- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Three cheers for a name you seldom hear mentioned in the Dolphins' organization—Chuck Connor, the team's player personnel director since 1978. The strength of the Dolphins of late has been the steady influx of young talent supplied by Connor, plus, of course, the direction Don Shula gives these newcomers. It's to Shula's credit that he gives Connor almost a free hand in running the draft. At the start of camp this year 27 players from Connor's first four drafts were still around—and half a dozen or so from the class of '82 could make the club. That youthful talent makes this edition of the Dolphins a vibrant team on the rise, a team that should remain at championship level for a while.
There are two problems: injuries and quarterbacking. Injuries seem to be almost contagious. One leads to another. Before you know it, you're in a battle for survival, and every week the p.r. man is playing the numbers game in his release: "The club has now placed 25 players on injured reserve this season, representing 502½ quarters of missed action."
Shula has been through it. His 1976 season, for instance, wound up on the sidelines on crutches. The Dolphins had their share of misery in this year's camp. Right Cornerback Gerald Small and Flanker Nat Moore were slow to recover from knee injuries, and a rookie whom Shula has been dying to try at Moore's spot, 4.28 blazer Mark Duper, was hobbling on a sprained ankle. Left Corner-back Don McNeal broke a rib in practice, Center Mark Dennard broke his left arm. Kicker Uwe von Schamann was being treated for colitis that had caused him to lose 25 pounds.
The second problem should be resolved by opening day. David Woodley, a gifted young quarterback, did fine last year—11-3 in games he started—right up until the marathon playoff game against San Diego. When Woodley faltered that day, 31-year-old Don Strock came off the bench in the second quarter and threw four touchdown passes. Six of his first seven drives put points on the board. So what does Shula do? Send Strock, who's always been more effective in relief than as a starter, back to the bench, or bench Woodley and thus lower the kid's confidence? The guess is that Woodley will be the starter, with Strock warming up.
If everybody gets healthy (Dennard and McNeal are expected back early in the season), the Dolphins should be in the postseason tournament. Two eye-catching rookies are outside linebackers Charles Bowser and Ron Hester, both 4.5 sprinters. Roy Foster, the No. 1 pick, could win a job on the offensive line by late season. "He's not an Anthony Munoz," one coach said, "but he's not the Pillsbury Doughboy, either."
New York Jets
The New York Sack Exchange deserved all the ink it got. What it did was turn a 4-12 club into a 10-5-1 playoff team. When a team that hadn't had a pass rush for a decade suddenly comes within one sack of the alltime record, it's like a muscle relaxer for the whole body.
So let's hear it for the front four—from left to right, Mark Gastineau, Abdul Salaam, Marty Lyons and Joe Klecko. Salaam and Lyons would get deep penetration up the middle, and when the quarterback tried to escape, Klecko and Gastineau would be there waiting for him. The result: 66 sacks.
The defensive backs could play bump-and-run, they could play combination zones, they could play anything they wanted, because the passer simply wasn't going to have that much time. The linebackers could play tighter coverages, the offense got better field position...the whole equation worked.