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31 posts from November 2015

November 30, 2015

Monday Dolphins: Zac Taylor and Dan Campbell address Lazor's firing, new offensive philosophy, other issues

Quick highlights from Dan Campbell's Monday news conference moments ago:

### On why he fired offensive coordinator Bill Lazor with five games left in the season: "I made a difficult decision this morning, relieved Bill Lazor of his duties. I appreciate everything Bill put into this and all the hard work and dedication he gave to this organization and this offense. I just felt it was time to move in another direction.

"I looked at everything on the plane ride home. I got a couple hours sleep. I wanted to make sure I was making the best decision I could. I feel offensively, we've been anemic for five weeks. We've tried to do a number of different things and it didn't work out. I wouldn't make this move for a spark. I make it because it gives us the best opportunity to win.

"I want to see production. I want to see points. I don't care how he get that done....  We want to get our best playmakers in the position to make plays."

### Campbell said the decision to fire Lazor was his, but Campbell said he did speak to Mike Tannenbaum and Stephen Ross.

### Campbell: "We have to find a way to become a more physical offense. We need more of a physical presence. How ever we establish that, that's what I'm looking for. I don't think we scare anybody in the AFC East and that bothers me. We need to find a way, even if it is two yards and a cloud of dust. If it brings a little thump and a little attitude, it may be worth it."

### Was it clash of philosophies, considering Lazor didn't run the ball as much as Campbell wanted?

"We knew it would be hard to run the ball yesterday. So I'm not putting us in a box and saying, 'This is what we're going to be more of.'

It's about: How do we move the ball? How do we become efficient and put points on the board, particularly early? We have to get off to a faster start on offense.... I am a more run-oriented person. I want to be more balanced. I like a more balanced approach."

### Campbell suggested he wants to use Tannehill more on rollouts.

### Why have Zac Taylor become the play-caller, considering he's never done it, instead of Al Saunders?

"Lou [Anarumo] hadn't called a game either and he's done a pretty good job," Campbell said. "I've been around Zac for four years, and he's a very bright guy. He's been in quarterback room for four years.

"He understands the protections, he understands the run game and he certainly understands the pass game. I have a lot of faith in Zac. We're all going to have input. I will have input. We will all come up with the best plan we can for Baltimore."

### He said Mike Pouncey is "day to day" with a foot injury. "It's better than I thought it would be.... Rishard Matthews took a shot in the ribs; it looks less likely he would be up [Sunday]. Rishard went into the game with the flu and came out with cracked ribs. He wanted to go back in. He's a tough kid.

"CJ Mosley and Earl Mitchell both have calf injuries. They're both day to day." Mosley was in a walking boot today. Mitchell was not.

### On what he wants from his players: "I am looking for the guys, when you put another human being in front of him, and I don't care what it is -- if it's ping pong, if it's football, if it's croquet, if it's freakin' chess, you want to win and you'll do whatever you have to do to win. I'm looking for those guys. I still believe we have enough in this locker-room to win football games."

### He said he's contemplating lineup changes but wouldn't elaborate.

### More on Pouncey: "We are going to need another center in the building. Jamil Douglas has gotten a ton of practice snaps; you don't know how until the bullets fly. He's going to be better for that."

Douglas told me he had played only three snaps at center in a game in his life --- in an October game against Houston. He said his problems snapping the ball Sunday surprised him and that it hadn't happened at practice.

Campbell said Tannehill might play more under center, instead of the shotgun, if Pouncey is sidelined Sunday.

### On DeVante Parker, who got 58 snaps Sunday, by far his most of the season: "He got christened. He was shaky at first. He did some things late in the game, got a little bit better. Did a heck of a job on the touchdown. His technique has to be spot on. This isn't Louisville any more. The best experience is game experience. He's going to be better for it moving forward."

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Highlights from Zac Taylor's news conference:

### "I have not called plays before. I have called 1000 games in my head. I have absolutely prepared [for this]. There is no substitute for experience. But I have all the confidence with the staff around me."

### On his philosophy: "We are going to run the ball. OK? I can't sit here and say we're going to run 10 straight times. It's important our players have that mindset. It's important for any offense to get that thing going.

"We are going to streamline what we do on offense; we're going to simplify it. It's on them as players and coaches to get this thing straight and start scoring some points... We need to be balanced. As long as we achieve balance, the points will come."

### Will Ryan Tannehill be given more freedom to audible? "Those are things we're still discussing.... Everything is on the table."

### Has Tannehill been hamstrung? "We've always put a lot on his plate. I don't think in any way he has been hamstrung. He's a smart guy. He can handle anything.... We've always had a great relationship. It's important for him to have plays where he can be accurate."

### "We have to find ways for our players to play with confidence.... We're going to evaluate everything we do... .[But] we believe in this system, what we've been doing. We just have to find ways to be more effective. There may be some different things we throw around as a staff, but to say we're going to abandon what we've been doing, we all believe in this. We've had success in this system... I trust we're all going to be on the same page."

### Taylor said he will seek advice from former Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, his father-in-law: "He has been a huge influence in my life, in many ways. I learned a lot of football from him. I talk to him almost weekly."

### On this turn of events: "This is not ideal. This is not how I dreamed up the situation happening. Bill Lazor was awesome to me. He took the fall for us. I feel awful for Bill. I saw the guy put his heart and soul [into this]."

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

November 29, 2015

NFL scouts, recruiting evaluators assess puzzling Canes problem that new coach must change; Canes, Dolphins, Marlins, Heat chatter

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

With UM beating Pittsburgh in Friday’s regular-season finale (after losing to Pitt last year), here’s one puzzling, troubling reality the new Hurricanes coach must wrap his arms around:

Why does this program lose so many games to teams with significantly lower-rated recruiting classes (UNC, Cincinnati, several others in recent years) and get annihilated by a Clemson team with a similarly ranked class?

In other words, has this been entirely a case of coaches not extracting the most out of the talent, or have Miami’s recruits been vastly overestimated?

Many fans believed it was largely a coaching issue. But two NFL scouts said it’s a combination of both, and one longtime recruiting analyst said the high grades for Miami’s classes are misleadingly skewed.

It’s an issue the next UM coach must figure out, as he determines where the talent needs to be upgraded, what schemes must be changed and how much of a scheme change can help with the current personnel.

Exploring the issue with evaluators who have watched UM closely this season and previous ones:

### A respected NFC scout, who has seen Miami in person and on tape: “When a team isn’t performing [to expectations], there are two reasons: The kid isn't good enough or the coaches aren't doing a good enough job. This situation is a combination of both.

“Offensively, on the lines and the skill positions, I don’t see nearly the talent of past Miami teams. Their top receivers would be third or fourth receivers on old Miami teams. Rashawn Scott and Herb Waters are third-day guys [in the draft]. Stacy Coley has talent, but his play is mediocre [until recently]. I don’t see a great running back there now.

“But defensively, they should be better than this. There are eight or nine [draft-eligible] kids I've been looking at on their defense; no way they should be losing 58-0. They have two defensive linemen, [Ufomba] Kamalu and [Calvin] Heurtelou who will be at NFL camps. Neither one would have played on old Miami lines, but I’ll take them to at least try to make my team.

“They will never be able to return to those famous defensive lines with Cortez Kennedy and Jerome Brown, but they've got defensive linemen that are more than respectable for the ACC.

“They've got a talented secondary. Artie Burns has the talent to be a first-round pick. Corn Elder is a pretty good player. Deon Bush -- he's going to play in the league, maybe a fourth or fifth-round pick. Tracy Howard is a good little corner, a draftable kid, could be your fifth or sixth corner [on an NFL team].”

In regard to Rivals.com saying Clemson and Miami signed nearly identically rated recruiting classes, the scout said: “Clemson obviously is more talented from top to bottom. But with some [Miami] kids, they have talent and it doesn’t convert to the field.” He said one issue for Miami is undisciplined play, not merely penalties but in other ways.

For example: “Artie Burns has got everything you want skill wise, size wise in a corner and he can run, but he is so careless and undisciplined,” the scout said. “He makes a good play and then two, three plays later makes a dumb play. He gave up a touchdown in the Clemson game because he was dumb in his [technique]. Now is that coaching? I’m sure the coach told him what to do, but he wants to do things his way.”

The other NFC scout said he’s convinced the coaching (especially defensively) is holding this team back and Miami must use a defense more reliant on instincts and less on thinking. 

“They’ve got to get back to a 4-3 defense and get back recruiting big kids," that scout said.

### Recruiting analyst Larry Blustein, on how UM is losing to teams with much lower-ranked recruiting classes and being blown out by a team (Clemson) with similarly-rated classes:

“The canned answer is the coaching, but you’re grasping when you say that. It's a combination of things. The strength of Clemson was their defensive line, and the weakness of Miami is their offensive line, so they were exploited there.”

Blustein said: “USC went after five-star linemen and two- and three-star running backs. And five-star linemen can make two- or three-star backs look better. That's why USC didn't fade into oblivion after NCAA sanctions while Miami did.

“Miami hasn’t successfully recruited marquee defensive linemen in a long time -- they haven’t recruited guys in the right position to compete with Clemson.” He said the new coach must make that a priority.

“And some of these Miami kids were overrated,” Blustein said. “If these people doing the ratings were professional, they’d be working for a team. Rivals and Scout can make these anointments with nothing riding on it.”

But how can four-star St. Thomas Aquinas grad Joey Bosa go to Ohio State and have 21 sacks in his first two years there, while UM’s five-star Chad Thomas (from Booker T. Washington) had one?

“Bosa is being used in a better way," Blustein said. "And look at the guys around him --- they’re better than the guys around Thomas, guys who allow Bosa to freelance. As it turned out, it doesn't look like Chad Thomas and Tracy Howard were five star [worthy] kids.  

“The other factor is schemes,” Blustein said. “Duke doesn’t have the athletes Miami has, but there's a scheme, the way David Cutcliffe coaches and the way the kids respond.

“A scheme change can really make a difference. You would think [UM coaches] would have said, ‘Let's change it up.’ They have more 4-3 guys than 3-4 guys. But you can’t make Brad Kaaya into a spread quarterback if they want to play [a pure] spread” next year.

Former UM Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta makes a valid point: “The kids are thinking way too much [on defense]. Pare the scheme back; run a couple plays over and over. Let the kids play fast.” (Let’s hope the new 2016 coordinator does this.)

### Local recruiting analyst Charles Fishbein: "People look at skill positions and say, ‘We have Duke Johnson, Phillip Dorsett.’ The one thing I don't hear anybody bring up is where are all the defensive linemen? When was the last time they had a lineman drafted in the first three rounds? Calais Campbell [in 2008]. Where do you win games? Up front. Every team in the top 10 is great up front. Miami's problem is never going to be skill positions.”

The other thing the Hurricanes must do, Fishbein said, is improve their strength and conditioning program. “If they keep [longtime strength/conditioning coach] Andreu Swasey, it won't matter who the coach is. When was the last time Miami wore a team out in the second half of a game?”

UM CHATTER

### A close associate of Butch Davis said last week that Davis was optimistic that he would get an audience with UM athletic director Blake James in the week ahead. And when Davis canceled his scheduled appearance in ESPN2's studio on Saturday, that fueled speculation that Davis' interview was this weekend.

The normally accessible Davis declined to respond when I asked him Saturday if he interviewed, and agent Jimmy Sexton declined to discuss it with our Susan Miller Degnan.

By the way, Davis did not tell ESPN management why he requested the day off. And UM isn't saying a word publicly about the search, with advisory committee members having been sworn to secrecy.

The friend said Davis was excited about the potential opportunity to talk to UM. Indications are that Davis interviewed this werkend. The question is whether what he has to say is compelling enough to lift him in James' eyes.

As we've written, James is considering Davis, despite some internal UM concerns about what happened at North Carolina (Davis was not implicated by the NCAA). And as we've noted, a friend of James has said that James knows he has Davis if nothing more appealing surfaces.

### Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel, in a piece analyzing every college coaching opening, said it would be surprising if the UM job doesn't go to one of four people: Davis (his favorite to get the job), Rob Chudzinski, Greg Schiano and Dan Mullen.

As we noted last week, Chud and Schiano have some support on UM's advisory search committee. And Mullen, the Mississippi State coach, interviewed with UM before Al Golden was hired and left a favorable impression on at least one of the few people involved in that search. But would he leave a job paying him more than $4 million annually?

[Noon update: UM is expected to explore UM alum Mark Richt after his firing from Georgia today.]

### Mario Cristobal is the most polarizing UM coaching candidate among Trustees (aside from Butch Davis), but associates and an NFL scout with whom he speaks said he has become a better coach working for Nick Saban.

A FEW FINS, HEAT, MARLINS NOTES

### New Dolphins defensive end Quinton Coples said Dolphins executive Mike Tannenbaum told him the plan is to keep him beyond this season, though it’s very likely the contract would be restructured to reduce his $7.7 million salary. Coples said the contract issue will be dealt with this off-season, but Tannenbaum made clear to him that this is not just a six-game experiment.

Tannenbaum, who drafted Coples in New York, “said he knows my potential and talent and realized I was out of position” with the Jets, Coples said.

### In the past quarter century of Dolphins history, only Randal Hill (twice) averaged more yards per catch than what Kenny Stills quietly is doing this year (18.4, on 18 catches).

But Stills is getting just 3.6 targets per game, compared with 5.7 in New Orleans last season, and former Saints teammates have been asking him why he’s not getting more passes.

Stills says he wonders that but won’t complain or lobby because “I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes or be like what gets attached to a typical receiver.”

### After being mistaken for Heat assistant Chris Quinn previously, Heat guard Tyler Johnson spent 10 minutes last week debating with a person who said he looks like Tyler Johnson (not the first time this happened) --- this after twice being turned away by AmericanAirlines Arena security when trying to enter the building, once this season.

“I’m a player,” he told security.

“Are you sure?” the security guard asked, calling a Heat official to verify.

### One wealthy businessman who approached the Marlins said Jeffrey Loria remains adamant that he’s not selling, but the person holds out hope he could change his mind after the team plays host to the 2017 All-Star Game.

He said the Marlins indicated that if Loria sells, he would ask for $1 billion. Forbes estimates the team’s worth at $650 million.

For more on Loria and his edict to dismissed Tommy Hutton, see our last post.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

November 27, 2015

Media column: More details on Marlins' mind-boggling decision to part ways with Tommy Hutton; Another local sports-talk radio change

MEDIA COLUMN

The Marlins’ dismissal of Tommy Hutton after 19 years as their TV analyst not only stands as the worst broadcasting personnel decision ever made by a South Florida team, but the reason being whispered privately seems particularly unjustified.

According to a source in close contact with the Marlins, the team believed Hutton was too negative – a criticism that isn’t valid if examining his full body of work.

Hutton was critical when necessary and had a penchant for unleashing the occasional playful rant, but there’s a distinction between critical and excessively negative.

When there was something positive to say, Hutton said it. He never blasted Marlins management. But he rarely sugarcoated poor play.

“I know there were times I was negative, but I thought those times were called for,” he said. “Ninety percent of what I said was positive. I tried not to be a homer, but you could tell I wanted the Marlins to do well.”

After being told that his salary wasn’t a factor in the decision, Hutton suspected that his candid, blunt analysis might be the impetus for his ouster.

So after learning his fate on Monday, he asked that question – whether they thought he was too negative -- to both a Fox producer (at a meeting at Starbucks) and the Marlins’ vice president/communications (by phone).

He said the question was met with silence by both executives.

“I couldn’t get a yes or a no,” he said.

Hutton said there have been only three incidents in recent years in which a Marlins employee expressed discomfort with something he said. Hutton relayed all three --- and nothing he said seemed out of line or inappropriate --- but he was willing to discuss only one of the three on the record.

That one involved former Marlins catcher John Buck. When Buck flied out to the deepest part of Marlins Park to end a game, Hutton shouted “in any other park!” --- meaning the ball would have been a home run in a stadium with more hitter-friendly dimensions.

He said a Marlins vice president called him after the game and said that owner Jeffrey Loria prefer he not mention the ballpark’s dimensions.

“Did I complain about the park being too big? Yeah,” Hutton said, noting the dimensions are being changed this off-season. “But if that was the reason, they knew that the day after the season. I didn’t say anything negative the last six weeks.”

Hutton said no player ever complained to him, but if anyone had a complaint, he made himself visible. “I was always in the clubhouse and on the field,” he said. “I know a lot of announcers who just go to the booth.”   

Meanwhile, WINZ’s Andy Slater reported that on numerous occasions after games, players complained to the public relations staff or Loria about comments Hutton made on the broadcast. Slater said Loria didn't like it when Hutton “would talk too much” about another team's player --- something I’ve also heard.

Hutton still doesn’t know whether it was the Marlins or Fox that wanted him gone --- they said it was mutual decision – but the source close to the Marlins indicated the negativity complaint was voiced by the team.

Hutton’s dismissal serves as a disconcerting reminder that many teams prefer cheerleaders in the booth, announcers who won’t rock the boat and certainly won’t openly question coaching or personnel decisions. It’s a slippery slope to navigate.

“It would cross my mind sometimes, before I said something, that [Marlins officials] might not like this,” Hutton said. “It’s probably hard to stay true [to yourself]” completely when a team has major say in your employment.

Hutton, who described his initial emotions as “shocked, disappointed and upset,” said the Marlins will be miscalculating their audience if they hire a “homer” to replace him.

“There are so many people here from other areas, they just want to hear baseball,” he said. “South Florida is a different market than other areas. You get someone who’s a rah-rah homer, I don’t think this fan base would go for that.”

Hutton has been heartened by the reaction to his departure. Many fans have blasted the Marlins’ decision on social media, and star pitcher Jose Fernandez, former Marlins star Mike Lowell, Marlins infield coach Perry Hill and former Marlins announcers Len Kasper and Jon Sciambi were among those who reached out to him.

ESPN’s Sciambi ripped the Marlins on Twitter: “Classic Marlins letting [Hutton] go… He was passionate, prepared and had credibility, something that organization had very little of.”

Rich Waltz, who will be retained as the team’s TV play-by-play announcer, said by phone that he was “saddened” by the news.

“When he told me, the feeling was hurt for him as a friend,” Waltz said. “I’ve never looked at myself as an individual in 11 years in this job. When he told me, it was almost like we both were let go. I don’t know the reasons. From Day 1, it felt like a great partnership.”

RADIO NEWS

More than two months into their audition, The Herald's Ethan Skolnick and ESPN's Israel Gutierrez have been offered the permanent afternoon drive slot on 790 The Ticket. But Gutierrez could not agree on financial terms with the Ticket and tells us that he has left the show, although he hasn’t completely ruled out a return if the station raises its offer.

Skolnick, who remains in negotiations with The Ticket, might be paired with Chris Wittyngham or someone else from 4 to 7 p.m.

The ratings for Skolnick/Gutierrez jumped from a 1.3 share in September to a 3.0 in November in the key male 25 to 54 demographic group.

### NBC 6 news/sports anchor Adam Kuperstein has joined The Ticket as a part-time host, beginning 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday, when he works alongside Josh Friedman.

Kuperstein did good work as a WQAM host before the station eliminated his show in July when it decided to go to four four-hour programs.

### CBS is sending Sunday's 1 p.m. Dolphins-Jets game to 54 percent of the country, with Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts on the call. See 506sports.com for a map.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

November 26, 2015

Dolphins coordinators answer questions, address issues

Highlights from this week's media sessions with Dolphins coordinators Bill Lazor and Lou Anarumo:

### Lazor, on the difference between where he thought DeVante Parker would be and where he actually is: “I just want to answer the question honestly, but correctly. Is it too generic of an answer to say the sky is the limit? That’s probably not giving you a real answer, but like you said, when I saw him in the Spring, he probably felt no pain and he was going, I said ‘We’ve got something here.’

"I agree with you that it hasn’t shown up on the game field yet and I can’t deny that. I guess I’m just hopeful and I’m not panicking that anything is lost because we’ve all been through this enough. It can be any day that it all shows up. If I didn’t give you a good soundbite, but I think you get I’m telling you the truth and I don’t know what else to say at this point.”

### Lazor, on whether Branden Albert has returned to Pro Bowl form: 

“Obviously the other teams would have to tell you why they did what they did, but there is no doubt in the last couple of weeks there have been times when the marquee pass rushers all of sudden now third down, show up and they’re lining up elsewhere. I am still amazed and sometimes I forget that he had the surgery last November and that he played in the opening game of the season.

"I think that every game that you watch, as soon as the game is over, the first time I watch it, it’s hard for me to watch every player because I’m usually watching overall and then I watch it again, again and again, but when the game has been over, each of the last few games, one of the first comments from our offensive line coach is how much better his run blocking is every single game. I am still amazed that he played in that opening game. That’s impressive to me, the work that he put in to do that.”

### Lazor, on what he views as the main problem with the Dolphins' offense: 

“If it was one thing we would have already fixed it. I’d say probably, if I had to probably pick one thing that’s on my mind at this moment we are worst in the league in our average third downs. We’re at 8.3 yards. There are probably 14 different things that get you to the point where you’re averaging third-and-8-plus, but when you try to live that way it’s hard living.

"When you’re looking at the percent that you’re not converting on third down some of it is that you’re failing and some of it is that they are hard third downs and what are the things that get us to that point. To me that is one telling statistic. It doesn’t give you the answers, but it’s not that hard to figure out. Some of the first and second downs; we have a high percentage of explosive runs on first down. After that run we don’t even get to third down. Those are our best drives where we don’t even get to third down.

"Then you have a holding penalty or some other error like we had in this past game that back you up and now your third downs become real long. It’s almost like we become feast or famine. We don’t even get to third down, great. Everyone is excited like they were for the Houston game. We weren’t even really good in third downs in that game, but all those scoring drives we never even got to third down. So my goal for Sunday is no third downs. Zero.”  

### Anarumo, on whether new defensive end Quinton Coples is a luxury or necessity: Yeah, I think a little bit of both. I think anytime you can get a quality player to add to your roster, I think you, you know, you embrace it and certainly you know our guys, the fact that we have ‘em, we’re thrilled.”

### Anarumo, on whether the 4-3 scheme helps Coples: “He did it in college. That’s what he was in college. Even going back to high school the guy was comfortable, I think, doing it that way.

"I think he kind of feels like he’s getting back to his roots and what he’s used to doing in putting his hand in the dirt, getting off on the ball and attacking the tight end where maybe in the other scheme he wasn’t doing as much of that; maybe some more dropping and things like that. He does bring flexibility. Those guys do drop some. I think he’s going to be a little more comfortable lining up in a three-point stance.”

### The Cowboys' Dez Bryant scored a touchdown Sunday when the Dolphins had a linebacker cover him in the slot (with late safety help). So why not have Brent Grimes shadow Bryant even when Bryant is in the slot?

“We have different rules for [Grimes} when he does that over the years," Anarumo said. "You know the one play that people are talking about from the other day was a zone coverage so he’s never gonna go inside in zone because if you do that then he’s got to play to fit the B gap in the run game and we don’t want a 170 something pound corner doing that.

"So he stays outside on those type situations so when that does occur the zone defenders have to be aware of where certain guys are and react better than we did on Sunday.”  

### Anarumo, on the difference in Olivier Vernon the past couple of games: "I think you know when the production is not coming I think he started to get a little tight and I think he has just gotten back to being himself and getting off on the football and at the end of the day doing what he does well and that’s rushing the passer and he’s doing a great job in the run game as well.

"So he’s, stays after, runs extra gassers and things like that to keep himself in great shape kind of like Cam (Cameron Wake) use to do. So OV’s just really stepped it up and is being really productive as you saw, that guys one of the best tackles in the game other day.”                    

### Anarumo, on the advantage of moving Ndamukong Suh around: He obviously presents scheme problems for the other teams. They’re gonna know where he is.

"He’s one of those guys that you have to know where he is on each snap and so even if he just goes from inside to outside we’re hoping that presents some conversations on the opposing teams offenses game planning and as opposed to always just keeping him in the same spot and he’s been disruptive and he’s, as you guys seen, he’s been very productive over the last few games.” 

If you missed it, please see the last post for a chat with Zach Thomas and the next-to-last post for a look at something that should have us all very concerned about Ryan Tannehill.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

November 25, 2015

A rare chat with Zach Thomas as he talks Dolphins, his career, his thoughts on coaching

Good to see former Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas last week at his induction to the Florida Sports Hall of Fame.

No Dolphin extracted every last ounce of his ability more than Thomas, and none wore his emotions more on his sleeve.

That, plus sustained excellence, made him as popular as any Dolphin (excluding Dan Marino) over the past 20 years.

While Thomas remains busy dabbling in real estate ventures and gym ownership, he has slipped into the shadows, by choice, in recent years, leaving a local radio job after a year and choosing not to be quoted much.

But last Tuesday, he shared his thoughts with me (and earlier in the day, with WQAM’s Orlando Alzugaray), in his first extended interviews in quite some time.

Here’s what he had to say during my chat with him:

### Thomas said he watches Dolphins games religiously and “I get emotional because I love my Dolphins. It ruins the rest of my day, for sure [if they lose]. I’m a little cranky with the wife. I always catch every game. I’m here [in Broward]. I go to some of the games, but because I have young kids, it’s tough.”

### On how difficult it is to be a Dolphins fan: “You want to stay positive. You want the guys to get over that hump. You root for them for that. I don’t know what the answer is. I think they’re trying to find it.

"The one thing I do see is when I watch the Dolphins now, especially over the last five weeks with Dan Campbell at the helm, is they’re playing with effort. And they’ve got good body language. They’re not quitting. That’s what you want to see. There are some winners on that team. If they can click, that’s what you want to see….

“I love to watch Jarvis Landry, Reshad Jones. I feel bad for those guys, but it’s a team effort. They are great players. I feel bad for Cameron Wake getting hurt and guys you respect because they’re good for the game.”

### His advice for Stephen Ross?

“I wish I knew. He’s a great businessman so I’m sure he didn’t all of a sudden strike it rich in real estate. He had to figure it out along the way and I think that’s what he’s doing now. I think he learned a few lessons early on when he bought the team. A guy who’s a winner, a guy who’s very successful in other areas, he’ll find a way and I think he’s given every thing to the Dolphins to pave that way for a championship team. Maybe now he has the right person in his ear. I don’t know.

“I know earlier on he made some mistakes. But I love the way he gives everything he can to make this team win. That’s what you want in any owner. That’s why you root for him. Maybe he has somebody now that’s right in his ear. Could be Mike Tannenbaum, could be somebody else. I don’t know. I hope they just get over that hump because this town deserves a championship.”

### On the team’s linebackers: “I enjoy watching Jelani Jenkins and even some of the young guys that have filled in. Zach Vigil has talent. Kelvin Sheppard played well last week.”

### On the Patriots: “It’s tough to watch the Patriots playing so well. And Tom Brady’s playing better than ever. And they’re doing everything right. They’ve got a lot of winners and that’s what we’re trying to find down here. You’ve got to respect them because  they’re doing something right for so long. Even though I can’t stand to see them keep winning, you always respect winners.”

### On his career: “Early in my career, we were going to the second round of the playoffs and had winning seasons and had the chance. It was sad to wait until the end because so much of the bad drafts caught up to us. It didn’t play out the way I wanted. But I wouldn’t change a thing, because I wouldn’t want to change anything with my teammates, especially that defense we had. We had something special.”

### On what he values in players: “The ones that play the sport right, that’s more important than stats and Pro Bowls. The respect you earn from your teammates is all that’s really remembered.

"You see certain teammates, it sticks with you forever. Sometimes you don’t remember some of their names but you remember if they quit on you in the fourth quarter. You’ll never forget that. You’ll know if they were a winner and if they gave everything they got for you. It didn’t even matter if they were talented or not.”

### Would he consider coaching? "That would be the best, but I know it would take away from my family at a time when I should impact them. My life has always been about me. I want it to be about them now. My kids are 5, 4, 7 months."

Everyone says, ‘You disappeared.’ That’s why I disconnected. I’m just helping myself with the transition because I know how I would be if I committed to something like that. So for me –-- I’ll leave that option open down the road. But I’m not going to half-ass anything. I’m going to 100 percent commit if I do something. That’s how I’ve always been. I’m not even coaching my son’s flag football team. I sit back, watch as a fan now. But I know [coaching] would be awesome.”

Dolphins fans are thankful they could watch Thomas for 12 seasons in Miami --- a tenure that featured seven Pro Bowl appearances and five first-team All Pro selections.

And speaking of thanks, Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

November 24, 2015

Tannehill's worrisome AFC East issues; UM coaching search nuggets; Heat; Marlins trade talk

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

It is the easy reflex to give Ryan Tannehill the benefit of the doubt, because of the intriguing skill set, the nifty 27 to 12 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season, the sporadic flashes of excellence (including the perfect passer rating against Houston), the Dolphins’ inability to surround him with a sturdy enough offensive line, and the lack of appealing, available quarterback options outside the building.

But with the Jets looming on Sunday, this needs to be asked:

When does the starting quarterback stop playing his worst against the teams he plays the most?

Tannehill travels to The Meadowlands this weekend with a 7-15 record in the AFC East and 6-15 if you exclude a win against the Jets that he missed most of. (His teammates obviously also shoulder a lot of the blame for that 7-15 record).

What's more, he has a dismal career passer rating against each: 75.7 against the Bills, 75.5 against the Patriots and 67.2 against the Jets.

If his passer rating in division games were his overall passer rating this season, it would be third-worst in the NFL, ahead of only Peyton Manning and Ryan Mallett.

Take a look at Miami’s last 12 games against AFC East teams. They’re 3-9, have been outscored 328 to 177, and have topped 17 points just three times.

Of those 12 games, Tannehill has had only one good game, two decent ones and nine bad games; his passer rating has been below 80 (usually well below) in eight of them. That’s unacceptable.

Yes, his offensive line deserves a share of the blame for Miami’s offensive shortcomings in division matchups; Tannehill has been sacked 36 times in his past 12 games against AFC East opponents.

But even though the running game hasn’t been blameless, the passing game has been the much bigger problem. Consider: In those last 12 games against AFC East teams, Miami averaged at least 4.1 yards per rush in eight of them and had 80 yards rushing in a ninth.

The Dolphins ran effectively in their last four games against the Jets, but the defense was exploited and Tannehill had passer ratings of 47.9, 77.7, 87.4 (in a loss) and 53 (in their game in London Oct. 4).

At least he probably won’t have to deal with Jets star cornerback Darrelle Revis, who reportedly is unlikely to play Sunday because of a concussion.

So why does the Dolphins’ offense struggle so much against AFC East teams?

“All of these teams in our division have pretty good defensive lines,” interim coach Dan Campbell said when I asked the question. “They have a big front, big long guys. Two-gap guys. Buffalo is a little more penetration. I just think they make life a little bit harder to run inside for us. We’re not the biggest line up front.”

The Dolphins weren’t concerned about Tannehill’s subpar play in division games when they gave him a contract that could reach $95 million.

But they should be if he has another disappointing game Sunday, considering Miami plays 37 percent of its schedule inside the division.

Here’s the bottom line: In their past 12 games against AFC East teams, Miami has 19 touchdowns on 143 possessions (13.3 percent). Sixteen of those possessions ended in Tannehill interceptions.

You can – and should - blame his pass protection and, to an extent, his receivers for part of that.

But at some point, the franchise quarterback cannot continue to be at his worst against the opponents who know him best.

And though I'm not part of the replace-Tannehill crowd, drafting competition for him might be prudent if he fizzles over the final six games.

### One Dolphins official privately questioned whether Bill Lazor’s system is best-suited for Tannehill. With Miami 26th in both points and yards this season, another offseason offensive coordinator change would surprise nobody.

CHATTER

### Some fans have spoken of a longshot scenario in which Butch Davis would be UM’s coach and Mario Cristobal the coach-in-waiting, but a person in touch with Cristobal said he does not seem interested in being a UM assistant in that or any scenario, for that matter. Nor would Davis have interest in being an assistant coach. Both want to be a head coach.

### There were multiple NFL offensive coordinators on the list of 40 names that search firm Korn Ferry gave UM, including Cincinnati’s Hue Jackson (would seem doubtful he would have interest) and Seattle’s Darrell Bevell. (The Palm Beach Post's Matt Porter previously mentioned Jackson as someone of interest to Miami.)

### At least three of the candidates mentioned prominently for the UM job still hadn’t been contacted for interviews as of Tuesday. Several people close to the process said they expect some interviews next week.

### UM has been waiting to see who else becomes available, such as LSU’s Les Miles, potentially. One UM official said Miami would have interest in Georgia’s Mark Richt if he’s fired but doesn’t expect that.

Arizona's Rich Rodriguez could still emerge as an option for Miami. He had been heavily linked to the Virginia Tech job, but the Hokies are prepared to hire Memphis' Justin Fuente, according to ESPN's Pat Forde.

UM's preference, ideally, remains hiring an established coach who has had success as a head coach elsewhere, according to an associate of Blake James.

### Colts offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski (who has had success as an assistant but not yet as a head coach) and Greg Schiano (who has had both) are among coaches with some support on UM’s search advisory committee.

But this is ultimately James' call, though he is considering input from the advisory committee, a few high-level Trustees and of course, the search firm.

### Mid-major coaches are being considered (including Houston’s Tom Herman), though Al Golden’s failures worry some with regard to mid-major coaches. There are unconfirmed reports elsewhere tonight that South Carolina has an agreement with Herman.

### A very expensive, pie-in-the-sky target, though he probably wouldn't be available until January, would be Eagles coach Chip Kelly. UM probably would have filled the job by then.

“I think the momentum and signs seem to be piling up against a Chip [Kelly] return to Philadelphia,” ESPN's Adam Schefter said on Sirius Radio. “I think both sides are sick of each other. I think the fans are tired of him. I think he’s tired of the situation there. That’s just my read from afar. I just think that Chip Kelly, if given a choice, might be comfortable elsewhere."

### There are a few scenarios in which offensive coordinator James Coley could remain at UM, including potentially if Cristobal is hired. But Coley said no UM coaching candidate has reached out to him.

Incidentally, Brad Kaaya told me he would not lobby a new coach to retain any offensive assistants.

"I just show up and play," he said. "It's all up to them."

Kaaya said he hasn't asked James for an update on the coaching search.

### Whenever Erik Spoelstra is asked why Justise Winslow is playing so much, he tells people to look at the scoreboard.

And consider this: Not only do the Heat’s six most successful lineups (by score difference) feature Winslow, but among the NBA’s top 12 in plus/minus, Winslow (plus 98) and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (plus 118) are the only two who don’t play for the Warriors, Spurs or Cavaliers.

Spoelstra feels confident having the 6-7 Winslow defend most any position, and Knicks 7-1 rookie Kristaps Porzingis said the next time the Heat puts Winslow on him (like he did Monday), “I have to punish him."

Winslow not only leads the Heat in plus/minus, but by a lot. Next closest: Dwyane Wade at plus 58.

### The Marlins are talking to Seattle about a trade involving outfielder Marcell Ozuna, ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reported tonight. As we've reported for months, owner Jeffrey Loria is down on Ozuna and wants his front office to explore trade options, though Miami won't simply give him away.

The Marlins are believed to want a quality starting pitcher in return.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz         

November 23, 2015

Marlins drop Tommy Hutton; tons of Dolphins news, notes from Monday

In a surprising and upsetting development, the Marlins today dropped TV analyst Tommy Hutton, who did exemplary work for 19 seasons.

My breaking of the story on Twitter elicited a flood of comments in support of Hutton --- and all justifiable.

Hutton was candid, critical when needed, sharp, alert, insightful, personable and achieved terrific chemistry with Rich Waltz.

Hutton was the best TV analyst in South Florida, and frankly, one of the best we’ve ever had in this market.

Hutton and Waltz kept broadcasts entertaining even when the score was lopsided --- one of the biggest compliments you can give an announcing team.

The Marlins said Waltz will be retained as the team’s TV play-by-play voice.

Hutton said the Marlins gave him no explanation for not renewing his contract.

“All I got was we've made a decision to go in another direction,” he said. “They insisted it wasn't about budget. I was surprised and shocked the way it was handled given the fact it was two months into the offseason and a couple days before Thanksgiving.”

The Marlins have had only two TV analysts in their 23-year history: Hutton, 69, and deceased former All-Star catcher Gary Carter, who held the job for the team’s first four seasons.

“I am thankful to have worked 51 years in this game,” Hutton said. “I am thankful to have spent the last 19 doing Marlins baseball.

“I am in no way thinking about retiring. I still love the game, still have passion, still have energy.”

The Marlins declined to explain reasons for the decision.

PJ Loyello, the team’s senior vice president/communications and broadcasting, said only: “It was a mutual decision between Fox and the ball club and we decided to go in a different direction.”

Fox wouldn’t comment beyond this statement: “This was a joint decision with the Marlins to move forward with a new color analyst beginning next season. We thank Tommy for his calls and contributions over the years at FOX Sports Florida.”

The team has not targeted a replacement for Hutton. A search will begin shortly.

The Marlins said radio announcers Dave Van Horne and Glenn Geffner will be retained.

######################################## 

DOLPHINS NEWS

 

Highlights from Dan Campbell's news conference today:

### The team had a meeting today that became emotional at times. Ndamukong Suh was among those who spoke up and, according to a source fully briefed on the meeting, was angry and direct and blunt with his teammates, calling for accountability.

But Dan Campbell declined to discuss what Suh said, saying it should stay in the building.

"We pointed out our errors and guys owned up to them and had a good talk about it," Campbell said. "We always have emotional days after a loss. Guys handled it well. They took ownership. There were enough guys that were frustrated. There is one cure and it's winning. Things are going to be said that people don't mean, no matter who you are."

### Campbell went over the bad plays with the entire team and "I said tell me what happened on this play? We had guys who took ownership of it. They owned up to it. It wasn't a call-out session. It was a take ownership session. Guys did that. To me, it's a step in the right direction."

### On Suh: "The more you can move him around, especially when you move him out to the end, he's less likely to get doubled. The odds of him getting doubled go way down. We felt it would be good to move him around, get some mismatches on the end. Suh has played good football and is trying to bring guys with him."

### On Vernon: "Olivier has played good football, really stepped up his game."

### He said Bobby McCain's snaps dropped to 95 a week ago to 1 on Sunday because of "Brice McCain's injury. Bobby is really a nickel. We had a package with Philly."

### "We need to do a much better job on play action passes. When we do it right, we can be good. We are good, when we protect him."

### On why Misi didn't play: "Koa felt OK [a couple hours before the game]. After warmups, after he was able to warm up and move around, he couldn't go."

### He said he needs to do a better job telling players specifically why they're called for penalties during practice.

### On being 1 for 10 on third down: "There were two good set-ups. We had an opportunity to make the play and we didn't. That's two of them. We put ourselves in a bind. Penalties killed us, which put us in third and long."

### On Matt Darr's personal foul penalty: "It hurt us, cost us. Maybe we should find another position for him to play as well as punter. The penalty cost us, but the kid was trying to make a play. We probably have the toughest punter in the league or most aggressive."

### On why Miami (again) didn't run more: "Lamar [Miller] had a pretty good average, Jay [Ajayi] had it going. I would always tilt toward wanting to run it more than we do.... We kind of did what we had to do."

He mentioned when Miami ran it three times in a row, a holding call on Jason Fox made it 3rd and nine and foiled that drive.

"When you want to run it more, you get crap like that," Campbell said, not mentioning Fox by name.

### On why he punted down 10 with just under seven minutes left: "Was our defense great? No. It was good. I thought we would get a pin. Thought we wouldn't have to use timeouts."

### Can Miami win if it continues being unable to top 20 points (the Dolphins have topped 20 twice in 10 games).

"My first answer is no. But then your defense has to really pull the slack. If they need to do that, make sure the opponent doesn't score one more point than thus, then that's how it goes. [But] that's a hard way to live. We need to be more scoring more than 21 points a game."

### On life at 4-6: "It's still out there for us. When we do it right, we can play with anybody in the league." 

#########################################################################

The Dolphins made this abundantly clear during the offseason:

They needed to develop their young players, mostly their own draft picks, and give them meaningful roles, instead of throwing free agent money at every position.

As a theory, in a vacuum, that approach seems prudent.

But it doesn’t work if the players are flawed.

And in the Dolphins’ case, that invest-in-your-own approach hasn’t worked out nearly as well as management hoped at three positions that concerned them all offseason: guard, strongside linebacker and boundary cornerback.

Last spring, the Dolphins decided they would invest in three young guards (Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas), an undrafted second-year player at strongside linebacker (Chris McCain) and second- and third-round draft picks at the cornerback spot opposite Brent Grimes (Jamar Taylor and Will Davis).

The only veterans added at those positions were journeymen making at or near the minimum: guard/tackle Jeff Linkenbach, guard Jacques McClendon, linebacker Spencer Paysinger and cornerback Zack Bowman. Brice McCain was given a two-year, $5.5 million deal to replace Jimmy Wilson at slot corner.

The Chris McCain project fall apart rather quickly; he was beaten out by Kelvin Sheppard in training camp, meaning Koa Misi returned to strongside linebacker, and McCain was then shifted to fifth-string defensive end.

And even with the injury to Cameron Wake, McCain has played only 37 snaps all season, including just four Sunday.

At guard, Douglas – the team’s 2015 fourth-round pick – was benched after four weeks, after allowing the most quarterback hurries of any guard in the league.

Turner, who replaced him, hasn’t been awful but has had a few regrettable penalties and is rated in the bottom half of guards by Pro Football Focus (58th of 81).

The bigger problem has been Thomas, who is rated 80th of 81 qualifying guards by PFF. The fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to Dallas epitomized Thomas’ struggles as a Dolphin.

With Miami trailing 21-14 early in the fourth, Thomas was beaten by a Cowboys rusher on third down, forcing Ryan Tannehill to throw the ball prematurely (and inaccurately) to Jarvis Landry.

On Miami’s next drive, with the Cowboys leading 24-14, Tyrone Crawford beat Thomas for a sack on 2nd and 6, resulting in an 11-yard loss. The Dolphins punted two plays later.

At cornerback, the Dolphins are still searching for an above-average option opposite Brent Grimes. They hoped Taylor or Davis would be, but Davis was dealt to Baltimore for a seventh-round pick on Sept. 21 and then sustained a torn ACL for the second time in a year.

Taylor, meanwhile, has slipped to 105th of 112 qualifying cornerbacks, according to PFF’s ratings of 2015 performance.

This is also disconcerting: Taylor has allowed 33 of the 50 passes thrown in his coverage area to be caught this season, and 70 of 103 in his career, equaling 68 percent.

On Sunday, Taylor allowed four catches for 79 yards against Terrance Williams, committed a defensive holding penalty (which negated a drive-ending sack by Olivier Vernon), and was beaten by Williams for a touchdown pass on that drive. “I played horrible,” Taylor said.

Pro Football Focus was unforgiving in its analysis of Taylor:

“The Dolphins’ issues in the secondary mostly center on the struggles of the corners,” PFF said Monday. “Brent Grimes (+0.1 Sunday) is having a down season, even if he had a solid game against the Cowboys, especially in coverage (+1.2). Really though, it’s right corner Jamar Taylor who is the biggest issue.

“He has graded positively just three times all year and had a few really poor games in coverage. This was the worst of his season, as he recorded a -3.8 grade. Taylor gave up all five targets as completions for 98 yards and a touchdown. He allowed himself to get beat deep on the third-and-long for Williams’ touchdown.

“Taylor subsequently gave up a number of underneath throws, particularly comebacks, falling down on one such play. It enabled the Cowboys to move the ball efficiently without having to take any risks.”

Two weeks ago, the Dolphins were hopeful that rookie fifth-round pick Bobby McCain could become a major factor at boundary corner. But after playing 95 snaps against Philadelphia, McCain played only one on Sunday.

 

NOTEWORTHY

### The Dolphins allocated only 33 snaps to their entire 2015 draft class on Sunday: four by first-round receiver DeVante Parker, 16 for second-round defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, 12 for fifth-round running back Jay Ajayi and one for McCain. (Undrafted rookies played more than drafted rookies.)

The Dolphins need to get their rookie draft picks more work when they’re realistically/mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, if not sooner.

### PFF gave Reshad Jones his best grade of the season on Sunday (a plus 3.8). He’s rated second among all safeties.

### PFF praised the work of Olivier Vernon, who had three hits, three hurries, a sack and another sack taken away by penalty in 31 pass-rushing chances.

He also had four tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage on running plays. Derrick Shelby, conversely, was given a poor grade Sunday (minus 3.8).

### Greg Jennings received only two snaps Sunday, and one of them ended with Rolando McClain’s interception return of Ryan Tannehill for a touchdown.

### In the absence of Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins, linebacker snaps were allocated thusly: Sheppard 70 of 71, Neville Hewitt 57, Zach Vigil 27, Mike Hull 7 and Chris McCain 4.

Monday Dolphins: Dan Campbell address issues; Develop-your-own approach hasn't paid dividends at three problematic positions; Fins nuggets

Highlights from Dan Campbell's news conference today:

### The team had a meeting today that became emotional at times. Ndamukong Suh was among those who spoke up and, according to a source fully briefed on the meeting, was angry and direct and blunt with his teammates, calling for accountability.

But Dan Campbell declined to discuss what Suh said, saying it should stay in the building.

"We pointed out our errors and guys owned up to them and had a good talk about it," Campbell said. "We always have emotional days after a loss. Guys handled it well. They took ownership. There were enough guys that were frustrated. There is one cure and it's winning. Things are going to be said that people don't mean, no matter who you are."

### Campbell went over the bad plays with the entire team and "I said tell me what happened on this play? We had guys who took ownership of it. They owned up to it. It wasn't a call-out session. It was a take ownership session. Guys did that. To me, it's a step in the right direction."

### On Suh: "The more you can move him around, especially when you move him out to the end, he's less likely to get doubled. The odds of him getting doubled go way down. We felt it would be good to move him around, get some mismatches on the end. Suh has played good football and is trying to bring guys with him."

### On Vernon: "Olivier has played good football, really stepped up his game."

### He said Bobby McCain's snaps dropped to 95 a week ago to 1 on Sunday because of "Brice McCain's injury. Bobby is really a nickel. We had a package with Philly."

### "We need to do a much better job on play action passes. When we do it right, we can be good. We are good when we protect [Ryan Tannehill]."

### On why Misi didn't play: "Koa felt OK [a couple hours before the game]. After warmups, after he was able to warm up and move around, he couldn't go."

### He said he needs to do a better job telling players specifically why they're called for penalties during practice.

### On being 1 for 10 on third down: "There were two good set-ups. We had an opportunity to make the play and we didn't. That's two of them. We put ourselves in a bind. Penalties killed us, which put us in third and long."

### On Matt Darr's personal foul penalty: "It hurt us, cost us. Maybe we should find another position for him to play as well as punter. The penalty cost us, but the kid was trying to make a play. We probably have the toughest punter in the league or most aggressive."

### On why Miami (again) didn't run more: "Lamar [Miller] had a pretty good average, Jay [Ajayi] had it going. I would always tilt toward wanting to run it more than we do.... We kind of did what we had to do."

He mentioned when Miami ran it three times in a row, a holding call on Jason Fox made it 3rd and nine and foiled that drive.

"When you want to run it more, you get crap like that," Campbell said, not mentioning Fox by name.

### On why he punted down 10 with just under seven minutes left: "Was our defense great? No. It was good. I thought we would get a pin. Thought we wouldn't have to use timeouts."

### Can Miami win if it continues being unable to top 20 points (the Dolphins have topped 20 twice in 10 games).

"My first answer is no. But then your defense has to really pull the slack. If they need to do that, make sure the opponent doesn't score one more point than us, then that's how it goes. [But] that's a hard way to live. We need to be more scoring more than 21 points a game."

### On life at 4-6: "It's still out there for us. When we do it right, we can play with anybody in the league." 

#########################################################################

The Dolphins made this abundantly clear during the offseason:

They needed to develop their young players, mostly their own draft picks, and give them meaningful roles, instead of throwing free agent money at every position.

As a theory, in a vacuum, that approach seems prudent.

But it doesn’t work if the players are flawed.

And in the Dolphins’ case, that invest-in-your-own approach hasn’t worked out nearly as well as management hoped at three positions that concerned them all offseason: guard, strongside linebacker and boundary cornerback.

Last spring, the Dolphins decided they would invest in three young guards (Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas), an undrafted second-year player at strongside linebacker (Chris McCain) and second- and third-round draft picks at the cornerback spot opposite Brent Grimes (Jamar Taylor and Will Davis).

The only veterans added at those positions were journeymen making at or near the minimum: guard/tackle Jeff Linkenbach, guard Jacques McClendon, linebacker Spencer Paysinger and cornerback Zack Bowman. Brice McCain was given a two-year, $5.5 million deal to replace Jimmy Wilson at slot corner.

The Chris McCain project fall apart rather quickly; he was beaten out by Kelvin Sheppard in training camp, meaning Koa Misi returned to strongside linebacker, and McCain was then shifted to fifth-string defensive end.

And even with the injury to Cameron Wake, McCain has played only 37 snaps all season, including just four Sunday.

At guard, Douglas – the team’s 2015 fourth-round pick – was benched after four weeks, after allowing the most quarterback hurries of any guard in the league.

Turner, who replaced him, hasn’t been awful but has had a few regrettable penalties and is rated in the bottom half of guards by Pro Football Focus (58th of 81).

The bigger problem has been Thomas, who is rated 80th of 81 qualifying guards by PFF. The fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to Dallas epitomized Thomas’ struggles as a Dolphin.

With Miami trailing 21-14 early in the fourth, Thomas was beaten by a Cowboys rusher on third down, forcing Ryan Tannehill to throw the ball prematurely (and inaccurately) to Jarvis Landry.

On Miami’s next drive, with the Cowboys leading 24-14, Tyrone Crawford beat Thomas for a sack on 2nd and 6, resulting in an 11-yard loss. The Dolphins punted two plays later.

At cornerback, the Dolphins are still searching for an above-average option opposite Brent Grimes. They hoped Taylor or Davis would be, but Davis was dealt to Baltimore for a seventh-round pick on Sept. 21 and then sustained a torn ACL for the second time in a year.

Taylor, meanwhile, has slipped to 105th of 112 qualifying cornerbacks, according to PFF’s ratings of 2015 performance.

This is also disconcerting: Taylor has allowed 33 of the 50 passes thrown in his coverage area to be caught this season, and 70 of 103 in his career, equaling 68 percent.

On Sunday, Taylor allowed four catches for 79 yards against Terrance Williams, committed a defensive holding penalty (which negated a drive-ending sack by Olivier Vernon), and was beaten by Williams for a touchdown pass on that drive. “I played horrible,” Taylor said.

Pro Football Focus was unforgiving in its analysis of Taylor:

“The Dolphins’ issues in the secondary mostly center on the struggles of the corners,” PFF said Monday. “Brent Grimes (+0.1 Sunday) is having a down season, even if he had a solid game against the Cowboys, especially in coverage (+1.2). Really though, it’s right corner Jamar Taylor who is the biggest issue.

“He has graded positively just three times all year and had a few really poor games in coverage. This was the worst of his season, as he recorded a -3.8 grade. Taylor gave up all five targets as completions for 98 yards and a touchdown. He allowed himself to get beat deep on the third-and-long for Williams’ touchdown.

“Taylor subsequently gave up a number of underneath throws, particularly comebacks, falling down on one such play. It enabled the Cowboys to move the ball efficiently without having to take any risks.”

Two weeks ago, the Dolphins were hopeful that rookie fifth-round pick Bobby McCain could become a major factor at boundary corner. But after playing 95 snaps against Philadelphia, McCain played only one on Sunday.

 

NOTEWORTHY

### The Dolphins allocated only 33 snaps to their entire 2015 draft class on Sunday: four by first-round receiver DeVante Parker, 16 for second-round defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, 12 for fifth-round running back Jay Ajayi and one for McCain. (Undrafted rookies played more than drafted rookies.)

The Dolphins need to get their rookie draft picks more work when they’re realistically/mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, if not sooner.

### PFF gave Reshad Jones his best grade of the season on Sunday (a plus 3.8). He’s rated second among all safeties.

### PFF praised the work of Olivier Vernon, who had three hits, three hurries, a sack and another sack taken away by penalty in 31 pass-rushing chances.

He also had four tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage on running plays. Derrick Shelby, conversely, was given a poor grade Sunday (minus 3.8).

### Greg Jennings received only two snaps Sunday, and one of them ended with Rolando McClain’s interception return of Ryan Tannehill for a touchdown.

### In the absence of Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins, linebacker snaps were allocated thusly: Sheppard 70 of 71, Neville Hewitt 57, Zach Vigil 27, Mike Hull 7 and Chris McCain 4.

### Please check back later for comments from Dan Campbell's Monday press conference... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

 

November 21, 2015

Assessing Dolphins' 2015 personnel moves in retrospect; Dolphins, Canes, Heat, Marlins tidbits

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Most every team, if given the benefit of hindsight, would change at least a few of their personnel moves from the previous offseason.

Assessing the Dolphins’ machinations, in retrospect:

FREE AGENCY

The most regrettable decision? Not signing a veteran guard, particularly Evan Mathis, who passed on Miami’s offer, took $3.25 million from Denver, has graded out the best of any Broncos offensive player this season by a wide margin and ranks sixth among all NFL guards in 2015 performance, according to Pro Football Focus.

Two guards who got more sizable free agent deals – Cincinnati’s Clint Boling (five years, $26 million) and Arizona’s Mike Iupati (five years, $40 million) - are ranked 15th and 26th, respectively, among all guards.

Conversely, Dolphins starters Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas rank 67th and 80th in PFF’s evaluations, though the Dolphins believe Thomas has been much better than that.

Let’s be clear: The Dolphins, who have $11 million in cap space, had the money to address guard, even though they were reluctant to do it at the time. More space could have been created by simply not signing receiver Greg Jennings.

Jennings, who is making $2.5 million this season, has played sparingly in recent weeks and not been nearly as productive as the other veteran receiver Miami strongly considered, Michael Crabtree, who took $3.2 million in a one-year deal with Oakland and has had a renaissance there (51 catches, 646 yards, five touchdowns). But it's doubtful Crabtree would be playing as much here as he is with the Raiders.

Miami smartly avoided Dwayne Bowe, who signed for two years and $13 million with Cleveland and has three receptions. Andre Johnson, who wanted to sign here but never got a call, hasn’t played up to his three-year, $21 million deal with Indianapolis (24-288).

The Dolphins got decent value with Brice McCain (two years, $5.5 million). McCain has been neither great nor awful; he’s rated 61st by PFF; the 84.2 passer rating is his coverage area is best among Miami’s corners.

Miami also wanted Buster Skrine, who took four years and $25 million from the Jets. He has played inconsistently and is ranked 91st by PFF.

Though the Dolphins probably erred in not adding another quality corner, say this in Miami’s defense: None of the highest-priced veteran corners in the 2015 free agent market have been extraordinary elsewhere --- PFF ranks Tramon Williams 33rd but no picks for Cleveland, Davon House 35th, Perrish Cox 56th, Philadelphia $60 million man Byron Maxwell 78th, Antonio Cromartie 99th, Chris Culliver 100th and Brandon Browner 110th.

At safety, the Dolphins took a risk by re-signing Louis Delmas, who tore his ACL for the second time but still must be paid nearly $2.5 million. Da’Norris Searcy, who got four years and $24 million from Tennessee, would have been the best option; he ranks 11th among all safeties, per PFF.

But between Reshad Jones and Searcy, that would have been a lot of money invested at that position. Antrel Rolle, who some Dolphins fans coveted, ranks 38th among safeties after signing for three years and $11.2 million with Chicago. But Michael Thomas, sharing time with Walt Aikens, ranks 33rd.

The Ndamukong Suh signing is starting to pay dividends; PFF ranks Suh fourth among all defensive tackles.

The only other free agent tackle ranked in the top 20: Oakland’s Dan Williams, rated 14th. He came a lot cheaper than Suh (four years, $25 million) and is a good player but clearly not on Suh’s level.

Though Kelvin Sheppard isn’t a longterm answer at mike linebacker and has graded out poorly against the run, there wasn’t a clearly superior option in free agency, in retrospect. Brandon Spikes is out of the league and Mason Foster is a backup in Washington, having been cut by Chicago.

The Dolphins haven’t maximized Jordan Cameron’s skills, but it’s difficult to blast them for signing Cameron (two years, $15 million) over Charles Clay (five years, $38 million) because of the $19.5 million difference in guaranteed money, though Clay has nearly twice as many receptions (40 to 21).

DRAFT

This could end up being a lost year for DeVante Parker, but if his foot stays healthy (a big if), the Dolphins remain confident he will be an excellent receiver. Miami would have traded down from No. 14 for a cornerback if Parker had been off the board. In retrospect, that might have been a wise move regardless.

Marcus Peters, who was dismissed from the University of Washington football team, has been the best player selected 14 through 20 and PFF ranks him 42nd among all cornerbacks. He’s a starter for Kansas City and has four picks. Cornerback Kevin Johnson, picked 16th, is starting for Houston and has an interception, and PFF rates him 34th among corners.

Though Miami didn’t need a defensive tackle in the second round, the Jordan Phillips pick at No. 52 will be justified if he replaces Earl Mitchell eventually and becomes a quality starter.

If not, Miami will be deservedly criticized for trading down from 47 and not taking Bills cornerback Ronald Darby (picked 50th; ranks third among all corners, per PFF) or former Missouri guard Mitch Morse (picked 49th; PFF ranks him 10th among all centers, which he plays for Kansas City).

Miami considered Morse at 47 before trading down.

Guard Ali Marpet, chosen 61st, is a starter for Tampa and ranks 33rd among all guards. Miami also passed on UM linebacker Denzel Perryman, but he has played sparingly (only 67 snaps) for San Diego. Phillips very well could end up being the better player.

Nobody selected soon after guard Jamil Douglas, picked 114th, has been a revelation except outside linebacker Kwon Alexander, a starter for Tampa who has 63 tackles, two sacks and two picks. Alexander would have been the better pick in retrospect, though it was understandable why Miami picked a guard in that spot.

Among players the Dolphins passed up to select their fifth-rounders (Bobby McCain, Jay Ajayi, Tony Lippett and practice squad safety Cedric Thompson): Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs (30-507), Bills running back Karlos Williams (58-360) and Colts starting nose tackle David Parry. But McCain and Ajayi look like very good picks and Lippett might prove to be.

But Miami’s most regrettable move, in hindsight, was one every team made: Not using a fifth-round pick on guard La’El Collins, a first-round talent who’s starting for Dallas after being fully cleared in a murder investigation. PFF ranks him 37th among guards.

CHATTER

### One Marlins source said some teammates have grown resentful of Jose Fernandez because “they see that he’s Jeffrey Loria’s boy, just like Hanley Ramirez was treated differently by Jeffrey.” That Marlins person said Fernandez has become more entitled and cocky.

Another Marlins official said Fernandez's behavior has grown irritating. WINZ's Andy Slater reported this week about player discontentment with Fernandez....

What's more, yet another potential problem arose Friday when Fernandez insisted agent Scott Boras will be involved in the discussions regarding how many innings he will pitch next season. The Marlins have been adamant in saying Boras will not be involved.

But the Marlins say they are not inclined to trade him at this point, even though they know they likely will lose him after 2018.

### Among the free agent pitchers the Marlins have reached out to: John Lackey, Scott Kazmir and Tim Lincecum.

### With Dez Bryant visiting Sunday, here's one troubling sign with Brent Grimes: He’s relinquishing 16.6 yards per catch, which is 11th-worst in the NFL.

The other Dolphins corners: Brice McCain 13.9 (35th worst), Jamar Taylor 12.5 and Bobby McCain 11.0 (he has allowed 7 of 14 passes thrown in his coverage area to be caught). 

### Orangebloods.com, a popular Texas website, said the Longhorns will not fire Charlie Strong and Strong will not take the Miami job if offered. He interests UM if available.

### Now that UM has landed two top-30 recruits in the Class of 2016 (Dewan Huell and Bruce Brown), its next big target is 7-1 Miami High five-star center Zach Brown, rated the 18th best player in the 2017 class.

“Miami is a front-runner,” said Ticket of America CEO Michael Lipman, Brown’s legal guardian. “We’re excited about their coaching staff and the moves they’ve made [with the roster].” Lipman said Brown’s short list is UM, UCLA, Kentucky, Connecticut, Ohio State, North Carolina State and Georgia.

If Brown picks UM, the Hurricanes in 2017-18 would have a team with four players who were top 40 recruits in their respective class: Zach Brown, Huell, Bruce Brown, sophomore guard Ja’Quan Newton (37th by rivals), plus No. 99 sophomore James Palmer and No. 114 Rodney Miller (Class of 2016).

### Not only is Hassan Whiteside averaging more blocks per game than seven entire NBA teams, but his 4.55 average --- if he can sustain it --- would be the highest since Hakeem Olajuwon averaged 4.59 in 1989-90.

He said other players indicated they're surprised he’s doing this. “Kobe Bryant was surprised when I blocked his jumper; he said, ‘Oh, damn!’”

### Goran Dragic not only led all point guards in shooting percentage each of the past two seasons, but he also was the NBA’s only guard, period, to make at least half of his shots each of those years.

So it’s mystifying to Dragic why he entered Saturday shooting just 41.7 percent from the field, 23rd among point guards.

“I’ve lost a little bit of confidence on my shot, but I’m working on it,” Dragic said Saturday. “I’m staying after practice shooting the ball, trying to get back that feeling. I think I’m thinking too much about it.”

Two big differences with Dragic from a year ago:

### Last season, Dragic made 70 percent of his shots at the rim, best among guards. This season, he’s at 55.6 percent.

“I’m missing even easy shots, layups,” he said.

### Last season, Dragic made 35.5 percent of his shots beyond 10 feet. This season,  it’s 27.6 percent --- 4 for 17 from 10 to 16 feet, 4 for 12 from 17 feet to just before three-point range, and 8 for 31 on three-pointers (25.8 percent).

Also, Dragic is shooting 29.9 percent on jump shots, compared with 35.8 last season.

Nobody expected this, not after Dragic shot 50.5 percent and 50.1 percent from the field over the past two seasons.

“I’m getting all the shots I want,” Dragic said.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said his staff hasn’t changed anything mechanically with Dragic’s release because “we don’t want to break his shot. He’s proven he can shoot. The way I look at it, the odds are in our favor.”

### LeBron James’ departure diminished the Heat’s national profile, but it hasn’t affected the team’s popularity locally.

Saturday marked the 206th consecutive regular-season home sellout, a streak dating back to James’ first game with the Heat in the 2010-11 season. Ticket of America's Lipman said the Heat helped ensure strong premium seat sales by cutting prices this season.

What’s more, Heat games in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale TV market are averaging a 5.1 rating on Fox Sports Sun (a bit ahead of the 5.0 average last season) and 5.7 overall, when ESPN’s Heat ratings are factored in.

That means Heat ratings, among all NBA markets, rank fourth behind only Cleveland, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, and also means that 5.7 percent of Dade/Broward homes watch each Heat game, on average.

By contrast, Dolphins ratings remain worst in the country for NFL markets with only one team. The local ratings for the past two games (15.1 for Bills, 15.7 for Eagles) fall below last season’s 16.9 average.

And UM football ratings keep declining, from a 5.5 for the Clemson blowout, to 3.2 for Duke, 3.3 for Virginia and 2.4 for North Carolina, which is about 40,000 homes.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

November 20, 2015

Friday night Dolphins tidbits: LB, Parker, Personnel moves and more

Fifteen Friday night Dolphins notes:

### The linebacker situation is worrisome Sunday, with Jelani Jenkins doubtful with a sprained ankle and Koa Misi questionable with an abdominal injury.

That means a group of Neville Hewitt, Kelvin Sheppard and Misi on Sunday if Misi plays, as the Dolphins hope.

If Misi has a setback, then it's Hewitt, Sheppard and some combination of Mike Hull, Zach Vigil and Chris McCain. Spencer Paysinger, like Jenkins, also is doubtful.

McCain has split time this week between defensive end and linebacker.

"We're beat up a little bit, but we've gotten those young guys a ton of reps," Dan Campbell said. "We feel much better about Koa than Jelani."

### What do the Dolphins like about undrafted rookie Hewitt, who played decently in his first extended work last Sunday?

"He's a guy who made a lot of plays at Marshall," Campbell said. "He has a knack about it. He runs well. He's not a big guy, but he's pretty quick. He diagnoses things fast for a rookie and he's aggressive. He does do a good job in coverage."

Hewitt said he got scholarship offers from only two Power 5 conference schools: South Carolina and Purdue.

That's better than Zigil, who had no scholarship offers and walked on at Utah State.

### You've got to love Campbell's bravado.

Asked about the matchup between Ndamukong Suh and Cowboys guard Zack Martin (a first-round pick), Campbell said:

"I'll put my money on Suh any day. The way the guy is playing, what he's made of, I've got a lot of respect for Martin. He's a good player. But I'm putting my money on Suh any day, any time."

### Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said the cornerback competition opposite Brent Grimes will be an open competition each week and declined to commit to a starter for Sunday.

Jamar Taylor got a lot of first-team work and might start. But Bobby McCain and Brice McCain will also play a lot regardless, with Brice McCain working in the slot.

### Campbell said having Grimes shadow the opposing team's top receiver "has been good for us, has been productive for us overall. It helps everybody. There was a rough game against [Buffalo's] Sammy Watkins, but Brent wasn't feeling great that game."

### Campbell said the Dolphins have “changed some things schematically that I think are going to help” on third down. Miami ranks 31st in third-down conversions and last in fourth-down conversions.

### Campbell was non-committal about whether DeVante Parker would play more after not playing at all against Philadelphia.

"DeVante had another week of practice; it was better than it was last week," Campbell said. "We plan on taking him to the game [meaning one of the 46 active]. Hopefully, he gets more reps than zero. It can only go up from there."

### Campbell said he's somewhat concerned about continuing to use a player with a hand injury on kickoff returns (Damien Williams).

But "the thing is healing up pretty fast and I believe it’s something he can do," he said. "I think the risk is always going to be there somewhat, but we’re a little bit limited in who we can use too. We certainly could use Jarvis Landry, like we did in the beginning of the season, but we certainly don’t want to wear Jarvis out.”

### Campbell summarized Sunday's challenge thusly: "We have to find a way to create momentum early. [Tony Romo] needs to find Suh in his face a few times. If he gets going early and doesn't feel anything and gets in rhythm having been off [seven] weeks, that's where we can get into trouble. We need to score and score early. And not just three points. We need touchdowns."

### Campbell on his offensive tackles: "Branden Albert is playing good football and he's only getting better. Jason Fox had a solid week last week. He looks like he's playing with a lot of confidence. I feel like he's going to have a good game for us."

### But Campbell said one reason the team hasn't maximized the receiving skills of the tight ends is that they've been needed to help on pass protection. 

### Dolphins' offensive rankings: 19th in yards per game and 25th in points but 10th in yards per play and fourth in rushing yards per attempt. They're first in gross punting average. Weeee!

### Dolphins' defensive rankings: 26th in yards, 20th in points, 23rd in yards per play, 31st in rushing yards per game, 21st in third-down efficiency.

### Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor asserted that Ryan Tannehill's pocket presence "is much improved over what he was last year."

### Fox is sending the game to 11 percent of the country (see 506sports.com for a map), with the network's No. 2 team (Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch) on the call.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz