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Pouncey decides he's better suited at center; Lots of Fins chatter; Heat, Marlins; UM-Virginia fallout

If you missed my post on the state of the UM program after an inexcusable performance Saturday, please see the last post. Meanwhile's here the...



Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey has been selfless in agreeing to play guard this season so that the Dolphins can put their five best offensive linemen on the field.  But don’t expect this to become a permanent shift.

Pouncey has decided he wants to return to center eventually (he knows it’s unlikely this season) and the Dolphins are aware of that.

“I don’t know when I’m going to, but I’m playing center,” Pouncey told me last week.

Because? “That’s what I want to play. That’s my position. That’s where I’m more comfortable. [Guard] is something I’ve become good at, but center is my ultimate position. I made the Pro Bowl at center.”

Has Pouncey told the Dolphins? “They know,” he said.

Pro Football Focus, for what it's worth, ranks Pouncey 60th among 76 guards, with three sacks and 14 quarterback hurries allowed in six games. Conversely, PFF rated Pouncey 19th, 8th and 14th in his three years at center and those rankings seem lower than they should have been, based on the high regard for him around the league. Pouncey allowed two sacks and nine hurries last season at center. 

### If Pouncey shifts back to center next season as expected, the Dolphins will enter the offseason without any clear-cut starting guards under contract. Daryn Colledge, on a one-year deal, is not a longterm solution. And while Shelley Smith has played well at times, he has never shown enough to be a full-time starter, and his $3 million cap hit shrinks to $250,000 if he’s cut next spring.

If Dallas Thomas plays well at right tackle the next six weeks, perhaps the Dolphins will feel comfortable with him as a starting guard in 2015, but that’s a shaky projection. When Thomas found out his first two assignments at right tackle would be Buffalo’s Mario Williams (last week) and Von Miller (Sunday), Thomas said, “Oh My God! Really?” Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has been imploring Thomas to show more confidence in himself.

What about third-rounder Billy Turner as a longterm guard solution? “He’s getting better. I’ve seen a lot of improvement in the pass rush drills,” Joe Philbin said Thursday.

### The Dolphins must determine over the final six weeks whether Jamar Taylor is a starting-caliber cornerback.

He enters Sunday --– his second career start --– ranked 75th of 112 cornerbacks (according to PFF) and has allowed 21 of 33 passes thrown against him to be caught, with a 91.4 passer rating. But the Dolphins were very encouraged by his work in the Buffalo game. They like his tackling ability and “he showed a maturity that we’ve been looking for” against the Bills, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said.

If the Dolphins move on from Cortland Finnegan ($6.5 million cap hit if he’s on the team in 2015) and decide Taylor isn’t a starter, keep in mind the free-agent cornerback class is loaded, led by Denver’s Chris Harris, San Diego’s Brandon Flowers and Arizona’s Antonio Cromartie.

### Watch out for Harris Sunday; the passer rating in his coverage area is an absurd 41.7, best in the league. Brent Grimes is 8th at 60.7.

### Amid an NFL.com report that offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s “abrasive” style has worn thin on some players (“my way or the highway,” as one source described it to me), Mike Wallace said Lazor’s demanding style is actually what this team needs, and Ryan Tannehill insists his relationship is “good” with Lazor, noting “our communication has definitely gotten a lot better. He does a good job of constantly pushing us.”

Wallace put it best: “If he lets us go around merry like everything is fine and letting us think it’s OK to put up 7 or 14 points, what’s he here for? He’s a perfectionist. I have no problem with that at all.”

Here’s the bottom line with Lazor: He has helped make the offense and Tannehill better. For the first time this late in a season, Tannehill is in the top half among starting quarterbacks in passer rating (92.2), which ranks 14th. That's directly ahead of Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Joe Flacco. Plus, Tannehill is ninth in completion percentage and 11th in touchdowns.

Tannehill said Lazor “has done a great job of utilizing not only my skill set, but our team’s. The stuff we do utilizes my ability to make some plays with my feet and gets the ball [to] our playmakers.”

### One big problem remains, of course: Not only has Tannehill completed only one classic deep ball all season (50 yards to Wallace against Jacksonville), but no current NFL starter has fewer completions of 20-plus yards than Tannehill’s eight.

Wallace --- who had 21 catches of 40 yards or more over his final three seasons with Pittsburgh, but just five in his first 26 games with Miami --- said for all the frustration that has caused, “I have never second-guessed coming here, not one time. It’s fun here. We’re competitive every single game I’ve ever played here. I have no reason not to like it.”

Wallace remains publicly optimistic about the deep ball because “we hit it probably twice a day in practice. For some reason, we just have bad luck in the game.”

### The only other time Tannehill has interacted with Peyton Manning before Sunday’s game? Before his senior year at Texas A&M, Tannehill was a counselor at Manning’s PassingAcademy.

### For those who saw Jonas Gray run for 201 yards and four touchdowns for the Patriots Sunday and wonder why Miami didn’t keep him, consider that his agent tried multiple times to persuade the Dolphins to bring him back after they cut him in August 2013. But though they liked him personally, they preferred other developmental prospects (Damien Williams, Cameron Marshall and Orleans Darkwa)….  And the Dolphins had no interest in two backs cut last week, partly because of concerns of how they would adjust to limited roles: LaGarrette Blount (cut by Pittsburgh, signed by the Patriots) and Ben Tate.


### Besides having Dwyane Wade for 77 of 82 games, one of the big reasons why the Heat won 47 games the season before LeBron James arrived was that Miami’s defense held teams to 43.9 percent shooting, second-best in the league. In fact, Miami ranked in the top six in that category in eight of the past 11 years.

So it’s troubling that this Heat team is allowing teams to shoot 46.4 percent, 25th in the league as of Sunday morning. Even worse, teams are shooting an absurd 50.3 percent against the Heat’s usual starting lineup.

The only Heat team this century to allow opponents to shoot better than this one? The 15-67 team in 2007-08. This will not be better than a .500-type team unless that changes.

Udonis Haslem said Erik Spoelstra has changed a few things defensively from the LeBron era and “it’s a complex system. But we have the pieces to be good defensively.” But Miami lacks an elite shot-blocker.

### Add these names to the short list of free agent pitchers of interest to the Marlins: Francisco Liriano (7-10, 3.38 for Pittsburgh) and Brandon Morrow (42-43, 4.28 in eight seasons for Seattle and Toronto).

The Marlins, seeking a veteran starter, also have discussed trading Nathan Eovaldi or a quality pitching prospect to Arizona for left-hander Wade Miley (38-35, 3.79 in 3 1/2 seasons).

### Though some hitters haven’t responded well from being beaned, Jeffrey Loria said Giancarlo Stanton’s season-ending pitch in the face caused him “no concern” in contract talks because “his vision was not affected.”… The Marlins signed versatile infielder Reid Brignac (a .222 career hitter but a good defender) as a potential replacement for Ed Lucas.

### Marlins president David Samson admits the Stanton contract is frightening, besides being exciting, in this respect: “This is a permanent bet on a player the likes of which we’ve never made before. We always had the ability to change our mind or press the reset button. With this contract, you don’t have that ability. We better be right, and Giancarlo gives us the impression that we are. We talked a lot about that internally. [Mike Hill and Dan Jennings]... their legacy and our legacy are on the line. We’re married to him now like we’ve never been married to a player.”

### Again, please see the last post for UM-Virginia postscripts, reaction and thoughts and continue the discussion here or there.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz