Play-calling tailored to what players do best

Posted by Vic Carucci on January 23, 2013 – 10:01 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

MOBILE, Ala. – Identifying Norv Turner’s greatest coaching strength is simple. The man is a superb caller of offensive plays.

Ask defensive coaches around the NFL who have faced him, and they’ll say it. Other offensive coaches will, too.

Turner’s play-calling skills are the primary reason he climbed from an assistant coach to a head coach, spending 14 seasons in that capacity with three teams – the Washington Redskins, Oakland Raiders, and San Diego Chargers.

And they are what the Cleveland Browns plan to utilize to the fullest during Turner’s first season as their offensive coordinator.

There are a wide variety of reasons that he has found success in this area, but none bigger than making certain the plays he calls fit the abilities of the players who execute them.

“The most important thing is … you have to understand what you’re capable of doing, what your players are capable of doing,” Turner told me during Wednesday’s Senior Bowl broadcast of “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford.” “You have to work hard to get good at as many things as you can. And then you have to be realistic in terms of what they’re capable of doing. That gives them the best chance to be successful, and then, obviously, that gives you, with your calls, the best chance of having success.”

Turner has remained true to that thinking since his first stint as an NFL offensive coordinator, with the Dallas Cowboys, from 1991-1993. During that time, Turner oversaw a scheme that featured three future members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin.

Turner has a rule that plays that aren’t successful in practice won’t be called during games. But he does make exceptions.

“There was one time we had a play in that Michael Irvin thought was going to be a touchdown, and it was incomplete in practice,” Turner recalled. “And on Friday he says, ‘Hey, call it and I’ll make sure we make it work. It’s going to be a touchdown.’ I said, ‘We can’t make it work in practice, Mike.’ He said, ‘Call it. Trust me. Call it, and we’ll do it.’ So I made an exception that time, and it did score a touchdown.

“But the biggest part of play-calling for me is your guys being able to execute what you’re asking them to do. And when they can do that, they make you look real smart … and (players) are a little more committed to making it work when they’ve stuck their neck out a little bit.”

Browns coach Rob Chudzinski, who served as Turner’s tights end coach/assistant head coach in San Diego in 2009-10, will have a major role in collaborating with Turner on the game plan and play-calling.

“We want to attack on offense to keep the defense on their heels,” Chudzinski said. “We’re going to use multiple personnel groups, plays. It’s not necessarily what plays we’re running. It’s more about the people and putting them in the right places. That’s something that he’s done for years.”

The other morning, Chudzinski and Turner were watching videotape of the Carolina Panthers from the 2012 season, Chudzinski’s second as their offensive coordinator. The two coaches were bouncing different ideas off of each other. They recognized that, in the two years they have been apart, they’ve both done “some different things” with their respective offenses.

“Bringing it all back together is going to be real interesting,” Chudzinski said. “And I think, at the end of the day, we’re going to have a heck of a package.”

Although it rarely was a problem during Charger home games, Turner does take weather into account when choosing plays. He ran into a fierce combination of rain, wind, and cold when the Chargers suffered a 7-6 loss to the Browns on Oct. 28 at Cleveland.

“The one that’s the hardest is the real rainy days when you put the rain and wind together and you do have to adjust and the short passing game and be able to run the ball and understand that those games aren’t going to end up 38-34,” Turner said. “You’ve got to manage the game a little bit different. The advantage you have (in Cleveland) is you get to practice in it.”

Turner will also serve as the Browns’ quarterbacks coach.

In that capacity, he should be able to do plenty to help in the development of the Browns’ fairly young collection of quarterbacks.

“It’s about their technique and it’s about their drop and it’s about getting themselves in position to be able to deliver the ball quickly, deliver the ball on time,” Turner said. “Usually, we spend some time getting guys sped up, a little more compact. I think all the quarterbacks (on the Browns) are extremely young, so I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal. I don’t think they have a lot of bad habits ingrained.

“I think they’ll adjust very quickly.”

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>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at or by e-mail at or by calling 855-363-2459.

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