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Right away Clark told Shula that Miami had to have Paige, a 5'10", 235-pound fullback, whom the run-and-shoot Detroit Lions had left unprotected because big backs are unnecessary in that offense. "And after looking at film, I felt we had to get some unselfish, powerful blocking," says Clark. Paige was already being recruited by the Bears when the Dolphins called. But Clark went into a full-court press. Paige stayed at Clark's house for two nights, and they played golf together. At the end of Paige's visit, Miami quarterback coach Gary Stevens asked Paige whether he wanted to play for Chicago or catch 50 passes from Marino. "I'm so glad I went down and played golf with Monte Clark," says Paige now.
Feeling that the Dolphins needed more inside muscle to stop opposing rushers, Clark also signed Odom, who had been left unprotected by the Indianapolis Colts. Then in April, on the first day of the draft, Shula selected Texas A&M tackle Richmond Webb in the first round and Iowa State guard Keith Sims in the second. They would play side by side on the left side of the offensive line for all but seven plays during the preseason.
On the second day of the draft, the Dolphins traded two draft picks to San Francisco for McKyer. "We needed a good coverage corner," said Shula after making the deal, which was viewed by some in the league as a risky move. The 49ers had suspended McKyer last season for insubordination after he had a run-in with coach George Seifert, who McKyer says kept him on the sideline despite McKyer's insistence that he was ready to return from a groin injury. "I'm just different," McKyer says. "But I played hard for the 49ers. I wasn't a barroom brawler."
In training camp, starting offensive linemen Roy Foster and Jeff Dellenbach were holdouts in contract disputes, forcing Shula to go with his youngest line ever: Webb, Sims, second-year center Jeff Uhlenhake, third-year guard Harry Galbreath and fourth-year tackle Mark Dennis. Average age: 24. Junior and Rick Graf were supposed to compete for the strongside outside linebacker job, but Graf hurt his knee and Junior was playing lackadaisically, so the Dolphins put Griggs up against Junior. Griggs won the job.
Early on, McKyer called together the defensive players and ripped into their attitude. "I just didn't see the things I was used to seeing with a world championship team," he says. "I saw disarray. So I told them, 'If you're satisfied with just being in the NFL and not being a world champion, then you're just another player, no matter how good you are.' "
Some veterans who didn't like being admonished by a newcomer grumbled. But, as McKyer says, "I think at times here they had an every-man-for-himself attitude. It became a 'we' attitude."
In the first three weeks of the season, Miami overcame a poor start by Marino in the opener to beat the Patriots in the final two minutes, held the Buffalo Bills to 44 yards rushing in a 30-7 victory and then lost convincingly to the Giants. Since then, the Dolphins have won six straight, and in those 24 quarters they haven't allowed a rushing TD. They haven't been giving up deep passes, either.
Odom, All-Pro inside linebacker John Offerdahl and a combination of Lee and third-round draft pick Alfred Oglesby at nosetackle are strong enough to shut down the inside rushing game. When opponents go to the air, the Miami cornerbacks are maintaining their coverage so long that quarterbacks have to scramble and look for second and third receivers. And because they don't have to help the corners with their coverage of wide receivers, safeties Jarvis Williams and Louis Oliver can roam the field and create other headaches for offenses. The Dolphins don't blitz much, so the key to putting pressure on the passer is to make him take longer to throw.
"I'm not just saying this because I'm a cornerback," says McKyer. "But I believe the teams with the best corners win the Super Bowl. It just gives your defense the time to do so many more things when the people on the perimeter are not giving up big plays."
As the Jets prepared for last week's game, they were shocked to see how well the Dolphin defense was playing. "When we broke down their film for the last three games," said New York coach Bruce Coslet on Friday, "there wasn't one snap against their goal line defense. And those teams had been in the red zone [inside the Miami 20-yard line] on six plays. Six plays in three games. That's unbelievable. They're not doing a damn thing different than they were last year. They're just doing it better, with better players."