03/10/2014

What Dolphins are getting in Branden Albert; Fins, Heat notes; Late addition to UM football class

Some notes on a Monday:

### So what exactly are the Dolphins getting with 29-year-old left tackle Branden Albert, who is expected to sign a multiyear deal with Miami on Tuesday for about $10 million per season?

1) Here’s how Pro Football Focus evaluated him heading into free agency: “He graded negatively in run blocking in 2013, just as he did in 2012, and it’s an area of his game that has never been dominant, though it hasn’t been terrible either.

“Mostly solid in pass protection, Albert only gave up four sacks in 555 pass blocking snaps in the quick-attack Andy Reid offense, but pass blocking is clearly his forte. With nine regular season penalties, Albert had the second-worst penalty grade for tackles in 2013, a consistent mark against him that potential suitors should note in this free agency period. He may make mistakes at times, but the good outweighs the bad significantly.”

2) Albert allowed four sacks last season, five in 2012 and 2011 and 10 in 2010. In PFF’s ranking system of offensive tackles as pass blockers, Albert was rated 11th of 76 tackles in 2013, 11th of 80 in 2012 and sixth of 76 in 2011. That’s outstanding, and this is, too: Last season, nobody who played nearly as many snaps as Albert allowed fewer quarterback hurries. (Albert allowed 13.) In 2012, only two who played as many snaps allowed fewer than his 12.

3) Though his run blocking metrics weren’t very good the past two years, he graded out very well as a run blocker in previous years. Last year, as a run blocker, PFF rated him 40th of 76 tackles. In 2012, he was rated 62nd of 80. But he was 12th of 74 in 2010 and 27th of 76 in 2011.

4) As noted above, penalties are an issue at times. His nine last year were ninth-most among tackles. He had 10 penalties (11th-most among tackles) in 2011, but five in 2012.

5) The former Dolphins administration had concerns about his durability, but this regime apparently doesn’t. Albert, who has missed time with a back issue in the past, played in 15, 16, 13 and 12 games over the past four years, from 2010 to 2013, respectively.

### Paul Soliai is down to three teams and the Dolphins are not one of them. Soliai is aware he likely won’t be signing here, barring something unexpected. (And nothing can be ruled out in free agency, especially because Soliai likes it here.) But it doesn't look good for Miami. The Dolphins and Soliai have had conversations in recent days but continue to have a different view of his value, especially with regard to guaranteed money. The Falcons are among teams reportedly in pursuit...

The Dolphins are considering several defensive tackles to replace Soliai and Starks, with Houston's Earl Mitchell among those on Miami's radar. Jason Hatcher, Linval Joseph, Henry Melton and Arthur Jones are also available.

### Drew Rosenhaus said on his Sunday night segment on WSVN-Fox that he has begun negotiations with the Dolphins on safety Louis Delmas and should have resolution, one way or the other, in a couple of days. [UPDATE: Delmas signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Dolphins this afternoon]. So Chris Clemons will move on.

### The Heat, which was lost three in a row entering tonight’s home game against Washington, hasn’t lost four in a row since the first year of the Big Three (2010-11). Miami also lost five in a row that year, its longest losing streak since LeBron James joined Miami.

 ### James has shot 6 for 18 and 8 for 23 in his past two games, the first time since November 2010 that he had back-to-back games with a field goal percentage of less than 35 percent….His streak of 332 games with at least one free throw attempt ended Sunday in Chicago, his first game without one since December 2009, when he played for Cleveland…. Since his 61-point outburst, LeBron is averaging 19.3 points and shooting 39 percent.

### UM is adding Green Cove Spring (Fla.) Clay High offensive lineman Tyler Grimsley as a late addition to this recruiting class, according to CaneSport.com. Grimsley, who visited UM last weekend, will be on scholarship at UM and eligible to play this upcoming season.

Grimsley didn’t have a qualifying test score until after National Signing Day. A two-star prospect, Grimsley also had reported offers from UAB and Weber State.

"Nobody knew who he was," his offensive line coach, Frank Garis, told Canesport. "But he has rare explosive quickness combined with man strength. He's a big kid, is a big-time weightlifter for us, can medal in the heavyweight class for us this year…. He played predominantly guard for us. The year previous he also played a couple of games at tackle. Miami is taking him as a center until he adds more weight to play guard."

### Tenth-seed UM (16-15) will play 16th-seed Virginia Tech (9-21) in the ACC Tournament at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, with the winner meeting seventh-seed North Carolina State (19-12) at 7 p.m. Thursday.

03/09/2014

Amid progress, questions surround Oden, Beasley; Dolphins, Canes, Marlins chatter

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

No players, aside from the Big Three, generate more curiosity from Heat fans than Greg Oden and Michael Beasley. And the final five weeks of the regular season offer interesting storylines, and questions, for each.

With Oden, the issue is whether he can become a 20-minute-a-game player in time for a likely Eastern Conference Finals against Indiana. For Beasley, it’s whether he develops the trust of this coaching staff to earn regular postseason minutes, something that seems more of a possibility now than previously.

Oden, who has played just five minutes in each of his past two appearances, said he’s fine with how he’s being used but “would hope” to get to 20 minutes or so eventually when he does play. He’s averaging 8.3 minutes and hasn’t played more than 13 in any game.

“I want to make sure my knee doesn’t swell up – that’s the big concern,” he said. “But the knee has been pretty good. I’m happy with the progress. Some games they need me, some they don’t. I’m still not where I want to be, more so offensively. I want to start making the jump hook that I’m missing. When I get a chance to play, I just don’t want to mess up.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra said he feels no urgency to increase Oden’s minutes, even though some national TV analysts say he needs to take the training wheels off Oden and play him more.

“I know everybody has a taste of it and wants to start fast-tracking and pushing the envelope a little more,” Spoelstra said. “That is not in our vocabulary, not in our thought process. We want to keep him to the point where he’s still available. If we can continue that, after so many games and weeks, we’ll re-evaluate. I feel comfortable with the minutes he’s been able to give from a conditioning standpoint.”

Oden has made 59 percent of his shots on offense (19 for 32, most on dunks) but is just 2 for 7 on post-ups. Defensively, though Tim Duncan backed him down for a basket and foul on Thursday, his work has been very good, with opponents shooting 13 for 33 against him (39 percent).

The Heat has outscored teams by five in Oden’s 124 minutes, but Miami is plus 18 when Oden plays with Chris Bosh (75 minutes) and minus 13 in Oden’s 49 minutes without Bosh.

"I'm happy for him,” Heat president Pat Riley said. “I root for him more than I ever rooted for anybody. I knock on wood and cross my fingers every day he stays healthy."

As for Beasley, Spoelstra showed considerable faith by playing him 21 minutes against the Spurs, marking the fifth time in six games he has logged at least 18. He had been held out of four of the previous six games.

Ray Allen calls Beasley the team’s “best scorer,” and his 51.4 shooting percentage is by far a career high, well above his 45.1 career mark. He’s third on team and 29th in the league (minimum 40 games) in points per 48 minutes at 26.0. He made two exemplary defensive plays Thursday night, and the player he’s guarding is shooting just 36.3 percent this season, according to Synergysports.com.

So why was his role reduced for a few weeks, beyond defensive lapses? This is telling: During his first 19 appearances, Miami outscored opponents by 62 with Beasley in the game. But Miami was outscored by 78 in his next 15 appearances, during which his playing time plunged. In eight games since, Miami is plus 23 with Beasley on the court.

Over the past month, Beasley said his defensive grades have been “some good, some bad.” And he said he still gets yelled at sometimes for passing up open shots.

Despite the inconsistent minutes, has this experience still been enjoyable for him? 

“Definitely,” he said. “To be around this group of guys is a privilege. Guys I’ve looked up to since I was 6, 7 years old. Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James. It’s like a family here.”

Does it bother him to get pulled quickly sometimes? “I’m in it for the big picture,” he said. “If my contribution only consists of 40 seconds then I play those seconds hard.”

Could he honestly have said, three years ago, that if it he played just 40 seconds, he would be OK with that?

“No,” he said. “But that comes with maturity. It comes with knowing who you’re playing with, who you’re playing behind and knowing the big picture…. It’s not in my control. If I could control it, I’d be playing 48 minutes. Everybody would.”

He said his most progress has come “on the mental side, staying ready…. I’m my biggest critic. There is so much I can work on, on both sides of the floor. I see it every game. I’m getting better, learning every day.”

His attitude has not been an issue, Heat people say. The maturity is evident in several ways, including the fact he arrives early for practice and no longer collects cars (real ones) as toys (he’s gone from 11, as a rookie, to three). “He has been great, embraced the routine,” Spoelstra said.

Said Shane Battier: “We don’t have time to play games. Guys who come into this locker-room understand that. Whatever issues they had in the past we don’t seem to have here. We’re about winning here and that’s all that matters. Michael has been that way since day one. He’s really tried to make an effort. He hasn’t had the habits a lot of us have had but he’s tried.”

Teammates threw him a surprise 25th birthday party in New York in February. “I’m the youngest one on the team so everyone treats me like a little brother,” he said. “Every one wants to see me do good. If I’m messing up, one guy gets on me, the other 12 follow. We love each other genuinely.”

The Heat hasn’t told him if it wants him back next season, and that decision won’t be made until the summer.

### For the first time since April 2003, the Heat has gone two straight games without ever holding a lead. LeBron James hadn't done that since his rookie season with Cleveland, per Elias.

CHATTER

### The Dolphins have told people that even after addressing the offensive line in free agency, it will still be a heavy focus in the draft. Even beyond Notre Dame’s Zack Martin (a potential pick at No. 19), they’ve shown interest in several other guard/tackles, including Michigan’s Michael Schofield and North Dakota State’s Billy Turner.

### Though some other agents bristle at their belief that Dawn Aponte is wielding more power than ever before in shaping the Dolphins’ contract offers, there has been some positive feedback on the revamped front office, too. For example, Chris Clemons’ representatives appreciated that general manager Dennis Hickey gave them a heads-up before Louis Delmas visited. (They have different agents.) The Dolphins have entered into discussions with Delmas' representation, incidentally.

### It's good that Joe Philbin and Hickey are watching film together every morning, because the coach and GM must forge a similar vision for players that Hickey acquires. For example, former GM Jeff Ireland viewed Michael Egnew as a stretch-the-field tight end and was frustrated that the coaching staff never used him as a seam threat and instead made him a pseudo blocking fullback. Something like that is less likely to happen now.

### Dan Uggla, made available by the Braves, would love to return here, but the Marlins passed, with Uggla due $26 million over the next two seasons and Atlanta unwilling to absorb all of that.

### A few UM spring observations: Coaches are very encouraged by the play of safety Deon Bush; they believe he’s back to the form he showed as a freshman before struggling through last year’s sports hernia. “That held me back [last year] with running, cutting and explosiveness,” he said. “I feel better than ever now.” Jamal Carter is making a strong case to win the other safety job, though he must beat out Rayshawn Jenkins when Jenkins returns from injury. UM wants more consistent play from Jenkins….. Freshman cornerback Ryan Mayes has surprised; he’s fast, long and covers a lot of ground.... Coaches like the pass-rush potential of linebacker Darrion Owens, who appears to be ahead of Juwon Young, the other early-enrollee linebacker.

### David Beckham’s group needs another month to determine the viability of building a stadium big enough to share with UM football, and that remains a toss-up at best. And even if Beckham can build a 40,000-seat stadium (UM's absolute minimum requirement for seating), UM still would need to escape the final 18 years of its Sun Life lease.

03/07/2014

3 p.m. update: Dolphins reach out to four prominent veteran linemen; Marlins, Heat, Canes

Branden Albert (who appears to be very, very high on Miami's wish list) and Eugene Monroe aren't the only veteran offensive linemen attracting Dolphins interest early in free agency. Two other names have emerged today.

The Dolphins also have expressed strong interest in St. Louis guard/tackle Rodger Saffold -- something both colleague Adam Beasley and I are hearing.

And the Dolphins today also reached out to Oakland free agent left tackle Jared Veldheer, who missed 11 games last season with a torn triceps. Veldheer is an option if Miami doesn't sign Albert or Saffold or Monroe. 

Two industry officials said they believe the Dolphins would love to sign Albert as their left tackle and sign Saffold as a guard. But Miami would have to pay substantially to achieve that.

In the meantime, the Dolphins also have reached out to Monroe and to Veldheer, who are both natural left tackles. And they haven't ruled out signing Saffold as a left tackle if they don't sign Albert, though they are also very comfortable playing Saffold at guard (which he isn't opposed to).

One NFL source not affiliated with Albert called Miami the clear front-runner for Albert. But it's still early in the process, and there's certainly a chance Miami could be outbid. We'll see. 

If Miami doesn't reach a deal with Albert or Monroe, Veldheer, 26, is on their radar.

Veldheer started 16 games for the Raiders each of the previous two seasons, and Pro Football Focus rated him 12th among all tackles in 2012, with a terrific plus-17.8 grade as a pass blocker and a plus-3.2 as a run blocker (25th best). Veldheer, a third round pick out of Hillsdale in 2010, allowed five sacks in 15 games in 2012.

Saffold, 25, did not allow a sack in six games at right guard last season (and just four hurries, which is impressive) and also graded out very well as a run-blocker.

Pro Football Focus rated him 18th among all guards this past season. Saffold, a second-round pick in 2010, also has experience playing left tackle and allowed two sacks in 10 games at left tackle in 2012, before Jake Long took over the position last year.

Teams could begin talking to agents of free agents at noon today, but players cannot sign with a new team until 4 p.m. Tuesday.

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Some Friday notes:

### Anemic offensively, the Marlins summoned all their top young bats to the big leagues last season, eager to see who would flourish and who would flop. Of the five who received extended looks, the Marlins decided they realistically could project only two as key pieces in 2014: Christian Yelich, the starter in left field, and Marcell Ozuna, the likely starter in center.

They have not given up on outfielder Jake Marisnick, catcher Rob Brantly or second baseman Derek Dietrich. But all three figure to begin the season in the minors, unless there are major injuries, unless Marisnick hits exceptionally and clearly outplays Ozuna (unlikely) or unless Casey McGehee is awful and Dietrich is brilliant (unlikely).

Yelich (who was 0 for 11 this spring before going 2 for 3 today) and Ozuna (3 for 14, six strikeouts) are off to slow starts this spring, but it's too soon for worry.

The Marlins love Yelich, the former first-round pick who hit .288 with four homers, 16 RBI and 10 steals (in 10 attempts) in 62 games for Miami. Yelich struggled in 91 at-bats against left-handers (.165) but pummeled right-handers (.362).

“He’s got a chance to be a special player for a long time,” said manager Mike Redmond, who envisions him as a .300 hitter over his career and leans toward batting him second. “I love his approach, his mental makeup. This kid, for being such a young guy, has it all together. It's remarkable.”

Yelich hit 15 and 12 home runs in his two full minor league seasons, and he said, “I’m only 22. The power will come. I wouldn’t say 20 [homers] is out of the question” eventually.

As for Ozuna, he excelled in the minors after going undrafted, then hit .330 for the Marlins last May after being promoted. But his average dropped to .265 in June, then .162 in 68 July at-bats before his demotion. His final numbers: .265, three homers, 32 RBI in 70 games.

He never played in the minors after the demotion because he was diagnosed with a season-ending thumb injury. But he hit well in winter ball in the Dominican Republic. Ozuna, 23, said he slumped last July because opposing pitchers “watched video to see where I can’t hit, and I got crazy, swinging at bad pitches. I will [adjust].”

Redmond said: “I feel great about Ozuna. He didn’t seem baffled at all about moving from right to center.”

Marlins special advisor Jack McKeon loves him: “He’s got as good an arm as anyone in the big leagues,” McKeon said, adding that Ozuna reminds him, offensively and defensively, of two-time former All-Star Tony Armas, who hit 251 career homers.

Some evaluators need more convincing. "Yelich is going to hit, no question,” one National League scout said. “Not sure about Ozuna. If you get an average player, you will be happy. He's not going to be star. He's got some tools, but he's a free swinger."

### What about the other three who aren't expected to begin the year in the majors (barring something unforseen)?

Marisnick, 22, Toronto’s third-round pick in 2009, is terrific defensively but hit .183 in 40 games for the Marlins. He’s a career .280 hitter in the minors, so the Marlins believe the bat could develop.

Brantly, 24, hit .290 in 31 games late in 2012 but slumped to .211, with just one homer, in 67 games last season, and it would be surprising if he ever becomes a starter here again, considering the three-year commitment to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “Last year was real humbling,” Brantly said.

Dietrich, 24, flashed power in his 57-game Marlins stint (nine home runs) but hit .214, then created a mess after his demotion to the minors by privately accusing hitting coach Tino Martinez of physical and verbal abuse, which led to Martinez’s ouster. Dietrich declined to discuss the matter last week, but a friend said Dietrich was embarrassed by it.

The Marlins will play Dietrich at second and third base in the minors and believe he could be a starter here someday if he can hit for average. “He has tremendous ability,” president/baseball operations Michael Hill said.

### After shooting 12 for 18 outside the paint in his 61-point outburst Monday, LeBron James is 1-for-17 outside the paint in the past two games.

### Scott Nichols, agent for 2013 Heat second-round draft pick James Ennis, said he spoke to the team and "all indications are they plan to put him on the roster next season" as part of a plan to infuse youth at the bottom of the roster and ease the luxury-tax burden. Ennis, a 6-8 forward, ranks among the Australian pro league’s leaders in scoring (21.9), rebounding (7.3) and steals (1.5). The Heat has liked his progress this season and his upside as a defender.

### Agent Eugene Parker said tight end Dustin Keller will be ready to play next season after his horrific knee injury, but the Dolphins haven’t indicated if they’re interested in re-signing him.

### When the Dolphins reach out to free agent left tackle Eugene Monroe's representation this weekend, they'll quickly get an idea of how much it will take to sign him. Per reports in Baltimore, Monroe is seeking a deal averaging $10 million a year. The Ravens have offered between $8 million and $9 million.

### Stephen Ross is still working his way through the landmines of being an NFL owner --- he's only been at it for five years --- but he's making the attempt to learn as much as he can. In an unusual move for an owner, Ross attended the recent MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, along with his top executives Matt Higgins and Tom Garfinkel, and listened intently to a discussion about building a culture within a franchise, a conversation that included Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith. That Falcons tandem have had great success together until Atlanta bombed last season. Ross needs to get input from others besides buddy Carl Peterson, and he seems to realize that. 

### Players keep raving about UM quarterback Ryan Williams. “I don’t think we’ll miss a beat” with Williams replacing Stephen Morris, receiver Phillip Dorsett said Thursday. “He throws an accurate and catchable ball, throws everything on time. Ryan’s arm has gotten a lot stronger. It’s not really a dropoff” from Morris. Dorsett says fans will see for themselves at the April 12 spring game.

03/06/2014

11 p.m. update: Tiger gets subpoenaed; Heat-Spurs postscripts, reaction; UM notes

On Wednesday evening, the eve of the start of the WGC Championship at Doral, Tiger Woods received something he assuredly wished he had not: a trial subpoena. Woods, who was served at Miami Beach Marina, is supposed to testify Monday in Miami-Dade Circuit Court as part of a South Florida company’s civil suit against Woods’ corporation, ETW.

Bruce Matthews, a South Miami resident, and his company (Gotta Have It Golf Inc.) allege that Woods breached a 2001 licensing agreement by not providing a specified number of autographs and photographs.

“Our client is very frustrated that ETW has not lived up to its agreements and that it has taken this long for the matter to be heard in court,” said Eric Isicoff, one of Matthews’ attorneys.

Matthews’ company is seeking $1.75 million plus another $1 million or so in attorney’s fees.

A six-person all-female jury is hearing the case. The trial began Wednesday. 

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Postscripts from Miami's 111-87 setback at San Antonio, the Heat's most lopsided loss of the season:

### Miami's defeats to Houston and San Antonio marked the first time in the Big Three era that the Heat didn't lead a single time over two consecutive games.

### Miami was betrayed by its defense early (37 Spurs first-quarter points) and was undone by its offense late, which is unusual for the NBA's most efficient team offensively.

The Heat was outscored 29-13 in the fourth, a quarter in which Miami committed 10 turnovers and shot 5 for 16. Chris Bosh was Miami's most effective player tonight (24 points, 10 for 16 shooting), but he had three of those 10 turnovers.  LeBron James had two turnovers in the fourth and five for the game and shot just 6 for 18 on a 19-point night.

James' jump shot has eluded him much of the past two games, after his historic 61-point outburst Monday. James has 41 points on 15 for 36 shooting in the past two games, including 0 for 6 on three-pointers. Kawhi Leonard did good work against him defensively on Thursday.

James blamed his poor shooting partially on wearing sleeved jerseys. The NBA required the Heat and Spurs wear those jerseys Thursday as part of a "Latin Night" promotion. The Heat won't have to wear sleeved jerseys again this season.

"Every time I shoot, I feel like it's pulling underneath my arm," James said. "I already don't have much room for error on my jump shot. Not a big fan of the jerseys.... I missed some shots I'm capable of making. You just move on to the next one."

James, who had his second-worst field-goal percentage of the season, said the Spurs "played me the way they did in the Finals, went under the pick and roll and dared me to shoot."

James, incidentally, ditched his mask during a game, leaving his broken nose exposed two weeks after breaking it. He said before the game that he expected to wear the mask for another week.

"I was frustrated," James said of removing the mask. "It didn't help taking it off. I got a message from my wife at halftime telling me to put it back on, so I may be in trouble when I get home."

"It was his decision to throw it off," Erik Spoelstra said, noting he wasn't medically cleared to do it. "We didn't throw it back at him."

### The Heat's point guard play was some of its worst of the season, with Mario Chalmers closing 2 for 7, with three assists, four turnovers and a minus-21 plus/minus, and Norris Cole finishing 0 for 4 with two assists and a turnover.

Spoelstra opted to use neither of them midway through the fourth quarter, choosing instead to use Michael Beasley alongside Ray Allen and the Big Three. That unit --- which would be a lethal offensive group on some nights --- couldn't make a late push, with the Spurs extending the lead during that stretch.

"Once we got defensive stops, we shot ourselves in the foot," Spoelstra said. "We have to regroup. At times we had decent ball movement. When we fell behind double digits, it looked like we were pressing.... Just four days ago, we were on top of the world. We have to keep perspective."

### Beasley made two of his best defensive plays in memory, one against Tim Duncan and another on a nifty steal early in the fourth. But after scoring nine points in the first half, Beasley couldn't do much offensively with his fourth quarter minutes, closing with 11 points and six rebounds in 21 minutes.

### The Heat fell two games behind Indiana for the No. 1 seed in the conference.

### These slow defensive starts need to stop. Houston scored 39 points against Miami in the first quarter of Tuesday's game, and the Spurs had 37 Thursday.

The last three weeks we've been defending very well," Spoelstra said. "That hasn't been the case the past two weeks. We have to fix it by Sunday [against Chicago]. Setting the tone the beginning of the game hasn't been adequate. That typically isn't a good formula for us."

### San Antonio outrebounded Miami, 45-36, something the Heat couldn't overcome on a night it committed 20 turnovers and shot 43 percent from the field.

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Some Canes notes on a Thursday afternoon:

### Al Golden said “it’s time” for the defensive tackles who have been around, and haven’t seized on their opportunity, to ahem, start seizing on that opportunity. He was speaking of Earl Moore, Jelani Hamilton and Corey King.

“It’s time for those guys,” Golden said a few hours ago. “They’re not young anymore. They have to get it going.”

Asked who’s most improved of the three, Golden mentioned Moore first and then Hamilton.

### Kevin Olsen continues to draw praise through four days of spring football. “Kevin is getting better, playing with a lot more confidence,” Golden said. “He’s seeing it better, playing faster.”

### Ryan Williams threw an interception early in 11-on-11 drills but later threw a touchdown.

"Ryan's doing good,” Golden said. “He's distributing the ball really good for us right now. He's really smart. He gets the ball to guys in a position where they can catch and run, especially on the in-cuts and shallows. A lot of run after catch with Ryan. His length lets him see the in-cuts really well. He's continuing to lead."

### Golden said linebacker Juwon Young, an early enrollee, “has to spend more time studying football. He’s not trusting his key right now. So he’s peeking and reaction. We have to get him to read his keys.”

### Most eye-opening comment from Golden at practice today: He said Ereck Flowers is the only offensive lineman more “gifted” than Taylor Gadbois “in terms of athleticism.” Gadbois is being given every chance to win the starting right tackle job.

“He's punching probably better than anyone on the O-line right now,” Golden said. “For Taylor, it's time. He was patient, got strong. We have to keep working on his conditioning. But I'm excited about Taylor."

Golden also likes how Danny Isidora has played at right guard.

### Early enrollee Braxton Berrios, the four-star receiver from Raleigh, N.C., should return from his torn ACL by June, Golden said. He will be a slot receiver, kick returner and punt returner for UM.

### Golden said Tyriq McCord "is working right now on being a more complete player, and that's going to allow us to play him in every situation [at end or linebacker]. I'm excited about Tyriq right now. He's coachable." Golden said Al-Quadin Muhammad and Trent Harris are also playing at that hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position.

### Defensive end David Perry, who has had a generally anonymous career at UM, quit the team this week. But Golden didn’t rule out his return.

### Though Gus Edwards has performed well early in camp, Walter Tucker said Edwards had to run on the side Thursday because he was late to practice. Tucker wasn’t throwing Edwards under the bus; he was asked why he was running with Edwards on the side. Even though Tucker wasn’t late, he indicated ran on the side with Edwards as a show of support, to build a bond with his backfield mate.

### Tucker –-- whose other scholarship offers were from Clemson, Purdue, UCF and USF --– said he expected to play linebacker at UM but is happy at running back. He’s splitting time between tailback and fullback. “I’m more of a power back,” he said.

By the way, UM doesn't practice again for 12 days because of spring break.

### UM basketball coach Jim Larranaga said because the Hurricanes’ RPI is not good enough, UM definitely will not be going to the NIT Tournament. So UM’s season will be over after next weekend unless it shockingly wins next weekend's ACC Tournament, which carries an automatic NCAA Tournament berth. UM (15-15, 6-11 in conference) closes its regular season at home Saturday against Wake Forest.

### Larranaga said losing a scholarship each of the next three seasons as part of the school’s NCAA sanctions is very hurtful and has put “handcuffs” on UM. He called this “the most complicated recruiting situation I’ve been involved in,” with UM losing its top six players last year and several seniors this year.

Please see the last post for Dolphins notes from this morning (Miami lost out on a player earlier today) and Heat notes from last night.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

03/05/2014

Thursday update: Dolphins won't get Jackson; Dolphins, Heat, Canes, Marlins quick hits

Quick Thursday morning update: The Dolphins won't be getting middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who visited with the team earlier this week. Jackson has agreed to terms with the Colts, according to a close associate. The Colts gave him a four-year, $22 million deal, with $11 million guaranteed.

Jackson told NFL Network he picked the Colts because of coach Chuck Pagano. "Great coach, better person," he told former Herald colleague Jeff Darlington.

The Dolphins had interest in signing Jackson and moving Dannell Ellerbe to outside linebacker. If they choose, they can now pursue an inside linebacker in free agency from a group including Jon Beason, Brandon Spikes and Daryl Sharpton. Or they can keep Ellerbe in the middle and pursue an outside linebacker to compete with Philip Wheeler or Koa Misi. (Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has made clear how much Miami values Misi.)

Besides Miami and Indianapolis, Jackson also visited Denver and Tennessee.

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Notes on a Wednesday night:

### There are several free agent running backs who would be an upgrade over Daniel Thomas, and Miami isn’t necessarily opposed to adding another back in free agency or the draft, according to an official who spoke to the Dolphins. But they also have given indications that it's not a high priority.

New GM Dennis Hickey was a fan of free agent LeGarrette Blount and recommended Tampa sign him, so Blount cannot be ruled out for Miami if he's available at a reasonable rate. But Blount wants his first big NFL payday after making $680,000 last season, and it would be surprising if Miami spends big money on a back.

Here are the free agent backs available and their per carry average last season: Donald Brown (5.3), Blount (5.0), Rashad Jennings (4.5) Knowshon Moreno (4.3), James Starks (5.5), Toby Gerhart (7.9), Brian Leonard (3.9), Rashard Mendenhall (3.2), Ben Tate (4.3), Ahmad Bradshaw (4.5 before early-season injury), Peyton Hillis (3.4), Jonathan Dwyer (4.0), Felix Jones (3.8), Darren McFadden (3.3), Maurice Jones Drew (3.4) and Andre Brown (3.5).

Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey said recently that he likes his running backs, a group that includes Lamar Miller, Thomas, Mike Gillislee and Marcus Thigpen.

### With Indiana losing to Charlotte tonight, the Heat moved within 1 1/2 games of the Pacers for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. And the Heat and Indy are now even in the loss column.

### LeBron James wasn’t named Eastern Conference Player of the Week in any of the four weeks in February. But he won the conference’s February Player of the Month award on Wednesday in something of a no-brainer. In leading the Heat to a 9-1 record, LeBron averaged 30.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 6.7 assists and shot 57.5 percent from the field. He's only the second player to reach those levels over an entire month (minimum five games) –-- the first since Wilt Chamberlain in 1966. 

### NBA TV’s Chris Webber predicts James' 61-point game against Charlotte will sway MVP voters: "It reminds me that we take LeBron for granted... LeBron has his imprint on every facet of the game. Even though he had 61, he still had seven assists. He still gets people involved, still rebounds."

NBA TV’s Greg Anthony chimed in: "Sometimes you start to take LeBron for granted. And it's almost as if you're looking for a reason not to vote for him.  Kevin Durant is having a phenomenal season and if he were to win it, I wouldn't have an issue with it. But when you look at LeBron... LeBron James is shooting 58 percent. I don't think we appreciate how monumental that is.”

### ESPN's Keith Olbermann lampooned several Heat writers on Tuesday night, accusing them of overstating the significance of LeBron James' 61-point game. That seemed odd, because nobody hypes LeBron more than Olbermann's employer.

Attacked by Heat fans, Olbermann continued the narrative on Twitter on Wednesday.

Of 60-point games, Olbermann tweeted to one irked fan: "So far, Wilt has 29 of them and Kobe 4 to James' 1. Calm down, Homer."

One tweeted: "Who made u the fun police? You are now old, tired, and a has-been." Olbermann responded: "Whom you follow, Genius"?

Here was Olbermann's bottom line: "There have now been nine 60-point games in the last 10 seasons; two in the last 39 days. @KingJames was special Monday. Not immortal."

### Ryan Williams remains the front-runner for the UM quarterback job, but Kevin Olsen is clearly improved from the player who seemed hesitant and erratic during a couple of early December practices that were open to the media.

“Kevin is savvy, playing with a lot more IQ,” offensive coordinator James Coley said. “If things break down, he knows where he’s going.”... UM has its fourth practice of the spring on Thursday, then goes on spring break.

### Tom Koehler and Brad Hand entered camp as the favorites for the fifth spot in the Marlins’ rotation. But as he did last year, Kevin Slowey is again making a strong case to win a job. Koehler pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings Wednesday; in 4 2/3 innings this spring, he has allowed two hits, no runs and struck out five. There’s a decent chance Koehler or Hand (who’s out of minor league options) wins the fifth job, but Slowey still could stick as a long reliever.

### Marlins Park will host a college bowl game in December, but it passed on a chance to host a college basketball classic in November. The cost of converting the field proved too high to make it financially feasible. But Marlins Park officials would like to play host to a high-school football game before the bowl game.

03/04/2014

Dolphins free agency: DT, LB and more; Riley on non-trade; UM, Heat, Luongo chatter

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Reader note: I'm running the newspaper version of the Wednesday buzz in full on this post. If you read the portion about Randy Starks and Paul Soliai in my 5:30 p.m. post, skip down to CHATTER for fresh material posted at 10:45 tonight

Five days before free agency begins, the Dolphins still have not made an offer to two of their best defensive players, tackles Randy Starks and Paul Soliai.

That’s a risky move that could leave them needing to find two new veteran tackles in free agency, to pair in a rotation with Jared Odrick.

Asked about the likelihood of Starks returning to the Dolphins, his agent, Tony Paige, said Tuesday: “As of now, it’s unlikely because we haven’t received an offer. He’s looking forward to moving on.”

But Paige added Starks “has got nothing bad to say about Miami” and would consider an offer if one comes.

The Dolphins haven’t called Paige since meeting with him at the NFL Combine. At that time, the Dolphins indicated they would keep in touch regarding Starks and had some interest in re-signing him.

Meanwhile, Soliai is prepared to move on but hasn't closed the door on returning if Miami makes a lucrative offer. Soliai had expected to receive a Dolphins offer by now, but the Dolphins have surprised him and others by not making an offer yet to either Soliai or Starks.

“The dialogue between us and the Dolphins remains open and friendly but we are not negotiating anything right now,” said David Canter, Soliai’s agent. “There has been no offer since August.”

Soliai is expected to command more than $6 million per season, and the Dolphins are aware of that. The Dolphins, at this point, do not appear comfortable going that high. In recent days, Dolphins staffers and coaches have told Soliai they want him back. But it’s moot without an offer.

CHATTER

### If the Dolphins do not keep Soliai or Starks, they will push to sign a starter from among a group that includes the Giants’ Linval Joseph, Chicago’s Henry Melton, Baltimore’s Arthur Jones, Dallas’ Jason Hatcher, Atlanta’s Jonathan Babineaux or Peria Jerry, Houston’s Earl Mitchell and Oakland’s Pat Sims and Vance Walker and San Diego’s Cam Thomas. Also available: Minnesota’s Kevin Williams and Fred Evans and the Giants’ Mike Patterson.

### Cornerback Nolan Carroll is expected to test free agency. The Dolphins want to keep him, but he wants to be paid like a starter, according to an official who spoke to the Dolphins’ front office. Miami is reluctant to do that, but a deal could still be reached.

### The Dolphins have decided to move Dannell Ellerbe to outside linebacker (weakside) if they sign middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who visited the Dolphins on Tuesday and will choose among Denver, Indianapolis, Miami and Tennessee. Jackson, cut by Cleveland last month, will visit the Colts on Wednesday before deciding his next team.

Philip Wheeler, if he sticks around, would compete with Koa Misi at strongside linebacker. Misi is Miami’s best linebacker against the run, which was a deficiency in 2013. Cutting Ellerbe (who is guaranteed $6 million in 2014) and Wheeler (guaranteed $5 million) wouldn't help because their cap hits are the same if they stay or go.

Jackson was below average against the run last season but better than Wheeler, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Among free agent linebackers who were effective against the run, options would include the Patriots’ Brandon Spikes, the Giants’ Jon Beason and Houston’s Daryl Sharpton.

Spikes, expected to move on from New England, would be an upgrade, but he’s not a conformist (he didn’t show up for voluntary workouts last June) and Joe Philbin likes conformists.

Players can speak to other teams beginning Saturday but cannot sign with a new team before Tuesday.

### Among their restricted free agents, the Dolphins made a tender to quarterback Pat Devlin (Philbin likes him; Miami gave him an exclusive rights tender) but not to cornerback R.J. Stanford or tackle Will Yeatman, both of whom thus become unrestricted free agents. Danny Watkins' agent said he didn't expect Watkins to be tendered.

### Heat president Pat Riley confirmed loyalty factored into why he did not pursue a discussed trade with Philadelphia that would have sent Evan Turner and another piece or two to the Heat for Udonis Haslem, a deal that would have given Miami significant relief against the luxury tax next season.

"Family is important," Riley said. "Blood runs deep." Turner was then dealt to Indiana.

"I've given a lot to the organization and made a lot of sacrifices," Haslem said. "They made a sacrifice to me."

### LeBron James entered Tuesday with the best seven-game stretch (37.1 points, 63.7 percent shooting) since Michael Jordan in November 1988. But he scored only three on 1 for 7 shooting in the second half (and 22 points for the game) in Tuesday's loss to Houston, ensuring that Wilt Chamberlain remains the only player in NBA history with consecutive 60-point games (something he did multiple times).... Dominique Wilkins, venting on Twitter about LeBron's 61-point game against Charlotte Monday: "Watch the film. No close outs on D. Doubles were late. Rotations were slow. It was too easy to score. At 54 [years old], I could drop 40 on that D."

### Impressive work Tuesday by Michael Beasley: 24 points, on 9 for 13 shooting, with four rebounds, two assists and no turnovers in 28 minutes. And the Heat was plus-13 with Beasley on the floor. "Everyone notices when he scores, but he was doing some active things defensively," Erik Spoelstra said.

### Ryan Williams, the front-runner for UM’s quarterback job, said his best chemistry is with tight end Clive Walford (out for the spring with an injury) and receiver Rashawn Scott, who said he regrets both the bowl game suspension and a lot of what he has done at UM. Offensive coordinator James Coley said Tuesday he likes "what I see" from Scott this spring. Al Golden spoke of Scott "letting go of immature things" and noted Williams has been a good influence on Scott. With Williams comfortable throwing to him, it's not surprising Williams predicted Tuesday that Scott will have a breakout season this fall....

Early feedback is encouraging on Gus Edwards, who has bulked up and is running with more power but still showing good speed, teammates say....... UM is cautiously optimistic Carol City's speedy Trayone Gray, a potential gem in this recruiting class, will qualify academically and coaches will give him a look at running back before deciding whether to play him there or at receiver. UM sees some Wildcat possibilities with Gray, who played quarterback at Carol City.... UM is using ballyhooed freshman KC McDermott initially at backup left tackle instead of starting right tackle, with Taylor Gadbois getting the chance with the first team on the right side. But McDermott will play some right tackle this spring, Coley said.

### Kudos to Canes right-hander Javi Salas for throwing the 20th perfect game in Division 1 history tonight, a 17-0 win against Villanova. It was the second in UM history; Kevin Sheary had the other, in 1987. And a neat touch: Salas' brother announced tonight's game on campus station WVUM.

### Though Roberto Luongo, reacquired by the Panthers on Tuesday, is 34, what’s encouraging is his goals against average (2.38) and save percentage (.917) this season are both improved over the past two seasons, with each ranking 15th among 40 qualifying goaltenders, well ahead of Florida’s Tim Thomas, who ranks in the low 30s in each. But with Luongo's contract running through 2021-22, age looms as an issue. Only one of the NHL's top 10 goaltenders in save percentage is above age 30....

Luongo has eight years left on a 12-year, $64 million contract, and the Canucks agreed to pay $800,000 of his annual salary. "It's great for our franchise," Panthers GM Dale Tallon said. We're getting a great goaltender, a proven commodity."

5:30 p.m. Dolphins update on Soliai and Starks; Oden out

Five days before free agency begins, the Dolphins still – rather amazingly – have not made an offer to two of their best defensive players, tackles Randy Starks and Paul Soliai.

That’s a risky move that could leave them needing to find two new veteran tackles in free agency, to pair in a rotation with Jared Odrick.

Asked about the likelihood of Starks returning to the Dolphins, his agent, Tony Paige, said today: “As of now, it’s unlikely because we haven’t received an offer. He’s looking forward to moving on.”

But Paige added Starks “has got nothing bad to say about Miami” and would consider an offer if one arrives.

The Dolphins haven’t called Paige since meeting with him at the NFL Combine. At that time, the Dolphins indicated they would keep in touch regarding Starks and had some interest in keeping him.

Meanwhile, Soliai is prepared to move on but hasn't closed the door on returning if Miami makes a lucrative offer. Soliai had expected to receive a Dolphins offer by now, but the Dolphins have surprised him and others by not making an offer yet to either of their defensive tackles. 

“The dialogue between us and the Dolphins remains open and friendly but we are not negotiating anything right now,” agent David Canter said. “There has been no offer since August.”

Is there much of a chance he returns? “That’s up to the Dolphins," Canter said. "If they want to keep him, they know what we believe it will take to keep him. They have an exclusive period through Saturday and can keep coming at us until he signs elsewhere.”

Soliai is expected to command north of $6 million per season, and the Dolphins are aware of that. The Dolphins, at this point, do not appear comfortable going that high.

Dolphins staffers and coaches have told Soliai they want him back. But they have an odd way of showing it, by not making an offer.

Players can begin talking to other teams on Saturday and can sign elsewhere beginning next Tuesday.

### Greg Oden is out for the Heat against Houston tonight, but Erik Spoelstra said he has not had a setback and the Heat is merely resting him on the second night of a back-to-back. Dwyane Wade is back tonight.

03/03/2014

Postscripts on LeBron's historic night; Two-fold reason for Dolphins' interest in Jackson; TV notes

Postscripts on LeBron James' historic night in a 124-107 win Monday against Charlotte:

### James' 61 points topped his previous career high (56 vs. Toronto in 2005) and the Heat single game record (56 by Glen Rice, in 1995). And he did it with his usual efficiency, closing 22 for 33 from the field. He scored 24 points in the first half, 25 points in the third quarter and 12 in the fourth. His 37 in the second half were the most ever by a Heat player in a half.

### James' reaction afterward, on Sun Sports: "The man above gave me unbelievable abilities to play this game of basketball. We couldn't get stops in the fourth quarter. That allowed me to stay in the game. It was 13-point game with six minutes to go."

Later, LeBron said: "Those are the shots everyone wants me to take [speaking of the three-pointers and jump shots], but I knocked them down. I'm shooting 58 percent from the floor... To be able to do it with a group of guys I would do anything for means so much. These guys are true brothers.... It's a surreal feeling for me right now. I haven't really grasped what just happened... The excitement of the fans showed me I was doing something special.... [At halftime], when I walked out of the locker-room, D-Wade said, 'You better get 40.' I had 40 when he walked out of the locker-room to take his seat."

### LeBron shot 8 for 10 on threes: "I just had it going. Once you get into a zone, you feel like you're shooting a golf ball into the ocean. I'm not much of a three-point shooter, but it was great to knock a few down."

### James made his first eight three-pointers before missing his last two. And for good measure, he added seven rebounds and five assists. He was 9 for 12 from the line. The Heat outscored Charlotte by 16 in his 41 minutes.

### According to Elias, only two players have shot a higher percentage while scoring at least 60 points in the shot clock era: Wilt Chamberlain (82.9) and Karl Malone (80.8).

### Erik Spoelstra's take, afterward: "At a certain point in the third quarter, that's what we were all doing [watching]. He can compete for the leading scorer in the league every single year if he chose to be that aggressive looking at the rim. But he's as much a facilitator as he is a scorer for himself. It was a special performance. It was a little uncharacteristic.

"I almost took him out at the end of the third to give him a rest but he was in a great groove. The rim looked like an ocean to him. The last few possessions, we were trying to design some three-point [shots] for him. He wasn't playing out of context until the last seven minutes of the fourth....

"I still remember the first preseason game I coached him. He made seven or eight straight plays, and I said, 'This is different.' He can really do so many different things, that nature of who he is, he's an anomaly. He's a physical anomaly, but also the way he approaches the game and reads the game --- those things are once in a generation."

### This was James' 10th career 50-plus point game in the regular season, but the first time he has done it in his home arena. James is 8-2 in those games.

"To do it with these fans, their excitement was able to get me through. I wouldn't want to do it in front of anyone else," LeBron said. "My first career 50 turned into 60 right here at home. That's great."

Among active players, James trails only Kobe Bryant for 50-point games. Kobe has 24.

### James' 61 were the second-most in the NBA this season, behind Carmelo Anthony's 62 (also against Charlotte). The NBA's last three 55-plus point games all came against the Bobcats: LeBron, Carmelo and Deron Williams.

### Chris Bosh's reaction, on Sun Sports: "That's the most efficient 60 I've seen in the history of the game. It kind of happened pretty quickly... We kept giving him the ball. Once he got to 35, he got 40 and it started multiplying. He was hitting those threes." Bosh joked that he expected a gift from LeBron because "I kept passing him the ball."

### Bobcats coach Steve Clifford: "If he's going to shoot the ball like that from that range, nobody's going to beat them. He scored his points in a way there's not much you can do. Every time we were more aggressive, he scored layups."

### LeBron's 25 points in the third quarter were his highest output ever, topping his previous high of 24, set with Miami. It was also the most points ever by a Heat player in a quarter.

### James made at least 20 baskets for only the second time in his career. The other was in a 2009 playoff game vs. Orlando. His 22 field goals were a Heat franchise record.

### LeBron is averaging 37.3 points and shooting 67 percent in his three games with a mask protecting his broken nose.

### LeBron said he had 45 text messages on his phone after the game.

"Every night I go on the floor, I want to be the MVP," he said. "There are so many kids that look to me as the best, a role model, a leader. I have a responsibility."

### LeBron and the Heat play in Houston Tuesday. The only player to score 60 in two straight games is Chamberlain (multiple times).

### Tweet of the night, from Shane Battier, who scored three points tonight: "Anytime @kingjames and I combine to score 64 points, it's going to be a good night."

DOLPHINS PURSUE JACKSON

The Dolphins’ decision to bring in former Cleveland starting inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson for a visit on Tuesday suggests what many have suspected --– that new GM Dennis Hickey isn’t completely thrilled with Jeff Ireland’s overhaul of the linebacker crew last season.

But it also speaks to Hickey’s admiration for Jackson, according to a league source.

The Dolphins like Jackson not only for his ability, but also for his leadership --- something Miami is trying to address after last year’s locker-room scandal. He was a respected and vocal leader in Cleveland, and this locker-room needs that.

When Cleveland cut him last month, general manager Ray Farmer called him “the epitome of class, leadership and professionalism.”

Hickey has tap-danced around questions concerning both Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe, but keep in mind that both have guaranteed salaries next season, Ellerbe at $6 million and Wheeler at $5 million. There’s a big cap hit cutting both.

So it’s not out of the question Miami could keep Wheeler and Ellerbe for now, even if they sign Jackson or another starting-caliber linebacker. And Miami repeatedly has said how much it values Koa Misi, who is also under contract. Misi is Miami's best linebacker against the run and isn't expensive ($1.7 base salary in 2014).

Keep in mind that Ellerbe and Wheeler would have little incentive to take a pay cut because their base salaries are guaranteed.

Jackson is well-regarded and has been credited with 158, 118 and 141 tackles the past three years, among the highest totals in the league. Some of his Pro Football Focus metrics weren’t great last season, though that’s not always a completely accurate gauge.  

Here’s how the three linebackers compared in 2013, according to PFF:

### Tackles: Jackson was seventh in the league with 141. Wheeler had 118, Ellerbe 101.

### Impact plays: Jackson had 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one interception. Ellerbe had one sack, two interceptions. Wheeler had half a sack, nothing else.

### Run defense: PFF gave Jackson a minus 11.3, which ranked 47th of 55 inside linebackers. Ellerbe was minus 17, which ranked 53rd of 55 inside linebackers. Wheeler was minus 16.8, which was 34th of 35 outside linebackers in a 4.3.

### Pass coverage: Jackson allowed 9.7 yards per catch and a 91.3 rating in his coverage area – better than Wheeler, who allowed 10.3 and 108.7, respectively. Ellerbe was very good in pass coverage (7.7 yards per completion, 73 rating).

Overall, PFF ranked Jackson 42nd and Ellerbe 50th of 55 inside linebackers. PFF ranked Wheeler 35th of 35 outside linebackers in a 4-3. But Jackson was better than Wheeler in every statistical category.

Jackson already has visited Tennessee and Denver and is expected to visit one other team after visiting Miami on Tuesday. He will then make a decision. (For an update on safety Louis Delmas from earlier Monday, see the last post.)

By the way, the Dolphins did not use the franchise player tag by today's 4 p.m. deadline. Brent Grimes signed a four-year, $32 million contract earlier (see the last post), and neither Randy Starks nor Paul Soliai were slapped with the franchise tag.

WADE OUT

The Heat just announced that Dwyane Wade won't play tonight against Charlotte, but he's not injured. Erik Spoelstra said he had "no setback"; the team, on its Twitter feed, says he's merely being rested. The Heat plays in Houston on Tuesday. Wade has missed 16 games this season.... Toney Douglas was expected to start in Wade's place tonight.

BROADCAST DEVELOPMENTS TODAY

### Fox named Harold Reynolds and Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci as its new lead baseball analysts, replacing Tim McCarver, who resigned after last season. Reynolds and Verducci will join Joe Buck on the call of several regular season games, the All-Star Game, one league championship series and the World Series.  

McCarver, who has announced every World Series since 2000, moved on from his national stage but is announcing 30 St. Louis Cardinals games for Fox Sports Midwest.

Verducci is unique in that he’s not a former player or former manager. Before Verducci, only one person was an analyst (not play-by-play, but analyst) on World Series games who didn’t play or manage: Howard Cosell.

### In retrospect, Michelle Beadle made a career misstep by leaving a prominent role on ESPN to join NBC Sports Network in 2012. On Monday, she returned to ESPN as co-host of SportsNation, with Max Kellerman and Marcellus Wiley.

03/02/2014

10 a.m. Monday: Grimes re-signs; More from Riley, UM; Criticism from ex-Canes follows D'Onofrio; Fins, Heat, Marlins

Cornerback Brent Grimes, perhaps the Dolphins’ best player last season, has signed a four-year, $32 million contract to remain with the team -- the first significant move made by new Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey.

The deal includes $16 million in guaranteed money.

The agreement was reached hours before Monday’s 4 p.m. deadline to apply the franchise tag on unrestricted free agents.

"I wanted to be back but you never know in this business," Grimes told ESPN. "When it all worked out, I was happy."

Neither the Dolphins nor Grimes wanted to use the franchise tag on the veteran cornerback. The tag would have come with a huge cap hit ($11.8 million), and Grimes wanted a multiyear contract.

Grimes, 30, signed with the Dolphins last offseason after missing 15 games for Atlanta in 2012 because of an Achilles’ injury. Grimes immediately returned to his previous Pro Bowl form, finishing the season with 60 tackles and four interceptions. He did not allow a touchdown to be caught against him.

Pro Football Focus rated him the NFL’s second-best cornerback last season, and opposing quarterbacks had a 66.3 rating in his coverage area.

Grimes said Hickey made a point to tell him recently how much he values him.

Grimes joins Dimitri Patterson, Jamar Taylor and Will Davis as the team’s top cornerbacks under contract. But Patterson, who’s due to earn $5.4 million, might be asked to take a pay cut – a subject that already has been seriously discussed internally.

The Dolphins have interest in signing free agent Nolan Carroll, but he reportedly is expected to test the free agent market.

The Dolphins also are mulling what to do at the safety position that was filled last season by free agent Chris Clemons.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus, on his weekly WSVN-Fox 7 segment, said Sunday night that negotiations with the Dolphins regarding safety Louis Delmas have not started but believes Miami's interest in his client is "significant."

Rosenhaus said: "There's enough interest that hopefully we can get some negotiations going."

If Miami signs Delmas, it likely would part ways with Clemons.

Delmas, who attended North Miami Beach High, has six interceptions in five NFL seasons, all with Detroit. He visited the Dolphins on Friday after visiting the Saints on Thursday.

The Dolphins have not ruled out re-signing Clemons but have told him they are comfortable with him testing the free agent market.

 

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Some quick Sunday 3 p.m. notes:

### At the Heat's annual Family Festival today (a terrific event that raises money for charity), president Pat Riley spoke briefly to reporters for the first time in several months and said the Heat "reached out" to Caron Butler before he signed with Oklahoma City but that Butler "wanted a meaningful role" and "it wasn't something we could have promised."

But he said he does NOT "blame" Butler or his agent for wanting that type of role. There are good feelings between the Heat and Butler.

Riley said: "We're pretty deep. When you've got James Jones and Udonis Haslem and Rashard Lewis in those positions, they're waiting, and Mike [Beasley] and Greg Oden are getting minutes from nine and 10 [on the roster]."

### Riley, on Greg Oden: "I'm happy for him. I root for him more than I ever rooted for anybody. Last night he played big. We need that from him. I knock on wood and cross my fingers every day he stays healthy."

### Riley, on LeBron James: "He wants to win. And that's all it's about. All the other stuff that's flying around like butterflies, they're just things. And he deals with it as well as anybody. I'm so proud of him and Chris and Dwyane, that they're able to subjugate, really subjugate their games, and look what it's brought them. And I think it can only get better."

### Riley, on his team: "They are so fun to watch. They're on a mission. I'm so proud of what Erik [Spoelstra] has done.... Right now, you've just got to keep in mind: We've got a long way to go. Everybody thinks it's right around the corner. No, a lot of stuff can happen. We're in homecourt-advantage races not only in the West but in the East. That not an objective. I think for Coach Spo it is to stay on track with the defense and the rebounding and I think we'll be OK."

### Riley said Dwyane Wade is now even "smarter and more efficient and uses his energy." Riley noted: "He puts a lot of time into it. So, he's like a son to me."

### For those who wondered, guard Ben Gordon - cut by Charlotte today - is not playoff-eligible because he was released after March 1.

### UM coach Al Golden said today that Walter Tucker will play both tailback and fullback... Receiver Garrett Kidd is now on scholarship. "Garrett has done everything we've asked," Golden said... Early enrollee Trent Harris, a defensive end with pass rush skills, hasn't been cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse to begin practicing with the team.

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SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN 

UM defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio sits inside his cocoon, focused solely on improving his unit while ignoring searing criticism from fans and former Hurricanes players.

Over the past three months, D'Onofrio has been subjected to scathing attacks from Warren Sapp, Eric Winston and Duane Starks, and subtle shots from others, including former cornerback Phillip Buchanon.

Buchanon thanked Sapp for ripping D'Onofrio on Twitter and then tweeted: "The truth about Al Folden."

D'Onofrio said Saturday he hadn't known about any of this. He said he wasn't aware any of these players had said anything about him.

"I'm not going to worry about that," he said. "The guys in the building understand what we're doing. I can only worry about coaching the guys here and trying to get them to execute at a higher level."

To refresh, here's what the former UM standouts have said:

### Sapp: "The D coordinator is killing my school. That looks like no Miami defense in the history of our school... Don't talk to me about Al Golden and whatever the d-coordinator's name is. You don't ever hire someone you can't fire. That's the golden rule."

### Starks: “Miami is being outcoached [defensively] every week. They’re predictable. There’s no disguising. It’s embarrassing. I would get rid of some people. If you can’t coach good talent, there’s a problem.”

### Winston said D’Onofrio’s “scheme is brutal. Too bland, too vanilla. No imagination on his part.”

He said UM’s defense looks unprepared and “I don’t think it’s completely a personnel problem. There are some X’s and O’s things that aren’t smart. Al better be willing to ride or die with the guy. You will get to a point where your assistants will take you down. It upsets a lot of people knowing how close [friends] they are. If [D’Onofrio] was a hell of a coach, nobody would care. That’s not the case.”

Do Golden and UM athletic director Blake James dismiss this D’Onofrio criticism from former players as irrelevant or does it genuinely both them? They answered this way:

### Golden: "They played here. They have a right to say what they want to say. But at the same time, we've had a lot of coaches and players here that have been through a very difficult period. I know they are passionate about the program and the defense, but we are equally as passionate."

### James: “We all want our team to continue to improve in all phases… I love the passion that our former student athletes have for their program and at the same time recognize no one wants to play championship football more than our coaches and current student athletes.”

Keep in mind D’Onofrio is running the system Golden wants. And Golden remains committed to that system and to D’Onofrio, who said Saturday that UM will run both a 4-3 and 3-4 this season. Linebacker Denzel Perryman said UM "may change a little something" in its defensive approach but "I don't think it's going to be anything major."

Some former and current Hurricanes praise D'Onofrio publicly and privately, saying they’re well prepared and that he’s not responsible for the avalanche of defensive breakdowns over the past two seasons.

But some players wish D'Onofrio would play more man-to-man defense, blitz more and be more receptive to player suggestions.

Some Board of Trustees members are unhappy with D’Onofrio, according to a high-ranking trustee, but the UM administration never asked Golden to consider replacing him. A person who has coached on UM’s staff during D’Onofrio’s tenure said he believes D’Onofrio’s system should be simplified.

Give D’Onofrio credit for being more creative and bold in the Russell Athletic Bowl, including a blitz from Deon Bush that resulted in a safety. But UM still allowed 554 yards in a 36-9 loss to Louisville.

And despite a strong start, UM finished in the bottom half of the country in every key statistical category in 2013: 65th of 123 teams in scoring defense (26.8), 77th in run defense (176 yards per game), 88th in third-down conversion defense (31.9 percent success rate for opposing offenses, 45 percent in the final month), 89th in total defense (426.4 yards per game), 90th in pass defense (249.8), and 108th in fourth-down conversion defense (14 of 21 successful).

Former UM assistant coach Don Soldinger said he sees nothing wrong with D’Onofrio’s system. What bothers him is this: “You don’t see guys swarming to the football. Guys are hesitant. Sometimes, they’re not taking the right angles. I question if the effort was there for all 11 guys. Al will fix it; I think the guy is special.”

But Soldinger said “criticism that will come after this year or next will be justified” because these are Golden’s players.

Said former UM center Brett Romberg: “Seeing the same mistakes and not being able to correct it is 100 percent coaching. Either [D’Onofrio] needs to adjust or he needs to go.”

CHATTER

Cornerback Dimitri Patterson ($5.3 million) and linebacker Philip Wheeler ($5 million) are due to earn the fourth-highest and fifth-highest salaries on the Dolphins next season, leaving both in question as free agency nears. The Dolphins have discussed a pay cut with at least one of them. One Dolphins source said Wheeler seemed to become complacent last season after getting a big contract, and general manager Dennis Hickey has tap-danced when asked about his linebackers.

There’s a big difference in their situations: Patterson has a $5.4 million cap hit if he stays, no cap hit if he’s cut. Wheeler has a $6.4 million hit whether he stays or goes, meaning it would be pointless to cut him unless Hickey finds an affordable and clearly better player.

Also, the Dolphins already have substantial cap space --- $39 million, fifth-most behind only Oakland, Jacksonville, Cleveland and Indianapolis.

By the way, backup quarterback Matt Moore, due $4 million in 2014, hasn’t been asked to take a cut. Tampa Bay pursued Moore last spring when Hickey was in the Buccaneers’ front office.

### Former Lions safety Louis Delmas visited the Dolphins on Friday and is an option to replace Chris Clemons. The Dolphins have some interest in Clemons but have given him their blessing to check out the free agent market and get back to them.

### Shane Battier dropped his longtime basketball agent and hired a broadcasting representative but said that doesn’t mean he’s definitely retiring. (He is definitely considering it, though.) Ray Allen said he’s also on the fence about whether this will be his final season.

A few weeks ago, a Heat official privately conceded Battier and Allen needed to play better for the Heat to start playing up to its potential. That has happened.  Spoelstra said “the majority” of what Battier does, fans “can’t see. The stats look pedestrian. But the impact on winning is anything but.”

Said Battier: “I don’t expect the average fan to understand what I do. Teammates can’t explain what the hell I do, either. But when I’m on the court, good things happen.” Consider: Per 48 minutes, Miami has outscored teams by more points with Battier in the lineup than any other player except Chris Bosh.

Allen, better now after shooting 32.6 percent in January, insists: “Defensively is more important. My shooting isn't necessary at this point for us to win.” (Check back in Game 6 of the Finals.)

### TNT's Steve Kerr, on the Heat: I feel like if they are healthy in May, I don't see anyone in the West beating them. The West is incredible deep and they are going to beat each other up in the playoffs. I don't see any team in the West beating them four times. If you look at the East, the only team standing in their way is Indiana, which we know can give Miami a lot of trouble. I really believe that if healthy, Indiana is the only team standing in their way of a third straight ring."

### Marlins president David Samson, the first of 18 contestants voted off CBS’ Survivor, said in retrospect: "It was much harder than I thought it would be. Much more lonely. I felt much older than I feel on a daily basis, surrounded by 22-year-olds. I grew up in New York City. I've never slept outside. I've never gone camping. I never had to start a fire. I've never had to do anything other than order food in a restaurant.

03/01/2014

Ten nuggets from UM's football spring practice opener Saturday; Dolphins staff change; UM hoops win

Nice win for UM hoops moments ago --- 85-70 at North Carolina State to improve to 15-14 and 6-10 in conference. UM closed the game on a 21-5 run. "We played a great game," Jim Larranaga said.

Center Tonye Jekiri had his best game of the season (14 points, 13 rebounds). "Tonye was a monster on both backbaords," Larranaga said. Rion Brown scored 20, Garrius Adams 16 and Erik Swoope and Manu Lecomte 15 apiece.

Now on to 10 notes from UM’s first session of spring practice Saturday:

### Denzel Perryman, who shifted to outside linebacker last season, was back in the middle on Saturday and said he expects to play there primarily, though Mark D’Onofrio said a final decision hadn’t been made.

Perryman said the coaches suggested the move and he’s comfortable there. “I played the first six games of my sophomore year inside,” he said. “You have to make all the reads” there.

Raphael Kirby, who was expected to succeed Jimmy Gaines at middle linebacker, instead lined up at outside linebacker, with Alex Figueroa often at the other linebacker position when UM played a 4-3 scheme Saturday.

### D’Onofrio said the Hurricanes will use both a 4-3 and 3-4: “I think you have to be multiple in today’s game.”

### On the quarterback front, both front-runner Ryan Williams and backup Kevin Olsen had some good moments, with Olsen’s long touchdown pass to Rashawn Scott among the highlights. Scott juggled the ball, then out-ran Larry Hope to the end zone.

Offensive coordinator James Coley, on Williams: “He’s really comfortable. Not a lot fazes him. He made three or four really good audibles. He made seven checks. You want to see the transition of, ‘I’m the man.’ That’s going to come the more he plays. That’s what I want to see – where there’s no doubt.”

Al Golden also said he would like to see Williams become more vocal.

“One thing Ryan does pretty impressive is he throws the ball early,” Coley said. He said he believes Williams does that partly to “overcompensate” for his arm but added “he’s got a pretty strong arm.”

Williams’ arm strength appears much improved. In fact, he overthrow D’Mauri Jones deep downfield on one play Saturday.

As for Olsen, “he threw really well today, made some good decisions,” Coley said. “I want to see him being more comfortable out here.”

### Golden said Dallas Crawford wanted to move from running back to safety. “He’s physical, smart, tough, great on special teams,” Golden said, adding that people internally view him as one of UM’s top 22 players.

### Shane McDermott (on crutches with an ankle injury), Braxton Berrios, Corn Elder, Nate Dortch, Ladarius Gunter (shoulder in sling), Duke Johnson, Joseph Yearby and Clive Walford are expected to miss spring practice.

Anthony Chickillo, Rayshawn Jenkins, Herb Waters and Malcolm Lewis missed Saturday’s session but are expected back at some point this spring, UM said. Artie Burns and Phillip Dorsett were with the track team and not at football practice.... Offensive lineman Hunter Knighton, who was hospitalized this past week, is doing better but remains out, Golden said.

### The first team defensive line included Ufomba Kamalu and Al-Quadin Muhammad at end and Olsen Pierre and Earl Moore at tackle.

With Burns unavailable and Gunter and Elder out, Tracy Howard and Hope lined up at cornerback with the first group, with Antonio Crawford playing nickel... Jamal Carter and Deon Bush were first-team safeties.

### With McDermott sidelined, Alex Gall lined up with the first team at center. As expected, Ereck Flowers was at left tackle, Jon Feliciano at left guard. Danny Isidora was with the first team at right guard, Taylor Gadbois at right tackle…. Freshman Trevor Darling, a tackle in high school, lined up with the backups at guard.

### Gus Edwards, who has bulked up from 220 to 235, is one of only two healthy running backs who came here on scholarship. (Walter Tucker is the other.)

Edwards said he is working to improve on short yardage situations, and Golden said he wants to see him become “a better overall back, better in protections. We have to keep pushing him out of his comfort zone.”

### Rashawn Scott, who was suspended for UM’s bowl game, said, “I regret everything I do since I’ve been here” and said he knows he needs to get better.

### Ricky Carroll is the Hurricanes’ punter for now, but it’s an area that clearly needs to be upgraded. It wouldn’t be surprising if UM finds one over the next few months.

DOLPHINS STAFF MOVE

As expected, the Dolphins promoted John Benton to offensive line coach on Saturday and also hired Jack Bicknell Jr. as assistant offensive coach.

Benton, who had been hired in January as Miami's assistant offensive line coach, replaces Jim Turner, who was fired recently after being implicated in Ted Wells' report on the Dolphins' bullying scandal.

Benton has coached 27 seasons, including 17 in college. He spent the past eight seasons as the Houston Texans' offensive line coach. Before that, he was the St. Louis Rams' offensive line coach in 2005 and also
has coached at Colorado State and California University in Pennsylvania.

Bicknell Jr. was the offensive line coach for the New York Giants (2009-2011), Kansas City (2012) and Pittsburgh (2013) but was fired by the Steelers in January. He was the head coach at Louisiana Tech from
1999 to 2006.