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29 posts from February 2014

February 27, 2014

Heat loses out on Caron Butler; Incognito seeks help; Examining UM spring subplots, position switch; Hickey/Fins notes

Friday morning update: The Heat has lost out in the competition for free agent swingman Caron Butler. Butler has decided to sign with Oklahoma City, his agent told me this morning.

Butler, who was averaging 11 points in 34 games, will have a chance to get more playing time with OKC, and that was the determining factor. In Miami, he might only have played when there was foul trouble, injuries or when Dwyane Wade or LeBron James were rested in the Heat's maintanance program. Butler loves the Heat organization but ultimately didn't know what role he would serve here or how the Heat would create minutes for him.

The Heat would have welcomed Butler back, and several players (including buddy and former teammate Dwyane Wade) would have loved a reunion. 

But Miami does not feel any overwhelming urgency to add another veteran because it already has several capable veterans who aren't getting playing time.

The Heat will continue to monitor the waiver wire. Players who have played in the NBA this season must be released by Saturday to be playoff eligible elsewhere. That rule does not apply to players who have not played in the NBA this season.

Among others who could become available are Charlotte Hornets guard Ben Gordon, who continues to work on a buyout. Guard Stephen Jackson also remains available.

In addition to Butler, the Heat also spoke to Granger, but he opted to sign with the Clippers, with San Antonio also receiving strong consideration.

So though Miami remains an appealing destination for veterans, the Heat's impressive depth -- and the opportunities for more playing time on other contenders --- has clearly worked against Miami in this current round of buyouts.

## According to NFL Network and TMZ, soon-to-be-former Dolphins guard Richie Incognito -- who bashed his own Ferrari with a baseball bat this week -- has sought professional help and checked himself into an Arizona facility. Incognito has been under a lot of stress in recent weeks, clearly.

Presumably before he entered the facility, a Fox reporter in Phoenix went to his home to ask him about the Ferrari incident. Incognito posed for a picture sitting on the hood of the car and told the reporter: "Oh that was that was just me venting, that was self expression, that’s a piece of art. The happiest day of my life was when I got that car and now the second happiest day will be when I donate it to charity. The Ferrari is a story unto itself, the Ferrari is one entity, but I will tell you this the Ferrari is going to be for sale through my mission which is helping the brotherhood, whatever brotherhood it is.”

Incognito did not say why he was "venting."

### UM announced today that it will unveil new football uniforms later this spring.




Intriguing issues, beyond the quarterback job, percolate as UM spring practice opens Saturday. Among them:

### Outlook at running back. In a surprising development, a UM spokesperson said Thursday that Dallas Crawford --– who had the team's second-most carries last season --– is shifting to defensive back, with safety his most likely landing spot.

With Duke Johnson and ballyhooed early arrival Joseph Yearby out for the spring because of injuries, that leaves UM with four healthy backs: Gus Edwards (305 yards, 5.6 per carry last season), Walter Tucker (redshirted in 2013), former walk-on DeAndre Johnson (the former Iowa scholarship player who had five rushes for 21 carries for UM last season) and Norland walk-on Quincy Casimir.

Al Golden is not talking to the media until Saturday, and UM didn’t give a reason for moving Crawford, who averaged 4.2 yards per carry last season. But it strongly suggests Miami expects Edwards and Yearby to get nearly all of the carries behind Johnson in 2014. Tucker likely will play fullback.

Departing running back Eduardo Clements said Edwards “has to trust his blocks and his eyes more.”

One concern: Edwards runs upright at times “and when you run like that, it’s tough to learn not to do it,” Clements said. But “he’s going to become a power back.”

Yearby “will be the second-best running back on the team” next season, recruiting analyst Charles Fishbein predicted. “He’ll give you the same things Duke Johnson does.”

### What early arrivals will make a case to play? Four-star offensive tackle KC McDermott potentially can stake a claim to the starting right tackle job. “It wouldn’t surprise me if KC starts every game in his career at Miami,” Fishbein said.

Other early arrivals: Yearby and receiver Braxton Berrios (both sidelined this spring with injuries); defensive tackle Calvin Heurteleu (a junior college transfer who figures to get playing time immediately); offensive tackle Trevor Darling (a potential starter down the road), defensive end Trent Harris (14 sacks in 2013; good run defender who picked UM over FSU, Alabama and Ohio State), linebackers Juwon Young and Darrion Owens (Owens can play safety, if needed) and Ryan Mayes, who enters behind at least five returning cornerbacks.

 ### Settling on an offensive line: Seantrel Henderson and Brandon Linder are NFL-bound, and Malcolm Bunche transferred to UCLA. UM feels very good about Ereck Flowers (left tackle), Shane McDermott (center) and Jon Feliciano (left guard).

K.C. McDermott and guard Danny Isidora will have every chance to win starting jobs on the right side, and Sonny Odogwu and Taylor Gadbois will push for time.

 ### Gaining clarity at defensive tackle: With the departures of Curtis Porter, Luther Robinson and Justin Renfrow, three-quarters of the top-four tackle rotation could be newcomers, if summer arrivals Anthony Moten and Michael Wyche join Heurtelou and incumbent Olsen Pierre in the two-deep depth chart.

Wyche, a junior college transfer, is expected to play a lot, and “we’ll expect Moten to compete from Day 1,” defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said. “Getting him was huge. He’s 298 right now. He’ll have a great opportunity.”

The four defensive tackle newcomers –-- including three-star Courtel Jenkins –-- will compete with disappointing Earl Moore, Corey King and Jelani Hamilton for time at tackle alongside Pierre. Ufomba Kamalu can play tackle but showed promise at defensive end in November.

### Sorting out linebacker, aside from Denzel Perryman: This group must improve significantly. UM believes Alex Figueroa, whose freshman season was cut short by injury, is ready for a major role; he has the skill set to be a more complete player than incumbent Thurston Armbrister. Raphael Kirby, expected to replace departing inside linebacker Jimmy Gaines, too often has been out of position, and that must change.

D’Onofrio expects undersized Jermaine Grace to assume a role at inside linebacker on third downs, replacing departed Tyrone Cornelius. Pompano Beach Ely inside linebacker Terry McCray (19 sacks as a senior) could play immediately if he impresses when he arrives this summer. So could early-enrollee Young, who had 118 tackles, three sacks and four forced fumbles as a high school senior in Albany, Ga; he can play all three linebacker positions.

And UM needs either Al Quadin Muhammad or Tyriq McCord to develop into more than pass-rush specialists, potentially as outside linebackers when Miami uses a 3-4, or Muhammad as a 4-3 end when UM plays that scheme.

Muhammad, whose only freshman sacks were against Savannah State, said he didn’t play nearly as well as he hoped last season. Among early arrivals, freshmen Harris and Owens also will compete at outside linebacker, with highly-regarded ends Chad Thomas, Demetrius Jackson and Mike Smith (off an ACL injury) arriving this summer.

### Secondary competition: UM expects Jamal Carter, who came on very strong, will challenge Rayshawn Jenkins and Deon Bush for a starting safety job, and Crawford is now in the mix there, too. Newcomers Kiy Hester and Marques Gayot join the fray this summer.

"Deon clearly [was] hampered all year [by last summer’s hernia surgery],” Golden said last month, adding Jenkins needs to be more consistent.

The cornerback competition will be stiff, with Artie Burns (coaches loves how he came on) and Antonio Crawford pushing Ladarius Gunter and Tracy Howard for starting spots. Corn Elder will be a factor when he returns this summer from a November knee injury.     


### Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey told WMEN-640’s Orlando Alzugaray on Thursday that he’s “optimistic” Miami will re-sign cornerback Brent Grimes. Grimes said Hickey made a point to tell him how much he values him.

Hickey told Alzugaray that contrary to an ESPN report, his deal is for more than two years (we were told weeks ago that it’s three); that he’s excited about Dion Jordan and loves his pass-rush skills (“we have some great coaches that are going to develop him”). He also indicated a commitment to center Mike Pouncey, who was implicated in the Ted Wells report.

“Pouncey is an excellent player,” Hickey said. “I’ve had good conversations with him in the last month. I’m excited about the future.”

