SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
When eight Hurricanes players audition for pro teams at the NFL Combine this week, you can expect to hear more of the narrative that inflamed the UM fan base recently.
The angry reaction began when Anthony Chickillo, after a dominating performance as a 4-3 defensive end in last month’s East-West Shrine Game, said he couldn’t display his athleticism much at UM because he was cast as a 3-4 defensive end/tackle. (Al Golden said Chickillo’s comment was news to him.)
Then Fox college football writer Bruce Feldman tweeted that Chickillo “may be the next Cane in a long line that looks better in the NFL than at UM.”
So how much truth is there to that assertion?
There were a few examples of this under Randy Shannon, primarily Jimmy Graham and Sam Shields. But Graham played only one year of football at Miami (17 catches, 213 yards) and Shields --- who has 15 interceptions in five NFL seasons – wasn’t moved to cornerback until his final season at UM, a position shift that should have happened sooner.
How accurate is Feldman’s tweet during Golden’s tenure? We looked at the 19 Hurricanes who played for Golden and were either drafted or signed with a team and appeared in at least two NFL games.
Of those 19, three so far have had better pro than college careers: Seantrel Henderson, Olivier Vernon and Chase Ford. Vernon played only six games for Golden because of an NCAA suspension and had 1.5 sacks that season and one sack every 3.3 games in his college career. As a Dolphin, he has 21.5 sacks, or one every 2.2 games.
Vernon said he has “learned so much” about technique, hand placement and other nuances since turning pro, mostly from respected former defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers.
Henderson, once the nation’s No. 2 overall recruit, was a backup for part of his senior season at UM and never fulfilled his potential here, partly because of multiple suspensions for marijuana use and other maturity issues. A seventh-round pick, he started every game at right tackle for the Buffalo Bills; Pro Football Focus rated him 82nd of 84 tackles in 2014.
Ford, who caught 16 passes for 184 yards at UM (including one season under Golden), has 34 for 391 in two years as a pro.
A few other names are worth raising in this discussion: Brandon Linder, a solid offensive lineman at UM, was very good as a rookie third-round starter for Jacksonville; Pro Football Focus rated him 10th-best among 78 right guards. Mike James, a sixth-round pick in 2013, produced a much better per-carry average for Tampa as a rookie (4.9, on 60 attempts) than he ever did at UM before fading last season.
Some will mention undrafted UM backups Luther Robinson (who played in five games for Green Bay last season) and Asante Cleveland (appeared in six for the 49ers), but their NFL impact has been negligible. Ray Ray Armstrong, who was dismissed from the Hurricanes in Golden’s second year, made three starts for the Raiders at outside linebacker last season. Some NFL people believe UM played him out of position at safety.
Don’t include Allen Hurns in Feldman’s argument. He thrived as an undrafted rookie for Jacksonville (51 catches, 677 yards), but his numbers were better as a senior at UM (62-1162).
Bottom line: The majority of NFL players who played under Golden were more productive in their final season at UM than they were initially in the NFL, but there are exceptions. It will be interesting to see what happens with Chickillo and others from this class.
“It’s not college coaches’ job to prepare players for the NFL,” said one veteran NFC scout who has watched UM a lot. “It’s their job to prepare them to beat Florida State. But I do think Miami coaches do a good job of preparing kids for the NFL. Most who have the talent are NFL ready.”
So perhaps with this UM staff, the greater issue is schemes and strategy and how players are used, more so than if they’re being developed. “You’re going to see a lot of new looks,” Golden assured WQAM's Joe Rose recently when Rose asked him if there would be any offensive and defensive changes.
This will irritate UM fans who wonder how UM could have gone 6-7: ESPN's Mel Kiper now has three Hurricanes going in the first round: Ereck Flowers 16th, Denzel Perryman 28th and Phillip Dorsett 31st. No other school has more than two first-rounders in his mock draft.
That NFC scout raves about Dorsett (“he will be a good No. 2 receiver and could start as a slot guy now”) and said Duke Johnson, because of his size, will be no more than a third-down back. Kiper said Johnson could slip to the fourth round.
### Sunday's night UM-at-Boston College game in Chestnut Hill, Mass., has been postponed until Monday because of dangerous driving conditions in the region, caused by snow and wind.
### The Heat hasn’t hosted an All-Star Game since 1990 and hasn’t bid for one in many years partly because the NBA takes too many premium seats for the Heat to be able to accommodate all its season-ticket holders. But Eric Woolworth, the Heat’s president/business operations, said “we are taking a fresh look at the possibility.”
A person who listened to Woolworth’s speech at a United Way function last week emerged optimistic that the Heat could get the game in 2019 or 2020. The Heat already has spoken to the Marlins about hosting an All-Star weekend entertainment event at Marlins Park. But Woolworth indicated it’s still in the exploratory stages.
### Of the five teams competing for the final two playoff spots, the Heat has the best chance (42.4 percent), according to ESPN’s complicated computer playoff formula. Boston is next at 38.2.
### Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry is so driven that less than two weeks after the season ended, he already was at a training facility in Arizona (with Giants star and former LSU teammate Odell Beckham) working laboriously on improving his explosiveness.
“I had to beg him to take time off,” said his agent, Demarius Bilbo. “He wants to show people he’s an outside receiver, not just a slot receiver.”
### As of last week, the Dolphins still had not given impending free agent Jared Odrick any idea if they want him back.
### The Marlins discussed a three-year, $60 million deal with pitcher James Shields before he took a four-year, $75 million offer from San Diego, according to a person with direct knowledge. The Marlins initially were reluctant to get involved but made an attempt late. But Shields said the Padres and Cubs were his finalists.
### Miami has spoken with Scott Boras about free agent Francisco Rodriguez, who had 44 saves for Milwaukee in 2014, but they’re asking for more than what Miami is willing to pay... As MLB.com noted, the Marlins have interest in free agent lefty Phil Coke (5-2, 3.88 ERA for Detroit last season) if he's willing to accept a minor-league deal.
### These closed-door arbitration hearings can get lively. For example, according to a source on the side of pitcher David Phelps, the Marlins said in his hearing last week that the former Yankees pitcher projects as a relief pitcher here (barring an injury to a starter).
The Phelps side objected, as they would in a courtroom, pointing out that only past performance, not future role, can be used in arbitration arguments. The Marlins won the hearing, making them 2-0 this year. (They also beat Mat Latos.)
### It was an odd visual to see Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who both vehemently opposed the Marlins stadium deal, standing alongside Marlins officials Friday, glowing about being awarded the 2017 All-Star game.
“Since we did build them a stadium, we deserve a team that wins, a team that eventually wins the World Series,” Gimenez told me recently. “If they are moving in that direction, I applaud them. I hope the ownership group has learned from their mistakes and become a better part of this community.... It's a beautiful stadium and we need to support the stadium and Major League Baseball.”
### David Beckham’s group approached a Watson Island developer last week about building an MLS stadium across from Jungle Island but was rebuffed. Beckham so badly wants a waterfront site, but it seems unrealistic.