|11-28-2005, 04:27 AM||#1|
Draft Defense Early&Often
Join Date: Oct 2004
Excellent Bobby Turner article
Broncos' run game is Bob and weave
Print By Lee Rasizer, Rocky Mountain News
November 28, 2005
ENGLEWOOD - They are five fingers working in unison.
At least that's what Bobby Turner tells his group of running backs that are in uniform for the Denver Broncos.
And if that analogy is true, Turner should be viewed as the wedding band adorning the hand.
Committed. Constant. Solid.
Turner's the ringleader, at minimum.
The assistant has been around for every one of the NFL-best 24,305 yards churned out by the Broncos running game in the regular season during the past 11 seasons. There have been nine 1,000-yard individual seasons, and there could be one, and an outside chance at two, more this season.
Most of the credit is given to the Broncos system, but it has been Turner who has coached the athletes who have thrived in that zone-blocking scheme.
And there have been no Xerox copies in that regard.
Turner has been able to overcome career-ending injuries to Terrell Davis and the trade of Clinton Portis while keeping production at a sustained level near or at the top of the league rankings. He has worked with big backs and slashers, players short and tall. There have been low draft picks and, well . . . he hasn't worked with a No. 1 draft choice other than Ron Dayne, the 11th overall pick of the New York Giants in 2000.
That speaks to the brilliance he has demonstrated during the years getting players prepared.
None of his current group was selected by the Broncos higher than the second round. Mike Anderson was considered old, Tatum Bell viewed by some as nothing more than a speedster and Cecil Sapp, no one knew what to make of him. Is he a fullback? Tailback?
Dayne and Kyle Johnson were cast aside by their original teams, and they have become solid contributors.
Nevertheless, the Broncos running game again is ranked No. 1 in the AFC, at 165.6 yards a game.
"They've been into what we're about, just like the other successful groups that have been around here," Turner told the Rocky Mountain News in his first public comments since December. "They put team above self."
Perhaps the biggest reason why is Turner makes sure Broncos running backs check their attitudes at the door.
And, in the rare instance he can't make that happen, that player is out the door.
Excellence is expected
Turner said his main teaching tool is knowing when to get out of the way. But his involvement is just as key.
"He's a guy who supports the running back corps and wants everything as meticulous as the day is long and wants everybody to perform and execute and be perfect all the time," Johnson said. "He does not accept average. He wants excellence and expects it. And he pushes you towards that every week, regardless of how you feel.
"Sometimes, it's to the point where you know you better go out there and perform your butt off or you're going to be trashed. But that's Bobby Turner. And that's consistent and fair."
To get an idea of how Turner operates, look no further than the game Thursday against the Dallas Cowboys.
Bell was out because of a chest injury and Dayne, who hadn't carried the ball since Oct. 2, was thrust into a key role.
The fact Dayne even had the opportunity for his 55-yard run that set up the winning field goal in overtime was somewhat surprising because Anderson, the team's leading rusher, was available.
But Turner entrusted Dayne to be in the game at that moment because, in his way of thinking, the Broncos do not have a No. 1, 2 or 3 running back, even though the depth chart says otherwise.
It was Dayne's turn to roll into the backfield, and it was Turner's gut feeling to roll him into the lineup.
None of the players blinked an eye at the move.
Turner is a seat-of-the-pants coach, but "the guys know that" and one week might be different than the next in terms of distribution and timing of snaps.
"It's a feel," Turner said. "We always have a plan, but I don't go for textbook stuff. I go by what I see."
It's why Anderson can carry the ball 21 times one week, then nearly split carries with Bell the next. Or why Dayne can take center stage other games. Sapp also has taken snaps from Johnson at fullback.
"We're all starters to him," Anderson said. "And he's going to put the same time, effort and energy into all of us. He's not going to differentiate from one guy to the next."
Turner has employed that mode of coaching during 33-plus years as an assistant all over the country. He began as a freshman high school assistant in Kokomo, Ind., then moved to college campuses at Indiana State, Fresno State, Ohio State and Purdue.
He joined Mike Shanahan's staff in 1995 having never worked with the new Broncos coach. Their relationship has evolved to the point where Turner said, "I'm here to be just an extension of Mike's arm."
"I'm not a genius," Turner later added. "And that's why I'm still an assistant."
But that doesn't mean he doesn't have designs on something bigger, if the right opportunity surfaced.
"Just like anybody else, I'd like to progress up the ladder, make as much money as I can and become a head coach or a coordinator," Turner said. "It's why I work my butt off. But I'm not in the tank about it. I'm here and I've got a great job."
Turner interviewed in February for the offensive coordinator job with the New Orleans Saints but was bypassed.
It was one of the rare interviews he has been granted during his Broncos tenure. And "while there have been jobs," he doesn't listen to friends who tell him he should keep interviewing to hone his skills and get his name circulated.
He only is interested in a "great, great situation" and the Saints job was viewed as one. He doesn't want to talk with another team unless he's inspired by the possibilities.
"I don't believe in wasting people's time," he said.
Anderson said he's rooting for Turner to get that promotion.
"It would be a blessing, and I'm sure a lot of the other backs that he coached over the years want that for him," he said.
Always an exception
It has been rare that Turner fails to get a player to buy into his philosophy, but that happened during the summer. It led to the player's exit.
Turner, in discussing his three decades-plus of coaching, referred to the Broncos' third-round draft choice Maurice Clarett as "the exception" in building a family-type bond with players.
The rookie's short-lived bid to make the Broncos was headline news because of his checkered past at Ohio State, and it was Shanahan on draft day who tied the selection of the controversial runner not just to his playing ability but Clarett's tight relationship with Turner.
The publicity surrounding Clarett is the reason Turner had been silent with the media this season. He felt too much of the focus would be linked to that one player. And in many ways it was, until Clarett was released in August in the first round of cuts.
Afterward, Shanahan admitted the pick was "a mistake."
That's only partially true, Turner added in hindsight.
"We didn't make a mistake on his ability," he said.
The problem came down to the constant baby-sitting that was required outside of practice and, essentially, Clarett's immaturity and introverted nature. Turner said many of those signs weren't apparent despite two years of phone calls with the running back after Clarett's failed bid to gain early entry into the NFL.
"It had nothing to do with, 'He couldn't play.' He could play. He has ability," Turner said. "But you have to play within the system and do the little things and be a team player."
The failure to demonstrate such traits surprised Turner, given Clarett's two years out of the game. But once it became apparent the back wasn't a good fit, he turned the page, despite Clarett's high draft status.
"I'm not against being put out front and saying I made a mistake and move on," he said.
And move on the Broncos have, with Clarett a distant memory.
The Broncos (9-2) enter their game Sunday at Kansas City trailing only the Atlanta Falcons (183.1) in rushing yards a game. They lead the AFC in runs of 20 or more yards, rank in the top five in rushing touchdowns (16) and their per-carry average of 5.0 yards would set a franchise record.
Anderson is on pace for 1,183 yards and Bell for 931 in their bid to become the fourth tandem to crack 1,000 rushing yards in a season.
Dayne is a born-again star after his Thanksgiving heroics. Johnson has scored five touchdowns on 14 touches. And Sapp is a versatile spare part and special-teams player.
If they are indeed five fingers, they have been molded into a fist to deliver knockout blows.
"There are no superstars," Turner said. "And game in and game out, someone's contributing."
Broncos running backs coach Bobby Turner helps summarize the five players he coaches:
• Mike Anderson: "Nothing this guy has done has surprised me. I expected Mike Anderson to play the way he's playing right now and I expect him to play better. He's a really tough guy and he's always been the leader," even when players such as Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary and Clinton Portis were around.
• Tatum Bell: "Mentally, he's really matured." And from a playing standpoint, the second-year back has learned that speed alone isn't enough. Bell's doing a better job setting up and using his blocks. But he still has further room to grow. The key is staying healthy. And "he has to start playing with more of a chip on his shoulder."
• Ron Dayne: "I've always told him he's going to help us on our road to the Super Bowl." And Dayne always has responded that he would be ready when his opportunity comes. The back had a touchdown and 55-yard run in overtime Thursday. "I'm happy for him because he's a class guy. He's what you look for. . . . He doesn't complain. It's a business and he knows it's a business, so I don't have to pick him up. Some guys get so deflated you'd have to strip them off the floor."
• Kyle Johnson: The fullback has been solid catching the ball out of the backfield in the clutch, but he needs to re-establish himself in terms of being a dominant lead blocker. "That's the thing he's got to get back to."
• Cecil Sapp: "A tweener" but also "a plus." Might be just average as a fullback and halfback but has the versatility to help in both areas and "I don't have any problem using him" at either spot.