### The Dolphins have told free agent safety Chris Clemons that they would be OK with him going out and testing the market and coming back to them. Miami still has interest.

### The Heat believes it has a better chance to land Caron Butler than Danny Granger but still was expected to have a phone conversation with Granger on Thursday, according to Yahoo! The Clippers reportedly are the front-runner for Granger, with Houston, San Antonio and Chicago also expected to have phone interviews with him Thursday. (1 a.m. update: Yahoo reports Granger has told the Clippers he will sign with them.)

Butler likes Miami, but Oklahoma City is expected to make a strong push for him, too, and Yahoo! lists those teams as co-favorites. OKC could offer him more playing time potentially, Miami more familiarity because he has played here before. “Caron would be a good fit,” Chris Bosh said.

### Please see the last post for details on Richie Incognito smashing his Ferrari... Twitter:  @flasportsbuzz

February 26, 2014

1 p.m. update: Incognito smashes car with bat; Heat pursues free agents; Dolphins, UM

Guard Richie Incognito's bizarre behavior reached new heights this week when he smashed his own $300,000 black Ferrari with a baseball bat, TMZ reported Thursday.

Incognito, who is an impending free agent and will not return to the Dolphins, told the Scottsdale, Az., police department that he was responsible for the Wednesday attack on his car but did not give a reason, according to a police department spokesman.

TMZ also reported that Incognito’s parents are divorcing, but he has known that for months, and the web site did not cite that as the reason for the attack.

According to the report, no windows were damaged, but there were several dents, including on the hood.

The handle of the baseball bat was jammed in the car’s grill and broken off. Incognito left the bat lying in front of the Ferrari.

Here was a statement we just received from a spokesman for the Scottsdale police department: "Yesterday, the news outlet TMZ contacted Scottsdale Police Department with a photograph of a damaged Ferrari at a Scottsdale home, reported to belong to Richie Incognito, an NFL player. TMZ gave an address to check for a police report, however, we had none on file.

"Patrol officers went to the address yesterday afternoon and found no Ferrari and no answer at the door of the residence. This morning, our patrol officers contacted Mr. Incognito at his residence to ascertain if he was in need of police assistance or report of the damage to his car. He told our officers that he damaged his own car and did not wish a police report. Since this incident did not meet the state's criteria for a criminal report or further police involvement, no reports have been made."

Incognito, whose career has been at least temporarily derailed by his role in the Dolphins' locker-room scandal, has exhibited erratic behavior for months, including criticizing his agent as well as Jonathan Martin and others on Twitter, and then either praising them or apologizing a short time later.

Meanwhile, teammate Tyson Clabo told  NFL Sirius Radio on Thursday that Incognito "comes with baggage" but "is a really good teammate."

Clabo criticized Ted Wells' report regarding the Dolphins' locker-room scandal.

"I don't think the people that were around those situations, that were in that report, feel that was an accurate portrayal of the spirit of those events," Clabo said. " But I don't see that there was, you know, harassment for the sake of harassment."

### Heat buyout update: Danny Granger will speak on the phone with the Heat and four other teams today (Rockets, Clippers, Bulls, Spurs), with the Clippers reportedly the favorite. Yahoo reports that the front-runners for Caron Butler are the Heat and Thunder, with OKC able to offer more playing time but Miami also holding great appeal.




Some notes and thoughts on a Wednesday night:

### ESPN commentator and Herald contributor Dan Le Batard reported today that the Heat last week rejected Philadelphia’s trade offer of Evan Turner for Udonis Haslem because trading Haslem, who sacrificed more than $10 million to sign here, would not be sending the right message.

That would show incredible loyalty considering Turner would have potentially helped more than Haslem, and even more so, because dumping Haslem’s $4.62 million salary next season would have greatly eased Miami’s luxury tax burden and thus made it easier to add or keep supporting players (such as re-signing Mario Chalmers).

### Marlins president David Samson became the first of 18 contestants voted off the CBS series Survivor on Wednesday. “I have no regrets,” he said. “The tribe doesn’t have it together or has it together against me. No hard feelings. I consider myself the luckiest person in the world.”

Samson told me recently he's proud of himself for doing it "because I'm one of only 400 people that have ever been on the show. I like doing things that are different.

"The criticism I'm getting doesn't matter to me, because the people saying, 'How can you leave the team? Or, 'that's so unpresidential to do,' or 'What's wrong with you?' None of that matters to me because
I'm doing things for myself and to show my kids that whatever you want to do, go for it. I enjoyed the experience and I'm lucky to have had the experience."

### The sense here is if Brad Hand pitches especially well this spring, he’ll win the fifth spot in the Marlins rotation, because he’s out of minor league options and the Marlins like him. But he has to pitch well.

### Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, released by the Browns on Wednesday, reportedly has been contacted by seven teams, and a pairing of Jackson (middle linebacker) and Dannell Ellerbe (outside) would seem an upgrade over Ellerbe (middle) and Phillip Wheeler (outside). But keep in mind that Jackson ranked just 49th of 55 middle linebackers against the run last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Ellerbe was 53rd. Wheeler was 34th of 35 qualifying outside linebackers in a 4-3 defense. And the Dolphins would take a big cap hit by cutting Wheeler.

### Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, Jonathan Martin’s teammate at Stanford, told Pro Football Talk today that he would be 100 percent in favor of acquiring Martin. That’s one of the teams Martin would feel most comfortable with; tight end Coby Fleener and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton were also at Stanford when Martin played there.

“I love Jon,” Luck said. “ We had a great time at Stanford together, still stay in touch with him regularly and I think he’s a great man.”

### UM tonight shot just 12 of 46 from the field, including 0 for 12 on threes, in a 65-40 drubbing at Virginia. Miami dropped to 14-14 and 5-10 in conference.

### Chris Bosh, asked today if the NBA should follow the NFL’s lead and consider imposing a penalty for use of the N-word: “If that’s the case, they should ban all slur words, … all negative curse words. It’s too gray right now. I don’t know how they’re going to [enforce] that. It’s your word against their word.”

### Couple broadcast notes: If you didn’t hear earlier in the week, CBS promoted Bart Scott from its cable pregame show to its main pregame show. He and Tony Gonzalez fill the chairs of Dan Marino and Shannon Sharpe… Miami-Fort Lauderdale’s Olympic ratings ranked last in the country.

### Very sad news about the passing of former Canes safety JoJo Nicolas, who died tonight, a day after a car crash.

Too many former Hurricanes have lost their lives at a young age: Sean Taylor, Shane Curry, Marlin Barnes and Bryan Pata (all murdered); Jerome Brown, Chris Campbell, Al Blades and Kevin Gibbs (car accidents); Robert Woodus (the 1996 ValuJet crash in the Everglades) and Stanley Shakespeare in a 2005 drowning, when a wave knocked him overboard as he returned to Jupiter Inlet from a fishing trip.  

February 25, 2014

Another free agent target emerges for Dolphins; Fins, Heat, UM notes; Samson's Survivor debut


We mentioned yesterday that the Dolphins have interest in Chiefs free agent Branden Albert. But that's not the only left tackle on Miami's radar.

The Dolphins also very much like Eugene Monroe and plan to pursue both Monroe (if he gets to free agency) and Albert, with the hope of landing one of them, according to sources briefed on the team’s thinking. The Dolphins like both, and would be happy to land either.

Whether Monroe even makes it to free agency is very much in question, with Baltimore eager to keep him.

The Dolphins prefer to sign a high-end left tackle and fill the other tackle spot through free agency or the draft, possibly with Notre Dame’s Zack Martin with the 19th pick in the first round.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he’s “very optimistic” about keeping Monroe. But a deal wasn’t imminent as of Tuesday afternoon. And though Monroe’s wife is from Baltimore, Monroe likes Florida and has friends in South Florida. The Dolphins would have a legitimate shot if he makes it to free agency.

Arizona and Tampa Bay are expected to join Miami in the pursuit of Albert and potentially Monroe, and the Chiefs are considering an offer to re-sign Albert.

Monroe, at 26, is three years younger than Albert but likely will be more expensive. So who’s better of the two?

According to Pro Football Focus, Monroe ranked 12th among 75 qualifying tackles last season, Albert 28th. Albert is excellent in pass protection, allowing only four sacks in 555 pass blocking opportunities last season. He graded out negatively as a run blocker the past two seasons but “hasn’t been terrible” in that area, PFF said. Questions about durability have been raised; Albert missed three games in 2012 and four in 2013.

According to PFF, Monroe allowed five sacks in 656 pass blocking opportunities in 2013 --- four in his 11 games with Baltimore, one in four games with Jacksonville.

PFF ranks Monroe first and Albert second among free agent tackles and said of Monroe: “With other left tackles on the market featuring one flaw or another, be it age, injury, or an off season, Monroe stands out. After taking over Baltimore's left tackle position in Week 6, he posted 11 straight positively-graded games.

“That consistency is nothing new for 2009's eighth overall selection, who really came into his own in 2011. In his last three seasons, he's graded positively for both run blocking and pass blocking, and his overall grade hasn't dropped below +20.0.”

By comparison, Dolphins left tackles allowed 14 sacks last season --- seven each by Jonathan Martin and Bryant McKinnie.

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin coveted Albert last offseason, but then-general manager Jeff Ireland didn't want to offer a first- or second-round pick and wasn't even convinced he should offer a third, with Miami never able to get permission to give him a physical.

"The thinking at the time," a Dolphins source said, "was you are going to be trading a sizable pick for a guy who would be an unrestricted free agent in a year. You could get him [without trade compensation] if you wait. He had durability and medical issues" that concerned Ireland.

If the Dolphins cannot sign Monroe or Albert, other free agent left tackle options would include Jared Veldheer (third on PFF’s list; Oakland wants to keep him), Cincinnati’s Anthony Collins and St. Louis’ Rodger Saffold.

Among right tackles, the Saints are trying to keep highly-regarded Zach Strief and the Jets are trying to re-sign Austin Howard. Beware of Baltimore’s Michael Oher, who had PFF’s worst run-blocking grade among all tackles in 2013.

### Martin could end up being the only realistic tackle option with the 19th pick, unless Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson (rated 27th overall by Mel Kiper) surprisingly rises in the next two months. And that seems unlikely, because Richardson had a disappointing workout at the Combine.

Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio, who some consider an option at No. 19, has seen his stock fall because of an arthritic knee condition, according to NFL Network. Draftinsider.com’s Tony Pauline said a Bills scout told him “Cyrus [can] say goodbye to round one.”

Meanwhile, it appears unlikely Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan will fall to 19; he had an impressive NFL Combine and is a top-10 talent, NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said.


Jonathan Martin, who wants to move on from Miami, is hoping the Dolphins trade him (with the 49ers and Colts among those holding appeal to him) instead of releasing him so that he can make the $825,000 and $1.04 million he’s due in the next two non-guaranteed seasons, as opposed to the $570,000 league minimum. The Dolphins have said it’s doubtful he will return and are trying to trade him.

### Receiver Braxton Berrios isn’t the only top UM recruit recovering from a torn ACL. Miami Northwestern High defensive end Mike Smith, who is enrolling at UM this summer, said he’s recovering from one, too (sustained in a late-season practice) but expects to be back by August… Though it’s still too soon to know if it’s realistic, several UM people are excited about the chance of a joint stadium with David Beckham’s MLS team. Some UM coaches and trustees would love to play at a new facility at Tropical Park, but that’s not being considered. MLS wants a downtown stadium. Beckham's group continues to study the feasibility of a joint stadium with UM, fully aware that UM has told them that 40,000 seats is the absolute minimum the Hurricanes could accept.

### Buyout negotiations continue between the Milwaukee Bucks and Caron Butler, who has interest in joining the Heat. Miami also holds Butler in high regard. Players must be cut by Saturday to be playoff-eligible on another team. But they don't need to sign with their new team by Saturday to be playoff-eligible.

### Though re-signing Mario Chalmers this summer could be tricky for the Heat because of luxury tax issues, consider this: A career 42.6 percent shooter, he’s at 46.7 percent, second behind only Tony Parker among all point guards. And he’s third in steals per 48 minutes.

Chalmers said playing point guard here “would not be for everyone. Not every point guard can handle being without the ball a lot…. I’m ready when called on. That’s what makes me special.”

Chalmers, earning $4 million this season, said he hasn’t considered whether he would take less money to re-sign here, though it might be difficult to pass up his first big multiyear contract if a team offers him far more than Miami does. But “I would love to stay,” he added.

### Best line of the day Tuesday from Shane Battier when asked why the Heat isn't as sharp against sub .500 teams as it is against winning teams.

"I'm not Sigmund Freud, I'm not Siggy Freud, I can't speculate on the psyche of our team," he said. "Is it easier to play with energy and concentration when you're playing a Kevin Durant? Yes. If you don't, you're going to be embarrassed." 

Miami is 19-5 record against teams with a .500 or winning record when they played them, 21-9 in other games.

### The Survivor series featuring Marlins president David Samson, which was taped last summer, begins airing at 8 p.m. Wednesday on CBS, with 18 contestants on the province of Cagayan in the Philippines.

"It was much harder than I thought it would be,” Samson said. But “it was something I always wanted to do. I've been watching the show from the beginning.” 

February 24, 2014

2:30 update: LeBron status; New position for UM player; Fins interested in Albert; Starks, Soliai update

2 p.m. Tuesday update: LeBron James, recovering a broken nose, participated in a light practice (without a mask) on Tuesday and said "I think I should be fine enough" to play Thursday against the Knicks.

But he said he will need to wear a protective mask for a few weeks and will wear it during Wednesday's contact practice.

### UM's newest addition to the 2014 class, defensive tackle Joe Brown, will be used by UM as an offensive lineman, he told rivals.com today. He said he prefers to play defense, but UM needs the offensive line depth.

Brown's coach in Paramount, Cal., learned last week that he had earned a high enough SAT score to be eligible. UTEP made an offer last Wednesday, and UM contacted him that afternoon, and invited him for a visit.

Brown visited UM last weekend and signed on Sunday, according to the Times. Brown, 6-4 and 320 pounds, is a two-time defensive player of the year in the San Gabriel Valley.


9 p.m. Monday update: Heard this morning from a league source that the Dolphins plan to pursue Chiefs impending free agent left tackle Branden Albert in free agency. But they'll have competition. Arizona and Tampa Bay also are believed to have interest, and Kansas City hasn't ruled out re-signing him.

Joe Philbin wanted the Dolphins to pursue a trade for Albert last spring, but Jeff Ireland didn't want give up a high draft pick.

Albert, 29, ranked 29th among all tackles last season, according to Pro Football Focus. (We planned on reporting the Albert news in a Wednesday buzz column, but tonight, word has gotten out around the league about Miami's interest.)


5:15 p.m. Monday update:

The Dolphins have not made an offer to either of their key impending free agent defensive tackles, Randy Starks or Paul Soliai, but have expressed interest in re-signing both. They are expected to make an offer to Soliai before free agency begins in two weeks, barring a change of heart.

The Dolphins have conveyed that they would be fine with Starks testing the market and coming back to them with a competing offer. Nevertheless, they haven’t ruled out making an offer to Starks before the start of free agency.

Unofficial interest in Soliai has been significant this week at the NFL Scouting Combine. Soliai has moved out of his South Florida home but in the past has expressed a fondness for living in South Florida.

Free agents cannot sign with other teams before March 11 and can speak only with their current teams until March 8, at which point they can begin talking to any team.


Tidbits from Jason Taylor’s charity golf tournament today:

### Cornerback Brent Grimes, arguably the most critical of the Dolphins’ impending free agents, said today he’s optimistic but not certain that he will re-sign with Miami.

He said his agent Ben Dogra has spoken to the Dolphins a few times.

“I’m pretty optimistic,” he said. “They said they like me here and want to have me back. Hopefully, it happens sooner than later, and I don’t have to worry about it.”

Grimes said the Dolphins have not discussed slapping him with the franchise tag, which likely will top $11 million. “Nobody wants to get franchise tag, another one-year deal.”

The deadline to use the franchise tag is next Monday. But even if a player is given the tag, negotiations on a contract can continue, and the tag can be lifted, until mid-July.

### Long snapper John Denney, the Dolphins’ union representative, hasn’t read Ted Wells’ 144-page report on the team’s bullying scandal and didn’t read media accounts of the report. But he nevertheless discredited Wells’ findings.

“I have a hard time believing,” Denney said, “that you’re going to pay a guy good money to take his time to do an investigation, spend three months on it --- All of us can agree he’s not going to walk out of there and address the table and say, ‘I’ve got nothing guys, sorry.’ You’ve got to come up with something. They’re paying good money to come up with something.”

Denney said he didn’t want to hear about the details of the report because “I’ve been in the middle of it, so I’ve got nothing to read or see or hear…. This whole thing nauseates me,” he said.

Why? “Because it’s a little too much. Everything has been blown out of proportion from my perspective.”

What about Wells’ claim that several players were harassed, not only Jonathan Martin?

“Ted Wells can go into any one of the 32 teams in the entire league and he is going to come out with the same investigation, same results,” Denney said. “Every single player in this league has been bullied if that’s what bullying is defined as. I was bullied as a rookie. Every one I’ve seen has been bullied as a rookie.”

Denney, who came into the league with the Dolphins in 2005, said he never witnessed any conduct that he considered to be over the line.

"If this is something that needs to be addressed, this should have been addressed my rookie year because nothing has changed since Day 1 that I’ve been in the league,” he said. “It hasn’t escalated. If it was bad now, it was bad then.

“I came from BYU. When I came in the league, the environment was a complete shock to me. It wasn’t something I was used to. I felt like it was something I could manage and it didn’t affect me. Everyone is affected differently. This is no blanket cure-all because everyone reacts differently to different situations. There’s no right or wrong. It depends on the person that’s been affected.”

Does Denney blame Martin because this wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t left?

“You answered your own question,” he said. “You know the answer to that. I’m not answering that question. It’s a little obvious.”

Would Martin be welcomed back to the Dolphins’ locker-room in the unlikely event it happened? “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Denney said.

### Ryan Tannehill, speaking to reporters for the first time since the end of the season, said he isn’t permitted to speak to new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor in detail because of NFL rules prohibiting much contact between players and coaches this time of year.

But Tannehill said he has spoken some with Lazor and the offense “definitely will be different. It’s a completely different system. Bill runs a numbers system. Coach [Mike] Sherman was a West Coast style system. Everything is going to have a different name. It’s going to be re-programmed in my brain to work in a different way. It’s a big task.”

Will fans see a difference in how the offense looks? Tannehill said he doesn’t know because he hasn’t been able to talk X’s and O’s yet with Lazor.

“I’m excited,” he said. “He’s a fun guy to work with. Just his personality coming in seems like it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to when we can get into learning the offense. I’m just waiting on that date…. I’m really looking forward to taking a big step this year.”

Tannehill, on the Wells report: “I didn’t read it. I saw a few pages of it and got overwhelmed by a 140-whatever pages and skipped it. I’m just glad it’s out. We’ve had the consequences. Now we can put it in the past and move forward. It’s behind us. We’ll try to learn from it.”

I asked Tannehill if he’s ready to become a more vocal leader who would stand up and say something if he sees locker-room conduct that he doesn’t approve of.

"You definitely get comfortable speaking up,” he answered. “That goes with your time in a place, your time in the league. You get more comfortable, you speak up a lot more. The big thing is having other guys’ respect in the locker room. You can’t come in with no respect and try to own the place. At this point, hopefully I have some respect in the locker-room and now I can assert myself in that way.”


February 22, 2014

Ryan Williams ready to prove himself to "doubters"; Dolphins, Marino, Heat, Marlins


The battle for UM’s quarterback job begins in earnest with the start of spring practice next weekend, and front-runner Ryan Williams knows there are some fans who will look at his unimpressive Rivals.com recruiting ranking (two stars) and his limited number of offers out of Miramar High (Memphis, Eastern Michigan were the best) and decide it makes more sense longterm to give the job not to Williams --- a one-year stopgap --- but to more ballyhooed Kevin Olsen, who has four years of eligibility left.

“There probably are doubters, but I never want to listen to the outside,” Williams said. “Kevin was an Under-Armor All-American. I wasn’t. I had to go to Memphis first. He came straight here.

“It’s always going to be looked upon as a lower status, but it’s something I’ve got to break through. Fans look at ratings, and I wasn’t highly rated. Fans hold that as a negative against me.” 

UM coaches obviously don’t. There will be an open competition between Williams and Olsen, but Williams enters as the favorite because the staff sees a mature, responsible leader who has improved his accuracy and arm strength. Gray Crow is realistically an afterthought in the spring competition, and incoming Brad Kaaya (likely Olsen's strongest competition in 2015) and Malik Rosier arrive in the summer.

“With Ryan, you see plays that are second nature to him,” offensive coordinator James Coley said. “I love the fact he’s tall [6-6]. He’s savvy…. Before, he was a paw thrower. Now he will turn his shoulders.”

Coach Al Golden said last month that “Ryan has done a really good job, but you're not anointed the starting quarterback. In terms of his growth, maturity, football intelligence, he’s someone we're excited about."

Teammates have noticed other encouraging signs. “Since Coley came here, Ryan’s arm strength is better,” said departing running back Eduardo Clements. “His deep balls are better, more accurate.”

Williams admitted his arm strength was a considered “a negative” when he signed with Memphis, but he can now throw “60 to 65 yards and accurately” – a 10-to-15 yard improvement from when he transferred.

Beyond being generally accurate on intermediate routes, Williams “keeps his cool and he’s really good in the pocket,” tight end Beau Sandland said.

Still, there’s some uncertainty because of his limited body of work. He threw for 2075 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 picks in 10 starts as a freshman on a 1-11 Memphis team in 2010, then transferred when the coach changed the offensive system from pro-style to spread.

At Miami, Williams has completed 37 of 52 passes for 569 yards, four touchdowns and one interception in two years as Stephen Morris’ backup.

“I don’t want to be given anything,” said Williams, who threw five touchdown passes in Miramar’s victory in the 2009 Class 6A state championship. “I want to go out and earn it. That’s what I plan on doing.”

Does Williams look at this as his team now, in terms of leadership?

“That’s what I’m going to try to do,” he said earlier this winter. “I want to try to take over and be a big influence and get the young guys caught up to speed and make sure they know there’s no more Allen Hurns, no more Stephen Morris, and it’s us now.”

Any doubt he can be quality starter at this level? “No. I definitely proved myself at the Division 1 level before. We didn’t win a lot of games. But after these last three years of learning, I’m so much better.

“My overall accuracy on every ball has improved. Just looking back at myself, everything – body type, arm strength – it just looked bad. [Now], I feel good about myself on the field.”

It wouldn’t be surprising if Williams throws more intermediate routes and fewer deep balls than Morris did. “Maybe I’ll take people by surprise and can sneak a few deep balls and open up some thing underneath,” he said.

“If it’s a team we feel we can take shots on, we’ll take shots. I don’t have any limitations of what I can run offensively.”

The UM staff likes Olsen’s skill set but wants to see more maturity (after a bowl game suspension unrelated to academics) and quicker decisions (“don’t overthink it,” Coley said). Golden said last season he wants to see Olsen work to get better in the film room.

“It will be a great competition,” said Olsen, who is in good spirits but declined to discuss his bowl suspension. “Ryan has the experience factor on me.”


### Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has interest in Dan Marino becoming involved with the franchise but likely not in a powerful role, such as director of football operations, barring a change of heart. Problem is, Marino wants a meaningful role, according to an associate. There’s a decent chance they compromise and find one.

### A friend of Ross said Ross feels no need to hire a Bill Parcells-type president because he wants to make the decisions that a czar would – such as hiring a GM and coach, and that’s one of the fun things of being an owner. “So why pay someone else to do it?” the friend said.

### Danny Granger, 30, acquired by Philadelphia, reportedly wants a buyout so he can sign with the Heat or a Western Conference contender, and Caron Butler, 33, also will welcome Heat overtures if he gets a buyout from Milwaukee, as many expect. (It's too early to tell if Granger will get the buyout.)

So who would be better for Miami? Heat players would clearly prefer Butler; he and Dwyane Wade are close from their days as Heat teammates, and Granger irritated the Heat’s stars by getting in their faces after fouls in the 2012 playoffs. At the time, LeBron James called Granger’s conduct “stupid.”

Granger, 6-8, is shooting just 35.9 percent; Butler, 6-7, is shooting only 38.7 percent. But players guarded by Granger are shooting 30.9 percent, compared with 47 percent for Butler.

“They’re very comparable,” an Eastern Conference scout said. “Granger is better off the ball, Butler a little tougher.” The scout said Granger has lost a step, but Butler isn't clearly better, and the scout would lean toward Granger for Miami because the Heat could pick his brain on Pacers’ personnel and tendencies, adding “that definitely has value beyond what you get studying film.”

Ben Gordon, 6-3, is expected to get a buyout from Charlotte, but a perimeter player with more size would have more value to the Heat. Shannon Brown, a 6-4 guard, is also available after his Spurs 10-day contract expired, but Miami has passed on him before. Power forward Glen Davis, set free from Orlando, reportedly leans toward joining the Clippers.

### Pacers center Roy Hibbert, speaking to ESPN’s Bill Simmons about the Heat rivalry: “I have nothing against Chris Bosh, LeBron James, D-Wade. I love Birdman. Whenever he checks in the game, I'm always like 'Birdman! Birdman!' I have nothing against those guys. I don't hate them. I want to beat those guys so bad. They're talking about three-peating. Nah, we're going to stop that….

David West and myself take pride when we see the Heat play other teams and seeing LeBron score in the halfcourt [and make] open dunks in the halfcourt against set defenses. We take pride in knowing that he doesn't get that kind of stuff [against us]. Obviously he's at the top of the mountain in terms of the NBA right now. We're coming for him and I think our defense is going to put us over the edge."

### With Jeff Baker, Greg Dobbs and Jeff Mathis essentially assured three Marlins bench jobs, the other two or three probably will go to outfielder Brian Bogusevic (cannot be demoted without going through waivers) and infielders Donovan Solano or Ed Lucas (both can be sent to the minors without passing through waivers), with Reed Johnson and Ty Wigginton pushing for a spot.

### Around town: UF says it has discussed scheduling a home-and-home men’s basketball series with UM as early as next season and the following one…. With Broward County expected to give the Panthers a bailout to help cover their losses, it will be easier for new owner Vinnie Viola to stick to his plan to allow GM Dale Tallon to spend up to the $71 million NHL cap next season.

The Panthers are expected to have more than $30 million in cap space and can clear even more by dumping several veterans, including Scottie Upshall, by the March 5 trade deadline. The Panthers have asked for an $80 million buyout to help cover what they say are $30 million annual losses; the Broward commission likely will give the Panthers something, but it's undetermined how much.

February 21, 2014

Sat. 2 p.m. update: LeBron updates status; Michael Sam on Fins; UM investigates potential Kehoe violation

Saturday 2 p.m. update:

### LeBron James did not practice Saturday because of a broken nose and indicated he was not sure if he would play Sunday against visiting Chicago. He said he could not have played if the game was Saturday.

"It's a little bit of everything --- pain, headaches," he said after practice. "... I'm not going to rush it. I'm a game-time decision, more probable than anything... If it's not Sunday, then I'll get prepared for Thursday."

The Heat is off Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before playing the Knicks Thursday.

James is averaging 37 points, 9.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 3.3 steals and shooting 61.3 percent in his past four games.

### Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, who announced recently that he's gay, spoke to reporters at the NFL Combine today and said he would have no issue with being drafted by the Dolphins, even though Ted Wells' report indicated that at least three Dolphins players used gay slurs, and even though former Dolphins offensive lineman Andrew McDonald was the subject of teammates' barbs about his sexuality. (Several players jokingly said McDonald is gay. His associates say he is not.)

"If the Dolphins drafted me, I'd be excited," Sam said. "I'm not afraid about that environment. I know how to handle myself."

The Dolphins are deep at defensive end, making Sam an unlikely target on draft day. He's considered a mid-to-late round pick.

### UM hoops moved back over. 500 today (14-13 overall, 4-9 in conference) with its most lopsided win of the season --- 69-42 over Boston College. Rion Brown scored 22 and Erik Swoope had 14 points and 9 rebounds. With a strong close, UM could be in the mix for an NIT berth, which is the most anybody could have possibly hoped for after losing its top six scorers from last year's team.


Some Friday night notes:

### The University of Miami has begun an investigation into whether it committed a secondary NCAA rules violation, the school said tonight.

The violation involves football coaches watching a voluntary workout of UM players on campus on Friday. 

Several people (including a Palm Beach Post reporter) who were at the UM baseball game Friday night noticed that UM offensive line coach Art Kehoe was watching the workout, which included 7-on-7 drills. According to the Post, UM athletic director Blake James also noticed Kehoe's presence. (I was not in attendance, for the record.)

Players are permitted to participate in voluntary workouts but coaches are not allowed to watch them before the start of spring practice. UM does not begin spring practice until March 1. So Kehoe's presence at the workout would appear to be a secondary violation.

UM said the potential violation involved more than one coach.

UM has asked its compliance department to do a thorough review. If any missteps occurred, UM will report them to the NCAA.

But Canes fans shouldn’t lose sleep over this. UM and most schools generally commit 20 to 30 secondary violations a year, according to the school.

The Canes were docked nine football scholarships and three basketball scholarships, among other penalties, as its punishment in the Nevin Shapiro case. Even if a violation occurred in this situation, it  likely would not result in any serious punishment such as loss of scholarships.

### Dan Marino isn’t the only legendary former Dolphin who would be receptive to a job with the organization. WQAM's Joe Rose asked Jason Taylor today if he would have any interest in working for the Dolphins.

“I haven’t changed the phone number for a while. I’m around. I’m available,” Taylor responded. “I’ve talked to Steve Ross and Jorge Perez about it a little bit. Marino’s around, too and would be a good addition.”

### Dion Jordan told me in December that he planned to study Jason Taylor’s tapes and reach out to him. That hasn’t happened yet.

“He’s a very talented kid,” Taylor told Rose. “I haven’t heard from him. I met him a couple times. He has so much potential. You see some of the raw athletic things he does. You say, ‘Wow.’ Similar to when Cam Wake came in. First practice, you said, ‘Holy Cow.”

Taylor is a member of the five-person committee that is supposed to formulate a code of conduct for the Dolphins' locker-room.

### Regarding the Dolphins’ locker-room scandal, Taylor said: “There has to be someone who says that’s enough. Back off the young fellow. They didn’t have that, unfortunately.... People losing their jobs. This could have been avoided so easily.... Players need to police the locker-room themselves. You’re not going to like everybody. But you certainly need to respect them....

"Jimmy Johnson would say you’re coaching it or you’re allowing it to happen. Either way, you’re wrong. You need to have guys in the locker-room with enough pride and character to take care of it themselves. The bell cow last year [Richie Incognito] was not a guy that should have been the bell cow. When you’re smoking at the gas station and the gas station blows up, you shouldn’t be surprised.”

Taylor, on use of the N-word: “White guys shouldn’t be saying it for sure. Black guys should be respectful of when they say it or be cognizant of who’s around when they say it. I’ve used it to friends and brothers. But it’s off limits for some guys. Whether anybody should use it is up for debate.”

Taylor bemoaned the firing of head trainer Kevin O’Neill and the fact that he "gets dragged to Indy to get fired.”

### Former Dolphins (and Jets) special teams coach Mike Westhoff, appearing with WINZ’s Andy Slater, wondered about the timing of new Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey saying the Dolphins are an appealing destination for players.

“I’m not so sure that’s true,” he said. “I think they can be.”

On fired offensive line coach Jim Turner giving a male blowup doll to then-Dolphins lineman Andrew McDonald, Westhoff said: “I’m going to ask [Turner] what the heck is a matter with him. It’s craziness. It’s not acceptable behavior. Give away dolls? I want to throw up!”

Westhoff said a Dolphins employee, whom he declined to name, told him before this scandal that “Incognito was the best guy in the building.” Westhoff said that also made him want “to throw up.”

### The Marlins placed three players in Baseball America’s top 100 prospects: left-hander Andrew Heaney at 30, third baseman Colin Moran at 61 and outfielder Jason Marisnick at 79.

### Our condolences to WFOR-4 sportscaster Kim Bokamper, whose wife Colleen, 57, died this morning after a battle with colon cancer.

### Please see the last post for a lot of Dolphins and Heat notes, if you didn't see the post from late last night... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

February 20, 2014

Philbin reaction, fallout around league; Dolphins, Heat chatter; Heat-OKC postscripts


With Joe Philbin’s Thursday news conference now behind him, here’s what matters now for the Dolphins coach: Doing something, strategically or otherwise, that has a tangible impact on his team winning, which we haven’t seen enough of. Working with his coaches to extract more from his players, several of whom played better before they got here or after they left (Karlos Dansby, etc.)….

Being more alert, something that clearly is an issue. Ditching the cue cards and becoming more of an inspirational leader when he addresses his men --- important considering at least one Dolphins player expressed concern that the team has assumed the flat, unemotional personality of its coach.

Some Philbin fallout from BullyGate:

### One thing Philbin must do, according to ESPN analyst and former Jets coach Herman Edwards, is not allow his players to pick the leadership council. (Richie Incognito was on that council.) “You never let the players do that,” Edwards said off air Thursday. “It’s like giving them keys to the candy store.”

### Here’s another: Philbin must identify players who like him enough to tell him the truth about what’s going on in his locker-room. A UM player said he believed Al Golden had an offensive lineman on the 2013 team who would tip him off when something was amiss.

Former UM assistant Don Soldinger said if Jimmy Johnson wanted locker-room insight, he could summon Alonzo Highsmith, among others, “and Alonzo would give it to him straight, wouldn’t hide anything.”

One NFL official who deals with Dolphins players said Philbin developing that type of player relationship is difficult because some Dolphins view Philbin as an old-school coach who’s not especially approachable. “You have to have the ability to get information from your locker-room,” said Edwards, adding this scandal “would not happen” on a team Edwards coached.

Edwards blames Philbin and also faults his assistants and staff for not telling him what they witnessed. “I’ve been in this 30 years, and the equipment guys see everything,” Edwards said. “And players talk. They’re like leaking refrigerators.”

Soldinger said Johnson’s biggest “eyes and ears” at UM (and presumably with the Cowboys and Dolphins) was trainer Kevin O’Neill, who was fired by the Dolphins on Wednesday, prompting this reaction from J.J. on Twitter: “Unbelievable! The BEST I ever worked with.”

### Philbin’s credibility has taken a hit. On Thursday, ESPN's Mark Schlereth called him "incompetent" and Tedy Bruschi marveled at his "amazing lack of awareness."

One person who led multiple NFL teams' front offices for many years told me it’s difficult to believe Philbin didn’t know what was going on: “You think something like this gets by Bill Belichick or Bill Parcells? No way. It’s ridiculous. If he doesn’t know, he doesn’t deserve the position.”

Soldinger, who coached 37 years, said: “It’s like running a business. If you run a business, you should know what’s going on. If you’re with it, you should know what’s going on.”

### Dolphins Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti said this “never” would have happened under Don Shula. But Buonconti’s concerns extend beyond that.

“As a team, they don’t play with pride and passion,” he said this week. “If you are going to get beat, get beat scratching and clawing. They embarrassed themselves [the final two weeks of the season]. It doesn’t look like they care.”

### This also should concern Philbin: “Players leave here and blossom elsewhere. That’s a reflection of the coaching staff,” former Dolphins standout Manny Fernandez said.

And a front office official who has worked with Philbin during his Dolphins tenure said his concern is Philbin is over-scripted and not spontaneous with players, spitting out his message like a computer.

### Joe Theismann said “it strikes me as odd” that Tony Dungy and Shula, but not Philbin, are on Stephen Ross’ committee to formulate a locker-room conduct policy. “Philbin has been around too long to have that many people looking over his shoulder,” Theismann said.

### Philbin does have supporters. A lot of players like him personally. Mike Ditka said Thursday he doesn’t blame Philbin because “Jonathan Martin is a sissy, and if his assistants knew what happened, they should have told him.”

And John Madden, who has worked with Philbin on an NFL committee, said: “We talked during the season. He’s a good coach and good man.”


### Former Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik said he hasn’t decided whether to join Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey in Miami. (The assistant GM job is open.) “I want Dennis to have his time with the staff, team, etc.,” Dominik said.

### There’s some sympathy among players for fired offensive line coach Jim Turner, who was liked by even those who were harassed. He will be paid by Miami only if the league doesn’t suspend him, which is traditionally without pay.

### Former Heat shooting guard/small forward Caron Butler, on an expiring contract with Milwaukee, makes the most sense of the perimeter player buyout possibilities for Miami, though Danny Granger could emerge as one, too. Butler and the Heat hold each other in high regard. He entered Thursday having made 17 of his past 31 three-pointers.

### Yahoo! reported tonight that the Heat is among several teams expected to have interest in 6-9 power forward/center Glen Davis, who was bought out by Orlando. He's averaging 12.1 points and 6.3 rebounds this season. ESPN says the Clippers are the front-runner to sign him.

### Hmmm: Evan Turner, acquired by Indiana in the Granger deal with Philadelphia, has shot 50.7 percent in 13 games against Miami, his second-best against any team (behind Phoenix). Granger shot just 40.5 percent vs. Miami in his career, among his worst.

"This wraps up the East for me," TNT's Charles Barkley said of Indiana. "They're going to win the Eastern Conference." (And yet the NBA will still have an Eastern Conference Finals anyway.)

### A few postscripts from Miami's impressive 103-81 win in Oklahoma City tonight: This performance looked very much like how Miami played during much of its 27-game win streak last year... LeBron James (33 points, 15 for 22 shooting) likely would have reached 35 points for the fourth game in a row if he hadn't departed midway through the fourth quarter with a swollen, bloody nose sustained when Serge Ibaka raked him across the face. "He's got a swollen nose right now," Erik Spoelstra said. "It's sore. We'll re-evaluate him when we get back to Miami."

James also had seven rebounds and four steals but also eight turnovers on a night when he set the tone early with 16 first-quarter points. He passed a concussion test but didn't speak to reporters after the game....

Dwyane Wade was at peak efficiency, with 24 points on 11 for 17 shooting, plus 10 assists... Chris Bosh made 11 of 12 free throws on a 24-point, 8-rebound night... The Heat not only again dominated the Thunder with Kendrick Perkins in the game (Miami was plus 12 in his eight minutes), but unlike in its loss to OKC in Miami, the Heat also maintained control when Perkins was out of the game (plus 10)....

Kevin Durant shook off a slow start to finish with 28 points on 10 for 22 shooting. But James improved to 14-4 in head-to-head matchups with Durant....

The Heat's 76.2 percent shooting in the first quarter was its high this season.... The Heat shot 54.7 percent, OKC 37.8.... In a sign of how seriously he took this game, Spoelstra played only eight, opting not to use Michael Beasley or Greg Oden. Chris Andersen served up eight rebounds and two blocks in 21 minutes.

February 19, 2014

11:30 update: Heat trade Mason; Breaking down LeBron/Durant MVP race; Mayock on Fins and draft; UM notes

11:30 a.m. update: The Heat has traded guard Roger Mason Jr. to Sacramento for a 2015 conditional second-round draft pick --- a move that will slightly lessen the Heat's luxury-tax burden and more importantly, will give Miami flexibility to add a player should anyone appealing shake free. Miami is thus left with 14 players, one under the league maximum.

The Heat is expected to pay the rest of Mason's salary and the Kings are expected to waive him.

The Heat might never receive the conditional second-round pick from Sacramento, but this move was all about creating a roster spot.

Players who have played in the league this season must be released by March 1 to be playoff-eligible elsewhere. The Heat will monitor that situation closely. Caron Butler is among the names that has been mentioned as a buyout possibility, but it's unclear if either the Bucks or Butler would do that. Butler has an expiring contract worth $8 million.

The Heat would be open to adding another big man or a defensively-skilled wing player.

Toney Douglas had surpassed Mason in Erik Spoelstra's estimation. Douglas has been starting when Dwyane Wade has been injured. Mason averaged 3.0 points in 25 games this season.

"We're not looking around saying we need another piece to contend for a title," Spoelstra told reporters a short time ago. But he also mentioned how this trade gives Miami roster flexibility.


A  six pack of Heat, Dolphins, NFL Combine and UM notes:

### It should be wonderful theater when LeBron James and Kevin Durant square off Thursday night in Oklahoma City (8 p.m., TNT/Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller on the call).

Despite LeBron’s overall brilliance and torrid run over the past three games (115 points, 31 rebounds, 18 assists), Durant remains the MVP front-runner for several reasons:

1) He’s enjoying the best and most efficient season of his career.

2) He has led OKC to the best record in the league so far (3 1/2 games ahead of the Heat), and carried his team to a 22-8 mark with Russell Westbrook sidelined by a knee surgery. OKC is 21-4 with Westbrook, who is a game-high decision for Thursday.

3) LeBron MVP fatigue, which will likely be a factor for some voters, though none would admit it. James has won the past two MVP awards and four of the past five.

How do their numbers match up this season?

Durant is averaging more points (31.5 to 26.8), though Durant also takes three more shots per game (20.3 to 17.1).

James has a much better field goal percentage: 57.4 to 51 percent, which ties Durant’s career high.

Durant has been the much better free throw shooter: 88.2 to 75.1.

Durant, who is playing slightly more than James (38.2 minutes per game to LeBron’s 37.4), has a slight lead in rebounding average (7.8 to 7.1).

James averages more assists (6.5 to 5.5).

They are even in steals per game (1.5) and virtually even in turnovers (3.6 for Durant, 3.5 for LeBron).

According to synergysports.com, Durant has been the better defensive player. Players guarded by Durant are shooting 32.7 percent and he’s allowing .764 points per possession, in the top 14 percent in the league.

Players guarded by James are shooting 38.6 percent and he’s allowing .836 points per possession, in the top 37 percent in the league.

But those numbers don’t take into account other elements of defense, including helping when a teammate is beaten.

James said on his NBA TV interview this week that Durant motivates him and said “the way he plays the game every night is inspiring."

### NFL Network’s Mike Mayock was asked on a conference call this week if there’s more pressure on the Dolphins in this draft, compared with other teams, because they received so few snaps from their draft class last season (fewest in the league).

“There is some additional outside pressure,” he said. “The important thing is the new GM and the head coach are philosophically tied at the hip. You would be amazed how many buildings that's not the case. Without that, you have no chance.”

He said the Dolphins’ thinking should be: “We have our quarterback; let's build around this kid.”

### With the NFL Combine starting today (Wednesday), Mayock said: “This is the deepest and best draft class I've seen in probably 10 years. That's been reinforced by most of the general managers and scouts I've talked to throughout the league. I had one GM tell me the other day that having a top 20 pick this year is very similar to having a Top 10 pick last year.” Miami selects 19th in the first round.

### Though this doesn't pertain to the Dolphins, we share Mayock's evaluation of the quarterbacks aside from Stephen Morris (see our last post about him) because Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater attended Miami Northwestern and because of general interest in the topic.

Mayock said Bridgewater, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and UCF’s Blake Bortles "are locked in as the three top quarterbacks.  And I don't want to overanalyze these guys, because there's a danger in that, also. 

“But I just pick apart all three of them. I could not pick apart Andrew Luck. Manziel is a different kind of evaluation and you have to buy in and embrace what he does. I love the kid. I love watching him. I think you're going to have to teach him and he's got to be open and listening and learning. But your team is going to have to change how they play and embrace his style.

Bridgewater and Bortles I think can both be good quarterbacks, but I'm not ready to say either of them is an all pro quarterback. Bridgewater is the most ready to play NFL-style quarterback in this draft.”

Mayock projects Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr “into the end of the first round. [Alabama’s] AJ McCarron is solid but he's a second or third round quarterback.”

### UM landed oral commitments from two Class of 2015 prospects today: Bradenton Manatee defensive tackle Ryan Fines and Miramar High guard Leeward Brown. The 6-3, 300-pound Fines, who hasn't been given any stars by rivals.com in its rating system, had offers from Arizona and USF. Brown, a three-star prospect who measures at 6-4, 338, had offers from Marshall, Temple and USF.

### According to canesport.com, UM has become the first school to make an offer to Chattanooga (Tenn.) Class of 2015 quarterback Nick Tiano, and Tiano is interested. Auburn, UF, Tennessee and Penn State are among the other schools pursuing him.

UM offensive coordinator James Coley likes tall quarterbacks who can play a pro-style offense but also have some mobility, and Tiano fits the bill. He’s 6-4, threw for 1500 yards last season (11 touchdowns) and ran for more than 300. Rivals.com hasn’t given him any stars in its rating system but that figures to change at some point.

February 18, 2014

Sizing up Marlins pitching staff; Fins, UM NFL Combine notes; Heat limited by NBA rule


We’ve been here before, with the Marlins believing they had the makeup of a rotation that could keep them in contention for years. But Josh Johnson kept getting injured and regressed; Ricky Nolasco mixed quality starts with atrocious ones; Chris Volstad and Andrew Miller never fulfilled expectations; and Anibal Sanchez was dealt months before free agency. All, of course, are long gone from Miami.

Perhaps this group will be different. Besides a young rotation with the potential to be very good, the Marlins boast at least four starting pitching prospects who should be in the big-leagues by 2015, if not sooner: left-handers Andrew Heaney (the top left-handed prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com), Adam Conley (rated seventh among left-handers) and two former Blue Jays: lefty Justin Nicolino and right-hander Anthony DeSclafani.

“It’s the start of my 12th season here, and I can't remember the last time we had upper-level starting pitching depth,” Marlins president/baseball operations Michael Hill said. “The fact we were able to improve our roster without losing our depth helps us so much.”

Marlins general manager Dan Jennings said "our pitching was coveted" all winter and "still is."

Sizing up this pitching staff:

### There’s a legitimate ace in Jose Fernandez, who ranked second in baseball in earned-run average (2.19) and first in batting average against (.182) and is now in better shape, having dropped from 242 to 225 pounds after cycling all offseason. “You think about the Cy Young,” he said. “Hopefully I can do it.”

Tampa manager Joe Maddon said he could envision Fernandez being the top pitcher in baseball over the next few years.

### There’s hard-throwing Nathan Eovaldi, who lowered his ERA to 3.39 last season, averaged 96.2 miles on his fastball (well above average for a starter and topping Fernandez’s 94.9), hit 100 on the radar gun in the sixth inning of one game, and allowed only four hits in 35 at-bats in the clutch (two outs and runners in scoring position).

But he missed the first 2 ½ months with a shoulder injury, and an opposing general manager worries that his delivery is overtaxing on his shoulder. “The stuff is there, but he’s got to refine it more,” a National League scout said.

Hill believes Eovaldi, who threw fastballs 71 percent of the time in 2013, has turned the corner because “he has worked hard to be more consistent with the breaking ball, and that opens up so much more for him.”

### Henderson Alvarez, who ended the season with a no-hitter, looks like he might be a better pitcher in the National League. He allowed a ridiculous .290 average and 270 base-runners in 187 innings for Toronto in 2012, but just 117 in 102 – and a .237 average – for Miami last season, finishing 5-6 with a 3.59 ERA in 17 starts. He was especially effective against right-handers (.206).

“We always knew the stuff was there to be a frontline starter, a mid-to-upper 90s fastball, but there were too many extra pitches, too many deep counts [in Toronto],” Hill said. “That's something [Marlins pitching coach] Chuck Hernandez addressed last year when we got to spring training. That's what made him efficient.”

### The projected fourth starter, Jacob Turner, isn’t assured a rotation spot if he flops this spring but is out of minor league options, which means it's likely he makes the team.

Hill said “we couldn’t be happier with the progress he made” in 2013, but he still allowed too many base-runners (170 in 118 innings) and a .262 average. The positive: He held hitters to a .161 average in the clutch and his ERA (3.74) was exactly at the National League average last season.

“His velocity was supposed to be good, but I haven’t really seen it,” a National League scout said. “And his command isn’t consistent. I’ve seen nothing to make you think he’s more than a bottom end starter.”

### There are decent options for the fifth spot in Brad Hand (out of minor-league options; the Marlins have been talking him up), Tom Koehler, Brian Flynn and Heaney.

### The bullpen figures to be Steve Cishek (begins 2014 with the longest active streak for consecutive save conversions, with 29); Mike Dunn (2.66 ERA, .212 average against), AJ Ramos (.201 average against), Carlos Marmol, Carter Capps and perhaps Arquimedes Caminero or a long reliever.

Capps and Marmol have power arms, but Capps allowed 96 base-runners in 59 innings for Seattle in 2013, and Marmol 80 (including 40 walks) in 49 innings. But the Marlins believe both will be better because of mechanical adjustments.


### The Dolphins, needing two new starting tackles, likely will add at least one in free agency (Kansas City’s Branden Albert figures to draw interest) and potentially one in the draft. The Dolphins hadn't reached out to free agent Bryant McKinnie's agent, as of early this week, to express interest or arrange a meeting --- unlike agents for several other of their free agents.

ESPN's Mel Kiper said Notre Dame left tackle Zack Martin, who can play every line position, would "be a real good pick for Miami” at No. 19. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said Martin or Alabama left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio would make sense at 19, but both Kiper and Mayock said Kouandjio was inconsistent, with Mayock noting his last appearance in the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma "was a really bad game."

“You can go three, four rounds deep and get a starting offensive tackle,” Mayock said, listing Morgan Moses (Virginia), Jack Mewhort (Ohio State), Brandon Thomas (Clemson) and Joel Bitonio (Nevada) as second-round options.

### Five UM players will be at the Combine. Mayock said offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson “is one of the biggest boom or bust guys in the draft. A year ago, I watched him block [then FSU-standout] Bjoern Werner and pitched a shutout against a first-round defensive end. Then you see him play at that level sometimes and at a completely different and lower level other times. No consistency with this kid at all. From a talent perspective, he's a first- or second-round talent. But he’s probably a fourth-round kid just because you don't know what you're getting.”

Mayock said receiver Allen Hurns “had a breakout year [but] has got average size and average speed. I don't see him separating in man-to-man press coverage easily. He's got to be crafty and run great routes. I want to see what he runs. He'll go late in the draft, fifth, sixth, seventh round.”

Mayock said Stephen Morris has “a big arm, engaging personality, smart kid. Inconsistent senior year. Senior Bowl was a mixed bag." Mayock called Morris a "developmental mid-to-late round pick.”

Morris told us he has explained his erratic senior season to the Dolphins and other teams by noting he “was dealing with an Achilles' strain that changed my throwing motion completely."

### A few postscripts from the Heat's 117-106 win in Dallas tonight: With 42 points, LeBron James reached 40 points for the 50th time in his career. Since he entered the league in 2003-04, the only player with more 40-plus point games than James is Kobe Bryant with 93.... This marks the first team as a member of the Heat that LeBron has scored 35-plus points in three games in a row. Last time he did that? Four straight, for Cleveland, in January 2010....

"I'm in a zone right now," LeBron said. "Hopefully, I can continue it. I'm tired but my body's feeling good." He said Dallas' "bench was telling me I couldn't shoot the ball." He said he shot a three the next time down and naturally made it... LeBron reiterated afterward that the 2011 Finals loss to Dallas is "the reason I am who I am today."

Chris Andersen scored 18 points and has made 35 of his past 44 shots, thanks to the terrific passing of teammates (often LeBron) and his ability to finish... The Heat was outrebounded 50-28 but still won by 11, thanks largely to LeBron and 57.1 percent shooting from the field, compared to 40 percent for Dallas. "It's weird," LeBron said. "We don't discredit [rebounding] but we're so efficient offensively, don't the turn ball over [as much] as earlier this season."... The Heat outscored Dallas by 13 in Greg Oden's five minutes, with Oden scoring five points. 

### Though a lot of names are said to be available before Thursday's trade deadline (Aaron Afflalo, Glen Davis, Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner, etc.), many teams want first-round picks back, and the NBA tells us the Heat cannot trade any of its first-round picks in the next five years (through 2018) because teams cannot trade picks consecutive years and Miami owes Cleveland one first-rounder in either 2015 (if it’s not in the top 10) or 2016 (if not in top 10) or 2017 (unprotected).

The buyout deadline seems to make more sense if Miami makes a move. Players who have played in the league this season must be released by March 1 to be playoff-eligible for another team.

More on Dan Marino's departure from CBS; NFL TV notes; LeBron on future

Former Dolphins great Dan Marino lost his marquee television job on Tuesday when he and CBS parted ways after 12 seasons as an analyst on its NFL studio show.

CBS also dropped Shannon Sharpe and hired former All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez for its pregame, postgame and halftime programming.

Marino’s next career move is uncertain. His agent, Marvin Demoff, conveyed through his assistant that he would not be answering questions about Marino on Tuesday, and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross declined to respond when asked if he would have interest in hiring Marino.

But the Dolphins have not pursued Marino this offseason, even though they were aware that he potentially would be interested in a role with the organization. According to an associate, Ross has felt no need to hire a Bill Parcells-type president who would oversee football operations.

CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said Marino’s departure “was a collaborative decision – us wanting to make some changes and Dan wanting to pursue other professional opportunities. We both decided it has been a great partnership. Dan remains a very good friend. He will hopefully find something every bit as challenging.”

McManus said he wasn’t sure what opportunities Marino planned to pursue.

CBS has a game analyst role open following the retirement of Dan Dierdorf, but McManus said that job was offered to neither Marino nor Sharpe.

“Both are really good at studio analysis,” McManus said, adding he had no issue with Marino’s job performance. “We didn’t think they were interested” in the game analyst role.

Though it's clear CBS wanted to make changes with Marino and Sharpe on its main studio set, McManus said “there would have been a role” for Marino if he had wanted to remain at CBS anyway, but “I’m not sure what the role would have been.” (CBS Sports Network has a Sunday morning cable pre-game show, but it would have been difficult to envision Marino doing that job after being on the main network for a dozen years.)

CBS likely will add a fifth person, likely a former defensive player, to join James Brown, Gonzalez, Bill Cowher and Boomer Esiason on its studio show.

Marino, 52, spent his entire 17-year career with the Dolphins, retiring after the 1999 season, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005, his first year of eligibility.

He had been with CBS since the start of the 2002 season. Early in 2004, he returned to the Dolphins as senior vice president of football operations but resigned three weeks later, saying the role was not in the best interests of himself or his family.

Marino and the Dolphins spoke about a role two years ago, but the Dolphins never pursued the matter.

During his broadcasting career, Marino also spent six seasons as an analyst on Inside the NFL, from 2002 to 2007, when the program aired on HBO. It now airs on Showtime.

Of the Gonzalez hire, McManus said: “We’ve been talking to Tony on and off for a long time now. I always thought he had great potential to be a studio analyst.”

### Couple other notes, from my conversation with McManus: He said he hasn’t decided who will replace Dierdorf as his No. 2 game analyst. He said “one scenario” is bumping up the No. 3 team (Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts) to the No. 2 team. (The No. 2 team gets a playoff assignment.)

Another option is pairing Greg Gumbel with Fouts or another analyst. My sense is Fouts will get the job. And keeping him with Eagle would make sense, but that’s my opinion, nothing McManus said…

McManus said with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms working 14 Thursday games and one Saturday game next season, he’s leaning toward having them work Sunday games only on weeks when CBS has a double-header. “Thursday night is our highest priority,” he said.

Please see the last post for LeBron James' latest comments about his future, if you missed the post from late last night.