« Noon Friday nuggets from UM football practice; Postscripts, notes, thoughts, stats from Dolphins' 17-6 win against Atlanta | Main | Kiper sees Kaaya potentially rising to top of draft; Eye-opening Tannehill number; Dragic without Wade; Whiteside; Mattingly/Marlins-Tebow »

UM's top two defensive players removed from team; Assessing Dolphins rookie draft class with week to go in preseason

UM kicked its arguably its top two defensive players, defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad and linebacker Jermaine Grace, off the team today for their role in a luxury car rental scandal.

According to a source, UM determined Muhammad and Grace were given luxury car rentals by South Beach Exotic Rentals in exchange for the company receiving a stake in their professional futures.

Both players were informed today.

UM did not offer specifics on their violations, but released this statement:

"The University of Miami announced today that red-shirt junior Al-Quadin Muhammad and senior Jermaine Grace have been permanently dismissed from the Hurricanes football program for violating NCAA rules.  The University will, however, continue their financial aid through graduation.  The decision was made in consultation with outside counsel and after discussions with the NCAA enforcement staff.  As no staff members or boosters were involved in the violations, the program will not be subject to sanctions and, at this time, the University deems this matter closed."

Besides breaking NCAA rules, a source familiar with the case said Muhammad and Grace were not honest with UM about their wrongdoings or their interaction with the South Beach Exotic Rentals. 

If they had been more truthful with UM, the discipline likely would have been less severe, according to someone with knowledge of the situation.

Linebacker Juwon Young was also implicated in the car rental scandal and was thrown off the team recently. He has enrolled at Marshall.

UM also had investigated receiver Stacy Coley in the matter, but he will not be punished unless new information surfaces. UM considers the matter closed, at this point.

The news was shocking to other players, one of whom said they were expecting only short suspensions.

In Muhammad, UM loses its best pass rusher and its top defensive pro prospect. He likely will be replaced by Demetrius Jackson or Trent Harris. Jackson has done a good job rushing the passer in practices in all month, according to a UM person who was watched practice. And Manny Diaz has praised Harris on multiple occasions.

Muhammad's loss leaves UM without a fourth experienced defensive end behind Chad Thomas, Jackson and Harris.

That fourth defensive end role likely will be filled by freshmen Pat Bethel or Joseph Jackson. Scott Patchan continues to recover from a torn ACL.

"Our mentality is we’re getting all those guys ready to play,” Diaz said on Friday of the fourth defensive end job. “As far as Pat and Joe, we are getting them game ready. They’ve got to get in, got to get snaps. Both those guys have flashed. Both have skills in terms of against the run and the pass…. Will the moment be too big for them? That’s the hard part for freshmen.”

Grace, UM's most experienced linebacker and best linebacker in pass coverage, likely will be replaced by freshman Zach McCloud or Charles Perry.

With freshman Mike Pinckney competing with Jamie Gordinier for the weakside linebacker job, and freshman Shaq Quarterman in line to start at middle linebacker, it's possible UM could start three natural freshmen at linebacker.

 “Zach is a runner and hitter, he might be as hard a hitter as anyone we have maybe on the whole defense. He’s learning the discipline of playing linebacker … but because he’s tough we’ll always have place for him,” said Diaz of McCloud.

“He knows he’s one of our big bangers on our defense. We just have to make sure he’s hitting the right guy. It can’t be ‘ready, fire, aim.’”

Diaz said Perry “has the athleticism to play out there. The battle [for each of them] has been learning in the new scheme. The tiebreaker is going to be physicality and toughness. Right now that’s where Zach [is ahead].”

There will also be a lot of times that UM will play with two linebackers and five defensive backs.



• Before we get to a look at this Dolphins rookie draft class, a quick injury update: Though there was no announcement, we're told starting linebacker Jelani Jenkins required a clean-up procedure on his knee. Meanwhile, defensive lineman Terrence Fede was diagnosed with a sprained MCL.

It's unclear how long either will be out.

Chris McCain's shoulder injury isn't serious; it is believed to be a contusion. The Dolphins' next media availability is Sunday and they didn't announce any roster cuts today. Rosters must be sliced from 90 to 75 by Tuesday.



The Dolphins’ 2016 draft class already has netted them a very likely immediate starter at left guard in Laremy Tunsil, a potentially explosive returner in Jakeem Grant and possibly a soon-to-be starter at cornerback, if Xavien Howard displays enough off knee surgery to leap over Tony Lippett on the depth chart.

But questions swirl around the remainder of the eight-player draft class, with quarterback Brandon Doughty, tight end Thomas Duarte and cornerback Jordan Lucas fighting simply to make the roster, and receiver Leonte Carroo and running back Kenyan Drake trying to simply get on the field.

First, the good news: Tunsil started for the second consecutive game at left guard on Thursday and performed capably, especially in pass protection. In 90 snaps this preseason, Tunsil hasn’t allowed a sack or quarterback pressure. His run blocking still needs work, but the Dolphins like what they’ve seen.

“I thought he was arguably the best player in the draft,” NBC’s Cris Collinsworth said during Thursday’s broadcast.

Even though Howard has missed all three preseason games after June knee surgery, the Dolphins are ready to escalate his workload this week and believe he can contribute a lot in September, potentially as a starter if he can beat out Lippett, who has struggled at times.

“I wouldn't say he's far behind mentally because he's dialed in to what we're doing,” coach Adam Gase said last week . “For the most part, he's playing one-on-one coverage a lot of the times. That's his strength and I'm sure the more we've talked about it with [defensive coordinator] Vance [Joseph], we're going to try to lean on his strength of just matching him up with somebody and letting him go."

What the Dolphins like about Howard, Gase said, is “the fact that he gets his hands on a lot of balls and then when he does get both hands up to make a play on the ball, he usually catches it.”

Grant, meanwhile, appears close to winning the return jobs. He’s averaging 25.5 yards on four kickoff returns and 12.2 yards on seven punt returns. Less clear is how much the Dolphins plan to use him on offense.

He caught four passes for 68 yards in the opener but wasn’t targeted at all the past two games. In fact, Grant played only one offensive snap against Dallas and five against Atlanta, surprising considering the fact offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said recently that “every practice we’ve put him in, he’s made something happen.”

Grant said he wasn’t given a reason he has played so little on offense, and Gase was vague when asked whether he doesn’t want to show other teams how they plan to use him.

“I would like to play on offense and continue to prove I'm a great receiver,” Grant said.

After drafting Carroo in the third round, 86th overall, the Dolphins hoped he would seize their No. 4 receiver job, and he still might.

He showed flashes in the offseason program, with Matt Moore remarking in June that Carroo has “been great to throw to, strong hands, understands the offense for a young guy.”

But he has four catches for 23 yards in preseason and played only eight snaps against Atlanta –-- fewer than roster long shots Rashawn Scott (18) and AJ Cruz (12).

Carroo said it’s very important to him to win the No. 4 receiver job but he knows he needs to work on “little details” with route-running and wants to “come off the ball a lot faster.”

Drake, selected 73rd overall, has missed all three preseason games with a hamstring injury and stands no better than fifth on the depth chart. He seems unlikely to play much early in the season, and the only question is whether Miami stashes him on short-term injured reserve, which would mean missing eight regular-season games. Drake strongly opposes that idea.

“They are giving me everything pretty slowly, just trying to make sure I’m as healthy as possible going into the season,” he said. "I don't necessarily have to be in the backfield to make a play. With (Alabama offensive coordinator Lane) Kiffin, he allowed me to go into their offensive meeting rooms and then go out with the receivers and learn formations. I can see the field and have a broader, wide range of how to understand the offense as a whole."

Durability is the biggest concern with Drake, considering he had  seven injuries at Alabama and already has injured his hamstring twice with Miami. But the Dolphins like the skill set:

“The speed and quickness jumps out at you,” running backs coach Danny Barrett said. “His ability to catch the football, coming out of the backfield or lining up in space shows up naturally as well for him. He will be a special teams demon as well.”

Meanwhile, Lucas and Duarte appear to be facing uphill climbs to make the roster.

Duarte, curiously, played just two offensive snaps against Atlanta.

Duarte is a skilled pass catcher --- he has one TD catch in preseason --- but said he didn't do any in-line blocking at UCLA, and Dolphins coaches have said the adjustment to blocking remains a work in progress.

Lucas has played better at times recently, but to win the fifth corner job, he would need to outplay several veterans on the bubble on Thursday against Tennessee and convince the Dolphins he’s a better option than the dozens of cornerbacks who will be placed on waivers on Labor Day weekend.

As for Doughty, the Dolphins must decide whether to keep him on the 53-man roster or risk stashing him on the practice squad, where any team could claim him.

Doughty is 12 for 16 for 87 yards in preseason, and “as far as his accuracy, it’s great,” quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree said.

But Hardegree said recently that the Dolphins want Doughty and the other quarterbacks to do “everything… faster.”

When asked about Grant recently, offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen injected Doughty into the discussion, making the point that “those two guys aren’t very pretty. They both have an ability to run the wrong route and convert a third down or make a wrong read and we get a completion. That’s a good ability to have, but again, we have to fine tune it and corral it.”

• For some UM football notes from earlier today, and lots and lots of postscripts from Dolphins-Falcons last night, please click here.

And please follow me on Twitter: @flasportsbuzz