11/24/2014

Monday afternoon report: Philbin, Lazor, Coyle address issues; 20 Dolphins notes

Twenty Dolphins notes on a Monday afternoon: 

### One of the puzzling stats of the year: The Dolphins have outscored teams 120-41 in the third quarter but been outscored 82-54 in the fourth.

The Dolphins won several close games last season but all six of their wins this year have been by double figures.

“At some point in time, we have to be able to [win close games],” Joe Philbin said of a team that has squandered fourth-quarter leads in its last three losses. “You look at the last three losses, by three, four and three, we have to find a way to win some of those games. We have to do better. We’re going to be in more of those games.”

### Further tests on Jamar Taylor’s separated shoulder indicated there was no structural damage. Taylor not only doesn’t expect to miss the rest of the season but hopes to return quickly. But the Dolphins probably will be cautious and not rush him back. He could miss a week or two, but that’s undetermined.

Cortland Finnegan could return this week from an ankle injury but that remains to be seen, as well.

### Ja’Wuan James, who played just 22 of Miami’s 62 snaps, said he could have come back from a stinger and played in the second half Sunday. But the Dolphins didn't believe he would have enough strength.

### Philbin, sounding like Al Golden, said twice today: “It starts with me.” In this case, he was referring to defensive fundamentals, which he said the “head coach is responsible for.”

Said Philbin: “I don’t think our fundamentals were where they need to be…. There are things we have to get better at. That’s my job.” 

### Philbin, on the tackling: “I thought it would be better. It wasn’t up to our standards.”

Said defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle: “It’s disappointing. We pride ourselves on being a good fundamental team and we work on it. We did not tackle well. It’s not acceptable.”

### Coyle’s defensive overview: “I never felt we were in control of it on defense because we didn’t stop them. I wasn’t feeling even at halftime, they had 65 yards rushing at halftime. I didn’t put us in the greatest defense [to stop on a 25-yard run]. [But] I didn’t think they were running it down our throats [in the first half].

“We weren’t as physical as we normally are at the point of attack. There have been games we’ve played well and games that stand out that we didn’t play well down the stretch. Our inability to make a play in crunch time really hurt us. At times, you can isolate one area. There are a lot of things we’ve done well.”

Coyle said there were five or six key plays and the Dolphins “didn’t make any of them.”

### Incredibly, the Dolphins had just one quarterback hurry Sunday (by Jared Odrick). Jelani Jenkins was credited for a sack on Peyton Manning, who fell without contact.

Coyle said part of the reason was that Manning “gets the ball out quick” and only nine of his 35 pass attempts were downfield throws.

Nevertheless, “we weren’t very successful rushing the quarterback,” Coyle said. “What happened a couple times was we had maximum coverages that we felt might be the answer to the passing game they were utilizing. We weren’t on point with some of our coverages.”

Coyle said the Dolphins intended to rush more than two on the big completion against Taylor late in the first half, on a 3rd on 20, but couldn’t because Manning got the play off before the Dolphins could substitute.

“It was unusual in that he was hurrying them back to the line and was trying to get us into a substitution,” he said.

### The Dolphins run defense, which entered ranked eighth in the league, was pulverized for 201 yards (5.7 per carry) against a Denver team that entered ranked 31st in rushing.

“They were trying to make a statement,” Coyle said. “They challenged their guys going into the game. They came in there with that idea. We thought they were going to do that. I am disappointed we didn’t do a better job against it. We didn’t play great fundamental football, which has been our trademark since we’ve been here. I’m not really sure totally why.”

### Of the injuries in the secondary, Coyle said: “It’s a challenge. When you are putting people in the first time, it’s a tough spot to be. Playing corner in the NFL is as difficult a spot you can be in competitive sports. I don’t think that was the reason [we lost]. Hopefully, we’ll get some guys back.”

 ### Philbin said Ryan Tannehill’s play was “good overall. He did some good things.”

But… “In that type of game, we have to answer blow for blow,” Philbin said. “We threw an interception” on a tip.

### Among quarterbacks currently starting, Tannehill has risen to 10th in passer rating, at 93.4.

“Ryan is getting better,” Bill Lazor said. “He’s playing with control. I have a lot of confidence he’s only going to get better.”

Where he has most improved? “I like the way his demeanor is," Lazor said. "He’s intense about his job but when it comes to the passing game, I feel the game getting to be a speed --- the way he is handling himself on the field” is impressive.

### Lazor doesn’t blame Tannehill at all for the tipped ball interception.

“That kind of game – there is low margin for error and we have to find a way to avoid those mistakes,” Lazor said.

### On the offensive line play, Lazor said: “Pass protection in the red zone was very good. Dallas Thomas continues to improve. Not perfect but played better as the game went on; best game run-blocking that he had. Jason Fox held his own.”

He said left guard snaps were split because Daryn Colledge was coming back from injury and Shelley Smith “has earned playing time.”

### Lazor loves how Jarvis Landry has developed but said “there were a couple times I felt Jarvis could have used technique to get open in tight coverage.”

### LaMichael James, making his Dolphins debut, played four snaps and carried twice (for four yards). Philbin said James played because “we saw some good things out of him” in practice.

### Philbin said the Dolphins used Dion Jordan once at tight end --- the Broncos called time out before the play was run --- because we’re “trying to use everyone we can to score points… It was something we’ve been working on for a little bit of time.”

### Philbin said the odd-looking onside kick --- in which Caleb Sturgis contorts his body and kicks the opposite direction than many would expect --- has worked in practice. “We’ve been practicing that type of kick for a year and a half.”

### Notable offensive snap count tidbits from Sunday: Jarvis Landry and Mike Wallace played the most among receivers (46 apiece). Brian Hartline had 43, Brandon Gibson 35 and Rishard Matthews 20…. Lamar Miller had 40 snaps, Daniel Thomas 15, James four and Damien Williams three…  Daryn Colledge played 36 snaps at left guard, while Shelley Smith played 26.

### Notable defensive snap count tidbits from Sunday: Taylor played 49 snaps before leaving with an injury. Lowell Rose, who was in the Arena League last year, logged 13 and rookie Walt Aikens nine… Brent Grimes, Reshad Jones, Louis Delmas and Jelani Jenkins played all 75 snaps… Cam Wake played 55, sitting out 20 snaps. Dion Jordan played 21 snaps… Philip Wheeler’s limited playing time continued (16 snaps).

### Pro Football Focus gave its worst defensive grades to Randy Starks (sealed off on Denver’s go-ahead TD run), Jenkins (allowed all six passes thrown against him to be caught for 84 yards and a touchdown). Delmas missed three tackles.

Offensively, PFF gave its worst grade to Dallas Thomas, who allowed four hurries and one hit.

### CBS' 4:25 p.m. games (Dolphins-Broncos went to most of the country) were its second-highest rated window all season, behind a Broncos-Patriots games. In major market overnight ratings, CBS' 4:25 p.m. games yesterday comfortably outdrew Cowboys-Giants on Sunday night on NBC.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz  

             

11/23/2014

Pouncey decides he's better suited at center; Lots of Fins chatter; Heat, Marlins; UM-Virginia fallout

If you missed my post on the state of the UM program after an inexcusable performance Saturday, please see the last post. Meanwhile's here the...

 

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey has been selfless in agreeing to play guard this season so that the Dolphins can put their five best offensive linemen on the field.  But don’t expect this to become a permanent shift.

Pouncey has decided he wants to return to center eventually (he knows it’s unlikely this season) and the Dolphins are aware of that.

“I don’t know when I’m going to, but I’m playing center,” Pouncey told me last week.

Because? “That’s what I want to play. That’s my position. That’s where I’m more comfortable. [Guard] is something I’ve become good at, but center is my ultimate position. I made the Pro Bowl at center.”

Has Pouncey told the Dolphins? “They know,” he said.

Pro Football Focus, for what it's worth, ranks Pouncey 60th among 76 guards, with three sacks and 14 quarterback hurries allowed in six games. Conversely, PFF rated Pouncey 19th, 8th and 14th in his three years at center and those rankings seem lower than they should have been, based on the high regard for him around the league. Pouncey allowed two sacks and nine hurries last season at center. 

### If Pouncey shifts back to center next season as expected, the Dolphins will enter the offseason without any clear-cut starting guards under contract. Daryn Colledge, on a one-year deal, is not a longterm solution. And while Shelley Smith has played well at times, he has never shown enough to be a full-time starter, and his $3 million cap hit shrinks to $250,000 if he’s cut next spring.

If Dallas Thomas plays well at right tackle the next six weeks, perhaps the Dolphins will feel comfortable with him as a starting guard in 2015, but that’s a shaky projection. When Thomas found out his first two assignments at right tackle would be Buffalo’s Mario Williams (last week) and Von Miller (Sunday), Thomas said, “Oh My God! Really?” Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has been imploring Thomas to show more confidence in himself.

What about third-rounder Billy Turner as a longterm guard solution? “He’s getting better. I’ve seen a lot of improvement in the pass rush drills,” Joe Philbin said Thursday.

### The Dolphins must determine over the final six weeks whether Jamar Taylor is a starting-caliber cornerback.

He enters Sunday --– his second career start --– ranked 75th of 112 cornerbacks (according to PFF) and has allowed 21 of 33 passes thrown against him to be caught, with a 91.4 passer rating. But the Dolphins were very encouraged by his work in the Buffalo game. They like his tackling ability and “he showed a maturity that we’ve been looking for” against the Bills, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said.

If the Dolphins move on from Cortland Finnegan ($6.5 million cap hit if he’s on the team in 2015) and decide Taylor isn’t a starter, keep in mind the free-agent cornerback class is loaded, led by Denver’s Chris Harris, San Diego’s Brandon Flowers and Arizona’s Antonio Cromartie.

### Watch out for Harris Sunday; the passer rating in his coverage area is an absurd 41.7, best in the league. Brent Grimes is 8th at 60.7.

### Amid an NFL.com report that offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s “abrasive” style has worn thin on some players (“my way or the highway,” as one source described it to me), Mike Wallace said Lazor’s demanding style is actually what this team needs, and Ryan Tannehill insists his relationship is “good” with Lazor, noting “our communication has definitely gotten a lot better. He does a good job of constantly pushing us.”

Wallace put it best: “If he lets us go around merry like everything is fine and letting us think it’s OK to put up 7 or 14 points, what’s he here for? He’s a perfectionist. I have no problem with that at all.”

Here’s the bottom line with Lazor: He has helped make the offense and Tannehill better. For the first time this late in a season, Tannehill is in the top half among starting quarterbacks in passer rating (92.2), which ranks 14th. That's directly ahead of Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Joe Flacco. Plus, Tannehill is ninth in completion percentage and 11th in touchdowns.

Tannehill said Lazor “has done a great job of utilizing not only my skill set, but our team’s. The stuff we do utilizes my ability to make some plays with my feet and gets the ball [to] our playmakers.”

### One big problem remains, of course: Not only has Tannehill completed only one classic deep ball all season (50 yards to Wallace against Jacksonville), but no current NFL starter has fewer completions of 20-plus yards than Tannehill’s eight.

Wallace --- who had 21 catches of 40 yards or more over his final three seasons with Pittsburgh, but just five in his first 26 games with Miami --- said for all the frustration that has caused, “I have never second-guessed coming here, not one time. It’s fun here. We’re competitive every single game I’ve ever played here. I have no reason not to like it.”

Wallace remains publicly optimistic about the deep ball because “we hit it probably twice a day in practice. For some reason, we just have bad luck in the game.”

### The only other time Tannehill has interacted with Peyton Manning before Sunday’s game? Before his senior year at Texas A&M, Tannehill was a counselor at Manning’s PassingAcademy.

### For those who saw Jonas Gray run for 201 yards and four touchdowns for the Patriots Sunday and wonder why Miami didn’t keep him, consider that his agent tried multiple times to persuade the Dolphins to bring him back after they cut him in August 2013. But though they liked him personally, they preferred other developmental prospects (Damien Williams, Cameron Marshall and Orleans Darkwa)….  And the Dolphins had no interest in two backs cut last week, partly because of concerns of how they would adjust to limited roles: LaGarrette Blount (cut by Pittsburgh, signed by the Patriots) and Ben Tate.

CHATTER

### Besides having Dwyane Wade for 77 of 82 games, one of the big reasons why the Heat won 47 games the season before LeBron James arrived was that Miami’s defense held teams to 43.9 percent shooting, second-best in the league. In fact, Miami ranked in the top six in that category in eight of the past 11 years.

So it’s troubling that this Heat team is allowing teams to shoot 46.4 percent, 25th in the league as of Sunday morning. Even worse, teams are shooting an absurd 50.3 percent against the Heat’s usual starting lineup.

The only Heat team this century to allow opponents to shoot better than this one? The 15-67 team in 2007-08. This will not be better than a .500-type team unless that changes.

Udonis Haslem said Erik Spoelstra has changed a few things defensively from the LeBron era and “it’s a complex system. But we have the pieces to be good defensively.” But Miami lacks an elite shot-blocker.

### Add these names to the short list of free agent pitchers of interest to the Marlins: Francisco Liriano (7-10, 3.38 for Pittsburgh) and Brandon Morrow (42-43, 4.28 in eight seasons for Seattle and Toronto).

The Marlins, seeking a veteran starter, also have discussed trading Nathan Eovaldi or a quality pitching prospect to Arizona for left-hander Wade Miley (38-35, 3.79 in 3 1/2 seasons).

### Though some hitters haven’t responded well from being beaned, Jeffrey Loria said Giancarlo Stanton’s season-ending pitch in the face caused him “no concern” in contract talks because “his vision was not affected.”… The Marlins signed versatile infielder Reid Brignac (a .222 career hitter but a good defender) as a potential replacement for Ed Lucas.

### Marlins president David Samson admits the Stanton contract is frightening, besides being exciting, in this respect: “This is a permanent bet on a player the likes of which we’ve never made before. We always had the ability to change our mind or press the reset button. With this contract, you don’t have that ability. We better be right, and Giancarlo gives us the impression that we are. We talked a lot about that internally. [Mike Hill and Dan Jennings]... their legacy and our legacy are on the line. We’re married to him now like we’ve never been married to a player.”

### Again, please see the last post for UM-Virginia postscripts, reaction and thoughts and continue the discussion here or there.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz    

11/22/2014

Postscripts, thoughts, Golden reaction, distressing big-picture numbers from UM's 30-13 loss to Virginia

It’s now indisputable: This UM team has underachieved, this brutal night in Charlottesville erasing all the good will and optimism generated by that three-game winning streak that led all of us to the incorrect conclusion that this program had turned the proverbial corner.

Every previous loss this season could have been justified in some way.

Louisville? First start by a freshman quarterback.

Nebraska?  Tough road game against an opponent featuring one of the nation’s premier running backs.

Georgia Tech? A top 25 team this year, better than people expected.

FSU? Now riding a 27-game winning streak.

But this one? Against a 4-6 (now 5-6) Virginia team that had lost four straight?

Unacceptable.

And yet, not shocking, knowing for every step forward, this program seems to take one or two steps backs.

Reasons for this embarrassment?

Take your pick:

Shoddy offensive line play.

Too many dumb penalties.

Horrendous special teams, specifically the blocked 34-yard field goal that changed the feel of this game late in the first half.

The running game couldn’t provide enough help, with UM outgained 195-64 on the ground. The Canes' 64 yards rushing were a season low.

And Brad Kaaya couldn’t overcome everything malfunctioning around him, finishing 20 for 33 for 263 yards, one touchdown (a 47-yarder to Philip Dorsett) and one pick.     

And so here’s where we stand as Al Golden’s fourth year here nears a close:

### UM has now been outscored 167 to 59 in the second half of its past nine losses.

### UM dropped to 6-5 overall and 3-4 in the ACC, ensuring that Miami cannot match last year’s win total (nine).

### Golden is now 28-20 overall at UM (Randy Shannon was 28-22, by comparison) and 16-15 in the ACC.

### Against teams from the power five conferences, UM is 18-19 under Golden.

### The Hurricanes have played 16 ACC road games under Golden and allowed at least 23 points in 15 of them and at least 30 in 11 of them.

### Golden’s take afterward, on WQAM, which sounded very much like Golden after a bunch of other losses:

“One of the challenges to the team all week was you’ve got to play consistently at a high level, playing in prime time, when you’re getting everything [the opponent has] got. They beat us in all three phases, hit our quarterback, stopped us on third downs, didn’t turn the ball over. There’s no excuse….

"We did not pick up the pressure well enough. We got hit way too many times and got sacked too many times…. I’m disappointed [in the penalties]. I thought we were making progress in that area….We put the defense in some tough spots today. We didn’t execute enough to win the game… We practiced [field goals] every day this week. There was no excuse [for the blocked field goal].

“It starts with me. The coaches, the players. There’s no excuse. We’ve got to finish the season and go back to playing the way we were playing over the last month. We didn’t play well enough. That’s it. That’s my responsibility. There’s no excuse. We didn’t make enough plays.”

### Even with the special teams gaffe, UM trailed just 13-7 at halftime.

But UM self-destructed offensively in the second half, a combination of deplorable offensive line play that couldn’t create enough holes in the running game and didn’t give Kaaya enough time to throw; penalties (Jon Feliciano was shoved, but the officials only noticed Feliciano shoving back, resulting in a 15-yard penalty that essentially torpedoed Miami’s first possession of the second half); and a subpar second half from Kaaya (9-20, 114 yards, a pick).

And why exactly was Kaaya lined up in the shotgun on a fourth and short play from the Virginia 40? Duke Johnson was stopped short on the play, needing to run seven yards even to get back to the line of scrimmage.

Defensively, this UM run defense at times looked too much like the September/early October version.

The Cavaliers averaged 4.5 yards per carry, doing some of their damage up the gut and some to the perimeter. Too often, UM front-seven defenders couldn’t unhinge from blocks and the defensive backs didn’t offer enough help in run support.

Yes, Deon Bush was missed. But the defensive problems ran far deeper.   

Among the exasperating moments:

### Jamal Carter whiffing on an attempt to deflect the one-handed 23-yard TD catch by Canaan Severin, which put the Cavaliers ahead for good, 10-7, late in the first half.

### Nantambu Fentress whiffed on a run blitz and Raphael Kirby missed a tackle on Khalek Shepherd’s 28-yard run.

### UM committing two penalties on a field goal (including an Artie Burns roughing the kicker) that resulted in Virginia scoring on a two-yard TD run.

Only Denzel Perryman (15 tackles) was outstanding for UM defensively.

### UM’s freshmen offensive linemen struggled, with Trevor Darling and Nick Linder both beaten several times.

### UM was penalized nine times, not surprising considering the Canes entered 102nd in the nation in penalties and 106th in penalty yards. This team simply isn’t disciplined enough, and that’s an indictment of coaching.

### This also will fuel criticism of the coaches: UM has had the higher-ranked recruiting classes in four of the past five years, according to rivals.com’s analysis.

UM’s past five recruiting classes were 16th, 36th, 9th, 20th and 12th.  Virginia’s were 67th, 25th, 27th, 28th and 41st.

But players also deserve a large share of the blame for this one. There were too many undisciplined, foolish mistakes, too many missed tackles (Kirby, Ladarius Gunter and others) and generally uninspired play.

“We have to do a better job doing our assignments,” Calvin Heurtelou said.

As WQAM's Duane Starks said: "I didn't see any enthusiasm or anything that made me believe the Canes wanted to be on the field."

### Duke Johnson finished with 88 yards on 15 carries… The final yard total was misleading in that it was this close: Virginia 341, UM 327.

### Receiver Herb Waters, who left on a stretcher, was taken to a local hospital but Dr. Lee Kaplan “was very positive” about his outlook, Golden said.

### UM's regular-season finale, next Saturday against Pittsburgh at Sun Life Stadium, was set for 7 p.m. on ESPN2. Also, kickoff for UF-FSU is 3:30 p.m., with ESPN televising.

### Please check back in the morning for lots of Dolphins, Heat and Marlins in the Sunday buzz column... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

11/21/2014

Marlins lose out on LaRoche; UM recruiting and other Canes items; Broadcast notes

The Marlins' attempts to sign free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche were thwarted tonight when he agreed to a two-year, $25 million deal with the White Sox, according to USA Today.

The Marlins had offered LaRoche two years and $20 million, but the LaRoche camp had made clear that he wanted more than that. LaRoche was the Marlins' top choice among free agent first basemen. The Marlins had some interest in Michael Cuddyer, who signed with the Mets, but didn't want to approach the Mets' two-year, $21 million offer.

Michael Morse is still unsigned and could be a possibility. A trade is also an option.

The Marlins would like to upgrade over Garrett Jones at first base but might not be able to. Another internal option is second baseman Derek Dietrich, who recently got instructional league work at first.

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

One key during the early years of the Brad Kaaya era in Miami will be finding quarterbacks who are OK  sitting behind him.  

There has been NO indication of discontent from Malik Rosier, who is redshirting, and the one QB oral commitment in UM's 2015 recruiting class, Tampa Hillsborough senior Dwayne Lawson, hasn’t uttered a peep about possibly flipping.

Meanwhile, Jack Allison –--- UM's prized Class of 2016 oral commitment –-- told Canesport.com this week that he is excited to learn from Kaaya. He called his commitment “pretty solid,” adding: “I don’t want to say I’m shutting down recruiting but I’m a Hurricane.”

Lawson and Allison are different kinds of quarterbacks but both well-regarded.

ESPN rates Lawson the No. 6 dual-threat QB in the 2015 Class and 268th among all prospects. ESPN.com named him the ESPN 300 “Player of the Week” earlier in November.

His numbers are very good this season: 17 touchdowns passes, two interceptions, 1931 yards passing, a 58.3 completion percentage, plus 94 carries for 731 yards (7.7 average) and 15 TDs running. His team went 11-2.

Lawson orally committed to UM on May 15, but other schools --- including USF and UCF --- keep recruiting him.

With Kevin Olsen leaving the program at UM’s insistence earlier this semester, it’s important UM adds at least one quarterback in this class to be No. 3 behind Kaaya and Rosier next season.

As for Allison, rivals.com rates him the 12th-best pro style quarterback in the 2016 class. He threw 21 touchdowns and 11 picks and completed 58.6 percent of his passes for his 5-6 team in Palmetto, Fla.

### UM is encouraged that five-star California-based recruit John Houston, one of the nation’s top linebacker prospects, enjoyed his UM visit last weekend and is still considering the Canes.

Houston, who was accompanied by five-star defensive lineman Rasheem Green, has visited UM and Oregon and has visits planned to Arizona State, USC and Oklahoma.

### This UM hoops team has been very impressive in the season’s first week, improving to 4-0 today with a 79-51 win over Akron in the second round of a tournament in Charleston, S.C.

We all knew Angel Rodriguez, the Kansas State transfer, was a good player. But did anyone expect he would be this good?

He came close to a triple double today (15 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds) before leaving with three minutes left. For the third time this week, Rodriguez helped ignite a second-half run (18-2 against Akron).

Sheldon McClellan scored 17 and Manu Lecomte 14, and Tonye Jekiri established a career high in rebounding (16) for the second game in a row. Miami advances to Sunday’s championship at 9 p.m.

BROADCAST NOTES

### CBS is sending Dolphins-Broncos to 81 percent of the country Sunday, with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms on the call. This marks the fourth Dolphins game in a row called by either the network’s lead team or No. 2 team (Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts). CBS’ only other 4:25 p.m. game is Redskins-49ers, which was cross-flexed from Fox to balance the network schedules.

### The NFL will allow DirecTV to make available Monday’s 7 p.m. Jets-Bills game on Sunday Ticket. It will oppose the first half of the Ravens-Saints MNF game on ESPN.

Jets-Bills was moved to Detroit, and changed to Monday, because of serious weather issues in Buffalo. The game will be seen on CBS on only a few affiliates in New York and Pennsylvania.

