It was early 1991 and Jimmy Johnson, the third-year coach of the
Cowboys, and his first lieutenant, Dave Wannstedt, were looking
for an offensive coordinator to breathe life into an attack that
had finished 28th in the league the previous season.
"We talked to a few guys," recalls Wannstedt, now the coach in
Miami. "Gary Stevens, Joe Pendry, a couple I didn't even know.
Then I said, 'How about Norv Turner?' I'd coached with him at
USC. When Jimmy and I were at the University of Miami in the
1980s, we visited the L.A. Rams' camp. Norv was the receivers
coach there. We had a few drinks and talked football."
Turner was hired in Dallas, and the rest is history. In his first
season overseeing the offense, wideout Michael Irvin caught 93
passes (a club record at the time), Emmitt Smith won the first of
his three straight NFL rushing titles, and Troy Aikman went to
his first Pro Bowl after his passer rating spiked more than 20
points. In Turner's second and third seasons, the Cowboys won the
Now Turner gets the call again. Wannstedt has brought him to
Miami to turn its offense, which has played in the shadow of Dan
Marino since the quarterback retired after the '99 season, into
something that will have defenses on their heels.
"You can't typecast Norv," Aikman says. "What he'll do in Miami
will be different from what he did in Dallas or when he was in
Washington. But his real strength is gearing his offense to his
personnel, using those people in ways they're most
comfortable--and then creating mismatches."
Some of the personnel was already in place when Turner arrived.
The biggest addition is premier running back Ricky Williams,
acquired in a trade from the Saints a month after Turner was
hired. "I don't think I could have come to a better situation,"
Williams says. "Number 1, playing on grass is always nice.
Number 2, I love playing in the heat. Number 3, Coach Turner
isn't bashful about pounding away when the situation is right,
and number 4, we have a great defense. I feel that the stage is
Deep threat Chris Chambers, who burst onto the scene as a rookie
last season, will be Jay Fiedler's go-to guy. Chambers averaged a
league-best 18.4 yards a catch last year while learning the
offense, and he should jump-start a deep passing game that hasn't
scared anybody since the days of the Marks brothers, Clayton and
Duper. "They've got me moving all over the field, trying to get
me open," Chambers says, "kind of like the way the Rams do it
with Marshall Faulk."
In 1996 in Washington, Turner's system produced 1,014 yards for
35-year-old Henry Ellard and a league-leading 19.5 yards per
catch. Last season Turner oversaw a Chargers offense that had
three receivers who averaged at least 15.6 yards a reception.
Twenty-one teams didn't have even one.
For Miami, of course, the key is Fiedler, who's been a tough
competitor since Marino retired but not exactly a precision
passer. "We'll play to his strength," Turner says. "He'll break
containment. He'll throw off bootlegs, off rollouts. When we have
to, we'll use maximum protection with tight ends and a fullback.
But the ball will be coming out quickly."
"The beauty of Norv's system," Fiedler says, "is that he likes to
go downfield, but you're not going to drop back and hold the ball
forever. It's all on the break, it's all timing. For me, it's
perfect. I just hope the receivers are on the same page."
For the past few years Miami has been known for its defense, led
by a fine pair of corners, Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain, right
end Jason Taylor and far-ranging middle linebacker Zach Thomas.
The Dolphins have reached the postseason the past five years, but
every time they've gotten there, things have broken down.
"We've been a sound defense, but not something I'd call real
dynamic," Thomas says. "With the offense we'll unleash now, we'll
be able to be more aggressive, take more chances. We can blitz
more, for instance. We might give up a big play now and then, but
we'll make more of them, too. I promise you, we'll be exciting on
both sides of the ball." --P.Z.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Williams will add pop to a ground game that ranked 23rd in the league last year.
COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS CHESTER
--Mark Dixon, Miami's most consistent lineman the past four
years, was moved from left guard to left tackle on Aug. 17,
mainly because Jamie Nails has been performing so well. "The
last time I played there was in Canada in 1997," says Dixon. "We
threw 50 to 60 times a game. Even lab monkeys can figure out how
to pass block in a system like that."
ENEMY LINES an opposing team's scout sizes up the Dolphins
"There are things I like about this team and things I don't.
Ricky Williams is a tremendous talent. He was a great pickup. I
really like their wide receivers. Chris Chambers is ready for a
bust-out year. Oronde Gadsden is a classic possession wideout.
And believe it or not, I like Jay Fiedler. I never thought he'd
have a chance, but he's a competitor. He finds ways to win
games. Sometimes that's more important than being a pretty
passer.... Where it breaks down is on the offensive line. I
think it's the worst in the division. The left side? Who knows?
Their center, Tim Ruddy, is an old warrior who's on the
downside. Their right tackle, Todd Wade, has to have a real
smart guy playing next to him, and I'm not sure about Todd
Perry.... The defense has been keeping them up there for a
while, and you won't find a better pair of corners than Sam
Madison and Patrick Surtain, but they've got to fill two spots
on the line, and you wonder about their pass rush.... Jason
Taylor's a stud. It's a mismatch when he's one-on-one against
any tackle in the league, but Tim Bowens has got to take on the
role of inside pocket collapser and do it with consistency.... I
respect Dave Wannstedt for getting rid of [defensive tackle]
Daryl Gardener. It sent a message. The guy they picked up to
replace him, Larry Chester, is a plugger, a block-eater, and you
need someone like that to keep people off Zach Thomas. If Bowens
really turns it on, things will work out."
Sept. 8 DETROIT
15 at Indianapolis
22 N.Y. JETS
29 at Kansas City
Oct. 6 NEW ENGLAND
13 at Denver
27 Open date
Nov. 4 at Green Bay (Mon.)
10 at N.Y. Jets
24 SAN DIEGO
Dec. 1 at Buffalo
9 CHICAGO (Mon.)
21 at Minnesota (Sat.)
29 at New England
NFL rank: T19
Opponents' 2001 winning percentage: .488
Games against playoff teams: 8
PROJECTED LINEUP with 2001 statistics
COACH: Dave Wannstedt; third season with Miami (62-66 in NFL)
2001 RECORD: 11-5 (second in AFC East)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 23/19/21; defense 17/1/5
OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*
QB Jay Fiedler 90
450 att. 273 comp. 60.7% 3,290 yds. 20 TDs 19 int. 80.3 rtg.
RB Ricky Williams[N] 9
313 att. 1,245 yds. 4.0 avg. 60 rec. 511 yds. 8.5 avg. 7 TDs
RB Travis Minor 204
59 att. 281 yds. 4.8 avg. 29 rec. 263 yds. 9.1 avg. 3 TDs
FB Rob Konrad 194
5 att. 22 yds. 4.4 avg. 5 rec. 52 yds. 10.4 avg. 2 TDs
RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
WR Chris Chambers 61 48 rec. 883 yds. 7 TDs
WR Oronde Gadsden 161 55 rec. 674 yds. 3 TDs
WR James McKnight 174 55 rec. 684 yds. 3 TDs
TE Randy McMichael(R) 190  24 rec. 281 yds. 1 TD
K Olindo Mare 180 39/40 XPs 19/21 FGs 96 pts.
PR Jeff Ogden 379 32 ret. 11.8 avg. 0 TDs
KR Travis Minor 204 0 ret. no avg. 0 TDs
LT Mark Dixon 6'4" 300 lbs. 10 games 10 starts
LG Jamie Nails[N] 6'6" 360 lbs. 0 games 0 starts
C Tim Ruddy 6'3" 300 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
RG Todd Perry 6'5" 305 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Todd Wade 6'8" 325 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
LE Jason Taylor 47 tackles 8 1/2 sacks
LT Larry Chester[N] 27 tackles 1/2 sack
RT Tim Bowens 30 tackles 3 sacks
RE Adewale Ogunleye 1 tackle 1/2 sack
OLB Morlon Greenwood 29 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
MLB Zach Thomas 94 tackles 3 sacks
OLB Derrick Rodgers 44 tackles 1 sack
CB Sam Madison 18 tackles 2 int.
SS Arturo Freeman 27 tackles 1 int.
FS Brock Marion 52 tackles 5 int.
CB Patrick Surtain 43 tackles 3 int.
P Mark Royals[N] 83 punts 40.7 avg.
[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 98)
"Fiedler finds ways to win. Sometimes that's more important than
being a pretty passer."