On paper the Miami Dolphins don't look a whole lot different than last year when they went 8-8 with an offense that ranked 26th in the 28-team National Football League. The Dolphin running backs all seemed to move as though they were carrying anvils.
During the off-season, quarterback Bob Griese, a 14-year veteran who was already being pushed last year by rookie David Woodly of LSU, announced his retirement. Even two years ago Griese would have been considered irreplaceable, but his lack of mobility made hims expendable.
Head Coach Don Shula will now go with Woodley, who actually started 10 games last season (of which Miami won five), but whose "greening" as an NFL quarterback may require another year or two.
The knock on Woodley is that he has trouble finding his receivers soon enough: that he does nog throw long nearly as well as he throws short; and that his inexperience in clutch situations still shows. But the fact that Shula plans to stay with him says a lot for David's potential.
Each year the NFL puts out a press release in which it quotes each head coach on his prospects for the coming season.
While there is nothing particularly startling in Shula's report, he did say this: "We went through transitions last year with our offensive line and secondary and those areas always take time to get right. But the people we have there now give us a feeling of stability.
"We also have other need areas that will have to be improved," he continued. "We're going to need more coordination between the defensive line and our linebackers to make us playoff contenders. On offense, we have to get back to coming down with all balls that are catchable and making the big plays. Dropped passes last year often kept us from maintaining possession on the football."
Nobody knows exactly now Shula and Joe Thomas, who has brought back into the organization by owner Joe Robbie, are going to hit it off. Thomas acquired some great talent for Miami when he was the team's personnel director before, but likes to get into areas that the coach may consider his own. Whether this will lead to any turbulence remains to be seen.
Right now Shula is busy restructuring his offense, paying more attention to his ground game and looking for ways to spring his fasterst backs to the outside. One thing Woodley can do that Griese couldn't is put the football under his arm and run with it on broken plays, and this should make opposing defenses more cautious.
One solution to the running game could be Tony Nathan, who started six games in the latter part of 1980 and gained 97 yards in the finale against the New York Jets.
Although Woody Bennett returns to play fullback, he could be under some pressure from Andra Franklin, the team's No. 2 draft pick from Nebraska. Playing time may also have to be found for rookie Tom Virorito from Virginia.
Woodley, who opposing scouts say has a big league arm, will probably be looking first for wide receivers Nat Moore and Duriel Harris. Moore caught 47 passes last year for 564 yards and seven touchdowns; Harris 33 for 583 yards and two TDs.
In terms of preparation, organization, and scouting, Shula is cut from the same mold as Dallas Coach Tom Landry and ex-Los Angeles Rams Coach George Allen, who pay strick attenton to detail.
"I don't believe in gimmicks," Shula says. "I like to work within the rules and I like to do this with as much poise as possible. You win with strenght, not luck, and by how much you accomplish in practice during the week."
Like most NFL coaches, Don charts and reviews game films until he can almost see them in his head.
"To get the clutter out of our playbook we usually scrap everything that doesn't work almost every time," Shula told reporters. "We're constantly adding options or new stuff because an offense to be effective needs flexibility."
Defensively, Miami has a chance this year to match both the Baltimmore Colts and the New England Patriots in its division. The questions are all on offense -- the quality of the Dolphins' running backs and Woodley's ability to come somewhere near what Griese was two years ago.