### CBS-4 in Miami was supposed to air Jets-Bills at 1 p.m. Sunday, opposite Lions-Patriots on Fox, and as a lead-in to Dolphins-Broncos. Instead, CBS assigned WFOR the Cincinnati-Houston game at 1 p.m.

### UM-Virginia at 7 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2 will be called by Joe Tessitore and Brock Huard, working their fourth UM game of the season.

### Saturday’s college football slate isn’t especially good because some teams are on byes and others are playing cupcakes (Western Carolina in Alabama’s case). That’s why ABC has to settle for USC-UCLA as its national prime time game Saturday and why Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit are calling a game (Missouri-Tennessee) with no national significance.

### Final audience numbers for last weekend’s top college football games: Mississippi State-Alabama was watched by 10.2 million viewers, compared with 8.7 million for UM-FSU.

### Radio moment of the week: Bill O’Reilly unnecessarily hanging up on Dan Le Batard when LeBatard pressed him to provide an example of a situation that caused him the most unrest personally in his career. (A minute earlier, O’Reilly has insisted that nothing in his career has embarrassed him, though he said there were some moments of unrest.)

“I’m not going to get into any of that stuff,” O’Reilly said. “If you guys have another question, I’m good. If not, we’ll say good bye.”

When Le Batard reacted in shock to O’Reilly’s response, O’Reilly hung up. Le Batard then played a tape of O’Reilly losing his temper with his staff. And no, O'Reilly apparently didn't wait around to listen to that clip.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

11/20/2014

Dolphins face tough choices at deep positions; Barkley on Heat, Wade; UM rising

Coaches say a team can never have too much talent, that having to make tough choices because of enviable depth is a good problem to have.

The Dolphins can say that about two positions this season --- receiver and defensive line --- and that has forced some difficult decisions about playing time.

At least a couple of Dolphins aren’t happy about their snap counts. But to their credit, none have complained publicly about it.

Here’s how the Dolphins have dealt with playing time decisions at their two deepest spots:

### Receiver: Challenges have been created by the desire to incorporate rookie Jarvis Landry, who has impressed everyone.

Landry has caught 79.2 percent of the passes thrown to him (42 of 53). That’s the second-highest percentage in the league among players with at least 40 receptions, behind only New Orleans rookie Brandin Cooks, who caught 81.5 percent before being placed on injured reserve this week.

Landry is playing on 59 percent of Miami’s offensive snaps, behind Brian Hartline (83.5) and Mike Wallace (76.1) but well ahead of Brandon Gibson (41) and Rishard Matthews (22.8).

But as far as targets go, Wallace has by far the most (75), ranking 24th in the league, and Landry is second with 53, ranking 53rd.

Hartline’s targets are way down, to 47, ranking 62nd. (He had 127 last season.) Gibson has been targeted 20 times and Matthews just 12.

Sensitive to the fact the other receivers need to play, Wallace said: “If I need a breather, I try not to have one play out and run back in because I know the depth of guys we have and we can trust anyone we have. I try to take maybe two plays off at the least. It’s tough on guys.”

Gibson, who sits next to Landry in the Dolphins locker-room, has seen his involvement diminish mostly because of Landry’s emergence.

But Gibson hasn’t complained: “You come to work every day and take advantage of your opportunities. That’s all you can do.”

Said Matthews: “It definitely takes sacrifice” among the receivers. “It’s knowing your role and being positive.”

### Defensive line: Among ends, Olivier Vernon has played 79.8 percent of Miami’s defensive snaps, Cameron Wake 74.9 percent and Derrick Shelby (who missed one game because of suspension) 38.8 percent.

Dion Jordan has averaged 24.8 snaps in his four games since returning from suspension, compared with 28.7 snaps per game this season for Shelby, 49.9 for Wake and 52.3 for Vernon.

Getting Jordan enough playing time remains a challenge, but the Dolphins don’t feel pressure to get him on the field more, despite his lofty draft status (third overall in 2013). And Jordan said he’s fine with whatever playing time he is given.

Among tackles, Randy Starks’ snaps have plummeted from 46.4 per game last season to 34.4 this season. 

“The good thing is you’ll be rested for the playoffs,” Starks said Thursday. “But it’s bad because it’s harder to get in rhythm and your production goes down.”

Because he’s not playing much on third down, “I’ve turned into a run-stopper, I guess.”

Jared Odrick has played the most among the tackles (79.4 percent of Miami’s defensive snaps), compared with 48.6 percent for Mitchell and 46.5 percent for Starks.

Joe Philbin explained Odrick has received the most snaps among the tackles “because he has good enough size to handle the run snaps on first and second down [and] he’s got enough athleticism and pass-rush ability to contribute on third down. He’s a real three-down player.”

After the Detroit game, Pro Football Focus noted Mitchell “would be an every down player on most other rosters” but “is forced to split time in Miami” because of the team’s “embarrassment of riches along the defensive line.”

Mitchell, who hasn’t missed a tackle all season, says that’s fine with him. “I’m playing the right amount of snaps,” he said, adding that he might not feel as fresh if he played much more than 30 per game.

Because of their depth along the line, the Dolphins have given only 67 defensive snaps to Terrence Fede, 60 to Anthony Johnson and 43 to Chris McCain --- three rookies they believe have strong upside. That’s in spite of the fact Starks and Shelby have each missed a game and despite Jordan missing six games because of suspension.

So how exactly do the Dolphins coaches determine snap counts? Philbin said Thursday that coaches have a “targeted number” for each player but they are adjusted during the game “if some guy’s hot and the other guy is not so hot.”

And there are other factors that cannot be planned for.

“We’ve had games where we’ve played 51 snaps on defense, so it’s not an exact science by any stretch,” Philbin said. “But we try to give it some thought, use common sense, see if we can get guys in the game who earned the right to play.” 

### Charles Clay, who now has a hamstring injury as well as persistent issues with his knee, is a toss-up to play Sunday. Cortland Finnegan didn’t practice, suggesting he’s likely not going to play Sunday.

HOOPS NOTES

The Heat is down big to the Clippers at the time of this posting, which is the second pounding the Heat took on TNT tonight.

Here was Charles Barkley, before tipoff: “I didn’t think they were gonna be good. Some of the fools on TV are saying when [Dwyane] Wade gets healthy. He’s not gonna get healthy. Old people don’t get healthy. They die. This notion that older people will get healthy is stupid.”

Then Barkley couldn’t seem to make up his mind what to think about the Heat. First he called them “a mediocre team.” Then he said “they are a good, solid team.” OK then.  

Then at halftime, with the Heat down, 58-40, Barkley offered this: "The Heat is not very good.... [The Clippers] are playing against an inferior team. This does not impress the Chuckster."

Said TNT’s Kenny Smith: “I thought they would be better. They have a lot of talent.”

### The Heat's 24-point deficit after a quarter tonight (39-15) is the largest in franchise history, according to TNT... Wade is missing a fourth straight game with a hamstring injury.

### Another strong effort by UM hoops today, with Miami improving to 3-0 with a 66-46 thumping of Drexel in the first round of a tournament in Charleston, S.C.

Angel Rodriguez, the hero of Monday’s win at UF, scored 10 straight points in a 28-11 second-half run and closed with 15. Manu Lecomte scored a career-high 15 and Tonye Jekiri had a career-high 13 boards.

UM advances to play Akron at 2:30 p.m. Friday (ESPNU and WQAM).

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

 

11/19/2014

Update on Marlins' free agent moves; Behind-the-scenes nuggets on Stanton negotiations

All Marlins talk in the wake of today's press conference for Giancarlo Stanton's historic 13-year, $325 million deal:

### By accepting below-market salaries of $6.5 million and $9 million over the next two seasons, Stanton has given the Marlins flexibility to augment. And the Marlins are acting quickly.

According to a source, the Marlins have made a two-year, $20 million offer to free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche, who hit .259 with 26 homers and 92 RBI for Washington in 2014.

Meanwhile, the Marlins have expressed interest in several free agent pitchers, including right-handers Jason Hammel (10-11, 3.47 ERA for the Cubs and Oakland last season) and Justin Masterson, who battled injuries and was 7-9 with a 5.88 ERA for Cleveland and St. Louis last season but was much better in 2013 for Cleveland (14-10, 3.45).

The Marlins also have interest in Arizona left-hander Wade Miley (8-12, 4.34) if the Diamondbacks trade him. The Marlins say their payroll will top $60 million.

### The Marlins’ first offer to Stanton was vastly different than the one he accepted. According to sources, the Marlins made a six-year, $130 million offer shortly after the season ended.

Agent Joel Wolfe said Stanton declined the offer and “had me tell them if it’s not a lifetime contract, there’s no point in talking. The offer wasn’t insulting but he didn’t want a traditional [Mike] Trout-type contract.”

### The Marlins liked Stanton’s idea of a lifetime contract and suggested meeting in Los Angeles. Owner Jeffrey Loria, manager Mike Redmond and front office executives David Samson, Michael Hill and Dan Jennings attended that Nov. 6 meeting with Stanton and Wolfe inside bungalow 10A at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

During that meeting, Loria made an offer to Stanton and laid out a plan for how the roster would be improved.

“They had a contract there,” Stanton said. “I put it aside. I said, ‘Listen, what are we going to do to make this better?’ I’m not trying to come here and get my butt kicked for 10 hours and go home to a lavish lifestyle every day.

“That was a concern for me…. You can’t keep saying we’re going to win this year. I’m sick of hearing it.” Ultimately, Stanton believed the Marlins were committed to winning.

### Samson said Stanton asked a lot of “direct” questions. Such as: “Do you view the core of the team the way I view the core?... Are you looking to add more bats?”

The Marlins brass said yes to that "add more bats" question and then “we all said, to really do this, we need the next three years to be lower than market,” Samson said. “It’s what the Heat did --- they took less to have more.”

Stanton was on board with the idea and ultimately took $30 million over the next three.

### Wolfe said he and Stanton “didn’t know what to think or expect going into the meeting.” But Wolfe said Stanton left the meeting “interested and surprised.”

### During the meeting, Stanton said he thought it would be in the team’s best interests to move in the Marlins Park fences, partly to help the team’s other position players.

Stanton said he thought he missed out on 10 home runs because of the outfield dimensions. The Marlins then showed him evidence that he actually missed out on only four home runs.

“We went through a chart,” including the impact on other Marlins hitters, too, Samson said. The Marlins will keep the fences status quo in 2015 but re-evaluate before 2016. Stanton actually hit better at home (.310, 24 homers) than on the road (.265, 13 homers).

### The Marlins made a 12-year offer during the Beverly Hills meeting and the sides decided later to add a 13th-year team option ($25 million if he’s on the team in 2027, $10 million if he’s not). Wolfe said the final per-year figure offered in Beverly Hills was pretty close to the final number.

But Samson said there were at least 20 more phone conversations, plus additional meetings with Wolfe at the GM meetings in Arizona last week, before a deal was reached.

### In the days after that meeting, Stanton asked for both a no-trade clause (meaning he cannot be traded without his approval) and an opt-out clause. The Marlins had no problem with the no-trade clause, though Samson said “we still will not be giving no trade clauses” to others.

But the opt-out “was the difficult part,” Wolfe said. Stanton wanted to have the right to opt out sooner than six years, Wolfe said. The Marlins didn’t want an unconditional opt-out, instead preferring to tie the opt-out “to triggers,” Wolfe said.

For example, the Marlins wanted the opt-out to be delayed if the Marlins won a certain number of games or made the playoffs. Wolfe said “a hundred different scenarios” were discussed before Samson called Wolfe last week and said they would agree to a six-year opt out. That sealed the deal.

“We said opt-out clauses historically have only been to get money,” Samson said. “He said that’s not why we’re doing it. He said, ‘I don’t want an opt-out clause because of instead making $218 million over the last seven years, I want to make $219 million or $319 million…

“[He said], ‘I want to make sure I’m in a place where there’s sustained winning and a winning culture.’ Once we believed the opt-out clause would be used as a shield and not a sword, we were OK with it. That required some very direct questions to him, which we asked. They answered it correctly. As he pointed out, either way he makes the money.”

### Samson said Loria, who turns 74 Wednesday, has no intention of selling the team. “We get a lot of calls; people want to buy the team,” Samson said. “He’s in it for the long run because he loves it.”

### How will the Marlins afford this? Besides the expectation of signing a far more lucrative TV deal, Samson said with attendance, there is “no question in the next two years we will be back to where we were in 2012 and go up from there.” The Marlins averaged 27,401 in the first year of the ballpark (2012) but 21,386 last season.

### Most unusual question from the press conference: WSVN’s Steve Shapiro noting Stanton will make $69,000 per day during the contract and asking if part of that is almost embarrassing.

“Embarrassed? No,” he said. “I know I have a lot of expectations I have to live up to, which I’m willing to do. This isn’t like having a winning lottery ticket and peace out. You win the lottery and go away, retire.

“This is the start of new work and a new job for this city. It’s a huge responsibility. I have to come into this like I was drafted in 2007.”

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

11/18/2014

Details on Giancarlo contract, Marlins payroll plans, and why he backloaded contract; Dolphins, Heat, UM

BUZZ COLUMN

Giancarlo Stanton’s agent told me this afternoon he expects Stanton to be here all 13 years of his backloaded contract, which has an opt-out after six seasons, and that Stanton agreed to take a salary well below market value for the next three seasons because he wants to win and wants the Marlins to have enough money to augment the roster.

Meanwhile, the Marlins have told people they plan to dramatically increase payroll by year four of the contract, when Stanton’s salary skyrockets, according to another person briefed on their plans.

Agent Joel Wolfe said Stanton would not have taken the richest contract in baseball history (13 years, $325 million) if the Marlins hadn’t been committed to winning. Stanton also likes living in South Florida, even though he spends part of the offseason in his native Southern California.

Wolfe said Stanton “wanted to know” that the Marlins “were going to create a winning culture.”

And Wolfe said if Stanton “was going to make those kind of demands, he couldn’t rightfully also demand the team pay him his full value [the next three years] and take up 50 to 70 percent of the team’s payroll over the next two or three years. This gave them flexibility, given the state of their current TV deal,” which is among the worst in baseball.

As a result, Stanton agreed to take $6.5 million next season (well below the $13 million he likely would have made in arbitration), $9 million in 2016 and $14.5 million in 2017, according to two sources with direct knowledge.

In seasons four through six of the deal, Stanton will pocket $25 million, $26 million and $26 million. Stanton then has an opt-out clause, after 2020.

The next six years of the contract, after the opt-out, include salaries of $29 million, $32 million in years 8, 9 and 10, $29 million in year 11 and $25 million in year 12. In year 13, the Marlins can pay Stanton $25 million or exercise a $10 million buyout.

But money alone “was not enough,” Wolfe said, adding the 13-year contract was Stanton’s idea.

We hear Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria pitched Stanton and gave him specific details about Loria’s plan to improve the team during a meeting in Los Angeles in the past month.

That plan includes adding another hitter and likely another starting pitcher, among other moves. As noted in this space last month, first basemen Adam LaRoche (.259, 26 homers and 92 RBI last season) is among the Marlins’ free agent targets.

The Marlins also have inquired about high-end free agent starting pitcher James Shields, though it would be surprising if the Marlins could meet his demands, reportedly $20 million a year.  And agents for several other quality free agent starters said Tuesday they were expecting to hear from the Marlins.

The Marlins, expecting a payroll in the $60 million range next season, have less than $48 million in projected payroll for 2015, leaving them with at least $12 million to supplement the roster and potentially more if they can dump first baseman Garrett Jones, due $5 million next season, and catcher Jarrod Saltamacchia, due $7 million. The Marlins were disappointed in both Jones and Saltalamacchia last season.

They plan to increase payroll to more than $100 million by 2018 by using the money from what they expect will be a much more lucrative local TV deal.

Their Fox Sports TV deal expires after 2020 and pays the Marlins about $14 million per season. But the Marlins want to restructure and extend that contract in the next couple of years and hope to triple their annual local TV revenue.

Meanwhile, the Marlins have told Christian Yelich’s camp that they intend to make an offer that would extend beyond November 2019, when he’s eligible for free agency. If the money is right, Yelich would be interested, especially because he’s close with Stanton and knows Stanton will be here for a long time.

They’ve also broached an extension with shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who cannot be a free agent until after 2018.

### Besides a no-trade clause, Stanton's contract also includes incentives clauses, such as for winning MVP or making the All-Star team.

CHATTER

### After Philip Wheeler allowed a touchdown pass in the final seconds of the Green Bay game and criticized coaches afterward, one Dolphins player predicted: “He’s done here.”

In his five games since, Wheeler has played 11, 14, 16, 21 and 12 snaps --- the least of any starter.

“I feel I should be playing more but maybe others don’t think so,” Wheeler said. “I don’t know the reason.”

Part of the reason is that the Dolphins are now often playing with only two linebackers, and they far prefer using Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi, who both played every snap against Buffalo.

Because of the way former general manager Jeff Ireland structured Wheeler's contract, the Dolphins would have a $4.2 million 2015 cap hit if they cut or trade Wheeler this offseason, compared with $4.4 million if they keep him.

### Cortland Finnegan said his ankle is feeling a lot better and he hopes to play Sunday. But he didn't practice Tuesday, at least in the two portions open to media, which isn't exactly encouraging... There was a lot of talk today at camp about the fact the Dolphins' longest touchdown play all season has been 21 yards.

## Credit Pat Riley for the Shawne Williams signing when scouts and others were questioning giving the journeyman guaranteed money ($1.4 million).

Williams in fifth in the league in three-point shooting (50.9: 27 for 53). He has lost so much weight (30 pounds) that a bunch of players have done double takes when they see him.

Toronto's “Lou Williams said he didn’t recognize me when they were watching film.”

### Per Elias, Mario Chalmers is the first Heat player other than Dwyane Wade or LeBron James to lead the team in points and assists for three straight games since Shaquille O'Neal in 2005.

### Al Golden correctly points out that UM’s depth doesn’t yet measure up to FSU’s, and he pointed to three positions where that’s the case: running back (UM didn’t want to use Trayone Gray in Gus Edwards’ absence Saturday and isn’t sure what Gray’s longterm position will be), offensive line and linebacker. (Gray did play special teams Saturday.)

###  How upset was UM receiver Braxton Berrios about dropping that touchdown pass Saturday? He said he has watched the play more than a dozen times and couldn’t sleep all weekend.

### Go figure: A greater percentage of homes watched UM-FSU in Columbus, Ohio (17.4) than in Miami-Fort Lauderdale (16.2). In between those two cities, ranking No. 2 among major markets, was Jacksonville (17.0).

### UM's Michael Wyche, who coaches thought would be a starter and impact player at defensive tackle, instead spent this season losing weight (365 to 329) and playing limited snaps (13 on Saturday).

“It was a setback,” he said, noting he's determined to be an impact player next season. Golden said Wyche has “come on” but Calvin Heurtelou has distinguished himself most of the defensive tackles.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz     

11/17/2014

Stanton agrees to deal; What Loria is saying; Fins injuries; Lazor addresses report about strained relationship with players; Dolphins, UM, Heat, Marlins

The Marlins have agreed to a 13-year, 325 million contract with Giancarlo Stanton that includes an opt-out after six years and a full no-trade clause. The contract would be the richest in baseball history if Stanton is here for all 13 years.

Speaking by telephone to my colleague Clark Spencer, Loria called it "a landmark day. It means everything to the franchise. We have a face of the franchise for the next 13 years.

"I expect him to be a Marlin for 13 years. We are going to be surrounding him, we have already started to surround him, with all-star caliber players and there will be more."

Regarding the opt out after six years, Loria said: "I tend to be very positive and I would expect he would be as excited then as he is now."

Why did Stanton agree to this? "He obviously saw last year that the franchise was serious about winning and serious about doing great things in the new stadium," Loria said. "I talked to him this afternoon just after all the tests were completed. He passed with flying colors. I'm thrilled. What can I tell you? He's a wonderful young guy and he's a talent."

How can a team like the Marlins afford this? "We can afford it," Loria said. "We are going to surround him with an improved lineup as well. We need another bat in this lineup that can help him out."

In closing, Loria said: "I did this for the city, the fans, for Giancarlo, our team, for myself and for baseball."

The Marlins are planning a Wednesday press conference to announce the deal.

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

Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor spoke at length today about assertions in an NFL.com story last week that said he has a “rocky” and “strained” relationship with some players; that his “abrasive tenor has worn thin on some” and that Ryan Tannehill isn’t allowed to audible.

Here’s what he had to say:

### On the story: “ I saw the headline. I fought the temptation to read the story.

"The week before I was approached by someone in the organization about some great articles about our offense. They said do I want them? I said absolutely not. I said please don’t send me any, because the ones that sound good at one point take your focus off what you’re supposed to be doing to do your job the right way. Wouldn’t you know, one week later, somebody is asking me about the negative articles. In this job, you’ve got to stay focused on what you’re doing.”  

### So has there been any discontent between Lazor and the players?

“I think it’s about what a normal NFL offensive team would be. I’ve had players tell me how much they appreciate the standards of expectations we’ve had. I’ve also had some players in a very professional way over time come up and say maybe this other approach might help us at times. The reason I enjoy coaching this level is because I like working in partnership with the players. I’ve coached in college, coached with a number of professional teams. The thing I really enjoy is when you come into work with a bunch of professionals and you’re in it together. It’s about like all the NFL teams I’ve been on.”

The story relied on multiple anonymous sources, and Lazor said: “I probably just don’t put a lot of credence on anonymous reports. I enjoy coming to work every day because of the people I work with. You’ve been at training camp. Nothing is different [with his treatment of players in practice].

I would like to think if the players were asked they would say I’ve been professional. There have been very, very few times that curse words have come out of my mouth but I am demanding of them. The greatest feedback I’ve gotten from our players in one on one settings is when they have told me how much they appreciate the expectations I have for the offense."

### Lazor disputed the part of the story that said Tannehill isn’t allowed to audible.

“One of the things I think is special about Ryan is how he sees the field and can react to things that happen. Because he does that so well,… Ryan has more options than a lot of quarterbacks we’ve coached. We do certain things differently. Some of them are what you would call verbal audibles. Some are right at the snap. Some are built in options.

“It’s how we choose to play. Ryan has the ability to handle those things and does them very well. That’s one of his strengths. He uses all the different options, whether they be audibles or built-in options to get the ball distributed around the field. That’s probably when we’ve played our best offensively, when he’s used all those things."

### So is Ryan more than a game manager?

“I don’t know what that terms means,” he said. “To me, Ryan is a player. You hear that term a lot and it’s almost always used in a negative context it seems.

"We want Ryan to be a winner. One of the things I’ve love about Ryan is he’s willing to do it how ever he has to do it. He enjoys running. I probably want him to run less than he wants to run because I want to keep him healthy. He’ll do it any way he has to do it. One of the great things Ryan did against Buffalo was complete a whole bunch of passes at the beginning of the game. [The Bills] have the [ability] to sting you early, disrupt things and get you out of rhythm. We felt one of the important things for Ryan would be to throw completions. He threw those first eight completions. That took a little bit of an edge off their front, which we think is a fantastic front.” 

### Lazor said Tannehill can still learn from other quarterbacks. “Smetimes it is easier to show a quarterback bad examples of somebody else. Sometimes as a player, it seems like a player all day long you’re getting corrected.... Sometimes it’s easy to take a coaching point when you see somebody else screwing it up.”  

### In several key measurable statistics (yards, points), the Dolphins offense is clearly better since Lazor took over. Same with Tannehill.

The two things that gnaw at Lazor? “Explosive plays in the passing game and finishing off those red zone drives with touchdowns.” 

### New right tackle Dallas Thomas goes from blocking Mario Williams last week (he gave up two of Williams’ 3.5 sacks) to blocking Denver’s Von Miller this week.

“The first thing I would tell Dallas is to have some confidence,” Lazor said. “There are a whole bunch of great clips on video. He wasn’t perfect. But Dallas should have some confidence. I see him especially in the run game blocking more confidently all the time. He’s an improving young player and I take the Buffalo game as a great example. I’m proud of him. I know he’ll get better. Some of the times when maybe he wasn’t at his best, maybe confidence would help him because he has the ability to do it. We’re in for a heck of a challenge with these [Denver] pass rusher.” 

###  On facing Denver: “When you face these kinds of teams that can score a lot of points, you’ve got to put great emphasis on each possession. The number one thing you have to do is score points. When you fall behind, when you play a good offense, you let them play the game exactly the way they want to play it. I would take a little less time of possession if it meant we were getting more explosive plays. We’re trying.” 

INJURY UPDATE

Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said he's unsure if Cortland Finnegan's ankle will be healthy enough for him to play Sunday... Linebacker Jonathan Freeny could miss a month with a hamstring injury.

If you haven’t seen last night’s post, please check it out for an analysis of Dennis Hickey’s work, a Branden Albert update, musings from Bill Parcells and Heat, UM and Marlins chatter.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

 

11/16/2014

Evaluating Hickey's work; Albert update; Parcells; Marlins hot stove; Heat, UM chatter

How has Dennis Hickey done in his first 10 months as Dolphins general manager? Analyzing his moves: 

### Offensive line free agency: Hickey was prudent to sign Branden Albert (five years, $47 million) over Baltimore’s Eugene Monroe (five years, $37.5 million). Albert was the better player in 2014 before his knee injury.

Prioritizing Shelley Smith (rated 45th of 78 guards by Pro Football Focus) was questionable, but the deal was modest (two years, $5.5 million) and the Dolphins didn’t want to match Jacksonville’s five-year, $30 million offer for Zane Beadles, rated 14th among guards.

PFF ranks Daryn Colledge 64th, but he was cheap (one year, $2 million). Not re-signing John Jerry (rated 54th by PFF) was wise; Jerry now starts for the Giants. The Samson Satele pickup looks good, but Hickey added him only after Mike Pouncey was injured and Smith bombed during his training camp trial at center.

 ### Running back free agency: Hickey obviously cannot be blamed for Knowshon Moreno’s knee injury, and Moreno’s one-year, $3.3 million deal seemed like a bargain when he led all NFL backs in rushing in Week 1. Baltimore ended up making a better (and luckier) move in adding Justin Forsett, who signed for one-year and $730,000 and averages 5.4 per carry.

LeGarrette Blount (4.1 per carry average) would have loved to come here, but Hickey didn’t want him after their up and down Tampa experience; he took two years, $3.8 million with Pittsburgh.

### Defensive back free agency: Hickey passed on three reasonably priced cornerbacks who have outperformed Cortland Finnegan: Arizona’s Antonio Cromartie (one-year, $3.25 million; ranked fourth among all corners and a 55.6 passer rating against), the 49ers’ Perrish Cox (one year, $695,000; ranked 15th; four picks) and Buffalo’s Corey Graham (four years, $16 million; ranked 8th; 56.3 passer rating against).

Finnegan, who got a two-year, $11 million deal, is ranked 76th of 108 corners, with a 97.8 passer rating against. But the Dolphins can escape his $5.4 million salary next season with only a $1 million cap hit…

Hickey made a better decision at safety: Louis Delmas ranks 29th among 85 safeties, with a 74.4 passer rating against. Several corners who were free agents have somewhat outperformed Delmas: Antoine Bethea, Malcolm Jenkins and Donte Whitner, but Delmas (one year, $3.5 million) was much cheaper.

### Draft: Ja’Wuan James, selected 19th overall, was a terrific pick, solidifying a need position despite allowing 20 quarterback hurries, and now filling in at left tackle. The Jarvis Landry pick at 63 was outstanding despite it not being a need area.

Though Billy Turner, picked 67rd, hasn’t played, the Dolphins believe he can be a starting guard eventually; he has the brute strength but needs to work on technique. Among the dozen players picked after him, three have made strong impacts: inside linebackers Preston Brown (Bills) and Chris Borland (49ers) and running back Tre Mason (St. Louis). Brandon Linder, picked 93rd by Jacksonville, is rated sixth among guards by PFF and would have been a more NFL-ready pick than Turner.

Later draft picks Walt Aikens (125th) Jordan Tripp (171) and Terrence Fede (190) haven't played much recently beyond special teams but the Dolphins like their potential and injured tight end Arthur Lynch (picked 155th).... 

What Hickey culled among undrafted rookies (Damien Williams, Chris McCain, Anthony Johnson) was impressive. In retrospect, ex-UM tackle Seantrel Henderson --- starting for Buffalo --- would have made more sense than practice squad receiver Matt Hazel at 190.

If the Dolphins make the playoffs or finish strong but miss out on a tiebreaker, Joe Philbin and Hickey are expected to return. But if there's a coaching change, Hickey's status for 2015 would be in question.

CHATTER

### Though Albert’s injury carries a recovery time of 9 to 12 months, his doctors are optimistic he will be ready for the start of next season.

### Couple snippets from Nunyo Demasio’s new book, Parcells: A Football Life: Turns out Jeff Ireland didn’t decide on his own to apologize to Dez Bryant for asking if his mother was a prostitute; Bill Parcells indicated he instructed Ireland to call Bryant and express contrition…

Parcells, on Jason Taylor: “He’s a sensitive guy that’s used to getting attention. And if you don’t give it to him, he doesn’t like it. I don’t mean he’s a bad guy, but he has a sense of entitlement, and his ego gets bruised. He can’t take his feelings being hurt.”

### Though he never admitted it, Mario Chalmers was down about losing his starting job, Dwyane Wade tells us. But credit Wade for helping Chalmers through it, and Chalmers, in his new role, is averaging a career-high in scoring.

“Mario Chalmers thinks he’s the best player on the court no matter who’s on the floor and he’s been a starter pretty much his whole life, so you were a little worried [how he would react to losing his job],” Wade said. “His spirits were down a bit. But we sat down and had a great conversation about his role at this moment. Nothing is set is stone. Whatever role you have, you have to play to the best of your ability. No reason to whine or cry about it. He’s done a great job for us.”

Chalmers said Erik Spoelstra told him he was moved to the bench because the coach wanted more size on the second unit.

With Wade missing his second consecutive game with a hamstring injury, Chalmers started his first game of the season Sunday and scored a team-high 18.

### After shooting 2 for 17 and scoring 10 points in tonight's demoralizing home loss to Milwaukee, Chris Bosh is now mired in a 12 for 49 swoon over his past three games. He’s in a 3 for 22 slump on three-pointers.

“It’s frustrating; the past couple games the shot hasn’t fallen,” he said. “I’m still trying to find my rhythm everywhere. Most of the shots were good shots, shots I usually make. I have to play better, especially with [Wade] out. I guess it's on me. This team is relying on me to do a better job, and I have to do a better job.”

Asked if he’s pressing, Bosh said, “Yeah. I’m not going to say, ‘Sit back and the game will come to you.’ I’m going to press until I get over the hump. I figured it would return tonight.”

Spoelstra said of Bosh: “We need to do a better job of getting him in places where he can feel comfortable.”

### On a night Miami badly needed more from Luol Deng, he shot 3 for 11 (10 points). He’s now 38 for 61 in Heat wins but 16 for 51 in Heat losses.

“So far, there are games I’m great and games I’m so bad,” Deng said. “There are times I find myself thinking too much.”

### The Heat would fall to 5-6 if it loses Monday at Brooklyn. Miami has been under .500 just twice in the past four years: 0-1 after the first game of the LeBron James era in 2010 and 1-2 last season

### Forward Danny Granger remains out with a strained left hamstring. Granger said he could play immediately if the team needed him but “they want to make sure I’m 100 percent."

### UM's Al Golden said MRI results were good for Anthony Chickillo, who left the FSU game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury, and he's day to day, as is Deon Bush.

Golden's perspective, a day after the FSU loss: "There are no moral victories, but we were better on third down than we had been. We controlled the clock. We had 74 plays to their 61, had 19.8 yards per completion and 9.3 yards an attempt. There were a lot of things that we did well in the game. In the end we needed to be plus one in the turnover margin, had a couple of costly turnovers. And we didn't convert a lot of our shots, to be quite honest with you.

"Six or seven shots in the second half and we really did not other than the one we hit to Clive Walford up the seam we did not have the explosive plays we needed to get to knock them out. Whether it's the one we dropped right before the half [Braxton Berrios dropped that one] and then missed a field goal, that was a big turnaround. The third and 11 we knock up in the air and they score. Any of those can be the difference in the game. It's not going to make them feel better but they're going to understand that moving forward.

"We gave up two long runs that we haven't given up in a long time, and both of them were missed tackles on the line of scrimmage. One was a 26 yard run and one was a 44-yard run, and both those times they ran through a tackle, which we hadn't done that in a while. So we obviously missed an extra point that was big, missed a field goal. A lot of different things that we need to do better. [FSU] is the deeper team."

### The Marlins privately considered Kike Hernandez, acquired from Houston the Jarred Cosart trade, to be the front-runner for the second base job, but an abdominal injury sustained in Winter League play has left his status for spring training in question, according to the team. Donovan Solano will have a chance and the Marlins have inquired about a few outside options, including Emilio Bonifacio.

Derek Dietrich, another option at second, played first base in the instructional league and is now a viable option to play first in 2015, Marlins’ vice president Marty Scott said. The Marlins ideally want to upgrade over Garrett Jones (due $5 million) at first but didn’t want to approach the Mets’ two-year, $21 million for Michael Cuddyer, who liked the Marlins.  

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Postscripts, reaction, thoughts from UM's 30-26 loss to Florida State

It could have been the signature win this program so badly needed, so badly craved.

Instead, heartbreak.

Yes, this was a valiant effort by UM. And no, UM is hardly the first team to blow a big lead to a steamrolling FSU machine that has now won 26 in a row.

After all, FSU --- down 23-7 in the second quarter tonight --- rallied from 17 down against NC State and from a 21-point hole against Louisville.

Still, this was a lost opportunity to return to the top 25 and push the program ahead. So there is no moral victory here, not against an opponent that can still look somewhat vulnerable even in winning 26 in a row.

And this is troubling, too: As WQAM/NBC's Adam Kuperstein noted, UM has been outscored 150-53 in the second half of its past eight losses under Golden, who's now 0-4 against FSU.

So how did this one escape UM’s grasp?

You could cite a dozen reasons.

Among them: Missed tackles, Brad Kaaya going 6 for 17 for 76 yards in the second half after a 10 for 17 for 240 yard first half; conservative second-half play calling; fourth-quarter injuries (on the same play) to Anthony Chickillo and Deon Bush that kept them sidelined late; a missed extra point and a missed short field goal; two dropped UM touchdowns in the first half and turnovers by two UM tight ends, one in each half; FSU safety Jalen Ramsey’s disruptiveness; and, of course, Kaaya’s interception on a fourth and nine to end the game.

"There were a lot of things we did to hurt ourselves more than them actually hurting us," Duke Johnson said.

Dalvin Cook’s game-winning 26-yard TD run with 3:05 left harkened back nightmares of UM’s defense against Nebraska and Georgia Tech: Olsen Pierre missed Cook, and then Tyriq McCord, Denzel Perryman and Thurston Armbrister all missed tackles.

But there were plenty of breakdowns before that. WQAM's Duane Starks criticized the defensive coaching after the game, saying he saw UM blitz only twice in the second half.

UM often rushed four in the second half, but keep in mind that several of FSU’s big plays in the second half came when UM rushed five, including Cook scooting for 14 yards on a screen shortly before his touchdown run.

And UM was simply unlucky on Karlos Williams’ 11-yard third quarter touchdown, caught off a McCord deflection.

### After scoring 23 points in the first 19 minutes, UM managed just three over the final 41.

Braxton Berrios’ dropped TD pass --– it wouldn’t have been an easy catch --- was costly late in the first half, as was Michael Badgley’s missed 29-yard field goal that followed.

Earlier, Philip Dorsett dropped what would have been a tough TD catch, forcing UM to settle for a Badgley 45-yard field goal.

In the second half, UM's first possession ended with Kaaya overthrowing a receiver, and the next one stalled when Mario Edwards knocked down a Kaaya pass on 3rd and 7 when Dorsett was open.

UM’s next possession ended with a Standish Dobard fumble after a 33-yard gain, and on the Canes’ ensuing possession, Ramsey forced Kaaya to throw prematurely on third down, forcing UM to settle for a Badgley 46-yard field goal.

With a chance to drain the clock with 7:12 left, UM went three and out after Duke Johnson lost one on a first down run, followed by a Jonathan Feliciano false start, a Kaaya incomplete pass and a three-yard pass to Johnson on third down. UM punted, and FSU then put together its winning drive: 5 plays, 62 yards in 2:06.

UM got it back with 3:05 left but took too much time and the drive stalled after two first downs.

The final four plays: Kaaya overthrew Joe Yearby on a wheel route; Yearby ran for one on a draw; Ramsey deflected a Kaaya pass on a blitz and Kaaya threw an interception to Ramsey on fourth and nine with 39 seconds left.

"I had to force it [on] fourth down," Kaaya said. "They played harder, played more aggressive than the first half. There are a few plays we left on the field. They played a whole lot more zone in the second half. I expected it. It's what teams have been doing the last several games against us."

### If there was a second-guess --- offered by Kirk Herbstriet and others --- it was this: Should UM have played more aggressively in the second half?

Of UM’s first 17 first down plays, 10 were passes. But of UM’s next seven first-down plays before the final drive, six were runs. UM didn't do enough to exploit FSU's vulnerabilities in the middle of the field in the second half after doing it several times in the first half.

"We knew what was coming," Starks said of UM's second-half play calling. "Start running a couple more play actions and end arounds."

Another factor: After converting 8 of 11 third-downs in the first half, UM went 2 for 7 in the second half. UM entered converting 31 percent of its third down attempts, which was 117th in the nation.

### UM’s 320 yards in the first half were the most against FSU since 2010. But UM had only 172 in the second half.

### Al Golden afterward: “Real proud of the effort. There is no question they prepared and entered the game believing and knowing we were going to win. They made a couple more plays than we did. That was the difference in the game. Our guys fought their tails off. It was as physical as anything we’ve been involved in…. [Losing Chickillo and Bush] was a big loss…

If you come to the University of Miami, this is what this game should look like, what this game should be…. Missed an extra point and a field goal. Big factor in the game…. We just came up a couple plays short against a really, really good team…. We’re asking Kaaya to do a lot and he makes you forget he’s a freshman sometimes. I told the guys there’s no words. We just appreciated everything they did. They laid it on the line…. We lost the field position battle in the second half. We left some shots on the field.”

### Dorsett, who had 4 catches for 90 yards, including a 27-yard TD to open the scoring: “We’re competitors. Unfortunately, we didn’t come out with the W.  I’m just happy how my brothers… fought. We had each others’ back tonight. I’m proud of that. We didn’t execute as well as we did in the first half. They adjusted in the second half. I feel like the whole country definitely respects us.”

### Duke Johnson finished with 130 yards on 27 carries, his sixth consecutive game over 100 yards. But he sat out a few plays in UM’s final drive because of cramps…. Joe Yearby had 10 carries for 34 yards. Gus Johnson sat out with injury…. UM closed with a 492-418 edge in total yardage.

### Walford had a fumble when trying to get extra yardage in the first half but closed with four catches for 127 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown that pushed UM’s lead to 23-7.  

### UM dropped to 23-2 when leading at halftime under Golden… Winston closed 25 for 42 for 304 yards.

### ABC’s Kirk Herbstreit afterward: “Brad Kaaya is a future star. Miami is heading in the right direction.”

### So UM, at 6-4, is eliminated from contention for the Coastal Division title with two games left. Miami closes at Virginia (7 p.m. next Saturday on ESPN2) and home against Pittsburgh, with a bowl to follow –-- perhaps in Nashville or Yankee Stadium or elsewhere.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz