Sunday, August 31, 2008

Looking Ahead...

So with the Marlins free-falling out of playoff contention, there has been a lull in South Florida Fan Blogging. You can only "look ahead" and "preview" so many times. But now we enter September. College football is in full swing. The NFL kicks off in less then a week. The NHL's first faceoff is a month away. I'm looking forward to prognosticating and reacting to all that I can in the coming month and beyond.

While we were away... the Miami Hurricanes, Florida Gators, Central Florida Knights, and even the South Florida Bulls all got their seasons off to successful starts. Unfortunately for the Owls, FAU suffered a big loss to #10 Texas. (Florida State took a bye in week 1.) One of the marquee games in week 2 sees the Miami Hurricanes travel up to the Swamp to take on the Gators. The Gators should be heavy favorites, and are hoping to get Pre-Season All-SEC'ers Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes back on the field. I'll be looking forward to providing all that I can, albeit with a slight Gator bias, in regards to that game, as I'm hoping E.J. will as well.

A week from today, the Miami Dolphins start their season against Brett Favre and the hated New York Jets. Ricky Williams continues to shine, and received a 1-year extension this weekend. More thoughts as they occur to me...

Lastly, the Florida Panthers drop the puck October 10. My personal favorite of the South Florida franchises, I'm sure there will be some discussion as the season draws near and camp gets into full swing.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Grilled or Blackened?

How do you like your fish? You might say the Marlins are "cooked"... they just blew 2 games in San Francisco to the 2nd to worst team in the NL, and now find themselves 6 back of the NL East leading New York Mets. Both losses came via the walkoff.

Last night, the Marlins managed to tie the game in the top of the 9th with a pinch-hit, 3-run home run off the bat of John Baker, only to see the game slip away in the bottom of the 9th. Reliever Matt Lindstrom entered the game, and promptly walked the leadoff man, and we all know that leadoff walks are the mating call of game-enders... A single, a sac bunt, and a sac fly later and it was all over.

This afternoon, the Marlins again came from behind, tying the game in the top of the 7th. But, lo and behold, the Marlins bullpen gave it up in the 9th again. This time, it was closer Kevin Gregg who entered the game in the 9th. He actually struck out the leadoff man, but followed that up with the impending walk. Gee, wonder how that was going to end. A stolen base and a sac fly later, the Giants' winning run stood on 3rd. That's when Gregg unleashed the winning pitch... to the backstop, allowing the winning run to cross the plate.

The Fish have now gone 3-7 in their last 10 games, while the Mets, after their win tonight against the Braves, have gone 9-2 in their last 11. All that adds up to the Marlins trailing those Mets by 6 games in the division, and quickly fading. Kevin Gregg has 2 losses in his last 3 appearances. The offense, which has lived and died by the long ball, seems to be drying up. And there is no time to rest now. The Marlins start a 3 game series in Arizona tomorrow night, and there will be a 6'10" future hall of famer to greet them. Randy Johnson takes the hill against Anibal Sanchez. While the final two pitching matchups may favor the Fish, the Diamondbacks are in a playoff battle of their own, and seeing how the Marlins dealt with the ghastly Giants, there should be some soul searching going on in the charter flight tonight.

One quick bright spot I failed to mention after it happened. On Tuesday night in San Francisco, Ricky Nolasco pitched a tremondous, 2-hit, complete game shut out of the Giants. The Marlins had gone 301 starts since last logging a complete game, a Major League record. If only that had ignited the rest of the team...

Canes Practice Update

On the 'Canes last scrimmage of the fall before actual gameday action on Tuesday night, the offense played lights out, especially sophomore WR Leonard Hankerson, who had up to this point been invisible. "Hank" had 3 long TD receptions. Here are some other practice tidbits since I last checked in:

* I've been talking a lot about future freshmen sensations LaRon Byrd and Travis Benjamin. As the practices have rolled on, Benjamin has actually been separating himself from the rest of the pack. His explosiveness and big play ability have been a constant since he arrived in Coral Gables earlier this month. Byrd, and fellow freshman Aldarius Johnson, are primed to have big rookie seasons, but Benjamin is the one who has earned consistent raves from the usually stoic Randy Shannon.

* A couple of interesting return game options. At punt returner, freshman Thearon Collier has shown flashes. He is lightning quick, a throwback to UM great Roscoe Parrish. Defensive tackle Joe Joseph has another comparison - "We have another Devin Hester out there." That's high (and premature) praise. We'll just have to see. At kick returner, I'm excited about the possibilities presented by sophomore RB Shawnbrey McNeal. He was an unexpected bright spot last season, and bursts through any sliver of a seam he can find with Bolt-ian speed (okay, maybe he's not THAT fast). He had a 50 yard gain at Tuesday's scrimmage.

* Speaking of running backs, Javarris James and Graig Cooper have seen limited action this fall as Shannon wants to keep his two top horses healthy for the upcoming season. In their absence, fifth year senior Derron Thomas has more than adequately filled in. He was a top back coming out of high school, and it has been sad to see him play third fiddle to a couple of underclassman, but he's never complained, boasts an almost 5-yards-per-carry career rushing average, and has been impressive in fall practices. With JJ, Coop, Shawnbrey, and Derron, running back depth is no issue whatsoever at Canes camp.

* Chavez Grant has emerged as the team's best performing cornerback. He has been a perennial ball hawk this fall, and is a lock to start against Charleston Southern next week.

* I'm a little worried about starting defensive ends Eric Moncur and Allen Bailey. They've been nursing injuries throughout the fall, and have been held out of seemingly every practice for 2 weeks. Their replacements - Adewale Ojomo, Steven Wesley, Andrew Smith, Marcus Robinson, and Gavin Hardin - have done well, but if Miami is to have any shot at uprooting the Gators on September 6, they're going to need their very best pass rushers healthy to make Tim Tebow's life as uncomfortable as practicable.

* As far as the QB competition between Robert Marve and Jacory Harris, we should have a starter named in the next couple of days. Up to this point, neither Marve nor Harris have separated themselves. But practice onlookers say it's because both have played with competence and poise (an instant upgrade over the departed Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman).

* 7 days!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ronnie or Ricky...

Ricky Williams is the leader in the clubhouse. The starting running back for your Miami Dolphins is not Ronnie Brown.

Ronnie's recovery from his ACL surgery is well-known, but a thumb injury suffered on Saturday in the pre-season game against the Jaguars may have set him back even further. He didn't practice yesterday, and Ricky Williams has been impressive both in camp and in the 2 pre-season games, averaging almost 5 yards per carry. When the season kicks off, it looks as though Ricky will be the main guy, with Ronnie in the backup role. Let the nickname contest begin, everyone needs a little R n' R...

One other rumor concerning the Dolphins regards recently released Falcons WR Joe Horn. It appears as though the 'fins see this as a chance to acquire a veteran receiver to help the current young, inexperienced receivers on the roster. Even if Horn isn't at his best, it can only be a positive to bring in a vocal leader like Horn to a team desperate for leadership. Imagine Pennington and J. Horn in the huddle...

Speaking of Pennington, it seems as though his main competition for the starting role is rookie Chad Henne, not returners John Beck or Josh McCown. We have to assume one of the returning QBs will be released, or hopefully traded soon. Game 1 is September 7.

Marlins Not Hanging Around...?

No sooner did I claim the Marlins postseason hopes were on the rise did the Fish do what they do best; prove me wrong. On August 14th, I proclaimed hope for the home town boys. The Marlins went on to lose 3 of the next 4 games and fell from a game and a half out to where they currently sit 4 games back of the division leading Mets. An optimist might point out that if you were looking for a team to collapse late in the season, you'd simply have to look to last season's historic Mets' failure to garner hope.

Here's the problem. The Marlins bullpen has been awful, at best. In 3 of the last 4 losses, a reliever has been the losing pitcher of record. Included in those are a Kevin Gregg blown save and a complete collapse of Renyel Pinto, who gave up 5 earned runs in Sunday's loss to the Cubs. After Gregg's blown save Friday night, he did come back Saturday night against the same Cubbies to redeem himself and earn a save.

Now, the new outlook. Tonight, the Marlins start a 9 game road trip, starting tonight with 3 out west against the struggling San Francisco Giants. Ricky Nolasco returns to the mound looking for his 12th win of the year. The starting pitching matchups have to favor the Marlins, as the Giants starters combine for just a 10-16 record, and none of the 3 probable starters for San Fran has a .500 record. Scott Olsen and Josh Johnson are the listed pitchers for the final 2 games of the series. After San Francisco, the Marlins head to Arizona. The Diamondbacks are in a battle for the division with Man-Ram and the streaking Dodgers, so this should be a tough fight for the Fish. After a day off, the Marlins head back east for a 3 game set with the Braves. If the Marlins can handle this trip no worse then 6-3, then the weekend series with the Mets will be a season changer. Leaving August no further back then a couple games, and the dreamers can continue to dream.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Marlins Still Hanging Around

Not a lot of ground has been made or lost over the last few weeks for the Florida Marlins. A quick glance at the standings have the Fish a game and a half out of the division lead, despite being just 5-7 in August. The New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies continue to flip flop in and out of first place.

A quick glance at the remaining schedule, however, might offer a slight glimmer of hope. The Marlins play both the Mets and Phils two more times over the last month and a half of the season, splitting those series home and away. But it's the other 9 series left on the schedule that might prove most important for the Marlins playoff hopes. They have a combined 19 games against the Nationals, Giants, Braves, Astros, and Reds, all teams that the Fish should handle. The Phillies, meanwhile, have a 4 game set at Wrigley Field vs. the Cubs and a 3 game series with the streaking Brewers. The Mets open September at Miller Park against those Brewers, and then welcome the Cubs to town for a 4 game series in the last week of the season. The Marlins toughest road series outside of the division is a weekend series in St. Louis. The worst part about the Marlins schedule is they close with 7 straight road games and no days off over the last 13 days of play.

But combine those 19 games with the 12 against the Phillies and Mets, and you have to think the Marlins are feeling good about their place in the world. I'm not one for over-used sports cliches, but they "control their own destiny."

The Marlins will try to get a 4 game series split with the Cardinals tonight at Dolphins Stadium. Scott Olsen takes the hill and will be trying for his first win since July 19.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hurricane Freshmen WR's Continue to Impress, Defense Taking Shape

The practices are closed until the opener against Charleston Southern on Aug. 28, but the players and coaches say enough after them to piece together some adequate news and notes about how they've gone. Here's what I've gathered:

* In yesterday's 7-on-7 drills, freshman wide receiver LaRon Byrd caught two TD's, continuing his string of mightily impressive performances. Fellow true freshman Davon Johnson supposedly made two jaw-dropping catches and even hurdled over two defenders on his way to a TD. It looks like Johnson is working his way into the discussion of top freshman wide receiver of the summer, along with Byrd and Travis Benjamin.

* Senior Bruce Johnson is far and away the top performer at cornerback in August, and it's a foregone conclusion that he'll start the year. Based on the early results, it looks like junior Chavez Grant will start on the other side. Demarcus VanDyke and Brandon Harris look to back up Johnson and Grant.

* Meanwhile, on the defensive line, as ends Eric Moncur and Allen Bailey continue to be held out for precautionary reasons, redshirt freshman Adewale Ojomo is turning heads. He is fast, has gotten significantly stronger since last season, and has found himself in the backfield a lot more than Hurricane offensive line coaches would like. His emergence is good news for depth at the defensive end position (beyond Ojomo, Moncur, and Bailey, there really are only three players - Steven Wesley, Marcus Robinson, and Andrew Smith).

* As for the defensive tackles, freshman Micanor Regis is impressing. He and former Northwestern standout Marcus Forston are locks to play major minutes this season, barring injury.

* All in all, the defensive is said to have dominated the last few practices. They are adept at creating turnovers and havoc in the backfield with surprise blitzes. Defensive coordinator Bill Young, who burst on the scene last year leading the Big XII champ Kansas Jayhawks defense, is making his mark early and instilling a more aggressive style to the defense which was Charmin soft in 2007.

* 16 days.

Monday, August 11, 2008

"Ornery" FAU Defense Readies for 'Horns

As FAU prepares for its first real game since the New Orleans Bowl last Dec. 21, confidence is high that the Owls can go into Austin and give the Longhorns a tough game - not just on the scoreboard but in the trenches.

Coach Howard Schnellenberger is firm in his belief that the FAU defense, which often won the turnover battles last season, is even better and meaner in 2008.

Schnellenberger believes that a mean, tough defense can stifle a Texas offense that thrives on athleticism, not physicality. While it may be hard to fathom that a Sun Belt team is scheming to overpower a team from the BIG XII, that is the game plan Schnellenberger is sticking to - at least out loud.

"Once we step out on the field with Texas, the only ones who can help us is ourselves. Texas always has a very polished team that has great talent, but they aren’t tough, they aren’t a physically tough team."

FAU returns eight starters on defense, and Schnellenberger is counting on them as well as four experienced backups moving into starting roles to lay the wood on the Texas receivers.

"My defense will get to a point where they will be mean, nasty and ornery bastards and that’s what you need for Texas. Texas will move the ball with tit-for-tat, screens and options, but we’ll make them pay a price whenever they catch one of those dinky passes. We’ll put three hats on them and make them not want to get up, that’s the way to beat Texas."

Sounds like a plan to me.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Dolphins Open Preseason, Display Why They Traded for a QB

The Dolphins went all out to acquire ex-Jet quarterback Chad Pennington, and now we've seen why. The Fins were beat by the Tampa Bay Bucs, 17-6. All 3 Miami QB's played, and all 3 struggled to show any signs of progress. 2nd-year man John Beck, rookie Chad Henne, and career backup Josh McCown failed to get in the endzone, and never really looked comfortable. Chad Henne probably showed the most potential. Henne was 5 for 10 for 67 yards, but led both field goal drives. McCown and Beck will more then likely be fighting it out for the 3rd string QB job.

One bright spot for the Dolphins was Ricky Williams. 5 carries for 31 yards, including an impressive 12 yard run that showed that the old Ricky might be in that cloud of smoke somewhere. With about a month to go before the regular season, there is much work to do. Pennington will presumably get starting reps in practice this week, and it's only a matter of time before he is officially the starter. If the running game can get going, Pennington will be that much better, and the Dolphins might be able break that 2 win barrier this season. Next exhibition is Saturday against another solid defense in Jacksonville.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Ex-Jets QB Lands in Miami

The Dolphins were unable to land the big catch, but with Brett Favre going to New York, the Jets released quarterback Chad Pennington. That paved the way for the Miami Dolphins to sign the ex-Jet to a 2 year, $11.5 million deal.

Once again, Bill Parcells' old ties remain strong. Parcells drafted Pennington in the first round when he was a member of the Jets organization. In this years draft, the Dolphins also selected a QB, Michigander Chad Henne, which makes it appear that either John Beck or Josh McCown will be traded or released.

Pennington has had a solid career, albeit a roller coaster ride at times. A career 65.6% completion percentage ranks tops in NFL history among QBs with at least 1,500 pass attempts. 2007 was an above average year, as he completed 68.8% of his passes. He's also known to be a solid leader in the huddle and one of the smartest players on the field. The only downside he brings with him is his lack of armstrength, which has had him in and out of the starting role in New York the last few seasons. But I can live with that. This is clearly an immediate upgrade to the QB position for the Dolphins.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Canes Find Rising Stars in Byrd & Benjamin

Looking at the list of Miami Hurricane wide receiver commitments for 2008 a month ago, two names would have stood out - Aldarius Johnson and Tommy Streeter, both from Miami Northwestern High and both among the top 15 at their position coming out of high school. But as fall practices have progressed, those aren't the two names that Coach Randy Shannon consistently singles out for accolades (and Shannon isn't one for doling out accolades anyway).

No, the two that Shannon cannot stop effusing over are LaRon Byrd and Travis Benjamin. They were the #60 and #42 ranked high school senior wide receivers in the country last year, according to Although they both garnered some notable offers from college football powerhouses, they received nowhere near the attention and focus as Johnson and Streeter. In yesterday's practice at Coral Gables, Benjamin nabbed 3 TD's, including one off of a reverse and another of 50 yards. Byrd has a big, physical frame, but also has unlikely speed for a man of his size (6-foot-4), clocked last year at a 4.46 forty yard dash. In case you're wondering, Benjamin was recently clocked at a 4.26. Many are comparing him to Santana Moss and Roscoe Parrish - the next great slot man at the U.

It will be interesting to track Byrd and Benjamin's improvement. They are already one of the surprising developing storylines at Hurricanes practice.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

More Tidbits From Coral Gables

The Canes are 22 days away from the home opener against Charleston Southern, but I'm on top of the practice situation at Coral Gables as the Canes prepare for the Florida Gators (you can't honestly believe they'll spend 4 weeks preparing for Charleston Southern and 1 week preparing for UF). Here's the latest:

* It looks like Randy Shannon's son, Xavier, is locking down the starting center position. The 5th year senior who transferred this summer from FIU, where he was a multi-year starter, has gotten into offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland's good graces with his mental aptitude and advanced maturity (funny, they were saying things like that in the mid-80's about Shannon the Elder). He is physically unimpressive, but has picked up the offense better than anybody contending for the starting center gig (Tyler Horn, Matt Pipho, and A.J. Trump).

* Senior safety Anthony Reddick has been held out of practice the past couple of days. He's missed two seasons with ACL tears, so coaches are wary of bringing him back into the tough practice routines too fast.

* There was an article in yesterday's Herald about fullback Patrick Hill's head-hunting instincts, but check this quote out from his backup, freshman John Calhoun (not the 19th century Senator): "I was brought in to lay people out and that's what I'm going to do...I love the position to be honest with you." You just have to love the type of people Randy Shannon is bringing in to the program - sounds like old Miami to be honest, and I couldn't be more excited.

* Junior cornerback Chavez Grant, who has been the Hurricanes nickel specialist, is priming for a larger role this season on the outside, and will most likely start the season there. Freshman Brandon Harris, who has exhibited great cover skills and an impressive early display of leadership, is Grant's backup (for now).

* Someone put me to sleep for the next 3 weeks. I don't want to have to wait.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Marlins and Phillies: Take 4

The Marlins currently hold the season series lead 5-4, but 6 of the 9 games have been at home. In fact, every series has been won 2-1 by the home team.

This is a huge opportunity for the 2nd place Marlins. Trailing by 2.5 games for the NL East lead, the Fish could cut that to 1.5 with a series win (or take over first with a sweep). Falling to 3.5 or 5.5 back, however, would be pretty costly. Yes, these games are important.

What would I like to see most of all? How about a win over Jamie Moyer for a change! I just have a feeling that this will be it...we'll see if I'm right.

Summer Flash

Echoing Sponge's comments from a few days ago, how encouraging has it been to watch Dwyane Wade perform in the pre-Olympic exhibition season for Team USA? In case you haven't been watching, Flash leads the Americans in scoring, averaging 17.3 points a game - and this coming off the bench.

I dare say that he looks more explosive now than at any time in his career, coming off of shoulder surgery that kept him out of 31 games last season for the Heat. His defensive effort has been inspiring this summer - he is quick to jump into the passing lane and when he's got himself a steal, it is "good night, sweetheart" for a clear path monster dunk. A healthy and rejuvenated Wade, along with a squad that looks menacing (outscoring opponents in the exhibition season by an average of 36 points per game) and hungry, will likely signal a return to world basketball supremacy for the United States.

It was not a foregone conclusion that Flash was going to ever get back to his old form - surgeries have a funny way of making has-beens out of former stars (read: Penny Hardaway). It is awesome to see that Wade not only is back in old form, but may be better than ever. Watch out, NBA - he's baaaaack.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Dolphins Tab Starting QB (for now)...

The first depth chart of the year is out from Dolphins camp, and lo-and-behold, Josh McCown is listed as QB 1. Of course, head coach Tony Sparano was quick to point out that the depth chart is in a constant state of flux, so take it for what it's worth. Both 2nd-year QB John Beck and rookie Chad Henne are still in the running to take the start in pre-season meaningless game #1. From; "I don't make much of it right now. It's something that we had to produce and put out there so we put it out there," Sparano said. "That depth chart in your hands right now won't be the same this afternoon, never mind tomorrow, so it's going to change every single day."

From online blogs and random radio ramblings I've seen and heard so far, it seems as though Beck has been struggling early. While he did get quality playing time last year, he hasn't seemed to progress as much as you'd think\hope he would have. Josh McCown has been in the NFL going on 7 years now, so you'd assume he'd have the experience factor going for him, but it's hard to look back on his career and pick anything out that gives you hope. A career 58% completion rate along with 35 TD's to 40 INTs doesn't scream starter. Maybe Chad Henne will sneak into the starter's role after all. What's worse, the devil you know or the devil you don't? First "pre-season" exhibition game is Saturday against the Bucs. It might actually be interesting to watch, just to see who does what under center.

At Long Last...A UM Football Practice Report!

I feel like Rip Van Winkle awakening from a long and deep slumber, peering outside the window of my cavernous abode, and seeing the very brightest of sunshines for the first time in months. The happiest five months of the year are upon us - college and pro teams are holding spirited practices and there was even an NFL exhibition game last night (okay, so maybe that's not so exciting). The Canes, meanwhile, have held two practices. Here is the latest buzz from the Greentree Practice Field in Coral Gables:

* Perhaps the biggest question mark heading into the fall was at wide receiver, where Miami is counting on an awful lot of true freshmen to lead them. The newcomers did not disappoint. The stud of the group was the 6-foot-4, 211 pound LaRon Byrd, from Louisiana. Sporting the #47 and snatching balls out of the sky with scary regularity, Canes fans had a vision of another "playmaker" who wore the same number - Michael Irvin. His size is considerable, his speed more than adequate, and his hands well advanced for his relative inexperience. Two more newcomers who shone were Travis Benjamin and Davon Johnson. Benjamin dazzled with his speed (he clocked in Saturday at 4.26 in the 40 yard dash) while Johnson drew raves with his elusiveness. Both have the makings of excellent slot receivers and/or kick returners.

* The most intriguing question was who was getting a leg up in the QB race between redshirt freshman Robert Marve and true freshman Jacory Harris (from two-time state champion Northwestern). By all indications, both were good, and already at this young stage in the careers outperforming last season's starters Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman. That is welcome news, but honestly not very high praise, considering that Wright and Freeman seemed to be among the worst one-two quarterback punches in the country last season. Marve seems to have the slight edge because he's had been around one more season, studying film and learning from Wright and Freeman's (abundant) mistakes. Harris is said to have one of the more beautiful and effortless passing motions you will ever see. Both are leaders and competitors, so it should be interesting. Third-stringer Cannon Smith, who can be seen in the new movie "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2" (this is no joke), has made big strides since the spring, improving his arm strength and poise considerably (though probably not enough to enter into the conversation of who will start on August 28 against Charleston Southern).

* Marcus Robinson, rated the #4 outside linebacker in the Class of 2008 by, has been moved to defensive end because of depth concerns. He's one of the biggest incoming linebackers, and actually played some end in high school. Head coach Randy Shannon says that he should make an immediate impact as a third-down, pass rushing end. Wunderkind Allen Bailey sat out of the two practices, still recovering from a torn pectoral muscle.

* At defensive back, another thin position, Sophomore cornerback Demarcus VanDyke had a few pass breakups and looks to have bulked up a bit since last season. Brandon Harris looked fast and fierce. True freshman free safety Ramon Buchanon was getting plenty of reps this weekend, and VanDyke called him and fellow true freshman safety Vaughn Telemaque "ballers".

* I bought my tickets for the Charleston Southern game, and derived more joy from the experience than any man my age should.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Ready, Set, Practice!

Owls training camp begins Wednesday at 3:30 behind the Oxley Center. Heading into day one of practice, there are several major questions that face the Owls despite the fact that about 17 starters are returning from last year's championship squad. Among those questions:

1) Who will play tight end in place of the injured Jason Harmon? -- Rob Housler and Jamari Grant are candidates and will most likely split time. Grant has more experience but Housler may have the inside track for the starting job.

2) Will the defensive line be able to improve it's pass rush? -- Definitely. It couldn't be any worse than last year after half the line went down with season-ending injuries. It's a testament to the strength of the linebackers and defensive backs that the Owls were able to win 8 games with such poor QB pressure. The line improved as last year's fill-ins gained experience. This season should be a major improvement.

3) Who will play safety? -- Kris Bartels and Taheem Acevedo are gone. Who will take their spots? This is a major one that we'll have to keep an eye on throughout August.

4) Can Rusty Smith be as great as he was last year? -- I don't see why not. He had an unbelievable sophomore season, quite unexpectedly, after winning the preseason battle over Sean Clayton. Rusty now comes into 2008 as the undisputed starter and star of the offense, the Sun Belt, and the South Florida college football scene. Can he handle it? I think so.

5) Can the Owls keep their chip-on-the-shoulder swagger that made them so tough last year? -- Duh. Schnellenberger is the master of this type of motivation, especially with an August 30th date with Texas looming. The respect for Coach S in the Oxley Center borders on reverence. When he talks, everybody listens.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Streak Contines...

In tonight's Marlins win against the Rockies, starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco was dominating. He struck out a career high 13 batters, and except for two mistakes to Matt Holliday, was exceptional.

Yet he was taken out after 8 innings, and Kevin Gregg picked up the save. Good for Gregg, bad for the longest streak without a complete game in the Majors. The Marlins' last complete game pitched came 287 games ago, on September 16, 2006. Yes, the top of the order was coming up, but Ricky had only thrown 93 pitches. Except for Chris Volstad's starting debut, where he fell just one out short of snapping the streak himself, the Marlins have been relying heavily on the bullpen this season. Gregg has been solid as of late, and hopefully he will stay that way.

The good news from tonight is that with the win, the Marlins jump a half game ahead of the Mets, and remain a game and a half back of the Phillies. The Marlins make a trip northeast next week, where they will visit both New York and Philadelphia. That should be fun...

A Quick Reminder

At the baseball trade deadline, I was reminded why I'm no longer a Marlins fan.

It was never about the team at all. In fact, part of me writing this blog is to admit I was wrong about the team. I predicted the Marlins to finish in dead last in the NL East, and to set all kinds of losing records. I honestly didn't know where the wins were going to come from, but they have proven me wrong with power hitting, solid pitching, and a positive attitude. For me, giving up the faith was never about the team.

It once again comes back to the worst management in the history of sports. It isn't the fact that the Marlins didn't get Manny Ramirez, as I'm not sure he would have made THAT much of a difference. However, it is the reason that the Marlins didn't get Ramirez that kills me.

Early reports say the Red Sox were not only willing to give Ramirez to the Marlins, but they were going to pay for his entire salary as well. The Marlins then decided to ask for another two million dollars out of nowhere, perhaps giving Loria enough money to take a vacation this offseason as he deals away more players. Don't tell me that the deal fell through because the Marlins were reluctant to part ways with Jeremy Hermida, as many reports say that the Marlins would have loved to get rid of the potential large upcoming salary. In the end, as it always is, it was all about the Benjamins.

It's obvious that the asking price wasn't that much, as the Dodgers quickly stole the Marlins place in the trade and gave up very little to get a big bat in their lineup. The Dodgers will make a playoff run in the weak NL West, and it may come back to this trade.

I still contend that although I was wrong about the Marlins, and even though they continue to prove me wrong by splitting series with great teams, and even taking a few, there's no way in the world the Marlins make the playoffs. They will miss by 5-10 games, and it may indeed come back to this trade.

The Marlins may lose another couple of promising players this offseason because of salary concerns, but they will still compete and do well next year. We're just going to have to learn the names of about five new starters.

You know, same drill as every year.

Dwyane Wade Looks...Wade-like

I've waited nearly 18 months to say this. Dwyane Wade is back! He truly is.

Have you seen his performances in the Olympic tune-ups? It's not that he's dominating weak competition (which he is) or that he's become a key member of the team. That certainly helps the argument, but that's not the main reason. It's all in the hop.

He hasn't been this explosive in a long time. He's slamming down dunks we all thought left his arsenal. He's using that brilliant first-step again. Mark my words...Dwyane Wade and the Heat are back.

Marlins Goal: Hang Around

Tim Kurkjian told an interesting story on ESPN the other night. In Spring Training, Hanley Ramirez asked him why the national media wasn't paying more attention to the Marlins. When Kurkjian explained the low expectations, Hanley said "will you be there when we're a game out in September?" Kurkjian said: "We'll all be there." (I may have paraphrased some).

Well, it's now the beginning of August and the Marlins are 1.5 games out. Can they hold on for another month? Better yet, can they take the division lead again?

The opportunities are there. The Marlins may have lost last night, but the team has played superbly of late. Taking 2 of 4 in Chicago was quite a feat (look what happened to the Brewers in Milwaukee). They beat the Mets in a series. Both Annibal Sanchez and Josh Johnson looking strong.

September 1st...I say they can be a game within first, if not in first.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Bouwmeester Should be Traded Soon?

Bouwmeester's not long for Florida
By: Allan Muir
Sports Illustrated Article.

I'll never forget the first time I heard a scout gushing about a 14-year-old named Jay Bouwmeester. "I swore I'd never compare anyone to Bobby Orr," he gushed. "But that's exactly who this kid looks like."That scout wasn't the only one who dared invoke the name of the game's greatest defenseman -- and in my book, its greatest player -- when describing the potential of the young blueliner. It was his smooth skating, the effortless way he had of carrying the puck, his ability to make a game-changing play anywhere on the ice. This was a player who had a chance to be special.And while no one truly expected Bouwmeester to live up to Orr's unmatchable legacy, the hype dogged him through his final two seasons of junior, and through the early years of his NHL career. In fact, it took him until this past season before he truly looked capable of handling the role of franchise blueliner for the Florida Panthers.

His play hinted at an athlete who had finally grown comfortable in his own skin, someone ready to join the ranks of the game's elite defenders.But if he ever fulfills his potential, you can count on this: it won't happen while he's wearing a Panthers sweater.When Bouwmeester chose to forego arbitration and sign a one-year deal on Monday that is worth slightly less than $4.9 million, the signal was clear. He'll be the next in a heartbreaking line of Florida stars to desert that rudderless ship.Sure, the words coming out of the Bouwmeester camp in the wake of the agreement suggest that he would stay if only he could be swayed to believe the team is on the right track. Easy for him to say, because he already knows how this story is going to end.Who can blame him for seeking his emancipation?

The Panthers haven't been to the postseason in eight years, and in a tightly packed Eastern Conference where arguably only one playoff team, the New York Rangers, has slipped back, the chances of his club making the cut for the first time in Bouwmeester's pro career are slim. And despite years of high picks, there's little reason to believe that's going to change any time soon.Surely the parade of changing faces has been equally draining. Watching the team fail to keep Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen was painful enough, but add in the minimal return and it's a brutal reminder of an entrenched culture of mismanagement. So too is the fact that incoming coach Pete DeBoer is the fifth bench boss to guide the Cats since Bouwmeester joined the squad in 2002.

Despite the inevitable divorce that lies ahead, this deal is a good one for both sides. Worse comes to worst -- i.e. he spends the entire season in Florida -- Bouwmeester sets himself up to be an unrestricted free agent who can choose his own fate next summer.At the same time, his cap hit is manageable for almost every team, as long as a little salary comes back in the deal. That allows Florida GM Jacques Martin to entice the maximum number of suitors and maybe, finally, realize a reasonable return on the team's investment.So the only questions now are when Bouwmeester leaves, and for what?Conventional wisdom suggests that Martin keep his powder dry until the trade deadline, but that ain't gonna happen. Neither will he hold out until Jan. 1, 2009, the first point at which he can approach Bouwmeester about an extension.

The intentions of Bouwmeester are clear, so the time to pounce is early, perhaps during training camp. Not just because of the constant distraction that the situation will create, or the fear of an injury curtailing his value, although those factors certainly play into the equation. And not just because every game the Panthers lose further weakens Martin's bargaining power.No, they have to move Bouwmeeter asap in order to get the franchise moving in some direction -- hopefully forward -- rather than simply treading water.Who might be in the market? Who wouldn't be?The 6-4, 212 Bouwmeester is a package that any team would love to add. He's developed into the league's premier workhorse, leading the NHL in both total time on ice and average TOI per game last season. He hasn't taken a night off in three years.

The silky skating continues to be his primary asset, and his physical game is rounding nicely into shape. And while his point totals have dropped in each of the last two seasons (46 to 42 to 37), his goals have risen from five to 12 to 15, a sure sign of his increasing comfort with the puck and his improving ability to sniff out scoring chances. And Bouwmeester, the third overall pick in 2002, will have just turned 25 when the season begins in October.The Anaheim Ducks, already over the cap for this season, might seem like an unlikely candidate, but they'd have to be the leader in the clubhouse.

They have just one blueliner, Chris Pronger, under contract past this season and his deal extends only through 2009-10. The Dallas Stars, who could lose both Sergei Zubov and Philippe Boucher after this season, also should be in the running. The Senators and Devils also have the needs and the assets to get involved in the bidding.That particular process won't be for the meek. The package likely will be more than the one Atlanta won from Pittsburgh in the Marian Hossa deal (Colby Armstrong, Eric Christensen, top prospect Angelo Esposito and a 2008 first-round draft pick). Look for it to involve two high-end prospects with some NHL experience, a top junior-aged prospect and a first-rounder.That's steep, but for a special player like Bouwmeester, it's worth the risk.

If we can get more than what ATL got for Hossa, TRADE HIM NOW lol. I have no faith they will get a fair trade since they never do!

No Manny, No Problem.

Instead of attempting to lead a young ballclub near his home in Weston, Manny Ramirez becomes outfielder No. 5 in the "city of Angels" tonight. And even though the national media, as well as Philllies' and Mets' fans, will never miss a beat in reminding us we could have had that slugger with an IQ of around 58 on our team, all is well in Fishtown.

Bitterness? Maybe. Misinformation? Never. Looking deep into it, there was no need for a second Ramirez, he would have been nothing more than a luxury. As a Marlin fan ever since I became interested in the sport, its pretty obvious that things are never quite that easy around here. During both years pictured on that banner in deep left field at Dolphin Stadium, we've done it the hard way, winning the Wild Card, and finishing up with a ring.

In case you haven't noticed, the Marlins are only 2 games out of said Wild Card after the shellacking Milwaukee recieved from the Cubbies(who we were a Van Den Hurk away from winning a series against). And remember, this all occuring during periods of time where we saw guys like Mark Hendrickson on a regular basis.

I won't say its all coming together, because, frankly, I have no idea. The Fish have been all over the place this year, leaving me thrilled one day, and kicking myself the next. Theres been times where I've begged to sign guys like Uggla and Hermida to extensions, and wanted to throw knives at them some days later. But through it all, I love this team as it is, even though I'm welcoming Mr. Rhodes with open arms(any guy who does well with every team, then stinks it up with the Phillies is fine by me).

I'm probably blinded by the return of Anibal, followed by a 12-2 win against the Rockies(I guess they brough Coors Field with them?), but hey, maybe that's just Alan being Alan.Yes, I was willing to divulge my name for the purpose of this mindblowing story.