, who cited “lack of respect” shown to 49ers players. Harbaugh is expected to be Dolphins owner Stephen Ross' top target if he makes a coaching change after the season.

Fox's Jay Glazer said it would be surprising if Harbaugh is back with the 49ers next season, even though his contract runs through 2015.

Being liked by players obviously doesn’t necessarily make someone a good coach, and Harbaugh has been far more successful as an NFL head coach than Philbin: 37-11-1 record and a Super Bowl appearance compared with Philbin’s 16-17.

As much as Ross loves Harbaugh, Philbin presumably can save his job by making the playoffs and not imploding in embarrassing fashion in a first-round game, as well as leaving Ross with the firm belief that the franchise is undoubtedly heading in the right direction. Remember, Philbin is Ross' guy and Ross would love to see his faith in Philbin validated.

Though Philbin’s hiring of Lazor ultimately will make more of a difference that his personality change, it helps that Philbin’s bond with his players has strengthened, including Wallace, with whom he has spoken often, just the two of them. Philbin made a point to tell Wallace how much he appreciates the way he has worked after practice the past several months.

### Bears receiver Brandon Marshall delivered a stern message to his Inside the NFL colleagues tonight: "You guys better watch out for Miami."

CHATTER

### UM is in a dicey spot with the prominent former players who have been particularly critical of Al Golden and his coaching staff. The Hurricanes don’t want to alienate or insult them, but some UM people bristle about comments such as Philip Buchanon nicknaming the coach “Al Folden.”

So what would athletic director Blake James tell the former players who have been especially vocal and personal in their criticism?

“Everyone who is part of the Hurricane family wants to see the program be the best it can be,” James told me last week. “I appreciate the passion. I would encourage everyone to fuel that passion toward making us the best program we can be.”

With Golden (23-16 at UM) besieged by criticism, James preaches patience and perspective.

“It’s important for everyone to understand it’s one game,” James said of the Louisville defeat, adding he is not lumping the opening loss with the four lopsided November/December defeats last season because “they’re completely different seasons…We recognize we need to get better as a program. I assure everyone we know that.”

James said: “Everyone in the Hurricane family agreed Al was the perfect person for the job when we hired him. I’m still at the point. When you look at what he was able to do leading us through the NCAA case and bringing us out of it. It’s important for people to recognize we’re now just coming out of it.

“He’s doing what we need to do in recruiting. Denzel Perryman and Clive Walford coming back this season speaks volumes about the value they realize they are getting being Hurricane football players. I’m confident we’re going in the right direction. It doesn’t happen overnight…. It’s important for everyone to be realistic and recognize we’re building a solid foundation and we’re going to get back to where we all want this program to be.”

### Please see the last post for more UM and Dolphins notes from Tuesday afternoon.

### The Marlins want to add another bat this offseason and would be open to moving Christian Yelich to first base --– where he played in high school --- if they have better luck finding a quality free-agent left fielder than first baseman. One problem is that disappointing Garrett Jones is due $5 million next season. The Marlins would like to upgrade there nevertheless.  

### No surprise here: Michael Beasley definitely won't be back with the Heat, agent Jared Karnes said Tuesday. The Heat never made an offer, preferring instead to sign journeyman Shawne Williams, whose career hasn't been nearly as productive as Beasley's. 

The Lakers twice have watched Beasley work out, and they remain a possibility for him. The Heat's decision not to retain Beasley --- in spite of his offensive gifts --- ultimately came down to the coaching staff's lack of complete trust in him. Defense and maturity issues were cited by one NBA official briefed on the Heat's decision, though Beasley behaved more maturely last season than in his earlier stint with the Heat.

### According to RealGM.com, the Heat is one of four teams (with Orlando, Dallas and San Antonio) who have expressed interested in 6-5 Slovian swingman Zoran Dragic, younger brother of Phoenix guard Goran Dragic.

Zoran Dragic, 25, has never played in the NBA but impressed teams at the recent FIBA World Cup, averaging 12.9 points and shooting 50 percent. He has been playing professionally in Europe and averaged 10.6 points last season.

Ray Allen, Zoran Dragic, Wayne Ellington and Carlos Delfino are among the top shooters still available in free agency.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

2:20 p.m. Dolphins injury update; Golden addresses QB battle, Al-Quadin, other issues

2:20 p.m. update: A day after the Dolphins placed Dannell Ellerbe on season-ending injured reserve, they began preparations for the Buffalo game without middle linebacker Koa Misi. Misi has an ankle sprain and is still wearing a boot.

The Dolphins hope he can return in a week or two, but that's completely dependent on how quickly he heals and it's certainly possible it could take longer. He missed two games when he had an ankle sprain two years ago.

Philip Wheeler, who missed Sunday's game with a thumb injury, participated in the early portion of practice today (per our Adam Beasley) but continues to wear the cast. His status for Sunday is in question. He practiced some last week with the cast but the Dolphins weren't comfortable playing him in the game.

Jordan Tripp (bruised sternum), Terrence Fede (knee), Mike Pouncey (hip) and Billy Turner (bone bruise on foot) also remained sidelined during the early portion of practice, according to Adam.

Also, Chris McCain was not at the early portion of practice, according to Adam. And Mike Wallace --- who said he has had a hamstring issue --- was catching passes on the side.

(Update: McCain has been sick and also dealing with a hip injury.)

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A few UM quick hits on a Tuesday afternoon:

### Don’t underestimate Saturday opponent Arkansas State, which isn’t on the level of a major conference school but is far from a cupcake, either.

They have a quarterback who can run, a defense that is third nationally in turnovers and sixth in sacks, and very good special teams. “This is three-time conference champion,” Golden said. “They want to go high-tempo.”

### I asked Al Golden if --- when Ryan Williams returns --- he intends to stick with Brad Kaaya as his quarterback if Kaaya plays well.

“I’m not going there,” Golden said. “Ryan is really doing well. His movements are progressing. That’s a separate deal. When that times come, I will deal with that. We’re talking about something not part of equation.”

Williams is not expected to be available to play Saturday, coaches said. Golden said a medical redshirt is not an option that Williams is interested in.

“When we feel we can protect him from a blitz and just react to it and we all feel good about it, then we’ll take that next step,” Golden said.

### Golden said he wants to redshirt quarterback Malik Rosier. UM considered creating a package for him this year but decided against it. He needs to learn how to play under center more effectively, but the staff likes his upside.

Among other prominent freshmen who haven’t played: defensive linemen Mike Smith and Demetrius Jackson and receiver Darrell Langham. Golden said it’s soon to tell which other players will redshirt, besides Rosier.

### Golden said he has no idea when defensive end Al Quadin Muhammad will play in a game. He sat out the first two games. “It’s my decision,” Golden said. “He's sorely missed. It’s a difficult situation. We’re all letting it run its proper channels.”

UM continues to mull how to deal with a physical confrontation between Muhammad and his then-roommate that left the roommate with a facial injury. Not charges were filed, according to the Coral Gables police department. But lawyers are involved in the process. The incident happened quite a while ago.

### How close is ballyhooed defensive tackle Michael Wyche to contributing? “He’s getting in better shape, starting to catch up,” Golden said. “That position looks a lot different [with Calvin Herteleu and Courtel Jenkins]. That position has a lot more depth. We’re getting a lot more plays from that position than we have been.”

Wyche played during the fourth quarter against Florida A&M, after the outcome had been settled.

### Why did UM start two freshmen receivers Saturday (Tyre Brady and Braxton Berrios): “We trust them,” Golden said. “I’m not saying why is he out there? They will be in the games in different scenarios.”

### Golden said tight end Standish Dobard, running back Joe Yearby, linebacker Jermaine Grace and receiver Braxton Berrios have earned more playing time. Berrios already was playing a lot. “We need to get Herb Waters to push Philip and Malcolm,” Golden said.

### Players have said Mark D’Onofrio use an NFL style defense. But Golden said this defense “is not difficult.”

### ESPNU will carry Saturday’s game, with John Congemi providing analysis… ESPN2 will air the UM-at-Nebraska game at 8 p.m. Set. 20. ABC understandably opted to carry FSU-Clemson at 8 p.m.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

09/08/2014

4 p.m. Dolphins report: More on LB shakeup; Ellerbe lost for year; Lazor wants more from passing game; Starting RB job

Lots of Dolphins chatter on a Monday afternoon:

### A day after an exhilarating win against New England, the Dolphins were dealt a setback Monday: Starting linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is out for the season with a hip injury that required surgery.

And concerns about the linebacker position do not end there.

Starting middle linebacker Koa Misi remains out indefinitely with an ankle injury.

And the Dolphins are unsure when starting strong-side linebacker Phillip Wheeler will be able to play with a thumb injury that hampers his ability to tackle.

Ellerbe, one of the team's highest-paid players, was placed on injured reserve. The Dolphins will not use their early-return IR designation on Ellerbe --- teams can use one of those per year --- because they do not believe he would be able to return this season.

The Dolphins signed fourth-year linebacker Kelvin Sheppard to fill Ellerbe’s roster spot. Sheppard, a third-round pick by Buffalo out of LSU in 2011, started nine games for the Bills as a rookie and 15 games in 2012 but was traded to Indianapolis for Jerry Hughes in April 2013.

Sheppard started seven games for the Colts last season and had 46 tackles, then started two playoff games, but was cut in late August. He has three career sacks and three career passes defended but no forced fumbles.

Though most of his work in a 4-3 defense has been at middle linebacker, he has the skill set to play outside linebacker in that formation.

Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle called Sheppard "a big, physical linebacker. Has been effective in the league playing against the run. We’re excited to have a good athlete that has size and strength.”

Pro Football Focus rated Sheppard 43rd of 55 inside linebackers last season --- 45th against the run and 32nd against the pass. Quarterbacks had an 88.9 rating in his coverage area.

Misi played just 17 snaps before his ankle injury and left the stadium in a walking boot Sunday. The timetable for his return is undetermined.

Ellerbe left after 19 snaps, leaving the Dolphins without any of their starting linebackers for most of Sunday’s 33-20 victory against New England.

Jason Trusnik opened the game at weakside linebacker, in Wheeler’s place, but shifted to middle linebacker when Misi left, with Jelani Jenkins filling Ellerbe’s position. The Dolphins played part of the game with two linebackers on the field, and used five defensive linemen instead at times, which Joe Philbin said was not the result of injury but instead “a package we’ve been working on in our scheme. I thought it was good.”

Trusnik, who played 66 defensive snaps, and Jenkins (59) both received high marks for their work against the Patriots.

“We went through three quarters of the game without a starting linebacker,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. “The other guys stepped in and played like starters. I was really impressed with the entire group. I can’t say enough about those guys.

“Trusnik was calling the defense, playing on special teams. He did it all and did a great job.”

The Patriots completed 3 of 7 passes for 27 yards in Jenkins’ coverage area, and Coyle said he did a good job against the tight ends.

Coyle also praised Jonathan Freeny, who played 14 snaps.

Another option at linebacker is Chris McCain, who had a sack and a blocked punt on Sunday. An undrafted free agent out of California, McCain signed with the Dolphins as a linebacker, but all but two of his 15 defensive snaps Sunday were at defensive end, linebacker coach Mark Duffner said.

“He prepared to play both defensive end and linebacker last week and he’ll do the same this week,” Coyle said.

The Dolphins also are hopeful that Jordan Tripp will return soon from a bruised sternum sustained in the fourth preseason game. He had been receiving work at all three linebacker spots.

Duffner said coaches planned to discuss what linebackers would play which positions in various scenarios. Most of the reserves have the versatility to play more than one position.

Coyle bemoaned the loss of Ellerbe, who ranked 44th in the league last season with 101 tackles in 15 games.

"Dannell is a heck of a player," Coyle said. "We were excited about him moving back to the will position and playing as effectively as he could. You have to have people step up and fill in."

Ellerbe, 28, is in the second year of a five-year, $35 million contract, and his future with the team is in doubt.  

He has a $9.8 million cap number next season if he’s on the team, $4.2 million if he’s not. Those numbers would be $7.9 million and $2.9 million for 2016.

### The Dolphins’ 33 points Sunday were their most in a home game against New England in 20 years. But offensive coordinator Bill Lazor wasn’t remotely satisfied Monday.

“My number one feeling is that we better get better fast, particularly in the passing game,” Lazor said when asked about Ryan Tannehill. “I feel like there were a lot of plays that we should have made and didn’t make. Some might have been the throw or the decision. Some were the drop.  We are going to have to be better to win tighter games. We are going to have to be more productive in the passing game when the plays are there. They were there and we didn’t make them. It’s going to be a real clear message that we’ve got to get better.”

Lazor was bemoaning several passing plays that could have gone for touchdowns but didn’t --- two to Mike Wallace, another to Dion Sims that was dropped and another to Charles Clay that was overthrown in the corner of the end zone.

Lazor also saw room for improvement with his offensive line, even though the Dolphins gave up only one sack (which wasn’t the line’s fault) and helped create holes on a day the Dolphins churned out 191 yards on the ground.

“We had too many hits on the quarterback,” he said. “And really when we analyze it, a lot of it was mistakes that we didn’t expect to have happen. So I can’t quite say we’ve arrived, but the production in the run game made a big difference. I feel like, for the first game, they did enough positive for us to feel like we are just going to keep getting better.”

### Though Lamar Miller started the game, Knowshon Moreno played more snaps, 48 to 27. Moreno ran for 134 yards on 24 carries (5.6), Miller 59 on 11 (5.4 average).

Lazor said he did not even think about who should be the starter until a team official mentioned to him Monday that reporters might ask him about it during his one weekly availability.

“The question about who takes the first snap, now it’s on my mind, but I hadn’t considered it really yet,” he said. “I expect them both to contribute. There might be days (where) sometimes they may rotate by series and sometimes they may rotate by play if there are particular things they want.

“Sometimes a guy may just need a blow for a moment and, when he comes out because he’s had a couple of plays in a row, we happen to call three straight runs. Some of it is going to be luck of the draw and the flow of the game. If a guy, if it’s his turn to play and he runs for three first downs in a row, he’s going to get to play more. They also get to earn some of it.”

Lazor said Miller’s self-esteem would play no factor in the decision: “I’m hoping that we’ve built a culture where they expect that they’re all going to contribute and they understand that it’s a production kind of a business. I’m not worried about anybody’s ego.”

### Lazor, on Miller: “I feel like since we’ve been playing real games here that Lamar’s shown the ability to understand when it’s time to put his shoulder down and go, and that he’s done it. I’m expecting big things from him. When you have a guy that can make big plays in space and also shows the willingness and ability to put his shoulder down and get the tough yards, I think you have a chance to have a complete back. I think Lamar’s on track to do that. I think he understands it and he wants to.”

### The Dolphins mixed in some no-huddle offense Sunday, and Lazor said he wants the Dolphins to play at a faster pace when they do huddle.

“When I say tempo, I mean how quickly our guys were breaking the huddle and getting set up,” Lazor said. “A couple of times when the pace of our shifts and motions was slower than what I expect and we mention it so that the coaches are grabbing guys on the sideline and can remind them and get it going. I think we’ve got a ways to go. I don’t know if that’s conditioning or just mental conditioning of reminding them, ‘Hey, we’re trying to get something accomplished and have a certain identity.’

“I think when we decided to go no-huddle, we feel pretty good about it being the right time. I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that we have the ability to do it. Some weeks we may decide to do it more than others and that’s part of the whole game plan. But I think our players like it. I think they feel like it’s a weapon that they can use at times, but maybe some games we don’t use it at all.”

### Last year, the Dolphins followed their home December win against the Patriots with a loss at Buffalo. The Dolphins hope to avoid a repeat of that this year. “I do think we’ve grown a lot” since then, Joe Philbin said.

### Philbin, on Ja’Wuan James’ first regular season start at right tackle: “There’s obviously a lot of work to be done, but I thought overall it was solid. He didn’t look confused out there. He wasn’t tentative very often. There were a number of things fundamentally that we would like him to do a little bit better.”

09/07/2014

1 p.m. update: Ellerbe out for year; Dolphins sign veteran LB; Dolphins and Hurricanes quick hits

1 p.m. update: Dolphins starting weakside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, one of the team's highest-paid players, was placed on injured reserve today with a hip injury and will miss the rest of the season, the team said this afternoon. Ellerbe is undoing surgery and will NOT have the IR designation that would allow him to return during the season.

NFL teams can use that designation on one player but they won't on Ellerbe because it's a season ending injury.

The Dolphins signed fourth-year linebacker Kelvin Sheppard to fill the roster spot. Sheppard, a third round pick by Buffalo out of LSU in 2011, started nine games for the Bills as a rookie and 15 games for the Bills in 2012 but was traded to Indianapolis for Jerry Hughes in April 2013.

He started seven games for the Colts last season, as well as two playoff games, but was cut in late August. He has three career sacks and three career passes defended but no forced fumbles.

Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle called Sheppard "a big, physical linebacker, good athlete with size and strength. He has been good against the run."

Pro Football Focus rated Sheppard 43rd of 55 inside linebackers last season --- 45th against the run and 32nd against the pass. Quarterbacks had an 88.9 rating in his coverage area.

Meanwhile, middle linebacker Koa Misi remains out with an ankle injury. He was in a walking boot Sunday and the timetable for his return is undetermined.

The team's third starting linebacker, Philip Wheeler, hopes to return soon from a thumb injury.

Coyle bemoaned the loss of Ellerbe, who left Sunday's game after only 19 snaps.

"Dannell is a heck of a player," he said. "We were excited about the prospects of him moving back to" weakside linebacker from middle linebacker."

Misi, meanwhile, played only 19 snaps before departing with his ankle issue.

Jason Trusnik and Jelani Jenkins filled in at linebacker during the second half of Sunday's win against New England, and both played well. Trusnik played 66 snaps on defense and Jenkins 59.

Even with the addition of Sheppard, Trusnik and Jenkins figure to continue to get snaps on defense, even more so with Misi and Wheeler out.

Chris McCain signed with the Dolphins as a linebacker, but all but two of his 15 defensive snaps Sunday were at defensive end, linebackers coach Mark Duffner said. The Dolphins are still getting McCain up to speed at linebacker.

Please see my new post (the 4 p.m. post on the left side) for more on the linebacker situation and a lot more Dolphins information from this afternoon.

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

 

Some quick Dolphins and Canes notes on a Monday morning:

### How unusual was today’s 33-point eruption against the Patriots? Only once before in this century had the Dolphins scored at least 30 points at home against New England.

And this was the most points Miami scored at Sun Life Stadium against New England since a Dan Marino-led 39-35 win in 1994.

### Even more unusual: This is the first time in the Tom Brady era --- since 2001 --- that the Patriots have been alone in last place in the AFC East.

### Ryan Tannehill, on his first regular-season game in Bill Lazor's new offense: “It was fun. [But] what stuck out to me were the opportunities that we missed. The missed throws, missed opportunities, turnovers in the first half.

If we take those out or correct 70% of those, it’s kind of scary what the offense can do. They weren’t hard plays, they weren’t tough plays. They were plays that we should be making so I’m really expecting myself to clean that up for next week."

### Both teams’ most ballyhooed receiving weapons --- Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski – were targeted 11 times. But Wallace caught seven of his targets (two other potential TDs were near misses), while Gronkowski caught only four of his 11. 

### According to ESPN’s Stats and Information department, Tom Brady completed only 2 of 18 passes thrown at least 15 yards. Those 16 incompletions on passes of that nature are the most in a game by a single quarterback since ESPN began tracking this in 2006. 

### Knowshon Moreno's 134 yards rushing were Miami's most in an opener since Lamar Smith's 145 against Seattle in 2000. And he's also the first player in a decade to top 100 yards rushing against the Patriots in a season-opener.

### Before winning today, a hopeful projection for Miami’s first four games might have been 2-2. But now, 3-1 or even 4-0 isn’t unrealistic. 

Kansas City, Miami's Week 3 opponent at Sun Life, looked bad in a home loss to Tennessee and lost two of its key defensive players with Achilles’ injuries: Pro Bowler Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito. The Dolphins also should be favored to beat Oakland in Week 4 in London.

The most difficult game before the Oct. 5 bye might be next Sunday at Buffalo. According to Las Vegas oddsmakers, the Dolphins are 1 1/2 point underdogs against the Bills.

### Tom Brady, whose team was outgained 223-67 and outscored 23-0 after halftime: "Our execution was terrible. A bad day. They had some guys do a good job. They took away everybody in the second half."

### Tony Dungy gave the Dolphins plenty of props both on NBC and on Twitter: “Statement win by the Dolphins today. They outplayed the Patriots in every phase. Brady was under pressure all day.”

### Both Joe Philbin and Brady singled out Jason Trusnik, who was outstanding filling in for Phillip Wheeler. And Jelani Jenkins did a good job after Koa Misi and Dannell Ellerbe left with injuries. Misi wasn’t sure how quickly he will come back from an ankle sprain; he was in a walking boot afterward.

### Undrafted UM receiver Allen Hurns, who started for Jacksonville, became only the second player in NFL history whose first two receptions (as a rookie) went for touchdowns. Detroit’s Charles Rogers was the other. Hurns is also the first player in NFL history to catch two TD passes in the first quarter of his first game, per Elias.

### Al Golden, speaking Sunday about why the Hurricanes are an NCAA-worst 3 for 23 on third downs through two weeks: “For us we talk in terms of money downs, third and fourth downs. So sometimes how we play third down is impacted by whether or not we believe we should go for it on fourth down. Having said that, the [starters] were 3 for 6 in money downs in the first half, the [backups] were 1 for 4. 

“Obviously we have to do a better job overall on third down, but a lot of times third down is tied down to fourth down. We would like to have the number higher than 50 percent, but 40 percent is not awful and the [backup] were 25 percent. We definitely have to improve but it can get distorted if we let it. It's just important we stay with what we are trying to do in terms of play selection.”

### Golden likes sharing backup running back duties between Joe Yearby and Gus Edwards: "Joe Yearby is very coachable. His tracks are as good as anybody on our team in terms of his aim points. He's pressing the ball really well on his cuts, he's setting up the blocks really well from an offensive line standpoint. I'm very pleased with him.

"I thought Gus Edwards played a heck of a game. He was 14 plays and 12 plusses, so 86 percent. I thought he played very well. Didn't get as many carries as Joe; it just the way it unfolded. But he gives us a big back and a big, strong presence."

09/06/2014

Midnight Heat, UM football news; Clock ticking on Tannehill: What has changed and what people say about him; Fins chatter; Marlins

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR SATURDAY'S LATE-NIGHT HEAT AND UM UPDATES

Lots of Dolphins talk on the opening weekend of the season:

### Ryan Tannehill’s renewed mission to prove he’s a playoff-caliber franchise quarterback begins Sunday, and he’s unusually blunt about what he will demand from himself.

“I am at the point in my career now where progression has to be made fast and there are no more rookie mistakes,” he said. “You can’t play quarterback and have excuses.”

So much rides on this season for Tannehill, for both his team and his financial outlook.

Tannehill has 2014 and 2015 remaining on his four-year, $12.68 million rookie contract.

But the Dolphins must decide by next May whether to exercise his fifth-year option. Because he was a top-10 pick, that option would entail paying him, in 2016, the average salary of the NFL’s 10 highest-paid quarterbacks, a figure of about $15 million.

If the Dolphins pick up the fifth-year option (which is very, very likely if he plays well this season) but he bombs in 2015, the Dolphins could still escape paying any of that 2016 salary unless he sustains an injury that sidelines him all of 2016.

But if he plays great this season, the Dolphins might offer a long-term contract after the season. The Bengals did that after three seasons with Andy Dalton (given six years, $96 million) and the 49ers did it with Colin Kaepernick (six years, $126 million), although they did not have fifth-year options because they weren’t first-round picks.

The fascinating question is how much new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor can elevate Tannehill, who said the new system has been challenging but enjoyable.

Asked if he needed a new voice at this point in his career, Tannehill politely shrugged off the question, out of respect to Mike Sherman, his coach at Texas A&M and coordinator with the Dolphins.

He said he is “making the best of” the change, noting diplomatically it has altered his “perspective on some plays." He calls the system "challenging" but said he has enjoyed the new approach.

Backup Matt Moore said Lazor “has opened up Ryan’s eyes to some things” and is “more demanding” than Sherman was: “He sets the bar high and lets you know if you’re not reaching it.”

Former NFL coach Dan Reeves told me Lazor might be the smartest assistant he has ever had. And as Dan Le Batard noted, Joe Gibbs has called him the brightest young assistant in football.

Lazor made it a priority to polish Tannehill’s footwork, which Tannehill believes will improve his accuracy.

And this is key: Tannehill was the NFL’s fifth-most effective quarterback when he left the pocket the past two seasons, according to ESPN. But he inexplicably did it less often than the league average. Lazor is expected to roll him out more.

But can Tannehill, who was drafted 80 spots before Nick Foles, achieve anything close to what Foles did last season (27 touchdowns and two interceptions) under Lazor and Chip Kelly in Philadelphia?

“Before last year, Tannehill had more consistency on accuracy and decision-making than Foles,” former Texans and ex-Redskins general manager Charley Casserly said.

“Can Tannehill do what Foles did? In theory, yes. But Foles had a hell of a line, a Pro Bowl receiver, great running back. Tannehill doesn’t have those things.”

Nobody is expecting a 27/2 TD/INT ratio from Tannehill, who said this week: “I’m not Nick Foles!”

But the most optimistic comparison might be Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, whose second-season numbers were very similar to Tannehill’s.

Tannehill had an 81.7 rating last season, with 24 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and a 60.4 completion percentage. Ryan, in his second season, was at 80.9, with 22 touchdowns, 14 picks and a 58.3 completion percentage.

But Ryan improved dramatically in his third season, finishing with a 91.0 rating, 28 touchdowns and nine picks. The Dolphins would love that type of growth.

But also consider this: Of the 18 quarterbacks drafted in the top 10 from 2000 to 2011, seven experienced drops in their QB rating in their third season.

Eli Manning, Mark Sanchez and Cam Newton improved their QB ratings slightly in year three. Ryan, Sam Bradford and mediocre quarterbacks David Carr, Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich improved a lot.

There’s a lot of faith in Tannehill around the league. Some of the feedback from other NFL coaches:

### Saints coach Sean Payton: “You're seeing someone who hasn't had a ton of reps at the position who may not have had the same amount of work a lot of his peers had, based on his college playing time. He's very smart.

“When we prepared to play them last season, we saw him as someone who is very athletic and can move. Time will tell, but his future is bright. I've heard nothing but good things from people who have been there that have worked with him.”

Payton, who I spoke to earlier this offseason, isn’t convinced that definitive judgment can be formed during a quarterback’s third season.

“I don’t think that was the case for Kurt Warner [or] Trent Green,” Payton said. “I think it varies based on players and situation. It's a position that may be one that can have success later than earlier, a little more so than other positions.”

### Falcons coach Mike Smith: “I think Tannehill is a very good quarterback. He can create when the play breaks down. That's one of his strongest traits, that he has the ability to run and create.”

### Redskins coach Jay Gruden told me: “No question he’s got all the tools you want. Great arm, quick release, can get out of trouble with his legs. He’s on the right track, no doubt.”

### Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Tannehill is "excellent" in the two-minute offense and Chargers coach Mike McCoy said: “I think he has a bright future. Remember, any young player is going to have some ups and downs.”

### ESPN’s Ron Jaworski, who ranked him 23rd among all quarterbacks: “I really expected more out of Tannehill last season. I loved what I saw his rookie season and thought he was a potential superstar. In 2013 he held on to the ball too long and wasn't decisive with his reads.

“To be fair, he also had a historically bad offensive line blocking for him and was sacked 58 times (10 more than any other QB). That certainly had an impact. Lazor will help him with an up-tempo offense, and Tannehill should be improved this season.”

Though Andrew Luck has been the better player, Tannehill’s career rating isn’t substantially lower than Luck’s (81.5 to 79.1). And even with his deep-ball struggles, Tannehill’s 7207 passing yards --- albeit in a passer-friendly league --- are the fifth-most in NFL history by a quarterback in his first two seasons, behind Luck, Cam Newton, Peyton Manning and Dan Marino (7294).

Where has Tannehill improved most? “He’s seeing his reads a lot faster than last year,” receiver Mike Wallace said. “And his confidence in the pocket has improved.”

CHATTER

### Tight end Dion Sims said the offense Sunday will be “a lot faster” than what the Dolphins have shown in preseason: “The tempo will be something New England hasn’t really seen.”

### Wallace is convinced Lazor will make a big difference. "He's finding new and creative ways every day... to make plays look like a whole different one," Wallace said.

He said Lazor’s willingness to allow him to line up in different spots --- something Sherman opposed --- is giving him more of a cushion against defensive backs.

### Tannehill, easygoing by nature, has said he will be more vocal with teammates, which some of his teammates would like him to be. That’s needed. It seemed odd when guard John Jerry (now with the Giants) said last year that one thing the offensive line liked about Tannehill is that he never angrily scolded them for any of the 58 sacks.

### The Dolphins made an inquiry, but not an offer, to former starting safety Chris Clemons after he was released by Houston on Sunday. They could revisit the idea of signing him if they feel they need to upgrade in the coming weeks. Pro Football Focus ranked Clemons 19th among safeties last season, with a solid 82.8 quarterback rating in his coverage area.

### Heading into Sunday's game, keep in mind Tom Brady has targeted Jimmy Wilson a lot in their past four meetings, with Wilson allowing 16 of 26 passes against him to be caught for 149 yards.

Now Wilson’s role is bigger than ever, as the replacement for suspended Reshad Jones at safety. “I’ve always wanted to be a starter, waited my whole for this,” he said.

### Also key Sunday is whether Will Davis, now Miami's No. 3 cornerback, is more equipped for this matchup after allowing 7 completions in 9 throws against him (for 90 yards) in the Patriots game last December. The Dolphins believe he is.

### How much can new Patriots Don Jones and Marcus Thigpen –-- who were Dolphins a week ago --– help New England with inside information?

“I’m sure it will help a little,” safety Jimmy Wilson said. Several teammates agreed.

But Brent Grimes said even if they tell Bill Belichick “exactly what you’re doing on offense, they still can’t stop it if you block it right.”

### Among NFL rookie Hurricanes, Brandon Linder (right guard/Jacksonville) and Seantrel Henderson (right tackle/Buffalo) won starting jobs, and undrafted Allen Hurns is the Jaguars’ No. 3 receiver. Pat O’Donnell is Chicago’s punter.

Among Canes rookies on practice squads: Stephen Morris (Jacksonville), Asante Cleveland (49ers), Erik Swoope (Colts) and Luther Robinson (Packers).

MARLINS ITEM  

Good news for transplanted New Yorkers and New Englanders in South Florida: MLB plans to announce in the coming days that the Marlins will play at home and on the road against both the Yankees and Red Sox next season.

HEAT ITEM

Still in search of veteran depth at center, the Heat on Friday summoned 7-0 center Ryan Hollins to Miami to meet with Erik Spoelstra and his staff, according to a person briefed by the team. No offer was made Friday or Saturday but Hollins remains under consideration.

Hollins, 29, who has played for six teams in eight seasons, averaged 2.3 points, 1.5 rebounds and 7.9 minutes in 61 games for the Clippers last season, all off the bench. He has career averages of 3.8 points, 2.2 rebounds and 0.5 blocks and has started 55 NBA games.

The Heat auditioned veteran center Nazr Mohammed a week ago and also has inquired about free agent center Andray Blatche. The Heat is very intrigued by free agent center Emeka Okafor, but ESPN has reported he might not play until midseason because of a bulging disc in his neck.

UM-FAMU POSTSCRIPTS

A few notes, quotes and thoughts on UM's 41-7 thrashing of Florida A&M:

### Terrific defensive effort by the Hurricanes, who limited an overmatched opponent to 114 yards --- including .8 per carry on 33 rushing attempts and 6 for 17 accuracy (for 89 yards) in the passing game. The only blemish: There were a couple of sizable completions --- one against Tracy Howard, the other against Ladarius Gunter.

"Our defense has improved a lot," said receiver Philip Dorsett, who caught TD passes of 4 and 32 yards.

Thurston Armbrister had a sack/strip for the second game in a row and added another sack later. Anthony Chickillo recovered Armbrister's strip sack and deflected a pass later in the game.

Denzel Perryman was exceptional in the first half, with six tackles --- one for loss and most of the others for short gains.

Insidetheu.com reported Perryman sustained a minor shoulder injury during the game. But Golden said Perryman didn't play in the second half only because he wanted to hold out Perryman, Duke Johnson and Stacy Coley after intermission.

### Brad Kaaya had some impressive throws, including a 32-yarder to a diving Dorsett in the back of the end zone, and closed 12 for 22 for 177 yards and two touchdowns and two picks in a bit less than three quarters.

One of the interceptions, off a deflection from Clive Walford, wasn't his fault. The other pick was slightly overthrown in the end zone; Herb Waters was the intended receiver.

"I'm not a big stats guy, just a big wins guy," Kaaya said. "I felt a little more comfortable. I feel we handled [the short week] well."

Said Al Golden: "Brad made really nice throws. We did a better job protecting him. I'm excited about Brad."

Golden said he didn't open up more of the playbook for Kaaya. "I think he got better," Golden said.

### Golden said Kevin Olsen's two-game suspension has ended. But there is no QB controversy. This is Kaaya's job unless Golden eventually decides otherwise.

### Jake Heaps played slightly more than a quarter, finishing 5 for 8 for 41 yards.

### Kaaya has developed terrific chemistry with freshman receiver Braxton Berrios, who led UM with six receptions for 63 yards. "He's a good route runner; he's a guy I look for on third down," Kaaya said.

Berrios started tonight and is playing a lot. By the way, freshman Tyre Brady also started at receiver, as UM opened in a four-receiver set (Dorsett, Herb Waters, Brady, Berrios).

### Duke Johnson finished with 98 yards on nine carries in his one half of work, moving into ninth place on UM's career rushing list with 2054 yards. Freshman Joe Yearby had 95 yards on 14 carries (6.8 per carry).

Gus Edwards closed with 34 yards on four carries (including a 15-yard TD run) and Trayone Gray had three rushes for 16 yards, including a 10-yard TD run on his first UM rushing attempt.

"The offensive line was much better tonight," Johnson said. But overall "we have a long way to go."

### Special teams is a concern. Ronald Regula's high snap, recovered by FAMU in the end zone, accounted for the Rattlers' only score.

"I haven't seen a high snap from Ronnie on punts all summer," Golden said. "I didn't know where that came from."

And Matt Goudis missed field goals of 45 and 32 yards, while hitting them from 20 and 23. "We've got to get Matt on track," Golden said. "He's proven to be effective."

### A bunch of newcomers who didn't play much or at all at Louisville 

### Another concern: UM was 2 for 10 on third down and now 3 for 23 for the season. Golden said he would need to analyze the tape before offering theories on the matter.

### A bunch of newcomers who didn't play much or at all at Louisville got playing time, including Michael Wyche, Anthony Moten, Nick Linder, Chris Herndon, among others.

### Golden's take: "It wasn't perfect but we got better in a lot of different areas. I was afraid we weren't going to have our legs. I don't know that I'm satisfied with anything right now."

### Defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad was in uniform but again held out in what appears to be a double-secret suspension as UM mulls his status. Quite a while ago, Muhammad and his then-roommate (who has since graduated from UM) had a physical confrontation that left the roommate injured, according to a person briefed on the situation. The UM administration is still deciding how to handle this.

09/05/2014

JT, Chambers on what they learned about these Dolphins during volunteer coaching stints; UM chatter

After working as Dolphins volunteer assistant coaches for parts of the spring and summer, Jason Taylor and Chris Chambers are back to their permanent gigs --- Taylor opining as a new studio analyst on NBC Sports Network, Chambers running his fitness training and therapy facility and appearing weekly on WINZ’s Finsiders.

We asked both former Dolphins standouts for observations made and conclusions drawn from their time spent on-field with the team in recent months. Here's what they had to say:

### Taylor predicts “Koa Misi is going to be good inside” as the new middle linebacker. “He’s built for that. A big, physical, strong guy. He’s got the height and speed to play there and he loves to hit. It’s a better fit for him to be there than maybe on the edge.”

### Taylor said he spoke to defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers about working with Dion Jordan during his four-game suspension, but nothing had materialized as of earlier this week. (My view: Jordan should have asked Taylor about this a few weeks ago.)

Taylor said Jordan is “receptive to learning” but must do something useful in the next month: “It’s a big time for him to develop and hit the ground running in Week 5…. He’s learning the intricacies of playing in the NFL."

### Taylor, who worked with the team primarily in offseason practices, is highly intrigued by rookie defensive end Terrence Fede, who is out Sunday with a knee injury: “He was a playmaker when they were practicing in pajamas [OTAs]. He played physical and fast. Once he learns the technique more and learns to play with his hands, the sky is the limit for him.”

### Taylor said watching impressive undrafted rookie linebacker/end Chris McCain –-- who is expected to play Sunday --- is “a little reminiscent of looking in the mirror. I saw McCain when I first got there during minicamp and I asked Kacy Rodgers, ‘Who is that?’

“Tall, lanky kid. He really flashed. Plays his butt off. I saw a couple games where he made a mistake. Some young kids would go in the shell after making mistakes and he did not do that. He bounced right back and continued to play fast.”

### Olivier Vernon said Taylor taught him to use his hands more effectively on pass-rush moves, and Taylor said: “I love Olivier Vernon. Being around him for the first time, [seeing] how much of a sponge he is. It’s tough when you have been removed for a couple years, had a guy who had a bunch of sacks the previous year and you see little things that may or may not help him, you want to speak up. He was very receptive with all those things. I can’t say enough good things about him.”

### Chambers, who worked 10 days with the receivers this summer, said he expects new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor will get Mike Wallace the ball early in games, so he feels engaged.

Chambers said Lazor will put Wallace in routes where he will be successful: “Deep stop routes or comebacks, which aren’t hard. A lot of speed routes and screens. You’ll see reverses to get him the ball early. I would like to see consistency [from him], be more of a leader. He’s saying all the right things.”

### Chambers said the read option "will be a staple of the offense. This offense is geared toward Ryan [Tannehill’s] skill set. The deep ball is a little bit of a concern, but I’ve seen Ryan grow. He hasn’t taken a step back. This year will be telltale.”

### Though Jarvis Landry ran a slow 4.7 at the NFL Combine, “he can turn it up a notch,” Chambers said. “He’s fast enough for people not to catch him from behind.”

### He said this offense is great for receivers, like Landry, who are “quicker guys who get in and out of routes.” Brandon Gibson, he said, “is very underrated.”

### Chambers loves how Lazor “is very creative and open to suggestions.” He said Lazor asked him to return “once in a while” this season.

### Both are encouraged about the team’s chances. Taylor’s take: “This is a team that definitely can get to the playoffs. They are a talented team. In certain areas, they are very talented. In other areas, they needed to improve and they took some steps in doing that.

“Very good defense. They need to play better with more efficiency on offense. They have a good quarterback. He’s really going to blossom in year three, hopefully. Bill Lazor will be a big addition for him.”

Could full-time coaching be in their futures? Chambers has “a coaching itch.” and Taylor --- though non-committal --- said: “I love being around the game, being around the team in any capacity. Coaching is fun, teaching technique. The whole football thing intrigues me, top to bottom.”

Taylor, who makes a real difference with his charitable foundation, spoke to us last weekend before his annual charity event at an Old Navy, where 60 kids shopped with a celebrity and received $300 each to spend on clothing.  

### As you might have seen, Philip Wheeler was ruled out for Sunday with a thumb injury. Jason Trusnik is the logical replacement.

### Please see the last post, if you haven't yet, on the state of the offensive line, through the eyes of o-line coach John Benton.

UM NOTES

### The status of two highly-regarded young UM defensive players remained unresolved as of this afternoon.

UM had made no final decision about how long Al-Quadin Muhammad will continue to sit out games.

UM has been investigating an alleged confrontation between Muhammad and another student --- an incident that reportedly happened quite a while ago when they were roomates.

It was odd that he traveled to Louisville and didn't play. UM didn't call his benching a suspension, but it certainly seemed that way. UM has declined to disclose his status for Saturday and Al Golden has refused to explain why he didn't play Monday, other than to say it was his decision.

Meanwhile, four-star freshman safety Kiy Hester might transfer to Rutgers, though that's not definite, according to a person briefed on the situation. Golden said he is away because of "a personal family deal."

### Big loss for the UM basketball program, which will be without forward Davon Reed for four to six months because of a leg injury. Reed, at 6-6, could have played power forward in the type of small lineups that the Canes figure to use a lot this season. A skilled defender, Reed averaged 6.6 points as a freshman. 

### FIU's Pete Garcia said he has no preference about whether to play the 2019 UM-FIU game at Marlins Park or Sun Life Stadium. He said it's not out of the question that FIU's stadium could be significantly expanded by that point, which would make that facility an option.

He said he scheduled the game in November that year so that Marlins Park could accommodate it. The 2018 game will be at Sun Life, as we've reported.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz