May 30, 2016

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* --- if necessary

 

DION JORDAN NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOSH CAP RAMIFICATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UM REGIONAL SET

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 29, 2016

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

 

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHATTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 27, 2016

NBA Finals schedules announced late tonight; Dolphins' Maxwell, WR and safety notes; Incoming UM WRs make impression; Panthers, Heat, Marlins

Here are the NBA Finals scenarios announced late tonight after LeBron James advanced to his sixth Finals in a row:

  1. If Golden State eliminates Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals. 

                                                                            National

                                                    Local   EDT    Broadcast

Golden State vs. Cleveland

Game 1 – Thu  June  2 Cleveland at Golden State           6:00PM LOCAL TIME; 9:00PM EST    ABC/R/TSN

Game 2 – Sun  June  5 Cleveland at Golden State           5:00PM  8:00PM     ABC/R/TSN

Game 3 – Wed  June  8 Golden State at Cleveland           9:00PM  9:00PM     ABC/R/SN

Game 4 – Fri  June 10 Golden State at Cleveland           9:00PM  9:00PM     ABC/R/SN

Game 5 * Mon  June 13 Cleveland at Golden State           6:00PM  9:00PM     ABC/R/TSN

Game 6 * Thu  June 16 Golden State at Cleveland           9:00PM  9:00PM     ABC/R/SN

Game 7 * Sun  June 19 Cleveland at Golden State           5:00PM  8:00PM     ABC/R/TSN

  1. If Oklahoma City eliminates Golden State in the Western Conference Finals.

Cleveland vs. Oklahoma City

Game 1 – Thu  June  2 Oklahoma City at Cleveland          9:00PM  9:00PM     ABC/R/TSN

Game 2 – Sun  June  5 Oklahoma City at Cleveland          8:00PM  8:00PM     ABC/R/TSN

Game 3 – Wed  June  8 Cleveland at Oklahoma City          8:00PM  9:00PM     ABC/R/SN

Game 4 – Fri  June 10 Cleveland at Oklahoma City          8:00PM  9:00PM     ABC/R/SN

Game 5 * Mon  June 13 Oklahoma City at Cleveland          9:00PM  9:00PM     ABC/R/TSN

Game 6 * Thu  June 16 Cleveland at Oklahoma City          8:00PM  9:00PM     ABC/R/SN

Game 7 * Sun  June 19 Oklahoma City at Cleveland          8:00PM  8:00PM     ABC/R/TSN

 

A few notes on a Friday:

• At a UM community service event in Coconut Grove, I heard good feedback yesterday on the impression new UM receivers Ahmmon Richards and Dayall Harris have left on teammates in their first couple of weeks on campus.

“Fast guys, looking good,” quarterback Evan Shirreffs said of Richards, Harris and Dionte Mullins.

(Mullins has not yet enrolled ---unlike Richards and Harris --- but Shirreffs said he has been throwing to Mullins, as well, but not to Sam Bruce, who hasn't enrolled, either.)

“The thing I really like about them is they want to stay after, get some extra throws in, make sure the routes are crisp, which is great to see,” Shirreffs said.

Richards has size (6-2) and speed and elusiveness and averaged an impressive 19.6 yards per catch over his final two seasons in high school in Wellington.

ESPN's scouting report: "Richards is a quality player with some explosive traits. May not be elite in any one area, but makes his fair share of plays. He is also very consistent and reliable -- shows some go-to qualities.Combines size, deceptively good speed and elusiveness for a player of his height. Very willing to go across the middle to make plays."

ESPN says the 5-11 Mullins, from Gulliver Prep, "is the ideal prospect for making plays in the open field.... in today's game. Possesses qualities that can change the game. Excellent prospect. Will consistently win footraces in the open field and can create mismatches on speed alone with the ability to take the top off the defense."

Bruce and Mullins are expected to enroll June 27.

Regarding Harris, "Jack Allison and I have been throwing to him after workouts and he's very particular in his routes," Shirreffs said.

• Though nothing in OTAs means much in the grand scheme of things, new Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell has looked good early.

"He has done a good job," Adam Gase said. "He has challenged the wideouts. I know, offensively, he makes our guys better, because they know they’re going to get a tough matchup every time that they go out there. He hasn’t disappointed me one bit. He has done a great job of getting his hands on balls, and it makes it tough on not only the receivers, but the quarterback, because that window is tight. When he’s covering a guy, it’s going to be a tight throw.”

The Maxwell/DeVante Parker matchups in practice have been competitive.

"It’s great going against him," Parker said. "He’s very tall and long, just like me. He knows how to play the ball well. We make each other better.”

• Parker said coaches are having the receivers work at all the receiver positions and that's "very exciting. Teams can’t cover you when you move around. If you’re in one spot, it’s an advantage for them."

Parker says he's "very comfortable" playing in the slot if he's asked to line up there occasionally.

• Dolphins safety Reshad Jones, who remains away from the facility while protesting his contract, was rated the NFL's 64th best player by peers in NFL Network's and NFL.com's annual poll of NFL players.

• The Marlins’ J.T. Realmuto, a .268 hitter in his minor league career, keeps improving and now leads all big-league catchers with a .301 average entering Friday. But he’s doing it in a strange way, hitting .189 at home and .403 on the road. (In fact, every Marlins regular except Derek Dietrich and Marcell Ozuna, hit better on the road, most substantially better).

Though Realmuto's five errors are tied for most among catchers, he’s third best in throwing out runners (10 of 24).

• With his win yesterday against Tampa, Jose Fernandez is now 29-11 with a 2.47 ERA through his first 40 big-league decisions. According to Elias, only two other pitchers in the live-ball era (post-1920) won at least 29 of their first 40 decisions and had an ERA under 2.50 during those 40 decisions: Orel Hershiser (29-11, 2.35) and Darren O'Day (29-11, 2.35).

• The Panthers’ trade of Erik Gudbranson and a fifth-rounder for Jared McCann and second- and fourth-rounders saved them $2.6 million (without factoring in the draft picks) and leaves them with about $20 million in cap space as they work to re-sign restricted free agent Vincent Trocheck and unrestricted Brian Campbell, who might test free agency.

So what are they getting in the 19-year-old McCann, who had nine goals and nine assists in 69 games for Vancouver?

“Good skilled kid; average skater with good shot,” Canadian TV analyst and former Panthers coach Doug MacLean texted. “Can’t play center with group Florida has. Wing on third line likely.”

• Besides being highly qualified, one reason David Fizdale landed the Memphis job is how he aced the interviews with an impressive presentation that Erik Spoelstra and the Heat staff helped him craft, like political debate prep work.

On-the-rise Dan Craig is expected to return from the D-League to the Heat assistant coaching staff --- and with Juwan Howard (whose stock also continues to rise) and Keith Smart --- that trio would give Spoelstra a strong troika of assistants on the bench.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 26, 2016

Chris Berman reportedly set to leave high-profile ESPN job; Tannehill and Kaaya address many issues; Tannehill on finally having freedom at the line; Kaaya on the turning pro decision

Quick 10 p.m. media note: Chris Berman, as synonymous with ESPN as any sportscaster since the network's launch in 1979, plans to retire after this coming football season, The Big Lead reported tonight.

SI.com later reported he will relinquish all of his current duties after this football season but might still appear appear occasionally for ESPN at special events, such as the Super Bowl. (SI.com says that decision hasn't been made.)

A spokesman at ESPN, which typically denies reports that aren't true, declined to comment tonight when asked if The Big Lead report is accurate.

Berman's agent told The New York Times tonight:  "Chris is not retiring. Loves what he's doing too much and is too young to hang 'em up."

And when I spoke to Berman a year ago this month, he sounded inclined to continue beyond the expiration of his contract at the end of this coming football season.

Last May, I asked Berman how long he wanted to continue an ESPN career that began in 1979, a month after the network launched.

“I wouldn't subject America to that long,” Berman cracked when I asked him, somewhat in jest, if he might go another decade or two. “I turned 60 [on Sunday in May 2015]. I have two more years to go on my contract [now one]. That means Tommy Jackson and I will have been together 30 years  [on NFL studio shows.]  This is our 29th. Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon were 31 years. That would be kind of cool.

“I think we’re pretty good at it and we still like it a lot. If I went to 65, which is five more years, that would be 40 years at ESPN.  I wouldn’t bet on anything beyond that. I’m not worried about it. I’ve been employed longer than I should be.

Bob Ley and I started in the fall of 1979, when ESPN began. If I go to 65, that will be spring of 2020. That is a six-decade man.”

Just my speculation here, but Trey Wingo appears primed to succeed Berman on NFL studio programming in 2017, presuming The Big Lead and SI.com reports are accurate. Suzy Kolber, who also has received studio assignments in recent years, also warrants an expanded role.

Berman has stepped back from baseball in recent years, with his duties largely limited to marquee NFL assignments: hosting Sunday NFL Countdown, the Monday Night Football pre-game and halftime shows and the first round of the draft. 

TANNEHILL, KAAYA TALK

Nobody should benefit more from change at the top than the Dolphins’ Ryan Tannehill and UM’s Brad Kaaya, who are both now working under head coaches who know what they’re doing with quarterbacks.

“One of his strongest attributes is his teaching ability,” Tannehill said Thursday of Adam Gase. “He makes it to where it’s easy to understand.”

Both of South Florida’s high-profile quarterbacks addressed assorted issues Thursday:

• Tannehill loves Gase’s offense, and the new freedom it gives him to audible to a better play.

“With [former offensive coordinator] Bill [Lazor’s] offense, we were kind of locked in,” Tannehill said. “What he called is what we ran. With this offense, we're going to mix things up. We're going to move quickly at times, snap the ball quickly. At other times, we're going to get up to the line quickly and take our time. At other times we're going to huddle and be like a standard offense. Just the variability and the versatility that this offense has and the different things that we can do to create the drives that we want to create down the field.

“I'm excited. I'm excited about what this offense entails. It entails a lot of fun stuff for a quarterback to be able to direct traffic, keep pressure on the defense and get us in a good play. To me, that's exciting. That's something you come to work and you're excited about putting your team in the best possible situation.

“I think this is an exciting offense to be in - regardless of what position you're in - because of how we're going to attack defenses, Coach Gase and what he brings to the table (and) his aggressive style and always wanting to keep the heat on the defense."

• After four years of being “babied” (Greg Jennings’ words) under past coaches, Tannehill finally has been given the authority, at the line, to “adjust - whether its protections, routes, a whole new play.” As Gase said today: “In this offense, you're not really locked in on what the play call is. For him to have the ability to know what to get to - that kind of flexibility - being able to do that as a quarterback is very valuable."

Said Tannehill: “There's a lot of freedom in what we do. I think that's going to make us always on the attack. We're not going to have to sit on our heels and feel like the defense is coming after us, and we have to figure out a way to make it work. We can put pressure on the defense by getting in a good play and always keeping the heat on the defense."

• Gase said today that Tannehill’s intelligence “is off the charts,” and Tannehill said “It's fun for me to be able to dive in and take ownership of the offense and being able to learn it like a coach. That's ultimately what I want to do: I want to be a guy on the field that anyone on the field can come to and ask a question, and I have the answers.

“Still in that learning process, but trying to get through that as quickly as I can so that I am that guy that everyone can look to on the field and ask me a question and know exactly what they have.”

• Good feedback from Tannehill today on the Dolphins’ new offensive pieces. “We've been sacked a lot here in the past few years, so to see them take a big step and have a guy like Laremy Tunsil fall to us in the first round was huge for us,” Tannehill said.

“I'm completely impressed by what he's done so far, his athleticism. You look at him ... The first day in the weight room working out, the first day I saw him here in person, I kind of looked over (and) I didn't realize he was here yet. I looked over, and I was like 'Wow! That looks like an offensive lineman.' He's athletic. He's big. (He has) long arms. He's what you want to see in an offensive lineman.

“I'm really excited to have him. Jermon Bushrod is a veteran guy who has been around and played a lot of football. He's definitely going to help us. And then the skill guys we added, as well. We have talent. A fun guy that you're going to see is (WR) Jakeem (Grant). He's small, but we call him 'Mighty Mouse.' He's making plays all over the field. He's one of the fastest guys I've ever seen. He has that low center of gravity. He's able to be really, really shifty coming in and out of his cuts. He makes a lot of plays so far. [Leonte Carroo] is a strong, physical guy that's going to be a weapon for us. He's going to be able to have some run-after-catch (yards), be physical with the corners (and) be physical down the field. It's always good to have a strong body type that can combat (the) quickness of a guy like Jakeem (Grant). You have a ying and a yang there."

• Tannehill forced himself to do 20 pushups today simply because he missed a target in a throwing drill.

• With Kaaya rated a top-15 pick by both Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, will it be a difficult decision whether to turn pro if he has a good junior season?

“I really haven’t thought about it all,” he told me today. He said the same thing when I asked whether he was leaning one way or the other about playing one more year or two here.

“I owe it to my teammates not to think about it,” he said. “I want to make the first year under coach Richt a memorable year.”

He also said, to a larger group of reporters: “When I was in high school and didn't have any offers, that always sticks in my head. I'm not a guy that's going to loosen my work ethic. I haven't arrived. I haven't hit my ceiling. I still think I have a ways to go.”

So Kaaya, who's majoring in public relations, didn’t want to reassure that he will be here for two years, and that’s completely understandable. Among players who get first-round grades from the NFL’s draft advisory board, Mark Richt historically has not advised those players to stay in school. But UM believes one factor that could help its chance of keeping Kaaya is the fact he doesn’t need a cash infusion; his family is in good shape financially.

• Among the things Kaaya likes about Mark Richt is he’s “not letting me get complacent. Kept on me hard. Him and coach Jon
[Richt] have made sure I've gotten better at something every single day. At the end of spring, we all talked about it. I met with Coach Richt and Coach Jon, us three at the end of spring. We all agreed I had a pretty good spring. There are some things I did pretty good. There are a lot of things I should be working on. We all talked about that.

“They've helped me of not staying the same and making sure I get better at something every single day, whether it's a throw to my left or stepping into a certain pass or a certain drop.”

Kaaya's accuracy was very impressive in the spring, according to those in attendance for closed practices.

• This UM offense is going to an interesting mix of pro style and spread and more, and Kaaya likes that. He will be in the shotgun some but not as much as in 2015.

“I was under center a lot my freshman year,” he said. "Depending on the game plan, I'll be comfortable in it, whether the game plan calls for being more under center and pro style sets or whether I might need to spread it out a few games….  Might sprint out some plays. Some plays might be straight drop back. Other plays, I can tempo my drop.”

• Kaaya has bulked up from 208 to 215 and it’s “good weight,” he said, adding the new strength coach (Gus Felder) is doing “an excellent job.”

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 25, 2016

Wednesday Dolphins news: Mario Williams ready to prove worth; Ekpre-Olomu on long road back; plus notes

Bills coach Rex Ryan says the Dolphins are giving Mario Williams “everything he wants” by allowing him to line up at defensive end in a 4-3 defense, as opposed to playing a lot of linebacker in the 3-4 utilized by Ryan in Buffalo last year.

So it’s no surprise that Williams, coming off the most disappointing season of his career, was upbeat Wednesday when he met with reporters in person for the first time since signing a two-year, $17 million deal with the Dolphins in March.

“Schematically, things you made a name on doing, and now to have an opportunity to do [that again] is very fortunate,” he said.

Williams, 31, had only five sacks and 19 tackles in 15 games last season, down from 14.5 and 42 the previous year. But Dolphins management doesn’t believe his skills have diminished --- “he’s a freak of a man,” defensive tackle Jordan Phillips said Wednesday --- and attributes his modest numbers last season to playing in a role he wasn’t comfortable with.

Williams believes new Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph will put him in position to make plays.

“He’s really relying on the guys up front to turn it loose and get after it, which is what most of us are accustomed to doing,” he said. “It’s exciting for us knowing [we can] cut it loose. It’s almost like saying ‘Go! Everytime, just go!’  We take it on our shoulders as d-linemen – and most of us are vets --- we’re going to go as far as the d-line goes."

Joseph said recently that Williams “is motivated. When he’s motivated, he’s pretty good.”

Williams agreed with that assessment.   

“The most motivation I have, that I want to show, is to this organization,” he said. “Vance believes in me. The biggest thing is showing them that you’re right and I am definitely going to do everything I can to impact [the game]. I believe in his word and what he’s putting together as a defense for us to be able to cut it loose and play to our abilities.”

He said playing opposite Cameron Wake “is going to be great, …going to make it a little bit easier for the guys across the front, the guys in the backend, the whole defense.”

Williams --- tied for seventh among active players in sacks with 96 --- won’t turn 32 until January, and most of the NFL’s great pass rushers historically thrive well into their 30s.

Cam Wake had 11.5 sacks at 32. Jason Taylor had 13 ½ sacks at 32, 11 at 33. Richard Dent had 12 ½ at 33, Julius Peppers 11 at 31 and 11 ½ at 32. Robert Mathis had 19 ½ at 32. Bruce Smith had 14 at 34, 10 at 35. Michael Strahan had 18.5 at 32, Chris Doleman 11 at 35 and Reggie White 16 at 37.

Does Williams believe he has everything left in his arsenal?

“You’ve got to believe in yourself and believe in your ability,” he said. “If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, you’re not going to be good at it at all.”

CORNERBACK UPDATE

• With the Dolphins having cut Brice McCain earlier this offseason, Bobby McCain said he has moved into the role of first-team slot corner during offseason practices. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Tyler Patmon also are expected to compete there.

“It’s a great opportunity,” McCain said, adding he’s also getting some work on the boundary. “I am a lot more comfortable. I have a year under my belt. I got some playing time last year. You live and learn. You may make mistakes, but you learn from them. You do good things and you learn from them as well.”

• As for Ikpre-Olomu, he is participating in all football drills for the first time since suffering a serious left knee injury for Oregon before the 2015 Rose Bowl.

He underwent two major reconstructive surgeries, more extensive than usual for an ACL injury, and also sustained a dislocated knee. He said Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Dodgers team physician Neal ElAttrache, who performed the operations, “said I’m perfectly fine [now]. He would have cleared me couple months back, but when I got to Miami they wanted to make sure I went through the offseason program and did all the stuff with the team before they decided to clear me. Doctor said I’m perfectly fine [but] make sure to maintain” strength and flexibility in the knee.

He said that means doing 30 minutes of work before practice, compared with 15 for most players. “You don’t want it to get stiff.”

Ekpre-Olomu, who dropped from a projected early-round pick to the seventh round because of the knee injury, didn’t play at all for Cleveland last season while recovering from the injury. The Browns cut him in March.

“It was something with new management; they wanted to go in a different direction,” Ekpre-Olomu said of the Browns. “And I guess I wasn’t in that direction. I’m happy I’m here.”

Ekpre-Olomu, who is working both in the slot and on the boundary this week, lists his strengths as “instincts for sure, playing multiple positions, I can do that. Have always been a good press corner. Short-area quickness is coming back and that can be a strength for me. I know I’m not at the point I want to be.

“I think I’m starting to develop all my skills back. I feel like I’m getting better. This is only my second day playing in almost a year and a half. Definitely have to learn the game all over again and get a feel for a new defense. I feel like I’m not too far away from where I was and I think it’s only going to get better.”

He said change of direction “is coming along great. We’ve been playing a lot of press man here. I think I’m doing really good at that. I feel I am at the lowest end right now. By the time I get to minicamp, I’m going to be where I need to be.”

His journey back from the devastating knee injury has been filled with “ups and downs. You have good days and bad days. You definitely get humbled a lot. You understand…. how much you have to improve to be a player they can trust and how much I have to work to get past the the point I was. If I am at point I was in college, it’s not good enough anymore.”

He’s more appreciative of the game now “because a lot of guys that could have been in my situation wouldn’t be able to be playing right now.”

• Phillips, who had 19 tackles and two sacks in 14 games as a rookie, said today: “I didn’t feel like I did what I needed to do last year. I need to come in the league and prove myself. There were a lot of expectations, and I didn’t feel like I reached them the way that I wanted to.”

• Wednesday's OTA was not open to reporters. Thursday's will be.

• One quick media note: 790 The Ticket is now starting many of its shows at 4 minutes before the hour, including Ethan Skolnick's at 3:56. And they're now running 3 blocks of commercials per hour instead of four.

• For a look at projected starting running back Jay Ajayi, plus news on UM transfers, Dwyane Wade and the Marlins, click here if you missed our late-night buzz post from last night.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 24, 2016

Jay Ajayi ready to be Dolphins starter and some eye-opening metrics about that; UM says no to CB; Heat; Marlins

 

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

 

Everything that could go right for Jay Ajayi the past few months has: Lamar Miller signed with the Houston Texans. The Dolphins’ pursuit of CJ Anderson and Chris Johnson fell short. Miami hired a coach, Adam Gase, who loves Ajayi’s skill set. The Dolphins didn’t have a high enough pick to draft Ezekiel Elliott and instead took speedy Kenyan Drake, who isn’t viewed as a three-down back.

So Ajayi stands as the front-runner to start, with Gase raving about his professionalism and noting he has “kind of separated himself from the rest of that group as far as consistency.”

Ajayi admitted: "I've been excited since I found out Lamar was moving on and the position would be available. I've been pushing myself… to have a great season, trying to prepare mentally to [be] a starter… I'm ready to elevate my game to a new level…. I think I’ve been doing a great job so far."

The most significant question: Will be there any drop-off from Miller, whose 4.5 rushing average was tied for 15th in the league, to Ajayi, whose 3.8 would have tied for 35th if he had enough carries to qualify?

Sidelined the first seven games last season with a cracked rib, Ajayi rushed for 8.2 and 8.0 yards per carry on a combined 11 attempts in his first two games. But he fell off dramatically, averaging no more than 3.3 per carry in six of his final seven games and rushing for two yards on seven carries in the finale against New England.

But ESPN’s KC Joyner, who analyzed all of Ajayi’s 49 carries, tells me that pedestrian per-carry average is misleading. Joyner said Ajayi received bad blocking on 71 percent of his carries, among the highest (or worst) in the NFL. He averaged 1.9 yards per rush on those plays with poor blocking, better than the 1.2 league average.

When Ajayi got good blocking, he averaged 9.0 yards per carry, better than both Miller's and the league's "good blocking" average, Joyner said. With Miami’s offensive line seemingly improved, Ajayi’s per-carry average should get a boost.

The Dolphins believe he’s closer to the player who averaged 5.6 yards per carry at Boise State and was a beast in the red zone, with 50 touchdown runs. Gase likes his shiftiness and ability to make decisive cuts.

“I know I can be a powerful runner (who) prides himself on breaking tackles,” Ajayi said. “But I wanted to add another arsenal to my game of being able to make those quick cuts, getting that one cut and getting down the field fast.” That’s why he’s shedding 10 pounds, to 220.

Ajayi dropped to the fifth round largely because of concerns about his knee, which he insists were overstated.  “That injury occurred my freshman year, and I didn't miss a game after that,” he said. “I was never concerned about it and I feel great.”

Gase also likes Ajayi’s upside as a receiver; he caught seven passes for 90 yards last season after catching 73 for 771 (10.6 average) and five touchdowns at Boise State.

"Just seeing Coach Gase's offenses and seeing that he likes to throw the ball a lot,… we're going to need to know how to run good routes," he said.

• We hear this staff likes Damien Williams and he’s the front-runner for the No. 3 job (behind Ajayi and Drake), though Daniel Thomas might push Williams. Isaiah Pead faces an uphill climb. Miami continues to monitor Texans free agent Arian Foster, who’s coming off a ruptured Achilles after averaging just 2.6 yards on 63 carries.

• Players said the new offense is featuring some no huddle, and Ja’Wuan James said that --- combined with the heat --- left the defensive line slowed and tired in Tuesday’s practice. Keep in mind, though, that Miami has only one 1 p.m. home game in September, against Cleveland (but three in October).

• Please click here for a ton more Dolphins notes from today, on Tony Lippett, Jarvis Landry, Ja'Wuan James, Laremy Tunsil and Jason Jones.

CHATTER

• Whereas Dwyane Wade was aggressive in recruiting Joe Johnson in February, he isn’t going to try to woo internal or external free agents in the next two months because “I’m a free agent like they are. It's a little different than being under contract and saying, 'Hey, come to play with me.' You want to make sure that individual is doing what's best for them. I want personally what they feel is best for their career. Of course you want to play with great talent.”

• Of the teams with the top six batting averages in baseball, all are in the top 10 in runs, except – you guessed it – the Marlins, who are third in average (.274) but 23th in runs, a crazy differential and only slightly better than last year (eighth in average, 29th in runs).

Why does this keep happening with this team? Because the Marlins are below average in many offensive categories – hitting with runners on (20th, .245), steals (27th with 13), homers per at-bat (22nd) and more. Only Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Dietrich and Marcell Ozuna have hit well with runners in scoring position and two out. As one example, Christian Yelich hits .400 with none on, .236 with runners on.

• Though former four-star cornerback JC Jackson had strong interest in Miami, and cornerback is a need position, UM informed his junior college position coach, Isaac Shipp, that it won’t pursue him after initial inquires.

When Shipp told UM cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph that Jackson was acquitted on armed robbery charges, Rumph following marching orders, told Shipp that Jackson “got kicked out of [UF] and the fact he was in that situation period” concerned Mark Richt and the school, Shipp said.

“Miami doesn't want the drama; I get it,” Shipp said. “Good luck when you play against him.”

Jackson is considering South Carolina, among others.

So UM continues to search the transfer market for corners; as we noted last week, Rumph told me he and Manny Diaz believe former Texas safety Adrian Colbert can play there. In the meantime, we were told last week that UM was working on adding another transfer receiver and a fullback from Division 2 Mars Hill College, nestled in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

The Palm Beach Post's Matt Porter reported today that the Mars Hill fullback, former Georgia prep player Marquez Williams, will indeed be added and given a scholarship. He had no major offers out of high school, ESPN said.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Tuesday Dolphins notes: Lippett progressing in move to CB; James back; Landry loves new offense; Jason Jones on coming here

Some developments at Dolphins headquarters Tuesday, on the day the Dolphins were awarded the 2020 Super Bowl in a vote of NFL owners in Atlanta:

• Tony Lippett can appreciate the nuances of the position he’s assigned to defend more than most anybody else in the NFL. Less than two years removed from catching 11 touchdowns and being named an All-Big 10 receiver at Michigan State, Lippett has positioned himself for a significant role at cornerback, a spot where the Dolphins need their young players to mature in a hurry.

Rookie second-round pick Xavien Howard looms as the front-runner to start opposite Byron Maxwell, but Lippett could emerge as the starter if he outplays Howard over the next three months.

Lippett said he stopped thinking of himself as a receiver on the day Miami picked him in the fifth round of the 2015 draft and immediately informed him he would be a cornerback, a position he hadn’t played since his freshman season in college.

“I like where I’m at,” he said Tuesday, following an offseason practice that was closed to the media. “I’m more comfortable than last year. I became a smarter corner. Every day I’m trying to become this big corner, use my strengths.”

At 6-3, Lippett offers the height and length that fits the prototype of new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. He says he’s getting more comfortable playing the press style that Joseph prefers.

“He harps on it every day, as far as press,” Lippett said. “He loves it. He teaches it. He’s always in the DB meeting room. That’s what he wants to do and that’s what all of us are trying to do every day, to get better at that.”

Lippett said he has studied other tall corners --- such as Sean Smith, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner – and believes his size “is an advantage. You still have to do what the smaller corners do, be good with your eyes.”

The biggest challenge in the move to corner, he said, is “being patient.”

For example? “Sometimes when you lunge, you can get swept right on by and then receiver can be on top of you real quick,” he said. “I try to have patience and not lunge, be technique sound.”

Having played receiver “helps me on the field as far as splits and separation, and knowing how a receiver tries to create leverage against a corner. It happens so quick.”

Any downside to having been a receiver?

“Sometimes, when the ball is in the air, when he breaks, I turn around and look sometimes,” said Lippett, who had fewer than 10 passes thrown in his coverage area last season, in limited playing time. “When I was a receiver, that’s probably what I did. I try to decrease the habit of doing that.”

Tuesday’s OTA practice was not open to the media, and Adam Gase did not speak to reporters, but three other players did:

• Ja’Wuan James said he is fully recovered from the left big toe injury that sidelined him the final nine games last season.

“Tough process, that was first time being hurt in my career,” he said. “I’m excited after missing last year. This all feels new and fresh to me and I’m happy to be here.”

Even though Laremy Tunsil was a tackle at Mississippi and projects long term as an NFL tackle, James insisted he was excited when Miami drafted Tunsil.

James said he will remain at right tackle. Tunsil is slated to play left guard barring an injury to James or left tackle Branden Albert.

“He’s a strong kid, good kid,” James said of Tunsil. “He’s asking me questions, [Albert questions] trying to really learn. Laremy reaches out to me. He’s a guy that wants to learn. I respect that about him, really think he can help us.”

James said while he was sidelined, “I used [the time] to make myself mentally stronger. I was watching extra film, doing a lot of stuff that I could,… anything I could do to get better.”

• Jarvis Landry's reaction to being named the NFL’s 98th best player in an NFL.com vote of players?

“Honored and disappointed. Disappointed because any guy that wasn’t No. 1 believes he should be No. 1. If not, I don’t want to play with them. I don’t want him around me.”

Landry likes coach Adam Gase because he’s “a great teacher. Great attention to detail guy. When he gets up here and gives his presentations, he’s very precise. He will usually marry a clip up with the picture. We will get film before and allows us to be, for visual learners like myself, to be more precise in what he’s looking for.”

And he likes Gase’s offense, because “the beauty about this offense is it puts guys in different positions to create mismatches. Everything about the league is about mismatches, finding those matchups. This offense allows guys like myself, guys like DeVante Parker, Jay Ajayi, the tight ends, gives the quarterbacks opportunities to pick his matchups and pick the winning guy. His offense will allow us to have a better quick game, to keep the quarterback upright. We spread teams out. I think we’ll be able to run the ball pretty well and also pass the ball."

Landry said he’s fine regardless of whether he has a role on kickoff and punt returns: “That’s totally up to the coaches.  Right now, we’re focused on bringing guys like Jakeem Grant and Kenyan Drake up and seeing what they can do early.”

• New defensive end Jason Jones said he also considered overtures from Dallas and Pittsburgh but picked Miami “because I just felt comfortable. My gut feeling is what I went with.”

He visited the Dolphins twice, each of the past two months. He agreed to terms four days after the May 12 deadline affecting compensatory draft picks, but insisted he did not have a silent deal with the Dolphins in the weeks leading up to that day.

Ndamukong Suh, his friend and former Lions teammate, sat in on Jones’ interview session today, playfully filming it on his phone, but Jones said Suh did not try to persuade him to sign with Miami.

Jones, primarily a defensive end, can also play tackle and “I think they are going to use my skill sets to wherever Vance wants to use me at. I’m a defensive end. I’ve moved inside at times.”

• The Dolphins signed third-round receiver Leonte Carroo and seventh-round tight end Thomas Duarte, leaving third-round running back Kenyan Drake as the team's only unsigned rookie draft pick.

Please check back later tonight for more Dolphins news, plus Heat, UM and Marlins... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 23, 2016

7 p.m. Monday Dolphins notes; Stephen A. Smith "hearing about" LeBron James return to Miami if Cavs win; Some thoughts, notes on that and Marlins items

If you read this earlier than 7 tonight, please scroll to the bottom for Dolphins notes:

Could LeBron James return to the Heat? The odds are against it, and the thought is somewhat (though no entirely) difficult to fathom.

But the notion cannot altogether be ruled out, amid this today from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, as relayed by Pro Basketball Talk:

“I’ll drop one other tidbit of information, because people have been ignoring what I’ve been saying," Smith said. "I’ve hinted around it for months as you well know. But I’m going to say this again.

“LeBron James promised the city of Cleveland, 'I’m coming back to bring you that elusive title that has escaped this city since 1964.' He never said anything about staying once he does accomplish that.

“I’m in Miami last week. I’m in Miami a few months ago. Skip Bayless, I’m hearing about a return to Miami if this man wins. He ain’t going nowhere if he loses. But, if he wins, his options are open. LA, but especially Miami, a return to South Beach.

“Look man, there’s a lot going on. And there’s a lot riding on him winning. Losing changes everything, because it keeps there in Cleveland. But more importantly, it keeps him stuck, because he knows he can’t leave until he fulfills his promise. And if you can’t because you’re not a champion, that’s far worse than just choosing to stay because you want to. It’s going to get very interesting. Keep your eyes on it.”

A few thoughts:

• I consider Smith very credible with NBA information, so this should not be dismissed out of hand. He was the first mainstream media member to broach the possibility of James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade teaming up in 2010.

• James’ friendship with Wade cannot be understated, as explored in this outstanding ESPN.com piece last week. And James said earlier this season that he would love to play alongside Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony late in his career.

• One person in sports whose information I’ve found to be consistently credible, who speaks with James’ associates, told me in early March that those associates had raised the possibility (not probability, but possibility) of James returning to the Heat and that James was unhappy with some things going with the Cavs.

I, nor anyone outside his inner circle, can speak to what James is thinking at this moment. Plus, he’s winning now, and winning can be the eternal band aid.

• The Heat was unhappy about how James left, but it’s impossible for me to envision that Riley or Micky Arison (who both badly want to win) would spurn him if he wants to come back. I gave some of those details of sources of discomfort between James and the Heat in this piece before LeBron’s first game back in Miami (with Cleveland) on Christmas Day 2014.

Since then, more has come to light, including a report that the Heat wasn’t pleased when members of James’ entourage were distracted and disengaged during that meeting that Riley was summoned to in Las Vegas.

• Pro Basketball Talk reminded what James wrote in his letter to Sports Illustrated when he left the Heat.

“My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.

“I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when. After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.”

• Do I expect LeBron to come back? The odds are against it. It’s difficult for me to envision a player who wants to be liked once again enraging fans in his home state --- where he wants to be welcomed back after retiring --- even if he wins them a championship.

But Smith is too credible on this --- and the bond with Wade too strong --- to bet a substantial amount of your savings against it, either.

• This is the ultimate fantasy conversation, but in case you wondered, James' max salary for next season would be about $30 million. If if the Heat dumped Goran Dragic and Josh McRoberts for no money back, Miami would have $27.3 million committed to Chris Bosh (who will remain on Miami's cap this summer regardless of any health situation), Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson next season, plus $1 million to retain restricted free agent Tyler Johnson's rights (the cap hit would remain that even if TJ signs for more), plus $4 million as cap hits for open roster spots up to 12 (replaced when actual players are signed).

With a $92 million cap, that would leave $60 million to $62 million to split among James, Wade and Whiteside, or James, Wade and another player cheaper than Whiteside. There would need to be major sacrificing done to accommodate James/Wade/Whiteside.

Again, all fantasy talk for now. But Stephen A. succeeded in making it a talking point today.

MARLINS ITEMS

By striking out twice Sunday, Giancarlo Stanton tied an MLB record with 17 strikeouts over his past six games. Only Mark Reynolds (2010) and Brett Wallace (2015) achieved that ignominious feat. But at least Stanton had a hit Sunday, as he hopes to snap out of his slump.

Stanton ranks 66th among qualifying big-league outfielders with a .211 average. Conversely, Christian Yelich is ninth at .320, Marcell Ozuna 11th at .311.

• Tommy Hutton, who obviously never should have been dropped by the Marlins and Fox, has found a temporary game analyst gig: He will work American Athletic Conference tournament games Tuesday afternoon and evening for CBS Sports Network. He also does a weekly Monday afternoon segment on Andy Slater’s WINZ talk show.

DOLPHINS NOTES

• The Dolphins are now loaded at defensive end, but Mike Tannenbaum says there will be significant playing time for at least four -- Cam Wake, Mario Williams, Jason Jones and Andre Branch. And as the Dolphins noted, Jones can also play defensive tackle if needed.

• When Chris Grier was named GM earlier this offseason, he vowed there would be no more dysfunction in terms of the coaching staff and the front office not being on the same page.

So it was notable that team president Tom Garfinkel told three Dolphins fan web sites this over the weekend: "I’m not qualified to watch film and evaluate the players, but I can say that the evaluation and decision-making process and how the draft played out is vastly improved and was very impressive to watch. Probably most importantly, what I see is everyone really on the same page and working together. There is healthy debate but the personnel department is working to deliver players that fit the coaching staff’s scheme and profile for the kind of players they want."

Seems simple enough, but that didn't always happen with the previous coach (Joe Philbin) and previous front office.

• Some wondered why the Dolphins decided not to invest any more time or money on their weekday talk show Finsiders, which was canceled in March --- two months before the team shifted to WQAM.

Garfinkel explained why the team replaced that show with more digital content: "The Finsiders was a three-hour radio show. The Finsiders had 800,000 listeners for the entire 2015 calendar year. For context, one coach’s speech on Facebook last year had 1.2 million views and the first 25 episodes of Dolphins Daily had combined viewership of over 2.3 million. With that said, one thing we’ve heard from fans is that they miss the longer format, so we’ll soon be rolling out a new program called The Audible that will be a longer-form show that fans can interact with. We also are working on a redesign of our website where we better aggregate all the content from different platforms into one place."

For a look at that entire interview that Garfinkel did over the weekend, click here.

• Kenny Stills has made a strong early impression on the coaching staff. And DeVante Parker is picking up the new system well.

• Check back Tuesday, when the Dolphins make four players available after an OTA practice. (Only one OTA session will be open to reporters each week; this week's will be Thursday.) And Adam Beasley is in Charlotte covering the Super Bowl vote.

Please check back tonight for Dolphins… Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 21, 2016

With Whiteside, Heat outside free agent splash likely would be delayed a year: Exploring 2017 scenarios; Dolphins, UM, Marlins

 

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

 

Should the Heat wait until 2017 to make a splash in outside free agency?

Not only might that be the most prudent plan, but if Hassan Whiteside re-signs – a very good possibility, if not a probability amid Pat Riley's comments last week --- that would seem to be the only realistic approach.

Though the Heat fully intends to make a run at Kevin Durant in July, it privately knows that Durant signing with Miami this summer is a longshot. That made it easier for Riley to say that Whiteside is the priority this summer.

"To me, the only way you can make a dramatic change in your team is to get a proven superstar… in free agency,” Riley said last week when asked whether his master plan extends into the summer of 2017. “Every now and then, it happens. You have to keep yourself a little bit flexible for that opportunity."

Even if Whiteside signs a huge multiyear deal with Miami in July, the Heat can create that flexibility in 2017, provided Dwyane Wade agrees to a one-year contract this summer or a one-year deal with an option that all parties agree will not be exercised.

A few points to keep in mind, while also remembering that either the league or union can opt out of the current labor deal after next season, providing they disclose their decision by Dec. 15, 2016:

• If Chris Bosh plays even just one game next season, he would be on Miami’s cap for the 2017 offseason.

That means Miami, barring trades, would go into the summer of 2017 with Bosh, Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson accounting for $52 million in cap space, with the cap projected to rise from $92 million this summer to a projected $107 million in 2017.

If Whiteside and Tyler Johnson sign longterm in July, let’s hypothetically project them for accounting for $27 million, with most of that going to Whiteside. Factoring in cap holds for open roster spots, that leaves $26 million in 2017 Heat cap space, which would rise to just below $32 million if McRoberts is traded or exercises an opt out in the summer of 2017.

With salaries set to erupt, that $32 million probably would not be enough for Wade and a genuinely elite player. But it could get you Wade and one or two good players from a free agent tier including Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, Danilo Gallinari, Taj Gibson, Andre Iguodola, Tony Allen, JJ Redick, plus many of this summer’s free agents who sign deals with 2017 opt-outs.

But trading Goran Dragic (due $17 million in 2017-18) for no money back potentially could create space for a max player such as Chris Paul or Blake Griffin, while keeping Whiteside, Wade, Bosh and the Heat’s young players.

Because max salaries are a percentage of the cap, max contracts for players with seven or more years of experience could top out with first-year salaries of between $32 million and $36 million in 2017-18.

• If Bosh cannot play next season and Miami waives him, then the Heat’s cap space (with Whiteside signed) would mushroom to about $56 million in this no-McRoberts scenario, even with Dragic on the team, because Bosh’s $25.3 million salary would be wiped from the books.

That would immediately give the Heat room not only to sign Wade but also add a player who will get max money: Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Paul, Griffin, plus Durant and ultimate longshot LeBron James if those two superstars sign deals this summer with 2017 opt-outs. If the Heat can't snag a star, Miami also could sign a player in the next tier such as Serge Ibaka or Paul Millsap, plus have money left for Wade and another good player.

Trade Dragic and McRoberts for no money back in this no-Bosh scenario, and Miami’s 2017 space easily tops $70 million, enough to potentially add two All-Stars around Wade and Whiteside.

And a new labor deal could make the economic climate even more favorable to the players. So the Heat should be in good shape in the summer of 2017, provided its only multiyear deals this summer are given to Whiteside and Johnson (at modest money, in Johnson's case).

• Though the Heat is expected to explore the market for McRoberts to clear cap space, the flipside, as one Heat person conceded, is he offers protection at power forward in case Bosh has a setback.

Luol Deng would be the internal preference over McRoberts. But the Heat privately must gauge from Deng whether cap space left after signing Wade and Whiteside and hypothetically dealing McRoberts –-- perhaps $8 million or more --- would be enough to persuade Deng to re-sign, and whether Deng would be willing to accept a one-year deal.

Deng probably could command more than $11 million in the open market but said he likes it here.

"When you watch players play with [McRoberts], who know how to play with him, they're very effective,” Riley said. “He's very unorthodox. He has the ability to make plays at 6-10, 6-11, and the consistency of being able to shoot 38, 37 percent from three, which I think he's capable of. He never got enough opportunities. We're still high on him. We're praying all the time he stays healthy."

Albert Nahmad, who does an excellent heathoops.com blog, raised another available option for McRoberts: using a stretch provision that would allow Miami to waive him and incur a cap hit of $2.4 million each of the next five years instead of his scheduled cap hits of $5.8 million and $6 million over the next two.

My personal choice would be to trade him (and take no money back) or keep him as protection in case Bosh has another health problem.

CHATTER

• The thing we keep hearing from inside the Dolphins locker-room, including from players who privately complained about Joe Philbin: There’s a different vibe with Adam Gase. Players like his energy and how he communicates with them. Dan Campbell had a lot of that too, but Gase has the critical bonus of being a skilled play-caller and quarterback mentor.

“I like the fact he's confident, he's calm, very smart, knows what he's doing,” said Jelani Jenkins (who, for the record, never complained about Philbin). “Those are the first impressions. Seems like he's 80 years old coaching with how smart he is, how much he knows about the game.”

• One peculiar aspect of MLB’s suspension policy is that players can’t do anything once fans who paid admission enter the ballpark. So Dee Gordon can take batting practice at Marlins Park during his 80-game suspension but must leave as soon are fans are admitted. And he can’t play in minor league games where admission is charged.

According to the Marlins, Gordon – who has been at extended spring training in Jupiter and isn’t playoff-eligible - has not offered to give back the expensive, custom-made diamond-studded pendant that Jeffrey Loria bought for him after winning last year’s batting and stolen base title.... After Saturday, Giancarlo Stanton was mired in a stretch of 15 strikeouts over 18 hitless at bats. He's also 4 for his last 48.

• Though Mel Kiper has UM junior-to-be Brad Kaaya as a top-15 draft pick next year if he turns pro early, one NFC scout told me he doesn’t consider him a first-rounder (yet), and worries about his mobility, plus this: “He can’t throw with people in his face.”

Deejay Dallas, who orally committed to UM today, is only the second four-star commitment in UM's 15-member list of 2017 oral commitments, though 247sports.com and ESPN generally have higher regard for more of the players in this Hurricanes class than Rivals does.

UM intends to use Dallas at receiver. Miami Central guard Devaughn Donaldson is the only other player given four stars by Rivals.

• Baseball America ranks UM catcher Zack Collins the No. 16 prospect in June’s draft, and he stands to be UM’s first first-rounder since Yasmani Grandal went 12th in 2010.... UM ended the regular season 43-10, and 21-7 in the ACC, while winning its second ACC regular season title in three years.

• UM basketball believes it is firmly in the mix (with Southern Cal, Washington and Kansas) for five-star point guard Derryck Thornton, who had a good visit to Miami's campus this past week and is transferring from Duke after one season.

Though he spoke earlier of wanting to play closer to his family's home (he went to high school in Nevada), he has a good relationship with Jim Larranaga and UM’s offense fits his skills. So UM believes it has a legit chance, although not necessarily greater than the other three contenders for him.

Virginia Commonwealth 6-10 forward Michael Gilmore, another transfer option, will visit UM in early June. He produced modest numbers last season (3.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 11.5 minutes per game). 

UM has two scholarships left for next season after James Palmer's transfer to Nebraska. UM is looking at transfers who would need to sit out a year (such as Thornton and Gilmore) and grad transfers who would not.

May 20, 2016

Friday afternoon: Dolphins slot corner battle; UM nuggets (coaches, cornerbacks, Larranaga) and Bonds on Ozuna, Stanton's struggles

With Dolphins executive Mike Tannenbaum confirming today that Iko Ekpre-Olomu has been cleared to do everything, an interesting battle looms with front-runner Bobby McCain for the slot corner job, with former Cowboys nickel back Tyler Patmon also in the mix. 

Bengals free agent Leon Hall is still available, but the Dolphins haven't brought him in for a visit. Hall, who underwent back surgery earlier this offseason, has visited four teams but remains unsigned.

"Excited to see what he can do," Tannenbaum said of Ekpre Olomu, who fell from a likely early-round pick to a seventh-rounder in 2015 because of the devastating knee injury that sidelined him his rookie season and eventually led to the Cleveland Browns releasing him this past March. "He's done everything we've asked so far."

So if the 5-9 Ekpre Olomu regains what he had before the injury, what could the Dolphins be getting?       

NFL.com's Lance Zierlein wrote this before the draft, after his injury in advance of Oregon's playoff game that season: "What he lacks in measurables, he makes up for with production, natural ability and confidence. He might lack the size teams want from an outside cornerback, but he's more than capable of playing in the slot and playing press, off or zone effectively.  

"Very fluid mover. He can transition like his hips are on a swivel and he has the foot quickness in tight spaces to match. Instinctive and alert. Will transition from man or zone coverage and become a willing tackler against crossing routes that enter his side of the field. Not a robotic defender -- adjusts on the fly as plays unfold. Uses the boundary effectively. Doesn't shy away from tackling. Competitive and won't prematurely open up out of fear. Tracks the ball effectively and has plus ball skills. Mentally tough and twitchy. Playmaking tendencies. Aggressive for size in press coverage. Has experience outside and in the slot. Projected as an NFL gunner on special teams."

But... "He gets in trouble trying to bait throws," Zierlein said. "Spends too much time trying to read quarterback and jump routes. Scouting community down on short cornerbacks. Prefers to play trail technique but lacks length speed to recover when challenged over the top against bigger targets. Missed more tackles in 2014 than in any other season. Can get wild and lose technique as a tackler. Tape from 2014 has scouts questioning his long speed."

Zierlein quoted an AFC South scout saying this before the 2015 draft: "He's tough and has ball skills. He's just being asked to go play right now but he'll get the right technique work in our league and watch how good he becomes then. He's going to be great."

Now the question is whether he has regained enough of that speed and mobility to become a contributing NFL corner. 

The Dolphins think a lot of McCain, so much that they cut Brice McCain even though his contract wasn't onerous, and traded Jamar Taylor for what amounted to a stick of gum.

Bobby McCain allowed 18 of the 31 passes thrown in his coverage area to be caught for 264 yards last season, with a 107.5 passer rating in his coverage area. But the Dolphins loved the ball-hawking skills he showed at Memphis and believe he will be improved.

As for Patmon, he had one interception and seven passes defended for Dallas in 22 games over 2014 and 2015. He played in two games for the Dolphins last season after being claimed off waivers.

Check out Adam Beasley's stories on the home page for what Mike Pouncey said at today's Dolphins charity golf tournament (a few players spoke) and a couple other items from Tannenbaum.

• UM has indicated it's open to extending basketball coach Jim Larranaga’s contract beyond 2021-22. (He's under contract through that season).

 “I really never want to retire,” Larranaga, 66, said. “I don't see myself as a retiree. I'm not going to assisted living or a senior citizen home. I'm going to coach until I'm dead.”

• UM players publicly and privately have raved about several of the assistant football coaches, and credit UM for quietly increasing its coaching salary pool by 25 to 30 percent this year, according to a source. UM outbid Georgia Tech for well-regarded offensive line coach Stacey Searels.

• UM badly needs cornerbacks who can help immediately and hasn’t found one in the transfer market, but cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph said coordinator Manny Diaz believes safety Adrian Colbert – a veteran transfer from Texas – can play corner if UM chooses.

(Diaz's and Colbert's time together at Texas intersected in 2012 and for Diaz, early in 2013).

None of the contenders for the No. 3 cornerback job (Michael Jackson, Ryan Mayes, Terrance Henley) seized the job  in the spring. Safety Jaquan Johnson remains an option, with Rumph having gently lobbied for him to play corner.

Marcell Ozuna’s on base percentage had increased by 35 points above his career average (to .350) and his batting average by 32 points (to .302), and he is heeding hitting coach Barry Bonds’ advice to be patient and take more walks. Bonds sees so much potential here.

“If he works on his base-running, he could be a 30/30 player,” Bonds said. “He plays a great center field. He has a great arm. But base-running is his Achilles' heel. He's a little tentative running the bases. That's his only Achilles' heel. But he'll get that."

Keep in mind that Ozuna has stolen only 10 bases in parts of four seasons. His career high for home runs is 23, two seasons ago.

Bonds has advised Ozuna to “respect the pitcher enough where he does hit his spot, you have to tip your hat to that. You can't come out of your zone and do something stupid that really isn't going to benefit you. He's learning patience, looking for a good pitch to hit. and if he misses it, you still have two more shots at it.

“He has a good approach. He’s happy all the time. He's maturing. He's got lots of talent. Sometimes it just takes the right person to send a message you understand or get.”

• Though Giancarlo Stanton (batting .221) is too good for this slump to continue, this is worrisome: He’s striking out 33 percent of his plate appearances, compared with 28 percent previously in his career, and has the sixth most strikeouts in baseball. And there’s this: He’s 0 for 15 with eight strikeouts with two outs and runners in scoring position. Only San Diego’s Derek Norris is worse in those situations (0 for 16).

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz