SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
UM players say the Hurricanes are going to unveil some snazzy, creative offensive wrinkles in September, some of which backup quarterback Malik Rosier predicts will be “shocking” to people.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see more quick reads, quick throws and more spreading of the field to get players open in space. Hurricanes players say they have watched how Tom Brady does it in New England; the Patriots often use one running back or go empty in the backfield, with a bunch of receivers running patterns and flummoxing defenses.
Though UM’s Al Golden said this offseason he has no interest in going exclusively to a traditional spread, it has been and will certainly continue to be an important part of UM’s attack, along with the pro style sets that the Hurricanes have used as their base offense for many years.
The offense “will be something different that people will say, ‘What set is this?’ For defenses, it will be shocking,” Rosier said.
“We’ll still have some of the same plays from last year. We’ll run some base plays we ran last year and say, ‘We’re great at running this, stop us if you can.’ But there will also be times where we get a little exotic and do some different stuff and try to catch people off guard.”
Regardless of the formation, UM’s offense must improve, and credit offensive coordinator James Coley for incorporating some of what the Dallas Cowboys do (especially on third-down packages and multiple tight-end sets) and adding some elements that have players excited.
Despite having NFL draft picks and elite talent at running back (Duke Johnson), receiver (Phillip Dorsett), left tackle (Ereck Flowers) and tight end (Clive Walford), and a quarterback with a better passer rating than FSU’s Jameis Winston, UM still finished just 62nd in points per game (29.2) in 2014. Now that offense has a more mature Brad Kaaya but also lost its best player at every other position.
For perspective, UM hasn’t finished in the top 30 in scoring in any of the past 10 years and on average has ranked 60th in scoring (of 128 FBS schools) during that period. Under Golden, UM has finished 63rd, 49th, 34th and 62nd in points per game, not good enough to overcome a less than dominant defense.
Only twice over the past 10 years have the Hurricanes even finished in the top 40 in scoring, something FSU has done seven years in a row. The biggest difference is that Florida State has had substantially better quarterback play than UM for most of that period, though not last season.
Miami’s playmaking talent over those 10 years obviously hasn’t measured up to the great UM teams, but UM has still had a bunch of NFL players during that time: Lamar Miller, Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Sinorice Moss, Leonard Hankerson, Travis Benjamin and others.
Here’s a story: In 2013, TCU coach Gary Patterson had his first losing season in nine years (4-8), then overhauled his offensive coaching staff and went to a spread offense in 2014. TCU immediately improved from 89th to second in the nation in scoring last season (46.5) and went 12-1.
In fact, the top five point-producers in college football in 2014 all ran some version of a spread: Baylor, TCU, Marshall, Oregon and Ohio State (the later two of which played in the national title game). Their combined record: 62-7.
So should Golden take the bold step --- like Patterson --- of going to a pure spread and simply trying to outscore people?
Golden said that idea doesn’t appeal to him but pointed out “there are a lot of those concepts we use in our passing game. No one looks at New England as a spread offense, but there are a lot of elements of it and that’s the way the game is now.
“We have a quarterback that can sit back there and do a lot of drop back and three-step drops. We would be foolish not to incorporate some of that.”
But some alums wonder what UM could achieve with a philosophical change.
Former Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Gino Torretta put it this way: “Offensively, when you are able to spread the field with one back, like we did with Dennis Erickson, you dictate to the defense what they can and can’t do. I would like to see more four wide receiver sets.” (UM finished in the top 15 in scoring in five of Erickson’s six seasons.)
“Offensively, a high-octane spread would be enticing,” said former Canes quarterback Steve Walsh, who is now director of football for IMG Academy in Bradenton. Walsh did not endorse a move to a spread offense but merely said it has some appealing features.
Recruiting analyst Charles Fishbein said UM’s pro-style offense leaves players “more prepared for the NFL. That’s one of the big selling points for Miami. But a lot of kids want to play spread and go up tempo. People thought Dennis Erickson’s system wouldn’t work here and it did. I think James Coley would like to play more of it.”
In fact, one of UM’s top remaining uncommitted 2016 recruiting targets, Coconut Creek four-star receiver Binjimen Victor (rated 69th among all players by Rivals.com), said Ohio State “fits me best [better than Miami] because they use a lot of spread offense.”
But UM players suggest the Hurricanes will spread the field enough this year to make a difference.
“I’m pretty sure when you spread the defense out like that, it will be very difficult to stop,” safety Dallas Crawford said. “When you spread the defense out and have Joe Yearby and Gus Edwards and Mark Walton and [Trayone Gray] hitting the holes that the defense leaves, it’s going to be tough to stop.”
Golden, incidentally, said he doesn’t want to go to a full-time hurry-up. He’s convinced the offense, with its new wrinkles, will be better if UM curtails turnovers and becomes far better on third downs and in the red zone.
The Canes have ranked in the 90s in third-down conversions the past two seasons, foiling too many drives.
The Hurricanes’ touchdown rate in the red zone ranked 105th in the country and Kaaya's 46.8 completion percentage in the red zone (29 for 62, three picks) contributed to that.
A dozen thoughts and nuggets after Miami's 13-9 victory against Atlanta in the third preseason game:
### All of the unresolved issues about Miami's starting lineup appeared to gain clarity. Kelvin Sheppard appears set as the starting middle linebacker, not because Sheppard has been extraordinary but because Chris McCain continued an underwhelming preseason on Saturday. McCain was on the field late in the game but made little impact.
Billy Turner played competently at right guard on Saturday, and it would be very surprising if he's not the starter to open the season, unless a high-caliber veteran becomes available.
Walt Aikens appears likely to be the starting safety opposite Reshad Jones.
### Fill-in left tackle Dallas Thomas, expected to be the starting left guard once the season starts, had a couple of breakdowns in run blocking but was decent in pass protection and made a good block on a screen. "Thought he did OK; he did some really nice things," Joe Philbin said.
Jason Fox (out with a concussion) figures to start at left tackle against Washington if Branden Albert isn't ready to go. Though ESPN said Albert won't be ready until week 3, our Armando Salguero said he remains on track to play in the opener --- and GM Dennis Hickey said this summer that he expects that.
### The Dolphins scored only seven points on Ryan Tannehill's six series, but Tannehill continued putting up solid numbers, finishing 15 for 19 for 145 yards, one touchdown (a 2-yarder to Rishard Matthews) and a 116 rating.
"It has to be better," Philbin said of the first-team offense. "We didn't have a lot of success on third down. We had some penalties that weren't very good. Didn't make enough plays. We have to do better."
Said Tannehill: “I was frustrated and I thought we didn’t play clean. We moved the ball I felt like when we didn’t kick ourselves in the foot. We had penalties, we had negative plays. I expect better out of our offense.”
### Even on a week Seattle’s Michael Bennett called him mediocre and overpaid, Tannehill got plenty of love: Pro Football Focus curiously ranking him 10th among all quarterbacks, ahead of Andrew Luck, and NFL Net’s respected Daniel Jeremiah declared that “he’s got Pro Bowl ability.It’s tough to find a guy as athletic as Tannehill and has that poise and can slow things down. He’s able to slow things down. Quick release. Ability to extend plays with his legs. He looks sharp. And this is without DeVante Parker.”
### Matt Moore again struggled (5 for 10, 68 yards, 32.5 rating), throwing an interception on a deflected pass. He has a 50.1 passer rating in preseason.
### This Ndamukong Suh-led defensive line should be the Dolphins' best in years. The Falcons had no yards rushing on seven first half carries and finished with 50 on 24 attempts. Earl Mitchell and Cam Wake each had sacks and Mitchell also had two tackles for loss.
What's more, Derrick Shelby was outstanding. A.J. Francis, trying to win the last d-tackle job, had a sack, and second-rounder Jordan Phillips looked good. Anthony Johnson had a sack but committed his fourth neutral zone infraction of the preseason.
### Two players very much on the bubble left with injuries: LaMike James (chest) and Zack Bowman (thigh). James averaged just 6.2 yards on four punt returns but 30 yards on two kickoff returns.... Starting center Mike Pouncey told reporters afterward that he will get an MRI on his knee but isn't concerned about it and doesn't expect to miss any games.
### Three of the four undrafted linebackers made their presence felt. Zach Vigil again had some good moments ("coaches have high hopes for Zach Vigil; I know that," Stephen Ross said on CBS-4); Mike Hull's sack ended a Falcons drive near the Dolphins goal-line; and Neville Hewitt forced a late fumble. Jordan Tripp's ankle injury couldn't have come at a more inauspicous time.
### Jay Ajayi made his preseason debut with 25 yards rushing on 7 carries. Damien Williams ran 6 times for 19 yards and James didn't have a rushing attempt before leaving with an injury. Starter Lamar Miller had 22 yards on six carries and caught five passes for 31 yards.
### The Dolphins' rookie punter and rookie kicker each made strong statements in their bid for jobs. Andrew Franks, who entered in an uphill climb against Caleb Sturgis, nailed a 51-yard field goal late in the game. Punter Matt Darr averaged 56.5 yards on two punts; Brandon Fields averaged 50 yards on three punts, though he placed two inside the 20.
### A few other notable remarks from owner Ross during his appearance on the CBS-4 broadcast: "Our receiver room has never been better since I've been here. They get along.... I haven't liked our second-stringers so far this year... Joe [Philbin] is coming into his own. The players feel good about him."
### With $13 million in cap space and question marks at guard, why didn’t Miami make a big offer for Denver-bound Evan Mathis? Among the reasons: Not only has Thomas impressed the Dolphins in camp, but they weren’t convinced that Mathis, at 33, would be better than Thomas and Turner by the end of the season.
HEAT, MARLINS CHATTER
### We hear one reason the Marlins released Jeff Baker was because they felt he was spreading negativity in the clubhouse, was a bad influence on a couple of young players and was conveying an anti-front office message. Baker was well liked by teammates and the media, however.
### Chris Bosh, working his way back from blood clots on his lungs, looked great –-- consistently nailing his jump shots --- and appeared physically strong in workouts near his Southern California home this past week with Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside, Mario Chalmers and other Heat teammates, according to someone in attendance. Erik Spoelstra flew in to watch those California workouts.
### Also partaking in those workouts: Josh McRoberts, back from knee surgery. “Medically I’m in a good spot and I’m especially excited with our new additions,” he said.
And with Tyler Johnson also cleared to return from his broken jaw sustained in Summer League (he has been working out in Delray Beach), the Heat is back to full strength a month before training camp.
The Heat, incidentally, wants to take a long look at Johnson and Josh Richardson in training camp before deciding whether to make a renewed attempt to trade Chalmers.
### South Florida-based Bommarito Performance Systems, which has done good work helping Jarvis Landry improve his speed and Lamar Miller bolster his strength and power while helping train a lot of other NFL players, has branched out into basketball and has been training Udonis Haslem, with Joe Ferrer working closely with the longtime Heat forward.
By the way, Haslem continues to work on his three-point game, having gotten the message from Spoelstra last October that he needs to hit from beyond the arc to get minutes at power forward. Haslem enters the season potentially sixth in the power rotation hierarchy, unless Chris Andersen is dealt.
### Spoelstra, by the way, joined Wade, Haslem and Chalmers in walking the 168-step Santa Monica stairs near Pacific Palisades. The players ended up doing it more than once and walked about 400 steps, Ferrer said.
### No, Goran Dragic isn’t upset about the Heat trading brother Zoran. In fact, Zoran’s representation said the Heat and Zoran mutually agreed a trade would be beneficial so that he could play more. Zoran was dealt to Boston and ended up signing in Russia.
### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz