July 30, 2015

Branden Albert update; More Philbin changes; Ross on HBO's Ballers; UM/MLS stadium

Here are some notes after the first day of Dolphins practice. Please check back in a few hours for a lot more, including position by position Dolphins updates.

Though the Dolphins remain quite optimistic that left tackle Branden Albert will be healthy for the Sept. 13 regular season opener at Washington, Albert was non-committal about that on Thursday.

“I don’t know if I’m going to be quite ready for the opener. I don’t know yet,” he said. “I told everybody it’s going to be sooner than later. I’m ahead of schedule. We don’t want to push it too much. This is a good starting point. I’m happy to be where I’m at. Each and every day, I’m getting better.”

The Dolphins hope he can play in preseason but Albert said he doesn’t know if that’s going to happen, either.

But there’s one thing he is sure about: "I’m fully, fully confident I’ll be the player I was.”

Albert, whose practice participation Thursday was limited to the initial walk-through, said he feels no pain in his surgically-repaired right knee and the challenge is getting back “into football shape, getting my strength in my leg. All the little stuff in rehab, all that is over with. It’s more transition now.”

He said his recovery from the ACL and MCL tears has “been a long, long road. I’m just happy I’m not on the PUP list. I’m just happy I can be involved with the team and not off on the side any more like a stepchild.”

He said “the most challenging” part of the recovery “was learning how to walk, learning how to do the simple things I’ve been doing all my life. I was on crutches for three months. That was the hardest part. All the little things I couldn’t do. I told people I didn’t think I was going to play football again.”

### Joe Philbin said he’s not concerned about DeVante Parker starting training camp on PUP. “I like what’s he doing; he’s going to be an excellent football player here for a long time,” Philbin said.

Parker’s agent, James Gould, has said he will be shocked if Parker isn’t ready for the Sept. 13 opener.

### In an attempt to reverse the team’s penchant for late-season swoons, Philbin has slightly shortened training camp practices and implemented other changes, including giving the team off Tuesdays during the regular season instead of Fridays.

“This is the most efficient training camp that we’ve ever had in terms of the way the schedule is,” he said. “The reps are down a little bit, not considerably. Practices are a little bit shorter. All of this stuff, we think it’s going to add up. We’re not here to take shortcuts, because we all know that to win championships, it’s not going to be easy. I think we have better information to make good decisions about what our team does in the future.”

The Dolphins lost three of their final four games last season and have gone 3-9 in their final two games over the past six years (the last three of those seasons under Philbin).

“We want to peak late,” receiver Jarvis Landry said.

### Dolphins owner Stephen Ross doesn’t seem particularly impressed by Ballers, the fictional HBO series that stars Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson and often mentions the Dolphins and “Mr. Ross.”

Said Ross: “I saw one episode. I wasn't overwhelmed by it. It's really crazy, with all they're trying [to] glamorize something about football that's not really real life….  I know my name is used.”

Though the show already has been renewed for a second season, Ross said: “You haven't heard much about it from the fans. You haven't seen much. I don't think the show is going too far.”

Asked if HBO received permission to use the Dolphins’ logo (which the network has done), Ross said: “We're having conversations. It's noted, let's put it that way.”

Please see Adam Beasley's story on the home page for all of Ross' other comments today. 

### Cameron Wake returned alive and unscathed after taking a picture with an uncaged, non-sedated tiger on his recent trip to Thailand.

“It’s probably more dangerous what we do out here,” he said. “Tremendous animal. The power is amazing. I feel I can relate a little bit.”

### The chances of a joint UM/MLS joint stadium venture appear to have diminished, with MLS voicing its preference for a 25,000-seat stadium --- 15,000 seats smaller than UM would accept, at bare minimum.

But even if UM and David Beckham’s group reach an agreement, we were reminded today that UM’s lease with Sun Life Stadium --- which has 17 years left --- remains an obstacle.

Asked about former UM president Donna Shalala’s stated preference to leave Sun Life Stadium, Ross said: “They have a long term contract and I expect them to live up to that contract.”

When I asked Ross if he would entertain a financial buyout from UM if it gets to that point, he said: "Yes, if the number is right. Certainly. I don’t see that happening.” 

Please check back in a few hours for a lot more Dolphins on-field stuff from today, Heat, Canes and Marlins.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

July 29, 2015

Golden addresses questions about his critics; Dolphins personnel news; Heat; Broadcast notes

A few notes on a Wednesday night as we await the start of Dolphins' training camp in a few hours and the Marlins' completion of their latest trade with the Dodgers:

### UM's Al Golden told me he asked every one of his coaches to meet with, or visit with, coaches from at least two other teams (college or NFL) to learn new ideas. Golden made one visit (to the Dallas Cowboys).

He doesn’t want to name the teams that his assistants visited, for competitive reasons, but the Dolphins and Buccaneers were among them.  

### A few former players have taken unnecessarily personal shots at Golden, primarily Phillip Buchanon nicknaming him “Al Folden.”

So is Golden ever tempted to confront them and tell them to back off?  

"No,” he said, “because if they sat down across from me, or asked to meet me like some of the players I have met with and it came up then, I would address it then. I’m not going to respond to something put out on Twitter or on the radio. I can’t control that, so I’m not going to control that.

Bennie Blades sat down with me and wanted to know how he can help. Richard Mercier is another one who said, ‘How can I help?’ If guys have concerns and express that to me, they have a dialogue with me, I owe them a response. I have that responsibility. I promise you every day of my life, I understand the standard that is the University of Miami. We are working like crazy to move the program into that realm.”

### I asked Golden about California coach Sonny Dykes, in a clear reference to UM, telling ESPN a few months ago: “There’s an unnamed ACC team that’s got this recruiting class full, another one almost full… Do they really think they’re going to sign those guys? I mean, that’s done as a signal: ‘We’re ahead of the game, we know what we’re doing, we’re really cool.’ There’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than trying to find the best players.”

Golden’s response? “I’m not answering that quote; I would hate to get into that with anybody. But you have a file and you build a resume on every kid. When you check enough of the appropriate boxes, you make the offer. We’re in one of the largest densely populated areas in the country as it relates to football per capita. We get a lot more foot traffic.

“We see kids as freshmen, then as sophomore. We see them live. They come to junior days. They come to multiple spring balls. I promise you as hard as we work as coaches, the only agenda we have is getting the right players.”

### Check out Adam Beasley's story for the latest on Branden Albert and DeVante Parker.

Couple other notes: Though the Dolphins expressed initial interest in Evan Mathis, they have not pursued Mathis in recent days. Instead, they're eager to see how their young guards perform in camp...

ESPN's Adam Kaplan said "the first change we could see" in practice Thursday is Koa Misi moving back to outside linebacker and Kelvin Sheppard in the middle.

But that isn't a big change; Sheppard got time at middle linebacker in OTAs and the Dolphins have always been open in saying they would experiment with different combinations --- one with Sheppard inside and Misi outside, and one with Misi inside and Chris McCain outside. And Misi has said this summer that the Dolphins haven't told him which position he would play....

Fifth-rounder Cedric Thompson, Don Jones and Jordan Kovacs are hoping the Dolphins keep five safeties, because Louis Delmas, Reshad Jones and Michael Thomas will be on the team, and Walt Aikens made a very strong impression in the spring and appears the front-runner for the No. 4 safety job. So Jones' shoulder injury, which has landed him on PUP, is certainly a setback....

Couple notes on the two Dolphins pickups today: Undrafted rookie receiver Kai De La Cruz started only four games in his career at Louisville, catching 41 passes for 574 yards. He's the ultimate of long shots at one of Miami's deepest positions.. And Oklahoma State defensive tackle Calvin Barnett was All-Big 12 in 2012 and 2013. He spent time on the Cleveland Browns' practice squad last year before a season-ending shoulder injury.

### Hassan Whiteside made a good point on the Heat’s starting lineup: “We can score one through five. Not every team can do that.”

Whiteside loves that LeBron James mentioned to Bleacher Report that Miami “is doing some great things” and that “they’re going to be a contender.”

### A few broadcast notes: With Josh Friedman and Chris Wittyngham indefinitely shifting to 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., 104.3 FM The Ticket is experimenting with the 7 to 10 p.m. shift.

This week, that show is being hosted by Rich Herrera, who has been doing some weekend fill-in work at the station. He previously hosted postgame shows for the Oakland A's, Tampa Bay Rays, San Francisco Giants and Golden State Warriors....

Not only will ESPN Deportes in Miami carry all Panthers home games on radio, but two of South Florida's English language stations will carry most or all of the games: incumbent rights-holder WQAM and Palm Beach-based WMEN....

And speaking of WMEN, Sid Rosenberg, host of the station's morning show, will get major exposure next week when he and Bernard McGuirk fill in for Geraldo Rivera from 10 a.m. to noon on WABC radio in New York. It's Rosenberg's first opportunity to talk politics in New York City, where he previously hosted a sports talk show before working at The Ticket, WQAM and now WMEN. "Best of Sid" shows will air on WMEN in Rosenberg's absence. 

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

July 28, 2015

Big season looming for potential 2016 Dolphins free agents Miller, Vernon; Heat, Marlins, Canes, local radio personnel notes

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

For a franchise that too often has eschewed drafting University of Miami standouts, the Dolphins’ decision (specifically Jeff Ireland’s) to snag Olivier Vernon and Lamar Miller in the third and fourth rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft was smart and commendable.

Both have proven well worth the investment --- Vernon collecting 18 sacks over the past two seasons, Miller seizing a starting job and ranking among the league leaders in per-carry average in 2014.

But with both players a year away from unrestricted free agency, questions about their futures will linger until resolution.

The Dolphins, who open training camp on Thursday, prefer to keep both players but cannot say for sure if they will be able to, according to a club source.

They have had preliminary discussions with Miller but no in-depth negotiations yet. And there have been no discussions with Vernon.

Even though the Dolphins already stand above the projected 2016 salary cap, keep in mind that they can clear out substantial cap space in a variety of ways, some relatively painless.

In Miller’s case, the Dolphins might have a possible replacement in Jay Ajayi --- every top Dolphins executive keeps calling Ajayi a three-down back --- but nobody has seen nearly enough of the rookie to know that for sure.

Be very careful not to underestimate Miller; his 5.1 yards per carry average last season was second among all NFL backs (behind only Baltimore's Justin Forsett) and tied Ronnie Brown (2007) for the highest per carry average (minimum 30 carries) by any Dolphins running back since 1981, when Tony Nathan averaged 5.3.

And Miller was better in short yardage than the perception: On 3rd and 1 or 2 last season, Miller converted 11 of 14 chances into first downs, averaging 4.9 yards on those 14 carries. He converted one of two chances on 4th and 1 or 2.

Miller, who ran for 1099 yards and eight touchdowns last season, showed his breakaway speed --- something the Dolphins would love to see more of --- with his 97-yard touchdown run against the Jets in the season finale, and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said last year that Miller improved in every area the coaching staff asked of him, including breaking tackles.

Consider that last season, Miller caused defenders to miss 32 tackles, which was 13th in the league among 57 qualifying running backs despite having fewer carries than half of the players in the top 12.

ESPN’s KC Joyner, who meticulously breaks down film, said Miller averaged 8.8 yards per carry last season when he gets good blocking. “The top backs average 9 or 10,” Joyner said.

Miller’s 4.6 career rushing average (in 444 carries) is excellent. Among active running backs with at least 750 carries, only Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, DeMarco Murray and DeAngelo Williams are higher.

The Dolphins value Miller. But this is also a league when some teams prefer not to pay big money for running backs.

As for Vernon, defensive end Cameron Jordan’s new five-year contract with the Saints could provide a floor for a Vernon deal if Vernon excels in 2015. That Jordan deal is costly: five years and $55 million, with $33.5 million guaranteed and $27 million over the first two years.

Corey Liuget's five-year, $51.5 million extension with San Diego, and Cam Heyward's six-year, $62 million deal with Pittsburgh ($33.5 million guaranteed) also might be used as floors for a new Vernon deal. And Vernon had far more sacks over the past two years than Heyward (12.5) or Liuget (10).

If Vernon has a big season, do not be the least bit surprised if Vernon asks for more than any of those contracts (potentially five years, more than $60 million, with more than $40 million guaranteed). Such is the market for young, talented defensive ends in a league that places a premium on pass rushers.

For perspective, Vernon had 103 tackles and 18 sacks over the past two seasons, his second and third in the league. Jordan had 98 tackles and 20 sacks over those two seasons, his third and fourth.

Last season, among 59 qualifying defensive ends who play some in a 4-3 defense (Jordan also plays in a 3-4), Pro Football Focus ranked Vernon 17th and Jordan 29th. So the Jordan/Vernon comparison --- previously noted by our Armando Salguero --- is valid.

Vernon assuredly wants to raise his sack total, which dropped from 11.5 in 2013 to 6.5 last season. PFF ranked him 21st of 59 defensive ends against the run last season, second among Dolphins linemen behind Derrick Shelby.

There’s also a chance the Dolphins could place a $15 million franchise tag on Vernon for 2016.

Vernon’s value to the Dolphins beyond this season is magnified by the fact that Cameron Wake will be 34 to start the 2016 season; Shelby is entering the final season of his contract and might leave in free agency; and the Dolphins cannot count on Dion Jordan, who’s suspended for all of 2015. Terrence Fede is the only other returning defensive end.

### Please see the last post for information on the Dolphins' roster additions today.

CHATTER

### As our Clark Spencer noted, Cleveland is among teams expressing interest in a trade for outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who was hitting .344 with four homers and eight RBI in 17 games in Triple A entering Tuesday.

According to a Marlins friend of Ozuna, there is growing concern and frustration that the Marlins might be leaving him in Triple A for financial reasons.

To be eligible for arbitration after this season, Ozuna likely would need to be back with the Marlins by Aug. 8, WINZ’s Andy Slater noted in a piece over the weekend.

Agent Scott Boras declined to give an opinion on that arbitration issue but told me that when the Marlins demoted Ozuna on July 5 (with his average at .249), Ozuna “was told by [president/baseball operations] Michael Hill that as soon as he gets his rhythm back, he will be right back. And the manager [Dan Jennings] reported to me he was hitting the ball well at Triple A.”

Asked when Ozuna will be brought back to the majors, Jennings said Tuesday that the Marlins have studied video of Ozuna and "will dispatch evaluators there to make sure he's accomplished what we want him to." 

The Marlins could save several million dollars by leaving him in New Orleans for a couple more weeks, because that would also push back his free agency clock. Ozuna declined a multiyear offer over the winter, and you wonder if that is also a factor in this.

### Several teams have called on Martin Prado, but Jennings said Tuesday the Marlins don’t want to move core players who are signed beyond this season (like Prado)…The Marlins have focused in on a trade for Mat Latos, who has drawn interest from the Yankees, Dodgers, Toronto, San Francisco and the Cubs, among others. [UPDATE: Latos and Michael Morse are expected to be traded to the Dodgers for three minor leaguers]…. Dan Haren remains in play, too, though his $3 million in potential incentives complicates matters.

### Marlins right-hander Henderson Alvarez had shoulder surgery in Sarasota today and Jennings said it's unclear if he will be ready for spring training. Alvarez, who is arbitration-eligible, went 0-4 this season before being sidelined by shoulder problems.

### One NBA general manager who spoke to the Heat said Heat brass realized Shabazz Napier “was not good enough. At that size (6-1), you have to be really quick or a very good shooter, and he’s neither.”... Please see the last post for details on Josh Richardson's signing.

### Josh Friedman and Chris Wittyngham are moving from evenings to the 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. slot on 104.3 FM/790 AM The Ticket, at least temporarily, in the wake of ESPN Radio parting ways with Colin Cowherd. A decision is still pending on whether Dan Le Batard will take over Cowherd's slot nationally on ESPN Radio and locally on The Ticket.

### With four-star Coral Gables standout Amir Rasul (widely considered the state’s best running back and ESPN’s No. 83 player overall) flipping from UM to FSU this week, that means 7 of the 21 UM oral commitments for 2016 are four-star prospects (top 300 players nationally) in the eyes of Rivals.com; none are five-star players.  

Rasul’s move leaves West Palm Beach-based Travis Homer as the highest-rated running back in UM's group of 2016 oral commitments. Rivals.com ranks him the 15th-best back in the country and a three-star prospect. Conversely, Rivals rated Rasul the 12th-best and a four-star prospect.

Hallandale-based Zack Moss, rated by Rivals as the 31st-best back in the 2016 class, also is orally committed to UM.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz     

Tuesday 6 p.m.: Heat signs Richardson; Dolphins sign Martin

Guard Josh Richardson, who impressed the Heat during summer league, agreed to a three-year, $2.5 million contract with the Heat moments ago. He will assuredly be on Miami's roster this season; Miami loves his upside as a defender and a combo guard.

Richardson will make the rookie minimum $525,093 this season; that money is guaranteed. The second year of the contract, worth $874,636, is partially guaranteed. The third year is a team option for $1.1 million, with a partial guarantee date.

The Heat conveyed to Richardson last week that it considers him an NBA player but needed to shed contracts to make room for him. Miami did that by trading Shabazz Napier and Zoran Dragic and cutting Henry Walker over the past three days. Richardson was drafted 40th overall in June but Miami rated him the 24th-best player on its draft board.

He averaged 11.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.7 steals in Summer League.

Richardson gives the Heat 15 players under contract. Tyler Johnson's deal will become partially guaranteed on Saturday. James Ennis' deal will become guaranteed only if he's on the opening night roster. Otherwise, he makes nothing.

Ennis' contract was supposed to become partially guaranteed on Saturday but Ennis agreed to push that deadline back.

His agent, Scott Nichols, explained it thusly:  "The decision was made because while we could have waited until August 1, James and I are traveling to Australia to do some basketball clinics and promotional work and we didn't want to have this looming over our heads while we are here.  Also for James he didn't come to the Heat to just make the team and get a partial guarantee. 

"He is fully confident like he was last year that he will come to training camp ready to make a bigger impact this year and help the Heat win.  He expects not only to be on the Heat opening night but to be a big part of the rotation.   

"Finally, instead of having two dates to worry about for his contract August 1 and December 1, now his only concern is training camp and coming in healthy and as an improved player to help the Heat win. As long as he does what he can control then everything else will take care of itself and his contract will be fine."

Teams can carry 20 players through training camp but no more than 15 once the season starts. The Heat likely will fill out the training camp roster with non-guaranteed deals.

DOLPHINS SIGN LINEMAN

The Dolphins, who entered the day with three opening roster spots, filled at least two by re-signing quarterback Josh Freeman and offensive lineman Chris Martin, a former UCF player who spent time with New England, Houston and San Francisco as a rookie last season but did not play in a game. The Martin news was announced on Twitter by agent Brett Tessler.

Miami auditioned several players at several positions today and is expected to fill the 90th roster spot at some point.

Please see the last post for details on why Miami brought back Freeman.

July 27, 2015

Tuesday 9:30 a.m.: Dolphins sign QB; Heat changes contract; Flurry of Heat roster moves; Examining Dolphins' predicament at cornerback & nuggets on those in mix

9:30 a.m. Tuesday: Five days after releasing quarterback Josh Freeman, the Dolphins re-signed him. So why the change of heart?

The Dolphins wanted to keep him all along, but because of a clause in his contract, the Dolphins are at less risk financially by doing it this way: cutting him and then re-signing him. That eliminated a financial obligation that Miami otherwise would have had.

Freeman still remains a long shot to make the roster, with the Dolphins probably having room for only two quarterbacks (Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore). Moore already has been paid a $1.6 million bonus and there's no indication that he is at any risk.

Freeman will hope to impress other teams during preseason games. McLeod Bethel Thompson is the fourth quarterback on the roster.

Miami has 88 players under contract and is looking at other players to fill the two remaining spots.

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5 p.m. Dolphins update: The Dolphins released receiver Nigel King, an undrafted rookie free agent who caught 30 passes for 537 yards for Kansas last season. Miami's roster stands at 87 and the Dolphins are exploring candidates to fill some or all of the three open spots, with veteran free agent guard Evan Mathis among those still in play.

8 p.m. Heat update: According to two people involved, the Heat has changed James Ennis' contract so that half of his contract does not become guaranteed on Saturday and the other half on Dec. 15, which is how the contract was originally structured. 

Instead, his entire $845,000 salary will become guaranteed on the first day of the regular season if he's on the team. If he's not on the team that day, he gets nothing.

That gives Miami more time to evaluate him to make sure his poor summer league play was an anomaly instead of a sign of regression. He also will have competition for a roster spot in training camp.

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The Dolphins had cornerback on their mind all offseason, signing two veteran free agents, drafting two, making a late, unsuccessful attempt to snag starter Buster Skrine (who joined the Jets) and looking closely at a first-round corners had receiver DeVante Parker not been available. Now they’re in a position where they might need to keep seven corners, one or two more than normal. With camp opening Thursday, some nuggets on what Miami has assembled around Brent Grimes:

### Jamar Taylor: Here’s the good news on Taylor, who’s a front-runner to start: He’s technically sound, highly competitive, a very good tackler, strong against the run and generally doesn’t get beaten for huge gains. He allowed 10.2 yards per reception last season, which would have been in the top 12 among 108 corners if he had enough snaps to qualify. And he has been solid this offseason.

“He’s confident, determined, wants to win a job,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. “Each and every day he’s performed at a high level. That’s been very encouraging.”

The concern: He has given up a high completion percentage through two seasons: 37 of 53 caught against him, per Pro Football Focus. And health has been an issue: a sports hernia before his rookie season and a shoulder injury that cost him four of the final five games in 2014.

Grimes believes Taylor is ready to break out: “I’ve been saying for a few years that Jamar is a great player,” Grimes said. “He has a lot of tools. He’s explosive. He’s aggressive. He’s competitive. He just had a lot of nagging injuries.”

### Will Davis: He made a quick recovery from an ACL tear and the Dolphins say he should be ready for preseason. They loved his play-making ability coming out of Utah State and convinced him last season, before his injury, to become more sound in his technique and gamble less.

Davis showed improvement last season, allowing only 12 of 27 passes thrown against him to be caught in 10 games. Among NFL cornerbacks targeted at least 25 times, only one had a better completion percentage against: new Dolphin Zack Bowman. But balls completed against Davis averaged 14.3 yards, which is too high.

### Bowman: The fact he allowed only 13 of 36 passes thrown in his coverage area to be caught with the Giants last season was great. But those 13 receptions averaged an absurd 19.3 yards, which was the worst in the league. He allowed four touchdown passes, lost his starting job in December and was criticized for a subpar effort on a Marshawn Lynch touchdown run.

Bowman, who at 6-1 is taller than the 5-10 Taylor and 5-11 Davis, has started 28 games in seven seasons (five with the Giants in 2014) and said the Dolphins told him he will have a chance to compete to start. But he’s clearly behind Taylor and did little to distinguish himself in the offseason program.

“Solid player but not a starter on a good team,” an NFC scout said.

### Brice McCain: Has had some good moments in practice (“he’s sneaky in coverage,” Matt Moore said) and appears to be an upgrade over San Diego’s Jimmy Wilson as Miami’s slot corner.

McCain allowed a 72.5 passer rating in his coverage area for Pittsburgh (12th best among 108 cornerbacks) in 2014; Wilson’s 129.2 was fourth-worst. McCain had three interceptions, Wilson one.

“I’ve seen a ton of McCain because I live in Pittsburgh and he played well as a slot guy,” ESPN/com analyst and former Browns scout Matt Williamson said. “He’s stable, won’t get toasted over the middle.”

McCain, who started nine games for Pittsburgh last season after starting just 10 in five years with Houston,  was Miami’s first-team slot corner in June practices but also has gotten some work on the boundary and would love a chance to compete there.

Playing in the slot, at 5-9, is “what I thrive at” because “I'm experienced. I'm quick. I'm fast. I can jump. I've got good instincts and good awareness. I think that separates me from a lot of people.”

Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey agrees and loves his “quickness and speed” in the slot.

### Bobby McCain: This is neat: When he met with the Dolphins at the Senior Bowl, “he was breaking down every part of Brent Grimes’ game that he loved and admired and said how great it would be to be on the field with Brent Grimes,” Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey said. Four months later, Miami drafted him out of Memphis.

Though it’s difficult to envision him playing ahead of Brice McCain in the slot, the Dolphins love the rookie fifth-rounder’s playmaking skills: He ranked seventh in college football with six picks in 2013, 15th with five last season. McCain, 5-11, has been impressive in practice, deflecting passes and showing good awareness. He’s also getting some work on the boundary.

“People look at his [OK] speed or his height, but he’s very competitive and he has good foot quickness,” Dolphins president/football operations Mike Tannenbaum said.

Whereas coaches call Brice McCain B-Mac and linebacker Chris McCain C-Mac, Bobby “hasn’t earned a nickname,” Brice joked. “Right now he’s plain old McCain.”

### Tony Lippett: Teams don’t typically keep seven cornerbacks, but the Dolphins have said privately that they want to keep Lippett, a rookie fifth-round pick, considering the skills he has shown in practice, including a three- interception day. Only a bad preseason could possibly change those plans. Even beyond his size (6-3), “he’s got excellent ball skills and great hands,” Coyle said.

HEAT MOVES

Within a span of 24 hours, the Heat has whittled its roster from 17 to 14 by trading Shabazz Napier to Orlando, Zoran Dragic to Boston and cutting Henry Walker a few minutes ago.

That 14 includes Ennis (see the update above) and Tyler Johnson  --- whose contracts are not guaranteed --- but does not include Josh Richardson, the second-round guard who will be offered a contract shortly.

Johnson has been told that chances are very good that he will be retained beyond Aug. 1, when half of his contract becomes guaranteed.

The three trades were made to thin the roster, make room for Richardson and reduced the Heat's luxury-tax bill, which has decrease by several million dollars (the exact amount is based on Miami's final payroll next April). Miami has been trying to trade Mario Chalmers but found no takers.

The Heat gave Boston a second-round pick in 2020 and paid Dragic's entire $1.7 million salary for the Celtics to take him off Miami's cap. Miami will receive a second-round pick from Boston in 2019 only if the Celtics finish with one of the league's five best records in 2018-19.

Similar terms are in place with the Magic on the Napier deal, with Miami getting a second-rounder only if Orlando finishes with a top five record next season.

As for Walker, less than half of his $1.1 million salary for 2015-16 would have become guaranteed on Saturday.

Agent Mike Naiditch said the Heat left "the door open if there is an opportunity for his return" but the Heat didn't indicate the likelihood of Walker getting an invitation to training camp. "It was amicable," Naiditch said.

Richardson, meanwhile, is expected to receive a multiyear offer from the Heat.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

July 23, 2015

UM athletic director addresses Golden, his own expectations for football team; Dolphins, Marlins, Heat notes; Radio chatter

FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN 

One thing that was made clear this week: Unlike Las Vegas odds-makers and some national college football reporters, the UM administration does not consider this a rebuilding year, a year when another mediocre season can be written off or excused.

With questions swirling about Al Golden’s job security beyond this season, make no mistake: The expectations from the top of UM's athletic department are much higher than they are nationally.

In fact, athletic director Blake James said he believes UM has enough talent to compete for the ACC's Coastal Division title this season.

“Al understands expectations of the program,” James said in a conversation this week inside the lobby in the Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort, where the ACC was holding its annual media event.

“Our conversation [this offseason] was [that] I expect us to be a winning program," James said. "He understands those expectations and I’m confident he will get us in position to win Coastal championships, win ACC championships and ultimately win national championships.

“Let’s start with winning the Coastal. That’s something we need to do. If you win the ACC, I’ve always said, you've got a great chance of winning the national championship in any sport…. Let’s go out and win the Coastal because I would feel very good about where we are nationally.”

I asked James what he tells donors and fans who ask what Golden must do to remain the coach beyond this year.

Here was James’ answer: “Al wants to win. I want to win. Our donors, our fans, our friends want to win. Anyone who has an affinity to the University of Miami wants to see us win.

“Al knows he needs to win. Our guys know we need to win. I know we need to win. I’m confident they are taking the steps they need to take to go out and take care of business this year.”

James’ vision for the program includes this: “I believe as we continue to get young men coming into our program that are elite players, we are going to see that return where’s it not rebuilding, it’s reloading. We are going to see that year after year. There is just so much talent not only in South Florida but in the state of Florida.

“The University of Miami has such a strong national brand, that we will continue to get players like Brad Kaaya out of California and throughout the country, like we’ve done historically. I do think, and people don’t always like to hear this, that there was that void when we were under the NCAA cloud. We’ve moved beyond that.

“When I look at all the names I’m signing [National Letters of Intents] for, I know our program is going in the right direction because we’re in conversations with all the elite players.”

Why does James expect more this season than what oddsmakers predict (UM’s over/under for wins in Vegas is 5.5 or 6)?

“I like the guys that we have coming back,” James said. “You have a great leader and quarterback in Brad Kaaya. I think we are going to see our defense continue to get better. I just think we’re going to be a better team overall. I don’t get caught up in what the media thinks or what Vegas thinks.

“The [UM players and coaches] are doing the things in the offseason that they need to do to put themselves in position to win. We didn’t execute at the level we thought we should have or could have in a lot of games last year. With that, you end up at a 6-7. If you execute to the level I think we can, we can have a lot of success.”

So is it reasonable to expect a 9- or 10-win season?

“I don’t get into looking at numbers but what I do expect to see is us executing at a higher level and performing at a higher level and going out and winning games,” James said.

“At the end of the year, we’ll look at the whole picture. You go into the season not looking to win 9 or 10 games. You go into the season looking to win every game. I hope and expect that for all of our coaches. I don’t want any one of our coaches or student athletes saying we are going to lose these four or three or two games or whatever. Let’s go win every game.”

Golden's contract runs through Feb. 1, 2020.

Incidentally, James, who has done great work upgrading facilities, said lights were installed on the practice field this week (costing about $500,000). He wants an indoor practice facility but UM needs a big donation (“a naming-type gift”) to finance it.

“Without that, it can’t become a reality,” he said. “….My goal is to go through the needs we have and scratch as many as you can off the list.”

CHATTER

### Regarding UM’s non-conference scheduling, “Al and I have talked about that,” James said. “We need to play a big game [every year]. This year, it’s Nebraska.” It’s Notre Dame in 2016 and 2017 and LSU in Arlington, Tx., in 2018 and Michigan State in 2020 and 2021.

“Big game every year and then we need to have a competitive one,” James said. “Cincinnati [which hosts UM Oct. 1] is going to be a very strong team in the American Athletic Conference this year. You could [supplement] that with Bethune Cookman. I believe in helping those programs out. I’d like us to continue to play FIU and Florida Atlantic.”

Also booked for future games: Arkansas State, Toledo and Rutgers.

### James addressed the possibility of a joint stadium with MLS in this space last Friday. Please see the July 17 post if you missed that.

### Training camp doesn’t start for a week, but the Dolphins lost one player to retirement: undrafted rookie offensive tackle Mickey Baucus, a four-year starter at Arizona whose body wasn’t responding to the workload. He had back and knee issues in college.

Evan Mathis remains a possibility but it's likely Miami also will explore signing a young offensive lineman.

### Tough start for the Marlins’ top two draft picks: Power hitting first baseman Josh Naylor is out with mononucleosis after a 10 for 30 start in the Gulf Coast League.

Pitcher Brett Lilek, the Marlins’ second-rounder out of Arizona State, has allowed 11 runs in his first 11 minor-league innings, for Single A Batavia....

And from a player development standpoint, this is worrisome: All seven Marlins minor league affiliates entered the week in last place (as local sportscasters Andy Slater and Will Manso noted). By my tabulations, they were a combined 80 games under .500 to start the week.

### Jose Fernandez's 2.30 ERA is the third-lowest after 40 career starts in baseball's live-ball era, dating to 1920, according to Elias. The only ones better: Vida Blue (1.99) and Howie Pollet (2.14).

### Add the Royals and Blue Jays to the list of teams that have reportedly inquired about Mat Latos, who said he would prefer to stay here longterm but knows there's a good chance he will be traded.

### The Marlins' nightmarish season continued today with news that Henderson Alvarez is experiencing more shoulder pain and will see doctors to see if surgery is necessary. Alvarez, who was terrific last season (12-7, 2.65 ERA), is 0-4 with a 6.45 ERA this season and amid today's setback, you wonder if the Marlins will get a single win from him all year.

### Center Gabe Olaseni, the Big 10's Sixth Man of the Year at Iowa last year, declined a non-guaranteed training camp offer with the Heat to sign with a team in Germany. Olaseni had some good moments for Miami in Summer League... Seems way premature considering the limited body of work, but ESPN predicted today that Hassan Whiteside will command a contract averaging $18.8 million during free agency next summer. He will make just under $1 million this season.

### For the second time in a week, a general manager at a South Florida sports radio station has been ousted by new ownership. Last week, it was The Ticket's Maureen Lesourd.

Today, CBS Radio --- which recently closed on its acquisition of Beasley Broadcasting's local stations --- dumped longtime WQAM general manager Joe Bell, a gregarious fellow who was well-liked by employees. Bell was the person who made every major personnel hire at that station (as well as FM stations WKIS and WPOW) for the past decade.

WQAM's Joe Rose has beaten The Ticket's morning show in three of the past five ratings books, but The Ticket (which has the benefit of having two signals to WQAM's one) has been winning in every other daypart.

(A bit more, for those really interested in the radio business:) Besides dropping Bell, CBS Radio also dismissed the chief executives at its stations in Hartford, Orlando, Las Vegas and Riverside, Cal. Steve Carver --- who previously guided CBS stations in Tampa, West Palm Beach, Cleveland, and Las Vegas --- will take over Bell's duties in Miami and also oversee the Orlando stations.

### ESPN Radio remains very interested in having Dan Le Batard replace departing Colin Cowherd (who's expected to move to Fox) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekdays. But no final decision has been made and discussions are ongoing.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

July 22, 2015

Wednesday Dolphins, Heat, Marlins nuggets; Bill Simmons' new home; Al Golden opines on team

Notes on a Wednesday:

### Dolphins teammates have been impressed by rookie Tony Lippett's transition from receiver to cornerback --- Jarvis Landry said his size (6-3) and length make it very challenging for receivers --- and Lippett has approached this very conscientiously.

He said he has been studying tape of tall cornerbacks.

"I've looked at Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman and a lot of tall corners to see how they move," Lippett said. “I know it’s a little challenging for us to move against short guys.”

As a cornerback, Lippett played only 88 snaps the past three years at Michigan State (all as a senior) but earned positive grades against both Rutgers and Penn State. He was thrown at nine times, had four pass breakups and allowed three receptions.

Safety Michael Thomas said “you see the raw skills” with Lippett. “I told him that the way he comes in with a swag ---  like, ‘I'm going to go up and try to catch everything,’ ---  reminds me of somebody I went to school with [at Stanford] who's doing pretty well [Seattle All-Pro Sherman]. I like the way he's competing.”

### Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry, speaking to the New Orleans Times Picayune this week about Miami adding former Saints receiver Kenny Stills: "As the Dolphins, we've always been known as a .500 team. Can’t get over the hump. Can’t make the playoffs. As many weapons as we can add, I’m really appreciative of it because it allows us to be that much more successful.”

### Talking to NBA people at the Las Vegas Summer League, I heard lots of positive feedback last week on Heat addition Amar’e Stoudemire: professional, liked by teammates and doesn’t miss games for minor ailments. Though he has missed a lot of games, his knee must really be acting up for him to sit out.

### Among ways for Miami to make room for impressive rookie guard Josh Richardson: Cutting Henry Walker, finding a taker for Mario Chalmers and choosing between James Ennis and Tyler Johnson.

Walker (who, like Ennis and Johnson, has a non-guaranteed deal) seems most at risk. Walker said his ankle was healthy enough for him to play in Las Vegas, but Heat Summer League coach Dan Craig sat him and told Walker he wanted to “evaluate other guys,” according to Walker.

When Don Shula used to say about veterans: “We know what he can do,” it wasn’t a good sign.

Said Walker: “I don’t worry about it. I worked myself into a good position to be back in the NBA.”

### Despite his summer league struggles, the Heat likes Ennis and has given him positive feedback. Miami is paying for him to participate in a skill development camp in California, which suggests he has a good chance to survive the Aug. 1 deadline when half of his contract becomes guaranteed.

### We hesitate to ever read anything into comments by Chalmers on social media, because he has said in the past that others have misinterpreted his sometimes cryptic messages, that some of his comments that appear related to basketball actually aren't. 

So with that caveat, we present this Tuesday Instagram post from Chalmers, who is being shopped in a trade:

Against the backdrop of Kansas' gymnasium, Chalmers posted: "Back on our old stomping grounds. Had to get away to get my mind right. ###Itseitheryouwantmeoryoudon't

Earlier in the week, Chalmers told The Lawrence Journal-World: "I would definitely love to stay in Miami."

### Former longtime network lead baseball analyst Tim McCarver, in town recently, said one reason why the Marlins’ disappointing season is so surprising is because “they’re the most athletic team” in baseball. “Dee Gordon and Adeiny Hechavarria can make the spectacular play look routine.”

But… “I don’t like managerial changes during the season," McCarver said. "Baseball more than any other sport does that and it’s befuddled me for years, why baseball succumbs to the pressure because a manager in baseball may have less to do with the team than a coach in football, basketball or hockey. Very few times does a team rise above that.”

### The Marlins have received several inquires on Mat Latos, who helped his trade value with a strong seven inning performance in Tuesday's 3-0 win against Arizona.

### Noon update: Bill Simmons, whose contract was not renewed by ESPN, is joining HBO to host a weekly talk show beginning in 2016 and help the network develop sports programming and documentaries. He also will host a podcast. The talk show will focus on sports and pop culture. Simmons is among the nation's most popular sportswriters, if not the most popular.

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

FROM TUESDAY NIGHT

With UM losing more than half a dozen of its top players off a 6-7 team, what exactly can coach Al Golden count on as being strengths? Golden said Tuesday there are “two things that jump out the most:

“A veteran quarterback [Brad Kaaya] with command, presence and leadership capability and a veteran defense [with] 25 of the top 30 back. We get [defensive end] Al-Quadin Muhammad back. We get [safety Rayshawn] Jenkins back. All the nose tackles that were first-year players are back. Excellent leader in the middle with [linebackerRaphael] Kirby. This is the strongest we’ve been in the front seven. Deon Bush is healthy. Veteran secondary.”

And there’s this: “We have more pass rushers than we’ve had. Many more than we’ve had.”

Golden offered thoughts on his roster, by position:

### Quarterback: Kaaya “has bridged from being a leader to being a commander,” Golden said. “He’s really comfortable in his own skin. When he was a rookie, it was very difficult to ask him to be a leader of the team. No question this year he’s the leader of the offense if not the leader of the team. He’s not a screamer. Very respectful.

“His work ethic is elite, backs it up every day. His body is the biggest difference right now. This time last year, he was 230 pounds. Now he’s 209. He’s quicker and faster. His decisions are better.

“We’re already asking him to do so much more. He would tell you he’s doing more now at the line of scrimmage. His command is better. Can you do more with a veteran quarterback? Yes.”

Golden said backup Malik Rosier “did a lot of good things this spring. He does some things Brad can’t do. We’ll continue to develop packages for him.”

### Running back: “Whether it’s by committee or competition, we don’t want to have a decline there at all” from Duke Johnson, Golden said. “Gus [Edwards is] a very unique running back. He’s 240 pounds. He posted our fastest, if not one of the two or three fastest, on the GPS in the spring; he hit 21 miles per hour. Big back. Working really hard on his body. He will get an unbelievable opportunity."

Golden said he supports Joe Yearby, who’s away from the team dealing with a personal issue but is not suspended. "He’s doing what he needs to do. It’s intensely personal. He’s got our support. This is what he needs to do to become the type of young man he wants to become."

On the field, Yearby "is shifty, makes you miss, great lateral mobility and can cut," Golden said. "We can deploy him like Duke, can put him out [as a receiver] in empty [backfield sets]. He’s tough as nails.

Trayone Gray has made progress; hopefully, we left immaturity with him behind. Very proud of him. Very focused. Very talented kid. Big back at 216 pounds; he was 225. Hard to bring him down.”

And freshman Mark Walton “has made his presence known this summer. He is going to [have] a lot of opportunities.”

### Receiver: “I’m excited about that group. We lost Philip [Dorsett] but Stacy [Coley]had a good offseason” and his “overall strength” has improved, allowing him “to get off press [coverage],” Golden said. “He has a much better approach in the weight room. He’s a much better all-around receiver than he was last year.”

Golden said UM needs Coley to continue excelling with bubble screens but “we need him to be not just that.”

Beyond Coley, “We get Rashawn Scott back. Braxton Berrios has done really well this summer. Braxton posted one of the top 40 times this summer.

Malcolm Lewis is the leanest he’s been since the [gruesome 2012 ankle] injury. He’s 195 pounds…. Herb [Waters] is as big as he’s been. He’s 197 pounds. We have the long kids –[Tyre] Brady, [Darrell] Langham. That gives us a little more of a red zone factor, too. I wouldn’t trade [receiver] groups with anybody.”

### Offensive line: Asked if he can enter camp counting on anyone in particular to be a clear-cut starter, he said: “I’m comfortable with whoever comes out of the race. We have three centers [with Nick Linder atop the depth chart], maybe more. There have been a lot of times we didn’t have three. Nick and Alex Gall can play in there. Having[Hunter] Knighton back will help us tremendously in there.

“At guard, how ever it shakes out, with [Danny] Isidora and [HunterWells and… Gall has had a really good summer. At tackle, Kc McDermott was playing for us a year ago.Trevor Darling was starting for us. We have other guys: Sunny Odogu had a good spring, Jahair Jones. We have some young guys. [Incoming freshman] Tyree St. Louishad a good summer.”

### Tight end: Despite losing Clive Walford to the Oakland Raiders, “overall, we’re deeper and stronger than we were,” Golden said. “Clive taught them well. As much as what [tight ends coach] Larry [Scott] and [offensive coordinator] James [Coley] have taught them, Clive has taught them well. He left a high standard there…

Stan Dobard is being a great leader. [Chris] Herndon is very talented; he’s 260 pounds and really fast. [David] Njoku put on 40 pounds and has adapted. Jerome Washingtonhad had a really good summer.”

### Defensive tackle: Golden said Ufomba Kamalu and Calvin Heurtelou have emerged.

And “I’m really excited about Michael [Wyche],” Golden said. “He’s doing great in his conditioning. Will Michael Wyche make an impact at his body weight and being in the condition he’s in? Yes. [Remember], he had an Achilles [injury] last year [when he arrived].

“That group – Courtel JenkinsEarl Moore is going to benefit from being redshirted,[Anthony] Moten. It’s a much deeper group, much more veteran group.”

Golden touched only briefly on his defensive ends (Trent Harris, AQMDemetrius Jackson at rush end; Jelani Hamilton, Chad Thomas, Kamalu at the other end spot) but said Tyriq McCord will continue to play some end, even though he’s primarily at strongside linebacker now.

### Linebacker: Golden said the communication is much better and it starts with Kirby. If you’re good up the middle and with safeties in terms of communication and leadership, you can do a lot of things.”

Starting linebacker Jermaine Grace has “got high end ability,” Golden said. “He’s always been able to strike, very physical player. He’s one of the fastest players on the team. He’s much stronger, much bigger. Hopefully [will be] around 220 range. He’s 215 now. Got a little work to do now to get him to 220. He cares. He wants to do it right. Kirby has been tremendous for him.”

As for McCord, Golden said he’s “physically the strongest he has been in his career.” With McCord and Darrion Owens, “that SAM position is a lot better than year ago. Both those guys can rush the passer.”

### Safety: Golden said “that competition is going to be awesome. Will be interesting to see how that shakes out.”

Deon Bush, Dallas CrawfordJamal Carter and Jenkins are all competing to start and everyone raves about freshman Jaquan Johnson.  

“Deon Bush is really [showing] maturity,” Golden said. “I really appreciate the growth in his game over the last four months. He’s being more audible, communicating more. He’s very talented.

“Dallas gives you that maturity and poise. Very physical player. Jamal is really physically gifted; he’s doing a good job. Rayshawn Jenkins is back. We haven’t had Jenkins in 18 months. I’m tremendously excited about [freshmen Robert] Knowles and Johnson.”

### Cornerback: Golden anticipates playing Bush some at cornerback. “We’ll treat Deon like Ladarius Gunter [last year],” Golden said, suggesting he could play safety in base defense and possibly play cornerback when “we go to five DBs.”

Excluding Bush, UM has only three natural cornerbacks with game experience: Tracy Howard, Corn Elder and Artie Burns. Beyond those three, redshirt freshman Ryan Mayes “has to keep coming,” Golden said.  

Among freshmen, “everyone is excited about Sheldrick Redwine.  We’ve [also addedMichael] Jackson, Terrance Henley.”

For a lot more of Golden's comments about the team, please see the last post.

FSU ITEM

### One other note from the ACC media session: FloridaState coach Jimbo Fisher said Tuesday that standout running back Dalvin Cook remains suspended but his longterm status will not be determined until the misdemeanor battery case against him “plays itself out” and Fisher won’t comment about the matter.

Last week, Cook was charged after he allegedly punched a 21-year-old woman in the face several times following an argument outside of a Tallahassee bar around 2 a.m. on June 23.

The incident involving Cook, 19, comes less than a week after former FSU quarterbackDe’Andre Johnson was dismissed from the team after he punched a woman at a different bar near the FloridaState campus on June 24. There was video evidence in Johnson’s case but not in Cook’s.

At least six FSU players have been charged with violence against women during Fisher’s tenure, but there have been few convictions.

"There's no tolerance for hitting women... We've always taken a strong stance against it," he said, adding he was “disappointed” by the recent off-field incidents with his program. "Just like it is anywhere else in the country, you as the head coach take responsibility, and you continue to educate. You hope they don't make mistakes, and when they do, you punish and adjust and continue to educate so they don't do it again."

Fisher said the team devotes at least 40 days to off-field personal development but more will be added. He also confirmed that he has banned his players from bars and clubs.

"I don't think what's happened at FloridaState is relative to just FloridaState," Fisher said. "It happens all over the country. We get more attention because of the success of our program, and we accept that, and our players have to accept that responsibility.

"... You're judged on what you do, and we've had a couple instances like other people have had, too. It's not a FloridaState problem or athletic problem. It's a problem all across our country. There are always issues in the country that are hot spots at the time that get the news. And we don't tolerate [violence against women] and don't accept it."

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

July 21, 2015

11:30 a.m. Tuesday: Golden addresses state of the program, says changes have been made; Dolphins

PINEHURST --- For UM coach Al Golden, the massive undertaking of correcting the myriad problems that surfaced during the 6-7 debacle of 2014 couldn’t start quickly enough. So as his players dispersed following the flight home from the Dec. 27 Duck Commander Bowl loss to South Carolina in Shreveport, La., Golden instead drove straight to the office.

He worked that day, and the next one and 55 in a row overall.

“Being down and feeling sorry [for yourself] --- none of that can help you a bit,” Golden said Tuesday from the ACC Kickoff, where the conference’s coaches met with reporters. “We went right to work. Our coaches went to work. I met with every player more than once.”

Golden also traveled to Dallas to meet with Cowboys coaches and study their system, challenged each of his coaches to propose new wrinkles, consulted with athletic director Blake James and met with every single person at UM whose tentacles touch his program.

“I talked to every department, wanted to make sure all of our values and standards are the same,” he said. “If you’re expecting a different response but not changing the behavior, it doesn’t work. Everyone has to self examine.”

What emerged, Golden said, was a plan that featured substantive changes, many of which he cannot specify for competitive reasons.

But when asked if fans will see clear differences in play-calling and schemes, he said yes.

He said that’s partly because Brad Kaaya is capable of doing more, as a sophomore, than he was a year ago and partly because his defense is more experienced.

“We’ve changed a lot of different things internally,” he said. “Operations, recruiting, different approach with a lot of different facets of the program internally. There are a lot of subtle changes that aren’t as easily [noticed]. We’re excited about the response of the team. Very team-oriented group. We can’t get them out of the building.”

The objective, Golden said, was to make “sure we have one scoreboard and not a bunch of different scorecards. This isn’t golf. If you’re content because your area is good and we lost, it’s not good. We have one heartbeat right now. We’re all responsible for one scoreboard.”

Golden said it does him no good to discuss anything that happened with his program before Jan. 1 but did say of last season: “It wasn’t good enough. You can’t escape the scoreboard. It’s not, ‘My guys did well or my department did well.’ We’re all responsible for results.”

He declined to comment about several remarks that players have made in recent days, including former UM center Shane McDermott citing selfishness on last year’s team and Tracy Howard saying leadership was lacking.

“For me to go back to last year, it doesn’t help anything,” Golden said. “We’re so far removed from that. Seven months, 21 days from that. Ultimately, I’m responsible. We all have to be better, starting with me….. Dwelling on anything last year is not going to help. It’s not fair to the guys not here. They gave a lot to our program.”

Despite relatively low national expectations and the swirl of negativity around the program in recent months, two things delight Golden: how his players have stayed out of trouble and are holding each other accountable for missteps, and how the distractions of the NCAA investigation have finally dissipated, though Golden pointed out that UM is still on probation, with modest scholarship limitations.

“I came here to coach football, man,” Golden said. “I didn’t come to be the dean of discipline… I came to coach Raphael Kirby and… Darrion Owens and… Brad Kaaya. That’s what we’re doing. It’s fun. We’re not dealing with a lot of external stuff. We’re like, ‘Can we start tomorrow?’ The staff gets fuel from that.”

In previous years, “I’ve talked about a lot of things that have nothing to do with our football program,” Golden said. “Last year, we had to answer questions that were awful. It was about four years before I could get my message out. When you see players buying in and being excited about who they are and what they want to be, it becomes fun.

“There’s a lot of trust right now. There’s a bond right now in the room that we haven’t seen in a while. That’s been exhilarating to be around a team like that. When everybody comes on time or is early and has suggestions to make things better, that’s awesome. That’s what we need to keep doing. Get the distractions out of here. Hold each other accountable. I’m excited about the direction of our team.”

He said the fact players are spending so much time together, using the chess boards and card tables that Golden’s wife purchased for them, pleases him greatly.

“There’s a calmless and a poise about our team,” Golden said. “There’s a focus. We’re getting very good leadership. They’re not paying a bit of attention to anything on the outside.”

Golden deflected questions about the pressure on him to turn the program around, insisting: “I don’t feel pressure. I’m in a great organization. I am very fortunate over the last 18 months, a lot of changes at the University of Miami. A lot of things that weren’t there are there now. The training table, lights [installed on the practice field], what’s going on at [Sun Life Stadium with modernization]. I’m grateful to be at the University of Miami.”

Regarding fan and media criticism directed toward him, Golden said: “Nothing I can do about it…. When I got here, we were blindsided” by the NCAA investigation.

In an ACC media poll released Tuesday, UM was picked to finish third in the Coastal Division behind Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Golden insisted anyone can win the Coastal this season.

“It’s incumbent on us to get it back to where we want it to be, and have a model that’s sustainable and can endure,” he said.

### I asked Golden to assess most every position on the roster, and he kindly obliged. Check back later for that. (One quick thing: He suggested safety Deon Bush probably will play some cornerback.)

### Please see the last post for my Dolphins story from late last night and a six-pack of Canes notes.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz  

July 20, 2015

Monday night: What undrafted rookie Dolphins will be this year's surprise?; Canes notes from Pinehurst

From Davone Bess to Dan Carpenter to Damien Williams to Chris McCain, the Dolphins have done admirable work unearthing undrafted gems over the past six years.

There’s a decent chance an overlooked player or two will defy the odds and make the roster this year, and it seems most likely to be at linebacker --- the position Joe Philbin mentioned when asked which undrafted players impressed him this offseason.

A look at the rookie free agents competing for jobs as the Dolphins approach the start of training camp July 30:

### The four linebackers. The Dolphins had draft-able grades on all four rookies they signed: Penn State’s Mike Hull, Cincinnati’s Jeff Luc, Utah State’s Zach Vigil and Marshall’s Neville Hewitt. Vigil impressed in the offseason program and has a realistic chance to stick. But Hull is the most heralded of the group.

He led the Big 10 in tackles (134), and Penn State coach James Franklin said it was a “travesty” that he wasn’t drafted.

Hull always seems to be around the ball, Dolphins linebackers coach Mark Duffner said.

"I honestly think, if Mike can get in the right system and stay healthy, he'll play eight to 10 years in the NFL," Franklin said on his offseason speaking tour, via The Morning Call in Allentown, Penn.

"He's way too productive. I think college coaches and NFL coaches get way too caught up in measurables like height, weight and size. Mike's a guy who, when you see him, he's not going to jump out at you.

“But if you turn on the tape and watch how productive he is and see what kind of leader he is, he's invaluable. Mike's going to find a way to play and to be successful."

Hull, who’s 232 pounds and listed at 6-0, said his size probably worked against him in the eyes of NFL executives. “I believe in my heart I can play at this level,” he said.

Of the four rookie linebackers, it wouldn’t be surprising if one or two make the final 53. “We were very lucky to get all four,” said Duffner, who cultivated relationships with all four before the draft.

Vigil made several good plays in pass coverage during the team’s offseason program. Luc, once a five-star recruit out of high school who transferred from FSU to Cincinnati, “has physicality, really good movement skills,” Duffner said.

### Tim Semisch. The 6-8 tight end from Northern Illinois was the only undrafted player signed among the 20-plus tryout players who auditioned during the Dolphins’ rookie minicamp.

He caught only 10 passes for 100 yards and three touchdowns in three seasons at Northern Illinois, playing mostly as a backup, but displayed good hands and impressive receiving skills in May/June practices.

If he shows enough during preseason, he could end up on the practice squad or perhaps even compete for the No. 3 tight end job, which has no clear front-runner.

Semisch said he never had a chance to show his receiving skills much in college because “we had good success on the ground… And we had five different offensive coordinators” during his college career.

“You see the length, you see the catching radius,” general manager Dennis Hickey said. “Smooth athlete. Tim caught our eye with some of his work on special teams. We really like what he brought.”

### Andrew Franks. The rookie kicker from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., remains an underdog in his competition against Caleb Sturgis, who hopes to return from a quadriceps injury by training camp.

Franks was inconsistent with field goals in minicamp but “his leg has some juice to it,” Philbin said.

Franks made only 37 of 56 field goals at RPI but kicked three field goals of 50 yards or more last season. And 58 percent of his kickoffs went for touchbacks, above the NFL average.

### Christion Jones, Alabama. The three undrafted rookie receivers --- Jones, Kansas’ Nigel King and Maine’s Damarr Aultman --- are all long shots for the 53-man roster, but Jones might have the best chance because of his return skills.

Jones returned two punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns at Alabama and probably needs a couple of big returns in preseason to give the Dolphins strong reason to consider keeping him.

The Dolphins’ top four receivers are set with DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and Greg Jennings, and Rishard Matthews is the front-runner for the fifth job.

But a job could open if there’s a long-term injury; Parker is expected back from foot surgery by the regular-season opener. The Dolphins could start the season with six receivers if Parker has a setback.

The three rookies are competing with veterans LaRon Byrd, Tommy Streeter, Tyler McDonald and Michael Preston.

### Linemen. All seven are major long shots to make the 53, but a couple could end up on the practice squad. On defense, that group includes Georgia defensive end Ray Drew, Bowling Green defensive end Kendall Montgomery and UCLA defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy.

On offense, Southern California’s Aundrey Walker, Oklahoma’s Dionte Savage, Arizona’s Mickey Baucus and Illinois State’s Michael Liedtke are competing.

CANES NOTES

Please see the last post for my main UM story from day one of the ACC media session in Pinehurst, N.C., including some eye-opening comments from Brad Kaaya and Raphael Kirby and an update on Joe Yearby, who hasn't been with the team recently.

A six-pack of additional notes:

### What UM freshmen have been most impressive?

Kirby mentioned two defensive backs from Killian: safety Jaequan Johnson and cornerback Sheldrick Redwine.

Kaaya agreed about those two and also raved about running back Mark Walton.

"Walton is a great kid; he just gets it," Kaaya said. "He’s got a different mentality. Knows protections already." On the field, Walton's "lateral movement stands out," Kaaya said.

And Kaaya says this about freshman receiver Lawrence Cager, who arrived this summer: "He’s really tall, he’s long, he has a wide catch radius. He can go up high for it. Has made some good plays one-on-one. We have to see during camp [if he can help this season on offense]. A lot of guys look good in shorts and T-shirts."

### Kaaya predicts running back Trayone Gray will surprise people. "He has made significant strides. He had a few issues several months ago, had some issues with class, has really cleaned his act up. He’s going to be a surprise player this year."

### We mentioned a couple weeks ago that UM coaches believe H-back/tight end David Njoku, at some point, is going to be a matchup nightmare for defenses.

And Kaaya today called Njoku "our secret weapon. High jumper in high school. 36-inch vertical. He loves watching Jimmy Graham. Very versatile athlete."

### In many ways, UM defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio patterns his defense after the Seattle Seahawks', and as a result, Kirby said he has been studying tape of Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner.

Kirby said he has watched every 2014 UM game twice. He seems very studious and diligent as he moves into Denzel Perryman's mike linebacker spot.

### Impressive that Kaaya and Kirby flew back to Miami tonight to attend Tuesday morning workouts instead of spending another day in North Carolina on break, as a bunch of ACC players are doing.

Kaaya shows his maturity and leadership in so many ways. He has deleted his Twitter and Instagram apps from his phone and speaks, in some ways, like a senior.

"He’s taking charge of everything he does," Kirby said. "... You see he’s confident, calm, cool, collected.... That was Felicia's son [before]. He's Brad Kaaya now." (That was a playful reference to Angela Means Kaaya, she of the "Bye, Felicia" pop culture reference.)

### Though Ufomba Kamalu has mentioned slight changes in how defensive linemen are lining up, Kirby said there are "not many changes" in how the team plays defense.

"Guys have to do their job," he said. "You can’t have a good defense if one guy decides to do their own thing. It’s hard in college to do [that]. You think about somebody else. You mess around and don’t do your job. "

For years, UM defensive coaches have tried to get players to stop freelancing. Apparently, the problem hasn't completely been eliminated.

### Al Golden addresses the media Tuesday morning. Check back for lots of updates from that... Please see the last post for a lot more Canes from today, as we move from NBA Summer League in Las Vegas to ACC media sessions in Pinehurst... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Eye-opening comments from Kaaya & Kirby about UM's behind-the-scenes problems and how they came to a head; Yearby's status

PINEHURST, N.C. --- The seminal moment for the University of Miami football team this offseason happened on the Greentree practice field before sunrise on a March morning, at an hour when not a single Hurricane wanted to be there, at a time when fed-up players turned to each other and said, essentially, that they had run out of patience with irresponsible teammates.

As quarterback Brad Kaaya explained it to reporters at Atlantic Coast Conference media day on Monday, the players were there that morning doing “pretty rough, physical” workouts, under the supervision of coaches, as punishment because a teammate – whose identify he did not disclose – had committed four rules violations.

For the first violation, a player has to run at 5 in the morning. For his second violation, his whole position unit has to run and do other physically grueling activities at 5 a.m. For a third, that player’s whole unit (offense or defense) must endure that same discipline.

A fourth? The entire team must do it. Before that day, Al Golden’s punishment scale had never reached that fourth stage during Kaaya’s time at UM.

But Kaaya and other players had seen enough violations that they stood there on the field that morning, talking among themselves and making clear this would no longer be tolerated.

“The last straw is when the whole team got out there,” Kaaya said. “It clicked and we said, ‘We’ve had enough. When is it going to stop? We can’t keep having this happen.’ That morning we came together, right before spring break.

“Ever since, it’s been different. It has been cut down tremendously. This summer, we had no major issues. That’s huge for our team. Coach Golden is not having any more nonsense any more. It’s all about business. Team leaders are holding guys accountable. We didn’t want to focus on all the distractions holding Miami back. This team is clean.”

Kaaya said the "same guys" kept getting in trouble and that the rules violations involved “guys skipping class” and tardiness: “guys sleeping late; a lot of it was off field classes, academic meetings. We’ve cut all that out.”

Linebacker Raphael Kirby, who accompanied Kaaya to the ACC event, cited something else that has prompted several of the program’s rules-violators to get their act together.

As part of military-style training that the team participated in last month, six players were charged with selecting teammates to join them on “boat” teams, which entailed a bunch of physically and mentally challenging activities, many of them in Biscayne Bay.

Kirby said players who were selected initially had strong reputations for trustworthiness and work ethic. Those that were "drafted" last? Not so much.

“They know who they are, and they know why they were picked last,” Kirby said. “I’ve seen drastic changes in those guys” since then.

Kirby also said Golden, for the first time, has authorized players to punish teammates who aren’t following the program.

“There were locker-room issues that had to be dealt with,” Kirby said. “Right now, it’s great. This is the most unified I’ve seen since I’ve been here. The mindset of everybody on our team is great.”

Kirby said a few players have been punished by teammates --- the discipline usually is running at 5 a.m. --- but the violators “haven’t fought back or argued,” Kaaya said. “At this point, there are not any guys who are against what we’re tying to accomplish.”

Kirby said it was the players who suggested to Golden that something had to change regarding accountability among teammates.

“Coach had a meeting with all the leaders and that was one thing we brought up,” Kirby said. “And he supported us. He’s done a great job of letting us lead. We’ve done a lot of things to improve our locker-room, our accountability, our attention to detail.”

UM enters this season with expectations lower than at any time in recent history. Regarding one magazine that picked UM to finish seventh, Kirby said: “They don’t really know. Nobody knows…. Our team is going to be a surprise.

“We know how talented we are. But talent is not enough. It takes great teams to win championships. Talent only wins a couple games.”

Kaaya said it’s “fine” if people are underestimating Miami.

“Usually they have us winning something crazy,” Kaaya said. “It’s fine, because once in a while, the target is on everyone else.”

Asked how UM can improve from 6-7 after losing more than a half dozen of its best players, Kaaya said: “It’s not the NFL. At one point, people didn’t know who Philip Dorsett was and Duke Johnson was. No one really knew they would be NFL players….

“We have good young guys. Our coaches know how to recruit. It’s not like we’re recruiting duds. We are recruiting world class athletes. [And] they have gotten better. “

YEARBY UPDATE

Running back Joe Yearby hasn’t participated in voluntary workouts over the past month while dealing with an undisclosed personal issue, but a UM spokesperson said his status has not changed (he’s not suspended) and he’s expected to participate when practice starts Aug. 6.

UM people briefed on the situation are optimistic that he will not be suspended, though nothing is definite on that front and Yearby must be on his best behavior to avoid discipline.

Check back for a lot more later, from Pinehurst, plus Dolphins news... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... Please see the last 2 posts for parts 2 and 3 of my media enterprise project.