Potential Miami vs Alabama Orange Bowl Offers Intrigue

This Saturday the Miami Hurricanes face FIU on the former site of the Orange Bowl, Marlins Park.

The Hurricanes, believe it or not, have an actual path to the Orange Bowl game itself as well.

Basically the formula is to take the highest ranked ACC team that does not make the College Football Playoff.

Problem is, besides No. 3 Clemson, no other ACC team is ranked.

 

If Miami runs the table and finishes 8-4, and Clemson makes the playoffs, it would be up to the Orange Bowl committee to pick an ACC representative.

The Hurricanes have FIU and Duke to close out the regular season, both project to be wins for Miami.

Many storylines would capture local interest – can the Hurricanes beat the Crimson Tide without star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa?

Will Dan Enos (former Alabama QB coach) now on the Miami sidelines, have something extra for his old boss Nick Saban?

(Dolphins fans may want a little revenge on Saban as well).

These two storied programs have not met since the 1993 Sugar Bowl, when No. 2 Alabama beat top ranked Miami 34-13.

They are also scheduled to open their 2021 campaigns in the Chick-fil-A kickoff game.

Miami lost three out of their first five games, to be in this discussion is quite the feat.

The Hurricanes have won three straight ACC games by a 95-49 margin, they are peaking at the right time.

With two winnable games ahead, the Hurricanes could close out this year on a five game winning streak.

A hometown bowl game against a high profile opponent will get the attention of recruits.

Forget the Coastal Hurricanes fans, that ship has sailed.

However an Orange Bowl berth is a nice consolation prize to say the least.

Make sure to subscribe to the 5 Rings Canes Podcast for exclusive Hurricanes coverage.

Follow us on Twitter for more Miami Hurricanes @5ReasonsSports.

Photo courtesy of Tony Capobianco.

Mark Walton

Dolphins waive Mark Walton in light of latest police incident

The Miami Dolphins are spending the 2019 season giving players a chance at redemption. Robert Nkemdiche, a former first round pick, couldn’t show enough to warrant Miami keeping him on the roster. Running back Mark Walton, on the other hand, seemed to be taking everything in stride. He even became the starter over Kalen Ballage.

But then he got suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Then on Tuesday, things took a dramatic turn, as Walton found himself in the middle of yet another incident. Mark Walton is charged with aggravated battery of a pregnant woman.

This woman is pregnant with Walton’s child, and she told police that she told Walton of her pregnancy on Sunday.

According to Tom Schad of USA Today Sports, one of Walton’s attorneys stated that the now ex-Dolphins running back cooperated fully with the police. But that doesn’t change what happened, and naturally, Miami released him immediately after hearing of the incident. General manager Chris Grier offered a statement to the public, and nothing more has come from the Dolphins since then.

It’s always sad when a promising young athlete throws their career away due to a lack of self control. Mark Walton’s actions are inexcusable, and it’s no surprise the Dolphins cut ties immediately. Coach Flores wants to create a team-first culture of accountability. Decisions like the one Walton made have no place in Miami, or anywhere else.

Credit the Dolphins for giving Walton a chance to redeem himself. Second chances are needed in this world. However, once the chance has been given, it must be taken.

Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for six years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung

Miami Dolphins: Devante Parker turned back the clock Sunday

Devante Parker put on a show for the Miami Dolphins Sunday.

The Miami Dolphins lost on Sunday to the Buffalo Bills by a 37-20 score. Nevertheless, there were several good individual performances. Miami seemed to get things going a bit offensively. However, they could just not get the job done.

In spite of the loss, Devante Parker turned back the clock on Sunday. He finished the game with seven catches for 135 yards. Averaging 19.3 yards per reception, a 50-yard snag was his longest of the afternoon. In addition, five of his receptions equaled a first down. That’s production at its finest. His performance on Sunday was a microcosm of what has been a successful season.

On the year, he has caught 40 passes for 604 yards and four touchdowns. He needs only 66 more yards to record his highest total since the 2017 season. That year, he had 670 yards. He is obviously not going to catch his career mark of 744 yards this season. However, it is a goal he can shoot for next year.

Sunday, he recorded his first 100-yard receiving game since last October against the Houston Texans. It was great to see him show what he is truly capable of. People forget how impactful he was at Louisville. However, he was one of the most dangerous receivers in college football.

Parker had a tremendously successful career at Louisville. He recorded 10 100-yard receiving games during his time there. His best season came in 2013. He played in 12 games, and caught 55 passes for 885 yards and 12 touchdowns. He had three 100-yard receiving games that year. Two of those came back-to-back against Cincinnati and Miami. In those games, he recorded 104 yards and 142 yards respectively.

While at Louisville, Parker was named to the all AAC First-Team in 2013 and the All-ACC Second-Team in 2014. There was no doubting that Parker had a ton of talent. The Miami Dolphins were definitely wise to draft him with the 14th overall pick in 2015.

Parker turns back the clock on Sunday for Miami Dolphins

Before Sunday’s game, Parker had only recorded four 100-yard receiving games. Sunday, he did it with relative ease. He sliced and diced the Buffalo Bills secondary. With high expectations placed on Parker throughout his tenure with the Dolphins, it was nice to see him deliver. Hopefully, he can continue to do so. He turned back the clock on Sunday and it was great to see.

With the Miami Dolphins heading into the last stretch of the season, I hope Parker can put up more big-time numbers. He is definitely a key piece of the Miami offense. Hopefully, he can continue this success and use it as the building block for next year. In a season that is all about building blocks, Parker has found himself ahead of the game.

Jalen Hurts Dwyane Wade

Miami Heat legend Dwyane Wade gives Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts ringing endorsement

In light of the recent devastating injury suffered by Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins fans have been forced to look elsewhere for a potential franchise quarterback. While there’s still a chance Tagovailoa will make a full recovery, it is now riskier than ever for Miami to put all their eggs in one basket. Tagovailoa may return to form, or he may never play football again. Even if he does, there’s also a chance he will never be the same player he once was. Does that mean the Dolphins shouldn’t draft him? Not necessarily. Miami has several draft picks to spare, and Tagovailoa will likely be available when the Dolphins pick now that his health is a huge question mark. Where’s the harm in drafting two quarterbacks?

However, there is another possibility. After suffering such a major injury, Tagovailoa could decide that his best option is to return to Alabama for one more year. By doing so, he can rebuild his draft stock and prove to potential suitors that he still has what it takes. But that leaves Miami without a clear cut QB selection in the 2020 draft. Who do they turn to now? Oregon’s Justin Herbert? Georgia’s Jake Fromm? Utah State’s Jordan Love?

The 2020 draft class is filled with talented quarterbacks besides Tagovailoa, and a good coaching staff has a very good chance of developing one of them into a franchise quarterback. But there’s one quarterback who has captured the attention of another legendary athlete in Miami’s history. Former Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade took to Twitter early Sunday morning to express his support for Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts.

There’s a certain irony to this. Back during Hurts’ junior year, he was replaced as the starter at Alabama by none other than Tua Tagovailoa. Hurts did well as his backup and the two became good friends. Hurts recently offered his thoughts on Tagovailoa’s injury.

“It hurt me to hear it. He’s a great friend of mine,” Hurts said. “I pray for him and his family. I hope everything works out for the best for him.”

That said, Hurts did want to have an opportunity to play for himself. So, for his senior year, Hurts announced he was transferring to the University of Oklahoma. Since then, Hurts has become a favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, and he leads the nation in passer efficiency rating. In second place, is Tagovailoa. Hurts is breaking Baker Mayfield’s records and he’s showing amazing talent as both a runner and a passer.

However, he’s also making mistakes. His recent incredible comeback against Baylor was partly necessary because of errors he himself made. But the fact he made that spectacular comeback, bringing the Sooners back from a 28-3 deficit to win, proves his talent is there, waiting for someone to develop and utilize.

But what makes Wade, a basketball player, an authority on potential NFL quarterbacks? Frankly, not much. But there is one universal trait among all competitive sports. The untraceable concept of “it.”

Wade has “it.”

There’s a saying that game recognizes game. True, Wade likely knows next to nothing about what it takes to be an NFL quarterback. However, there’s a strong chance he can recognize that all so important “it” factor that defines Wade’s entire career in Jalen Hurts.

The kind of quarterback the Dolphins need to start their path back to greatness must possess that intangible. For Wade to endorse Jalen Hurts so emphatically means he must recognize something that makes Hurts special. True, he may not be Tagovailoa, but even Tagovailoa himself may not be that player anymore. So the next best thing may very well be Hurts. If nothing else, it should prompt Miami’s scouting department to take a very close look at him.

Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for six years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung

Nik Needham

Nik Needham coming on strong at CB for Dolphins

Think back to training camp and the preseason. Of all the players that put themselves on display, one of the worst by far was cornerback Nik Needham. Regularly beaten in coverage, missing tackles, it seemed he could no right. Within two weeks, fans were tired of hearing his name. Usually, unless someone is making a big play, the less you a corner’s name, the better. Needham’s name was said a lot.

So, how in the world did an undrafted free agent who didn’t even make the final 53 man roster suddenly become one of Miami’s top defenders?

It starts with understanding the game on a deeper level.

“I think just the understanding of the game, as well as the understanding of the business side of things.” Needham said after Miami’s second loss to Buffalo, in which he spent most of the game shadowing wide receiver John Brown. “It’s not just a fun and games thing anymore … I think I’ve matured a lot, I’ve taken a lot of the information that the other guys and the coaches have gave me and just applied that.”

Once more, we come back to the emphasis that head coach Brian Flores put on developing players in 2019. True, Sunday’s game against Buffalo ended in a loss, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Miami’s two wins against the Jets and the Colts came as a result of continued improvement from young players, Needham included. That serves as a testament to Flores and his staff. Taking a band of misfits and making them competitive from week to week.

However, there are still growing pains that comes with this approach. Needham did much better than expected, but he wasn’t perfect. He did allow Brown to break free on a couple of plays, one of which turned into a touchdown.

“Yeah it was Cover 2, but that was my fault. I’ve got to sink a little more. I’ve got to carry John Brown right there and be underneath him a little more and drift inside a little bit, so that was on me for sure.” Needham said. “It’s just a learning process but you’ve got to grow up quick because you don’t want to just be out there messing up all the time and then say ‘Oh, that’s a rookie.’ To me personally, that doesn’t feel good. People saying, ‘It’s alright.’ No, it’s not alright. If I’m out here, I need to be out here performing at my best and at a high level.”

Again, no one expected Nik Needham to be as good as he is right now. They expected his career in the league to be over after the pitiful performance he displayed in preseason. But players who want to succeed find ways to learn from everything, even his opponents. New York Jets WR Demaryius Thomas offered some valuable insight not too long ago, telling the rookie out of UTEP that he could recognize what Needham was going to do on any given play.

That message, along with many others, resonates with Needham. That’s the difference between players who have potential, and players who develop into solid contributors. To some extent, all players have potential, it’s what they do with it that matters. Needham is taking everything in stride, including the recent onslaught of praise he’s receiving. That’s exactly what coach Flores wants from all his players. That’s how he envisions players continue to grow and not stagnate.

“You forget about everything you’d done. You forget about the last couple games or you forget about any success you had.” Flores said on Thursday. “I know he’s getting – I don’t know much about social media, but people are saying he’s this or that or (any of that). Your friends, your family, they’re going to congratulate you. That’s great. But if you start listening to all that too much and – I don’t know. Maybe it’s one minute less on one more text and (it’s) one minute less on film. You’ve got to try to put that away and focus on the task at hand.”

Flores didn’t talk much more about it that day, since he felt the need to call out a member of the media for laughing at his statement. Nevertheless, the message was received, and it seems to be working.

Nik Needham is developing faster than anyone could have anticipated. He’s already deflected six passes in six games for Miami, and come away with an interception against the Colts, and nearly another one against Buffalo. Does this mean he can be the clear-cut number two cornerback alongside Xavien Howard next season? That will require much more time to decide. If nothing else, Nik Needham is proving he can be an excellent backup in a young secondary, and he should be considered a success for this new regime. At this point, there’s no telling what his ceiling could be.

Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for six years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung

Photos: Dolphins lose to Bills 37-20

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Dolphins back to losing ways, fall to Bills

The fear was real.

After Dolphins wins against the Jets and Colts, and a near-disastrous near-victory against the Redskins, there was concern among many fans that Brian Flores’ team was improving too fast — and might further fall in the draft order. This remained a concern even with the traumatic injury suffered by the Dolphins’ perceived top target, Tua Taglavailoa of Alabama. After all, Miami needs everything, and needs as much draft capital as possible to get it.

Well, no more worries.

The Dolphins remain rather limited.

So their draft options should remain rather expansive.

This was proven Sunday during a 37-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills, marking the second time this season the Dolphins have yielded at least 30 points to one of the league’s worst offenses. This wasn’t altogether unexpected, with recent top defensive performers Raekwon McMillan and Taco Charlton out, joining Xavien Howard, Reshad Jones and others on the inactive list. And offensively? Well, with Kenyan Drake traded, Mark Walton suspended and Preston Williams out for the season, the skill spots have been thinned considerably, so much so that Kallen Ballage and his svelte yards-per-carry average (it looks like a failing GPA) was being relied upon as a primary playmaker.

Miami had moments, notably Jakeem Grant’s 101-yard blazing kickoff return (followed by another for 50 yards) Jason Sanders’ adroitly executed onside kick and Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 45-yard completion to DeVante Parker, but overall, the Bills (7-3) are playing for this season, and the Dolphins are playing because the schedule says they have to. Most Dolphins fans couldn’t identify more than three or four players on the current defense. The Bills’ John Brown, from Homestead High School in South Florida, took advantage, with 9 catches for 137 yards.

And any unlikely comeback by the Dolphins ended when Fitzpatrick was stuffed on 4th-and-1 deep in Buffalo territory.

Next week — at Cleveland, where previous tank efforts haven’t turned out so well so far.

Here are the Dolphins’ major highlights from the loss:

Photos by Tony Capobianco.

All Eyes of the Football World on Tua After Horrific Injury

Terrible news out of college football Saturday as Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered a serious injury against Mississippi State.

 

This is a similar injury to the one suffered by Bo Jackson which due to related complications ended his athletic career.

Alabama was leading 35-7 and Tua was set to lead the two-minute offense right before halftime.

Starters will typically finish the first half even in a game of this margin, Tua being on the field at that point in the game is not an unusual circumstance.

Yet reaction to how Nick Saban kept Tagovailoa in the game seems unfavorable.

 

Tua just returned from ankle surgery and gutted out a tough performance against Joe Burrow and LSU.

On a razor thin recovery timetable.

Hopefully this transcendent athlete can make a full recovery from this latest setback.

His injury shifts the college and NFL landscapes significantly, which seems insignificant at the moment.

Yet the business of collegiate athletics continues to profit, Nick Saban makes millions of dollars a year.

While Tua’s professional football future and the financial positioning of his early career is possibly altered.

With only a few months until the NFL Draft the injury to Tagovailoa will certainly shift speculation on his draft position.

Fans of the Miami Dolphins are certainly watching this story closely.

 

Tua is the kind of player the organization has been searching for to fill the two decade void at quarterback.

Now Miami Dolphins fans must wait and hope for the best, and if Tua is who we hope him to be.

Then, perhaps this story has a triumphant turn.

All we can do now is wait.

Follow us on Twitter for more Dolphins news and updates @5ReasonsSports.

 

Miami Sports…are They Becoming Good Again?

The ever changing Miami sports landscape has been on a steady trend downward since the end of the “Big 3 era” of Miami Heat basketball.

Now there were some amazing moments since then, such as Dwyane Wade’s Last Dance and the Miami Miracle.

Those fleeting instances have been sandwiched between years of mediocrity.

The Marlins tore it all down, again.

The Heat had a bloated, ineffective roster.

We all know where Adam Gase left the Dolphins.

Manny Diaz is trying to bring the Hurricanes back.

Even the Panthers, a team with legitimate playoff aspirations recently, has disappointed.

Expecting anything different has become an annual disappointment.

Until now.

Dolphins Vision Unfolding

All of a sudden there is exciting and competitive football being played by the Miami Dolphins.

Who for once are actually exceeding expectations.

Yet we still aren’t happy.

Brian Flores has steadily guided a team lacking NFL level talent across multiple positions into a disciplined and passionate group.

Flores and his coaching staff are developing players and proving it “Takes No Talent” to compete.

Chris Grier has a war chest of draft capital, and actual capital of about 140M to quickly add top tier free agents.

With a shot at a franchise quarterback to boot.

For once the Dolphins have a plan and the cast to execute and deliver a winner.

Culture Shock

The Miami Heat seem to have figured out their roster around a true star in Jimmy Butler.

And are interesting as hell.

 

Getting back to their defensive identity and bringing back the “Culture” led by Butler has galvanized a young roster.

Currently the Heat rank fourth in defensive rating and third in steals per game (9.6). Miami also ranks in the top ten league wide in points-per-game allowed (105.7, 6th) steals (96, 5th) and overall defensive FG% (.437, 9th).

Smart perimeter defense has been key, the Heat lead the NBA in 3-point FG% allowed at just 28.9%. Only Miami and Oklahoma City are holding teams under 30% from deep as of November 13th.

 

Hassan Whiteside went to Portland which paved the way for Bam Adebayo to become the all around catalyst we see before us. Before being sidelined with a concussion, Justise Winslow was taking a huge step forward as well.

Finally the Heat have a cohesive roster that fits their style of play and identity, in a wide open Eastern Conference the Heat are suddenly poised for a home playoff series if they stay on track.

Cardiac Cats

In Sunrise the Florida Panthers under new coach Joel Quenneville are playing exciting, action packed hockey. Florida has won their last two games by an 11-9 margin…that’s a lot of goals!

After making franchise history with a four goal rally against Boston this week, the Panthers are showing tremendous toughness and resolve in late game pressure situations.

 

In the two wins against Boston and New York the Panthers outscored them 5-0 in the third period. Despite shaky goaltending and defense the Cats have found a way to get it done in the final 20 minutes.

It helps to have a top ten offense on your side, Aleksander Barkov has points in six straight games entering Thursday’s action and the power play continues to dominate.

Florida ranks second with the man advantage, converting 26.8% of their power play opportunities.

If the Panthers can figure out their issues on the blue line and in goal to support a dynamic offense, they have a great chance of making the playoffs for the first time since the 2015-2016 season.

Hurricanes’ Season a Tale of two Teams

The Miami Hurricanes football team has had a polarizing season to say the least.

From quarterback uncertainty and losses against inferior teams early in the year, to blowout wins and record breaking performances – the 2019 Miami Hurricanes have kept fans on the edge of their seats.

After an uneven start to the season on offense, Jarren Williams has settled in as QB1 and hitting the big plays that were missing earlier in the year.

 

The Hurricanes have won three straight in ACC play by a combined margin of 95-49, after starting conference play 1-3 the turnaround has been drastic.

On the other side of the ball the defense has been wrecking house led by new and older names alike.

Senior linebackers Michael Pinckney and Shaq Quarterman have experienced a resurgence of energy and effectiveness.

While Gregory Rousseau went from out of the starting lineup to the best defensive lineman in the ACC, and one of the best in all of college football.

 

The Hurricanes have a star in the making both under center and at defensive end, two of the most important positions in football.

And they are both freshman.

With a coaching staff starting to figure it out and a favorable ACC Coastal division to call home, the sun is shining bright in Coral Gables.

Don’t Forget About us!

While the teams that are in action in November are getting all the attention, there are more great storylines in Miami sports on the way.

The Marlins have quietly built one of the best farm systems in all of baseball.

Oh yeah, we are getting professional soccer too!

We could be saying this time next year “what a time to be a Miami sports fan”

A statement that is well deserved and long overdue.

Follow us on Twitter for all things Miami sports @FiveReasonsSports and @SportsWaveDave.

Photo by Tony Capobianco.

John Jenkins

John Jenkins contributing heavily to improved Dolphins defense

Think back to the days of Paul Soliai. He was the last true nose tackle that made an impact on the Miami Dolphins defensive line. His ability to take up space and disrupt rushing lanes is well-remembered. Since his departure, Miami has been searching for someone who can take up that role. The unsung hero doing the dirty work so others can shine. It seems, however, that the search is over, with veteran DT John Jenkins filling the void.

“John (Jenkins) has brought energy, enthusiasm.” Head coach Brian Flores said on Wednesday. “He’s one of those kind of unsung players that no one really knows about, talks about; but I would say our linebackers really enjoy having him in front of them because he takes up some space. He does a lot of the dirty work that – it’s those dirty (work) plays that if you get enough of those contributions from several different players and that’s how you get productive plays and string good plays together. He’s been a big part of, I would say, the improvement defensively. (He is) one of my favorite guys to be honest with you.”

The 30-year old Jenkins isn’t a big playmaker. Since his rookie season with the New Orleans Saints in 2013, Jenkins only has a total of 143 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Not exactly wow-worthy to say the least. But again, Jenkins isn’t meant to make plays. He helps others make plays. Considering the recent emergence of Ohio State alums Raekwon McMillan and Jerome Baker, it seems Jenkins is doing his job well. McMillan has emerged as a premier run-stopping linebacker, and Baker is finding it much easier to both cover receiver and rush the passer through lanes opened by Jenkins’ raw strength and bulk.

And again, Jenkins doesn’t get much credit. When Baker, McMillan or any of the other linebackers jump in and make a flashy play, they receive praise. But that’s just part of the process, as linebacker coach Rob Leonard stated at the beginning of November. He wants the linebackers to take what they do and use as a sign of progress for their development.

“You have to make them see it. You have to make them see what you see in them to get the best version of themselves.” He said. “I’m always trying to paint that picture whether it’s film or just speaking to them as men because that’s where the confidence comes into play. Who you are as a person, who you are as a player – you’re always painting that vision of how I see them so they can fulfill their potential, but they have to believe it. It comes from them.”

That much is true. The linebackers have to perform. But it certainly helps when there’s a big body up front making their lives easier.

However, that doesn’t mean Jenkins is incapable of making plays of his own. Last week against the Indianapolis Colts, Jenkins chased down a running back from behind and brought him down for a loss. That’s not a simple feat for a man his size. Him being a veteran voice in an extremely young locker room just adds an extra bonus.

“He’s got a great energy, great enthusiasm, loves to play the game.” Flores said. “(He is) a guy we really like. We got him after the 53 cut. We were happy to get him. He’s been very productive, but his effort, his energy, his enthusiasm, his leadership – being one of the older guys in that room – that’s shown up in a big way for us and we’re happy to have him.”

So what of the future? As it stands, Jenkins is on a 1-year contract worth a mere $800,000, give or take a few. He’s played a little less than 45% of the snaps on defense this season for Miami. Those few snaps, however, have had an undeniable impact. The 2020 offseason is going to be an eventful one for the Dolphins, but some of the talent on the 2019 roster may just stick around. John Jenkins should be a key candidate for retention.

Every team needs that one guy who opens up the way for the rest of the defense. Jenkins may be just what Miami needs, both now and later, to turn the Dolphins defense back into the juggernaut it once was.

Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for six years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung