Four quick things before we get to the Sunday buzz column:
1) Two quick updates on UM spring football practice, which begins Tuesday: UM says Trevor Darling and Jahair Jones --- who were arrested last week --- will be at practice Tuesday. So they're not suspended. Here was Susan Miller Degnan's story on where the case stands:
Also learned today: Linebacker Darrion Owens and offensive tackle Sonny Odogwu will be limited throughout spring practice. Both are believed to have knee issues, with Owens coming off knee surgery.
2) 9 a.m. Monday update: Longtime NFL defensive end Chris Clemons is at Dolphins headquarters visiting with team officials today, according to a source.
Clemons, 34, has 69 career sacks, including 37 for Seattle from 2010 to 2013. He started 11 games for Jacksonville in 2014 and had eight sacks and four forced fumbles.
Last season, he played in 16 games for the Jaguars, starting eight, and had 14 tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble.
The Dolphins apparently want to consider multiple options for a significant defensive end role, as part of a rotation with Mario Williams (who figures to play the vast majority of downs) and Cam Wake (the Dolphins don't want to overwork him). Defensive end Jason Jones visited Saturday.
Clemons has other suitors but will not book additional visits until after this visit is concluded and he sees whether a quick signing here is realistic for either party.
3) Found this notable: WSVN-7's Steve Shapiro, on his Sunday night show (Sports Xtra), said tonight that he spoke to Dolphins executive vice president/football operations Mike Tannenbaum on Sunday and said Tannenbaum told him that "after the deals they've made so far, the 2016 Dolphins would kick the crap out of the 2015 Dolphins. He used another word."
The Dolphins have added five projected starters (d-end Mario Williams, cornerback Byron Maxwell, linebacker Kiko Alonso, safety Isa Abdul-Quddus and Jermon Bushrod, a tackle who will get a chance at guard), as well as backup offensive tackle Sam Young. The Dolphins also are waiting a Broncos decision on whether they will match Miami's offer for running back CJ Anderson; there are conflicting reports elsewhere tonight about the likelihood of that.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins lost four starters (Brent Grimes, Olivier Vernon, Lamar Miller and Rishard Matthews), have chosen not to resign Kelvin Sheppard to this point and parted ways with slot corner Brice McCain, receiver Greg Jennings and offensive tackle Jason Fox.
Your thoughts on Tannenbaum's comment? Weigh in below if you like.
4) 6 p.m.: Just announced: UM is playing Buffalo is in its NCAA Tournament opener Thursday in Providence, at 6:50 p.m. on TNT, with Ian Eagle, Chris Webber and Len Elmore assigned by CBS and Turner to that venue. If it wins its opener, UM --- the third seed in the South Region -- would then play against the winner of the game between Arizona and the winner of the Vanderbilt/Wichita State first four game. So UM's second game, presuming it beats heavy underdog Buffalo, would be Saturday in Providence.
The top two seeds in the South are Kansas and Villanova. UM is third. We'll have more on the UM hoops team in the days ahead. Meanwhile, here's lots of UM football talk:
SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
With spring practice opening Tuesday, the list of issues that Mark Richt needs to fix with this Hurricanes football program is pretty substantial. Some buzz on five critical ones and what UM coaches are saying about them:
• Rushing defense. One constant in recent years: The Canes have usually been gouged by opponents that run the ball effectively. Miami finished 102nd of 127 FBS teams in run defense last season, allowing 201 yards per game.
By contrast, how have new coordinator Manny Diaz’s defenses fared against the run?
It’s a mixed bag. In his last four full seasons as a coordinator (2011 and 2012 with Texas, 2014 with Louisiana Tech and 2015 with Mississippi State), his units ranked sixth, 101st, 23rd and 70th vs. the run.
UM returns a decent group of defensive tackles, including Courtel Jenkins, Kendrick Norton, Anthony Moten, former Gator Gerald Willis (impressive on the scout team). But there’s no can’t-miss star in the group (though Norton and Willis have high ceilings). The linebackers and ends also must do a better job against the run.
“First and foremost, we’ve got to improve our run defense,” Diaz said. “We’ve got to make it harder to run the football on because if they can run it on you, they can do whatever they want to. That will be a major point of emphasis this spring. We have to get the guys we have to be better. There’s no free agency. We are going to make sure we are defined by our toughness first. And the toughest guys will play.”
• More pressure on the quarterback. UM ranked 61st, 115th, 44th, 63rd and 65th in sacks in Mark D’Onofrio’s five years as coordinator. By comparison, Diaz’s defenses ranked 30th, 16th, 16th and 42nd in sacks in his last four full seasons as a coordinator.
Diaz blitzes more than D’Onofrio did and lets his linemen play more instinctively, something players are excited about.
“You can’t have robots,” UM cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph said. “[Last season], I saw as an outsider looking in, just watching, some days it was players not playing tough, some days not enough energy. Who knew what it was? [This defense] is going to be really fun. We want to get the fun back into the game.”
• Rushing offense. UM averaged a meager 3.4 yards per carry last season, which ranked 102nd of 127 teams, and down from 5.2 in 2014, when Duke Johnson received the majority of carries.
Conversely, Georgia ranked 8th and 16th in yards per carry the past two seasons, at 6.0 and 5.2.
Former coordinator James Coley said blocking was primarily to blame for UM’s low rushing average last season. Ballyhooed freshman Mark Walton averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and said he improved only when he stopped trying to appease the former coaches.
Every running back and starting offensive linemen return, and UM also welcomes back Gus Edwards (5.4 career average) from injury.
Richt intends to use a fullback more than UM did last season. “You look at what's he done in the past, he's been very successful with a fullback in the game,” said tight ends coach Todd Hartley, who was on Richt’s staff at Georgia. “I would think he would want to try to find one. We have some guys on campus we think can do that.”
Respected offensive line coach Stacy Searels, Art Kehoe’s replacement, said: “We are going to have the KISS philosophy. Keep it simple, stupid, and play fast. We are in a system we’re very comfortable with. It’s a system we ran at LSU and Georgia.”
• Third down offensive issues and predictability. UM converted only 35 percent of third-down chances into first downs, ranking 107th in the country.
And that’s nothing new. UM was 98th in 2013, 95th in 2014. That’s clearly underachieving considering Miami’s talent level. In the Sun Bowl, in particular, too many third-down throws were well short of the first down line, reminiscent of the Dolphins.
Georgia --- under Richt --- was awful on third downs last season (119th, 31.3 percent), but that appears to be an anomaly and Richt did not call the plays, something he will do at Miami. The Bulldogs were 17th in third down conversions in 2012 and ninth in 2014 (49.1 percent).
Then there’s the predictability issue on offense, which was apparently more of a problem than most knew. According to a UM offensive player, Clemson and North Carolina players were calling out UM’s plays seconds before they were run. Under Richt, UM presumably will become less predictable in certain formations.
This staff wants to leave defenses guessing.
“It's a multiple pro style offense,” Hartley said. “People think pro style, they think two back, I-formation. There's going to be some of that. There's also going to be a lot of one-back, too.
“You go back and look at his last few years at Georgia, they were shotgun probably more than they were under center. They were three wide receivers and a tight end [some]. He is going to do what best fits the personnel on the roster.”
• Penalties. Richt has told people that UM must become more disciplined, and that’s pretty obvious. UM’s 84 penalty yards per game led the nation.
Hoping it translates to the field, Richt has tried to build discipline by making players run early-morning sprints if they’re a minute late to a meeting or have messy locker-room. If one player messes up in arduous “mat drills,” the entire position group must do the exercise again.
From a penalty perspective, Georgia had mixed recent results under Richt. Georgia ranked in the bottom half of penalty yards from 2011 through 2013 (67th, 91st, 69th) but had the 27th and 25th fewest penalty yards the past two seasons.
• Yes, we understand the Dolphins walking away from Olivier Vernon and Lamar Miller when the price kept going beyond what they imagined.
But this is disconcerting: Between 2008 and 2013, only 15 of their 49 draft picks turned out to be above average players. And of those 15 good ones, eight left after their rookie contract and/or in their mid 20s (including Vernon and Miller) and a ninth was traded after three seasons (Vontae Davis).
The other six? Brian Hartline left after six seasons, leaving Ryan Tannehill, Reshad Jones, Mike Pouncey, Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi (generously) as the only remaining above average players from those six drafts. That’s deplorable.
• If the price is right, the Dolphins have by no means ruled out signing a prominent past-his-prime but accomplished free-agent receiver to replace Rishard Matthews and Greg Jennings. Andre Johnson would love to finish his career here; Anquan Boldin, Marques Colston, Roddy White and Percy Harvin (still only 27) are also available.
But they indicated they prefer to revisit this later in free agency.
• Denver has until 2 p.m. Tuesday to inform the Dolphins whether they will match Miami's offer for running back CJ Anderson. The agent for another free agent who has spoken to the Dolphins said Miami informed him that it's waiting on clarity on Anderson to know what its cap situation is.... Please see the last post for more Dolphins news from this weekend.
• Heat players have gotten a few memorable comments from opponents during games this season. Hassan Whiteside said the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford told him: “Man I don’t know how you get 10 blocks in a game. That’s just crazy!”
The Clippers’ Paul Pierce told Amar’e Stoudemire last month: “Welcome back from the dead.” And Josh Richardson said Thunder star Kevin Durant made a point to come over to him to say: “I like how hard you play.”
• Luol Deng's game-tying three pointer at the end of the regulation against Toronto was his eighth in 13 three-point attempts in crunch time this season. Crunch time, as defined by the NBA, is the final five minutes of games with a margin of five points or less.
That's the best shooting percentage of any NBA player who has attempted at least 10 clutch threes.
• The Marlins owe Dan Jennings the difference between his new salary and the $1.5 million they would have paid him this season if he hadn’t been fired. And the Marlins are fuming, and filed a grievance, because they’ve been told Washington is paying Jennings only $100,000 as a special assistant to general manager Mike Rizzo, which they believe is well below a salary commensurate with his responsibilities.