Offensive linemen are typically the most anonymous players on a football team. With offenses focused more and more on throwing down field and putting points on the board, the battles in the trenches between 300-pound linemen often becomes unremarkable. It’s a job for the selfless and the brave. Protecting the quarterback and making holes for the running backs is dirty work; work that resonates with Miami Dolphins offensive line coach Jim Turner.
You see, 24 years ago, a young Turner decided to enlist in the United States Marine Corps like his father did before him. A tough kid out of Boston, he felt compelled to join the fight with Iraq — the first one, for those counting — and do his part for America. So he stepped down in the early stages of his coaching career at Kent State, using his degree from Boston College to become an infantry officer.
The Marine Corps is where he learned all about hard work, discipline and leadership. Turner’s unit was stationed in Israel when a live-ammunition training mission took a devastating turn. A stray bullet hit one of his Marines and the Navy Corpsman under his command lost their nerve.
Friend and fellow Marine Chris Platt recalled the incident by saying, “Jimmy got him focused. He [Turner] told the medic that the [injured Marine] wasn’t going to die and to get him fixed.”
Turner helped to save the man, and that focused leadership would define the rest of his military career, and his life.
After four years of honorable service and a few tours to the Mediterranean, Middle East and Japan, Turner returned to football. In 1994, he began coaching running backs at Northeastern University in Boston. Stints with Boston College, Temple, Delaware, Harvard and Texas A&M would eventually lead him to the NFL‘s Dolphins where he would catch on with friend and colleague, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.
But for Turner, coaching will still never compared to his time in the Marines. He even told Miami Dolphins writer Andy Kent as much last year: “As far as being a football coach and preparing to be a football coach, I don’t think there’s any greater experience that I’ve had in my life than my four years in the Marine Corps.”
Turner is entering his second season with the Dolphins and they still have a lot of work to do. In the last year, the ‘Fins have changed their line pretty heavily. Gone is Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long, who signed with the St. Louis Rams in the offseason. In his place stands second-year player Jonathan Martin, a converted right tackle from the year prior. While Ritchie Incognito still holds down the left guard spot and Mike Pouncey is still a top-five center, newly signed free agent Tyson Clabo is taking over at right tackle next to the revolving door at right guard.
If the Dolphins expect Ryan Tannehill to use all the toys that Jeff Ireland found for him in the offseason, Turner’s line is going to have to gel quickly and work hard. If in three games this year we haven’t heard a single thing about the Dolphins line, you can expect that they’re doing well. And just like stoic offensive lineman, they don’t need your praise; because just like Marine Jim Turner, it’s their job to protect everyone else and they’re happy to be leading from the front.