FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Winning big games such as Saturday’s against Nebraska isn’t merely important in returning this UM program to national relevance. These types of games are also critical in solidifying UM’s oral commitments and snagging uncommitted recruits.
Several Miami targets in the 2016 class have told me that UM’s performance this season, especially in big games, will make a difference in their decision. Essentially, UM needs success to keep this 22-member recruiting class (ranked ninth by ESPN) from losing key pieces.
Columbus three-star linebacker and UM oral commitment Joshua Uche is being heavily courted by Alabama and UF and said Miami absolutely must win this season to firm up his commitment. “I’m not going to say any specific number, but just some success to show progress,” he said.
Same with Hallandale’s Zack Moss, rated the nation’s 31st-best running back prospect by Rivals.
“I want to see them have a good year, win at least 9 or 10 games, have a bowl appearance,” Moss said, adding that UM also must win big games. “If they have a great year, I think they’ll keep all the 2016 commitments.”
Moss said Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida have essentially told him that “the U doesn’t have it this year” and suggested that Al Golden might lose his job.
“I don’t worry about Golden,” Moss said. “They’re stacked everywhere. They have too much talent not to win.”
Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas four-star receiver Sam Bruce, perhaps UM’s most-coveted recruit, chose to attend UF’s opener instead of UM’s and always prefaces his comments by saying “as of now” he’s committed to UM.
So does UM need to win to keep him? “I am looking at it as Miami is going to win 10 games,” he responded. But he also suggested he would look elsewhere if Golden is fired, so UM must win to keep him.
Among the top uncommitted players, UM’s won/loss record is vitally important.
Incoming UM quarterback Jack Allison has said Coconut Creek four-star receiver Binjimen Victor is the player he would most love to add to this 2016 class. But Victor said it’s “most definitely important” that UM wins this year, especially marquee games.
Victor -- who has been heavily linked to UF and Ohio State -- said he is “kind of” worried about the state of the Hurricanes program: “I want a team that wins and a great program that fits my skills.”
His Coconut Creek teammate, four-star Trayvon Mullen --- rated the nation’s No. 6 cornerback --- said UM “is recruiting me hard” but “they’ve got to win more games.” He recently visited FSU.
Uncommitted Flanagan four-star prospect Devin Bush, rated the sixth-best inside linebacker in the 2016 class, said UM “isn’t on my list as much” now because of uncertainty about Golden’s future. And “when they’re not winning as much, it’s a factor. Nobody likes to lose.”
Surprisingly, Bush cited UM’s switch to Adidas as a negative: “They’ve been a Nike school forever and the change to Adidas kind of messed me up a bit. Miami has that tradition of hard-nosed football, Nike, beat you before the kickoff. They kind of changed that mentality. The stature of the team has changed.”
Bush’s top three: Auburn, FSU and Michigan.
Bush’s Flanagan teammate, four-star safety Devin Gil, said myriad factors contributed to him flipping from UM to Michigan in June. Among them: Golden’s job security: “I chose Jim Harbaugh because he just got there and all the big things he accomplished.”
Because of NCAA penalties, UM can give recruits tickets to only one game a year. "This is the game we’re all coming to,” four-game linebacker/oral commitment Shaquille Quarterman told Canesport.com.
Among top uncommitted players expected at Saturday's game, according to Rivals: five-star Georgia-based cornerback/running back Mecole Hardman, who's rated No. 16 overall by Rivals in the 2016 class. UM will be his first visit; he also has scheduled trips to Michigan and Mississippi.
UM can firm up wavering recruits and perhaps add a couple of high-end uncommitted ones by winning more of these big games (Nebraska, FSU, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech). Saturday would be a good start.
DOLPHINS, HEAT CHATTER
### Defensive end Cameron Wake and safety Reshad Jones, two of the Dolphins’ most valuable defensive pieces, were listed as questionable for Sunday’s game at Jacksonville because of hamstring injuries, but Jones said he would try to play and there’s hope that Wake can, too, barring a setback.
“I will be out there,” Jones said. “That’s the plan.”
The Dolphins are cautiously optimistic about Wake’s chances of playing, but aren’t certain by any means.
Defensive end Derrick Shelby (eye) also was listed as questionable. Defensive end Olivier Vernon (ankle) was listed as probable and has said he will play Sunday. Tight end Dion Sims (concussion) is out.
The Jaguars listed four players as out: defensive linemen Sen’Derrick Marks and Andre Branch, tight end Julius Thomas and cornerback Dwayne Gratz. Former FIU safety Johnathan Cyprien and running back Toby Gerhart are doubtful.
### How did Chris McCain go from being the starting strong-side linebacker to open training camp to not being active for Week 1?
Coaches haven't been happy with his production. "I've got to make more plays, be more accountable," he said.
McCain said coaches told him last week they needed to keep others active instead who were more critical on special teams --- even though McCain had a blocked punt last season.
Though McCain has practiced for months in the "jack" role that Dion Jordan handled last season, "we haven't used it at all in a game yet," McCain said. But "it hasn't been eliminated [from the playbook]."
Incidentally, McCain said he has been practicing exclusively at defensive end this week because of the Dolphins' injuries at the position.
"I really thought yesterday he was busting his tail out here at practice," Joe Philbin said. "He looks very good this week in preparation.”
### Meanwhile, cornerback Will Davis said the Dolphins told him he wasn’t active, at least initially, to give him more time to build strength in his surgically-repaired knee but that he will get a chance to play at some point.
### With Lamar Miller stopped short on a third and one and Damien Williams stopped on a fourth and 1 on Sunday, some wondered why Miami wouldn’t use 225-pound Jonas Gray (now on the practice squad) on short yardage.
But Miller is the heaviest he has ever been at 220 pounds (“I have a couple powerful runs in me,” he said) and the coaching staff feels good about him in short yardage because he converted 10 of 13 combined chances on third and 1 and fourth and one in 2014, averaging 5.5 yards on those carries.
### Brice McCain’s interception was so spectacular Sunday that a bunch of NFL players reached out to congratulate him, including San Diego three-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle.
At 5-9, McCain --- who's starting on the boundary for Miami opposite Brent Grimes --- must constantly prove that he’s more than just a slot corner.
“It’s harder for us because of the stereotype,” McCain said. “People say you’re not big enough. But I can jump or run with anybody. If I was six feet, I would easily be a Pro Bowler.”
### Coach Joe Philbin didn’t answer directly when asked if DeVante Parker is ready for a larger role after playing just one snap against Washington. “He had a good week of practice,” Philbin said. “He’s getting more and more comfortable with the system.”
Cornerback Tony Lippett, who has covered Parker a lot in practice, said: “He’s not thinking about his movements as much as last week. He’s just letting it come to him.”
### Defensive tackle Earl Mitchell said the Dolphins are better prepared to handle the cut blocks to players’ knees that somewhat neutralized Ndamukong Suh and others at times during the Redskins game.
“We didn’t defend it in the preseason” so it surprised Miami to an extent, Mitchell said. “You have to use your hands, push the [offensive lineman] and move him out of the way.”
Philbin said: “We spend time fundamentally teaching it. It’s something we’re going to be seeing.” He said the Dolphins offensive linemen also used the cut-block at least twice against Washington.
### Quarterback Logan Thomas, who was moved from the 53-man roster to the practice squad in the past week, said the Dolphins have changed “the speed and technique” of his drop-backs. “They want me to play more relaxed.”
Thomas, released by Arizona earlier this month after one season there, said a few teams offered him practice squad jobs in recent days but “I wanted to stay here. This team is going places.” He said he believes he will be a Dolphin well into 2016, at least.
Philbin said when Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore are discussing the game plan with quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor, Thomas goes to assistant quarterback coach Ben Johnson’s office for a film and study session.
### Philbin said new kickoff returner/running back Raheem Mostert has been "really impressive" so far in practice.
### Though Philbin instructed defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle to simplify his defense this past offseason, Philbin said he “absolutely” still wants nuances that can confuse opponents. But that comes with a caveat: “Let’s not start inventing new defenses that take us an hour to figure out in a short week. To me, it doesn’t make sense.”
### Most players have one locker stall; Wake and Suh are sharing six in an area of the locker-room Wake calls “Manhattan.”
Rookie Jordan Phillips recently was ejected from his spot in Manhattan and moved elsewhere because, as Wake said, smiling: “You’ve got to have more stripes to get some residency over there. That’s top tier. Certain guys can’t even apply. They know who they are. We know who they are.”
Wake said he’s willing to add only one more player to Manhattan: “It’s a different level of clientele we’re [trying to attract]."
### Quick Heat note: John Lucas III isn't the only new point guard working out with the Heat at AA Arena in recent days. Veteran point guard Tre Kelley also has been training with the Heat, according to a league source, and is a candidate for Miami's 20th and final roster spot for training camp.
Kelley, 30, went undrafted out of South Carolina in 2007 and has played in eight countries (including Italy last season) and the D-League but has never appeared in a regular-season NBA game.
He spent a week with the Heat in training camp in 2008 before being cut. Kelley, 6-0, has averaged 14.3 points and shot 42.5 percent on three-points in 103 D-League games, most recently in 2013-14.
With Lucas, Miami has 19 players committed to training camp, one under the league maximum. Even without Kelley, the Heat already has seven players capable of playing point guard.