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33 posts from December 2014

December 30, 2014

Examining Dolphins' first-round draft options; Dolphins chatter; Haren update; Duke's mom controversy; Heat

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

So what can the Dolphins’ realistically snag with the 14th pick of the first round of the NFL Draft on April 30?

Though a lot can change, a quick look at some of the prospects who are projected for that range and play positions that the Dolphins need help:

### Defensive tackle: The Dolphins badly need a skilled run stuffer, and Washington’s 6-1, 332-pound Danny Shelton (88 tackles, nine sacks) “is a potential top 10 pick, at worst probably top 15,” Mel Kiper said on a conference call.

Kiper has him 14th on his ESPN.com Big Board: “I have been raving about him all year. He can penetrate, collapse things. You've got to double him.”

And he has “very impressive quickness for his size,” ESPN’s Todd McShay said.

Shelton is the highest-rated tackle, but FSU junior Eddie Goldman (6-3, 315) might warrant consideration, if he turns pro as many expect.

Kiper has him 21st. “He hasn't been in the backfield a lot but has been effective taking on blocks and creating the occasional push,” Kiper said. “A known commodity since he was a five-star talent in high school -- a 300-pounder who destroys O-linemen with his quickness off the snap.” But “he has had some games where he didn’t dominate.”

Also keep an eye on Texas’ 6-3, 317-pound Malcom Brown as a player who could rise. “Borderline first-rounder who can wreak havoc,” Kiper said. McShay has him 24th in his mock and says he’s “very disruptive with his strength/quickness combo.”

### Outside linebacker: McShay has the Dolphins taking Washington junior Shaq Thompson if he turns pro, noting he’s very good in coverage and can defend the run sideline-to-sideline.

Kiper, who ranks Thompson 19th overall, said “his NFL position isn't set at all. You can project him as a highly versatile but undersized outside linebacker, with safety as an option. He's in some ways positionless, but he's an extraordinary athlete.

"The key for Thompson is to be able to play in space because he can get eaten up if a good blocker gets him engaged. But he's an effective tackler and playmaker, which is saying something for a guy who has played safety, running back and cornerback.”…

Clemson outside linebacker Vic Beasley projects for Miami’s range, also; Kiper has him 15th.

“Just so consistent,” Kiper said on ESPN.com. “Has made plays all season. Great quickness and closing speed as a pass rusher. He’s so strong, so fast, fits a 3-4 or 4-3. Where he can struggle is when a good blocker gets his hands on him and forces him to play with leverage.”

### Inside linebacker: Kiper and McShay have none in their top 20. Mississippi State junior Benardrick McKinney, who is reportedly likely to turn pro, is rated 24th by Kiper. “Love the length and the range,” Kiper said.

Kiper said McKinney, who’s 6-5 and 250, “can be effective in the middle and on the edge: His versatility is driven by what a special athlete he is. He's going to run as fast as many running backs and jump as high as some good wide receivers."

FYI: McShay has UM’s Denzel Perryman 32nd in his mock draft.

### Defensive end: Because Cameron Wake will be 33 next season, this would be an option if the Dolphins move Dion Jordan to linebacker. Two early possibilities: Florida’s Dante Fowler (rated 13th by Kiper and seventh in McShay’s mock) and Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun (20th), if he turns pro.

Fowler, who has announced plans to enter the draft, “isn't dominant in one area, but he's pretty good pretty much anywhere you line him up,” Kiper said. “He has good lateral quickness. I think there's more productivity to be found, but he's a potential top-15 pick because you can see he's capable of so much.”

Kiper said Calhoun “has impressive quickness” and is “constantly in the backfield creating pressure and allowing others to make plays.”

### Cornerback: The Dolphins need a starter opposite Brent Grimes but figure to sign one in free agency. Neither Kiper nor McShay has a corner in their top 18. The best prospects are Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson (22nd by Kiper) and Michigan State junior Trae Waynes (23rd), who is reportedly likely to turn pro.

One wild card, though probably too risky at No. 14, is Marcus Peters, who was dismissed from Washington’s program at midseason because of multiple rules violations. McShay has him 26th in his mock draft: “Teams will need to be comfortable with his character and intangibles to draft him. But as a talent he has what you're looking for, with very good athleticism.”

Keep in mind that Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey added two players thrown off their college teams (Chris McCain, Damien Williams), but those were undrafted prospects. There’s obviously a lot more risk with a first-rounder.

### Receiver: Picking one in the first round would be justified if the Dolphins dump Mike Wallace or if they keep Wallace but part with Brian Hartline and fill their defensive needs in free agency.

Alabama’s Amari Cooper is expected to go much sooner than 14, but there are potential options for Miami, including Louisville’s 6-3 DeVante Parker (Kiper has him eighth, McShay 13th) and West Virginia’s 6-3 Kevin White.

Parker, according to McShay, “has a good combination of size and speed with good separation skills and the ability to run under the deep ball and make over-the-shoulder grabs.”

As for White, he “can dominate defenders on contested catches and has been far more consistent with his hands this season,” Kiper said. Kiper ranks him 16th among all prospects.

McShay also has Arizona State’s 6-3 Jaelen Strong going in this range, but Kiper projects him as a second-rounder.

And there’s also Michigan’s 6-4 Devin Funchess, who can play receiver and tight end. McShay has him 15th and says he’s a downfield threat. But Kiper said he sees him as a second-rounder.

### Safety: Only one who merits top 20 consideration: Alabama junior Landon Collins, rated 10th on Kiper’s Big Board and considered likely to turn pro.

“He probably will go five to 15, Kiper said. “Super-versatile. He's what every NFL coach wants right now. Can play deep -- making good reads and taking the right angle to the ball -- and he also has the ability to line up close to the line and run with tight ends. Strong tackler,… fearless in taking on running backs.”

### Offensive line: There are several offensive tackles projected to go in Miami’s range. The Dolphins obviously don’t need a starter, so there could be potential to move up or down if a team covets one….

It’s rare to take a guard in the top half of the first round, but a couple of the first-round tackles, Iowa’s Brandon Scherff (projected by Kiper and McShay as a top 10 pick) and LSU's La'el Collins (18th by Kiper) are also strong prospects at guard (a Dolphins need) and merit discussion, at the very least.

(The preference here would be to sign an established guard in free agency, with Denver and former UM OL Orlando Franklin especially appealing.)

### Running back: McShay has Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon 23rd and Todd Gurley (off a torn ACL) 29th. But running backs tend to slip and with Lamar Miller’s emergence, it would be very surprising if Miami took a back high. But if UM’s Duke Johnson slips to the third round --- which Kiper believes is possible --- he certainly would be worth considering.

CHATTER

### If the Dolphins dump Wallace because of his sideline antics, there aren’t a lot of great options in free agency, if one assumes Dez Bryant (Dallas), Jeremy Maclin (Eagles) and Demaryius Thomas (Denver) stay put with franchise tags or longterm deals.

That leaves a free agent class including Torrey Smith, Kenny Britt, Randall Cobb, Reggie Wayne, Hakeem Nicks, Eddie Royal, Michael Crabtree, Nate Washington and Wes Welker.  

A Dolphins player reiterated that even before Sunday, Wallace complained during previous games about Ryan Tannehill not throwing him more passes.

Joe Philbin's history has been to part with players he doesn't feel he can handle, so cutting Wallace would actually be in character for Philbin. But it would leave a big void and Philbin and Dennis Hickey need to give this a lot of thought before acting. 

### Boomer Esiason torched Wallace on Showtime's Inside the NFL tonight, saying Wallace "quit on his team... What a disgrace. Don't ask a teammate to look like an idiot and talk for you."

### Unlike past years, the Dolphins haven’t told any of their free agents if they want them back because Hickey wants to do a thorough review with his personnel staff and Philbin.

Impending free agents Charles Clay and Jared Odrick have been given no idea if the Dolphins plan to make them an offer. Both have said they would love to return. I wouldn't be surprised if Odrick gets more money elsewhere. We'll see.

### At his request, the Marlins have been trying to trade pitcher Dan Haren to a team closer to his Southern California home but have found no takers. The Marlins have no intention of parting with the $10 million that the Dodgers are giving them to pay Haren’s salary or to keep if he retires.

If Haren retires, the Marlins will allocate that money toward Mat Latos’ estimated $8.4 million salary.

Haren’s agency said Tuesday he hasn’t decided whether to retire. He was 13-11 with a 4.02 ERA for the Dodgers last season.

### Heat forward Danny Granger, who played 8 ½ seasons and 566 games for the Pacers, returns to Indianapolis on Wednesday on an 18 for 25 shooting streak and for his first game there since the Pacers traded him to the Clippers last season.

Granger said that in the past few weeks, he has been watching a lot of tape of himself in his prime with the Pacers and “my body hasn’t felt better in four years.”

### Heat-Pacers has lost some luster, but “I’m sure they continue not to like us and we don’t like them,” Chris Bosh said.

Please see the last post for a lot more Heat notes from Tuesday, including Shabazz Napier's demotion.

### Cassandra Prophet Mitchell, Duke Johnson’s mother, created a stir on Facebook by saying “the majority of the team would not be there” if players could transfer without sitting out a year and that “kids [are] tired of this crap.”

Told Tuesday that her comments could be perceived as a shot at Al Golden and the UM staff, Mitchell declined to clarify what she meant and said she wouldn’t be commenting on the matter. 

### Jedd Fisch, who left UM two years ago to become the Jaguars' offensive coordinator, was fired Tuesday because of philosophical differences with coach Gus Bradley regarding the development of Blake Bortles. Bradley thought Fisch was overloading Bortles with too much information at once.

Both Al Golden and the UM administration like Fisch but there's obviously no opening here. Several reports have speculated that offensive coordinator James Coley might become a candidate for the same job at Georgia. Coley declined overtures from Kentucky earlier this month.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

5 p.m.: Heat demotes Shabazz; Spoelstra keeps experimenting; Wade, Bosh assess situation

Two months into this disappointing and disjointed Heat season marred by injuries and embarrassing home losses, Erik Spoelstra has tried most everything.

He moved Mario Chalmers to the bench, then back to the starting lineup.

He did the opposite with Norris Cole.

He often inserted Shabazz Napier late in games, now doesn’t use him at all.

He yanked James Ennis in and out of the rotation.

He now uses Chris Andersen as a starter after playing most of his career off the bench.

He played Shawne Williams as a starter, and then suddenly on Monday, not at all.

He kept Danny Granger in mothballs, strengthening his knees, then unleashed him for major minutes in the past week.

He inserted a player into the rotation (Hassan Whiteside) who began the season in the NBA’s Development League.

Many of moves have been necessitated by injuries. Others were made with the hope of jump-starting a team that has the NBA’s fourth-most home losses (12, compared with six victories).

Give Spoelstra credit for flexibility, but the bottom line so far has been humbling for a franchise coming off four consecutive Eastern Conference championships.

The Heat (14-18) awoke Tuesday four games below .500 for the first time since 2007-08, a season that ended 15-67. What’s more, Miami has slid to eighth in the Eastern Conference, just two games ahead of Boston and Orlando for the final playoff spot.

“We’re 30 some games in; It’s enough talking,” Bosh said before the team traveled to Indianapolis for Wednesday’s 3 p.m. game against the Pacers. “We’ve talked enough. It’s about getting the job done. We’re not doing it right now. It’s been up and down for the whole season. It’s not going to change until each person makes it change.”

Bosh hopes this latest lineup, with Andersen starting alongside him, gains some traction.

"Coach has a bunch of decisions to make,” Bosh said. “He has to do his job and figure things out just like we have to do our job and figure things out. He’s going to put the best group he feels needs to be out there. We have to respond as players. We haven’t done a very good job of that.”

Examining some of Spoelstra’s recent lineup decisions and where they stand:

### Andersen starting: Before this home stand that ended with Monday’s loss against Orlando, Andersen had come off the bench in 597 of 607 career appearances and in his first 125 games for the Heat.

But he started the past seven, six with Bosh sidelined by a calf injury and Monday’s game alongside Bosh. And Spoelstra said Tuesday that “we’ll probably stick with that for the time being” for continuity reasons.

The Heat went 2-5 in those games with Andersen starting, but Miami outscored opponents by 39 with Andersen on the floor in those games.

In those seven starts, Andersen averaged 23.5 minutes (well above his 17.9 career average and 19.4 last season), along with 8.0 points and 5.9 rebounds.

Dwyane Wade said Andersen “gives you another big defender, somebody to protect the rim” and starting him “lets Chris be a little bit more of a [power forward] and be able to use what he’s dynamic at with his shot ability and being able to drive.”

The Heat has shot 49 percent and outscored teams narrowly (by three points) in 87 minutes with Bosh and Andersen playing together this season.

### Point guard: Asked Tuesday about the Heat’s point guard play, Wade summed it up in four words: “It could be better.”

Chalmers has started the past six games but is mired in a 28 for 90 shooting slump and is down to 40.8 percent from the field, his lowest since 2009-10.

Cole is shooting 37.7 percent, among the worst for starting point guards. Napier is shooting 42.5 percent but has the worst assist-to-turnover ratio of any NBA point guard who has played more than five games (1.15 to 1) and hasn’t played in six games in a row.

Asked if he might give Napier another shot, Spoelstra said: “Everybody is available and everybody is an option. It’s my job to figure out what gives us the best chance to win.”

Update: Two hours later, the Heat sent Napier to its NBDL team in South Dakota. The Heat sent him there earlier this month, but he was there less than 48 hours because the Heat needed healthy bodies.

### Backup center: Whiteside has played in four in a row, with his minutes growing in each game, from 5 to 8 to 16 to 18. He has 17 rebounds --- including seven in each of the past two ---- and five blocks but also 10 fouls in those two.

For now, Spoelstra is opting for Whiteside instead of Udonis Haslem, who wasn’t summoned off the bench Monday. “He’s more than a development player,” Spoelstra said of Whiteside. “He gives us something different.”

### Backup forward jobs: Granger has justified his expanded minutes by scoring 18 and 21 in Miami’s past two games.

“We just knew about our track record with guys similar to Danny coming off of injuries about that age [31] that if they would commit to the work they might just need the right opportunity, the right place,” Spoelstra said. “He’s already ahead of schedule. We didn’t think this would happen until after the New Year. He’s been very diligent.”

Granger, who played 566 games for the Pacers, returns to Indiana on Wednesday for the first time since Indiana traded him to the Clippers last season. “It’s going to be a little weird for him to go back,” Wade said.

With Granger emerging, Spoelstra on Monday didn’t use Shawne Williams, who has started 22 games this season. “I had intentions of playing Shawne in the first half,” Spoelstra said. “Danny was playing well so I just went with it.”

The Heat will play seven of its next eight on the road, where Miami is 8-6.

On the road, there’s “no pressure of winning at home,” Wade said. “Go on the road trying to steal one. You can play a little freer. I look forward to seeing what this lineup can do consistently if we stay together.”

### Spoelstra on the 2-5 homestand: “There was better basketball being played than what our record shows and that’s disappointing.”

Please check back later tonight for a Wednesday buzz column with Dolphins, Canes and Marlins. Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

December 29, 2014

From Wallace to Philbin to Coyle to draft to personnel issues to Twitter stir, 18 notes on busy Dolphins Monday

### Armando and Adam will have full details on the Mike Wallace situation in the coming hours.

A quick recap of where we stand this morning: Mike Wallace denied two reports that he asked out of Sunday’s game. But Armando Salguero and NFL Network’s Jeff Darlington were told otherwise.

Wallace declined to provide details of what happened, beyond saying that his position coach removed him from the game when he was trying to re-enter to begin the third quarter.

What’s not in doubt is that Wallace was upset about not having more balls thrown to him in the first half. (He was targeted once in the game.)

Wallace said he wants to return to the Dolphins in 2015, and Ryan Tannehill said he can make it work with Wallace.

The cap ramifications involving Wallace: The Dolphins take a $12.1 million hit if he’s on the team, $9.6 million if he’s cut, $6.6 million if he’s traded and $5.2 million if he’s cut with a post-June 1 designation (which also would result in a large cap hit in 2016, as well).

This essentially will come down to whether Joe Philbin believes Wallace is too much of a distraction and whether that outweighs his on-field contributions. Philbin has a history of parting with players with whom he had issues (Brandon Marshall, Vontae Davis, Karlos Dansby).

### Wallace isn’t the only Dolphins receiver who disappointed coaches in the final weeks. Rishard Matthews told me he was de-activated against Minnesota for disciplinary reasons. He declined to elaborate beyond saying it had nothing to do with tardiness, an issue that resulted in him being fined in previous years.

Matthews said he wasn’t given a reason for why he wasn’t active against the Jets.

Matthews said during the offseason that he and Joe Philbin had settled their issues and were on the same page. Might those issues have returned now? “It might have caused some things,” Matthews said, without elaborating.

But Matthews said his de-activation “wasn’t unfair. It was the right decision.”

Does he want to return here? “I’m up for anything.”

### Joe Philbin was non-committal about whether Kevin Coyle would return as defensive coordinator after watching his team allow 28, 41, 35 and 37 points over the final four games.

“I need obviously some time to think about some things,” he said when asked about Coyle specifically and the staff overall. “The season just ended, but I haven’t made any decisions about any coaches for 2015, none of them.”

When several players were asked over the past two days whether Coyle was to blame, none said he wasn’t. Instead, multiple players said it was a combination of factors.

“Put it on everything,” Randy Starks said. “We’re all on the same defense. It was miscommunication, different things. We weren’t on the same page. We were on the same page at the start of the season. It fell apart at the end.”

Starks said the defense is “not close to where it needs to be. If we were close, we would be in the playoffs.”

He said beginning with the Denver game, the quality of the run defense “was all downhill from there.”

Of the defense’s play in the second half of the season, Philbin said: “We have to do better, absolutely have to do better.”

Asked how much of the problems fall on Coyle, Philbin said: “It’s on everybody. Again, football is a team game. It’s on me. I’m in charge of the football team, so if the defense isn’t playing well it’s first on me. Then the coaches and players, it’s a we operation, and we have to do better.” 

### The Dolphins will pick 14th in the first round of the NFL Draft, one spot ahead of San Francisco, the only other team that finished 8-8. 

### The Dolphins’ 2015 home schedule: New England, Buffalo, Houston, Indianapolis, Dallas, Giants, Baltimore and the Jets in London.

The road schedule: New England, Buffalo, the Jets, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Philadelphia, Washington and San Diego.

### Philbin, on what he told his team today: “I told them that the reason we are here is we are here to make a difference on and off the field. I told Mr. (Stephen) Ross when I interviewed for the job that we were going to get better week-to-week and year-to-year.

“Going 8-8 again, obviously I failed my obligation of responsibility I made to Mr. Ross. I didn’t do well enough coaching this football team to get them better. I started with that. Then I said we are all in this thing together. It’s certainly not about Joe Philbin. It’s not the Joe Philbin show here. It’s about the Miami Dolphins winning championships and playing up to our potential. We have to find ways to improve and do that quickly. That was really the message, the main message.” 

### Philbin conceded the shift of Koa Misi to middle linebacker did not go “as well as I would have liked it to work. Part of it was, unfortunately, and I don’t have it in front of me how many games he missed, but it was an ordeal. It was a little bit tough. When you move to a new position and you are missing reps, it makes it a little more challenging. I still believe in him. I love the way he plays the game. He’s one of our more physical, toughest guys that we have on the football team. For whatever reason, the injury bug seemed to grab him a couple of times this year.” 

### Dolphins reserve linebacker Chris McCain caused a stir on social media after Sunday’s game with tweets that were critical of fans who left the Jets game before it ended.

“Seen thousands of thousands of fans walk out and turn their backs on us,” McCain said on Twitter. “You know who you are and I personally have 0 respect for those [people]. I will never walk off the field, no matter what. #Disgrace….

“If you haven’t played high school or any other level than high school, keep your comments to yourself. LOL. You definitely know nun.”

McCain later tweeted that “I’m not calling out any fans. Love you all.”

McCain was diplomatic in the locker-room on Monday, saying “no hard feelings. [Fans] are paying our bills.”

### On offense, the Dolphins finished 11th in scoring (24.3), 14th in yards per game, 12th in rushing yards per game, 17th in passing yards per game, second in rushing yards per attempt (4.7) and 22nd in sacks allowed per pass play.

### On defense, the Dolphins finished 20th in points allowed per game (23.3), 12th in total yards allowed, 24th in rushing yards, 21st in rushing yards per attempt (4.3), sixth in passing yards allowed, 13th in sacks per pass play and 29th in third down defense.

### Ryan Tannehill finished 14th in passer rating at 92.8, directly ahead of Eli Manning, Joe Flacco and Jay Cutler and also ahead of Colin Kaepernick, Matt Stafford, Andy Dalton and Cam Newton, among others.

“Ryan (Tannehill) did a lot of good things and a lot of positive things,” Philbin said. “I think he’s headed in the right direction. I thought his performance was better. That’s always encouraging when your quarterback plays better from the previous year."

### Philbin, asked if the team is going in the right direction: “I think we were a better football team this year. It doesn’t feel that way this minute. It doesn’t feel like last night when I was at home and couldn’t fall asleep (that) at one point in the fourth quarter we had a chance to tie the game. It really didn’t feel that way at 2 a.m. when you can’t sleep.

“I do think we were better until yesterday. Every game counts. Every rep counts. Every run counts. Every pass. I don’t think we had lost to a team with a losing record, obviously that’s not the case anymore, but I thought that was a positive thing that things were headed in the right direction. We have to finish the season better.”

### Cornerback Will Davis, off knee surgery, said he expects to be ready for training camp but said it’s “iffy” if he will be healthy enough for the offseason program.

###  Cornerback Jamar Taylor, whose right shoulder was in a sling, might need surgery, but there’s no final decision. He said he was placed on injured reserve last week because the shoulder “was killing me.” He missed two games with a separated shoulder, was active against New England but didn’t play, then played against Minnesota.

### Nate Garner declined to discuss the migraines that sidelined him the final month of the season.

### Caleb Sturgis, who finished 28th in the league in field goal accuracy (78.4 percent/29 for 37) said he expects the Dolphins to try to find competition for him, a process that already has begun. “I need to improve a lot,” he said.

Sturgis was 6 for 10 on field goals between 40 and 49 yards and 3 for 6 on field goals of 50 yards or more.

### Dion Jordan said being able to play “a little” bit of linebacker on Sunday “felt good” but said he wasn’t told what position he will play next season.

“At this moment, I’m a defensive end,” he said. Asked the best role for him, he said: “I don’t know. I just want to be used.”

### Starks is at serious risk, considering he has a $6 million hit if he’s on the team, $1 million if he’s cut. He said he has “no idea” if he will return but “I want to be here.” He said playing fewer snaps this season was “a challenge.”

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

December 27, 2014

Postscripts, reaction, thoughts from UM's 24-21 loss to South Carolina; Another prominent former Canes player lashes out

You keep waiting and waiting for encouraging signs, waiting for any tangible proof that the University of Miami football program is headed in the right direction, that it's poised to shake free from this excruciating era of mediocrity and underachieving.

Saturday’s Independence Bowl provided a couple of reasons for hope (primarily a run defense that held South Carolina to 2.3 per carry but ultimately couldn’t make a final stop) but not enough reason to believe that next season will be appreciably better. Not nearly enough.

And as usual, you’re left with the same conclusion: That the whole is somehow less than the sum of its parts, that talent is being wasted, that too many winnable games are squandered, that catastrophic plays at the most inopportune times are seemingly part of this team’s DNA now.

And so another lost UM season ends 6-7, only Miami’s third losing season since 1980.

The others: 5-6 in 1997 and 5-7 in 2007.

Since starting 7-0 last season, UM is 8-11. The Hurricanes are 18-21 against teams from Power 5 conferences during Al Golden’s tenure.

Incidentally, Golden and Randy Shannon now have identical records as Miami's head coach: 28-22.

And there’s this: UM has lost five straight bowl games (last win was against Nevada in 2006) and dropped four games in a row overall --- the last three against mediocre teams (Virginia, Pittsburgh, South Carolina).

Golden is going nowhere; Blake James already has assured that Golden will return next season. The question is whether Golden will make any changes to his staff. All of his assistants were actively involved not only in coaching but also recruiting in recent weeks.

“We had a chance to win the game. No excuses,” Golden told WQAM afterward. “If we could have just not [given up] a couple of explosive plays. We gave them some easy ones. We dropped a couple before the half.

“[After halftime] we had good energy, good fight. We had two possessions to win the game. We missed the field goal on one, fumbled on the other one. It’s hard to overcome [turnovers]. I love the fight that we had, the resolve that we had. No one laid down. We just came up short. That’s where I’m disappointed for the guys because we just came up short in the end.

“The whole week was improved because the guys that were there last year shared with some of the younger guys what we have to do. We were ready to play. We came out smoking. Then the field flipped and they go with the wind and they got 17 points. We battled back to 17-14 without with the wind, and I’m saying, ‘We’re going to win the game.’  

"We put the ball on the ground and it’s tough to win that way. Disappointed we couldn’t get [Duke Johnson] the win tonight. Just disappointed we didn’t get one stop at the end. I really thought we were going to get a stop.”

Golden’s thoughts on the 6-7 record?

“We are what our record says we are, but we’re better in so many ways,” he said. Beginning next week, “We’ll look at ourselves, what we need to fix, then go out recruiting and get ready to go for spring ball. From a recruiting standpoint, everyone knows we’re still trying to build it. We have so many guys on our team that are talented, that learned a lot this year and grew.”

UM’s secondary was leaky and the Hurricanes couldn’t get a needed stop to get the ball back late, but this loss is more on the offense than the defense.

Johnson’s late fumble was a killer, tarnishing an otherwise splendid final game as a Hurricane (24 carries for 132 yards rushing, 5 catches for 51 yards). Johnson's mother told The Palm Beach Post that Johnson will now turn pro.

Ultimately, UM could manage only 21 points against a South Carolina team that entered allowing 31.2, which ranks 93rd of 128 major programs.

UM mustered just 94 yards combined on a five consecutive possessions covering the second quarter and part of the third, while South Carolina was going on a 17-0 run.

After settling for field goals on its first two drives, UM's offense malfunctioned:

### A highly catchable pass to Johnson bounced off his hands for an interception.

### Brad Kaaya (19-33-236 yards, 1 TD, 1 pick) missed a wide open Philip Dorsett for a potential touchdown late in the first half; Dorsett went one away, Kaaya threw the other.

### Golden made a curious decision when he opted for a 51-yard field goal (that was nowhere close) by freshman Michael Badgley instead of going for it on a fourth and 9 with UM down three and 8:52 left.

“We attempted the field goal with the wind, which we were more than capable of making,” Golden said.

And of course there was Johnson’s fumble with 5:24 remaining and UM down 17-14, giving South Carolina possession at the Miami 29. Soon after, quarterback Dylan Thompson scored untouched on a two-yard run to push the lead to 24-14. 

Defensively, UM limited South Carolina to 70 yards rushing on 30 carries, a 2.7 average. The Gamecocks entered averaging 169.4 yards per game on the ground (58th in the country) on 4.5 per carry.

But with UM needing a stop, Mike Davis ran for four on 2nd and 5, then essentially settled matters with a three-yard run on 3rd and 1.

Thompson (22-34-284 yards) and receiver Pharoh Cooper (9 catches, 190 yards) were too much for a UM defense that was once again plagued by miscommunication and mishaps in coverage.

On the 78-yard TD pass to Cooper for South Carolina’s first score, UM rushed only three and linebacker Darion Owens was inexplicably lined up over Cooper. UM then dropped into a zone, but there appeared to be confusion with at least one of the safeties (WQAM said UM inserted new safeties for that series after starting Nantambu Fentress and Deon Bush).

Cooper got free and Tracy Howard didn’t have the speed to catch him.

ABC analyst Andre Ware took issue with how Miami covered Cooper.

“He’s not being covered man to man; you’re going to allow him to get open,” Ware said, suggesting that UM should not have played as much zone.

Ware made that point after Cooper caught a pass against linebacker Tyriq McCord and a loose zone to convert a 3rd and 9 early in the second half.

During the 17-point second quarter blitz by the Gamecocks, Jermaine Grace and Corn Elder appeared confused on a 19-yard pass to Damiere Byrd. Davis then snuck around Raphael Kirby for a 15-yard touchdown reception after Thurston Armbrister failed to get to Thompson on a blitz.

Positives for UM? Defensive tackle Calvin Heurtelou had one of his best games in his first season. McCord had a big sack on a 3rd and 15 in the fourth quarter and terrific stop (with Denzel Perryman) on a 4th and 1 a bit earlier.

There was a Stacy Coley sighting: he had four catches for 31 yards. Standish Dobard, filling in for injured Clive Walford, broke two tackles on a nifty 32-yard catch on UM’s final touchdown drive that accounted for the final margin. Malcolm Lewis had a drop but also delivered a 48-yard catch and run.

### Dorsett caught an 11-yard touchdown pass late but closed with five catches for 45 yards, modest numbers for a player who led the nation in yards per reception.

### A few more numbers: UM outgained South Carolina, 422-354. But South Carolina had two takeaways, UM none.... Gus Edwards had six carries for 25 yards, Joe Yearby 6 for 20.

### Johnson left with an ankle injury on his late fumble but was cleared to return to the game, according to WQAM.

###  Randal Hill, on WQAM’s postgame: “I'm tired of mediocrity. I'm tired of all the excuses. I don’t believe in moral victories. That’s not my style. You didn’t fight hard enough. You lost.... What's going to be the excuse next year?”

Hill asked: "If you are going to recruit a press corner, why are you going to play him in a zone? It doesn't make any sense.... When you have a gap controlled scheme defense why would you want you [to play in that system] when you are used to playing in an [aggressive] take-your-head off defense?

"People will say you have the cloud of the NCAA. Look, I don''t care. So did Howard Schnellenberger. So did Butch Davis. They were still able to win that battle and excel. I don't want to hear that."

Hill said when UM players speak after losses: "I don't hear the frustration. I don't hear the fight. You really think Ed Reed, Gino Torretta, Alonzo Highsmith, Brett Perriman would sound like that after losses?"

### UM says it will open next season on Labor Day weekend against Bethune Cookman at Sun Life Stadium. Good seats are still available.      

 Twitter: @flasportsbuzz          

December 26, 2014

From musical chairs to hooking up his players to devices, Joe Philbin has tried everything

Joe Philbin has tried most everything, really, to reverse the sustained mediocrity that infests the Dolphins. He hired two NAVY seals to serve as the players’ confidantes. He has his players participate in something akin to speed-dating. (More on that later.)

He placed a shield in his locker-room as a symbol of the team’s spirit. He hooks his players up to four devices to test everything from how many yards they’re running in practice every week to how often they wake up and other factoids that are somewhat enlightening but aren’t of much help covering Rob Gronkowski.

He changed offensive coordinators (the wisest move of his tenure) and frequently changes his game management philosophy from aggressive to conservative, and back again, depending on what works and whether he feels, to use his word from the Packers game, “queasy.” He became more communicative with his players. He started allowing music videos to be played at the beginning of team meetings.

But there's one thing Philbin hasn't been able to change: Extracting more from his team in December. Philbin knows it, and that's why even without a playoff berth at stake, Philbin has spoken this week of the importance of winning Sunday to finish with a winning record.

Players deserve more of the blame than coaches for another lost season. And Philbin has made some commedable decisions, including his savvy clock management late in the first half against New England last week.

But there were decisions that left Philbin susceptible to second-guessing this season.

The two that immediately come to mind: Sticking too long with Dallas Thomas at right tackle and going to Jason Fox only after Thomas was injured, and punting on a 4th and 3 from the Packers 40-yard line with 30 seconds left in the first half.

Philbin has tried a bunch of new things at the margins, and give him credit for outside-the-box thinking. Three of the more unusual ones:

### He has embraced sports sciences this season, something that’s important to owner Stephen Ross. He has players urinate before practice three times a week to determine whether they’re sufficiently hydrated.

Twice a week before practice, some players attach a sticky pad to their thumb and forehead to test their omega levels, to “look into their central nervous system, their recovery and levels of fatigue,” Philbin said.

Some players wear monitors to make sure they’re getting enough rest. (It’s not mandatory). Players were GPS devices on their back to track how much they’re running in practice. Yet another device on their chest monitors their heart rate.

This year, for the first time, he made Saturday practices more strenuous than Friday practices, and “guys have enjoyed that,” Cam Wake said.

But they also don’t have a day off between Tuesday and Sunday, unlike past years, and some players aren’t thrilled with that.

### During Miami’s bye week, he had every coach and player gather in the auditorium and spend five minutes talking a teammate or coach, sort of like speed-dating, to try to build camaraderie. Then they got up, moved to another chair, and repeated the exercise at least a dozen times.

Philbin’s instructions, Samson Satele said, were to tell your teammates or coaches “what you like about them and two things to work on. It was weird at first --- I was nervous, but then it was cool. Brian Hartline was honest with me, said I have to be more vocal.”

### After last year’s bullying scandal, he hired two NAVY seals and has kept them around this season. They attend a team meeting each week and make themselves available to players.

“They create an environment where guys will step forward and talk and say something when it needs to be said and not hold back,” Dolphins long snapper and player rep John Denney said. “One is a mixed martial arts fighter, another a psychologist. You can discuss whatever you want with them.”

So has any of this helped?

“There’s so little separation between teams and if you can do something that helps you one percent better, that makes a difference,” guard Daryn Colledge said.

But another prominent player said he’s highly skeptical if any have made any tangible difference.

Philbin's new ideas this season were creative, but more significant is whether he and Dennis Hickey can identify free agents and draft picks who can make this a 10-team win next season.

It starts with rebuilding the interior of the defense line --- which is badly in need of help --- adding a high-quality starting guard and starting cornerback and upgrading at linebacker, among several other necessities.

That evaluation process starts Monday, which is a day that traditionally depresses Philbin.

"This is going to be my 12th season completed in the National Football League and the day that I don’t look forward to the most on the calendar is the day that the players leave the building," he said this week. "I’ve been lucky to be one time to be on an end where it was about as good as it gets [in Green Bay], but it’s still kind of an empty feeling when the players leave the building because the finality of the season is over.

"One of the fun things coaching in the NFL is you can’t dwell on things because things keep rolling and rolling along, but come Monday, when I drive home Monday, there is an empty feeling. I’m usually in a bad mood when I get home, and my wife is not happy. It’s not good.”

HEAT NOTE

As our Joe Goodman reported tonight, the NBA granted the Heat a $2.65 million disabled player's exception to compensate for the loss of Josh McRoberts to a knee injury. It can be used until March 10 on a free agent or trade.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz   

December 25, 2014

The best and worst, notable and regrettable, from local sports media coverage in 2014

FRIDAY MEDIA COLUMN

This was a year in South Florida sports media when NBC-6 inexplicably decided it was better off without arguably its most popular personality, a radio host was arrested for stealing from another station, and some Panthers games drew smaller audiences than Barbecue University, Mystery Diners and ice-crusher infomercials.

Recognizing the notable, regrettable and memorable from the local airwaves in 2014:

### Best personnel moves: 1) Fox and the Panthers hiring polished, respected Denis Potvin as TV analyst five years after dropping him. 2) 104.3 The Ticket pairing Josh Friedman and Chris Wittyngham on evening talk shows. They consistently mix smart, sensible commentary with quirky musings about day-to-day life. 3) WPLG-10 and NBC-6 hiring highly competent backup sportscasters Clay Ferraro and Stefano Fusaro.

4) WQAM-560 luring clever, engaging Marc Hochman from The Ticket for its afternoon drive-time slot.  5) The Dolphins and WINZ-940 snagging capable Greg Likens from WQAM when Jesse Agler left for the San Diego Padres.

6) WQAM promoting utilityman Curtis Stevenson to a prominent role on Joe Rose’s show. “Captain Curtis” deserved a regular gig and engages Rose in substantive conversation. 7) WINZ luring Andy Slater --- who works harder to break stories than most talk show hosts --- from WMEN-640, and WQAM upgrading by hiring Orlando Alzugaray, though he was much too critical of Ryan Tannehill this season. 8) Sun Sports hiring Ron Rothstein as a studio analyst on Heat games.

### Worst moves: 1) NBC 6 buying out Rose with a year left on his contract --- essentially paying him not to work. At least they have a very good replacement in Adam Kuperstein.

2) NBC 6 dropping its 6 p.m. sportscast and Sunday Sports Final (the final episode is Sunday). 3) FIU refusing to grant a credential to Miami Herald sports writer David J. Neal early in the season because of perceived negative coverage, before coming to its senses.

4) CBS-4 refusing to carry the network’s post-game NFL coverage, including the conclusion of other games, following Dolphins games. It’s understandable that WFOR switches to a local Dolphins postgame show, but the station should shift the remaining CBS NFL coverage to Channel 33. 5) Sun Sports hiring Carl Pavano for Marlins postgame shows without giving him proper coaching.

### Best programs: 1) Dan Le Batard on The Ticket and ESPN Radio. Yes, there’s sometimes too much needling of Jon Wiener, but it’s still the show most likely to make you laugh and make you think.

2) “Inside the Heat, Marlins and Panthers” specials on Sun Sports and FSN. Consistently well-produced.

3) WSVN-7’s Sports Xtra. The quintessential wise guy, Steve Shapiro keeps the show light, lively and well-paced. And Drew Rosenhaus delivers quality guests and news tips.

### Best weeknight sportscast: Shapiro on Channel 7, largely a function of the fact he has more air time than his competitors. But he makes the most of it.

### Best radiocast: UM football on WQAM. The Hurricanes are the only local team that we would encourage turning down the TV volume to hear the radio call.

Unlike anybody else in the market, Joe Zagacki accurately and consistently tells listeners specific play calls and strategic decisions before they unfold and quickly disseminates lineup changes and all the pertinent info. Don Bailey Jr. does something we wish more analysts would do --- identifying specific linemen or linebackers who are largely responsible for a play’s success or failure. And Josh Darrow's injury updates are always timely.

Honorable mention: Marlins radio (Dave Van Horne/Glenn Geffner). Highly professional broadcast.

### Best TV broadcast: Marlins on FSN. When he’s not unleashing one of his epic rants, Tommy Hutton offers cogent analysis and pointed criticism when appropriate. Rich Waltz and Hutton keep the dialogue interesting during lopsided games – one of the biggest compliments you can give an announcing team.

Honorable mention: Heat TV (Tony Fiorentino has been at his best when explaining strategy and nuances of the game, and Eric Reid never sugarcoats poor play) and Panthers TV (Steve Goldstein/Potvin do consistently good work).

### Best sidelines: 1) Sun Sports’ Jason Jackson (Heat). The style is obviously there, but so is the substance. 2) FSN’s Craig Minervini (Marlins). Underrated wit. 3) Frank Forte and Allison Williams (Marlins/FSN).

### Sportscaster arrest of the year: Less than two weeks after being hired as WMEN-640’s 3-7 p.m. host, Steve White was arrested and charged with three felonies: grand theft, theft of trade secrets and organized fraud. WQAM fired him as a sales rep in July for allegedly stealing more than $20,000 in ad revenue. WMEN says he’s off the air until the case is adjudicated.

### Most undiplomatic way of asking a question: At the news conference to announce Giancarlo Stanton’s record contract, WFOR-4’s Gary Nelson began by telling Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria: “You, quite frankly, are much despised among many in the community.” (What? Despised wasn’t enough to make his point without the “much”?) Loria looked like he would rather be having an intestine removed.

### Best skit: After Joe Philbin called a running play on a third and long late against Green Bay because he was feeling a “little queasy,” Kuperstein, Channing Crowder and the WQAM production staff created a rap video starring Philbin as “Lil’ Queezy.” Funny stuff.

### Most unusual question: Shapiro asking Stanton if he’s embarrassed to be making more per day ($69,000) than most U.S. workers earn in a year.

### Most off-the-wall idea: Le Batard’s show paying for a “You’re Welcome, LeBron” billboard in Akron. ESPN promptly suspended him for two days.

### Good sport award: To WFOR’s Jim Berry, WSVN’s Shapiro and WPLG’s Will Manso and Ferraro for taking time to contribute to an on-air tribute for Rose on his final NBC 6 appearance last Sunday.

### Poor sport award: To Gary Ferman, a former Herald reporter who now runs one of several subscription web sites catered for Hurricanes fans.

In a media column about coverage of Al Golden earlier this month, it was noted in this space that Ferman was among several reporters who said in January that Golden would become Penn State’s coach --- four years after Ferman also incorrectly reported Jon Gruden would become UM’s coach. (As everyone involved in the process will tell you, Gruden never was remotely close to becoming UM's coach.)

Ferman, who inexplicably insists to this day that both of those stories are accurate, first threatened to sue me, then threatened to destroy me (in his case, through lies and personal attacks). Not a good year for Ferman, who was beaten on many stories by the local newspapers, the Associated Press and competing UM fans sites.

### In memoriam: In April this year, cancer took 89-year-old Jack Ramsay, a Hall of Fame coach, former Heat TV analyst and a genuinely kind and decent man who set the standard for how people should comport themselves. He’s sorely missed. 

Please check back next Friday for our national awards.

December 24, 2014

Dolphins have hopes for six "other" draft picks; Broadcast notes on Dolphins, UM, Heat

The Dolphins know they found quality starters with their first two 2014 draft picks, offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James and receiver Jarvis Landry.

What’s far less clear, as their rookie season closes, is what exactly the Dolphins have with their six other selections from that draft.

Guard Billy Turner (third round) and receiver Matt Hazel (sixth) haven’t played a snap all season; Hazel was promoted from the practice squad last Saturday. Tight end Arthur Lynch (fifth round) spent the season on injured reserve with a back ailment.

Defensive end Terrence Fede, a seventh-round pick, had one of the best moments of any Dolphins rookie this season with his blocked punt that essentially won the Minnesota game.

But on a deep defensive line, Fede has played just 82 defensive snaps. Cornerback/safety Walt Aikens, a fourth-rounder, has logged 64 and fifth-round linebacker Jordan Tripp just 12. All have had significant roles on special teams.

Whether any of these six drafts develops into a key contributor, beyond special teams, must play out. But there have been encouraging signs.

Though Turner has been inactive for all but one game this season, he has “been making a lot of progress,” Joe Philbin said. “He’s a smart guy. He studied extremely hard to get acclimated to the system, the schemes and the techniques here. He’s getting better and better. I’m pleased with his development.”

Turner played left tackle at North Dakota State, and even though the Dolphins envision him as a guard, he said he gets practice snaps at every offensive line position except center.

“Going from tackle to guard has been an adjustment,” he said. “But I can handle both. Physicality has never been the issue for me. You have to get used to the speed of the game. That was an adjustment early on.”

The Dolphins will enter the off-season without any clear-cut starters at guard next season, and Turner could become a factor with a strong spring and summer.

Offensive line coach John Benton said earlier this season that Turner is like “a bull in a china shop” but needs to refine his technique.

“Of course I want to play. I’ve been thinking about that all year,” Turner said. “But I have been getting a lot better at practice. Technique wise, I’m 10 times better.”

Of the three rookie defensive draft picks, coordinator Kevin Coyle is most effusive about Fede, who has a sack in limited playing time.

“Terrence is inexperienced but has a wealth of talent,” Coyle said. “Coming from a small school, this is his first exposure to some things, but he’s picked it up extremely well.

“He has a great future with us. We think he is going to grow into a very effective defensive end. I was thrilled to see him make that [blocked punt Sunday] because he’s an extremely hard-working kid. I feel fortunate that we have him.”  

Aikens, who played safety to start his college career at Illinois but cornerback at Liberty, received snaps at both positions this season and believes that will benefit him long-term.

“I feel comfortable at both,” he said. “At cornerback, my [strengths] are my size (6-1) and physicality. At safety, it’s my speed.

“It’s kind of tough going from being the man in college, where you don’t come off the field, to not playing a lot. But I’m pleased with [the progress]. I’m still trying to prove myself to coaches.”

Coyle said Aikens “has a combination of traits that we like as a safety, as a corner, as a special teams guy. He needs to be more consistent in everything that he is doing. Hopefully that will come with maturity, but at this point he still needs to get his assignments down perfectly and be able to communicate in the back end, which is critical for a safety.”

Tripp, who played weak-side linebacker at Montana, said he has received practice snaps at all three linebacker positions and “there’s no doubt I can be a high performer at this level. I’ve gotten a lot better understanding the defense. Work ethic is what got me here.”

Because of his speed, the Dolphins believe he can be effective in pass coverage.

“We like his athleticism, we like his ability to run and to cover,” Coyle said. “We just haven’t been able to get him into the mix of things [defensively]. We like his skill set.”

Lynch said earlier this season that he would have been healthy enough to play in October but understands the Dolphins’ decision to place him on season-ending injured reserve.

He’ll likely compete for the No. 3 tight end job next summer, with Dion Sims now having a firm stranglehold on the backup job.

### Philbin, asked today to assess his offense: “I do think we’ve made progress, but we’ve had  opportunities to make that we didn’t. I see development and I see a future with this offense. It looks better. We have to play better in the red zone on offense as well [but] I think we have as many red zone possessions as anyone in football. The guys have played better. There is still a lot of room to go, though.”

The Dolphins enter Week 17 ranked 16th in total yards, 14th in rushing yards, 15th in passing yards and 12th in points.

BROADCAST NOTES

### CBS says it’s sending Dolphins-Jets to just four markets --- Miami-Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Fort Myers-Naples and New York City --- and assigned its No. 6 NFL announcing team: Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker and Steve Beuerlein.

### ABC assigned Dave Neal and former Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware, who typically call SEC Network games, to UM’s bowl game against South Carolina at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Shreveport, La.

### ABC/ESPN dispatched its NBA studio team --- Sage Steele, Doug Collins and Jalen Rose --- to Miami to anchor NBA Countdown from AmericanAirlines Arena on Christmas. Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson call Heat-Cavaliers.

What kind of reaction will LeBron get?

Van Gundy told Dan Patrick that Heat fans should acknowledge the “incredible achievement” they had with LeBron, then obviously root for their team when the game starts. 

“I would be stunned if he did not get a standing ovation and also that it stayed a standing ovation for a while,” ESPN’s Hubie Brown said. “I just can't possibly see that a sports crowd as knowledgeable as Miami would not reciprocate and honor what the guy did for the franchise.”

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... If you missed it, please see the last post for more on LeBron's return. 

December 23, 2014

Heat humiliation; Mixed Heat emotions as LeBron nears return; Dolphins' cap; Ross; Tannehill; UM, Marlins notes

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Two days before LeBron James makes his returns to AmericanAirlines Arena, the Heat was reminded tonight just how far it has fallen and reminded, yet again, how LeBron helped put them in this spot, not only by his decision (nobody can fault him for that) but also the timing of his decision (the Heat certainly can fault him for that).  

More on the backdrop of LeBron's return in a minute, and the mixed emotions accompanying it.

But it's difficult to envision a more humiliating, more humbling loss that this 91-87 setback to a Philadelphia team that entered 3-23.

Ahead by 23 in the third quarter, the Heat was outscored 49-30 in the second half and mustered only nine points in the fourth, its lowest output in any quarter this season.

After halftime, Miami had 14 turnovers, shot 28 percent overall and 3 for 16 on threes and repeatedly settled for jumpers in the fourth quarter, with Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers each missing two long jumpers in the final two minutes. Luol Deng closed 3 for 11, Danny Granger 2 for 7, Norris Cole 2 for 8.

And so Miami drops to 13-16, with the danger of falling even further below .500 with Cleveland and Memphis next up.

Instead of climbing above .500 during this stretch of seven consecutive home games, Miami is just 1-3 on the homestand and is just percentage points ahead of Brooklyn for the seventh spot in the East, and just 1 1/2 games from being out of playoff seeding altogether.

The Heat's TV crew said Chris Bosh, nursing a calf injury, is unlikely to play Thursday, with Miami now 2-4 in Bosh's absence. 

"We really struggled getting into offense," Erik Spoelstra said after a loss that dropped Miami to 5-10 at home. "They stepped up their pressure. We didn't have a lot of answers. Once we started turning it over, it became a landslide from there. For a young team, they really get after you with their quickness. Our offense was empty."

On the comedown this is for Miami, Spoelstra said: "I'm not above it. None of us are. This league is unforgiving. We just have to find a way."

As for LeBron, his visit Thursday will be met with affection from former teammates, appreciation from Heat management, but also a reminder of the questions that the Heat had difficulty reconciling in the aftermath, the questions that led Pat Riley to tell ESPN's Dan Le Batard in October that he will forgive him eventually (but not yet).

It’s not a question of why LeBron left --- Heat officials understand his affinity for his hometown, his desire to be liked by people, his concerns about the Heat roster --- but more so, why he handled his departure the way that he did.

The Heat, consistently classy, hasn’t uttered a disparaging public word about LeBron and will honor him with a video on Thursday.

But what has become clear in conversations since LeBron’s exit is that several Heat people strongly suspect LeBron knew all along that he would be leaving for Cleveland, certainly before he summoned Riley to fly across the country to meet with him in Las Vegas (where James was hosting his annual Nike camp), a day before he crafted his “I’m Coming Home” essay with Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins.

LeBron’s people say that is not the case. But James could have easily had that session with Riley in Miami days earlier, and the natural Heat suspicion is that there was nothing Riley could have said that would reverse James’ decision that was announced less than 48 hours after that Las Vegas meeting.

What bothered the Heat was this: If LeBron had let Riley know sooner, Riley could have made a legitimate run at Carmelo Anthony, Marcin Gortat, Kyle Lowry and other free agents. Instead, most of the top names were off the board when James informed the Heat.

Inside the Heat, there is the belief that how James handled this was driven by the desire to do what helped him best from a PR standpoint. The universally-praised SI essay achieved that.

There was also the issue of how James treated Riley during free agency. Riley said James never returned his calls and e-mails. Couldn’t James have told Riley something, anything?

There are also questions inside the Heat about whether power played a role in LeBron’s departure. As one Heat employee said, Cleveland gave him everything he wanted.

The Heat didn't give LeBron’s entourage as many season-tickets as he sought (as ESPN has reported) or attractive seats across from the Heat bench or the extent of personnel control that Cleveland granted by allowing him to dictate roster moves (James Jones, Mike Miller, etc.).

And according to a league (non-Heat) source, when the Heat tried to hire Randy Mims, LeBron’s personal assistant, after James signed with the Heat, the Cavaliers complained to the league, claiming it was a circumvention of the salary cap, and thus torpedoing the hire.

So it’s ironic that Cleveland hired Mims this season as an “executive administrator/player programs and logistics.”

Riley told Le Batard that he asked LeBron if there was anything the Heat could have done differently. "He told me personally no," Riley said, adding that when James informed him of his decision, it "devastated me."

For James’ former teammates, there appear to be only positive feelings. James told Cleveland media on Tuesday that he has talked to Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem throughout the season.

“It’s all love,” Haslem said Tuesday of their relationship, adding that he texted James in October when his wife had their third child and again on Thanksgiving. Haslem said he hopes the reaction of Heat fans on Thursday “will be classy and people will be appreciative.”

### Ticket of America’s Michael Lipman said he sold four courtside seats for Thursday’s game for $15,000 apiece ($60,000 total) --- two to a doctor and two to a rapper. He believes that’s the Heat’s highest price ever for a regular season game.

CHATTER

### Dolphins owner Stephen Ross decided to keep Joe Philbin because he likes the work Philbin has done and also values continuity. But Ross told me he also likes the progress Ryan Tannehill has made under Philbin and Bill Lazor and didn’t want to disrupt that.

Tannehill enters the final weekend 15th in passer rating, fifth in completions, sixth in completion percentage, 11th in yards and 12th in touchdowns (26, compared with 12 picks).

### Factoring in $7.9 million of unused carryover space, the Dolphins will enter the offseason about $6 million below the projected $140 million cap.

And they would have $30 million in cap space if they release Dannell Ellerbe ($5.6 million savings), Cortland Finnegan ($5.5 million), Randy Starks ($5 million), Brandon Gibson ($3.2 million), Shelley Smith ($2.8 million) and Nate Garner ($1.6 million).

That, perhaps with a couple of other restructurings, would create enough space to re-sign Charles Clay and add quality free agents at defensive tackle, cornerback, safety and guard. FYI: Brian Hartline’s cap saving would be $3.1 million if he’s cut.

### Left tackle Branden Albert, recovering from major knee surgery, said Monday he remains hopeful he will be ready for the start of training camp but has no firm timetable.

### UM offensive coordinator James Coley said "it's crazy" that receiver Stacy Coley has only 19 catches for 153 yards and no touchdowns after producing 33 for 591 and seven touchdowns as a freshman.

Receivers coach Brennan Carroll said one factor in Coley’s falloff is that he missed some time last offseason for dental work, which put him behind.

But “what I’m encouraged about is he’s taken under control what needs to be fixed,” Carroll said. “He’s got a great desire to be good. He’s ready to be a great receiver for us.”

### Athletic director Blake James said the first five games for 2015 are set: Bethune Cookman (Saturday before Labor Day), at FAU, Nebraska, ACC opponent TBD and at Cincinnati.

### The Marlins filled the only open spot on their 40-man roster by claiming right-handed reliever Preston Claiborne offer waivers from the Yankees. He's 3-2 with a 3.79 ERA in 62 games and 71 innings in his Yankees career. If the Marlins want to add more players to major-league contracts, they'll need to clear a spot on their 40-man. They're looking for a fourth outfielder.

### Please see the last post from Tuesday afternoon for Dolphins roster and NFL TV news.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

4 p.m. Tuesday: Dolphins roster moves today; NFL changes Week 17 blackout policy; Tuesday Heat news

The Dolphins on Tuesday ended two players’ seasons – guard Nate Garner and corner Jamar Taylor – and gave two others one last chance to make an impression.
 
The Dolphins elevated center Sam Brenner and defensive tackle Deandre Coleman to their 53-man roster from their practice squad. Brenner appeared in seven games for the Dolphins last year, starting four.
 
Garner has dealt with persistent migraines for a month. Taylor injured his shoulder weeks back, but played against the Vikings last Sunday. (Thanks to our Adam Beasley for this post.)

### 1 p.m.: The NFL just announced it will waive the usual blackout policy regarding how many games can be shown in a home market. The bottom line: Dade/Broward residents will get four afternoon games Sunday: Jets-Dolphins and Panthers-Falcons on CBS, and Cowboys-Redskins and Lions-Packers on Fox.

Late Monday night, the NFL announced game times and networks for Sunday, and Jets-at-Dolphins stays at 1 p.m. on CBS.


But there were a couple of interesting changes: The NFL moved the Carolina-Atlanta game, which will decide the NFC South title, from Fox to CBS and from 1 to 4:25 p.m.

The NFL this year began cross-flexing some games from CBS to Fox, and vice versa, to balance the schedule. The only requirement is that CBS cannot lose any more games than Fox loses, and vice versa.

Meanwhile, the NFL shifted the Packers-Lions game, which will determine the NFC North title, from 1 p.m. to 4:25 p.m. on Fox. Both teams already have clinched playoff berths.
Moving the Atlanta game to CBS gives both CBS and Fox meaningful games in the 4:25 p.m. window.
Bengals-Steelers will be NBC’s Sunday night game to close the season.

Here’s the full schedule for Sunday (all times Eastern):

CLEVELAND AT BALTIMORE 1PM CBS
SAN DIEGO AT KANSAS CITY 1 PM CBS
N.Y. JETS AT MIAMI 1 CBS
CHICAGO AT MINNESOTA 1 PM FOX
PHILADELPHIA AT N.Y. GIANTS 1 PM FOX
NEW ORLEANS AT TAMPA BAY 1 PM FOX
INDIANAPOLIS AT TENNESSEE 1 PM CBS

DALLAS AT WASHINGTON 1 PM FOX
*JACKSONVILLE AT HOUSTON 1 PM FOX
BUFFALO AT NEW ENGLAND 1 PM CBS
 
*CAROLINA AT ATLANTA 4:25 PM CBS
*DETROIT AT GREEN BAY 4:25 PM FOX
OAKLAND AT DENVER 4:25 PM CBS
ARIZONA AT SAN FRANCISCO 4:25 PM FOX
ST. LOUIS AT SEATTLE 4:25 PM FOX
 
*CINCINNATI AT PITTSBURGH 8:30 PM (ET)NBC
 
** --- games that were cross-flexed from one network to another.

HEAT NOTES

Chris Bosh remains out for tonight's game against Philadelphia. Dwyane Wade went through shootaround but Erik Spoelstra said the Heat will see how his knee feels tonight before determining his availability. Justin Hamilton is out, Spoelstra said.... The Heat announced Josh McRoberts will miss the rest of the season after undergoing knee surgery today. Miami has applied for a $2.65 million disabled player exception, which if granted, can be dangled to lure Josh Smith. ESPN and Yahoo report Houston is the front-runner to sign him.

1 p.m. update: NFL waives Week 17 blackout policy; updates on NFL TV schedule changes, Josh Smith pursuit, Dolphins

Quick 1 p.m. update: The NFL just announced it will waive the usual blackout policy regarding how many games can be shown in a home market. The bottom line: Dade/Broward residents will get four afternoon games Sunday: Jets-Dolphins and Panthers-Falcons on CBS, and Cowboys-Redskins and Lions-Packers on Fox.

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Please see the last post from earlier today for a bunch of Dolphins notes. In the meantime, two quick things:

### Late tonight, the NFL announced game times and networks for Sunday, and Jets-at-Dolphins stays at 1 p.m. on CBS.

But there were a couple of interesting changes: The NFL moved the Carolina-Atlanta game, which will decide the NFC South title, from Fox to CBS and from 1 to 4:25 p.m.

The NFL this year began cross-flexing some games from CBS to Fox, and vice versa, to balance the schedule. The only requirement is that CBS cannot lose any more games than Fox loses, and vice versa.

Meanwhile, the NFL shifted the Packers-Lions game, which will determine the NFC North title, from 1 p.m. to 4:25 p.m. on Fox. Both teams already have clinched playoff berths.

Moving the Atlanta game to CBS gives both CBS and Fox meaningful games in the 4:25 p.m. window.

Bengals-Steelers will be NBC’s Sunday night game to close the season.

Here’s the full schedule for Sunday (all times Eastern):

CLEVELAND AT BALTIMORE 1PM CBS

SAN DIEGO AT KANSAS CITY 1 PM CBS

N.Y. JETS AT MIAMI 1 CBS

CHICAGO AT MINNESOTA 1 PM FOX

PHILADELPHIA AT N.Y. GIANTS 1 PM FOX

NEW ORLEANS AT TAMPA BAY 1 PM FOX

INDIANAPOLIS AT TENNESSEE 1 PM CBS

DALLAS AT WASHINGTON 1 PM FOX

*JACKSONVILLE AT HOUSTON 1 PM FOX

BUFFALO AT NEW ENGLAND 1 PM CBS

 

*CAROLINA AT ATLANTA 4:25 PM CBS

*DETROIT AT GREEN BAY 4:25 PM FOX

OAKLAND AT DENVER 4:25 PM CBS

ARIZONA AT SAN FRANCISCO 4:25 PM FOX

ST. LOUIS AT SEATTLE 4:25 PM FOX

 

*CINCINNATI AT PITTSBURGH 8:30 PM (ET)NBC

 

** --- games that were cross-flexed from one network to another

 

SMITH PURSUIT

Agent Wallace Prather told me earlier today that the Heat is among teams that have called to express interest in forward Josh Smith, who was surprisingly released by Detroit on Monday.

ESPN’s Marc Stein reported tonight that the Heat has formally applied for its $2.65 million disabled player exception, as expected, and hopes to get that money to offer it to Smith.

Unless the Heat gets that exception (to replace injured Josh McRoberts), the most the Heat could offer is the $1.4 million veteran’s minimum.

Houston --- one of the other teams pursuing Smith --- can offer the $2.1 million bi-annual exception, and Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Rockets have emerged as the strongest suitor for Smith and that Houston players believe they will convince Smith to sign there. Smith is friends with Rockets center Dwight Howard.

Besides the Heat, most of the other teams linked to Smith --- including Dallas, the Clippers and Sacramento --- can offer only the $1.4 million minimum.

Smith, 29, averaged 13.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists for Detroit this season but was shooting just 39 percent from the field.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz