March 30, 2016

Bizarre Lakers controversy erupts, comes to head before Heat game

    

LOS ANGELES – The Heat began its three-game West Coast trip with the league’s eighth-best record, on the cusp of clinching a playoff berth and without the off-court controversy that has descended on the other proud franchise that it squared off against late Wednesday night at Staples Center.

The Lakers, stumbling through a 15-59 season after winning 27 and 21 games the previous two, spent Wednesday trying to diffuse a mushrooming controversy stemming from a leaked video in which rookie guard D’Angelo Russell filmed teammate Nick Young while Russell was asking questions about women other than Young’s fiancée, Iggy Azalea.

Young did not know he was being taped.

In the video --- which was filmed two months ago and recently released by a celebrity gossip web site --- Young appeared to acknowledge meeting another woman at a club.

“You was 30 and she was 19?” Russell asked Young in an apparent reference to the age difference between Young and the woman.

Asked before Wednesday’s game whether he believes he put Young’s marriage in jeopardy, Russell said: “Honestly, I do.”

Russell said he never sent the tape to anybody and has no “clue” how a gossip site obtained it.

“I feel as sick as possible,” Russell said. “I wish I could make things better right away but I can’t. This got in the wrong hands. It wasn’t a prank. It wasn’t for anybody to see. The damage is done. The best thing you can do is own up to it.”

Russell said he apologized to Young but “I don’t know if it was accepted.”

Russell said he typically “jokes” around with teammates, and says “thing you don’t really repeat. It was an incident of playing too much gone wrong. Only time can make this really go away. If I’ve lost anybody’s trust, I’m gonna work my tail off to get it back.”

Whereas Russell took questions from reporters, Young did not. Young, appearing at the podium without Russell, spoke briefly, saying: “I think it’s best me and D’Angelo handle our situation outside the media. We have to work on it.”

ESPN reported that no Lakers player would sit at Russell’s table during a recent breakfast, and teammate Lou Williams stood up and walked away when Russell sat down next to him in the locker-room.

“It's bad," one Lakers source told ESPN.com. "It's about as bad as it can get. There were trust issues already. Now there's no trust."

Lakers coach Byron Scott grew irritated when asked about the matter Wednesday morning. “It’s an internal problem; we’ll handle it from in-house,” Scott said, threatening to end his press briefing if questions on the topic persisted.

On Wednesday evening, 90 minutes before tipoff, he answered questions more calmly, admitting he is "obviously" concerned about whether the incident will affect on-court chemistry. "We'll see if it festers during the game," Scott said, adding that he "played with players I didn't like as teammates."

Then Scott pleaded with reporters: "Do we want to talk about Miami at all?" That was met with silence from more than 50 reporters crowded into the Lakers' interview room.

This wasn’t the Lakers’ only embarrassing incident this month. Last week, a woman accused Young and Lakers teammate Jordan Clarkson of harassing her and her 68-year-old mother at a Hollywood intersection, but a Lakers investigation was inconclusive.

The Lakers, who entered Wednesday coming off the most lopsided loss in their history (a 123-75 drubbing by Utah), will have $66 million in cap space this summer and might target Heat center Hassan Whiteside, among others.

• The Heat says Justise Winslow will play tonight. He injured his knee in Monday's game against Brooklyn.

• With Atlanta losing tonight, the Heat can move into No. 3 in the East with a win tonight.

• According to the Heat's calculations, Miami needs some combination of two wins or two losses by Washington and Chicago to clinch a playoff spot.

Please see the last post for more Heat pre-game notes, plus Dolphins items from today.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

 

March 29, 2016

3 p.m. Heat update from L.A.; 11 a.m. update: Dolphins summon LB; Former GM, scout evaluate Marlins; Did Mario Williams quit?; Heat nuggets; UM football decision on transfers

LOS ANGELES --- A few Heat notes after this morning's shootaround at Staples Center:

1) Goran Dragic, who missed Monday's game with an illness, expects to play tonight but his minutes will be monitored.

"We don't know how tired I'm going to be," he said. "I was feeling bad the other day after practice. Had a fever. Good sweat. No energy, aching. Now it's over hopefully and I can get back on the court."

Erik Spoelstra said: "I'll have to see how he feels as the game goes on."

2) Justise Winslow, who sustained a knee injury Monday, is a game-time decision, Spoelstra said.

"It's still a little sore," Winslow said. "I'll see if I will be able to play through it and be effective like I want to. If not, I might sit out. I want to be able to play my game, be effective, and not feel like I'm hurting the team.... I'm sure there will be a little pain, but as long as I can tolerate it."

Spoelstra said Winslow didn't participate in shootaround this morning because "we didn't want to warm him up twice." He will be re-evaluated after warmups tonight.

3) Tyler Johnson, working his way back from left shoulder surgery, said he is "very optimistic" he will be able to play before the regular season ends two weeks from today.

"I'm definitely not ready yet," he said. "It will depend on if [the Heat] feels comfortable with the process."

Johnson has begun taking jump shots with his surgically repaired shoulder. He said there's no discomfort initially when he shoots, but there is discomfort the more he shoots.

4) Dwyane Wade and wife Gabrielle Union agreed to host at least one episode, potentially more, of an HGTV series in which they will "renovate, revitalize and resell a home in a suburban Florida neighborhood." A run date has not been set.

HGTV's working title for the venture: "Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade Project."

Wade said this morning that the project "is something we're excited to take on this summer at some point. We're big fans [of HGTV]." A home has not been selected.

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Couple quick 11 a.m. Dolphins notes:

1) USC outside linebacker Su'a Cravens told Pro Football Talk that the Dolphins are summoning him to Davie for a pre-draft visit. At 6-1, 226 pounds, Cravens needs to bulk up a bit to play linebacker. He also could play safety, and many NFL people envision him there. CBS projects him as a second-rounder, in the range of 57th overall.

Said CBS' Rob Rang: "With his long limbs, tapered frame and impressive fluidity, Cravens looks the part of a traditional NFL strong safety. He's at his best attacking the run, showing excellent recognition and terrific closing speed on outside runs to slice past pulling linemen and lasso ballcarriers for big losses. Cravens shows little regard for his own welfare, taking out the knees of oncoming blockers when necessary to create a pile and allow other Trojans' defenders to get the credit. 

"His awareness shows up in pass defense, as Cravens displays impressive route recognition, easing up and accelerating with would-be pass-catchers and showing natural hands for the interception when passers dare test him. Like former USC All-American (and Pittsburgh Steelers great) Troy Polamalu, Cravens can get a little out of control, at times, committing to a lane and lunging for the tackle while leaving cut-back opportunities for savvy runners to exploit. Further, Cravens can get caught peeking back at the quarterback in pass defense."

Dolphins tight end Jordan Cameron is Cravens' cousin, it has been widely reported.

2) Will be interesting to see how quality veteran guard Geoff Schwartz does with the Lions (he's signing there today), because he had strong interest in coming to Miami, so much so that his agent took the unusual step of saying it on the record. But after an initial call of inquiry, Miami never pursued him. If he rebounds from injuries, this could be one Miami regrets. This regime's offseason will be judged in part on their decisions at guard (opting for Jermon Bushrod, Kraig Urbik, Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner, Jamil Douglas).

 

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

With the regular season beginning next week, we solicited input on the Marlins from a former general manager (MLB Network’s Dan O’Dowd) and a respected American League scout who watched Miami a lot this spring. Their feedback:

• On the rotation: O’Dowd: “I saw Jarred Cosart [last week] and that’s the best I’ve seen him throw since he was in Houston. He is crucial for their success, a real key to their season. He can take a big step that other guys with limited ability can’t. Jose Fernandez, of course, can dominate. Wei-Yin Chen will be a valuable innings eater. Tom Koehler is consistently a steady guy. We liked Adam Conley [when O’Dowd was Rockies GM]. He can be a solid contributor to a rotation.”

The scout: “Conley has thrown really well. I’ve seen him twice and he was throwing 94 to 96 [mph] the first and as high as 97 the second. The velocity is there. The stuff is plenty good enough to get guys out…. Cosart is throwing well.  It’s not the stuff with him; he has to locate.”  

• Bullpen: O’Dowd: “AJ Ramos can close but it’s is crucial they fill [the seventh, eighth-inning role]. Even if you ask [Marlins executive] Michael Hill, that would be his question mark… Bryan Morris has a great arm. Mike Dunn has been good for them, but can he throw enough quality strikes?”

The scout: “The bullpen is their issue. Ramos wouldn’t be my choice on a good club to be my closer. When [lefty] Craig Breslow was effective, what he did really well was he was a reverse splits guy; he really dominated righties. He will throw strikes. But they’ve got their work cut out for them. Dunn and Morris are OK but not great. You would like more there. Edwin Jackson, the velocity is still good enough and he was better [as spring went on]. But he always has had trouble finishing off hitters.”

