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

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

Instead, heartbreak.

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

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

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

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

So how did this one escape UM’s grasp?

You could cite a dozen reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz



UM-FSU recruiting battle brewing; Jimbo on his knack here; UM notes; Marlins; Dolphins; Jameis allegation

Please see the last post for a Friday afternoon Dolphins report.

Talking UM-FSU, and Giancarlo Stanton:

### Remember that metaphorical fence around South Florida that former UM coach Howard Schnellenberger spoke of building? FSU’s Jimbo Fisher very much enjoys trampling it.

That’s why Fisher, preparing for Saturday’s game against Miami and emboldened by this dominant run of Seminoles football, stood in front of hundreds of supporters in Coral Gables six months ago and said: “This area to me is critical. We are always going to get these kids.”

Let’s be clear: UM has beaten FSU and other top schools for several elite local recruits: Duke Johnson, Stacy Coley, Chad Thomas, among others.

But UM coaches privately have been frustrated by FSU’s ability to snag several elite Dade/Broward/Palm Beach players that UM coveted over the past four years: Kelvin Benjamin, Devonta Freeman, Nick O’Leary, Rashad Greene, Lamarcus Joyner, Matthew Thomas, Dalvin Cook and Ermon Lane, among others.

Fisher, in a private moment this past offseason, insisted he draws no extra satisfaction from beating UM for top South Florida recruits but believes he’s winning some of these battles against UM because “we’ve got a good product on the field, and the players we have from down here are graduating and being drafted in the NFL. There's a history here.” (UM can say the same.)

But unlike UM in the past decade, “we're winning championships: second-winningest team in college football over past four years,” Fisher said. “And Tallahassee is one of the great atmospheres in college football. You absolutely have to win those battles [with UM for South Florida prospects] because you're going to be playing against Miami. It's one of the great rivalries in college football.”

Tyrek Cole, a Miramar safety and West Virginia commit who orally committed to FSU before the Seminoles dropped him in September, asserted UM is at a disadvantage against FSU in recruiting not only because of on-field performance recently, but also because of game atmosphere and FSU’s indoor practice facility.

FSU visits Saturday with 29 players from South Florida, including blue-chippers Lane and Cook from this past year’s class.

And the Seminoles already have oral commitments from two four-star-or-higher 2015 South Florida recruits: American Heritage five-star cornerback Tarvarus McFadden, who UM wanted, and Hallandale linebacker Sh’Mar Kilby-Lane, a four-star Army All-American who UM reportedly didn’t offer.

UM, conversely, has no five-star commitments from South Florida in the 2015 class but does have three four-star commitments (all were offered by FSU): Killian safety Jaquan Johnson, St. Thomas Aquinas running back Jordan Scarlett and Booker T. Washington running back Mark Walton, who has officially reclassified from the 2016 to 2015 class.

Meanwhile, UM and FSU are battling for several undecided high-end local recruits. Among them: Central four-star receiver Da’Vante Phillips, who said FSU remains his preference even though UM sends him messages every day; Westminster Christian four-star running back/safety Tim Irvin (considering UM, FSU and others) and Booker T. Washington four-star safety DaVante Davis (UM, FSU, UF and Alabama among his top suitors).

Numerous out-of-town players are expected to attend Saturday’s game, including California-based five-star teammates Rasheem Green (rivals.com’s No. 3 defensive end) and John Houston (rivals.com’s No. 2 outside linebacker).

This game takes on even more importance for UM from a recruiting standpoint because according to UM, recruits are allowed to attend only one UM game this season on official or unofficial visits because of NCAA sanctions. Many are doing so for the FSU game.

Walton --- who hasn’t ruled out Georgia and West Virginia --- told rivals.com that his commitment to UM will be “more solid” if UM wins Saturday, and three-star New York based defensive end Austrian Robinson --- offered by UM --- said a Miami win “would make me see the program differently.” Miami Central coach Roland Smith, whose three-star safety Calvin Brewton is orally committed to FSU, said a UM win would show recruits that Miami “is back.”


### UM people privately blame the cloud of the NCAA investigation for losing Thomas, the five-star Booker T. Washington linebacker, to FSU, in 2013. It hasn’t been a big loss so far. Suspended for the first six games of the season, Thomas has 10 tackles in three games. But UM has been hurt by other local defensive players signing elsewhere. Among them:

Ohio State sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa, who has 10 sacks this season, never seriously considered Miami out of St. Thomas Aquianas. In the weeks after he replaced Randy Shannon, Golden couldn’t convince elite former Plantation and Ohio State first-team All-American linebacker Ryan Shazier to flip. A UM person insists Miami didn’t get former Louisville/Norland star linebacker Keith Brown because he insisted Miami also take one of his teammates.

UM never offered four-star University School linebacker Skai Moore, now a standout at South Carolina. UM never offered Boyd Anderson three-star receiver Eddie Jackson, now a starting cornerback for Alabama. And LSU freshman defensive tackle Travonte Valentine (Hialeah Champagnat) picked LSU because he preferred LSU’s 4-3 scheme and felt there was too much pressure to play right away at UM.

### FSU on Thursday landed an oral commitment from five-star 2016 California quarterback Malik Henry. UM previously picked up a commitment from three-star Jack Allison of Palmetto, Fla., rated the nation’s No. 12 pro-style quarterback in the 2016 class. He has offers from Alabama and others.

### An involved FSU Trustee said the school this week investigated and found no evidence to support an allegation, reported by IBN Sports, that Jameis Winston was involved in a point shaving scheme to help his former high-school teammate, University of Alabama-Birmingham defensive end Chris Rabb, win a $5000 bet. Rabb allegedly placed a bet for Louisville to be winning at halftime of the Louisville-FSU game Oct. 30. Winston played poorly in the first half, which ended with FSU trailing 21-7. FSU won, 42-31.

The FSU Trustee said FSU determined the Alabama-based bookie who raised suspicions about Winston was a “buffoon” with questionable credibility. TMZ reports the NCAA is investigating.

### UM has credentialed 16 NFL scouts and more than 300 media members for Saturday…. Brad Kaaya, who needs 243 yards to surpass Bernie Kosar’s UM freshman passing yards record for a season, “is a special QB,” Kosar said, “and it’s an honor to watch him break and set my UM record.”


The Marlins, as of yesterday evening, were optimistic they would be able to finalize a longterm deal with Giancarlo Stanton.

Though Stanton and his agent declined comment, CBS' Jon Heyman reports the sides have agreed on a 13-year, $325 million deal with an opt out (unclear when but presumably at least five years into the contract)  and a no-trade clause, but that language needs to be finalized.

Without a new contract, Stanton wouldn't be eligible for free agency until after 2016. 

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... And again, please see the last post for Dolphins news.

Dolphins Friday report: Philbin addresses Lazor complaints; Will Davis injury update; Dolphins in lofty historical company

The Dolphins will once again give their fans relevant games in December.

Whether they also give them the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2008 rests in part on Ryan Tannehill’s right arm and whether this diminished offense line can hold up against several more imposing defensive fronts.

In their 22-9 win Thursday, the Dolphins allowed five sacks to a Bills’ defense that leads the league with 39.

That’s worrisome, considering five of the Dolphins’ final six games will be against opponents that rank in the top 10 in sacks: Minnesota (third), two games against the Jets (seventh), Baltimore (ninth) and Denver (10th). And New England is 14th.

But here’s the good news:  Since 1990, 61 percent of 6-4 teams have made the playoffs.

As we noted in last night's post, even if the Dolphins (6-4) lose at Denver (Miami’s next opponent, on Nov. 23) and at New England, they have a pretty good chance of making the playoffs if they win home games against Baltimore, the Jets and Minnesota and win at the Jets.

And if they win at New England (7-2) on Dec. 14, an AFC East title is a possibility if somebody can cool off the Patriots, who are averaging 40 points in their past five games. The Patriots have a difficult schedule in the coming weeks (at Colts, Lions, at Packers, at Chargers, Dolphins) before closing at the Jets and home against Buffalo.

There was a lot to like about Thursday’s game, which gave Miami its best record after 10 games since 2008.

Executing a game plan that called for mostly short and intermediate passes, Ryan Tannehill posted the third-highest completion percentage of his career (76.5: 26 of 34, for 240 yards) and topped 109 in passer rating for the fourth time in the past seven games.

He closed at 114.8, moving his season rating to 92.2 --- 16th in the league and ahead of Joe Flacco, Russell Wilson and Matt Stafford, among others. He’s now up to 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions for the season.

"To be able to get the ball out of my hands quickly and into our playmaker’s hands and them [turning it into positive] yards-after-catch really opened things up for us,” Tannehill said. “It settled everyone in.”

In an introspective moment on NFL Network’s post-game set, Tannehill said he believes he “turned the corner” when the team was in London, following a tumultuous week in which Tannehill said Joe Philbin created a distraction by not publicly naming him the starting quarterback.

“When I went to London, I took a step back and said, ‘Make plays, have fun and stop thinking so much,’” he said. “It took me a little while to get comfortable in the offense. I feel great [in this system]. I think we’re pretty good.”

The Dolphins’ offense also got a boost from Lamar Miller, who had 86 yards on 15 carries (5.7 average) and ranks seventh among all NFL running backs in per carry average (4.7). “He ran hard, was decisive,” Philbin said.

And the defense, which entered fourth in the league in yards allowed per game (309.8) and fifth in points permitted per game (19), yielded only 237 yards and nine points.

After halftime, the Bills mustered just 79 yards and failed to convert any of their seven third-down plays into first downs. Plus, the Bills had 54 yards rushing, on only 2.8 per carry.

Still, concerns remain, starting with the offensive line and continued difficulties in the red zone.

The revamped line --- with Ja’Wuan James at left tackle, Dallas Thomas at right tackle, and Shelley Smith at left guard --- blocked efficiently in the run game but had lapses in pass protection.

Thomas allowed two sacks against Mario Williams. Philbin said today he liked how Thomas performed in run-blocking but “there were a couple plays that need improvement in pass protection.”

Other sacks were relinquished by tight ends Charles Clay and Dion Sims and center Samson Satele. James and right guard Mike Pouncey each allowed four quarterback hurries.

“I kind of like overall how they blocked in the run game,” Philbin said. “Our backs ran hard. It’s hard to say we had great protection when we were sacked five times. I didn’t think it was terrible. Overall, they did a good job.”

The Dolphins entered with an NFL-high 43 forays into the red zone but just 20 touchdowns, with that 46.5 percent TD rate ranking third worst in the league. On Thursday, the Dolphins had just two touchdowns in six red zone trips, and Mike Wallace said the Dolphins won’t make the playoffs if the offense plays like this.

"No, not when we’re talking about being two of six in the red zone,” Wallace said. “The problem is not getting down the field; it’s putting it in the end zone. The execution has to be that much better when you get to the red zone. The windows are smaller. Spots are tighter. You’ve got to make a play…..  We’ve got to score more points in the first half. I think we do a pretty good job in the second half.”

Tannehill’s inability to connect on deep balls also can’t please Wallace. On Thursday, Tannehill was 26 for 31 on passes thrown less than 20 yards, but 0 for 3 on passes thrown more than 20, including a deep throw to Wallace that sailed out of bounds. Tannehill also was upset about missing Wallace on a shorter throw that would have been a touchdown late in the game.

Still, the Dolphins emerged generally pleased, especially considering they had lost four of their past five against Buffalo. “It was a good feeling, just the way they played,” Philbin said.


### Cornerback Will Davis said he will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. Philbin said the team will place him on injured reserve but “we’re not overly concerned about the depth” at cornerback, noting he was pleased by Jamar Taylor’s play.

### Philbin was asked about an NFL.com report that said offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s relationship with players is “rocky” and that “his abrasive tenor has worn thin on some.”

Philbin said if there are “issues, we have an open door policy and we can continue to work on that.... They can talk to coaches.”

But he said: “Bill is doing an excellent job. When I talk to the staff numerous times during the year, I always tell them I want them to be demanding but never demeaning to the players.”

### The Dolphins have recorded their first six wins by 13 points or more. Only three other teams since 1970 have done that: the 2007 Patriots (went 16-0, lost Super Bowl), the 1999 Rams (won Super Bowl) and the 1984 Redskins (11-5, lost in playoffs).

### Pro Football Focus gave its top defensive grades to Reshad Jones, Louis Delmas and Cameron Wake... Miller played 36 snaps, Daniel Thomas 24 and Damien Williams 9.... Defensively, Deon Jordan played 16 of the Dolphins' 62 snaps, his fewest of the season. 

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz.     

Postscripts, thoughts, Tannehill musings, Wallace message after Dolphins' 22-9 win

This Dolphins season remains relevant tonight because Ryan Tannehill delivered his best game ever against Buffalo, Lamar Miller ran with purpose, and the Dolphins throttled the Bills in the second half, limiting them to 86 yards after halftime.

Some thoughts and reaction:

### Here’s what the Dolphins' 6-4 record means: Even if the Dolphins lose at Denver and at New England, they have a pretty good chance of making the playoffs if they win home games against Baltimore, the Jets and Minnesota and win at the Jets.

And if they win at New England (7-2) on Dec. 14, an AFC East title is a possibility if somebody can cool off the white hot Patriots, who are averaging 40 points in their past five games. The Patriots have a difficult schedule in the coming weeks (at Colts, Lions, at Packers, at Chargers, Dolphins) before closing at the Jets and home against Buffalo.

### The Dolphins had gone 33 series with only one touchdown against Buffalo, before scoring two in a span of six minutes late in the third and early in the fourth tonight.

### Both coordinators had sound game plans and their units executed them splendidly. Because the Bills’ defensive line had a clear edge over the Dolphins’ depleted offensive line, Bill Lazor served up a heavy diet of short passes, and Tannehill was accurate on short routes in the first half and short and intermediate routes in the second.

Kevin Coyle dialed up blitzes at opportune times in the second half, and the Dolphins forced Kyle Orton to get rid of the ball prematurely --- one reason Buffalo went 0 for 7 on third-down conversions in the second half, and one reason Orton --- who entered with a passer rating of close to 100 --- closed this game at 69.7.

### Tannehill, conversely, closed with a 114.8 rating, finishing 26 for 34 for 240 yards, two touchdowns (a 7-yarder to Brandon Gibson and 8-yarder to Jarvis Landry), plus four carries for 17 yards.

His only missteps: a fumble in the red zone, a wayward deep pass to Mike Wallace (what else is new) and an errant pass to Wallace that should have been a pad-on touchdown late in the game.

But overall, Tannehill was very good, especially considering his history against Buffalo (67 career passer rating and 1-4 record against them before tonight).

The Dolphins are now 16-1 when Tannehill has a passer rating of 90 or higher. Tannehill has a rating of 109 or higher in four of his past seven games. And he’s now up to 17 touchdowns, seven picks.

### Tannehill, on NFL Network afterward: “I definitely think I’ve been playing better. It took me a little while to get comfortable in the offense. The guys around me have really stepped up and played well. … We were West Coast last year, so a completely different system. All kinds of zone reads. Spreading things out. A lot of new concepts. But it’s been a lot of fun…. I feel great [in this system]. When I went to London, I took a step back and said make plays, have fun and stop thinking so much. I think I turned a corner….

“I think we’re pretty good. We’re two plays away from being 8-2, looking at the Green Bay and Detroit game. We’re that close. Just because we didn’t make those plays doesn’t mean we can’t think of ourselves that way. We have a lot of confidence in what we can do this year.”

How does Tannehill keep all the receivers happy? “Not everyone is going to be happy all the time. I like it. Their competitors. They want the ball. I like that about our receivers. We do a good job of spreading the ball around and getting everyone touches….. Jarvis Landry is great. He practices with a passion. Once he gets the ball in his hand, he doesn’t want to be denied. He’s unbelievable. I love playing with him.”

### Landry had his third fumble of a punt this season after the safety, but Dan Carpenter missed a 47-yard field goal on the Bills’ subsequent possession, and Landry made amends soon after, eluding a tackler to sneak into the end zone.

Landry had five catches for 46 yards, and the Dolphins got Brian Hartline more involved, with three receptions, for 55 yards. Gibson had his first touchdown of the season, and Wallace caught four passes for 38 yards. Damien Williams' 32 yard catch and run on a 3rd and 24 early in the game was one of the most impressive plays of the night.

### A bunch of defensive standouts tonight: Brent Grimes, who bottled up Sammy Watkins, holding the dynamic Bills rookie to three catches for 32 yards…  Olivier Vernon’s pressure forced a throw-away from Orton that was called a safety after a referee conference…

Jamar Taylor, in his first start as a pro, had his best game in his brief career. He had an excellent tackle for a loss on 3rd and 2 on the Bills’ first drive of the second half. And his coverage was generally sound…. Earl Mitchell had Miami’s other sack, besides Vernon’s… Jared Odrick had a tackle for loss and the entire d-line was solid, especially in the second half. Buffalo had 54 yards rushing, averaging 2.8 per carry…. Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi again performed competently at linebacker.... Safety Reshad Jones was disruptive.

### Mario Williams had 3.5 sacks, giving him 7.5 in his past four games against the Dolphins. It was a tough first game at right tackle for Dallas Thomas, but not entirely unexpected.

The Bills, who entered with a league-leading 34 sacks, had five, but the Dolphins’ offensive line did good work in run blocking, creating holes for Lamar Miller, who had 15 carries for 86 yards. "I thought they played well," Tannehill said of his o-line.

### Vernon, afterward: "We knew they had our number. We couldn't let this one slip out of our grasp."

### Deion Sanders, speaking about Tannehill on NFL Net before the game: “He’s like a see-saw. I didn’t like that as a kid.”

Bill Cowher responded: “I like where he’s at. You have to live with his inconsistencies.”

Said Sanders: “Inconsistent gets coaches fired.”

### Joe Philbin, afterward: "It was a good win. We talked to our guys that we had to step up, start playing good football at this time of the year.... We executed better in the second half... I like what the guys did in the running game... I thought the offensive line did a good job... Lamar's play speed looked kind of like Lamar, and that certainly helped."

### Mike Wallace, on Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin saying the Bills would beat Miami's "ass": "That's what happens when you talk. Shut your mouth and play the game." McKelvin departed with an injury during the game.

But Wallace said the Dolphins must be better in the red zone. Miami entered with the most red zone trips in the league but among the league's worst conversion rates. Tonight, the Dolphins scored touchdowns on two of six trips inside the Bills ' 20.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz


Marlins and Stanton discussing richest contract in baseball history

Determined to keep their All-Star slugger long-term, the Miami Marlins and  Giancarlo Stanton are in serious discussions regarding what would be the richest contract in baseball history, a deal that would exceed 10 years in length and be worth $300 million or more, a source told The Miami Herald.

Fox Sports reported earlier in the day that Stanton, 25, and the Marlins had discussed a 10-year deal worth at least $300 million. Three sources disputed that 10-year figure, with two of them insisting the contract under discussion would be longer than that.

The Marlins are very hopeful Stanton will accept the deal, but there is no indication how seriously Stanton is considering it. Stanton’s agent, Joel Wolfe, has not responded to requests for comment in recent days.

Stanton would not be eligible for free agency until following the 2016 season, but the Marlins are eager to secure a long-term commitment from him.

The Marlins have said they have no intention of trading Stanton even if he rejects their offer. If Stanton chooses to take a one-year deal, he could make $13 million or so next season if the matter goes to arbitration this winter.

“I’d say it’s a safe bet Giancarlo is hitting in the Marlins lineup next year and the next year,” Marlins general manager Dan Jennings said Wednesday.

Besides offering at least $300 million, the Marlins also appear receptive to consider allowing a partial or full no-trade clause, which would be a departure from previous club policy, as my colleague Clark Spencer noted this week.

A $300 million deal would be the richest guaranteed contract in baseball history, topping Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, $275 million deal with the Yankees in 2008.

Miguel Cabrera signed an 8-year, $248 million contract with the Detroit Tigers but that deal could reach $292 million over 10 years if the Tigers exercise two option seasons.

That $300 million would be on the par with the $303 million the Marlins have spent combined on their entire major-league roster the past five seasons.

Stanton hit .288 with 37 home runs and 105 RBI in 145 games this year before his season ended when he was struck in the face with a pitch on Sept. 11 against Milwaukee.

At the time of his injury, Stanton led the National League in home runs (37), slugging percentage (.555), OPS (.950), total bases (299), extra-base hits (99), RBI (105), walks (94), at-bats per HR (14.5) and was on pace to become the first player to lead the NL in homers, RBI and slugging percentage since Dante Bichette in 1995.

Stanton ended up finishing first in the National League in home runs and slugging percentage but second in RBI behind the Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez, who had 116.

Stanton and Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw are top candidates for the National League MVP award that will be announced Thursday evening. [Update: Kershaw won it. Stanton finished second.]

The Marlins have had two factors working against them in convincing Stanton to take a longterm deal: 1) The appeal of returning to his native Southern California and playing for the Dodgers; 2) Stanton needing convincing that the Marlins are prepared to do what it takes financially to be a perennial contender.

But an offer of $300 million obviously would command anybody's attention.

The Marlins also have discussed contracts with Stanton that would run five or six years in length. But Marlins management is intrigued by the idea of what would essentially be a lifetime contract.

A source close to Stanton has said that even though he's fond of Southern California, he enjoys living in South Florida.

Please see the last post for Dolphins, Heat and Canes notes.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz    


Wednesday night report: Dolphins rift; Fins CBs, OL; UM football and Heat notes

Notes on a Wednesday night:

### Former Herald colleague Jeff Darlington, now doing good work with NFL.com, reported today that Dolphins offensive coordinator “Bill Lazor’s relationship with players is rocky” and that “his abrasive tenor has worn thin on some" and that there's a "rift" between Lazor and several players.

Three reactions: 1) We’re not surprised. We heard earlier this season that some players were taken aback because Lazor is, well, demanding. He wants things done exactly his way and he’s not shy about expressing that. Players who don't do it his way will hear about it.

2) This shouldn’t be a concern. The Dolphins’ offense and Ryan Tannehill, while still inconsistent, are performing better than they did under Mike Sherman. Regardless of whether some of his players like him or not, Lazor generally has done a good job.

3) There are a few offensive players on the team who aren’t happy about their role; it’s easy for most Dolphins fans to figure out who they are. None of those players are going to feel warm and fuzzy about Lazor, though none of them obviously has criticized him publicly.

### With Cortland Finnegan ruled out for Thursday's game against Buffalo, the Dolphins want to see at least one of their second-year corners distinguish themselves. Though Jamar Taylor and Will Davis have had their moments, neither has played as consistently as coaches would like.

Taylor said he has heard some people speak critically of his performance against Detroit and quibbles with that portrayal.

“I gave up a pick route and an under route that I hadn’t seen in a game before. I won’t make the same mistake again,” he said. “But I competed my butt off. I think I played pretty good.”

### Ja’Wuan James said before moving to left tackle to replace injured Branden Albert during last Sunday’s game, he hadn’t played left tackle since high school except some snaps against Dallas in the preseason and one snap against Green Bay.

### Dolphins players seemed more amused than annoyed by Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin saying Buffalo would beat Miami’s “ass.”

“Don’t make those kind of comments before a game,” Mike Pouncey cautioned.

### Now at right tackle, Dallas Thomas cannot be overwhelmed by Mario Williams on Thursday like he was against Tampa’s Gerald McCoy in preseason when Thomas was playing guard. But coaches insist Thomas is much improved since August.

“I thought he hung there and competed well the other day,” Joe Philbin said of Thomas, who was rotating at left guard before moving to right tackle. “You figure, hey, you are playing left guard, then the next play you are playing right tackle and you’re on the road against a pretty good defense and some pretty good players. I thought he held his own.”

### How has Mike Pouncey done at right guard? “I think he’s done a nice job,” Philbin said. “I like the group that we’ve had out on the field. I like the way they compete. I like the way they work together. I like the chemistry of those guys. It’s a good group, a smart group, tough guys.”

Pro Football Focus rates him 56th of 78 guards, with three sacks and 10 hurries allowed.

### Besides Finnegan being out, Daryn Colledge is doubtful for Thursday's game. Charles Clay, Dion Sims, John Denney and Kelvin Sheppard were listed as questionable.

### So the Heat follows its best win of the season (Sunday at Dallas) with this inexcusable eyesore tonight against an undermanned, lottery-bound Indiana team. Not sure which is worse about this 81-75 loss: Miami’s 8 for 18 shooting on free throws or 53-28 rebounding deficit.

The Heat entered 27th in the league in rebounding, despite Chris Bosh’s good work on the boards in the first seven games.

Bosh had his first poor game of the season tonight: 9 points, 3 for 13 shooting and 2 rebounds in 33 minutes.

"We missed free throws. We didn't move the ball. We just didn't play a good game," Bosh said. "We're going to learn from our mistakes. This was a bad one."

### Luol Deng shot just 2 for 10, making him 8 for 28 in the Heat’s three losses. He’s 38 for 61 in the Heat's five wins.

### UM coaches thought Michael Wyche would be a major factor for them at defensive tackle this season. Conditioning issues prevented that early in the season, but “he’s starting to have an impact on the defense,” Al Golden said. "He’s done a good job keeping his weight down.”

Having Wyche in the rotation is “keeping us fresher and healthier.”

### Against FSU’s high-powered passing attack, Golden says it will help that Miami has five experienced, skilled corners: Ladarius Gunter, Artie Burns, Corn Elder, Tracy Howard and Antonio Crawford.

“We only have six [corners] in the program,” Golden said. “The number is low but the experience is high.”

### Though FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said UM is better than the team that lost in Tallahassee last November after entering 7-0, Golden declined to give an opinion on the topic.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 


Exploring reasons behind UM's defensive improvement; Simms sold on Tannehill; Dolphins, Heat


The UM defense that faces its biggest challenge Saturday is so improved from a month ago that it actually ranks higher than undefeated FSU’s defense in most significant statistics, including yards allowed per game (11th; FSU is 50th) and scoring defense (27th to 34th).

So with UM allowing just 314 yards per game over the past three, what's the explanation for the turnaround?

Here are 10 reasons cited this week by coaches, players and others inside the program:

### Dramatically better linebacker play, which is critical to this defense. “I don’t know if anybody is more improved over the past four weeks than Raphael Kirby,” Al Golden said.

Denzel Perryman --– somewhat neutralized against Nebraska and Georgia Tech --- has been a force the past three games against Cincinnati/Virginia Tech/North Carolina (27 tackles, his most over a three-game stretch this season).

Thurston Armbrister has continued his surprisingly good work (he has a team-high seven tackles for loss), and Jermaine Grace (two sacks and two fumble recoveries in this three-game stretch) is blossoming before our eyes.

### Alignment tweaks and maximizing blitz calls. Strategy is the topic that many fans gravitate toward in discussing this defensive resurgence because their eyes tell them UM is playing more aggressively and taking more chances.

Safety Nantambu Fentress conceded today that UM has “made some adjustment” with alignments, with safeties lining up closer at times, including on the goal line, and “wider” some other times.

"We want to be precise in the alignments," Fentress said of the linebackers and defensive backs. "It's fine-tuning."

But aside from that, Fentress insists coordinator Mark D’Onofrio “hasn’t changed anything.” Al Golden maintained “we haven’t changed play calling.” 

Raphael Kirby said D’Onofrio is “not changing the scheme. He’s been calling the same calls. Just the way we execute them is different. We don’t feel we can be stopped.”

And though some fans and ex-players are skeptical of this --- judging by social media ---  D’Onofrio absolutely swears UM hasn’t blitzed any more the past three games than previous ones.

But here’s the difference nobody can dispute: The blitz calls have been more successful recently.

To wit: When D’Onofrio had safety Deon Bush blitz against Nebraska, the Cornhuskers threw a 40-yard TD pass. Against North Carolina, Bush, Artie Burns and Corn Elder got to the quarterback for sacks on blitzes.

“We’ve been running corner blitzes all year,” Golden said, bristling when asked by another media person if this is something new.

When D’Onofrio sent Kirby on a run blitz on a third and inches on Virginia Tech’s first possession, Kirby made a tackle for loss. “The time he calls the [run blitz], he’s doing a great job,” Kirby said.

D’Onofrio said Monday UM’s cornerbacks actually are playing less man coverage than a year ago. Cornerbacks are lining up closer to the line at times, with some of UM’s corners more comfortable doing that than others.

But players insist there has been no philosophical change, and in fact, D'Onofrio --- much earlier in the season --- encouraged one of his cornerbacks to play closer to the line.

Though UM fans tweeted still shots from the Nebraska and Georgia Tech games showing corners playing well off receivers, I’ve also seen still shots of UM corners playing very tightly on receivers in the Nebraska game. So this issue shouldn’t be overstated.

### UM has been forcing more turnovers (eight the past three games) and been much better defending third downs (UNC and Virginia Tech were 8 for 27).

### Simple stuff such as better tackling. “So much better than earlier in the season; dramatically better than a year ago,” Golden said. “If we miss a tackle, we’re missing to our leverage so we don’t give up explosive plays.”

And UM is making fewer mental errors; it’s no coincidence that UM hasn’t had a practice shortened or moved inside by weather in the past few weeks after more than 15 were interrupted in August and September. Fact is, UM can't accomplish nearly as much when practices are moved inside.

As Tyriq McCord said, everyone on defense now knows where they’re supposed to be, and practice and experience are significant reasons for that.

### Personnel changes. On third-down passing situations, UM is now often using Chad Thomas, Anthony Chickillo, McCord and Darrion Owens --- a quartet that has played well together… Elder and Burns are playing more at cornerback, and though Tracy Howard still plays, he has been less prominent. Why? Elder and Burns are faster than Howard and more consistent tacklers.

### Time of possession. UM, which has lagged in the bottom quarter nationally in TOP, has a 99 to 81 minute edge over the past three games largely because its running game is thriving. That means the defense is on the field less and isn’t being worn down. That's big.

### Level of competition. Don’t overlook this. Stopping the run has been UM’s biggest weakness until recently, and Georgia Tech is third nationally in yards rushing per game and Nebraska 10th.

The last three opponents? Cincinnati is 72nd, Virginia Tech 98th and North Carolina 103rd.

FSU, by the way, is 101st, but Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene, etc. compensate for that in the passing game.

### Young players developing. Newcomers Thomas, Owens, Calvin Heurtelou, Courtel Jenkins and Michael Wyche have made strides in recent weeks, as have sophomores Burns, Elder and Grace.

### Bush's good work. Tentative last season because of a sports hernia, he’s playing faster and has done his best work recently, including a sack and interception against North Carolina and a forced fumble vs. Virginia Tech.

### A more stout defensive line and a much-improved McCord. Again, level of competition is a factor here. But McCord --- who at one time was undersized to play defensive end --- has held up better against the run recently and has two sacks in the past three games. And his 46-yard interception return vs. Cincinnati was exceptional.

“He’s gotten stronger, is playing more physical,” Golden said. “He’s stronger than he has been. He always had the ability to pass rush. He’s better on first and second down than he has been.”

Anthony Chickillo has been very solid recently, and the defensive tackle work has been competent. But McCord has made the biggest strides among the defensive linemen, considering his previous shortcomings against the run.

By the way, some have asked whether Golden has become more involved in defensive game-planning in the past month.

I asked him that today, and he said he has not been, but quickly added that he always has been involved in game-planning on offense, defense and special teams. Fentress said Golden hasn't attended any more defensive meetings recently than he has in the past and hasn't spent any more time with the defense during practice.

### The comparison of the UM and FSU defenses might surprise you. As noted, UM is 27th in scoring defense (21.9); FSU 34th (22.3). UM is 10th in passing yards allowed per game, FSU 80th.

UM is 31st in rushing yards relinquished per game, FSU 35th. UM is 33rd in sacks, FSU 83rd.

And UM is 46th in third down defense, FSU 81st.

"For the coaches and players, I think they deserve some credit for doing a great job thus far," D'Onofrio said Monday.

By the way, FSU has played five games without end Mario Edwards, one of three five-star players who start for the Seminoles, along with Eddie Goldman and Jalen Ramsey. UM has two five-star defensive players (Howard and Thomas), but neither starts.


### CBS lead NFL analyst Phil Simms, who works his first Dolphins game of the season Thursday, said by phone Monday that Ryan Tannehill “so far this year has won me over. I definitely notice a difference. I’ve been really, really impressed; he’s finding the right guys, throwing in rhythm, he looks stronger. And what really impresses me is he is more natural and really letting the ball go.”

Simms now believes Tannehill can be an above average NFL starting quarterback.

But even though he likes Tannehill’s ability to run the read option, he cautions that when an opponent “is fairly good and they’re ready for it, it’s useless. It’s a good thing but I wouldn’t want to see a steady diet” because of the injury risk.

### Simms likes this Dolphins team and “was fairly impressed with how they adjusted” Sunday after losing Branden Albert.

“They’ve got guys who can make plays to win games: wide receivers, the quarterback, many guys up front, their safeties, their corners,” he said. “It’s hard to pick out a severe weakness in this team; I don’t know if there is one.

“What stands out is how many dynamic players they have. You can see it forming for them. [But] they let the Green Bay game get away and they lost a tough one to Detroit. Those are the kind of situations that determine your year.”

### After being thrown just one pass Sunday, Brian Hartline is on pace for 76 targets --- well below his 127 last season. The NFL’s 18th-most targeted receiver last season, he’s 60th in targets last season. No wonder he’s gone from 23rd in receiving yards last season (1016) to 73rd this season (269).

Agent Drew Rosenhaus, on his weekly WSVN-7 Fox segment Sunday, good naturedly called for the Dolphins to find ways to maximize Hartline’s talent, as any good agent would.

Hartline said Tuesday he doesn’t want to broach the issue with coaches: “Coaches can use me as they see fit.”

### For viewers in South Florida who don't have NFL Network, don't despair: WFOR-4 will simulcast Thursday's Dolphins-Bills game.

### Rookie Shabazz Napier is shooting just 37 percent and has a mediocre 1.89-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. So why is he playing so much in the fourth quarter?

The Heat plays well with Napier in the lineup. Consider that Miami has outscored opponents by 21 points with Napier on the floor (that's plus 21, for those unfamiliar with plus/minus), compared with a plus 1 for starter Norris Cole. Mario Chalmers, who also plays a lot late in games, is plus 18.

"Things are just settled when he's in there," Erik Spoelstra said of Napier. "He does a good job of getting the ball to the right places."

### Chris Andersen, who has missed five of the Heat's first seven games with a rib injury, is probable for Wednesday's game against Indiana.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz


Monday 8 p.m.: Miller update; Dolphins' Lazor and Coyle and UM's Coley and D'Onofrio offer views

Quick 8 p.m. update: Lamar Miller said his shoulder is feeling fine and he will play Thursday. He said he could have played more than 11 snaps Sunday if needed... Cortland Finnegan (ankle) and Daryn Colledge (back) could not participate in the Dolphins' light practice (which was dubbed a walk-through) --- not a good sign regarding their availability for Thursday...

Nine players were limited in practice: Ryan Tannehill, Charles Clay, Miller, Koa Misi, Dion Jordan, Dion Sims, Jimmy Wilson, Kelvin Sheppard and John Denney. Tannehill has injuries to his ankle (not new) and his right (throwing) shoulder, which is new.


Some Monday thoughts from the four prominent coordinators in town --- the Dolphins’ Bill Lazor and Kevin Coyle and UM’s James Coley and Mark D’Onofrio.

Bill Lazor

### On changes on the offensive line necessitated by Branden Albert’s injury: “I thought at some point in his career, hopefully later than this, Ja’Wuan James would be a left tackle because I saw his ability to move. He’s very athletic, very knowledgeable. I thought there was a chance this would happen. No one wanted this to happen now with Branden Albert. He’s performed well for a rookie offensive tackle….

Dallas has continued to get better and better. He’s been prepared to make this move. He played pretty well.”

### On Buffalo’s imposing defensive line: “I’m excited for our guys to rise to the occasion. This was one of the fronts that gave us some trouble [in week two]. We gained momentum in the second half, were able to capitalize with enough points.”

### He said Lamar Miller’s carries were limited (11) because “going into the game, there were questions how well he would feel. We expected there would be more of a rotation. Any running back in the ninth game is going to be banged up. I have pretty good faith in Lamar. He really wanted to play in the game and he will really want to play Thursday night.”

### On Ryan Tannehill’s difficulty with the long ball, including an overthrow to Mike Wallace on Sunday: “We’re still working to put the good part together in the game. I feel good where we’re headed. I wish we had hit the last one we threw. It’s my job to help get it better. We’ve addressed the mechanics, trying to get people on the same page. I choose to operate with the belief that the next one will prove to everyone he can do it.”

### Is he concerned teams might defend the read option more effectively, as Detroit did? “Whatever you do offensively, you have to keep moving. You can’t do the same thing over and over. They study what you do. You have to have the next step ready, if you continue to do the same thing with the same look, teams will have a better chance to stop you.”

### On LaMichael James, who was promoted from the practice squad: “I’ve seen a guy that can really operate in space. I love the way he runs routes. I love the way he’s decisive and hits the hole fast. He’s excited to have an opportunity.”

### He said Billy Turner, a tackle at North Dakota State, is working mostly at guard in practice but also is getting some work at tackle. Lazor likes his “explosive power.”

### The Dolphins have had the most red zone opportunities in the league but are fifth-worst in efficiency: “It’s a broken record. We’ve got to do a better job. We’ve got to be more detailed and get it done. We have a good plan going in. I will be the optimist and say this will be the week.”

### On Jarvis Landry: “Every time he touches the ball, you get the feeling he’s trying to score a touchdown. Love his attitude. Love [how he's] very detailed in his routes. He’s on track to be a really good player.”

Kevin Coyle

### Anything Reshad Jones could have done differently on Detroit's game-winning touchdown?

“The quarterback did a good job getting outside the pocket, sidearm throw, snuck it in there. I wish we would have made the play."

### Coyle, on his defense being unable to hold a late lead against Green Bay and Detroit: “The series before I thought was going to be the last series of the game [Sunday]… [On the last drive], the quarterback made some great throws. They have outstanding players on their team, as does Green Bay. We have got to win in those situations. But I have great confidence in our defense and the way we’re playing. We played great in the red zone, great in sudden change.”

### On Brent Grimes: “He played a heck of a game. You saw what a great competitor is made of. He more than held his own.”

### Coyle said he had Dion Jordan help in coverage on Calvin Johnson a few times because “we were utilizing Dion with his height and length. He was on him. Dion loves the challenge. Dion did a heck of a job.”

### Why not use Dion at SAM linebacker instead of defensive end? “When you’re not in base defense maybe one third of the time, we have our plan in base defense and we have our plan in sub defense. We’re in sub defense two out of three plays and that’s where his role continues to grow.”

### On Jamar Taylor, who will be needed a lot Thursday if Cortland Finnegan doesn't make a surprisingly quick recovery from an ankle injury: “Jamar competed. There are some things he can do better and he will. We will have an opportunity with him. Will Davis is another guy we’re going to keep developing.”

Taylor and Davis “have worked hard. They are getting more comfortable with the system. Only time in games is going to tell" if they're up to the challenge.

### On defending Bills receiver Sammy Watkins, who had eight catches for 117 yards in their Week 2 meeting: “They hit a couple crossing routes on us. We have a better feel for who he is now than we did back then. Now you’ve seen more of a body of work from him.

"This is a different team from the one we played earlier. The quarterback change has been significant, has affected their style of offense to a degree. They play best when they’re running the football. That will be our challenge – to defend their run game. [Tight end] Scott Chandler has been a thorn in our side.”

Please see the last post for a lot more Dolphins notes.

James Coley

### On FSU’s defensive line: “Their defensive tackles are really low. They're big bodies, probably the biggest d-line we've faced to this point. That's one of their strengths is they're very strong. They know what they're doing."

### Why has FSU started slowly in some games? Coley said "they've gotten some very unfortunate field position with some turnovers, and a lot of teams are going to have good opening scripts and they cash in. But they do a really good job of adjusting. That coaching staff is experienced. ... Their kids lock in and the game begins for them."

### On FSU standout Mario Edwards, who has recovered from injury: Coley said, "Whenever you 're playing an exceptional big guy on the defensive front you feel them. When they're not healthy you don't as much. Mario is a special player, you feel him when he's full go. It makes a difference."

### On what he wants from his receivers, who haven’t been a big factor in some games: "Just the ability to make big plays, being able to win one-on-ones and really cash in, making people pay when we have certain calls," Coley said.

Mark D’Onofrio

### On what he will tell his defense heading into the FSU game: "Don't get caught up in the moment, try to do too much. Our guys have played well in the last month, played well in some big games. At the end of the day it's all about preparation, how they practice, and our guys are doing a good job of that. We pride ourself in 12 one-game missions, but this is a game that has big magnitude. We know that. As far as us asking the kids to prepare, nothing really different."

### Will UM take more chances because of FSU’s talent level on offense?

"I don't think this game's any different," D'Onofrio said. "We've pressured quite a bit. It's just situations dictate it, personnel dictates it, what's going on in the game will dictate that. We're going to run our defense, the same one we've been running the last two years and hope we execute well."

### On FSU’s offense: "There's a reason they've won as many games as they have. They don't really have a weakness as far as what I've seen. A great quarterback, a lot of running backs, a lot of guys that can get the ball and a veteran o-line."

### On Jameis Winston: “You know how confident he is, and rightfully so. He has a great arm, brushes off any mistake that he makes. He has that `it' factor for a quarterback. I don't see any of that changing. He has a great set of tools."

Again, please see the last post for a lot more Dolphins news... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Philbin on Miami's plan without Branden Albert; Bills player guarantees win; Dolphins chatter

A 1 p.m. Monday Dolphins update:

As expected, the Dolphins placed left tackle Branden Albert on injured reserve, ending his season. Running back LaMichael James has been promoted to the 53-man roster, according to James' agent.

Joe Philbin indicated the Dolphins will move forward with how they finished the game Sunday: with Ja’Wuan James at left tackle and Dallas Thomas at right tackle.

“What you saw is probably what you’re going to get,” Philbin said. “Ja’Wuan has always gotten a little bit of work at left tackle [in practice]. Dallas has gotten some work at tackle. We’ll make it work.”

How did James do at left tackle Sunday after Albert's injury?

“He held up well,” Philbin said. “It wasn’t perfect. He’s a pretty good athlete.”

Regarding Thomas, Philbin said: “I like what he’s done. He’s clearly much, much further along than he was a year ago. We have a lot more confidence in him. Just his ability in one game to play left guard and then flip over and play right tackle, and function relatively well speaks a lot to his level of preparation, his intelligence, those types of things. I think he’s making good progress. I like what he’s done.”

### Albert tore his ACL and MCL, a injury that has a recovery time of 9 to 12 months.

On Albert, Philbin said: “A pro. A good professional. A hard worker. Always had upbeat, positive attitude.”

### The Dolphins promoted James because they are concerned about Lamar Miller's separated shoulder, which limited him to 11 snaps on Sunday. James, drafted 61st overall by San Francisco in 2012, has 41 career carries for 194 yards (4.5 average). He requested his release before the season, hoping to find a more meaningful role elsewhere.


Since Joe Philbin and Ryan Tannehill became the Dolphins’ coach/quarterback tandem, the Buffalo Bills have flummoxed Tannehill, frequently overpowered the Dolphins’ offensive line and defeated Miami in four of their five meetings.

And at least one Bills player is confident that will happen again Thursday when the teams meet at Sun Life Stadium.

“We’re going to go out and we’re going to beat that ass. Point blank. Period,” cornerback Leodis McKelvin told reporters after the Bills’ loss to Kansas City Sunday.

Philbin’s response? “Football is going to be decided on the field. That’s really what’s important.”

The Bills are hardly the ideal opponent for Miami on a short work week, even more so considering left tackle Brandon Albert’s season-ending knee injury leaves the Dolphins more vulnerable against the Bills’ dominant defensive front.

“I think the Bills are built to beat us,” linebacker Philip Wheeler said after the Bills’ 29-10 drubbing of the Dolphins in Week 2. “They have a good scheme against us every year. Their defense stops our offense. Their offense runs the ball on us.”

Philbin did not answer specifically when asked why the Bills pose problems for Miami. Instead, he cited only the Week 2 meeting.

“In week 2 we didn’t get off to a very good start,” he said. “We had a lot of negative plays --- five negative plays in the first half on offense. A blocked punt in the first half. We had two 28-yard passes [against] that we felt were more mistakes, schematic things on our end. We never had momentum in that game. We have to learn from those things and make sure those things don’t happen in the rematch.”

Among some of the problems that have emerged against Buffalo during the Philbin/Tannehill era:

### Tannehill has completed only 52.4 percent of his passes in five career games against the Bills, well below his 60.5 percent career average. His 67 passer rating in those games is well below his 81.6 career rating.

And he’s averaging only 157.6 passing yards per game against Buffalo, with seven touchdowns and five interceptions.

### One reason Tannehill has struggled against Buffalo is Miami’s inability to slow the Bills’ pass rush. Buffalo has sacked Tannehill 18 times in the five games, including four times in their September meeting and seven times in Miami’s 19-0 loss at Buffalo last December.

Mario Williams and Kyle Williams each have four sacks against the Dolphins in their past three meetings, and Jerry Hughes has two in the past two games against Miami.

A Mario Williams sack late in their October meeting at Sun Life Stadium last year led to a Tannehill fumble and set up Buffalo’s game-winning field goal in a 23-21 victory --- an embarrassing loss for the Dolphins considering the Bills were playing Thad Lewis, Buffalo’s No. 3 quarterback at the time.

And now the Dolphins will face that physical front four without Albert, arguably their best player in the first half of the season. A diminished, reshuffled offensive line could spell trouble against a Bills defense that leads the league with 34 sacks. (The Dolphins, by the way, are tied for third with 28 sacks.)

### The Bills have run for 120, 203 and 113 yards in their past three games against the Dolphins. Conversely, the Dolphins produced just 90, 14 and 80 yards rushing in those three games.

The Bills will be without C.J. Spiller, who had 69 yards on 12 carries against Miami in September but is now out indefinitely, possibly for the season, with a collarbone injury.

But they still have Fred Jackson, who returned from a groin injury Sunday against Kansas City but received a light workload, with three carries for 10 yards.

Jackson had just 24 yards on 12 carries in the September game but ran for 105 on 18 carries in the Bills’ win against Miami last December.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins have averaged just 3.0, 1.2 and 3.8 yards per rush in their past three games against Buffalo. And their top running back, Miller, likely will enter Thursday's game still limited by a shoulder injury.

As noted above, Miller played only 11 of Miami’s 61 offensive snaps Sunday against Detroit, finishing with 10 yards on four carries. Unless Miller shows he is capable of more work with the shoulder injury, the Dolphins again will need to also rely on Damian Williams, who had 34 yards on seven carries, and Daniel Thomas, who had 14 yards on five carries.

Williams played 26 snaps, Thomas 23, and Williams also made an impact as a receiver (3 for 27).

“We need to do better,” Philbin said of the running game. “I didn’t think there were a lot of gaping holes we missed, but there were a couple of opportunities for more yards than we got.”

The Bills, who were quarterbacked by E.J. Manuel during their Week 2 meeting, are now led by Kyle Orton, who has 10 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 98.4 passer rating in five starts.

Some other Monday thoughts from Philbin and notes from Sunday:

### The biggest challenge playing Thursday: “It’s a quick turnaround," Philbin said. "Preparation aspect shifts toward the mental preparation.”

### On Dion Jordan’s progress, Philbin said: “I like it. He played a variety of positions in a lot of different jobs. Overall, he did a good job.”

### Pro Football Focus gave James by far Miami’s worst grade of any offensive player, which seemed harsh. PFF justified it by pointing out that James allowed five quarterback hurries and struggled in run blocking. But James was competent when he moved from right tackle to left tackle after Albert’s injury.

PFF gave Miami’s second-worst grade to right guard Mike Pouncey, who allowed two sacks and four hurries.

### Against Detroit, Jarvis Landry was targeted 10 times, Charles Clay nine and Mike Wallace eight. Conversely, Brian Hartline was thrown only one pass, which was completed.

Here’s how the receiver snaps broke down: Wallace 53 (of 61 possible), Hartline 46, Landry 38, Brandon Gibson 30 and Rishard Matthews nine.

### Defensively, PFF gave its highest grades to Derrick Shelby, Jelani Jenkins and Earl Mitchell and the lowest to Jamar Taylor, who allowed 6 of 7 passes thrown in his coverage area to be completed, for 62 yards, in his 23 defensive snaps.

Taylor figures to play a lot Thursday if Cortland Finnegan doesn’t make a surprisingly speedy recovery from an ankle injury sustained in the second half Sunday.

### Defensive snap count notes from Sunday: Among linebackers, Jenkins played all 67 and Koa Misi 65. Philbin Wheeler played just 21.

On the defensive line, Jared Odrick played 57, Olivier Vernon 55, Cam Wake 53, Dion Jordan 30 and Mitchell and Shelby 21 apiece.

### Tannehill was 18 for 19 for 135 yards and a touchdown when he wasn’t facing quarterback pressure Sunday (a 113.8 rating). But when he was under pressure, he was 9 for 19 for 87 yards and a pick (38.7 rating).

### Please check back later for comments from the Dolphins’ coordinators, who will address the media at 4:30... .Twitter: @flasportsbuzz




A college football playoff primer

Buzz posts will resume in a week or so. In the meantime, here's my in-depth look at the new college football playoff system. Speak to all of you soon...

After years of clamoring for a college football playoff, fans get their wish this season and for at least the next 11 after that.

But it might not be exactly what many of you had in mind.

An 8- or 16-team tournament would have been more inclusive and potentially more captivating, but college presidents instead opted for a four-team, three-game playoff system which they believe will be an improvement over the Bowl Championship Series.

Unlike the BCS, which was in place from 1998 through last season, there will be two national semifinal games, with the winners advancing to the championship. And unlike the BCS, a committee --- not a convoluted and confusing computer formula --- will determine the participants.

The College Football Playoff (CFP), which has set up its headquarters in Dallas, might not be immune from controversy, however.

If one team hypothetically finishes unbeaten and six finish with one loss, the committee will need to somehow decide which of the one-loss teams to invite to the four-team playoff and which to exclude, considering factors such as strength of schedule and common opponents.

The committee will release a top 25 poll every Tuesday for the next six weeks, beginning last night. 

Some questions and answers on the new system:

### How will the committee select the four teams invited to the playoffs?

The process will be similar to the one used for selecting schools for the NCAA basketball tournament.

Beyond won-loss record, the CFP says it will consider strength of schedule, conference championships won, head-to-head competition, comparative outcomes against common opponents “and other relevant factors that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance.”

The CFP says committee members “will have flexibility to examine whatever data they believe is relevant. They will also review a significant amount of game video.”

### Are there any conference restrictions regarding what four teams can be selected?

No. There is no limit to the number of teams that can be chosen from one conference, unlike the BCS system. The committee will select the top four teams and seed them, with the top-seeded team playing the No. 4 seed and the No. 2 seed meeting the No. 3 seed.

### So who’s on this committee?

A mix of prominent people who have been involved in college athletics, plus former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former AirForceAcademy superintendent Michael C. Gould.

The others on the inaugural committee: Athletic directors at Arkansas (Jeff Long), Southern California (Pat Haden), Clemson (Dan Radakovich), West Virginia (Oliver Luck) and Wisconsin (Barry Alvarez). 

Also serving: former NCAA executive vice president Tom Jernstedt; former USA Today college football reporter Steve Wieberg, ex-Stanford/Notre Dame/Washington coach Tyrone Willingham, former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese and former Nebraska coach and athletic director Tom Osborne.

Former NFL quarterback Archie Manning, one of 13 people originally named to the committee, said he will not participate this season because of a medical issue. So the committee will have 12 members this season.

Most committee members will have three-year terms, but some will serve a shorter or longer term to allow for a rotation of members. The committee members won’t be paid, but their expenses will be reimbursed.

### But what about potential conflicts of interest with the committee members? Will schools with committee members have an advantage over others?

That’s not supposed to happen. Committee members will be recused from voting on a team if they or an immediate family member works for the school “or has a professional relationship with that school.”

They cannot be present for deliberations about their schools but they can be asked questions about their schools.

That means all of the current or former athletic directors will not be able to vote on their current or most recent school. Also, Gould will not be permitted to vote on Air Force (his alma mater) and Rice will not be allowed to vote on Stanford, where she has served as a professor and provost.

### When will the committee start releasing polls?

The committee’s ranking of 25 teams will be released every Tuesday night on ESPN for six consecutive weeks, beginning this week. 

The two national semifinal matchups will be announced at 12:45 p.m. on Dec. 7, and the final top 25 poll --and the matchups for the other marquee bowl games --- will be disclosed at 2:45 p.m.

### So what happens to the Associated Press poll?

It will continue to be released, but unlike past years, it no longer will have any bearing in determining a champion. Nor will the computer rankings that were used by the BCS. Only the CFP committee’s poll will carry weight in determining matchups.

### When will the semifinal games be played and what network will televise them?

Both semifinals will be played on the same day, either on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. This season’s semifinals will be on Jan. 1 in New Orleans and Pasadena, Cal.

The championship game will be played on a Monday night, with the 2015 game scheduled for Jan. 12 in Arlington, Tx.

ESPN will carry both semifinals and the championship game for all 12 years of the contract.

### Where will be the semifinal games be played?

The semifinals will alternate among six bowls: The Orange (South Florida), Sugar (New Orleans), Rose (Pasadena, Cal.), Cotton (Arlington, Tx.), Fiesta (Glendale, Ariz.) and Peach (Atlanta), with each hosting four semifinals over the next 12 years.

The Orange Bowl semifinals will be played on Dec. 31 in 2015, 2018, 2021 and 2024.

### And where the championship game will be played?

Three championship games have been awarded: to North Texas in 2015, Glendale, Ariz. in 2016 and Tampa in 2017.

### Will Sun Life Stadium get a championship game?

Possibly. Sun Life (and several other stadiums) lost out to Tampa for the 2017 game, but South Florida plans to bid for the championship in years it’s not hosting a semifinal. Cities are not permitted to host the title game and a semifinal during the same season.

Sun Life Stadium officials hope South Florida’s attractive winter climate, the ongoing renovations to the stadium and the region’s rich college football history will help it snag at least one title game during the 12-year contract.

But competition is stiff, both from the five other bowl cities in the playoff rotation, and several other markets that are not, including Tampa, the San Francisco Bay Area, Minneapolis, San Antonio, Orlando, Indianapolis and Jacksonville.

If Sun Life Stadium is awarded a championship game at some point during the 12 years, it would also host the Orange Bowl that year.

### How will it be decided which playoff teams will play in which bowls?

Geography will be considered, especially for the top two seeds. For example, when the national semifinals are played in the Orange and Cotton Bowls --- which will happen next season --- the Seminoles most likely would be sent to the Orange Bowl if they are the No. 1 seed.

### How will matchups be decided for the marquee bowls that aren’t hosting national semifinals?

In the case of the “contract” bowls (Orange, Rose and Sugar), the bowls and the conferences with which they are contracted will determine the matchups, based on the selection committee’s final poll.

For example, in the eight years when it does not host a national semifinal game, the Orange Bowl will get the ACC champion.

If the ACC champ is involved in the playoffs, the OB instead would get the next-highest-ranked ACC team in the final CFP poll against the highest ranked non-champion from the Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame.

The champion (or next-highest ranked) teams from the Big 10 and Pac-12 will meet in the Rose, and the Big 12 and SEC will square off in the Sugar.

For the “host” bowls (Cotton, Fiesta and Peach) the matchups will be determined by the selection committee.

### OK, so we know the Orange Bowl will have an ACC team during the eight years when it doesn’t host a semifinal. But who will the opponent be?

The opponent generally will be the highest-ranked available team from the SEC (but not the conference champion), Big 10 (but not the conference champion) or Notre Dame, based upon the selection committee’s rankings.

But here’s the catch: Notre Dame cannot be selected for the OB more than twice over those eight years. Also, the SEC and Big Ten each must have at least three OB appearances over those eight years.

So there might be some years when the ACC team isn’t playing the highest-ranked available team from the SEC, Big 10 or Notre Dame.

### But if the Orange Bowl ends up with a regular-season rematch, can it force the committee to come up with a different matchup?

Yes, but all involved parties (ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Notre Dame and the Orange Bowl) must agree. If it’s an attractive matchup, the OB wouldn’t necessarily oppose a rematch.

### Will the Orange Bowl continue to be played at night?

Often, but not always. For its four semifinals, the games will be played at 5 or 8:30 p.m., with the committee and ESPN deciding which slot to give the Orange and which slot to give the Cotton.

For its eight non-semifinal games over the next 12 years, two will be on Dec. 30 at 8 p.m., two will be on Dec. 31 at 8 p.m., two will be on Dec. 31 at 1 p.m. and two will be on Jan. 1 at 1 p.m.

### Where does the new system leave the non-marquee conferences?

The highest-ranked champion of the other five Football Bowl Subdivision conferences (the American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt), as determined by the selection committee’s final poll, will play in one of three host bowls (the Peach, Fiesta or Cotton) that are part of the national semifinal rotation.

It would be difficult to imagine a team from one of those conferences being selected for the four-team playoff, though it’s not prohibited. 

### What happens to the ACC champion during years the Orange Bowl is hosting a national semifinal?

If the ACC champion isn’t part of the four-team playoff, it would play in the Fiesta or Peach bowls.

### How often will committee members meet?

The group will meet weekly, in the Dallas area, on Mondays and Tuesdays, then will reconvene Dec. 6 to determine the playoff teams and the pairings.

### Who will select the matchups for the more than two dozen bowl games that aren’t part of the semifinal rotation?

Individual bowls will continue to select those matchups. Most have conference tie-ins.

For example, the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl on Dec. 22 at Marlins Park will match BYU against an American Athletic Conference team. The inaugural Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 23 at FAU Stadium will match a Conference USA team against a Mid-American Conference team.

### Why is the committee releasing polls so far in advance of selection of the four playoff teams?

"That's what the fans have become accustomed to, and we felt it would leave a void in college football without a ranking for several weeks," Long said. "Early on there was some talk that we would go into a room at the end of the season and come out with a top four, but that didn't last long.”

Each week, the ranking process will begin from scratch, with no weight given to the previous week’s rankings.

### How can fans buy tickets to the championship game?

The CFP says there are two ways: A) Through a random drawing in which 1000 tickets are made available in February of the year before the championship game.

Winners of the drawing have the right to purchase two tickets. The random drawing for this season’s title game is closed.

B) Through a “Team Tix forward market” in which 2500 tickets are made available though Nov. 24, 2014. 

Fans may make reservations to purchase tickets for any particular team, with prices determined by demand. Then if that team qualifies for the national championship, that fan will be able to purchase tickets at face value. See collegefootballplayoff.com for more information.

### Will the committee members be expected to attend games?

The CFP says “members will not be expected to attend games in person” but “they will be expected to watch video extensively.”

### How much is ESPN paying for TV rights to the CFP?

Quite a lot:  $7.3 billion for 12 years. Conversely, the most recent contract with the BCS paid almost $2 billion over four years — $495 million per year for five games.

With Brent Musburger demoted to the SEC Network, Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit will call the championship game for ESPN this season and for the foreseeable future.

Buzz posts will resume in a week-and-a-half.