Coach Jimmy Johnson has oriented the Dolphins' offense toward
the run in the off-season, and he was preaching the gospel of
smash-mouth one day in his office when he nodded at the huge
fish tank that is its centerpiece. Two new, ferocious-looking
fish--spiny, circular, brown-white-and-blue guys--patrolled the
waters, waiting for the live-and-let-live fish to emerge from
the shelter of sea anemones and coral. Then, Johnson said with
some excitement, the monsters would pounce.
This is an article from the Aug. 17, 1998 issue
"Volitan lionfish," he said, like a proud papa. "Imported from
the Philippines. I put a dozen goldfish in the water the other
day, and they each ate six. I've had a passive tank before, but
I wanted some tougher fish, some real meat eaters."
With Johnson, everything is a message. Here it came. "You know
why I like 'em? They're beautiful, they're smart and they're
The same traits, Johnson hopes, are what he has instilled in the
Dolphins in his three drafts with the team. The proof, he knows,
is not in the record. Miami is a very un-Johnson-like 16-16
since Johnson came aboard 32 months ago, and he says with some
justification that the turnaround has been slowed by the
horrendous salary-cap situation he inherited from the final
desperate 1995 Don Shula signings. But Johnson isn't without
blame here. He was cowed by the looming presence of Dan Marino
into keeping a pass-happy offense he hated; Miami would have
been significantly better than .500 in the last two years if in
1996 Johnson had built the Dolphins to run. After Miami was held
to 162 total yards in a 17-3 wild-card playoff loss to the
Patriots last December, Johnson fired longtime offensive
coordinator Gary Stevens and replaced him with running backs
coach Kippy Brown.
What has the tanned natives getting a little restless from
Islamorada to Boca Raton is the failure of Johnson's Dolphins
drafts to produce more-spectacular results. In Johnson's first
three years (1989-91) in the Dallas war room, the Cowboys
harvested stars like Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Erik Williams
and Leon Lett, as well as solid starters Daryl Johnston, Mark
Stepnoski, Russell Maryland, Tony Tolbert and Larry Brown. The
run of three Dallas Super Bowls in four years began in 1992.
No one around Miami--except Johnson, maybe--is expecting a Super
Bowl anytime soon, and the dream of Miami fans that he would
build a super team around Marino now seems remote. Johnson hit
home runs in Dallas. He definitely has not struck out in Miami,
but his hits have been doubles and singles. With the Dolphins,
remember, he has had nothing like the Herschel Walker train
robbery that helped the Cowboys get so good so fast. In Dallas,
Aikman and Maryland were the first overall draft choices. In
Miami, Johnson's first picks have been, in order, 20th, 15th and
29th overall; in '96, he had one pick in the top 75. The only
borderline All-Pros from Johnson's first two drafts have been
linebacker Zach Thomas and pass rusher Jason Taylor, who came in
the third round last year and immediately became the front-seven
player with the most impact.
"If you take away Troy and Emmitt, I think our first three
drafts here are comparable to our first three in Dallas,"
Johnson says. "We got Troy because we had the first pick, and
Emmitt [No. 17 overall] might be one of those once-in-a-lifetime
picks. But after that most of the players we took, even the ones
who started and made an impact, are the type we've drafted here.
Most of those Cowboys didn't get recognized until we won Super
Bowls. For instance, I think it will prove out that if we win,
Stanley Pritchett's about the same as Daryl Johnston. But how do
you know yet? This year, [cornerback] Patrick Surtain might be
the best pick we've made here. Kenny Mixon's already our best
every-down defensive end, and Lorenzo Bromell's close. I know
they'll be good players. They need time."
This is an impatient business, though. "They obviously brought
Coach Johnson to Miami because he's a draft guru," says Surtain,
taken 44th overall out of Southern Miss. "The guys he picks, he
wants to play. Being a rookie, I like that. Whether you're a
rookie free agent or a 10-year vet, he's going to play the guy he
thinks is best."
The Dolphins need Johnson to be right on the Surtains and the
Mixons, preferably before Marino is fitted for his bust in
Canton. "We weren't far away last year, when we ran an offense I
didn't like, and we had the worst run of injuries in a year
since I've been coaching," Johnson said. "We were 7-7 coming
down the stretch, and if we've improved as much as I think we
have, we're going to be pretty good."
They had better be. There's something about a two-season .500
record while having Dan Marino's arm and Jimmy Johnson's head on
the same team that just doesn't compute. --P.K.
Sept. 6 at Indianapolis
27 OPEN DATE
Oct. 4 at N.Y. Jets
12 at Jacksonville (Mon.)
18 ST. LOUIS
25 NEW ENGLAND
Nov. 1 at Buffalo
15 at Carolina
23 at New England (Mon.)
29 NEW ORLEANS
Dec. 6 at Oakland
13 N.Y. JETS
21 DENVER (Mon.)
27 at Atlanta
1997 Record 9-7 (2nd in AFC East) NFL rank (rush/pass/total):
offense 29/2/11; defense 17/25/26
1998 Schedule strength NFL rank: 27 (tie) Opponents' 1997
winning percentage: .465 Games against playoff teams: 5
Miami left tackle Richmond Webb has been protecting Dan Marino's
blind side since 1990, and he has seven Pro Bowl appearances to
show for it. Marino and Webb have started 110 regular-season
games together, the second-highest total of any active
quarterback and offensive lineman who are currently NFL teammates.
Team Quarterback Offensive lineman Seasons Games
Cowboys Troy Aikman Nate Newton 1989-97 123
Dolphins Dan Marino Richmond Webb 1990-97 110
Packers Brett Favre Frank Winters 1992-97 88
Cowboys Troy Aikman Erik Williams 1991-97 85
Broncos John Elway Gary Zimmerman 1993-97 74
Patriots Drew Bledsoe Bruce Armstrong 1993-97 74
49ers Steve Young Harris Barton 1987-97 74
The Dolphins running attack, which rushed for a measly 3.1 yards
per carry last season (the league's fifth-worst average in the
past 20 years), should get a much-needed shot of nastiness from
right guard Kevin Donnalley and backup left guard Scott Shaw, a
fifth-round pick out of Michigan State. Donnalley, an eight-year
veteran who played last season with the Oilers and joined Miami
as a free agent for $3.8 million a year, says, "You have to want
to go out there and hit and cause pain and knock guys into the
ground and make them quit in the third quarter." Shaw, who
tested as the strongest lineman at the combine, jests that he
gets his jollies by beating up his father and torturing his
fiancee's cat. "Sounds like a winner to me," says offensive line
coach Larry Beightol.
Projected Lineup With 1997 statistics
Coach: Jimmy Johnson
Third season with Dolphins (61-51 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Dan Marino 43[PVR*] 548 att. 319 comp. 58.2%
3,780 yds. 16 TDs 11 int. 80.7 rtg.
RB Karim Abdul-Jabbar 93[PVR*] 283 att. 892 yds.
3.2 avg. 29 rec. 261 yds. 9.0 avg. 16 TDs
FB Stanley Pritchett 265[PVR*] 3 att. 7 yds. 2.3
avg. 5 rec. 35 yds. 7.0 avg. 0 TDs
RB John Avery (R)[N] 108[PVR*] 166 att. 862 yds.
5.2 avg. 19 rec. 113 yds. 5.9 avg. 7 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR O.J. McDuffie 150[PVR*] 76 rec. 943 yds. 1 TD
WR Yatil Green** 129[PVR*] 42 rec. 669 yds. 3 TDs
WR Michael Timpson[N] 345[PVR*] 42 rec. 484 yds. 2 TDs
TE Troy Drayton 170[PVR*] 39 rec. 558 yds. 4 TDs
K Olindo Mare 83[PVR*] 33/33 XPs 28/36 FGs 117 pts.
PR John Avery (R)[N] 108[PVR*] 8 ret. 10.6 avg. 0 TDs
KR John Avery (R)[N] 108[PVR*] 13 ret. 24.2 avg. 1 TD
LT Richmond Webb 6'6" 320 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Jeff Buckey 6'5" 305 lbs. 16 games 12 starts
C Tim Ruddy 6'3" 300 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
RG Kevin Donnalley[N] 6'5" 305 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT James Brown 6'6" 330 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Kenny Mixon (R)[N] 60 tackles 7 sacks
LT Tim Bowens 48 tackles 5 sacks
RT Daryl Gardener 52 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
RE Jason Taylor 42 tackles 5 sacks
OLB Robert Jones[N] 78 tackles 1 sack
MLB Zach Thomas 128 tackles 1 int.
OLB Derrick Rodgers 80 tackles 5 sacks
CB Patrick Surtain (R)[N] 64 tackles 6 int.
SS Shawn Wooden 83 tackles 2 int.
FS Brock Marion[N] 117 tackles 0 int.
CB Sam Madison 21 tackles 1 int.
P John Kidd 52 punts 43.2 avg.
[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 88)
**1996 college statistics
1995 college statistics