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Noon update: Mario Williams speaks; UM with worrisome situation at cornerback; Richt on Kaaya; UM hoops; Dolphins free agency notes; Eye-opening Joe Johnson numbers

Noon update:

What Mario Williams had to say in his just-completed conference call:

### Williams said the Dolphins' coaching staff appealed to him and that he liked owner Stephen Ross.

"I was able to have background information on a lot of our guys who were there, played under certain coaches," he said. "The direction the organization wants to go with top to bottom was appealing. I've never been in a room with an owner; he was full of energy. You're talking to somebody with so much enthusiasm, so much energy and passion for the team. It [went] straight down to the last guy."

He decided not to take a lot of other visits because of "the level of excitement and positives I had from them. It was almost a no-brainer."

### He likes the Dolphins' "mindset" and "what we're planning on doing. I felt like I could be a big part of that. I talked to Earl Mitchell. I was fortunate enough to speak to him on the phone. We're all in."

He said he also has spoken to Mike Pouncey and Ryan Tannehill. "You pick their brain about general flow of things as far as being there in Miami."

### Williams declined to specifically address anonymous quotes from Bills players (in the Buffalo News) that were critical of him. "The biggest thing talking to the Dolphins is it brings excitement and a level of energy I feel I've never had before. Whatever scheme that's run, you're going to see who Mario Williams is. Everything is going to be fine,... right where it needs to be. I feel like I'm still young -- stronger, faster than I was."

### He said: "Every day I wake up, I feel I have something to prove. I can't wait."

### On his sack numbers falling from double digits to five last season: "Last year wasn't a great year. It was a minor setback. But nothing feels better than knowing as a Dolphin, I'm going to have an impact and help the Dolphins get in a better place."

### On new Dolphins teammate Kiko Alonso, with whom he played in Buffalo: "He's a natural football player. [Because of his play calls in the huddle], we always give him a bunch of crap when I played with him before. He's going to do nothing but ball."

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WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Hurricanes chatter:

• When UM begins its first spring practice under Mark Richt next week, Miami’s situation at cornerback should very much concern him. I can’t recall UM having such little proven depth, and so much uncertainty, at that position, with only one player with substantial experience (Corn Elder) and just five other natural corners on the 2016 roster.

UM is in this predicament because of early departures (Artie Burns), questionable evaluations by the former staff, and top recruit Tyler Byrd’s decision to flip to Tennessee on the eve of National Signing Day. 

That means first-year cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph, the only former Hurricanes player on the assistant coaching staff, might have the toughest job of any UM assistant.

“I’m not worried,” Rumph said. “One of my best attributes is I feel I can create corners or take a corner as a project and make him a good player. I expect them to play like the top corners in the country. I have two walk-on corners; we have a good amount of safeties; and we have some linebackers who might be able to play defensive back as well. There’s a way we are going to have enough cornerbacks.”

Rumph said he sees “a lot of Duane Starks” in the 5-10 Elder, who had four tackles for loss and two interceptions last season.  “I want him to be more of a Phillip Buchanon, lock-down corner,” Rumph said.

A quick look at the others:

• Sophomore Sheldrick Redwine, 6-1, who saw some action at corner last season, was consistently praised by last year’s staff and appears to have the best shot to start opposite Elder. He was rated the No. 43 cornerback in the country last season after picking off seven passes as a senior at Miami Killian. “Redwine is going to be a great player,” Rumph said.

• Sophomore Ryan Mayes, 6-1, who played largely on special teams last season, was portrayed as a rangy, play-making corner when he arrived as a three-star prospect from Miami Northwestern, but he hasn’t fulfilled expectations. “I’m looking to get more [from him],” Rumph said.

• Sophomore Michael Jackson, 6-2, played in 12 games on special teams and was a four-star prospect coming out of Birmingham, Ala, choosing UM over Minnesota and Nebraska.

• Sophomore Terrance Henley, 6-0, played only on special teams. He had nine interceptions in his final two seasons at Pompano Beach Blanche Ely, but was lightly recruited, choosing UM over James Madison, UAB, FIU, Temple, Tennessee State and Southwest Baptist.

• Malek Young, 5-9, is the only natural corner among the four incoming defensive backs, according to coaches. ESPN rated him the 34th-best cornerback in this class, and he was highly-recruited, choosing UM over Clemson, Ohio State, FSU and Georgia, among others.

“I got emotional when Malek committed to us,” Rumph said. “I know what it’s like to be committed to a team going through so much turmoil. Very natural, really good ball skills. Amazing kid, a thinker, very articulate.”

Of the other incoming defensive backs, Romeo Finley, Cedric Wright and Jeff James are safeties, though defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said James can play some corner.

Rumph and safeties coach Ephraim Banda said some of the safeties can play a corner-type role if needed, including Jaquan Johnson, who figures to get work at corner.

“We are going to put the best four, five, six guys on the field,” Banda said.

Former four-star cornerback JC Jackson has Miami as his No. 1 choice, according to his junior college coach. But after Rumph called Jackson and the coach expressing interest, we're told that UM –-- at least for now --– has stopped recruiting Jackson, who was acquitted on armed robbery charges last November. This was a decision of the coaching staff and the reason is unclear.

“We are going to have to grow up in a hurry at a position where any mistake is usually a touchdown,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “We’re not going to do anything to put our corners in harms way. We want to be aggressive, but we also realize that giving up big plays is the surest way to get beat.”

• Richt raved about Brad Kaaya in a taped appearance on WQAM's Hurricane Hotline tonight.

He's "very smart, tremendous passing fundamentals, very, very accurate passer," Richt said. "He’s a guy, certainly, who’s been to war not only for one year, but two years. He understands the league. Now we’ve just got to teach him what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it and try not mess him up, because he’s a heck of a ballplayer.”

Kaaya has a generous soul, and Richt says he has a "hard time saying no" to certain requests, whether it be in community events or interviews.

“We have to help protect him from himself a little bit,” Richt said. “Help him focus on school, focus on football, have some free time to be a student and be a kid. He’s a guy everybody really likes, because when you have a guy like that with a humble spirit and a servant’s heart, people enjoy that. A lot of people want Brad Kaaya to go to this event or that event and be in the media, be the face of the program.”

• Guard Sheldon McClellan said he’s hearing from NBA people that he’s a late first or early second-round pick. “They want me to be more aggressive [offensively]; we need a Tournament run [to help],” he said.

McClellan shot an impressive 49.5 percent from the field (top among ACC guards) and ranked third in offensive efficiency nationally among high-usage players.

“I’m proud of how efficient I am; when I was at Texas, people compared me to [then Kansas, now Sacramento Kings guard] Ben McLemore, said I wasn’t efficient,” he said. “[North Carolina coach] Roy Williams told me I’m a great player.”

• Angel Rodriguez remains an erratic three-point shooter (30 percent last season and this season), but here’s a big difference, besides his improved assist-to-turnover ratio: He shot a whopping 18 percentage points better on two-pointers this season (54.9, up from 36.9 last season).

His shot selection is better and “Angel has a real sense of the moment,” assistant coach Chris Caputo told WQAM. “He has a way of inspiring his teammates.”

• Guard Ja’Quan Newton’s return from a three-game suspension will help in the ACC Tournament this week.

"Ja'Quan I believe is the best sixth man in the ACC and maybe in college basketball,” coach Jim Larranaga said. “We missed him. He's such a good offensive player attacking the basket, getting to the foul line. We'll be excited to have him back, but we want him to be focused on continuing to be a great sixth man."

CHATTER

• With Mario Williams signing tonight, the questions now turn to how Miami will surround him at defensive end. A few points:

1) Yahoo reports tonight that the Dolphins are expected to remove the transition tag from Olivier Vernon. This would be welcomed news to Vernon, who doesn't oppose staying in Miami if the money is right but is fully aware that the Dolphins don't want to pay him what other teams likely will. Vernon expects to move on from the Dolphins, as he told Peter King in a first-person account for MMQB.com. 

[UPDATE: The Dolphins removed Vernon's tag this morning.]

2) In a perfect world, the Dolphins would prefer to use Cameron Wake as a pass-rush specialist in a rotation with Mario Williams and potentially William Hayes, who remains a top Dolphins target.

Whether the Dolphins will bid enough to land Hayes remains the question. But the Dolphins want a third defensive end who can play a ton of snaps, especially on run downs.

CBS and NFL Net reported today that Wake is staying with the Dolphins, even with Williams' addition. We reported last week that the Dolphins have told people they intend to keep Wake, though they've stopped short of giving him that assurance.

• The Dolphins would like to upgrade longterm over weakside linebacker Jelani Jenkins if they can because they don't view him as an ideal fit physically in their defense, even though he's cheap and productive.

They remain interested in Bengals free agent Vincent Rey, among others. But Jenkins would remain a starter if Miami can't find someone better at a reasonable price.

• The Dolphins have shown interest in re-signing defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, who was released Dec. 1 after injuring his calf. If that happens, Miami could return with mostly the same group of defensive tackles: Ndamukong Suh, Earl Mitchell, Jordan Phillips and Mosley.

• According to the Houston Chronicle, the Texans have zeroed in on Lamar Miller and reports he would cost $6.5 million per year --- more than what Miami is willing to offer. The Dolphins would have had interest in Chris Ivory, but not at the price Jacksonville agreed tonight to pay him ($6 million per).

If Miller leaves, Miami will look to find a running back at a reasonable price from a group potentially including Bilal Powell, Ronnie Hillman, and maybe Matt Forte, plus restricted free agent C.J. Anderson (has a low-round Broncos tender) and Alfred Morris (some inside the Dolphins like Morris).

• Please see the last post for more Dolphins free agent news from Tuesday.

• How much of a godsend has Joe Johnson been to the Heat? He’s 8 for 12 on three-pointers for a team that had ranked last in the NBA in three-point shooting at the time of his addition (31 percent).

Since Jan. 1 (including 25 games for the Nets and five for the Heat), he’s shooting an absurd 48.2 percent on threes (54 for 112). That’s highest among NBA players who have taken at least 60 threes in this calendar year. No. 2 on the list: Stephen Curry (47.2 percent, 154 for 326).

"Joe came at the perfect time," Dwyane Wade said. "We were missing something. He's been that missing piece for us."

What’s more, since Jan. 1, Johnson is shooting 50.3 percent overall and 92.2 percent on free throws (47 for 51).

Goran Dragic said Tuesday how much “more space” he and Wade have to “drive and create” now because defenses “respect [Johnson's] shot [and] can’t close late on him.”

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

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