At this point in his honeymoon with Miami, Jimmy Johnson can
make intimidation seem romantic. When a handful of players were
late to Johnson's first team meeting last January, he threatened
them, not so gently suggesting that it better not happen again.
Four months later, at the start of minicamp, every player on the
Dolphins' roster was seated in the meeting room 10 minutes
before the first session began. Finally, someone is scaring
these guys into shape.
Last year's 9-7 performance from a team essentially built and
bought to win the Super Bowl drowned Florida in a deluge of
disappointment. Whatever Johnson does with the team this season
will be viewed as bright sunshine forcing out the storm. "Jimmy
set the tone from the start about what's expected," says backup
quarterback Bernie Kosar, who played for Johnson at the
University of Miami. "He doesn't have a lot of rules. He wants
you on time and to give all you have. Of course, he says it more
All the same, Dolphins fans shouldn't expect an undefeated
season in 1996 or, for that matter, even a winning season. The
pricey free-agent roster additions over the last few years--for
instance, Miami signed safety Gene Atkins, defensive lineman
Steve Emtman and tight end Eric Green for a combined $28
million--have proved to be of Super Bowl caliber in paycheck
only. Johnson believes that developing talent is the best way to
win. "I think there's a risk when you try to build through free
agency," he says. "A guy from another club will have an opinion
on how you do things. I'm not interested in having a lot of
When Miami's three best defensive players--end Marco Coleman,
linebacker Bryan Cox and cornerback Troy Vincent--bolted from
the team as free agents during the off-season, Johnson didn't
panic. Instead of signing nominally talented veterans to replace
the trio, he promoted their backups and selected seven defensive
players in the draft. The coach says that on film, Baylor
defensive tackle Daryl Gardener, the team's first-round pick,
"looks like Reggie White." At the team's minicamp in April,
Johnson anointed fourth-round choice LaCurtis Jones and
fifth-rounder Zach Thomas Miami's best cover linebackers.
Last season the Dolphins' defense let the pace of games be
dictated to it. This year, with the new coach's emphasis on
speed, defensive schemes will be more aggressive. A rotation of
as many as six players will be shuttled in and out at each
point of the defense--on the line, at linebacker and in the
Johnson knows better than to mess with Dan Marino's role in the
offense. "Dan is going to have--it's anybody's guess--two,
three, optimistically, four more years," Johnson says. "I think
it would have been a tragedy for me to completely restructure
the offense with a bunch of new players and build through the
But Marino might be the only returning starter on offense whose
job is secure. Johnson has a penchant for casting off players as
if they were deadweight slowing down his yacht. Last February he
asked fullback Keith Byars, one of the true leaders on the team,
to take a $992,000 pay cut, to $500,000. When Byars refused,
Johnson released him. Upon finding no takers for his services in
the free-agent market, Byars re-signed with the club for
$300,000. Wholesale changes will continue to take place in the
backfield, where Miami hasn't had a rusher gain 1,000 yards
since Delvin Williams did in 1978. (It has also been nine years
since the Dolphins averaged 4.0 yards a carry in a season.) Both
having suffered major knee injuries in 1994, neither Byars nor
fourth-year back Terry Kirby are durable enough to carry the
ball 25 to 30 times a game a la Emmitt Smith. By the end of
September, don't be surprised to see two rookies, third-round
pick Karim Abdul-Jabbar and fourth-round selection Stanley
Pritchett, seeing extended playing time in Miami's attack.
Last January, when Marino first met with Johnson, the
quarterback told his new coach that he would be happy passing 10
times a game if it meant winning a Super Bowl. Owner Wayne
Huizenga showed the same whatever-it-takes commitment to winning
a championship by gracefully forcing out 26-year coach Don Shula
and immediately tabbing Johnson for the job. But Johnson knows
he can rely on his reputation only so long. "As long as we win
games, everything is fine," says Johnson. "As soon as we come up
short, the honeymoon is over."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER COVER [REGIONAL] New Era Dan Marino's title hopes get a boost as the Jimmy Johnson regime begins
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES After a run-in with Johnson, Byars may find himself run out of the backfield. [Keith Byars]
BY THE NUMBERS
1995 Yards per Game (NFL rank in parentheses)
Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 94.1 (21) 263.1 (4) 357.3 (8)
DEFENSE 104.7 (12) 223.1 (19) 327.8 (16)
Jimmy Johnson inherits from Don Shula a team that has not only
failed to win a Super Bowl in 22 years (an alltime pro sports
record for consecutive years without winning a league's
championship under a single coach or manager) but has also
tailed off dramatically toward the end of recent seasons.
Dolphins' Record by Month in the 1990s
September 16-6 .727
October 16-7 .696
November 14-11 .560
December-January* 13-13 .500
December-January** 3-4 .429
*Regular season **Postseason
PLAYER TO WATCH
Around South Florida, fullback Stanley Pritchett is already
being hailed as a young Keith Byars. It could be just a matter
of a few games before Pritchett, a 1996 fourth-round pick out of
South Carolina, actually takes the 10-year veteran's place in
the starting lineup. Last season the 6'1", 232-pound power back
led all rushers in Division I-A with 62 catches. "I think
catching the ball out of the backfield is my favorite play,"
says Pritchett, who possesses deceptive 4.7 speed and may also
see time at the halfback spot.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
Head coach: Jimmy Johnson
QB Dan Marino 482 att. 309 comp. 64.1%
3,668 yds. 24 TDs 15 int. 90.8 rtg.
RB Terry Kirby 108 att. 414 yds. 4 TDs
FB Keith Byars 15 att. 44 yds. 1 TD
TE Eric Green 43 rec. 499 yds. 3 TDs
WR O.J. McDuffie 62 rec. 819 yds. 8 TDs
WR Fred Barnett[*] 48 rec. 585 yds. 5 TDs
WR Charles Jordan[*] 7 rec. 117 yds. 2 TDs
LT Richmond Webb 6'6" 303 lbs.
LG Keith Sims 6'3" 309 lbs.
C Tim Ruddy 6'3" 290 lbs.
RG Chris Gray 6'4" 296 lbs.
RT James Brown[*] 6'6" 329 lbs.
PK Pete Stoyanovich 37/37 XPs 27/34 FGs
LE Jeff Cross 6 sacks 2 fum. rec.
LT Daryl Gardener (R)[*] 3 1/2 sacks 0 fum. rec.
RT Tim Bowens 2 1/2 sacks 2 fum. rec.
RE Trace Armstrong 4 1/2 sacks 1 fum. rec.
OLB Aubrey Beavers 0 sacks 1 int.
MLB Dwight Hollier 0 sacks 0 int.
OLB Chris Singleton 1 sack 1 int.
CB Robert Bailey[*] 0 int. 0 sacks
SS Michael Stewart 1 int. 0 sacks
FS Gene Atkins 1 int. 0 sacks
CB Terrell Buckley 1 int. 0 sacks
P John Kidd 57 punts 42.7 avg.
PR O.J. McDuffie 24 ret. 6.8 avg.
KR Irving Spikes 18 ret. 21.0 avg.
[*] New acquisition (R) Rookie (college statistics)