• Outfield thoughts: O’Dowd: “Giancarlo Stanton is an 8 to 10 WAR player [what he’s worth in wins above a replacement player] when he plays an entire season… Last year was a wakeup call for Marcell Ozuna; he has so much talent and I expect him to have a very productive year. Christian Yelich can contend for the batting title at some point. When he gets more comfortable defining his strike zone, he can hit for power, too. It’s a swing I like to show younger players.”

The scout: “Ozuna’s body looks live; he has pep in his step. It looks like he’s going to have a good year. He is driving the ball so you would think there would be some more power [than last season]…. With Stanton’s injury history, you hold your breath when he goes to the wall to make a catch.”

• Infield thoughts: The scout: “Justin Bour doesn’t excite me as a middle of the order threat. I want to see more… [Adeiny] Hechavarria has become really steady. He sucks up everything hit to him… Dee Gordon has been swinging better lately. He'll be fine [off last year's batting title]. But [Martin] Prado hasn’t looked all that good; you could see a decline this year.”

O’Dowd: “With Bour, you can’t expect more than last year (.262, 23 homers, 73 RBI in 129 games). What happens with expectations is people say, ‘Justin did X in 2015, he should be able to do Y in 2016.’ That usually is a killer. Chris Johnson is a low-risk pickup.”

• On manager Don Mattingly: O’Dowd: “What Don brings is an incredible amount of consistency with his approach day in and day out; he never gets too high or too low. Mattingly has been good handling bullpens; he doesn’t overreact. All of the drama and experience gained in L.A. will apply in ways you can’t measure. The wisdom he has gained on handling people and volatile situations will be incredibly important.”

• Overall: O’Dowd: “They are behind the Mets and Nationals going into the season. Those two clubs have fewer question marks. But the Marlins are talented. Sometimes it takes time for talent for show. I expect them to be a sleeper team. They will score runs; their young catcher [JT Realmuto] is one of the better young catchers in the game; they will catch the ball without question. The bullpen is one area that will have to organically come together.”

The scout: He could see them as a .500 team, maybe a bit better if everything breaks right, and third in the division behind the Mets and Washington.

• At the MGM Grand and 11 other Nevada casinos, the Marlins are 20 to 1 to win the National League pennant. Eight teams have shorter odds; six have longer odds.

CHATTER

• The Dolphins insist Mario Williams will set a good example, even though some Bills players said he did just the opposite. So did Williams really quit on his teammates last season, as a teammate told the Buffalo News?

“I didn't see that,” Bills radio analyst Mark Kelso told me. “I saw a lot of frustration. But he did not drop into coverage as much as he thought” --- and should not use that as an excuse for low sack numbers (five in 2015).

• The NFL draft order was announced today, and here are Miami's picks (most of which have been known for months): 13th, 42nd, 73rd, 107th, 147th, 186th, 227th and 231st. The 227th pick, a seventh-rounder, comes via Baltimore in the Will Davis trade.

• The Dolphins brought in Houston cornerback William Jackson for a visit today. He's a possibility for the 13th overall pick. Click here for details.

• Even while he’s sidelined, Chris Bosh has been watching tape with Josh Richardson and offering tips, mentoring Richardson and Justise Winslow and even scolded them last week for not being the first players in the gym one day. That’s genuine leadership.

• How remarkable is Richardson? Ethan explores that in a column on the home page, and here are a few other points to consider:

Not only is he the best second-rounder of last year’s draft but he’s one of only two second-round rookies who has even been in an NBA team's rotation in the past couple of weeks, with Toronto’s Norman Powell....

His 62.3 percent shooting on threes since the All-Star break (38 for 61) leads the league, and only 10 NBA players are shooting better than 62.3 percent on all shots since the break (minimum 50 shots)....

Since threes were implemented in 1979, the NBA rookie record for three-point shooting is 46.7 percent by Anthony Morrow in 2008-09; Richardson is at 50 percent.

• Any thought to the Heat trading Goran Dragic this summer and bidding for free agent Mike Conley has been cast aside because of Dragic’s recent play.

“We love Goran,” Pat Riley said last week. “Now he's playing like The Dragon. His game has opened up. I'm very happy that we have this point guard.”

Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant meet for the final time on Wednesday, if Bryant can play through a sore right shoulder. He's listed as questionable. Here is a look at Wade's thoughts on Kobe and reflections on their history together.

• UM obviously could use help at cornerback. But barring a significant change of heart, UM has decided not to pursue former four-star cornerback JC Jackson (acquitted on armed robbery) or get involved with former four-star Booker T. Washington corner Nigel Bethel (who isn’t participating in spring practice at Texas Tech) because Mark Richt doesn’t want to bring in players who have had off-field issues, a UM administrator said. Bethel had an altercation with a women’s basketball player in 2014.

Bethel remains at Texas Tech but is away from the team this spring while focusing on academics and the staff has been vague on his status.

• Though cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph said he would love if Jaquan Johnson moved from safety to corner, that's not happening at least for now, safeties coach Ephraim Banda said.

"Jaquan is doing a great job right now, giving us a lot of confidence in him," Banda said, not ruling out Johnson eventually taking some reps at corner. "He's giving us a lot of depth on special teams. Right now he's doing exactly what he needs to be doing."...

James King has moved from linebacker to safety.... Safety Rayshawn Jenkins cites Ryan Mayes as the cornerback who has particularly improved.  "His mind is catching up with his body," Jenkins said. Mayes was a disappointment to the former staff.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Dolphins summon CB; Wade shares recollections, thoughts on Kobe and their relationship as they prepare to meet for a final time

As a young basketball prodigy, matriculating from high school in a Chicago suburb to a college career at Marquette, Dwyane Wade decided he wanted to “handle like” Allen Iverson and “I wanted to play like” Kobe Bryant.

“No question, for me, Kobe was one of my role models,” Wade said last week.

Bryant later became a friend, too, a relationship borne out of mutual respect, shared experiences and the bond from being U.S. Olympic teammates.

On Wednesday night at Staples Center, Wade is set to play against the soon-to-be retiring Bryant for the 20th and final time, when the Heat begins a three-game Western road swing against the Lakers. Bryant is coming off his most lopsided loss as a Laker, 123-75 to Utah. [UPDATE: The Lakers list Bryant as questionable with a sore right shoulder.]

“It has been a treat for me for so many years to be able to stack myself up against him and compete against him,” said Wade, whose team won 11 of the first 19 meetings with Bryant. “I look forward to my last moment.”

Since Michael Jordan’s retirement, Bryant and Wade have become the pre-eminent shooting guards of their era, combining for eight championships (three for Wade), 30 All-Star appearances and more than 50,000 points.

Bryant is third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, with well over 30,000 points. Wade is 39th, having recently topped 20,000.

"I do feel -- and I've said this before the last couple of years with LeBron [James], when he became the best player in our game – that Kobe Bryant is the greatest player of our era," Wade said earlier this season.

"The Kobe Bryants aren't around no more. There are good young players, but there will never be another Kobe. So every opportunity you get to [face him], you want to seize that moment."

Though the two never met in an NBA Finals, their relationship had to survive the soap-opera fallout of Shaquille O’Neal’s trade to the Heat and Shaq’s subsequent criticism of Bryant, and Wade’s hard foul that inadvertently broke Bryant’s nose in the 2012 All-Star Game.

Bryant never harbored any ill feelings about that, noting afterward: "He's a nicer guy than I am, to be honest with you. He's just not the type of person who would intentionally do something like that."

Wade joked earlier this season: “I mean, I broke the guy's nose in the All-Star Game, for goodness sake, and we're still cordial. He respects competitiveness. He's a competitor. I'm competitive. We have that in common. No matter what he's done, no matter how many championships he's won, he's still the most competitive guy in the gym.

"It's something I want to emulate. No matter how many great young talents come in, you still want to be respected. It's not easy to go through it, to be as great as he is and be picked apart [by critics]. You go through so many evolutions in your game, but you're still here, no matter what.”

Wade’s favorite Kobe memory?

He cites their first meeting, when he stole the ball from Bryant late in a 99-77 Lakers win, in Los Angeles, in November 2003.

“It was so not a meaningful moment in basketball history at all,” Wade said. “We were getting our butt kids. They had [Gary Payton], Karl Malone and Shaq. It was the second half, late in the game. I had two fouls early so I didn't play much.

“Then I got an opportunity the first time guarding Kobe, my first time in transition. I was so, like, nervous. But I ripped him. For me, that was it. That was the holy grail. Then I went down and scored. Inside I felt so good. It didn't mean nothing to him. They were up by 30 or 40. But to me it meant the world.”

There were two especially neat moments earlier this season:

• On Nov. 9, the night before the Heat visited the Lakers, Wade was walking through the Heat’s training room, en route to the cold tub, when he saw Bryant already sitting in the tub.

As ESPN’s Rachel Nichols reported on TNT at the time, it was the first time in Wade’s 13 seasons that Pat Riley allowed an opposing player “into the inner sanctum like that,” and Wade was shocked, but pleasantly so. The two had a long conversation, and Bryant asked Wade if his sons were coming to the game the next day.

Wade said no, because it was a school night. Bryant said: “You know what, bring them, I think it’s going to be my last time here.’” Wade obliged, and his sons took pictures with Kobe after the game.

• On the night before the All-Star Game, Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony honored Bryant at a private dinner.

“We said a lot of great things, and he appreciated that,” Wade told reporters afterward. “We wanted to pay homage. We all at one point in our life wanted to be Kobe in our driveway somewhere. It’s crazy to say that, but we watched him growing up. Even though he’s only three years older than me, he’s been in the league seven years more than me.

“We got a chance to share moments with him and talk about games we played against each other and what we was thinking and got to hear his take on it. We got to show our respect. I think it meant a lot to him.”

Some players have asked Bryant for a memento when they play against him for a final time, such as a pair of sneakers.

“I'm trying to think of something different,” Wade said this week. “I'm going to ask him for something. It's crazy it's our last time playing him and we're asking him for something. But it's been cool.”

HEAT NOTES

Wade scored 30 against the Nets on Monday and ended up scoring 109 points in his four games against Brooklyn, an average of 27.3. Per Elias, it's the first time that he has scored 100 points against one team in a season since he produced 119 points in four games against the Magic in the 2011-12 season.

With four dunks Monday and 11 in the past two games, Hassan Whiteside now has 133, behind only DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel.

But Whiteside has missed only three dunks and his shooting percentage on dunks is better than nearly every big man in the league.While Jordan has dunked 205 times, he has missed 19.

DOLPHINS VISIT

As the Houston Chronicle's Aaron Wilson reported, University of Houston cornerback William Jackson is visiting the Dolphins today. Though some draft analysts have Jackson rated in the 20s, he certainly cannot by any means be ruled out as an option at 13.

Jackson had five interceptions last season.

Here was Pro Football Focus' assessment of him:

"William Jackson may be the best cornerback available in the 2016 NFL draft. With FSU star Jalen Ramsey more of a moveable chess piece on defense than he is a true cornerback, Jackson is at the top of the class and is likely to make a case for himself at the combine.

"At 6-1 and around 190 pounds, Jackson fits the size and shape profile that NFL teams covet, in a draft where more than one of the other top prospects — Mackenzie Alexander (Clemson) and Vernon Hargreaves (Florida) — do not.

"Jackson was PFF’s second-highest graded cornerback in coverage this season, and second only to Ramsey in overall grade when play against the run is thrown into the equation. He was targeted 93 times this past season, allowing only 46 catches (49.5 percent). He had five interceptions and 12 pass breakups, allowing a passer rating of just 57.9 when thrown his way.

"Jackson does seem to have some mental lapses during games, occasionally seeming confused with motion and route combinations designed to force him into a quick decision. However, when he can just line up and play coverage against a receiver he demonstrates high-level ability and an almost limitless potential.

"Some will question the level of competition he faced at Houston, but if one takes a look at just his numbers against Power-5 competition, his numbers actually improved. He didn’t allow a touchdown against any of those teams and the passer rating when he was thrown at fell to just 31.8."

 

 Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

March 28, 2016

Exploring Arian Foster on eve of Dolphins visit; Gase addresses more issues; McShay's Dolphins suggestion; UM hoops transfer

The Dolphins are bringing in running back Arian Foster on Tuesday, but a league source cautioned that unlike the case with guard Kraig Urbik last week, Miami isn’t going into this with the intention of signing him immediately.

The Dolphins want to check him out medically five months after he sustained a ruptured Achilles’ in a game against them. They also want to establish a relationship. They are interested but they don’t go into this 100 percent certain that they want to sign him.

If they're thrilled with the medicals and the player, it's conceivable they could move quickly. But they don't go into this meeting planning to do that.

So what exactly would the Dolphins be getting if they eventually sign Foster?

Miami would hope it’s the player who averaged 4.8 yards and ran for 1246 yards in 2014, not the one limited to 2.6 per carry in four games last season before a season-ending ruptured Achilles injury.

Foster was a highly productive and consistent workhorse for most of his seven seasons for Houston. He averaged 4.8, 4.9, 4.4, 4.1, 4.5 and 4.8 yards per carry in his first six.  He ran for 1616 yards in his second season, 1424 in his fourth.

He returned from a back injury in November 2013 to put together a terrific season in 2014, ending in a Pro Bowl berth.

But he ruptured his Achilles’ tendon in a loss to the Dolphins in late October and finished with 163 yards rushing on 63 carries in four games. He also caught 22 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns in those four games.

Foster, who has 16 fumbles in his seven seasons, has been effective as a receiver out of the backfield throughout his career. He has a career 9.1 yard average on 249 career receptions, plus 14 touchdowns.

So how much does Foster have left?

Ian Wharton, who does a good job analyzing film for Bleacher Report and others, analyzed Foster in this piece.

Wharton said: “To see if Foster could still execute at a high level, I studied his 2014 and 2015 seasons.... The tape showed a creative back who was not only taking everything the offensive line gave, but also someone who was constantly finding more yards.”

Other veteran backs still available: Reggie Bush, Ronnie Hillman, Pierre Thomas, Tim Hightower, LaGarrette Blount, Joique Bell, Ahmad Bradshaw, Steven Jackson and Fred Jackson.

• ESPN’s Todd McShay has Miami picking Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott 13th overall, though the Dolphins plan to look strongly at cornerbacks (and potentially defensive linemen and linebackers) at that spot.

Elliott certainly can’t be ruled out, though.

McShay’s assessment of Elliott: “The No. 5 player on our board, Elliott has the skill set to be an every-down running back from Day 1. He's an exceptional blocker and a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, while also showing great vision and suddenness in the open field. The Dolphins need some semblance of a run game to take the pressure off Ryan Tannehill.”

But can the Dolphins really afford to take a running back when they so desperately need cornerback help?

By the way, McShay has Miami drafting Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah at No. 42.

“He's an explosive athlete with elite measurables, but that doesn't show up on tape frequently enough," McShay said. "Ogbah needs to play with more consistent effort, improve as a hand fighter and develop more of an plan as a pass-rusher.”

• Adam Gase made a good point on the team’s loss of several key free agents. “It’s tough to keep really good players if you don’t get the deal done early,” he said. “I know we’ve lost some good players.”

He didn’t mean that as criticism, but the Dolphins were never aggressive in trying to sign Lamar Miller, Olivier Vernon or Rishard Matthews a year before they became free agents.

• At UM, Mark Richt must decide how much his top corner (Corn Elder) should be used on returns. Gase faces a similar decision with receiver Jarvis Landry.

“Whoever our best guy is, that’s who I want to do it,” Gase said.

“Would I like to get [Landry] to where he wasn’t doing it anymore? Sure. But right now, he’s our best guy back there. Until we find somebody else that can change that to where they can do it, to where we feel good about it and Riz [special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi] feels really good about, he’ll be back there unless we find somebody else.”

• Gase said he’s not sure whether to keep two or three quarterbacks (a lot will depend on whether Miami drafts one and how Logan Thomas looks); said weather will be a top factor in determining how often he goes for two instead of kicking an extra point; and said Bill Parcells is among the people he wants to talk to in the coming months, as he undertakes his first head coaching job.

• A year after losing Manu Lecomte and DeAndre Burnett to transfers, UM lost another today: James Palmer, as ESPN first reported. He wants more playing time.

Palmer averaged 3.4 points and 11.6 minutes per game as a sophomore this season, shooting 36.4 percentage overall and 27.7 on threes. A 6-5 guard out of Washington D.C., Palmer ended up appearing in 72 games for Miami.

His departure gives UM two remaining scholarships, in addition to four highly-regarded incoming freshmen. (See the last post for more on those four).

In case you missed it over a holiday weekend, please see the last post for a look at how the Heat can fit Hassan Whiteside and others under the cap under the NBA’s new salary cap projections, plus Dolphins, Panthers, Canes and Marlins nuggets… Please follow me on Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

March 27, 2016

Heat wants to keep Whiteside, but price keeps rising; Curious Dolphins moves; Larranaga on incoming freshmen; Marlins, Panthers chatter

 

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN 

At one point earlier this calendar year, the Heat had serious concerns about making a huge financial commitment to Hassan Whiteside. But in the Heat’s eyes, Whiteside has helped himself considerably since, and Miami clearly would like to re-sign him this summer.

But the amount the Heat is willing to pay won’t be decided until after the playoffs, and no contract discussions have even begun, because an extension with Whiteside isn’t permitted until the summer, in accordance with league rules prohibiting extensions for players on two-year contracts.

Not only are teammates much happier with Whiteside than ever before, but Pat Riley approached him recently “and told me how proud he was of me and to keep building on that,” Whiteside said. Heat executive Alonzo Mourning expressed similar sentiments.

An opposing NBA general manager told me at the All-Star break that he could see a team paying Whiteside a deal starting at $17 million or $18 million.

Considering his sterling work since the break, and the enormity of cap space in the league this summer, Whiteside could snag a deal at or very near the first-year max, which in his case would be in the $22 million range, depending on the size of the salary cap.

Whiteside said the Heat has given him no indication about its interest in keeping him.

“They haven't talked about [free agency],” he said. “They want to see how far we get this season with this team. Playoffs will speak a lot.

“I hope [there’s interest]. I like the organization. Pat Riley is always going to do a great job of adding people that are going to help you win. It's not hard to sell to come to Miami. You can always recruit great talent.”

He said he wants to “win more than anything” and believes he can do that here. “I don’t know too much about free agency yet,” he said. “I’m going to learn, though.”

Whiteside reveres Riley and really likes it here, a friend said. But it’s unrealistic to expect Whiteside to give the Heat a discount.

“It’s going to be very interesting, isn’t it?” Warriors center Andrew Bogut said of Whiteside’s free agency. “You anticipate someone giving him a big deal. Bigs that can block shots these days are very valuable. He’s got an unbelievable body for a basketball player. He hasn’t had an easy journey. You have to respect that.”

If the Heat can somehow lure Kevin Durant (a long shot), there wouldn’t be enough cap space for Whiteside.

Riley isn’t going to decide how much of this team to keep until he sees how it does in postseason. The odds of the Heat being able to keep everybody aren’t good, but it’s not out of the question.

After initial projections of an $89 million cap, teams are now operating under the belief it would be $92 million, ESPN reported. The Heat is doing projections with the more conservative number, as well.

Taking into account 2016-17 salaries for Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Josh McRoberts, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson and required cap holds for open roster spots, that would leave Miami with just over $40 million in cap space with a $92 million cap.

If the Heat can somehow find a taker for McRoberts without taking money back, cap space could grow to $46 million.

Say, hypothetically, the Heat gives Whiteside $20 million next season.

With a $92 million cap, that would leave $20 million for Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson, likely not enough to keep more than Wade and Johnson. But if McRoberts is dealt, that would leave $26 million for Wade/Johnson and either Deng or another player.

Assuming Wade’s return and the fact Miami says it wants to re-sign Johnson, it would be very difficult to keep Deng unless McRoberts is dealt.

The Heat can exceed the cap to re-sign Tyler Johnson; regardless of his salary, it will take up just $980,000 of cap space. Miami also will have a $2.9 million room exception but cannot combine that with cap space.

• Please see the last post for details on why the Cavaliers are upset with LeBron James for his behavior at last weekend's Heat game.

CHATTER

• Among the Dolphins’ curious moves this month: They showed no interest in Derrick Shelby for months, and then called at the last minute asking if he would accept $3 million, according to a team source. Instead, he took four years, $21 million from Atlanta. Miami signed Andre Branch for that $3 million.

They made initial expressions of interest on several free agents (running back Alfred Morris, cornerback Patrick Robinson) but never followed up… They summoned a handful of players for visits but never aggressively tried to several of sign them, though they probably would have made a stronger effort on cornerback Josh Robinson if they knew Denver was going to match the offer to running back CJ Anderson

The Dolphins never called Matt Moore's agent for weeks, booked visits with Luke McCown (who canceled to re-sign with the Saints) and Brandon Weeden, then went back to Moore because Adam Gase endorsed Moore and Moore’s price shrunk (two years, $3.5 million).... They never called several of Pro Football Focus' highest-rated corners, including Casey Heyward, because they simply didn't like this free agent class of corners.

• It will be fascinating to see how much UM’s exceptional recruiting class can contribute right away: power forward Dewan Huell (the 25th best prospect in this class, according to 247sports.com), guard Bruce Brown (36th), center Rodney Miller (102) and Australian guard Dejan Vasiljevic (213th).

Jim Larranaga can't comment on Vasilijevic, but I spoke to him about the others on Friday.

Larranaga said Brown is a “heck of a guard. Very versatile and will help us primarily because he's such a terrific defender. He reminds me of Durand Scott, really an attack player, goes to the basket really hard, defends, rebounds, catches lobs. He's more of an athlete like a Sheldon McClellan more than anybody else.

“Dewan Huell is also a very active defender. Dewan's scoring in high school came because he was bigger than everybody. We are going to have to have him develop his offensive skills with his back to the basket, his skills at the high post. Hopefully [he can] even [be] a three-point shooting threat.”

As for Miller, he’s a “a huge body, 7 feet, 250 pounds. Rodney looks like Kenny Kadji but not the three-point shooter Kenny is," Larranaga said. "He is more of a low-post presence, like a Reggie Johnson." 

Larranaga isn’t sure how much he can expect right away from any of the freshmen.

“You got to get them here and work them out before you have any idea," he said. "You really have to see them in practice. It's a huge jump from high school to college.”

Rashad Muhammad, a 6-6 transfer from San Jose State and a three-star prep player out of Las Vegas, also becomes eligible and will pick up some of the scoring load. He's a very good three-point shooter.

And UM has one additional scholarship left, beyond the four freshmen newcomers.

Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter have been UM's first-team safeties in spring practice so far. Jaquan Johnson has been running mostly with the twos while getting some first-team work.

Jenkins says the new defense is "simple and if you're an athlete you're going to excel in this defense. I think it's good for our defense as a whole, because we have a lot of athletes on our defense."... Please see the last post for a lot of Saturday UM football notes.

• If the Panthers can stay in the top 10 in the league in goals per game – they're seventh as of this morning – it would mark the first time they achieved that since 1999-2000, when they were sixth. Florida’s historically moribund offense ranked no higher than 25th in goals any of the past six seasons.

Incidentally, the Stanley Cup champ finished in the top eight in scoring every season from 2004 through 2011, but 29th, second, 26th and 17th in the past four.

• By scoring his 25th goal in Saturday's big win at Tampa, Jaromir Jagr (at age 44) thus became the oldest player in NHL history at the time he scored his 25th goal of a season, breaking the mark that Gordie Howe set at age 41, less than two weeks shy of his 42nd birthday, with the Red Wings in 1969-70.

According to Elias, Jagr's 18 seasons with at least 25 goals are the second-most by any player in NHL history, trailing only Howe with 20. But this is the first time Jagr has scored 25 goals in a season since 2007-08 with the Rangers.

• One Marlins player spoke of improved morale in the clubhouse and how different it is now playing for a manager they respect.

Derek Dietrich has struggled this spring, going 3 for 27 with 11 strikeouts, but will be a key member of the bench, with the ability to play most anywhere. The Marlins say he's out of minor-league options....

Former Marlins shortstop and Miami Southridge High alum Robert Andino, 31, who last played in the majors in 2013, has had a good spring (.346) and will be in the mix for a promotion from the minors if the Marlins lose an infielder to injury this season.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

March 26, 2016

Saturday six-pack: Richt addresses concern, UM cornerback update; Dolphins' draft; Gase on DE; LeBron's Heat behavior upsets Cavs

A six-pack of Hurricanes, Dolphins and Heat/LeBron on a Saturday:

• When I asked Mark Richt today about what I would consider the biggest concern on the roster (cornerback), it surprisingly led to Richt disclosing another personnel issue that worries him: the lack of high-end speed at receiver.

“We need to recruit wide receivers with flat-out speed,” he said. “We need more guys who can flat out go.”

Richt said the lack of speed is making it difficult to test his young corners in practice, that they're sitting on routes because "they're not afraid of anyone running by them." He said the three incoming freshmen receivers (Ahmmon Richards, Sam Bruce and Dionte Mullins) will help.

• As for the cornerback situation, Corn Elder is the only returnee with substantial experience, as many of you know. And among the four young scholarship cornerbacks already on campus, it’s no surprise that Sheldrick Redwine has been the most impressive.

“Sheldrick Redwine has done a good job stepping it up,” cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph said, when asked which of the young corners has impressed him. “We’re all young except for Corn Elder. Sheldrick shows some play-making ability. Just focusing in with a sense of urgency. He’s been doing well.”

Rumph said he rotated his six corners in the first week of spring practice. But in three practices this week, Elder and Redwine worked with the starters, Michael Jackson and Ryan Mayes with the twos, and Terrence Henley and walk-on Tyler Murphy with the threes.

“Every now and then, those two and three reps will change depending on their productivity throughout the week,” Rumph said.

Jackson could emerge as the No. 3 corner.

“Mike is doing well,” Rumph said. “Just working on continuing being confident in the technique. Sometime, he might not be confident, sometime he might be confident. Just try to have him be more consistent when he gets his opportunities.”

Of UM’s four incoming freshmen defensive backs, Malek Young is the only cornerback. “I’m very excited about him,” Rumph said. “He’ll take us to seven corners.”

UM added Adrian Colbert (a safety transfer from the University of Texas) and is open to adding a cornerback transfer, but there’s nothing imminent on that front.

Rumph said there have not been safeties cross-training at corner.

“Not yet, but I would love to have Jaquan Johnson over there at corner because he is just so athletic. But for now, he’s just learning the defense. I think I’m going to work some of the safeties and some corners with some press work, but other than that, we’re just going to stay corner/safety as of now.”

Overall, Rumph said "I feel a lot better" about his group after two weeks of practice "because they’re open to the teaching. We’ve got a plan where these kids can play fast, don’t have to do a tremendous amount of thinking and can just fly to the ball."

• Quick stuff: Asked who has stood out so far, Richt mentioned one name: defensive end Al Quadin Muhammad. “AQM plays so hard every down,” Richt said…

Trent Harris said he has been moved from a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position under Mark D’Onofrio to a pure defensive end position under Manny Diaz. He said he’s more comfortable at defensive end…

With Sonny Odogwu limited in spring ball because of injury, four-star sophomore Tyree St. Louis said he has been the first-team right tackle throughout spring ball.

• The Dolphins are carefully studying several potential cornerbacks in the mix at No. 13, including UF’s Vernon Hargreaves, Ohio State’s Eli Apple and Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander.

But we’ve found a wide range of opinion about those three, especially the last two. One example: While Todd McShay has Hargreaves going ninth, he has Apple lasting all the way to the 25th pick and Alexander not going until the 38th pick.

By contrast, draftnik Tony Pauline said Apple and Alexander are both worthy of consideration at No. 13.

So there are definitely mixed opinions.

By the way, McShay has Houston cornerback William Jackson as the fourth cornerback off the board, going 28th --- behind FSU safety/corner Jalen Ramsey (third), Hargreaves and Apple.

• Adam Gase expects defensive end to be one of the most competitive positions in training camp, with Mario Williams, Cam Wake and Andre Branch assured of jobs and Chris McCain, Damontre Moore, Terrence Fede, CFL project Cleyon Laing and maybe Dion Jordan and others competing for roster spots. You would think Jordan would stick if he’s reinstated, but he has to prove himself.

“I keep looking at it and saying, man, ‘A good player is probably going to get cut somewhere,’" Gase said. "We have some good depth. I’m excited to see how this thing plays out. If we are healthy coming out of camp, that front is going to be tough.”

• Last Saturday, LeBron James was chatting and laughing with Dwyane Wade at halftime of Miami’s 122-101 win, and that didn’t sit well with Cavs coach Tyronn Lue.

According to Joe Vardon (the “LeBron” beat writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer --- yes there is such a job), Lue told James his interactions with Wade sent the wrong message to his teammates.

"I just told him we can't have that, being down like we were and him being the leader," Lue said. "Just me being a competitor, I didn't like it. We had a long talk about it. It was good. He understood, he apologized, and he's been great."

According to Vardon, that wasn’t the only incident that concerned Cavs officials.

He reports Cavs GM David Griffin talked to James after James told Bleacher Report that he wanted to play with Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul on the same team for a "year or two" at some point in his career. The comments were made in early February but printed this past week.

Asked by Cleveland reporters about that comment, James conceded: "I don't know how realistic it could be. It would definitely be cool if it happened, but we don't know how realistic it could be to have us four."

Please see the last post for news on another historic achievement by Hassan Whiteside.... And please follow me on Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

March 25, 2016

9 a.m. Sat.: Another Whiteside achievement; Media column: A look at the Marlins' unique new TV approach and the challenge of replacing Hutton; Media notes

Every week or so, Hassan Whiteside seems to accomplish something that only a select few have. Here's the latest, according to Elias: 

Whiteside scored 26 points, hauled down 12 rebounds and had five blocks while playing only 29 minutes off the bench in Miami's win against Orlando on Friday night.

Since the NBA began tracking blocked shots in 1973, the only other players to reach those levels in points, rebounds and blocks while spending fewer than 30 minutes on the court in a game are Lew Alcindor in 1977 (28 points, 12 rebounds, 9 blocks in 26 minutes), Bill Walton in 1978 (26 points, 17 rebounds, 5 blocks in 26 minutes) and Robert Parish in 1980 (29 points, 18 rebounds, 7 blocks in 29 minutes).

All three of those players are in the Hall of Fame.

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FRIDAY MEDIA COLUMN

 

Fox and the Marlins made a monumental mistake dumping Tommy Hutton after 19 seasons, but at least they hired two respected, capable and network-experienced analysts to replace him (Eduardo Perez and Al Leiter) and two other familiar voices (Preston Wilson and Jeff Conine) who will pitch in.

Perez will work between 70 and 80 games, Leiter between 20 and 30, Conine about 10 and Wilson in the 30 to 40 range, including the season’s first two regular-season games against Detroit, April 5 and 6.

In order to develop some continuity, Fox will have the analysts work an entire series alongside Rich Waltz, instead of alternating game to game.

The Marlins preferred to hire one analyst, but former UM and big-league infielder FP Santangelo – Miami’s first choice --- was prohibited from accepting the job because he couldn’t escape his Washington Nationals contract.

The Marlins and Fox auditioned Cubs analyst Todd Hollandsworth but ultimately opted for the four-pronged approach.

Here’s the biggest concern with using four analysts: Will they be as knowledgeable about the team as a single analyst would, considering they won’t be with the club every day?

That’s less of a worry with Conine (a Marlins special assistant) or with Wilson, who will do a lot of Marlins studio work when he’s not in the booth, while also juggling his new studio gig with MLB Network.

But Leiter will be busy calling 30 Yankees games for YES Network and doing studio commentary for MLB Network (70 to 75 annual appearances), while Perez will be making 70 appearances for ESPN, including serving as a co-analyst on the network’s Monday night package.

Perez said he believes doing ESPN games will be “an advantage” in his Marlins job “because I’m covering everybody, National League, American League. I will watch every Marlins game on replay in the morning. I'm a baseball junkie, and this plays into it. It's a great excuse to watch more baseball when I have to explain it to my wife.”

Leiter, who will make his Marlins TV debut on the April 11-13 Mets series, said he “will be pulling up highlights and box scores...I won't be watching every game but I will know exactly what the hell they're doing.”

Money is obviously a natural incentive in Perez taking on a second job, and Leiter accepting a third, but there’s more to it. Both feel a connection to the franchise, Perez having served as hitting coach here for 1 ½ seasons and Leiter having pitched here for three, during two separate stints.

“I live here in Miami. I coached here,” Perez said. “My dad [Hall of Famer Tony Perez] has been part of the Marlins for a long time [as a special assistant].

“I understand the fan base. Doing ESPN and the Marlins, it's the best of both worlds. My agent called and said there was an interest on their side, and I am grateful to ESPN they gave me the OK that I can do this when I'm not over there.”

Perez, who will work the Marlins’ first road series (in Washington), said calling games for a team for the first time also appealed to him. “Anybody sitting next to Rich Waltz is going to be fine,” he said.

Leiter, meanwhile, said he “always had an affinity for my time with the Marlins. It was 100 percent enjoyment here, when I had my first free agency opportunity in the winter of 1995. My wife is from down there. We sold the house in Weston but my wife's family is in Plantation and Fort Lauderdale, and South Florida is definitely a second home.

“Every so often, you want to rattle the cage and spice [life] up. I'm too antsy. I drink too much coffee. I've got to stay busy. This is a 100 percent fun thing. I’m thrilled.”

All the new analysts know Hutton will be difficult to replace.

“I am not going to try to fill his shoes in any way, shape or form,” Perez said. “He has his own unique style. We have ours. I was at a golf tournament with Hut and he was the first person to congratulate me when I got the job. There will be times during the season I will reference Hut. I hope to be half as good as he was.”

Though the Marlins and Fox have declined to comment publicly about the Hutton decision, the Marlins thought Hutton was too negative at times, both on air and off. But a source with direct knowledge insisted that Fox, which employs the announcers, was as much if not more to blame for Hutton’s ouster.

The source said Fox thought Hutton made too much money and considering dumping him during previous offseasons. If Fox Sports Florida general manager Steve Tello wanted to keep Hutton, he certainly could have.

As for Hutton, he will do a weekly Monday segment, in the 3 p.m. hour on Andy Slater’s talk show, on WINZ-940.

Hutton said he’s frustrated he couldn’t find a job with another team, but he got a late start looking, because Fox and the Marlins didn’t dismiss him until Thanksgiving week. And there was very little turnover in MLB announcing booths this offseason.

As for his spirits, he said he has some good days and some bad days after losing a job at which he excelled. He said he’s constantly reminded about his contract not being renewed, because fans frequently approach him and say they will miss him.

• Fox Sports Florida's Marlins season preview will air for the first time at 12:30 p.m. Sunday with numerous re-airings.

AROUND THE DIAL

• Thursday's UM-Villanova game generated a 4.9 rating in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market --- comparable to most Heat games. But that 4.9, equal to 4.9 percent of South Florida homes with TV sets, ranked just 18th among 56 metered markets.

• NCAA Tournament fans could always count on spending the tournament's second Sunday afternoon on the couch, watching regional finals. Not so this year.

TBS, not CBS, has the Sunday regional finals this year and has moved the two games to the evening (between 6 and 11 p.m.). CBS' Saturday games also will air between 6 and 11 p.m., with Oklahoma-Oregon preceding Kansas-Villanova.

• The Los Angeles Rams are the enlightened choice to be featured on this season's five-episode Hard Knocks series on HBO, debuting Aug. 9. It will tell the story of the Rams returning to their former home after 22 years in St. Louis.

Curt Schilling, who was yanked off the air by ESPN last summer after comparing radical Muslims to Nazis, can't seem to keep his world views to himself.

Schilling on March 1 indicated on a Kansas City radio station that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton "should be buried under a jail somewhere" for how she handled classified emails as Secretary of State. Schilling added, "If she's allowed to get to the general election before she's in prison I'll be stunned and upset." 

ESPN reportedly will use Schilling on its Monday night games this season.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

March 24, 2016

UM hoops postscripts, look-ahead after season-ending loss; Thursday UM football, Dolphins and media notes

A splendid UM basketball season ended with a thud tonight, the Canes vanquished 92-69 by Villanova in a Sweet 16 game in Louisville. The Hurricanes closed 27-8, losing in a regional semifinal for the third time in the program's history.

In some ways, Miami's season concluded like its last Sweet 16 appearance three years ago: With a double-figure loss to a Big East team at 7 p.m. on a Thursday night.

But this one was different in this regard: Unlike that loss to Marquette three years ago, UM shot very well tonight: 53 percent and 10 for 17 on threes. But UM committed 12 turnovers and couldn't stop Villanova, which shot 63 percent and 10 for 15 on threes.

In their final UM appearances, Sheldon McClellan scored 26; Angel Rodriguez had 13 points, 8 assists and four turnovers; and Tonye Jekiri fouled out with just two points and four rebounds.

Some reaction from the postgame press conferences:

• Jim Larranaga: "We couldn't [do anything] to stop them.... We're a team that prides itself on not fouling. We're in the top 20 in not putting people on the foul line. But their skill level is so high; they have the ability to create contact when you think you're in great defensive position. We've been a very good defensive team against teams similar to Villanova.

"But nobody shot threes and stretched our defense like Villanova did. It seemed every opportunity we had to get a stop, [we couldn't]. You've got to give them credit. They have the ability to make a lot of shots. Falling behind is an issue for the way we play defense.

"For the last three years, [Rodriguez and McClellan] have given me the greatest pleasures you can possibly ask for a player. They work very, very hard in practice. They already graduated, very good students, very skilled offensive players. In their three years, they became better and better defensive players. Sheldon came to Miami with the reputation of not being a very good defender; now it's one of his strengths.

"First two or three possessions of the second half, we played them very, very well, and it was like one second left on the shot clock and they scored. That was discouraging to our defense and they built a 10-point lead again."

• Rodriguez: "They outplayed us. Every loose ball, they got. At this time of the season, whoever wants it more [is going to win] because everyone is very talented, at the same level. They wanted it more, I guess, because they outplayed us."

• McClellan: "We play against great teams like that all the time. We dug ourselves a hole in the first half. Every time we made a run, they seemed to get timely baskets."

• Assistant Chris Caputo, on WQAM: "We never got to the point where we could take away things we thought we could take away."

• Besides McClellan, Rodriguez and Jekiri, UM also loses plus backup forward Ivan Cruz Uceda, who had his moments this year but did not play tonight.

But UM welcomes a recruiting class with three players rated in the top 102 by 247sports: power forward Dewan Huell (the 25th best prospect in this class), guard Bruce Brown (36th), and center Rodney Miller (102).

UM also adds Australian guard Dejan Vasiljevic, rated 213th among all prospects by 247sports.com. He's a skilled shooter who also had offers from Louisville, California and Stanford, among others.

And shooting guard Rashad Muhammad also becomes eligible. He transferred to UM last August after being the leading scorer on a San Jose State team that went winless against Division 1 teams in 2014-15.

• UM's scholarship wing players next season (as of now): 6-6 Davon Reed, 6-2 Ja'Quan Newton, 6-7 Anthony Lawrence, 6-5 James Palmer, 6-4 Brown, 6-6 Muhammad and 6-2 Vasiljevic.

• UM's scholarship bigs next season (as of now): 6-8 Kamari Murphy, 6-10 Ebuka Izundu, 6-10 Huell and 6-11 Miller.

So the program should remain competitive next season, but the ballyhooed freshmen need to contribute immediately; Muhammad needs to pick up some of McClellan's scoring; and Newton, Lawrence and Palmer must all raise their games.

Newton, after playing so well much of the season, ended the year in disappointing fashion: with a three-game suspension to end the regular season and a scoreless two-turnover game tonight in which he angered Larranaga by not diving for a loose ball.

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Some Canes, Dolphins and broadcast notes on a Thursday afternoon:

• Cornerback Corn Elder today became the latest Canes player to mention quite happily that players are required to think less in this new defensive system, and as a result are able to make more plays.

It’s “see the ball and get up and make a play,” he said. “It fits us well with the athletes we have.”

Unlike Al Golden’s approach, Mark Richt hired separate coaches for cornerbacks and safeties. Paul Williams handled both at UM; he was criticized by some high-level UM officials and is now at Illinois.

That individual attention from a cornerbacks coach (Mike Rumph) “has helped us out a lot,” Elder said. “It’s more hands on.”

When I asked Elder if UM will be playing more man defense, he smiled and said: “We got some good defenses coming in.” When Manny Navarro asked about being able to press more, Elder again smiled, declining to offer specifics.

UM played a lot of zone last year, but Mark D’Onofrio said it was less than the perception. But former players said they lobbied D’Onofrio to let them play more man. Manny Diaz said he doesn’t want to leave his cornerbacks without help, especially a group that’s so young.

• Elder, the only cornerback on the roster with a lot of experience, said he has been getting some work on returns and said he has “enough energy” to be a returner and an every-play cornerback. “I wouldn’t mind it,” he said.

• For the first time, Mark Richt said today what we’ve reported previously: That he badly wants an indoor practice facility. Richt called it a No. 1 priority. About 20 practices were delayed or disrupted or even canceled by weather last year, and UM can’t afford that.

“You need an indoor facility because of rain and lightning” and also to give players an occasional break when “it’s smoking hot,” Richt said.

UM AD Blake James wants to get this done, but a big donation is needed to finance a facility that could cost $17 million. We’ve been told Richt is willing to help with the fundraising drive.

Richt said the current plan now is to move players inside the Wellness Center for practices disrupted by weather.

• Richt wants things done a certain way on offense and he said “the good news is every so often we do it right. Are they practicing the way we want? They’re trying to…. It’s still not quite where we want them.”

• R.J. McIntosh was moved from defensive end to tackle and said he’s getting first-team work with Kendrick Norton. Anthony Moten, Courtel Jenkins and Gerald Willis have been working behind them.

• Brad Kaaya said Richt’s system has “a few different route concepts and different footwork” from the approach of the former staff. Is it a more complicated system? “I wouldn’t say more complicated. Just different."

• The Dolphins, curiously, haven’t addressed their guard deficiency by signing any player who was a full-time starting guard last season.

As many of you know, they’re hoping the position will be solved by converted tackle Jermon Bushrod, Kraig Urbik (a one-time full-time starter who started four games for Buffalo last season), and the trio of Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas. Another addition or two is possible.

But Adam Gase hopes a new approach off the field will help the team’s guard play.

Gase told us this week that when he was hired, he suggested “[getting] back to some old-school [techniques]. Let’s lift, let’s spend our two hours in the weight room, let’s get these guys bigger and stronger and faster.

“So that’s been our big focus. I want to try to give [the trainers] as much time allotted that he’s allowed to get these guys in position where we do start we can see a difference, we can see a difference physically in our guys as far as their strength and being able to come off the ball and move people."

What appealed to Gase about Bushrod?

“The good thing with me being with Bushrod last year [in Chicago] was I saw a guy that played five spots in practice,” Gase said. “He was our starting left tackle at the beginning of the year. He gets hurt, [Charles] Leno steps in, plays really well, and by the time Bushrod got back, he kind of lost his spot because of injury, which is unusual.

"We found a role for him, we put him as our big tight end, did a good job at that. And then in practice, he just kept trying to learn different positions. He played guard, he played center, he played right tackle. Him developing that flexibility last year, that was very intriguing for us.

"Here's a guy we can add to our team, gives us some flexibility, gives us some depth at a lot of different spots. We're going to give [Bushrod] a chance to compete and see how he fits in. Right now, you look at our situation, we feel really great about at least the depth we're bringing in."

Depth is great. Quality is better. If Bushrod or Urbik and one of the three young players can solve the guard problem, great. If not, more problems await.

“Once we hit training camp, then we'll have a better feel of where the pieces fit, who's where, and how we're going to approach this," Gase said.

• Gase believes the hiring of Jim Washburn is going to pay dividends. Washburn will be the pass rush specialist/senior defensive assistant. He will work with defensive line coach Terrell Williams and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.

“We brought him on because he’s an expert in this defense," Gase said. "Our d-line, working with Terrell and Wash, we have a good combination. He’s going to give Vance a little bit of insight from his perspective.

“He can help in an overall philosophy. To add a guy who’s probably one of the greatest pass rush specialists that have been around in this game [is great]. I’ve known Jim for a long time; obviously his son [Jeremiah, the Dolphins’ assistant offensive line coach] is with us, too. That’s a great addition for us. When he said he was interested, I thought the smart thing for us as an organization was to go after him.”

The senior Washburn has a good relationship with Ndamukong Suh from their time together in Detroit.

• Couple broadcast notes: As expected, Amber Wilson is succeeding FS-1’s Joy Taylor on 790 The Ticket’s morning show, alongside Jonathan Zaslow and Brett Romberg….

What has interest been in the UM basketball team during this NCAA Tournament? One gauge is ratings.

In the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market, the UM-Buffalo game drew a 2.1 and the UM-Wichita State game did a 3.6. Nearly, but not all, UM football games drew more eyeballs in recent years, and the FSU game typically gets three to four times that audience.

Both UM ratings are far above what Panthers games generate but less than virtually all Heat games, including a 6.0 for Cavs-Heat last Saturday. And keep in mind the UM-Wichita State game wasn’t in a great time slot for luring a big audience (noon Saturday).

Dolphins games averaged a 15.8 last season.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

March 23, 2016

Gase addresses defensive issues and personnel; Top CB meets with Dolphins; Bosh update; UM football; Marlins roster battles; UM hoops

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Dolphins coach Adam Gase offered his thoughts on a bunch of Dolphins' offensive players in our last post. Here are some of his views about his defensive personnel, served up to reporters Tuesday morning:

•  On new cornerback Byron Maxwell: "Byron fits in our scheme really well. In Seattle, he was an aggressive, get up on the line of scrimmage, get up there pressing and being able to play aggressive [kind of cornerback]. And that’s what we want to allow him to do. Let him play on the line of scrimmage, let him press. We want to try to do that as much as possible. That’s where he likes to play."

•  On linebacker Kiko Alonso, the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year who hasn't been the same since, largely because of knee problems: “Coming off his injury, we feel good about it being another year removed from that. We see a guy that runs well, he hits, he strikes. He’s going to fit into what we do really well. Being back in a 4-3 defense, that suits him a little bit better. Having that kind of speed at linebacker is really going to be helpful for us. Unless something changes, we’re looking to put him at mike."

He said he believes the team's sports sciences experts "will help him a lot.  They will be able to strengthen his lower body. Once he gets that lower body stabilized, he’s going to get better from last year to this year. I feel great about what we’re going to be able to do to help him and it’s going to show with his play.”

•  On Ndamukong Suh and his defensive tackle group: “I know he’s been in multiple times to just come and talk to me. You can’t talk football. Talked about what he’s up to this spring. To see him around the building, popping in and out, I’ve enjoyed my interaction with him. I’m excited to see him in practice. It’s going to be frustrating as an offensive guy; I keep thinking how are we going to be able to block this guy in practice. That can’t be fun... 

"Suh is a special player. Jordan Phillips and Earl Mitchell are two guys I’m excited to see get that thing rolling. What we have at the defensive end position makes those guys better.”

• On suspended defensive end Dion Jordan: “I’m not going to think about it until somebody tells me he’s off suspension. When that day comes, I’ll worry about that.”

• On defensive end Cameron Wake and whether he will still go up against the right tackle: “I don’t see why we would want to mess with him at all. I am going to put him where he’s most comfortable. His role will define itself. The thing I feel great about is we have some depth in that room. That’s one thing we went into this offseason saying we wanted to do. The biggest thing with him is health. The more I see him walk around and move around and look like he’s feeling better, that makes me feel good. We don’t have a timetable by any means. I don’t want to rush Cam back." 

• On new safety Isa Abdul-Quddus: “To have a guy to play with Reshad [Jones], that was a big addition for us. He was one of those guys that went under the radar. The guys who played last year, we have a vision for those guys as well. Adding him to the roster, we’ve got a nice one-two punch back there. We have some flexibility with those two guys. They both can play in the middle of the field or in the box. We’re going to do a lot of experimenting to see how we can best use those two guys.

“Abdul-Quddus is so consistent. He’s always in the right spot. He’s a really good tackler. When he has opportunities, he’s a guy that can get his hand on the ball. He’s can cover the tight end.”

•  On his young corners Bobby McCain, Tony Lippett, Jamar Taylor: “In our building, I kept saying this is a great opportunity for those guys. We have some young guys on paper, where there’s talent there. This is a league where you got to go out there and go to do it. The opportunity is going to be given. We’ll see which guy rises to the top.”

• On Chris McCain, who is being moved back from linebacker to defensive end: “This is one of those where we’ve had this discussion.  We’re trying to put him in a position where he can stay at one spot and roll.”

• On Mario Williams: “I feel you’re going to see a different guy with us. I felt great about our visit. Vance [Joseph] has worked with him before. The guys he’s going to be playing with, he’s comfortable with that group. I think you’re going to see a different player this year. We’re excited to get him back playing like he did in 2013, 2014.

"When we signed him, you could tell he was ready to get last year, that taste out of his mind. We need some veteran leadership in that locker-room. We were so young in that locker-room. We need guys, with things don’t go right, ... who can pull guys up.... Mario is going to bring that.”

Quick aside from Bills coach Rex Ryan, whose team cut Williams earlier this offseason. Ryan, at Tuesday's AFC coach's breakfast, said:

"I think he'll play left end, and when you've got Suh inside, it's set up to play a 4-3 defense, so I think that's what they'll do with him," Ryan said, via Syracuse.com. "Play a nine technique, everything he wants. I like him personally. He's not perfect, just like the rest of them. I'm perfect [kidding]. I like Mario, and he's been a great player in this league, a very productive player, and I didn't want to lose him, but that's just the way it is."

CHATTER

• The Dolphins will look strongly at drafting a cornerback at No. 13, and UF’s Vernon Hargreaves (who may or may not be there) met with Dolphins officials after his Pro Day Tuesday. Hargreaves said Miami seems very interested, according to our Gators correspondent Jesse Simonton.

Cornerback, Gase said, "is probably an area a lot of people are looking at that we need to improve on, we need to add some depth,” Gase said.

Jermon Bushrod, Kraig Urbik, Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas will compete at guard, and “who our starting guards are in September is impossible to say,” Tannenbaum said.

• Chris Bosh, whose blood clot in his calf has dissipated, was still on blood thinners as of early this week, and the Heat and Bosh have received different medical opinions about how soon he can come off the medication, according to someone with direct knowledge. Bosh remains hopeful of playing this season but can do that only if he’s not on thinners.

Some doctors recommend staying on blood thinners from three to six months after a clot develops. But that isn't a unanimous view, and that's one issue being debated with regard to Bosh. If he can come off the thinners sooner, he could potentially play again this season --- something Bosh has said he remains "positive" about being able to do. 

• Jim Larranaga’s relationships have helped so much in building his roster. To wit: His friendships with Shakey Rodriguez (Angel Rodriguez’s AAU coach and mentor) and former NBA point guard John Lucas (worked with Sheldon McClellan in Houston) helped him get in the door with those two players when they were looking to transfer.

Mark Richt wants his quarterbacks to do thing mechanically exactly as he's teaching them, and Malik Rosier said Tuesday that he and Brad Kaaya " kind of get frustrated because we're out here making mistakes and you go in the film room and we'll watch [former Georgia quarterbacks] Aaron Murray and Hutson Mason do it perfectly with their rhythm drops, all their stuff. Me and Brad are like `Why can't we do it like them?'

"One thing [QB] coach Jon Richt talked to me about was:  'When you watch them, the highlights they're showing, that's them perfect, not them making mistakes.' Coach Jon Richt has been really encouraging us to keep working and we're going to get it right. He's actually going to make a funny cutup tape of us doing it wrong in the spring and in the summer and fall how much better we've progressed."

• With Kyle Barraclough and Brian Ellington sent to Triple A, the Marlins’ bullpen seems likely to be AJ Ramos, Mike Dunn, Edwin Jackson, David Phelps, Bryan Morris, likely Craig Breslow and one wild card among a half dozen including Dustin McGowan, Brad Hand and Nefi Ogando, among others.

Jarred Cosart and Adam Conley are clear favorites for the final two rotation spots.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

March 22, 2016

1 p.m. update: Mike Tannenbaum addresses issues; 10 a.m. report: Adam Gase goes in depth on his RBs, WRs, TEs and Tannehill, from owners meetings

1 p.m. update from Boca Raton ---

Mike Tannenbaum, the Dolphins' executive vice president/football operations, addressed several issues from the NFL owners meetings just now:

• On sitting on $18 million in cap space (of which at least a third will be needed to sign draft picks and a practice squad): “It’s not lose it or use it as it used to be.”

• He admitted not wanting to lose compensatory 2017 draft picks has been one factor in not signing a ton of free agents but not the overriding one.

Teams can sign unrestricted free agent players (players who became UFAs without being cut) after May 12 without it affecting compensatory picks.

"Is it a factor? Sure. You’ve got to factor in a lot of things when you make decisions. That certainly could be a factor that has to do with longterm planning. It’s a very, very complicated formula. It’s an 18-page memo. We have two extraordinarily smart people who [study] that all the time.... We don’t know how that’s going to play out. It’s a factor. But it’s not the only factor because you don’t know all the factors that play into it."

• On his comment to Steve Shapiro that the 2016 Dolphins would kick the butt of the 2015 Dolphins: "The message I was trying to make was every year we’re trying to make progress. I’m optimistic, I’m hopeful. I’m very optimistic about the trajectory of our team not only this year but well into the future."

What makes him feel better about this roster, compared with the 2015 Dolphins? "When you look at athleticism at linebacker with the acquisition of [Kiko] Alonso, the size of Byron Maxwell, Isa Abdul Quddus will give us a caliber at safety frankly we haven’t had as much in recent years; depth at some positions. Jermon Bushrod's versatility. There’s obviously a lot more work to [do].... We have young players that are going to have to play more, guys like Kenny Stills, Jay Ajayi, Dion Sims. They will have a lot more opportunities this year. Improving from within is always an underrated aspect in trying to improve from year to year.”

What keeps him up at night? "Depth at certain positions, be it offensive line, secondary, running back.... We have a lot more work to be done at every position. We have done a lot of work trying to project our needs in 2017 and even 2018 guys we want to keep, and when we want to spend cap dollars on that.

"Other players will have to graduate. That’s the reality of it. When Derrick Shelby or Rishard Matthews leave the building, the way I look at is, I celebrate it. On one hand, it’s upsetting you can’t keep everybody but I celebrate the fact they were drafted by the Dolphins, developed by the Miami Dolphins, they were coached and they got better. You can’t keep everybody. Now it’s up to us to make Terrence Fede a good player when Derrick Shelby leaves. Is it Matt Hazel or a draft choice to replace Rishard Matthews or does Kenny Stills get more reps?  That’s what energizes me, where’s the next hurdle, where’s the next opportunity for us."

• Tannenbaum declined to say whether he regrets not making an effort to sign Vernon last year. “I am really comfortable with what we did.”

• On Vernon’s contract with the Giants: “I can’t opine on other peoples’ decisions. I am sure people have rolled their eyes with some of the decisions I made in my career. I don’t think that would be fair for me to opine on that.”

• On the trade-down with Philadelphia, moving from 8 to 13 in the first round: "It’s reasonable to think we will get a starter at 13 if we stay there. To get three starters in one trade, we felt we’re not one player away. We all thought that’s an efficient use of cap resources."

• On free agents Kelvin Sheppard and Spencer Paysinger: “The door is open for both of them.”

•  What convinced him that Jermon Bushrod could play guard? “He could really be a five hole player, which has incredible value when you’re filling out your game day roster. Most teams take seven offensive linemen. To have one guy who can play all five holes is incredibly valuable. High character guy, tough, versatile.”

• On the situation at guard beyond Bushrod: “We have three guys – Billy Turner, Jamil Douglas, Dallas Thomas. We could be adding another guard here imminently [Kraig Urbik, as we first reported last night].  We have feelings for those [three young] players. Competition will bring out the best in them. Who our starting guards are in September is impossible to say. There’s going to be competition from within and we still have the draft and several more months to go. Those three players will have a certainly big opportunity.”

• I didn't read much into this because he was just giving a hypothetical example, but he did say: "If the right opportunity in the draft presented for a quarterback, we aren’t going to rule that out. We want to have as much strength and flexibility in the draft."

           

GASE ON HIS OFFENSIVE WEAPONS

Among many things that Adam Gase made clear during his 60-minute session with reporters at the NFL owners meeting today at the Boca Raton Resort and Club:

He likes the players on this roster who will have the ball in their hands.

He indicated he has high regard for his skill position players (a group that lost Lamar Miller and Rishard Matthews).

“I feel really good about it,” he said. “It’s just going to be about putting all the pieces together, make sure we’re using them to their strengths. We don’t want to force guys to do something they’re not good at. It’s trying to do it at rapid rate, trying to figure out as fast as possible what everybody does really well. Those 10 OTAs and two mini-camps, you have to speed it up as much as possible. I felt really good about the group that we have, the skill guys. If we can stay healthy, I feel really good about that group."

 Here’s what he had to say on each of the key players who will have the ball in their hands:

• On Jay Ajayi: “I feel really comfortable with Jay. I saw a lot of good things on film last year. I’m fired up to get going with him. The problem is, we can’t do anything until April 11, and those two weeks are meetings and weight-lifting.

“I remember watching [Ajayi] when he was coming out. What I see now is a guy who looks lighter to me and shiftier than I thought he ever was. His elusiveness, when defenders are coming at him, that kind of surprised me. I didn’t see that. I’m excited to see what we can do with him going forward. He is a bigger guy. I remembered him being more of a power guy.”

But obviously, another running back will be added.  

     
“We’ve kind of gone after a few guys in free agency,” Gase said, of CJ Anderson and Chris Johnson. “We were looking to have more than one guy. Jay is going to be a big part of what we’re doing. I like to have multiple backs. We have only three guys on our roster. We’re going to need to develop that stable of backs. Options will present themselves. We need to stay patient, whether it’s through the draft or somebody gets cut…We’ll just keep investigating that."

• On DeVante Parker: “We’re looking for him to be a big fixture in what we’re trying to do. He’s a talented player. I’m glad we’re going to go into the season [with him] healthy. For him to be able to play at the end of the year, that was big for his development. We’ve got to bring him along, get him to grow at a rapid rate. We need him to be a good player. I think he will be. Love his skill set. Love what he can bring to this offense. Bring him along as quickly as we can."

• On Jarvis Landry: “I’m excited to get around Jarvis, the way he plays and just seeing what he does on film. I see him in the weight room a lot. There’s an intensity there I’m really excited to be around that guy. He’s such a competitor. He’s one of those guys a lot of people didn’t see this coming. He felt like I’m going to prove a lot of people wrong. I like being around guys like that, that have a chip on his shoulder. He still plays like there’s a respect factor he doesn’t get that he’s looking for. He plays like that."

• On Kenny Stills, Gase said he wants him to be more involved in the offense: “He will be. He definitely will be. I like Kenny’s skill set. We were involved in trying to acquire him in Chicago. We tried to make a play for him before he got traded to Miami. I liked him coming out. I am excited to see what we can do to get him rolling in this offense."

• On Jordan Cameron: “I’m excited to see where we can go with him. The tight end position of this offense has been one of the strengths as far as matchup issues with safeties and linebackers.

“I’m interested to see what we can do with him, what his strengths are. Right now, it’s so hard because you can’t practice. I need to see him live. I need to experiment, need to flex him out and see what he’s comfortable doing, what routes he likes to do. That’s going to be a learning experience for our coaching staff."

• On Dion Sims: “I’m interested to see how far we can bring him along. Potential has been used a lot with Dion. I told him this is probably the year we get this thing rolling. Let’s get the consistency going. That’s what we’re looking to do. Let’s get the consistency going. I expect him to be an important piece of what we’re doing this year, as far as him and Jordan.”

• As for Tannehill, Gase touched on a few issues:

1) He said his job will be “taking a little bit off of Ryan, not letting him get hit, get the sacks down, get him comfortable sitting back there in the pocket.”

2) On where specifically he wants to get Tannehill to another level: “I need to see him live. I’ve seen him play live two times in my life. In 2014, when he came into Denver, he played well in that game. And then I saw him last year preseason game. He was in for like nine plays and walked down the field and scored on us.

"I just want to see him [live]. From everything I hear, his intelligence level is off the charts. Offensively, we’re going to have to experiment, kind of figure out where we’re at with Ryan. Some of the routes that this group does really well, I haven’t been a part of in a while. Every quarterback likes different things. Ryan does excel at some concepts that I haven’t run in a while, that the last two quarterbacks I had didn’t really like.”

3) How much has he watched Tannehill on tape? “It has been real sporadic for me. I went back, saw the AFC East games. I wanted to see what was going on in the division, how we played against those teams. That was my starting point. I’ll watch a game here and there. It takes time to grind through all that tape when you have free agency and the draft.

“Now things are kind of slowing down. I am able to speed that process up. I want to watch what he’s done throughout his career. You start putting all the cut-ups together. Let me watch all the touchdowns. Let me watch all the interceptions. It’s a process. It took us a long time to get through. We did all these 5 year cut ups of Jay Cutler last year, watch five years of interceptions fast. You’ve got to figure out where were trouble spots? How can you help him? Where can you put him in better positions?"

• Couple quick news notes: After being moved to linebacker last summer, Chris McCain has been shifted back to defensive end… Walt Aikens indicated he was told to learn cornerback, as well as continuing to work at safety. But that isn’t unusual, and Gase said he will remain at safety. Armando has more defensive stuff on his Dolphins blog, so check that out…

Gase said Jarvis Landry will remain the returner until the Dolphins find someone who can capably handle the job and thus lessen the load on Landry…. Please see the last post for news on a guard the Dolphins are bringing in today and some insight on their decisions on their offensive and defensive lines.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz