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36 posts from May 2016

May 31, 2016

4 p.m.: PGA addresses move from Doral to Mexico; Trump speaks out; Maxwell ready to prove he's worth the investment; Heat, Marlins, UM football and baseball nuggets

4 p.m. update: The PGA confirmed that it has signed a seven-year deal to move the WGC Championships from Doral to Mexico City.

Since the debut of the World Golf Championships in 1999, the intent has always been to conduct these tournaments around the world,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem. “Once it became apparent that we would not be able to secure sponsorship at levels that would sustain the event and help it grow at Trump National Doral, we began having serious discussions with Ricardo and Benjamin Salinas, who expressed strong interest in bringing a tournament to Mexico City to benefit golf and its development throughout Mexico. We are very excited about this new opportunity and what it brings to the World Golf Championships.”
 
The Mexico Championship will be held at to-be-announced facility March 2-5, 2017.
 
The former Cadillac Championship has been held at Trump National Doral since 2007, with Cadillac serving as the title sponsor since 2011. From 1999 through 2006, the tournament was held in Spain, Ireland, England as well as the U.S. 
 
“We greatly appreciate everything that Cadillac, Trump National Doral and Donald Trump have done for the tournament,” Finchem said. “Cadillac has been a tremendous sponsor and Donald has been a most gracious host since taking over the property in 2013. In particular, his commitment to renovating the golf course and the overall facility at Doral was especially appreciated by the PGA TOUR and its members.”
 
“The PGA TOUR has had a wonderful history in greater Miami and at Trump National Doral and we remain interested in returning when the time is right,” Finchem added.

12:40 p.m. update: Donald Trump's spokesperson emailed, saying Trump wanted to share these thoughts on the PGA moving the Doral golf tournament to Mexico City:

"It is a sad day for Miami, the United States and the game of golf, to have the PGA Tour consider moving the World Golf Championships, which has been hosted in Miami for the last 55 years, to Mexico. No different than Nabisco, Carrier and so many other American companies, the PGA Tour has put profit ahead of thousands of American jobs, millions of dollars in revenue for local communities and charities and the enjoyment of hundreds of thousands of fans who make the tournament an annual tradition. This decision only further embodies the very reason I am running for President of the United States."

The Wednesday buzz column is below. First, some breaking news at 9:15 a.m.: The annual PGA golf tournament at Doral, a staple of South Florida sports for 54 years, is relocating to Mexico City, the tournament’s outgoing chairman said Wednesday.

Butch Buchholz, who ran the World Golf Championships at Trump National Doral, said the PGA informed him on Tuesday night that it made the decision to leave South Florida because it couldn’t find a title sponsor to replace Cadillac.

“I believe they are sincere when they said they didn't want to leave an event with a 54 year history,” Buchholz said. "They've got an obligation to their board and they couldn't find a sponsor so they had to move. They don't have a choice. The PGA Tour didn't have a choice. If you don't have a sponsor what can you do?”

Trump foreshadowed the news in an interview with Fox’s Sean Hannity on Tuesday night.

“I mean, I just heard that the PGA Tour is taking their tournament out of Miami and moving it to Mexico as an example,” Trump said. “They’re taking it — it’s at Doral, it’s at — they used one of my places. They’re moving their tournament, it’s the Cadillac World Golf Championship. And Cadillac’s been a great sponsor, but they’re moving it to Mexico. They’re moving it to Mexico City which, by the way, I hope they have kidnapping insurance. But they’re moving it to Mexico City. And I’m saying, you know, what’s going on here? It is so sad when you look at what’s going on with our country.”

The PGA said in December that it would “explore all options regarding the event’s future” in the wake of Trump’s controversial proposal last year to ban Muslim immigrants from entering the United States.

Buchholz said he did not know whether Trump’s comments were the primary reason why the PGA was unable to find a sponsor to replace Cadillac, which informed the tour a year ago that it would not renew.

PGA Tour officials could not immediately be reached.

“Cadillac was going to leave,” Buchholz said. “It had nothing to do with Trump. They said they're changing whole marketing strategy. The tour had almost a year to find a replacement.”

With the tennis tournament on Key Biscayne also threatening to leave because it has been blocked legally from making renovations to the facility, Buchholz – who started that tennis tournament – believes South Florida likely will lose its two spring jewels.

“We are probably going to lose tennis and golf,” he said. "It's not great for your community. They contributed greatly to our community's enjoyment and fans.”

 

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN 

 

Byron Maxwell wants to make this very clear if there’s any doubt: “I’m definitely a No. 1 cornerback.”

The Philadelphia Eagles --- who traded him to Miami --- might not agree, but he better be, because there’s no proven alternative on the Dolphins roster.

Fact is, Maxwell stands as easily one of the team's 10 most indispensable players, when you consider he’s the only veteran starting corner on the roster, and Miami already is relying more on young corners than perhaps any other team in the league.

Here’s the good news:

1) The passer ratings have been subpar (for quarterbacks) and good for Maxwell when he has played the type of defense Miami will employ, including some zone.

Pro Football Focus noted the Bengals played the second most cover-2 in the league under Vance Joseph (now the Dolphins defensive coordinator), and as alert NFL film analyst Ian Wharton of Bleacher Report said here, “that will allow him to use his press ability without asking him to cover in-breaking routes,” which sometimes give him trouble.

Pressing, as Maxwell said Tuesday, “is one of my strengths, what I do. Looking forward to playing that."

2) He has looked good so far, albeit in shorts. “He has done a great job of getting his hands on balls, and it makes it tough on not only the receivers, but the quarterback, because that window is tight,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “When he’s covering a guy, it’s going to be a tight throw."

3)  He was solid from Week 4 through Week 17 last season: 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.

The more unsettling news:

1) Because of his poor start (including being torched by Atlanta's Julio Jones, who can do that to a lot of cornerbacks), Maxwell allowed an overall 100.7 passer rating in his coverage area last season, and Pro Football Focus rated him 75th among all corners, noting “Maxwell might be an upgrade from [Miami’s] current situation at cornerback, but he’s still an average cornerback who they’ll have to pay $17 million over the next two years.” About $12 million of that is guaranteed, according to overthecap.com.

2) He had the sixth most penalties among defensive backs last season.

3) He “struggles finishing as a tackler, at times even looks lazy,” Wharton said.

4) He hasn’t had big interception numbers recently – two each of the past two years. Brent Grimes, now with Tampa, had nine over those two years for Miami.

Maxwell feels like he has “something to prove” because “you are the new guy. Everyone is looking at you like, 'What can you do?' They watch football. The season I had, the beginning of the season, just wasn’t....” He didn't finish that thought today, but everyone knew where he was going.

“It’s Year 6," he said. "Way more stuff to prove.”

Strangest thing for Maxwell so far? Has to be the fact that Gase, who also calls the plays, has been trash-talking him and the other corners.  

“You would hope head coaches don’t have a side,” Maxwell said, smiling. “He clearly has a side, which is cool. When he’s trash talking me, I say I can’t let DeVante Parker beat me because I’m going to hear Gase in my ear. It’s fun out there. He gets me going.”

Of being the only established veteran in the cornerback room (aside from on-the-bubble corners Tyler Patmon and Chimdi Chekwa), Maxwell said: "It’s a responsibility. It has to be accepted, regardless if I like it or not. But it’s one of those things where you get these young guys, you can mold them, you could create something like how we had in Seattle.”

• For more Dolphins nuggets from today, including one interesting starting battle, please click here.

CHATTER

• Jose Fernandez --- who threw seven scoreless innings tonight (allowing three hits) and moved to 8-2 with a 3-1 win against Pittsburgh --- entered Tuesday’s start on a pace to throw 196 innings, and the Marlins want to keep him “in the 180 range,” Don Mattingly said Monday.

That likely will mean skipping him a start or two, though Mattingly declined to make that official, saying only “We have a plan.”... As Mattingly noted tonight, "It's almost like [Jose] is getting better every time."...

According to Elias, Fernandez, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez are the only pitchers since 1893 to go 6-0 with 50 plus strikeouts in any May....

For Marlins pitching roster news today, please click here.

• Marcell Ozuna, the most pleasant surprise of this Marlins’ season, credits his renaissance (.333, 10 homers) to hitting coach Barry Bonds (“he has kept me focused all the time”) and Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano (who spent time with him in the Dominican Republic last winter and implored him to be a more patient hitter).

The Boston Globe reported during the offseason that Mattingly and Bonds lobbied for the Marlins not to trade Ozuna, who would have been dealt if Cincinnati or Texas met high asking prices.

Mattingly told me this week that he indeed advocated keeping Ozuna last winter but said he couldn’t speak for Bonds.

“I was a supporter of Marcell, seeing on film and the across the field and knowing what happens one year to the next [with a young player],” Mattingly said. “If [the production] was there once, it’s there again. Even last year, really bad [for him] was .260. It wasn’t .200. He wasn’t swinging at strikes before.”

Now he’s more selective, with a .386 on-base average that's well above last year’s .308.

• One more reason why Justise Winslow needs to develop more consistency and confidence in his three-point shot, as Raptors guard Terrence Ross explained:

“He doesn't shoot a lot of them," Ross said. "I don't know if it's that he can't make them. But he doesn't shoot a lot of them. He's working against himself with not shooting it, so people are kind of sagging off."

On the positive side, "He plays physical," Ross said. "He's really strong. He can guard one through four. He works hard. It's a challenge [with him defending you]. He's good.”

• South Florida’s rating for Game 7 of Thunder-Warriors (15.4) was barely below an average Dolphins game last season (15.8), with Miami’s Western Finals ratings consistently ranking in the top 10 in the country, including sixth overall for Game 7. We've become one of the NBA's best markets, from a TV ratings standpoint, since the Big Three era.... For some major network football broadcast news today, please click here.

• Biggest surprises on this UM baseball team that hopes to begin a long NCAA Tournament run on Friday? Coach Jim Morris points to Michael Mediavilla (10-1, 3.23 ERA; “gone from being a set-up guy to a No. 1 starter”) and shortstop Brandon Lopez, who entered this season with a .258 career batting average but is hitting .388 this year, has finally matured and become a legit pro prospect after four suspensions in four years.

Morris marveled at how he has transformed himself from a No. 8 hitter to a capable cleanup hitter.

• UM has made it to the College World Series each of the previous six years it was named a national seed. It's a national seed again this year.

• One of the intriguing position battles this August will be impressive freshman Mike Pinckney against Darrion Owens at weakside linebacker. Owens, coming off a serious knee injury, hasn't been cleared for team drills. "I'm close to 100 (percent), I feel good," Owens told Canesport. "There are days I feel sore, but that comes with the injury. Once that all goes away I'll be back."... Meanwhile, Trent Harris said he's happy to be back at defensive end and is more comfortable there after being forced into action at middle linebacker last year. Middle linebacker should be covered for the next few years, with spring revelation Shaquille Quarterman.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Tuesday afternoon Dolphins tidbits; Major football broadcast news; Marlins news

Today was the first of 10 remaining Dolphins availabilities before training camp, with six of them featuring open practices and four of them (including today's) not open to reporters.

Adam Beasley has a story on the home page posted now about Branden Albert, and I'll have something more in this space later, so check back around 10. In the meantime, a few other notes from the four players made available to us today:

• There are very few positions on the Dolphins without an obvious front-runner to start. But the defensive tackle spot opposite Ndamukong Suh is one of them, with Earl Mitchell and Jordan Phillips battling.

“It’s a competition,” Mitchell said Tuesday after an offseason practice that was closed to reporters.  “Whenever there’s a competition, you want to win.  You never want to look at it like that [as not caring about starting]. That’s the worst thing you can do. Whatever I can do to push him, whatever he can do to push me, we’re both welcoming that atmosphere. Jordan is definitely working hard. He wants to step up and do his part.”

According to Pro Football Focus, both Mitchell and Phillips struggled against the run last season on a team that allowed the fifth-most rushing yards in the league. Mitchell declined to discuss the past on Tuesday, consistent with every player on the team who has been asked about last season.

But he said he’s encouraged partly because of the hiring of Jim Washburn as a senior defensive assistant and pass-rush specialist. He was a longtime respected NFL defensive line coach with the Titans, Eagles and Lions.

“I want to commend coach Washburn, especially,” Mitchell said. “He’s teaching us so much. That is going to be big for us, key for us, learning everything early on.”

New coordinator Vance Joseph’s wide nine defensive scheme should help, Mitchell said, because “it turns everything back, especially in the run game. It takes the read away from the inside guys. You don’t have to read down the line of scrimmage. You can just attack and not necessarily worrying about losing contain on the outside. When you have guys on the outside, it turns everything back on the inside. It makes it easier to attack…. Coach Vance is pretty adamant about having this attack style defense.”

• The Dolphins expect Cam Wake to be back for the start of training camp and Mitchell said even watching him now, nobody would know he had a ruptured Achilles’ last October. But Wake hasn’t resumed doing team drills.

• Cornerback Byron Maxwell is enjoying his practice matchups with DeVante Parker.

“He’s a great player,” Maxwell said. “Not only him — Kenny Stills and you’ve got Jarvis Landry. Those three guys, they could be very special as a core. But me and Parker have been having good battles. He’s a strong kid. He can go up and get the ball, too.”

• Maxwell likes what he has seen from rookie cornerback Xavien Howard: “He was born to be a corner. He’s just athletic. It’s a natural gift. You can see in his hips and the way he moves.”

• With Dion Jordan set to apply for reinstatement from NFL suspension on Wednesday, Mitchell said teammates are prepared to welcome him back. “There’s no hard feelings,” he said.

• Adam Gase isn’t the only coach trash-talking with defensive players. Mitchell says wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson also does it. “It makes the atmosphere better,” Mitchell said.

• Left tackle Branden Albert on Jay Ajayi, who’s expected to replace Lamar Miller as the starting running back: "I think he's going to hit the holes. That's his thing. We're going to open up the holes for him and he's going to hit it. I'm not worried about him tiptoeing through the hole.

“He's going to put his head down, find the hole and he's going to get through there. We need someone else to step up in the running game too.”

BROADCAST NEWS

Brad Nessler, whose contract was not renewed by ESPN, was hired by CBS today to succeed Verne Lundquist, 75, on SEC football games beginning in 2017.

In 2016, Nessler will call three SEC games on days CBS has double-headers. He also will call the Sun Bowl, select college basketball games and possibly some NFL games this season on weeks with lots of AFC games.

Lundquist, in his 53rd year in television, will remain at CBS beyond 2016, calling regular-season college basketball, the NCAA Tournament and golf, including the Masters and the PGA Championship.

“Being a part of the SEC on CBS since 2000 has been the most significant assignment I’ve been given in my more than five decades in this business,” Lundquist said.  “Now, it’s time to step back and take in the aroma of those tulips, those roses, and those daffodils that friends have been telling me about for years. In 2017, I’ll happily step aside from college football and welcome Brad to the booth.  I’ve known Brad for more than 30 years and have always admired his work ethic and his on-air presence.  He shares the same passion for college football that I do. The SEC on CBS is in great hands. Brad and [his former ABC partner, Gary Danielson] will form a great partnership in the years ahead.”

Though ESPN had high regard for Nessler's work, it was not interested in continuing to pay him a high salary, according to a network source. He will be replaced by Joe Tessitore on ESPN Saturday night games.

"Verne has been a friend for over 30 years and someone I've always looked up to in this business,” said Nessler. “I'm not replacing him as it would be impossible to replace Verne.  I am truly honored to carry on where he leaves off and work to maintain the standard of excellence he has set calling the SEC on CBS. I am excited to rejoin the CBS Sports team this season and look forward to working alongside Gary again in 2017.” 

CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus summarized the move thusly: “Verne has set the standard for college football broadcasting. Together with Gary Danielson he has played a key role in making the SEC on CBS the highest-rated college football package in America. After an incredible 17 years, he will be handing the reigns off to Brad, who in his own right is highly acclaimed and respected as one of the premier play-by-play broadcasters in the business. I am very pleased that Verne will still have a prominent role in our college basketball and major championship golf coverage.  We are fortunate to have one more football season to appreciate Verne’s one-of-a-kind storytelling as we pave the way for a seamless and smooth transition to Brad.” 

MARLINS NEWS

• The Marlins activated Mike Dunn from the disabled list, meaning they are no longer the only team in baseball without a lefty in the pen. Edwin Jackson was designated for assignment. The Marlins had high hopes of salvaging Jackson's career, but he had a 5.89 ERA in 10 2/3 innings.

• Reliever Bryan Morris will have back surgery, our Andre Fernandez reports tonight from Marlins Park. There's a chance he could be back in September. It's another blow to the Marlins bullpen, which lost Carter Capps in March to season-ending Tommy John surgery.

Check back tonight for more.

May 30, 2016

NBA Finals schedule; Monday update: Dion Jordan ready to apply for reinstatement; Bosh cap scenarios; UM news today

Here's the NBA Finals schedule, with all games on ABC:

 

Game 1 – Thu  June  2 Cleveland at Golden State           9:00PM EST    

Game 2 – Sun  June  5 Cleveland at Golden State            8:00PM     

Game 3 – Wed  June  8 Golden State at Cleveland           9:00PM     

Game 4 – Fri  June 10 Golden State at Cleveland             9:00PM     

Game 5 * Mon  June 13 Cleveland at Golden State            9:00PM     

Game 6 * Thu  June 16 Golden State at Cleveland            9:00PM     

Game 7 * Sun  June 19 Cleveland at Golden State            8:00PM     

* --- if necessary

 

DION JORDAN NEWS

A member of the Dion Jordan camp told me earlier this month (but asked me not to write at that time) that Jordan hadn't yet applied for reinstatement but would soon, when he had his "ducks in a row," so to speak.

That moment has come. Jordan told Tom Pelissero of USA Today that he will apply for reinstatement on Wednesday.

Agent Doug Hendrickson told Pelissero -- and a member of the Jordan camp told me --- that they believe Jordan has done everything necessary to be reinstated.

But the person in the Jordan camp told me there will be some concern until he's reinstated because the power ultimately rests unilaterally in the hands of Commissioner Roger Goodell and there is some measure of subjectiveness to his decision.

As Pelissero explained in his piece, Goodell will make the decision after receiving a recommendation from doctors jointly selected by the players union and league. Those doctors will interview Jordan, who also must sign a medical release form.

Goodell's decision should come between one and two months after his application for reinstatement.

Hendrickson told Peliserro that he has no reason to think Jordan won’t be reinstated.

“To me,” Hendrickson said, “he should be a blueprint for the NFL system of guys being out for a year in terms of what he’s been doing and how he’s come on of late.”

And the Dolphins have indicated they're prepared to welcome Jordan back if he's reinstated.

Hendrickson told USA Today that Jordan has been tested twice a week and he has not failed or missed a drug test since he was suspended in April 2015.

Pelissero did the interview in the San Francisco office of Tariq Azim, who has been training Jordan. 

"I’m not about to waste it," Jordan told Pelissero of his opportunity to get back in the NFL. “I can't waste it and I [expletive] love doing it. Who doesn’t love running out in front of 30,000-plus fans and you get that rush? But it’s also things that you can get that rush from that can be very satisfying and can carry you on to a successful life after football.

“I just turned 26 years old, so life starts to hit you in the face. Who are you outside of those shoulder pads and helmet? And it’s weird, but I feel like it’s a blessing for me at this point in time to think about it, instead of waiting ‘til they really tell me I can’t play football no more.”

A couple of more highlights from Pelissero's well-written piece:

• Jordan says he “never, ever” had a drug problem. But he was suspended six games in 2014 after testing positive once for ecstasy and one for marijuana.

“Like a lot of rookies, you enjoy being a professional for the first time and having that cloud or whatever,” Jordan said. “I realized that’s not what it’s about. I realized real quick once I got in trouble.”

• Jordan says he stopped using drugs months before he gave the diluted sample near the end of the 2014 season.

So how did that happen? Pelissero said "according to Hendrickson, Jordan had been drinking alcohol and didn’t know he wasn’t being tested for that, so he tried to flush it out of his system."

• Jordan, 6-6, is now a bit under 270 pounds. The past Dolphins regime thought he was better suited to defensive end, not linebacker, because they didn't want to clutter his mind and wanted him to focus on rushing the quarterback (with some responsibilities in pass coverage).

But that might be revisited because the Dolphins have more of a need at linebacker than end. They're set with their top four ends: Cam Wake, Mario Williams, Jason Jones and Andre Branch.

Jordan, the third overall pick of the 2013 draft, has three sacks and 46 tackles in 26 games over two seasons. He has done good work in pass coverage, especially against tight ends such as Rob Gronkowski, so there would be an ability to move to linebacker if the Dolphins choose to change his position.

The Dolphins have been reluctant to discuss much of anything about Jordan, let alone the prospect of a position change. 

BOSH CAP RAMIFICATIONS

I ran this next item in my Sunday Miami Herald newspaper column on May 8, the day after Game 3 of the Raptors series, and I realized last week I had never placed it on-line in this blog. So here it is, factors to keep in mind regarding Chris Bosh’s impact on the cap:

Chris Bosh intends to play next season and the Heat is cautiously hopeful, though nobody can say for sure that he will be able to. So what’s Miami’s recourse otherwise? There are a few options:

If Bosh and the Heat determine he should not play again, three things are needed for his salary to be removed from Miami’s cap, according to the labor deal:

1) A doctor that is jointly selected by the league and players association must agree his condition is career-ending, or severe enough to put him at risk if he continues playing.

2) The Heat then can apply to exclude his salary from its cap no earlier than the one-year anniversary of his last game (Feb. 9) if he played in 10 games in 2015-16 (which he did). If granted, the salary would be removed immediately, giving Miami an additional $25 million in 2017 free agent cap space or room to acquire an expensive player before next season’s trade deadline without needing to trade salary in return.

3) Miami must waive Bosh. If the salary exclusion is granted, and Bosh changes his mind and decides to resume his career, the Heat cannot re-sign or re-acquire him “at any time” should be continue his career, according to cap expert Larry Coon’s labor agreement summary.

Bosh is due $23.7 million, $25.3 million and $26.8 million the next three seasons and this aforementioned scenario allows for him to continue to be paid while removing his salary from Miami’s cap. Keep in mind there is nothing that can be done with Bosh to create cap space this summer, aside from a highly improbable trade.

If the Heat and Bosh determine that he should sit out next season, but aren’t ready to rule him out for his career, then a physician selected by the league and union must agree that it is “substantially more likely than not that the player would be unable to play through the following June 15.”

Miami then could apply to sign a replacement player through a disabled player’s exception, but that application must be made between July 1 and Jan. 15 and Miami could add only one player, on a one-year deal, for no more than the midlevel exception (which was $5.5 million this season and will increase). And if a team has cap space when it applies, it would count against the cap.

Keep in mind that a team cannot apply for removing the player’s salary from its cap if it has applied for the disabled player’s exception that same year, regardless of whether it was granted or not.

If you missed it over the holiday weekend, please click here for new information on the Bosh idea that the Heat rejected and an update on every Heat free agent.

UM REGIONAL SET

UM was named a No. 3 national seed in the NCAA Baseball Tournament and will open against Stetson at 7 p.m. Friday at Mark Light Field (ESPN3). FAU and Long Beach State were the other teams assigned to UM's regional.

FAU, ranked No. 13 nationally, should not be in this regional, out of fairness to UM or FAU. But the NCAA baseball selection committee factors in geography and expenses far more than the NCAA basketball committee does. It would be more appropriate for FAU to be the No. 2 seed in a regional hosted by the team ranked 14th or 15th nationally.

"I thought FAU might come here, to help the draw and cut back on expenses," UM coach Jim Morris said. "We know FAU is good, maybe the best team they've ever had. Stetson is hot. Long Beach State has always been good."

If Miami advances, it would also host the super-regional against the winner of the regional featuring favorite Ole Miss, Utah, Tulane and Boston College, with the winner advancing to the College World Series.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 29, 2016

Exploring where Heat stands with impending free agents and new details on Bosh situation; Dolphins, Canes, Marlins chatter

 

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

This could end up being a summer as simple as resigning Hassan Whiteside and Dwyane Wade, adding a veteran with the $2.9 million room exception, re-signing Tyler Johnson and Udonis Haslem and filling out the roster with veteran minimums. For now, though, there are lots of Heat questions, with under-contract Chris Bosh and nine free agents.

What we’re hearing on each, with July 1 free agency about a month away:

• Whiteside. My understanding, reiterated in recent days, is if all things are equal financially, Whiteside wants to re-sign with Miami. He likes living here and likes the organization.

But we’ve repeatedly heard the Heat’s preference is persuading him to sign under the max (projected to be $21.6 million next season) by selling him on the lack of state income tax, his comfort level here, the roster flexibility created by him taking a bit less; and that Miami can offer 7.5 percent annual raises off the first year salary (compared with 4.5 percent elsewhere). That means a four-year deal starting at $20.7 million with Miami would equal a four-year deal starting at $21.6 million elsewhere.

But if Miami offers, say, $2 million less per year than max offers elsewhere, what would Whiteside do?  That decision hasn’t been made and it won’t be an easy one.

But keep in mind that the next-best center option, Al Horford, has a higher max salary than Whiteside, so it would be easy for the Heat to justify going to the max with Whiteside if that’s required to keep him. And as Pat Riley said, Whiteside is the Heat's summer priority.

Money is obviously very important, but Whiteside has also said this spring that “you want to win more than anything. I don’t really want to be the face of a losing franchise.”

• Wade. One Heat person expects a deal ultimately will be reached paying him at least $15 million, perhaps much closer to, or at, $20 million. The Heat’s preference is for one year, to give it 2017 flexibility.

• Joe Johnson. Miami would like to re-sign him, because he’s one of a limited number of options on the roster who – when playing well – can get you a relief basket. Figure on the Heat dangling its $2.9 million room exception.

But an associate said unlike when he signed here, he isn’t sure Johnson would necessarily be inclined to take less money to stay.

• Luol Deng. The Heat would love to try to find a way to keep him, but even if it finds a taker for Josh McRoberts’ salary, it will be very difficult to create double figures in cap space, if Whiteside re-signs here.

And an Eastern Conference official said he expects Deng to get at least $12 million annually in a two-year deal.

“Not only did I enjoy playing here, but it's an amazing city,” Deng said. “I would love to be here. I can't say one bad thing about being here.”

But the odds remain against a Deng return if Whiteside comes back.

• Haslem. He's expected to stay on a deal at the minimum.

“He can still play,” Riley said. “He played in the Charlotte series and gave us great minutes. That's what we want - a player who wants to play but preaches to the players, 'This is the way you have to be and if I'm going to sacrifice... by not playing, I don't want to hear it from you... You better be working.' He's like Dwyane, like [Alonzo Mourning]. He's a forever guy."

• Amar’e Stoudemire. The Heat is open to bringing him back at the minimum, but it doesn’t sound likely. His lack of consistent minutes bothered him.

"It would have to be a defined role [to return],” his agent, Travis King, said last week. “He loves [Miami] and the team but he loves playing. He’s looking somewhere he can play. He wants to contribute 10 to 20 minutes a night.”

• Gerald Green. He was a good teammate (according to a Heat person) and became a better defender, but his shooting percentage declined significantly and an official who spoke to the Heat said the indication he got was that the Heat will move on if it can find a better option. If it can’t, Green back at the minimum isn’t out of the question.

• Dorell Wright. The Heat is expected to move on because he’s very limited in other parts of his game besides shooting.

Tyler Johnson. The Heat’s only restricted free agent, Johnson said “barring something crazy,” he cannot envision leaving. The Heat is expected to extend a qualifying offer by the June 30 deadline, giving it the right to match any offer, with no other team allowed to offer him a starting salary topping $5.6 million.

Regardless of his salary, his cap hit will be $1.2 million. The Heat prefers him as a shooting guard but knows it might need to use him some at point guard.

• Bosh. The sides remain hopeful he will return next season, barring a setback. So why did Bosh believe he could come back for the playoffs and the Heat resisted?

The Heat was adamantly opposed to allowing him to play while taking blood-thinners because it would be very dangerous for someone on thinners who sustained a cut, or fell hard and started bleeding internally, during a game.

According to a team source, the Bosh camp spent considerable time exploring the idea of Bosh continuing to take those blood thinners, but at a time of day (such as early morning) that the medication would be out of his bloodstream by game time.

Someone with knowledge of the situation said blood tests indicated the medication was out of Bosh’s system after 8 to 12 hours, which would significantly lessen the risk for Bosh playing. But the Heat and team doctors rejected that idea.

None of the doctors involved in Bosh’s case is commenting, but Robert Myerburg --- an expert on treatment of athletes and a cardiologist at U-Health – said even though some of the newer blood thinners can be out of a patient’s system within 12 hours, “I would not use that strategy [that the Bosh camp explored]. There’s too much at risk.

“The drug being out of the system is not what worries me as much as the unprotected time” during games and other times when the blood thinner is out of his system, even more so if he’s subjected to trauma in an area where there was past clotting (in his leg and calf). He said patients with atrial fibrillation can sometimes be taken off thinners when they go on a skiing trip, but this is different.

CHATTER

• Only six active NFL players have a higher career yards-per-catch average than Kenny Stills (16.5), and Dolphins coach Adam Gase said he “definitely” wants to get him involved more after he was targeted just 63 times last season (compared with 165 for Jarvis Landry).

Stills says that excites him and “the numbers don’t lie” about Gase’s offenses.

But the chemistry must improve with Ryan Tannehill. Though a bunch of Stills’ targets were difficult deep routes (and that must be taken into account with this stat), he caught only 42.8 percent of passes thrown to him, compared to 70.4 for Rishard Matthews (now with Tennessee), 66.7 for Landry, 50.9 for DeVante Parker and 50 for Jordan Cameron.

Stills had only two drops last season, so many of the incomplete passes were errant throws by Tannehill. Gase has been impressed with Stills so far this offseason.

• Jordan Phillips has been getting a look at first-team defensive tackle, opposite Ndamukong Suh, and says he has been "losing a lot of body fat,...trying to get in better shape to play longer.” He said he wasn't happy with his rookie season.

"We’re looking for him to make a big step this year," Gase said. "I think for a man his size, he’s pretty quick. He’s powerful. Our biggest thing with him is being able to keep him on the field and get him going and be productive on a consistent basis. Every time – week in and week out – he becomes a guy that whoever’s in there with him, that group is disruptive.”

• The latest example of Canes helping Canes: David Njoku said former UM star tight end Jeremy Shockey, in the past couple of weeks, gave on-field tutoring to UM tight ends Njoku, Chris Herndon and Standish Dobard, “showing us the right way to learn a route. We’re trying to soak in all his knowledge.”

Njoku said learning run-routing from a player as great as Shockey is exciting for the Canes tight ends. Njoku also has cultivated a relationship with former UM tight end Kellen Winslow Jr.

•  Who has Don Mattingly most gained an extra appreciation for since taking over as Marlins manager? Adeiny Hechavarria offensively, he said. “He has a really good swing; didn’t realize how good a hitter he is.”

• This really is absurd, how the Marlins are now 0-5 against the Braves, who are 9-34 against everybody else. Atlanta has outscored Miami, 29-16, in those games. Against every other team, the Braves have been outscored by a combined 83 runs so far this season. What's more, the Braves were 2-20 at Turner Field this season before beating the Marlins on Friday and Saturday.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 27, 2016

NBA Finals schedules announced late tonight; Dolphins' Maxwell, WR and safety notes; Incoming UM WRs make impression; Panthers, Heat, Marlins

Here are the NBA Finals scenarios announced late tonight after LeBron James advanced to his sixth Finals in a row:

  1. If Golden State eliminates Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals. 

                                                                            National

                                                    Local   EDT    Broadcast

Golden State vs. Cleveland

Game 1 – Thu  June  2 Cleveland at Golden State           6:00PM LOCAL TIME; 9:00PM EST    ABC/R/TSN

Game 2 – Sun  June  5 Cleveland at Golden State           5:00PM  8:00PM     ABC/R/TSN

Game 3 – Wed  June  8 Golden State at Cleveland           9:00PM  9:00PM     ABC/R/SN

Game 4 – Fri  June 10 Golden State at Cleveland           9:00PM  9:00PM     ABC/R/SN

Game 5 * Mon  June 13 Cleveland at Golden State           6:00PM  9:00PM     ABC/R/TSN

Game 6 * Thu  June 16 Golden State at Cleveland           9:00PM  9:00PM     ABC/R/SN

Game 7 * Sun  June 19 Cleveland at Golden State           5:00PM  8:00PM     ABC/R/TSN

  1. If Oklahoma City eliminates Golden State in the Western Conference Finals.

Cleveland vs. Oklahoma City

Game 1 – Thu  June  2 Oklahoma City at Cleveland          9:00PM  9:00PM     ABC/R/TSN

Game 2 – Sun  June  5 Oklahoma City at Cleveland          8:00PM  8:00PM     ABC/R/TSN

Game 3 – Wed  June  8 Cleveland at Oklahoma City          8:00PM  9:00PM     ABC/R/SN

Game 4 – Fri  June 10 Cleveland at Oklahoma City          8:00PM  9:00PM     ABC/R/SN

Game 5 * Mon  June 13 Oklahoma City at Cleveland          9:00PM  9:00PM     ABC/R/TSN

Game 6 * Thu  June 16 Cleveland at Oklahoma City          8:00PM  9:00PM     ABC/R/SN

Game 7 * Sun  June 19 Oklahoma City at Cleveland          8:00PM  8:00PM     ABC/R/TSN

 

A few notes on a Friday:

• At a UM community service event in Coconut Grove, I heard good feedback yesterday on the impression new UM receivers Ahmmon Richards and Dayall Harris have left on teammates in their first couple of weeks on campus.

“Fast guys, looking good,” quarterback Evan Shirreffs said of Richards, Harris and Dionte Mullins.

(Mullins has not yet enrolled ---unlike Richards and Harris --- but Shirreffs said he has been throwing to Mullins, as well, but not to Sam Bruce, who hasn't enrolled, either.)

“The thing I really like about them is they want to stay after, get some extra throws in, make sure the routes are crisp, which is great to see,” Shirreffs said.

Richards has size (6-2) and speed and elusiveness and averaged an impressive 19.6 yards per catch over his final two seasons in high school in Wellington.

ESPN's scouting report: "Richards is a quality player with some explosive traits. May not be elite in any one area, but makes his fair share of plays. He is also very consistent and reliable -- shows some go-to qualities.Combines size, deceptively good speed and elusiveness for a player of his height. Very willing to go across the middle to make plays."

ESPN says the 5-11 Mullins, from Gulliver Prep, "is the ideal prospect for making plays in the open field.... in today's game. Possesses qualities that can change the game. Excellent prospect. Will consistently win footraces in the open field and can create mismatches on speed alone with the ability to take the top off the defense."

Bruce and Mullins are expected to enroll June 27.

Regarding Harris, "Jack Allison and I have been throwing to him after workouts and he's very particular in his routes," Shirreffs said.

• Though nothing in OTAs means much in the grand scheme of things, new Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell has looked good early.

"He has done a good job," Adam Gase said. "He has challenged the wideouts. I know, offensively, he makes our guys better, because they know they’re going to get a tough matchup every time that they go out there. He hasn’t disappointed me one bit. He has done a great job of getting his hands on balls, and it makes it tough on not only the receivers, but the quarterback, because that window is tight. When he’s covering a guy, it’s going to be a tight throw.”

The Maxwell/DeVante Parker matchups in practice have been competitive.

"It’s great going against him," Parker said. "He’s very tall and long, just like me. He knows how to play the ball well. We make each other better.”

• Parker said coaches are having the receivers work at all the receiver positions and that's "very exciting. Teams can’t cover you when you move around. If you’re in one spot, it’s an advantage for them."

Parker says he's "very comfortable" playing in the slot if he's asked to line up there occasionally.

• Dolphins safety Reshad Jones, who remains away from the facility while protesting his contract, was rated the NFL's 64th best player by peers in NFL Network's and NFL.com's annual poll of NFL players.

• The Marlins’ J.T. Realmuto, a .268 hitter in his minor league career, keeps improving and now leads all big-league catchers with a .301 average entering Friday. But he’s doing it in a strange way, hitting .189 at home and .403 on the road. (In fact, every Marlins regular except Derek Dietrich and Marcell Ozuna, hit better on the road, most substantially better).

Though Realmuto's five errors are tied for most among catchers, he’s third best in throwing out runners (10 of 24).

• With his win yesterday against Tampa, Jose Fernandez is now 29-11 with a 2.47 ERA through his first 40 big-league decisions. According to Elias, only two other pitchers in the live-ball era (post-1920) won at least 29 of their first 40 decisions and had an ERA under 2.50 during those 40 decisions: Orel Hershiser (29-11, 2.35) and Darren O'Day (29-11, 2.35).

• The Panthers’ trade of Erik Gudbranson and a fifth-rounder for Jared McCann and second- and fourth-rounders saved them $2.6 million (without factoring in the draft picks) and leaves them with about $20 million in cap space as they work to re-sign restricted free agent Vincent Trocheck and unrestricted Brian Campbell, who might test free agency.

So what are they getting in the 19-year-old McCann, who had nine goals and nine assists in 69 games for Vancouver?

“Good skilled kid; average skater with good shot,” Canadian TV analyst and former Panthers coach Doug MacLean texted. “Can’t play center with group Florida has. Wing on third line likely.”

• Besides being highly qualified, one reason David Fizdale landed the Memphis job is how he aced the interviews with an impressive presentation that Erik Spoelstra and the Heat staff helped him craft, like political debate prep work.

On-the-rise Dan Craig is expected to return from the D-League to the Heat assistant coaching staff --- and with Juwan Howard (whose stock also continues to rise) and Keith Smart --- that trio would give Spoelstra a strong troika of assistants on the bench.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 26, 2016

Chris Berman reportedly set to leave high-profile ESPN job; Tannehill and Kaaya address many issues; Tannehill on finally having freedom at the line; Kaaya on the turning pro decision

Quick 10 p.m. media note: Chris Berman, as synonymous with ESPN as any sportscaster since the network's launch in 1979, plans to retire after this coming football season, The Big Lead reported tonight.

SI.com later reported he will relinquish all of his current duties after this football season but might still appear appear occasionally for ESPN at special events, such as the Super Bowl. (SI.com says that decision hasn't been made.)

A spokesman at ESPN, which typically denies reports that aren't true, declined to comment tonight when asked if The Big Lead report is accurate.

Berman's agent told The New York Times tonight:  "Chris is not retiring. Loves what he's doing too much and is too young to hang 'em up."

And when I spoke to Berman a year ago this month, he sounded inclined to continue beyond the expiration of his contract at the end of this coming football season.

Last May, I asked Berman how long he wanted to continue an ESPN career that began in 1979, a month after the network launched.

“I wouldn't subject America to that long,” Berman cracked when I asked him, somewhat in jest, if he might go another decade or two. “I turned 60 [on Sunday in May 2015]. I have two more years to go on my contract [now one]. That means Tommy Jackson and I will have been together 30 years  [on NFL studio shows.]  This is our 29th. Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon were 31 years. That would be kind of cool.

“I think we’re pretty good at it and we still like it a lot. If I went to 65, which is five more years, that would be 40 years at ESPN.  I wouldn’t bet on anything beyond that. I’m not worried about it. I’ve been employed longer than I should be.

Bob Ley and I started in the fall of 1979, when ESPN began. If I go to 65, that will be spring of 2020. That is a six-decade man.”

Just my speculation here, but Trey Wingo appears primed to succeed Berman on NFL studio programming in 2017, presuming The Big Lead and SI.com reports are accurate. Suzy Kolber, who also has received studio assignments in recent years, also warrants an expanded role.

Berman has stepped back from baseball in recent years, with his duties largely limited to marquee NFL assignments: hosting Sunday NFL Countdown, the Monday Night Football pre-game and halftime shows and the first round of the draft. 

TANNEHILL, KAAYA TALK

Nobody should benefit more from change at the top than the Dolphins’ Ryan Tannehill and UM’s Brad Kaaya, who are both now working under head coaches who know what they’re doing with quarterbacks.

“One of his strongest attributes is his teaching ability,” Tannehill said Thursday of Adam Gase. “He makes it to where it’s easy to understand.”

Both of South Florida’s high-profile quarterbacks addressed assorted issues Thursday:

• Tannehill loves Gase’s offense, and the new freedom it gives him to audible to a better play.

“With [former offensive coordinator] Bill [Lazor’s] offense, we were kind of locked in,” Tannehill said. “What he called is what we ran. With this offense, we're going to mix things up. We're going to move quickly at times, snap the ball quickly. At other times, we're going to get up to the line quickly and take our time. At other times we're going to huddle and be like a standard offense. Just the variability and the versatility that this offense has and the different things that we can do to create the drives that we want to create down the field.

“I'm excited. I'm excited about what this offense entails. It entails a lot of fun stuff for a quarterback to be able to direct traffic, keep pressure on the defense and get us in a good play. To me, that's exciting. That's something you come to work and you're excited about putting your team in the best possible situation.

“I think this is an exciting offense to be in - regardless of what position you're in - because of how we're going to attack defenses, Coach Gase and what he brings to the table (and) his aggressive style and always wanting to keep the heat on the defense."

• After four years of being “babied” (Greg Jennings’ words) under past coaches, Tannehill finally has been given the authority, at the line, to “adjust - whether its protections, routes, a whole new play.” As Gase said today: “In this offense, you're not really locked in on what the play call is. For him to have the ability to know what to get to - that kind of flexibility - being able to do that as a quarterback is very valuable."

Said Tannehill: “There's a lot of freedom in what we do. I think that's going to make us always on the attack. We're not going to have to sit on our heels and feel like the defense is coming after us, and we have to figure out a way to make it work. We can put pressure on the defense by getting in a good play and always keeping the heat on the defense."

• Gase said today that Tannehill’s intelligence “is off the charts,” and Tannehill said “It's fun for me to be able to dive in and take ownership of the offense and being able to learn it like a coach. That's ultimately what I want to do: I want to be a guy on the field that anyone on the field can come to and ask a question, and I have the answers.

“Still in that learning process, but trying to get through that as quickly as I can so that I am that guy that everyone can look to on the field and ask me a question and know exactly what they have.”

• Good feedback from Tannehill today on the Dolphins’ new offensive pieces. “We've been sacked a lot here in the past few years, so to see them take a big step and have a guy like Laremy Tunsil fall to us in the first round was huge for us,” Tannehill said.

“I'm completely impressed by what he's done so far, his athleticism. You look at him ... The first day in the weight room working out, the first day I saw him here in person, I kind of looked over (and) I didn't realize he was here yet. I looked over, and I was like 'Wow! That looks like an offensive lineman.' He's athletic. He's big. (He has) long arms. He's what you want to see in an offensive lineman.

“I'm really excited to have him. Jermon Bushrod is a veteran guy who has been around and played a lot of football. He's definitely going to help us. And then the skill guys we added, as well. We have talent. A fun guy that you're going to see is (WR) Jakeem (Grant). He's small, but we call him 'Mighty Mouse.' He's making plays all over the field. He's one of the fastest guys I've ever seen. He has that low center of gravity. He's able to be really, really shifty coming in and out of his cuts. He makes a lot of plays so far. [Leonte Carroo] is a strong, physical guy that's going to be a weapon for us. He's going to be able to have some run-after-catch (yards), be physical with the corners (and) be physical down the field. It's always good to have a strong body type that can combat (the) quickness of a guy like Jakeem (Grant). You have a ying and a yang there."

• Tannehill forced himself to do 20 pushups today simply because he missed a target in a throwing drill.

• With Kaaya rated a top-15 pick by both Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, will it be a difficult decision whether to turn pro if he has a good junior season?

“I really haven’t thought about it all,” he told me today. He said the same thing when I asked whether he was leaning one way or the other about playing one more year or two here.

“I owe it to my teammates not to think about it,” he said. “I want to make the first year under coach Richt a memorable year.”

He also said, to a larger group of reporters: “When I was in high school and didn't have any offers, that always sticks in my head. I'm not a guy that's going to loosen my work ethic. I haven't arrived. I haven't hit my ceiling. I still think I have a ways to go.”

So Kaaya, who's majoring in public relations, didn’t want to reassure that he will be here for two years, and that’s completely understandable. Among players who get first-round grades from the NFL’s draft advisory board, Mark Richt historically has not advised those players to stay in school. But UM believes one factor that could help its chance of keeping Kaaya is the fact he doesn’t need a cash infusion; his family is in good shape financially.

• Among the things Kaaya likes about Mark Richt is he’s “not letting me get complacent. Kept on me hard. Him and coach Jon
[Richt] have made sure I've gotten better at something every single day. At the end of spring, we all talked about it. I met with Coach Richt and Coach Jon, us three at the end of spring. We all agreed I had a pretty good spring. There are some things I did pretty good. There are a lot of things I should be working on. We all talked about that.

“They've helped me of not staying the same and making sure I get better at something every single day, whether it's a throw to my left or stepping into a certain pass or a certain drop.”

Kaaya's accuracy was very impressive in the spring, according to those in attendance for closed practices.

• This UM offense is going to an interesting mix of pro style and spread and more, and Kaaya likes that. He will be in the shotgun some but not as much as in 2015.

“I was under center a lot my freshman year,” he said. "Depending on the game plan, I'll be comfortable in it, whether the game plan calls for being more under center and pro style sets or whether I might need to spread it out a few games….  Might sprint out some plays. Some plays might be straight drop back. Other plays, I can tempo my drop.”

• Kaaya has bulked up from 208 to 215 and it’s “good weight,” he said, adding the new strength coach (Gus Felder) is doing “an excellent job.”

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 25, 2016

Wednesday Dolphins news: Mario Williams ready to prove worth; Ekpre-Olomu on long road back; plus notes

Bills coach Rex Ryan says the Dolphins are giving Mario Williams “everything he wants” by allowing him to line up at defensive end in a 4-3 defense, as opposed to playing a lot of linebacker in the 3-4 utilized by Ryan in Buffalo last year.

So it’s no surprise that Williams, coming off the most disappointing season of his career, was upbeat Wednesday when he met with reporters in person for the first time since signing a two-year, $17 million deal with the Dolphins in March.

“Schematically, things you made a name on doing, and now to have an opportunity to do [that again] is very fortunate,” he said.

Williams, 31, had only five sacks and 19 tackles in 15 games last season, down from 14.5 and 42 the previous year. But Dolphins management doesn’t believe his skills have diminished --- “he’s a freak of a man,” defensive tackle Jordan Phillips said Wednesday --- and attributes his modest numbers last season to playing in a role he wasn’t comfortable with.

Williams believes new Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph will put him in position to make plays.

“He’s really relying on the guys up front to turn it loose and get after it, which is what most of us are accustomed to doing,” he said. “It’s exciting for us knowing [we can] cut it loose. It’s almost like saying ‘Go! Everytime, just go!’  We take it on our shoulders as d-linemen – and most of us are vets --- we’re going to go as far as the d-line goes."

Joseph said recently that Williams “is motivated. When he’s motivated, he’s pretty good.”

Williams agreed with that assessment.   

“The most motivation I have, that I want to show, is to this organization,” he said. “Vance believes in me. The biggest thing is showing them that you’re right and I am definitely going to do everything I can to impact [the game]. I believe in his word and what he’s putting together as a defense for us to be able to cut it loose and play to our abilities.”

He said playing opposite Cameron Wake “is going to be great, …going to make it a little bit easier for the guys across the front, the guys in the backend, the whole defense.”

Williams --- tied for seventh among active players in sacks with 96 --- won’t turn 32 until January, and most of the NFL’s great pass rushers historically thrive well into their 30s.

Cam Wake had 11.5 sacks at 32. Jason Taylor had 13 ½ sacks at 32, 11 at 33. Richard Dent had 12 ½ at 33, Julius Peppers 11 at 31 and 11 ½ at 32. Robert Mathis had 19 ½ at 32. Bruce Smith had 14 at 34, 10 at 35. Michael Strahan had 18.5 at 32, Chris Doleman 11 at 35 and Reggie White 16 at 37.

Does Williams believe he has everything left in his arsenal?

“You’ve got to believe in yourself and believe in your ability,” he said. “If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, you’re not going to be good at it at all.”

CORNERBACK UPDATE

• With the Dolphins having cut Brice McCain earlier this offseason, Bobby McCain said he has moved into the role of first-team slot corner during offseason practices. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Tyler Patmon also are expected to compete there.

“It’s a great opportunity,” McCain said, adding he’s also getting some work on the boundary. “I am a lot more comfortable. I have a year under my belt. I got some playing time last year. You live and learn. You may make mistakes, but you learn from them. You do good things and you learn from them as well.”

• As for Ikpre-Olomu, he is participating in all football drills for the first time since suffering a serious left knee injury for Oregon before the 2015 Rose Bowl.

He underwent two major reconstructive surgeries, more extensive than usual for an ACL injury, and also sustained a dislocated knee. He said Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Dodgers team physician Neal ElAttrache, who performed the operations, “said I’m perfectly fine [now]. He would have cleared me couple months back, but when I got to Miami they wanted to make sure I went through the offseason program and did all the stuff with the team before they decided to clear me. Doctor said I’m perfectly fine [but] make sure to maintain” strength and flexibility in the knee.

He said that means doing 30 minutes of work before practice, compared with 15 for most players. “You don’t want it to get stiff.”

Ekpre-Olomu, who dropped from a projected early-round pick to the seventh round because of the knee injury, didn’t play at all for Cleveland last season while recovering from the injury. The Browns cut him in March.

“It was something with new management; they wanted to go in a different direction,” Ekpre-Olomu said of the Browns. “And I guess I wasn’t in that direction. I’m happy I’m here.”

Ekpre-Olomu, who is working both in the slot and on the boundary this week, lists his strengths as “instincts for sure, playing multiple positions, I can do that. Have always been a good press corner. Short-area quickness is coming back and that can be a strength for me. I know I’m not at the point I want to be.

“I think I’m starting to develop all my skills back. I feel like I’m getting better. This is only my second day playing in almost a year and a half. Definitely have to learn the game all over again and get a feel for a new defense. I feel like I’m not too far away from where I was and I think it’s only going to get better.”

He said change of direction “is coming along great. We’ve been playing a lot of press man here. I think I’m doing really good at that. I feel I am at the lowest end right now. By the time I get to minicamp, I’m going to be where I need to be.”

His journey back from the devastating knee injury has been filled with “ups and downs. You have good days and bad days. You definitely get humbled a lot. You understand…. how much you have to improve to be a player they can trust and how much I have to work to get past the the point I was. If I am at point I was in college, it’s not good enough anymore.”

He’s more appreciative of the game now “because a lot of guys that could have been in my situation wouldn’t be able to be playing right now.”

• Phillips, who had 19 tackles and two sacks in 14 games as a rookie, said today: “I didn’t feel like I did what I needed to do last year. I need to come in the league and prove myself. There were a lot of expectations, and I didn’t feel like I reached them the way that I wanted to.”

• Wednesday's OTA was not open to reporters. Thursday's will be.

• One quick media note: 790 The Ticket is now starting many of its shows at 4 minutes before the hour, including Ethan Skolnick's at 3:56. And they're now running 3 blocks of commercials per hour instead of four.

• For a look at projected starting running back Jay Ajayi, plus news on UM transfers, Dwyane Wade and the Marlins, click here if you missed our late-night buzz post from last night.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 24, 2016

Jay Ajayi ready to be Dolphins starter and some eye-opening metrics about that; UM says no to CB; Heat; Marlins

 

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

 

Everything that could go right for Jay Ajayi the past few months has: Lamar Miller signed with the Houston Texans. The Dolphins’ pursuit of CJ Anderson and Chris Johnson fell short. Miami hired a coach, Adam Gase, who loves Ajayi’s skill set. The Dolphins didn’t have a high enough pick to draft Ezekiel Elliott and instead took speedy Kenyan Drake, who isn’t viewed as a three-down back.

So Ajayi stands as the front-runner to start, with Gase raving about his professionalism and noting he has “kind of separated himself from the rest of that group as far as consistency.”

Ajayi admitted: "I've been excited since I found out Lamar was moving on and the position would be available. I've been pushing myself… to have a great season, trying to prepare mentally to [be] a starter… I'm ready to elevate my game to a new level…. I think I’ve been doing a great job so far."

The most significant question: Will be there any drop-off from Miller, whose 4.5 rushing average was tied for 15th in the league, to Ajayi, whose 3.8 would have tied for 35th if he had enough carries to qualify?

Sidelined the first seven games last season with a cracked rib, Ajayi rushed for 8.2 and 8.0 yards per carry on a combined 11 attempts in his first two games. But he fell off dramatically, averaging no more than 3.3 per carry in six of his final seven games and rushing for two yards on seven carries in the finale against New England.

But ESPN’s KC Joyner, who analyzed all of Ajayi’s 49 carries, tells me that pedestrian per-carry average is misleading. Joyner said Ajayi received bad blocking on 71 percent of his carries, among the highest (or worst) in the NFL. He averaged 1.9 yards per rush on those plays with poor blocking, better than the 1.2 league average.

When Ajayi got good blocking, he averaged 9.0 yards per carry, better than both Miller's and the league's "good blocking" average, Joyner said. With Miami’s offensive line seemingly improved, Ajayi’s per-carry average should get a boost.

The Dolphins believe he’s closer to the player who averaged 5.6 yards per carry at Boise State and was a beast in the red zone, with 50 touchdown runs. Gase likes his shiftiness and ability to make decisive cuts.

“I know I can be a powerful runner (who) prides himself on breaking tackles,” Ajayi said. “But I wanted to add another arsenal to my game of being able to make those quick cuts, getting that one cut and getting down the field fast.” That’s why he’s shedding 10 pounds, to 220.

Ajayi dropped to the fifth round largely because of concerns about his knee, which he insists were overstated.  “That injury occurred my freshman year, and I didn't miss a game after that,” he said. “I was never concerned about it and I feel great.”

Gase also likes Ajayi’s upside as a receiver; he caught seven passes for 90 yards last season after catching 73 for 771 (10.6 average) and five touchdowns at Boise State.

"Just seeing Coach Gase's offenses and seeing that he likes to throw the ball a lot,… we're going to need to know how to run good routes," he said.

• We hear this staff likes Damien Williams and he’s the front-runner for the No. 3 job (behind Ajayi and Drake), though Daniel Thomas might push Williams. Isaiah Pead faces an uphill climb. Miami continues to monitor Texans free agent Arian Foster, who’s coming off a ruptured Achilles after averaging just 2.6 yards on 63 carries.

• Players said the new offense is featuring some no huddle, and Ja’Wuan James said that --- combined with the heat --- left the defensive line slowed and tired in Tuesday’s practice. Keep in mind, though, that Miami has only one 1 p.m. home game in September, against Cleveland (but three in October).

• Please click here for a ton more Dolphins notes from today, on Tony Lippett, Jarvis Landry, Ja'Wuan James, Laremy Tunsil and Jason Jones.

CHATTER

• Whereas Dwyane Wade was aggressive in recruiting Joe Johnson in February, he isn’t going to try to woo internal or external free agents in the next two months because “I’m a free agent like they are. It's a little different than being under contract and saying, 'Hey, come to play with me.' You want to make sure that individual is doing what's best for them. I want personally what they feel is best for their career. Of course you want to play with great talent.”

• Of the teams with the top six batting averages in baseball, all are in the top 10 in runs, except – you guessed it – the Marlins, who are third in average (.274) but 23th in runs, a crazy differential and only slightly better than last year (eighth in average, 29th in runs).

Why does this keep happening with this team? Because the Marlins are below average in many offensive categories – hitting with runners on (20th, .245), steals (27th with 13), homers per at-bat (22nd) and more. Only Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Dietrich and Marcell Ozuna have hit well with runners in scoring position and two out. As one example, Christian Yelich hits .400 with none on, .236 with runners on.

• Though former four-star cornerback JC Jackson had strong interest in Miami, and cornerback is a need position, UM informed his junior college position coach, Isaac Shipp, that it won’t pursue him after initial inquires.

When Shipp told UM cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph that Jackson was acquitted on armed robbery charges, Rumph following marching orders, told Shipp that Jackson “got kicked out of [UF] and the fact he was in that situation period” concerned Mark Richt and the school, Shipp said.

“Miami doesn't want the drama; I get it,” Shipp said. “Good luck when you play against him.”

Jackson is considering South Carolina, among others.

So UM continues to search the transfer market for corners; as we noted last week, Rumph told me he and Manny Diaz believe former Texas safety Adrian Colbert can play there. In the meantime, we were told last week that UM was working on adding another transfer receiver and a fullback from Division 2 Mars Hill College, nestled in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

The Palm Beach Post's Matt Porter reported today that the Mars Hill fullback, former Georgia prep player Marquez Williams, will indeed be added and given a scholarship. He had no major offers out of high school, ESPN said.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Tuesday Dolphins notes: Lippett progressing in move to CB; James back; Landry loves new offense; Jason Jones on coming here

Some developments at Dolphins headquarters Tuesday, on the day the Dolphins were awarded the 2020 Super Bowl in a vote of NFL owners in Atlanta:

• Tony Lippett can appreciate the nuances of the position he’s assigned to defend more than most anybody else in the NFL. Less than two years removed from catching 11 touchdowns and being named an All-Big 10 receiver at Michigan State, Lippett has positioned himself for a significant role at cornerback, a spot where the Dolphins need their young players to mature in a hurry.

Rookie second-round pick Xavien Howard looms as the front-runner to start opposite Byron Maxwell, but Lippett could emerge as the starter if he outplays Howard over the next three months.

Lippett said he stopped thinking of himself as a receiver on the day Miami picked him in the fifth round of the 2015 draft and immediately informed him he would be a cornerback, a position he hadn’t played since his freshman season in college.

“I like where I’m at,” he said Tuesday, following an offseason practice that was closed to the media. “I’m more comfortable than last year. I became a smarter corner. Every day I’m trying to become this big corner, use my strengths.”

At 6-3, Lippett offers the height and length that fits the prototype of new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. He says he’s getting more comfortable playing the press style that Joseph prefers.

“He harps on it every day, as far as press,” Lippett said. “He loves it. He teaches it. He’s always in the DB meeting room. That’s what he wants to do and that’s what all of us are trying to do every day, to get better at that.”

Lippett said he has studied other tall corners --- such as Sean Smith, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner – and believes his size “is an advantage. You still have to do what the smaller corners do, be good with your eyes.”

The biggest challenge in the move to corner, he said, is “being patient.”

For example? “Sometimes when you lunge, you can get swept right on by and then receiver can be on top of you real quick,” he said. “I try to have patience and not lunge, be technique sound.”

Having played receiver “helps me on the field as far as splits and separation, and knowing how a receiver tries to create leverage against a corner. It happens so quick.”

Any downside to having been a receiver?

“Sometimes, when the ball is in the air, when he breaks, I turn around and look sometimes,” said Lippett, who had fewer than 10 passes thrown in his coverage area last season, in limited playing time. “When I was a receiver, that’s probably what I did. I try to decrease the habit of doing that.”

Tuesday’s OTA practice was not open to the media, and Adam Gase did not speak to reporters, but three other players did:

• Ja’Wuan James said he is fully recovered from the left big toe injury that sidelined him the final nine games last season.

“Tough process, that was first time being hurt in my career,” he said. “I’m excited after missing last year. This all feels new and fresh to me and I’m happy to be here.”

Even though Laremy Tunsil was a tackle at Mississippi and projects long term as an NFL tackle, James insisted he was excited when Miami drafted Tunsil.

James said he will remain at right tackle. Tunsil is slated to play left guard barring an injury to James or left tackle Branden Albert.

“He’s a strong kid, good kid,” James said of Tunsil. “He’s asking me questions, [Albert questions] trying to really learn. Laremy reaches out to me. He’s a guy that wants to learn. I respect that about him, really think he can help us.”

James said while he was sidelined, “I used [the time] to make myself mentally stronger. I was watching extra film, doing a lot of stuff that I could,… anything I could do to get better.”

• Jarvis Landry's reaction to being named the NFL’s 98th best player in an NFL.com vote of players?

“Honored and disappointed. Disappointed because any guy that wasn’t No. 1 believes he should be No. 1. If not, I don’t want to play with them. I don’t want him around me.”

Landry likes coach Adam Gase because he’s “a great teacher. Great attention to detail guy. When he gets up here and gives his presentations, he’s very precise. He will usually marry a clip up with the picture. We will get film before and allows us to be, for visual learners like myself, to be more precise in what he’s looking for.”

And he likes Gase’s offense, because “the beauty about this offense is it puts guys in different positions to create mismatches. Everything about the league is about mismatches, finding those matchups. This offense allows guys like myself, guys like DeVante Parker, Jay Ajayi, the tight ends, gives the quarterbacks opportunities to pick his matchups and pick the winning guy. His offense will allow us to have a better quick game, to keep the quarterback upright. We spread teams out. I think we’ll be able to run the ball pretty well and also pass the ball."

Landry said he’s fine regardless of whether he has a role on kickoff and punt returns: “That’s totally up to the coaches.  Right now, we’re focused on bringing guys like Jakeem Grant and Kenyan Drake up and seeing what they can do early.”

• New defensive end Jason Jones said he also considered overtures from Dallas and Pittsburgh but picked Miami “because I just felt comfortable. My gut feeling is what I went with.”

He visited the Dolphins twice, each of the past two months. He agreed to terms four days after the May 12 deadline affecting compensatory draft picks, but insisted he did not have a silent deal with the Dolphins in the weeks leading up to that day.

Ndamukong Suh, his friend and former Lions teammate, sat in on Jones’ interview session today, playfully filming it on his phone, but Jones said Suh did not try to persuade him to sign with Miami.

Jones, primarily a defensive end, can also play tackle and “I think they are going to use my skill sets to wherever Vance wants to use me at. I’m a defensive end. I’ve moved inside at times.”

• The Dolphins signed third-round receiver Leonte Carroo and seventh-round tight end Thomas Duarte, leaving third-round running back Kenyan Drake as the team's only unsigned rookie draft pick.

Please check back later tonight for more Dolphins news, plus Heat, UM and Marlins... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 23, 2016

7 p.m. Monday Dolphins notes; Stephen A. Smith "hearing about" LeBron James return to Miami if Cavs win; Some thoughts, notes on that and Marlins items

If you read this earlier than 7 tonight, please scroll to the bottom for Dolphins notes:

Could LeBron James return to the Heat? The odds are against it, and the thought is somewhat (though no entirely) difficult to fathom.

But the notion cannot altogether be ruled out, amid this today from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, as relayed by Pro Basketball Talk:

“I’ll drop one other tidbit of information, because people have been ignoring what I’ve been saying," Smith said. "I’ve hinted around it for months as you well know. But I’m going to say this again.

“LeBron James promised the city of Cleveland, 'I’m coming back to bring you that elusive title that has escaped this city since 1964.' He never said anything about staying once he does accomplish that.

“I’m in Miami last week. I’m in Miami a few months ago. Skip Bayless, I’m hearing about a return to Miami if this man wins. He ain’t going nowhere if he loses. But, if he wins, his options are open. LA, but especially Miami, a return to South Beach.

“Look man, there’s a lot going on. And there’s a lot riding on him winning. Losing changes everything, because it keeps there in Cleveland. But more importantly, it keeps him stuck, because he knows he can’t leave until he fulfills his promise. And if you can’t because you’re not a champion, that’s far worse than just choosing to stay because you want to. It’s going to get very interesting. Keep your eyes on it.”

A few thoughts:

• I consider Smith very credible with NBA information, so this should not be dismissed out of hand. He was the first mainstream media member to broach the possibility of James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade teaming up in 2010.

• James’ friendship with Wade cannot be understated, as explored in this outstanding ESPN.com piece last week. And James said earlier this season that he would love to play alongside Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony late in his career.

• One person in sports whose information I’ve found to be consistently credible, who speaks with James’ associates, told me in early March that those associates had raised the possibility (not probability, but possibility) of James returning to the Heat and that James was unhappy with some things going with the Cavs.

I, nor anyone outside his inner circle, can speak to what James is thinking at this moment. Plus, he’s winning now, and winning can be the eternal band aid.

• The Heat was unhappy about how James left, but it’s impossible for me to envision that Riley or Micky Arison (who both badly want to win) would spurn him if he wants to come back. I gave some of those details of sources of discomfort between James and the Heat in this piece before LeBron’s first game back in Miami (with Cleveland) on Christmas Day 2014.

Since then, more has come to light, including a report that the Heat wasn’t pleased when members of James’ entourage were distracted and disengaged during that meeting that Riley was summoned to in Las Vegas.

• Pro Basketball Talk reminded what James wrote in his letter to Sports Illustrated when he left the Heat.

“My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.

“I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when. After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.”

• Do I expect LeBron to come back? The odds are against it. It’s difficult for me to envision a player who wants to be liked once again enraging fans in his home state --- where he wants to be welcomed back after retiring --- even if he wins them a championship.

But Smith is too credible on this --- and the bond with Wade too strong --- to bet a substantial amount of your savings against it, either.

• This is the ultimate fantasy conversation, but in case you wondered, James' max salary for next season would be about $30 million. If if the Heat dumped Goran Dragic and Josh McRoberts for no money back, Miami would have $27.3 million committed to Chris Bosh (who will remain on Miami's cap this summer regardless of any health situation), Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson next season, plus $1 million to retain restricted free agent Tyler Johnson's rights (the cap hit would remain that even if TJ signs for more), plus $4 million as cap hits for open roster spots up to 12 (replaced when actual players are signed).

With a $92 million cap, that would leave $60 million to $62 million to split among James, Wade and Whiteside, or James, Wade and another player cheaper than Whiteside. There would need to be major sacrificing done to accommodate James/Wade/Whiteside.

Again, all fantasy talk for now. But Stephen A. succeeded in making it a talking point today.

MARLINS ITEMS

By striking out twice Sunday, Giancarlo Stanton tied an MLB record with 17 strikeouts over his past six games. Only Mark Reynolds (2010) and Brett Wallace (2015) achieved that ignominious feat. But at least Stanton had a hit Sunday, as he hopes to snap out of his slump.

Stanton ranks 66th among qualifying big-league outfielders with a .211 average. Conversely, Christian Yelich is ninth at .320, Marcell Ozuna 11th at .311.

• Tommy Hutton, who obviously never should have been dropped by the Marlins and Fox, has found a temporary game analyst gig: He will work American Athletic Conference tournament games Tuesday afternoon and evening for CBS Sports Network. He also does a weekly Monday afternoon segment on Andy Slater’s WINZ talk show.

DOLPHINS NOTES

• The Dolphins are now loaded at defensive end, but Mike Tannenbaum says there will be significant playing time for at least four -- Cam Wake, Mario Williams, Jason Jones and Andre Branch. And as the Dolphins noted, Jones can also play defensive tackle if needed.

• When Chris Grier was named GM earlier this offseason, he vowed there would be no more dysfunction in terms of the coaching staff and the front office not being on the same page.

So it was notable that team president Tom Garfinkel told three Dolphins fan web sites this over the weekend: "I’m not qualified to watch film and evaluate the players, but I can say that the evaluation and decision-making process and how the draft played out is vastly improved and was very impressive to watch. Probably most importantly, what I see is everyone really on the same page and working together. There is healthy debate but the personnel department is working to deliver players that fit the coaching staff’s scheme and profile for the kind of players they want."

Seems simple enough, but that didn't always happen with the previous coach (Joe Philbin) and previous front office.

• Some wondered why the Dolphins decided not to invest any more time or money on their weekday talk show Finsiders, which was canceled in March --- two months before the team shifted to WQAM.

Garfinkel explained why the team replaced that show with more digital content: "The Finsiders was a three-hour radio show. The Finsiders had 800,000 listeners for the entire 2015 calendar year. For context, one coach’s speech on Facebook last year had 1.2 million views and the first 25 episodes of Dolphins Daily had combined viewership of over 2.3 million. With that said, one thing we’ve heard from fans is that they miss the longer format, so we’ll soon be rolling out a new program called The Audible that will be a longer-form show that fans can interact with. We also are working on a redesign of our website where we better aggregate all the content from different platforms into one place."

For a look at that entire interview that Garfinkel did over the weekend, click here.

• Kenny Stills has made a strong early impression on the coaching staff. And DeVante Parker is picking up the new system well.

• Check back Tuesday, when the Dolphins make four players available after an OTA practice. (Only one OTA session will be open to reporters each week; this week's will be Thursday.) And Adam Beasley is in Charlotte covering the Super Bowl vote.

Please check back tonight for Dolphins… Twitter: @flasportsbuzz