SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Postscripts from the Dolphins’ offseason program that ended this past week:
### Slicing the roster to 53 will be more difficult than any time in recent years. Why?
Start at defensive back.
The Dolphins began and ended last season with a combined 10 cornerbacks and safeties. Barring injuries, a strong case can be made to keep 12 this year, which would create painful roster choices elsewhere.
At cornerback, there’s Brent Grimes, Jamar Taylor (solid as the first-team cornerback opposite Grimes all offseason), projected nickel starter Brice McCain, Will Davis and rookie Bobby McCain.
Though Zack Bowman has done nothing notable this offseason, he has starting experience (five games for the Giants last season) and is very good on special teams. That’s six.
And we’re told barring something unexpected, the Dolphins intend to keep rookie Tony Lippett, the 6-3 converted receiver who had three picks in one practice and made a terrific play on a Ryan Tannehill bootleg last week.
Lippett has “made some plays on the ball that are pretty impressive,” backup quarterback Matt Moore said. “His athletic ability and length stand out. He's done well.”
So that’s seven corners --- two more than Miami normally keeps and not including long shot Sammy Seamster, who has impressed this summer.
At safety, Louis Delmas, Reshad Jones and Michael Thomas are automatic, and Walt Aikens’ development has been so impressive this off-season that one Dolphins official privately said he believes Aikens could be a starter eventually (not this season). So that’s four.
Rookie fifth-rounder Cedric Thompson, Jordan Kovacs or Don Jones could stick around as a fifth safety for special teams value, with Thompson having the edge if he excels in August.
### Defensive back is not the only conundrum from a numbers standpoint. Last year, the Dolphins started and ended the season with eight defensive linemen. This year, they’ll have to keep nine if they want to retain either Anthony Johnson or A.J. Francis, two skilled young tackles who were pushed outside the top four by C.J. Mosley’s addition.
So if you keep 12 defensive backs and nine defensive linemen, where do you slice to create those three additional spots? Therein lies the quandary.
### For those wondering about other prominent guard options beyond Evan Mathis, Miami has shown no interest in Patriots free agent guard Dan Connolly. And as we mentioned yesterday, they also hadn't called on former Seahawks third-rounder John Moffitt.
### When Joe Philbin was asked last week which undrafted rookies are excelling, he mentioned the linebackers. Utah State’s Zach Vigil received some second-team work at middle linebacker last week; keep an eye on him in camp.
“I like the way Zach Vigil communicates, and Mike Hull is going full speed all the time,” Michael Thomas said. Dolphins coaches love how Hull, the rookie from Penn State, swarms to the ball.
### At linebacker, Koa Misi, Jelani Jenkins, Chris McCain and presumably Kelvin Sheppard will be on the team and Spencer Paysinger should, though he’s not a cinch.
That leaves second-year player Jordan Tripp (who is much improved and got a few first-team reps last week) competing with Vigil, Hull and fellow rookies Jeff Luc and Neville Hewitt for two or three jobs. Paysinger could be at risk if he's outplayed by several of the young players in preseason.
Miami kept eight linebackers last year but might need to make do with seven to accommodate the corner/safety logjam.
### Chris McCain, by the way, says he spent 60 percent of his practice time at linebacker and 40 percent in the Dion Jordan defensive end role.
“To do both is amazing,” McCain said. “You don’t have too many people in the NFL doing both. Julius Peppers does. Maybe one day I can be like him.”
### The Dolphins kept two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster last season and I can’t see any way (barring injury) they keep anyone beyond Ryan Tannehill and Moore, even though Josh Freeman (awful early in camp) was very good on Tuesday.
### Thomas was among those raving about journeyman receiver Michael Preston (who has made a ton of plays), and Philbin said Matt Hazel is dramatically improved.
But unless DeVante Parker isn’t ready to start the season (the Dolphins’ Mike Tannenbaum has said he will be) or there’s another injury, it’s very difficult to see Preston, Hazel, LaRon Byrd, Tommy Streeter or any of the other fringe candidates making the final 53, presuming Miami keeps five.
The Dolphins have made it clear to Rishard Matthews that his earlier trade request won’t be granted.
### Found it notable that LaMichael James was the first name Philbin mentioned when asked which of the backup running backs has impressed him. Jay Ajayi still must beat out Damien Williams, who played ahead of Ajayi with the second team last week. If the Dolphins keep four backs, Mike Gillislee seems the odd man out, presuming James beats him out.
### The No. 3 tight end job is as unsettled as anything. Arthur Lynch, sidelined his rookie season by a back injury, had two drops in Tuesday’s practice (he said his strength is “being a physical guy in the running game”) whereas 6-8 Northern Illinois rookie Tim Semisch continues to impress as a receiver (he skillfully used his size to make two end-zone grabs in minicamp) and Ohio State alum Jake Stoneburner showed surprising speed after catches. Gerell Robinson has been slowed by injury.
### One more reason why the Heat needs to try to work this out with Dwyane Wade:
With the Pelicans’ Eric Gordon and Hornets’ Gerald Henderson opting in last week, there are only four other above-average starting shooting guards eligible for unrestricted free agency besides Wade: Wes Matthews, Danny Green, Arron Afflalo (reportedly will exercise opt-out; Miami likes him) and Monta Ellis (has an opt out, which Dirk Nowitzki predicts he will exercise).
As we've noted, simply losing Wade (and nothing more) would not create the cap space to sign any of those four.
Other unrestricted free agent shooting guards available: Lou Williams (ace sixth man), Mike Dunleavy, Gerald Green, J.R. Smith, Jason Terry, Rodney Stuckey, Marcus Thornton, Marco Bellinelli, Landry Fields, Wayne Ellington and Manu Ginobili (presumably a Spur for life).
Both Wade and the Heat hope to work this out, and there will be more discussions, but it remains to be seen how it will play out.
### The Heat can pay impending free agent Goran Dragic as much as $116 million over five years, while other teams can pay him no more than $86 million over four. But ESPN's Marc Stein reported tonight that the Heat's initial offer to Dragic will be five years "in excess of $80 million."
Wade's decision could impact Dragic's, considering how much he enjoyed playing with Wade.
### UM says there won’t be any academic casualties in its incoming recruiting class; the final five players are enrolling shortly, including defensive tackle Gerald Willis, who was booted from the Gators and won’t be eligible to play until 2016.
The others enrolling for Summer Session 2: four-star receiver Lawrence Cager, three-star linebacker Jamie Gordinier, four-star defensive tackle Kendrick Norton and quarterback Evan Shirreffs.
### Weird UM recruiting stories of the month: Fort Pierce linebacker Greg Simmons de-committing from UM after finding Nebraska to be “utopia” on a visit to Lincoln; and Pembroke Pines Somerset Academy receiver Daewood Davis committing to UM on Twitter but UM not accepting his oral commitment because defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio offered him but forgot to tell Al Golden, according to what Davis told Canesport. Davis believes his offer will be accepted eventually, but there's no proof of that.
### What an impressive debut tonight for Marlins lefty Justin Nicolino, who became the first Marlins starter in history to pitch seven scoreless innings in his debut and fourth Marlins starter in history to allow no runs in his major league debut. He's also the second left-hander to win his first start as a Marlin, joining Scott Olsen.
### Gary Sheffield, who holds the Marlins’ home run record for a season with 42, is fully braced for that mark to be broken by Giancarlo Stanton, who entered tonight on pace for 59.
Sheffield, participating in DJ Irie's charity golf tournament Friday, told me he won’t be surprised if Stanton gets to 60.
"He has the capabilities of doing it," Sheffield said. "He has the power, the makeup. It's just a matter of if they're going to pitch to him. It doesn't matter how big the field is, he's still going to hit it out a long way whether it's right center or left.”
There have been only eight 60-home seasons in baseball history, topped by Barry Bonds’ 73 in 2001. Could Stanton do it?
“Hell, yeah,” Marlins manager Dan Jennings said.
Rockies pitcher Chris Rusin, who struck out Stanton four times in one game this month and then gave up a homer against him the next, said: “He has a good chance to get over 59.”
So why pitch to him?
“He has some weaknesses,” Rusin said. “You can’t give him one thing over and over because he will make adjustments.”
Stanton also entered tonight on pace to smash Preston Wilson’s team record of 121 RBI in a season (he’s on pace for 147) and also Wilson’s strikeout mark of 187 (on pace for 207).
### The Patchan family, familar names in South Florida, are embroiled in a controversy not remotely of their doing, and one that exposes an indefensible flaw in how the NCAA allows schools to discard injured players.
Brandon Patchan, son of former UM standout Matt Patchan and brother of UM defensive end/early enrollee Scott Patchan, was a sophomore basketball player on Division 2 Nova Southeastern in Davie this past season.
Brandon said he sustained two significant injuries playing/practicing for Nova early last season: a ligament tear in his shooting wrist and an Achilles’ strain in his ankle. Brandon and Matt Patchan said Nova misdiagnosed both injuries.
Brandon, a backup, continued to play. Midway through last season, Brandon said he politely told coach Gary Tuell that there was a disparity in how fouls were called in practice, with starters being protected.
Brandon said Tuell verbally attacked him in response, “told me ‘I’m so tired of you being [expletive] soft. It’s embarrassing.’”
Brandon said Tuell “crossed the line, practically spit in my face” and never allowed him to play again and Nova gave him “no chance to voice our side of the story. He said I’m not on the team because I didn’t apologize and was disrespectful” --- which Brandon disputes.
Brandon said he recently underwent surgery for the ligament tear in his shooting wrist and will need another wrist operation and ankle surgery.
Matt Patchan said Nova is paying for the surgeries --- which they expect will sideline him at least part of next season --- but that Tuell said he will withdraw Brandon’s scholarship for the 2015-16 academic year; the Patchans said it costs $45,000 cost to attend Nova without a scholarship, which is too steep for them.
“What they are doing is morally indefensible,” Matt Patchan said. “The NCAA allows kids injured competing for you to be thrown out like trash. Jobs have grievance procedures but the NCAA doesn’t. The NCAA shouldn’t allow someone to railroad a kid.”
Tuell and Nova Southeastern officials declined to comment.
“I feel betrayed,” Brandon said. “I’m angry. It’s the coach, the trainers, the [Nova] president.”
Scott Patchan, meanwhile, is coming off an ACL injury last year and everyone believes he has a bright future at Miami.