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Dolphins Revived by Their Defense : Raiders: Rookies, castoffs make Miami No. 1 heading into Monday night's game against L.A.

November 18, 1990|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

You probably remember the No-Names and Killer B's, but in recent years the Miami Dolphin defense has pretty much been all fins when it came to tackling.

Now, in 1990, comes an improbable turnaround: a defense that cracks and crunches. One that pounds. The Miami Pound Machine? If the nickname fits, use it.

The Dolphins finished 24th overall on defense in 1989. Some perspective: A much-maligned Ram group, one that got Christmas cards from opposing quarterbacks near and far, finished three slots better at 21st.

But on the eve of a triumphant return to "Monday Night Football" against the Raiders, Miami Coach Don Shula offers the nation not the flashiest sun-tanned quarterback, but rather the NFL's No. 1 defense.

The lineup is overloaded with castoffs and overachievers who have somehow pulled together to complete a Dolphin jig-saw puzzle.

"It's just been some things that have fit together for us," Shula said.

So who are these "superstars?"

Well, a ninth-round draft choice, Jeff Cross, leads the team in sacks with 10. Starting inside linebacker, Cliff Odom, was picked up as a Plan B free agent when Indianapolis left him unprotected in 1990.

Starting left outside linebacker David Griggs is a free agent who spent most of 1989 on the developmental squad after New Orleans had released him.

Alfred Oglesby, a rookie, is starting at nose tackle.

The first pass rusher off the bench, linebacker E.J. Junior, was picked up on Plan B after his career was presumed over as a Phoenix Cardinal in 1988. Junior has five sacks, his highest total since a 9 1/2-sack season in 1984.

Veteran outside linebacker Hugh Green, a Medicare project in 1985 after an injury-plagued career in Tampa Bay, has remained sound enough to display his considerable talent in his 10th season.

There are two other important factors in the resurgence of the Dolphin defense:

--Tim McKyer. In San Francisco, he was a talented, hotheaded cornerback who was deemed more trouble than he was worth. So, April 23 the 49ers traded him to the Dolphins for second- and 11th-round draft choices. McKyer has since solidified the team's cornerback position.

--John Offerdahl. The all-pro linebacker missed the first six games of 1989 in a contract dispute and his absence hurt. This year, he is back, better than ever, and leads the team with 58 tackles. He is one of the league's best linebackers against the run and has the numbers to prove it. The Dolphins ranked 25th against the run in 1989. This season they're No. 2.

The tone of the defense, however, has been set by the hard-working Cross, a no-name defensive end from the University of Missouri who has taken average athletic ability to new heights. He currently ranks second in the AFC in sacks with 10, and has already equaled his sack total of 1989.

Shula said he would like to take credit for Cross, but you don't wait nine rounds for star players.

"Had we known, we wouldn't have waited to take him where we took him in the draft," Shula said. "This guy is very, very serious. He's willing to give everything he has. Some athletes are that way; some athletes don't do more than they have to."

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