SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
UM football opens fall practice in a month, and while people internally cite several reasons for optimism (Brad Kaaya’s development, a talented group of skill-position players and pass rushers), expectations are the lowest in years --- Bovada.com lists UM’s over/under for wins at six --- and there are several causes for uneasiness. Among them:
### An offensive line loaded with questions and just 22 career starts from returning players.
Gone, of course, are the line's best players: Ereck Flowers, Jon Feliciano and Shane McDermott.
“It’s very unsettled, as far as who the starters are,” Al Golden said earlier this offseason.
After spring practice, I asked offensive coordinator James Coley what he can feel confident about with his o-line. He mentioned two things: Nick Linder at center and Alex Gall at left guard.
“I like the way they’re playing,” Coley said.
Danny Isidora looks like the starter at right guard; offensive line coach Art Kehoe says he’s very happy with him.
But Coley said after spring ball he’s “absolutely” worried about tackle, where nobody had emerged as a definitive starter among Kc McDermott, Trevor Darling, Jahair Jones and Sunny Odogwu. Summer arrival Tyree St. Louis also has injected himself into the mix.
St. Louis "is trying to figure out the system, but once he gets that, he's going to be a great player," Gall said.
With Taylor Gadbois dismissed from the team, McDermott and Darling figure to have the best chance to win starting jobs.
McDermott said he wants to be the left tackle, replacing Flowers: “We've had great left tackles over the years. It's a job everyone wants.”
### A need for more consistency (or in Gus Edwards’ and Rashawn Scott's case, durability) from UM’s top offensive weapons.
New starting tight end Standish Dobard is an excellent blocker but has struggled with drops and fumbles – he couldn’t hold onto an easy touchdown in the spring game --- and “he hasn’t been as consistent as we wanted him to be,” Coley said after spring ball. “He’s putting a lot of pressure on himself, like he’s got to be Clive Walford.
“He put a lot of pressure on himself, and we put a lot of pressure on him. But he’s got to play the game like he plays it. He’s got really good hands. It’s a ball. It’s coming your way. Catch it!”
Scott, the senior leader of the receiver group, had two deflections that led to interceptions in the spring game (coaches say that was not reflective of his offseason) and must prove he can stay healthy after playing in only four games the past two years. (He also has been suspended in the past, though coaches have seen personal growth in the past year.)
Stacy Coley impressed the staff with his improved attention to detail and work ethic this offseason but has much to prove after a sophomore slump (23 catches, 184 yards, no touchdowns after producing 33-591-7 as a freshman).
Edwards, the first-team running back throughout spring, made major improvements but left the spring game with a shoulder injury after missing three key games last season. UM wants him to carry over his good practice work into games.
Running back Trayone Gray, who coaches hoped would emerge, instead struggled with fumbles and missed time because of academics. Joe Yearby was banned from the spring game after being tardy the day before but his skill set excites the staff, as does running back Mark Walton's arrival.
### Depth at linebacker and cornerback.
There are only three experienced cornerbacks on the roster (Artie Burns, Corn Elder and Tracy Howard) --- redshirt Ryan Mayes is the fourth at the moment --- because slot corner Antonio Crawford inexplicably bolted to West Virginia.
When Crawford told UM he wants to be a star, a UM coach asked why he can’t be one here. He didn’t have a good answer.
Only four linebackers have significant experience --- Tyriq McCord (who has shifted from a hybrid end/linebacker role), Raphael Kirby, Jermaine Grace and Darrion Owens. UM feels good about those four.
UM too often self-destructs (its 88 penalties ranked 107th of 125 schools last season), and penalties remained problematic in the spring. What’s more, UM committed four turnovers in the spring game.
“We were minus one in turnover ratio last season, weren’t smart in protecting the ball,” Golden said. And “you had 826 yards in penalties. I don’t know how you think you can be excellent team if you’re going backwards. We have to be a smarter, more disciplined team.”
### Special teams.
Golden decided to continue coaching them, but because punts and kickoffs weren’t a part of the spring game or spring practices, it’s difficult to gauge if anything has improved.
UM mustered a meager 145 yards on 22 punt returns last season (6.6 average, 87th in the country) and ranked 80th in kickoff return average, with Coley averaging a pedestrian 22.5 yards. Coley remains the first-team kickoff returner and Braxton Berrios (who had four returns for 20 yards in 2014) is now listed as the first-team punt returner.
The other serious concern is kickoff return defense; UM was 12th worst in the country, permitting 24.6 yards per return. Kicker Michael Badgley has a strong leg and was 14 of 18 on field goals but also inexplicably missed four of 38 extra points and was erratic on field goals this spring.
Defensive tackle can be put on this “uneasiness” list every year, because UM hasn’t had an elite one since Vince Wilfork 12 years ago.
Positives? There are certainly some of those, which we will explore in columns over the coming weeks.
### Several encouraging signs from the Heat's 92-76 win against Indiana in the opener of the Orlando Summer League, starting with Justise Winslow.
The rookie showed his versatility, playing in the wing and the post, got to the line (going 6 for 8), had 15 points with three assists and no turnovers, played stout defense (including two steals) and made an impact that extended beyond the boxscore. The Heat outscored the Pacers by 28 (by far the most of any player) in his 27 minutes.
"I just thought it was a great all-around game for him," said Dan Craig, who's coaching the Heat's Summer League team. "Defensively, offensively, on both sides of the floor he was locked in."
Second-round rookie Josh Richardson (14 points) got to the line (shooting nine for nine on free throws), had two steals and two blocks and hit a three just before the third-quarter buzzer.... Tyler Johnson was uneven at point guard (one assist, three turnovers in 17 minutes)...
The Heat opened with a lineup of Winslow and James Ennis at forward, Johnson and Zoran Dragic in the backcourt and 2015 All-D-League first-teamer Willie Reed at center.... The Heat's next three Orlando Summer League games are all 5 p.m. starts Sunday (against Brooklyn on NBA TV), Monday and Wednesday.
### Classy move by Goran Dragic to take a bit less than what he could have demanded from the Heat; Dragic wanted the Heat to be able to keep Dwyane Wade and offered to help.
Meanwhile, Zoran who played just 62 minutes and shot 11 for 30 after the February trade from Phoenix –-- admitted Friday that not playing much last year was “a little bit” frustrating: “I just need a chance. I need to be patient and wait for my opportunity.”
The 6-5 Dragic, who scored 12 points on 5 for 11 shooting in 17 minutes in Orlando today, can play shooting guard or small forward and Erik Spoelstra likes his toughness and high motor.
Zoran points to driving to the basket as a strength and “I am shooting a lot of spot-up shots to be more than [just] a streaky shooter.”
He's due to make $1.7 million next season in the final year of his contract.
### Trading Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen and replacing them with players at the minimum (Carlos Boozer, perhaps) or slightly above the minimum (perhaps Marcus Thornton) could shave $20 million off a luxury tax bill that would top $30 million without any further moves. That’s why the Heat wants to trim payroll, though some internally prefer to keep Josh McRoberts.
### The Marlins believe Jose Fernandez and Marcell Ozuna didn’t consider multiyear contract overtures last winter because agent Scott Boras is philosophically opposed. But Boras insisted last week that the players make that decision.
“In Jose’s career, it’s a bit premature because he’s still young and has only been doing it for a couple years,” Boras said. “I’ve had many players go to free agency and re-sign with their existing teams. I’ve had other players that have pursued other avenues. I don’t make the decisions whether they do or don’t.”
Fernandez is under team control through 2018 and Miami “is a great place for Jose and his family,” Boras said. “It’s really a nice union.”
### But can the Marlins ultimately afford both Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton? Boras doesn’t see why not: “With TV rights and the general fund contribution and everything --- every club, before they sell a ticket, they’re making $120 million. There’s a lot of revenue in this game to pay a lot of players and keep players at home.”
### Marlins pitcher Jarred Cosart, who allowed seven runs in 1 2/3 innings in tonight's 7-2 loss to the Cubs, was optioned to Triple A New Orleans after the game. He'll be replaced on the roster by first baseman Michael Morse, who's being reinstated from the disabled list.
### Update on a couple of young Dolphins: One reason the Dolphins felt they didn't need to sign a veteran defensive end after Dion Jordan's suspension was not only faith in linebacker Chris McCain (who is working in Jordan's role as well as at strongside linebacker), but also in Terrence Fede, who defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is bullish about. Fede's defensive snap count (82 last season) figures to increase, and he said he's determined "to be more of a playmaker."
Meanwhile, it's good to see cornerback Will Davis so far make a mostly smooth return from ACL surgery.
"It's a terrible process... at the beginning," Davis said of his recovery. He told Finsiders.com that "there is some nervousness" returning from the injury. "There is definitely some hesitation. Still not 100 percent yet. Having this break will help."
### There are nine players available in Thursday's NFL supplemental draft but only one (Clemson offensive tackle Isaiah Battle) is a likely draft pick, according to CBS' Rob Rang.
Rang said the 6-foot-7, 290 pound left tackle is a "raw but obvious talent" and could warrant a middle round pick. But NFLdraftscout.com reported he failed multiple drug tests and the Dolphins should shy away from those players after their experience with Jordan.
The others available: West Georgia edge rusher Darrius Caldwell, Houston defensive end Eric Eiland, Connecticut tight end Sean McQuillan, Kansas defensive back Kevin Short, West Georgia defensive tackle Dalvon Stuckey and North Carolina Central wideout and returner Adrian Wilkins.
Teams that draft a player Thursday must relinquish their selection in that same round of next April's draft.