FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN
The Dolphins, for several years, have lacked high-level coaches who had a unique or special skill, men who could extract more from players than most others could. Joe Philbin and the recent coordinators certainly could not. But management believes new coach Adam Gase and new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph have that ability and they look at some of their offseason moves through that prism.
The Dolphins hired Gase convinced he could fix Ryan Tannehill. That’s based on Tim Tebow and Jay Cutler producing their best pro seasons with Gase, as well as Denver becoming the NFL’s first 600-point team with Gase calling plays in 2013.
Defensively, the Dolphins believe Joseph can help elevate some of their young players (Bobby McCain, Tony Lippett, Jamar Taylor) and implement a system that maximizes veterans coming off down seasons (Mario Williams, Byron Maxwell).
Incumbent defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo did good work with Lippett’s transition from receiver to cornerback, but Joseph excels in getting the most out of defensive backs (Pacman Jones, George Iloka and others), and he’s going to be hands-on with the Dolphins’ young corners and safeties.
As a rookie, McCain allowed a 107.5 passer rating in his coverage area, and 18 of 31 passes for be caught, for 264 yards. But with this staff, the Dolphins believe he can become a very good player, the ball-hawking corner who caught their eye at Memphis.
The Dolphins believe this staff can salvage Taylor, who had a 134.8 passer rating against. “I will be successful somewhere,” Taylor said at the end of the season, when he was unsure of his future. “I’ve learned from my mistakes.”
The Dolphins asked safety Walt Aikens, coming off labrum surgery, to learn cornerback as well as safety, and Joseph will work with him, too.
“I’ve seen so many players go from average to elite under Vance Joseph,” CBS analyst and Cincinnati-based ex-Bengals star linebacker Solomon Wilcots told The Finsiders.
What’s more, Dolphins management believes Joseph’s system will make Byron Maxwell a far better player than he was in Philadelphia and return Mario Williams to his 2014 level, when he had 14.5 sacks as a 4-3 defensive end, before producing just five as a 3-4 outside linebacker in 2015.
“We feel playing in our 4-3 under Vance Joseph will play to [Williams’] strengths – a bigger, longer guy,” Dolphins senior vice president/football operations Mike Tannenbaum said on his regular segment on ESPN Radio West Palm. “We think in our scheme, he can be a really good fit for us.”
And on Maxwell, “the way we are going to use the player, we're excited about him,” Tannenbaum said. “We like his length; we like his physicality. Those were things important to us in Vance Joseph's defense.”
Though Maxwell allowed a 100.7 passer rating in his coverage area last season, he was solid from Week 4 through Week 17: one touchdown allowed, two picks and a 76.9 passer rating against. In his three years in Seattle (2012-14), he had very good passer ratings against: 52.4, 57.8 and 78.5.
And what can the Dolphins expect from Williams?
“When he can pin his ears back and rush the passer, he can make a difference,” said Bills radio analyst Mark Kelso, who watched him closely last season. “He's not going to be the player he was at 24 and he's not going to take over a game like J.J. Watt can. If he's playing a top flight offensive tackle, he won't be as effective as when he was younger.
“But he's easily a mismatch for any tight end in the league; he will win those battles. I think he’s still got a lot left in the tank.”
The Dolphins agree, and the way Joseph will use him should help.
• The Heat’s ability to lure Joe Johnson for the veteran’s minimum of $1.5 million (prorated) is even more impressive considering this: Johnson said he turned down a $5 million offer (prorated) from an undisclosed team. We’re told Oklahoma City and Atlanta offered considerably more than Miami.
• Smart move by the Heat last summer to sign Josh Richardson for three seasons (using part of its mid-level exception) instead of two. That means Richardson will have full Bird rights when his contract expires. He will be a bargain the next two seasons: $874,000 next season, $1 million in 2017-18.
Richardson is shooting 64.1 percent on threes since the All-Star break (25 for 39). That's best in the league.
• Though there’s no UM depth chart released, players say Corn Elder and Sheldrick Redwine are with the first team at corner; Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter at safety (with Jaquan Johnson rotating in); and Jermaine Grace, Jamie Gordinier and Charles Perry at linebacker. Darrion Owens projects as a starter at linebacker when he returns from a knee injury.
Coaches have talked about Johnson's ability to play corner, but Johnson said he's working only at safety so far.
• ESPN's Jay Bilas, in an interview arranged through LG Electronics, said Tuesday he sees Miami making it to the South Regional Final.
“Miami has got everything,” he said. “They’re an older team. Their players are men. They know what it takes. They can shoot it. They are really big inside. Sheldon McClellan is a pro [player]. The key guy for them is Angel Rodriguez. When he’s playing well, they’re difficult to stop. When he shoots it well, Miami has been so hard to beat. I know they’re a No. 3 seed, but they’ve got the profile of a No. 2 seed. They are among the best teams. There’s not a team they can’t beat.”
Please see the last post for Saturday's NCAA Tournament TV schedule.
• Jarred Cosart (six scoreless innings this spring) is a front-runner for one of two open Marlins rotation spots, with Adam Conley (1.93 ERA, .200 batting average against) leading Justin Nicolino (2.16, .226) and Edwin Jackson for the other. Jackson pitched three scoreless innings Thursday after entering with 22.50 ERA.
• The Marlins haven't been aggressively looking for a reliever, despite Carter Capps' season-ending surgery. Despite a Fox report suggesting they could sign two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and make him a reliever, a Marlins source said that's not in the plans and they likely cannot afford him.
They liked starter Alfredo Simon and reached out to him, but weren't in position to sign him at the money the Reds gave him Thursday (up to $3.5 million).
• Responding to a Marlins’ grievance claiming that the Washington Nationals weren’t paying Dan Jennings a salary commensurate with his duties, we’re told commissioner Rob Manfred ruled in favor of the Nationals but said he’s open to re-evaluating after the season if Jennings’ duties expand beyond what the Nationals say (scouting in the Southeast).
Washington will pay Jennings $105,000 as a special assistant; the Marlins must cover the rest of the $1.5 million he would have been owed in 2016 if the Marlins hadn’t fired him as general manager.