Lots of Heat and Dolphins on a Tuesday:
• The Dolphins and University of Miami football team’s home field will not only have a new appearance after $500 million in upgrades, but also will feature a new name: Hard Rock Stadium, according to a source with direct knowledge.
An announcement is expected Wednesday.
Hard Rock Stadium will play host to its first event on Sept. 1, a Dolphins-Tennessee Titans preseason game, then play host to the University of Miami’s football opener against Florida A&M two days later. The newly renovated stadium will feature a canopy that will cover most seats.
Hard Rock will become the stadium’s fourth corporate naming partner since the facility opened as Joe Robbie Stadium in 1987.
The others: Pro Player (a former division of Fruit of the Loom), Land Shark (associated with a brewing company) and Sun Life, a Toronto-based financial services company.
The stadium was called Sun Life Stadium from 2010 until this past January. The Dolphins were determined to find a new naming rights partner by the start of the regular season.
Hard Rock International, an Orlando-based company founded in 1971, owns and operates restaurants, hotels and casinos in North America (including Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood), as well as the Caribbean and Central America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Asia Pacific.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said last month that several companies expressed interest, but he preferred the Hard Rock name.
• Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who hasn't spoken to the media since Dwyane Wade left, delivered this message in two videos on Heat.com: "You learn pretty quickly in this league that your roster is going to change, sometimes your staff changes. Expectations change. It's like that every year.
"Just when you get comfortable, it will change. This is a new challenge. We're embracing the change. We're excited about the future, excited about the guys we have on our team. You also have to have the right kind of players.
"There's some things that will never change with this organization. Our expectation to win. Our expectation to compete for an NBA championship regardless of who we have in this uniform. And to do those things, you have to commit to a championship level defense.
"Now, you also have to have the right kind of players. We feel we have defensive minded players. It starts with a defensive player of year candidate in Hassan Whiteside, somebody that can defend the rim as well as anybody in this league and as well as anybody has done it in a long time in this league.
"But we also have defensive minded young players, which is unique. Josh Richardson is a defensive minded, versatile, long guard. Justise Winslow came in as a defender, Tyler Johnson is a competitive defender. And now as we build around those guys, we're looking for two-way basketball players that want to compete at both ends.
"In 21 straight years working for Micky Arison and Pat Riley, the expectations do not change. We're not looking to come into the season as an underdog. It's much more exciting, much more purpose when you're playing with great expectations."
Notably, the initial videos of Spoelstra rolled out by the Heat today do not include a mention of Chris Bosh. The Heat is cautiously optimistic, but not certain, he will be cleared to play this season after being diagnosed with a blood clot in February, the second time that had happened in 12 months.
In Isa Abdul-Quddus, the Dolphins hope they finally have acquired the ideal complement at safety to Reshad Jones – a high-IQ player who’s physical and disciplined, and more durable than Louis Delmas, who couldn’t stick longterm in the role because of knee injuries.
The Dolphins also have something unique in their new starting safety: He’s one of the NFL’s few Muslim players.
“It’s real big with my mother, so we pray together,” he said Tuesday.
And Abdul-Quddus is open about his opposition to Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States.
“I hope people are smart enough to not elect that man,” he said Tuesday about Trump. “He says a lot of ridiculous things. I can only imagine what he’ll do in office.”
Regarding Trump’s suggested ban on Muslins from entering the country, Abdul-Quddus said: “I don’t even get offended any more because it’s like every day, he says something ridiculous. You can’t even take him serious anymore. I chalk it up to him trying to get press, trying to get his name in the newspaper.”
Abdul-Quddus, a native of Newark, N.J., has been saddened that terrorist attacks by radical Islamists have created an anti-Muslim bias among some Americans.
“It's giving it a bad name, because that's the only way Muslims get into the news anymore,” he told the Detroit Free Press last December. “Like, you don't really see anything positive. It's only negative. So now (some) people think evil is correlated with being Muslim, and that's messed up. The majority of the religion -- 99.99 percent -- aren't that. But that 0.01 is what ruins it for all of us.
“I just think people need to be a little more open-minded about [generalizing about Muslims], because if a Christian came and killed thousands of people, they wouldn't say, 'Oh, I hate Christianity and we need to kill all Christians.' I think we really need [to avoid] specifying this group of people as being evil, and just see that evil is evil, and it's not about religion.”
Abdul-Quddus expresses himself articulately, and the Dolphins like his communication skills on the field because too often last season, communication issues led to breakdowns in coverage.
Before he signed a three-year, $12.75 million deal with the Dolphins in March, Pro Football Focus called Abdul-Quddus the No. 1 bargain in free agency, noting he ranked 19th overall among safeties, “was particularly effective against the run” and had “positives grades in coverage and as a pass-rusher.”
The Dolphins liked his work as a starter in Detroit over the final eight games last season as well as his physicality, defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo said.
They also like his intelligence, and believe with Abdul-Quddus in the back end, the defense won’t be compromised if Jones, a Pro Bowler last season, gambles for a turnover. Abdul-Quddus has two career interceptions, none since 2012.
“He’s done a great job,” coach Adam Gase said. “We knew what we got when we signed him. He has really shown what we saw on tape.”
Dolphins defensive tackle Ndadumukong Suh said “he will complement Reshad very well. They’re both great tacklers. Isa is a head hunter and finds the ball and makes plays. I enjoyed playing with him in 2014 in Detroit.”
The Dolphins consider their safeties interchangeable – they don’t designate a strong safety and free safety – and that has strategic benefits.
“It makes it tough because you can't predict where everybody's going to be,” Gase said. “Maybe if [Jones] was always the down guy, at least [the opponent] could say 'Hey, I'm always going to run away from him.'… But when those guys can either go down, in the middle, it makes it tough as a play-caller. Now you don't have that advantage to stay away from somebody."
The pairing with Jones excites Abdul-Quddus because “we both can do a lot. We just make sure we can disguise everything.”
Abdul-Quddus, who went undrafted out of Fordham in 2011, said he “was so mad at myself” for missing a tackle on the Giants’ first drive in Friday’s preseason game. “That’s why I was taking a conscious effort on tackling this week.”
After started 16 regular-season games in five seasons with New Orleans and Detroit, Abdul Quddus is heartened by the prospect of becoming a full-time starter for the first time.
“It shows,” he said, “that at the end there is a rainbow sometimes.”
• The Dolphins held off making Laremy Tunsil a starter from the outset of camp, but the rookie first-round draft pick appears closer than ever to becoming one.
On Tuesday, Tunsil received his most first-team work at left guard in any of the team’s 14 practices to date. Dallas Thomas, who started the preseason opener, received just a few first-team reps at left guard. And Tunsil performed well during his extended look Tuesday.
“I like what he’s doing,” coach Adam Gase said of Tunsil. “I like the fact he’s giving everything he has and trying to make sure mentally he’s on the same page because there are two other guys counting on him.”
The Dolphins haven’t wanted to rush Tunsil because “this is a league where confidence does matter," Gase said. "I’ve seen rookies before, you throw him in and be like, well, he’s got to play. And two years later, everyone is calling for his head. We’re going through the process we need to go through.”
The Dolphins still must make a decision at right guard, where Billy Turner opened with the starters Tuesday, as usual, but Thomas and Jermon Bushrod also received some first-team work.
Branden Albert was given the day off Tuesday, but the Dolphins split first team left tackle reps between Ulrick John and Sam Young instead of moving Tunsil to tackle – something they had done earlier in camp. That suggested a desire to have Tunsil focus on guard.
Some late Monday night tidbits:
Though the Dolphins cornerback situation beyond Byron Maxwell has evoked considerable concern among fans, and some level of concern inside the organization, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said this week he’s pleased with the young corners’ growth.
“I'm excited about the group,” he said. “They are all big guys that can run, outside of Bobby (McCain) and Brandon Harris. It's what we are looking for as far as corners."
With Xavien Howard not yet cleared for practice after offseason knee surgery, Tony Lippett continues to get most of the first team work opposite Maxwell. He broke up three passes during Monday’s practice.
"I thought Lippett played well [Friday against the Giants],” Joseph said. “He had one play… he gave up a slant route inside, which he can't do….. That's stuff we can fix and coach. I'm excited about Lippett. He's obviously improved since the first day.”
Joseph said he also was “really impressed” with McCain, who started on the boundary in Maxwell’s absence Friday and is competing with Michael Thomas to be the first-team nickel corner. McCain’s interception was “a great play in the slot on the vertical seam ball,” Joseph said.
Of the McCain/Thomas slot corner battle, Joseph said: “At that spot, that's a mixture of a [defensive back], a linebacker and a safety at times. So I'm looking for a guy that's going to communicate, not make errors and going to tackle."
Joseph said Harris “has played more ball than most of our guys in the back end, besides [safety Reshad Jones]. So I'm not surprised he's very solid in the slot."
• Even though linebacker Kiko Alonso missed a tackle on a touchdown run Friday, Joseph said: “He's done fine. Obviously the missed tackle, I didn't like. We had a bunch of missed tackles in that gameFriday. That's expected; it's preseason. That should get rectified pretty soon but he's done fine.”
• Joseph said Chris McCain, who is competing with Terrence Fede and others to be the Dolphins’ fifth defensive end, is “a natural NFL pass rusher. That's a long, athletic, fast defensive end who can definitely rush the passer.”
But… “he's got to play the run better, as far as setting the edge,” Joseph said. "He needs to separate from the block and make the play. Friday, he had a couple of plays where he knocked the guy back and the running back still circled us. That guy can't circle him.”
• Special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said Jakeem Grant’s work as the primary returner Friday (two kickoffs for 53 yards, four punt returns for 60) “was a good start. For a guy catching a punt (in) his first game ever - probably since high school - it was nice to see.
“There were some things he still has to work on. The first punt that kind of landed on the ground and bounced a little bit, I'd like to see him maybe get that ball and see what we can do with the ball in his hands.
“Right now, it comes down to him making the right decisions, being at the right depth, fielding the ball cleanly. Once he has it in his hands and takes care of the ball, he obviously is a dangerous weapon…. My comfort level [with Grant] is going to be really dependent on how these next three weeks go, and then we'll go from there."
• For a lot more Dolphins talk from earlier today, including offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen's thoughts, please click here.
QUICK CANES ITEMS
Chad Thomas said all the right things today, including this self-analysis: "I made some plays, but I didn't make enough" the past two years.
It's similar to what Thomas told me earlier this summer in this piece I wrote on d-line coach Craig Kuligowski.
UM coaches have been pleased with his toughness and effort, but as one UM person told me today: We need to see it before we're convinced he will live up to his five-star status. It's nice that he's doing the right things. But he must show in games that he was worthy of his status coming out of high school. He's UM's only 5-star player left.
• If Al-Quadin Muhammad is suspended, Trent Harris likely would step in. Kuligowski raved about him today, saying he has performed the best of all the d-linemen in practice this month.
• One UM official said there's little difference among the top contenders for the backup QB job (excluding Vincent Testaverde) and that none have exactly seized the position. That person rated Evan Schirreffs a bit ahead of Malik Rosier, but Rosier remains very much in the mix, too, and it wouldn't be surprising if either gets the job.
But Schirreffs better fits the Mark Richt prototype as a natural drop-back passer. And Rosier's penchant for turnovers in the spring left serious concerns about some UM staffers.
• Unfortunate that Ryan Mayes is out with a shoulder injury. Mayes had begun to emerge as the No. 4 corner and Robert Knowles as the No. 4 safety. But freshman cornerback Malek Young has looked good in recent days.
• With Mike Pinckney out and Darrion Owens still rounding into form, Jamie Gordinier is making a case for himself at weakside linebacker.
• Here's where Todd McShay ranks Brad Kaaya among all QBs who will be draft eligible next spring.