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New Rams' coach Linehan returns to Miami for exhibition finale
By Steven Wine
POST-DISPATCH NEWS SERVICES
MIAMI (AP) -- The Miami Dolphins' offensive turnaround last year was so impressive that coordinator Scott Linehan landed a head coaching job with the St. Louis Rams.
He'll be back on the sideline in Miami on Thursday for an up-close update on the Dolphins' progress since he left.
"It's getting kind of scary as I look at them," Linehan said. "That's going to be a fun team to watch this year."
Linehan will get only a brief sampling of the Dolphins' best when they face his Rams in the final exhibition game for both teams. The Dolphins, already focused on their regular-season opener a week from Thursday against Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh, are expected to play their starters a quarter or less.
"I didn't look at any tape of St. Louis," Miami linebacker Zach Thomas said. "I'm getting ready for Pittsburgh."
Still, the mostly meaningless game is a multiple reunion for Linehan, who spent one season in Miami and also coached new Dolphins quarterback Daunte Culpepper when both were with the Minnesota Vikings.
"It's a little bizarre," Linehan said. "I'm glad I'm able to go down there and see some people and say hello."
Linehan joined the Dolphins in 2005 when Nick Saban was hired as their coach. After losing 19 of 26 games in a two-year stretch, Miami won its final six games last season, thanks in large part to improvement by Linehan's offense.
He became a head coach for the first time at any level when he joined the Rams, taking over a team coming off a chaotic 6-10 season at the end of Mike Martz's six-year coaching reign.
Linehan said he took many of Saban's ideas with him to St. Louis -- but not the policy prohibiting Miami assistant coaches from talking to the media.
"I've stolen a bunch of stuff from him, trust me," Linehan said. "Nick doesn't leave any stone unturned. He's a very demanding guy, but that's a good thing, because I think everybody has to be on their game when you work for somebody that's demanding a lot. I just learned a whole bunch from him. He's certainly sending the Dolphin program well on its way."
The Dolphins, 9-7 last year, believe they're poised this season to challenge New England's reign in the AFC East. Former Buffalo head coach Mike Mularkey is the new offensive coordinator, but Saban credits Linehan with helping to establish a foundation for success.
"Scott did a great job for us," Saban said. "His contribution here will never be forgotten. The opportunity he has is well-deserved, and I feel certain he'll do a really good job."
Linehan was offensive coordinator for the Vikings from 2002-04, when Culpepper threw for 12,049 yards and 82 touchdowns, and the coach believes his former quarterback can take Miami to the championship level.
Linehan said Culpepper spoke with him before being traded to the Dolphins in March.
"I certainly felt Miami was his best option," Linehan said. "The components are there as far as the staff and players that he's playing with on offense, and what he brings to the table as a leader. It's all a perfect fit, and I'm glad it worked out for him."
Also returning to Dolphin Stadium on Thursday will be new Rams backup quarterback Gus Frerotte, Miami's starter last season. Like the other reserves, he's expected to see plenty of action, although Linehan wants to kick-start a first-team offense that has yet to score a touchdown in 11 possessions.
Judging from Miami's performance last season, linebacker Thomas said, the Rams' offense is in good hands with Linehan.
"Instead of just doing whatever you do, he attacks the weakness of the defense," Thomas said. "That's what I liked about him. He would try to get mismatches, and the teams with the best offense usually do that. They change their game plan weekly when they see what type of defense they're going to face. He does a great job with that."
St. Louis opens the regular season Sept. 10 against Denver. Despite a 1-2 exhibition record, Linehan said the Rams have had a successful training camp in a transition year.
"Our guys bought into what we're trying to get done," he said. "I think we're a much-improved team."