At Miami, Shula is building a ball club faster than the hotels used to go up along Collins Avenue. Coming off a 3-10-1 season, which put the Dolphins dead last in the weakling AFL East, Shula knew he had to work hard and fast. In Quarterback Bob Griese, Running Backs Jim Kiick and Larry Csonka, and Middle Linebacker Nick Buoniconti he had the makings. But some ingredients had to go. Shula canned backup Quarterback Rick Norton, even though Norton had $105,000 still coming to him on a $350,000 salary-bonus deal. More important, he picked up Center Bob De Marco from Pittsburgh and the renowned Paul War-field from Cleveland. "The Dolphins bought themselves into contention in the Eastern Division," commented Oakland's Al Davis when he saw Warfield catch one TD pass in traffic and set up another on a 46-yard pass in the exhibition win over Cincy.
Shula also obtained Tight End Marv Fleming from Green Bay, and drafted another big young feller who'll give Fleming a tussle for the spot: Jim Mandich of Michigan. Indeed, four rookies have made the club. Cornerback Tim Foley of Purdue and Safety Jake Scott of Georgia are practically sure starters barring injury. Scott, who played in Canada, is one of those hard-chargers whom coaches love to describe as "too dumb to choke."
Two rookie linebackers will flank All-Pro Buoniconti, Mike Kolen of Auburn and Doug Swift of Amherst—of Amherst? Swift—6'3", 230—is a free agent, something of an intellectual and a complete surprise. When asked during a hazing session to sing his school's fight song, the blond, bespectacled Swift was unable to comply. "To my knowledge," he said, " Amherst doesn't have one. We didn't exert ourselves overly, and only practiced two or three times a week."
Overall, Shula's employees have applied themselves so smartly to his new system that the team is bound to improve, and could win as many as eight games. The Dolphins should finish no worse than third in the five-team division and, with a bit of racing luck, could go even higher. If so, Offensive Line Coach Monte Clark's concept of positive feedback—"victories in terms of labor expended"—will have worked.
If dollars spent on acquiring new talent were any gauge of greatness, the Buffalo Bills should be at the pinnacle of pro football. Last year it was O. J. Simpson, this year Dennis Shaw, the San Diego State quarterback who emulated O.J. in his long-drawn-out signing negotiations (he outlasted Simpson, showing up at camp a day later than his fellow Californian did last year). O.J. is starting to pay off. So is Shaw, who showed he could move the club in an exhibition game with Atlanta, and may be the one to take over Jack Kemp's old starting berth, which he relinquished to run for Congress. Shaw has already beaten out Jim Harris, the black quarterback who was a flop in the preseason and was put on waivers. Shaw's remaining rivals are the well-battered Dan Darragh and Jim Ward, whom the Bills claimed from Baltimore.
Coach John Rauch is looking to youth in his defense, too—and, accordingly, has come up with a decidedly collegiate wrinkle: using Al Cowlings as a rover. Booker Edgerson, 31, a mainstay at corner, was traded and replaced by Robert James, 23; Middle Linebacker Edgar Chandler, 24, beat out Harry Jacobs, 33, who was waived; and Pete Richardson, 23, supplanted the waived George Saimes, 29, at free safety.
One offensive monument, Center Al Bemiller, who had played in 174 games, was toppled and cut, but Paul Maguire, who holds the AFL career record for punts (712) and set an unenviable record of 100 punts last year, endures.
Last and Least
If the Shavian touch materializes, the Bills could avoid the cellar this year. The Boston Patriots probably won't. Under Coach Clive Rush, Running Backs Jim Nance and Carl Garrett were the whole show last year and appear to be about it this season, too. Wide Receiver Ron Sellers needs a sharper quarterback than Mike Taliaferro to become a threat.