Crash Course

Sept. 13, 2004
Sept. 13, 2004

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Sept. 13, 2004

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Crash Course

The Dolphins traded for wide receiver Marty Booker just 22 days before the opener. Here's what he's had to learn

Five hours before an Aug. 21 preseason game against the 49ers, there was a knock on the hotel room door of Bears wide receiver Marty Booker. It was his coach, Lovie Smith. "Sit down," Smith said.

This is an article from the Sept. 13, 2004 issue Original Layout

Booker's first thought: What did I do wrong? He went over a checklist in his head. He'd been named a team captain the day before. He wasn't screwing up on the field, even though he'd had to learn new terminology for the offense. All was well with his family; his wife, Tamala, had just had a baby. Booker sat on his bed, clueless.

"We're in the process of trading you," Smith said.

Not once since 1999, when Chicago drafted him out of Northeast Louisiana in the third round, had Booker heard even a rumor that he might be traded. He could think of only one thing to say: "What team?"

"Miami," Smith said.

The Bears had agreed to deal Booker and a third-round pick for holdout pass rusher Adewale Ogunleye, if they could sign him long term. By the time the game ended at 10 that night, Chicago had negotiated a contract with Ogunleye, and the trade became official. It is the first time since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 that Pro Bowl players (Booker in 2002, Ogunleye in '03) had been swapped during training camp.

"You know," the 28year-old Booker said last week, on Day 11 of his new life, "you always hear how this is a business and [a trade] can happen to anyone. But when it happens to you--wow. It just takes over your life. I'm a very sensitive dude."

Just what happens when a player has to adjust to a new city, a new team, a new offense and a new position--all 20 days before the season opener? Booker, who had 52 receptions last season after catching 197 balls over the previous two years, is not a backup who could gradually learn the Dolphins' offense. After wideout David Boston's season-ending knee injury and Ricky Williams's sudden retirement, the Dolphins need him to be a weapon instantly. The team was quick to let Booker know what was expected.

In his initial practice receivers coach Jerry Sullivan threw Booker into a drill with the first-team offense. Then in a preseason game at Tampa Bay five days after his arrival, quarterback Jay Fiedler passed to Booker on three of his first eight attempts, connecting on an eight-yarder for Miami's first third-down conversion.

In Chicago, Booker had played all the receiver positions but served mostly as the "Z" receiver, who splits wide right. In Miami, Chris Chambers occupies that spot, so Booker was moved to the left side and became the "X." Fortunately, though, the Bears had switched in the off-season to a numerical play-calling system: "One" is a hitch pattern, "two" a quick slant, "three" an out route, and so forth. "The best thing for me coming here," Booker says, "was they ran the same offense. When I got here, I said, 'Whew! I already know 80 percent of this!' As far as switching to the other side, that's cool. If it's best for Chris, I don't care."

Once Booker grasped the system, it was time to address the little things. "The two quarterbacks throw totally different balls," he says. "Jay's a touch passer. A.J. [Feeley] zips it." He had daily tutorials with Sullivan, who showed Booker tape of other wideouts who ran a route better than he did. "I demand correct technique," says Sullivan. He saw Booker coming off the line lackadaisically on one route soon after the trade, and that afternoon he showed him footage of Boston and Anquan Boldin--receivers whom Sullivan had coached in Arizona--sprinting after the snap.

"The adjustments?" Booker says. "Football's been my life, and I've had to learn to adjust throughout my career. I had five or six different quarterbacks in Chicago. I wasn't a first-round pick, so I always had to work for everything. I couldn't use the excuse of a new quarterback or a new playbook. I'll be all right. I'll learn the corners in this division. What I really want is, at the end of this year, for people to say, That was a smart trade for Miami."

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COLOR PHOTOGARY BOGDONGET A GRIP Miami hopes that Booker can be an instant threat.