The Dolphins best long-term hope for replacing Richie Incognito? That might be draft pick Billy Turner, who recounts in matter-of-fact manner how he was bullied as a child.
The face of the bully scandal that gave the Dolphins a public relations black eye and nearly collapsed the 2013 season is a memory now. The team has definitely moved on from Incognito.
His possible replacement is Turner, a third-round draft pick who played tackle at North Dakota State, is working exclusively at guard for Miami and loves playing the left side of the line that Incognito also played.
Turner, 6-5 and 315 pounds, comes from a small college and with a proverbial big chip on his shoulder.
“I’ve played with a chip on my shoulder since I started playing football in the third grade,” Turner said. “I was playing with the kids in the fourth and fifth grade, and they thought I was going to come in a be soft and they were going to be able to beat up on me. But I got two older brothers, and that’s where my aggression comes from.”
The aggression Turner speaks of was a response to tough treatment he not only survived but seemingly thrived off of when he was a youngster. That older sibling who was hitting Turner, pushing Turner, tormenting Turner so much?
That brother was the source of Turner’s inspiration on the football field.
“I was the one getting bullied all the time by my older brother when I was growing up,” Turner said Friday after the first of this weekend’s three rookie minicamp practices. “When I started playing football, I played up with older guys. I came in and played center right away, and everyone thought they were going to beat me up and bully me because I was younger. They thought I was going to be soft.
“But I just got out there and unleashed my anger. The anger I had built up from getting mad and [peeved] at my older brother was what came out in my play. That’s how I developed that strategy and that style of playing with a chip on my shoulder.”
That playing style Turner speaks of can be described as an attacking mode of offensive line play.
“When I put the helmet on and I snap it up, it’s like a switch getting turned on,” Turner said. “I’m [full throttle] every play. I’m not going to give up on anything. And from the moment that ‘h’ comes out on the ‘hut’ I’m going to be as aggressive as I possibly can with the play call, trying to beat that guy and trying to bruise him.”
The NFL is filled with tough guys. Most play on defense because that side of the football encourages an innate desire to initiate contact and, yes, punish the opponent.
Offensive players, and linemen in particular, are often more composed. They’re so focused on execution and technique that the violence of their play is sometimes suppressed.
But when one of the biggest men on the field lets loose of his aggression, it becomes obvious.
And Turner’s aggression was obvious to Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey when he watched him play.
“It’s one of the first things you notice — the nasty demeanor and the desire to finish blocks and finish his play,” Hickey said of Turner. “This is a tough game, and you have to be able to match that. We really liked his demeanor. That was one of his strong suits.”
Turner jokes how the bullying from his older brother “dialed down” years ago — probably about the time Turner was two inches taller and maybe 100 pounds heavier than his sibling.
So how did Turner keep his fire? Where did his on-field anger go for a refill?
It seems a theme has followed Turner’s football career, which has served him well in staying, well, kind of in a bad mood on game days.
“At the end of my freshman year [in high school], I started practicing with the varsity team a little bit and it was that same kind of thing I had experienced before. ‘We got a freshman out here, let’s try to beat him up a little bit,’ ” Turner said.
“My sophomore year I ended playing with the varsity, and it was the same kind of thing. I felt I had to prove myself as a player. I got a scholarship up to NDSU, and I started playing as a true freshman and it was the same thing. Right now it’s more of me going to the Senior Bowl and being the guy from the small school. It’s being here and being a rookie from a small school. It all ties in. It’s been a theme since the beginning of time in football for me.”
Hey, whatever works for him.
Turner’s approach is different than that of first-round pick Ja’Wuan James. Although Hickey says both are “smart” and “tough,” James seems more staid if not passive. Turner isn’t that.
Neither rookie has been told he’s starting … or not starting. The Dolphins are being careful not to put too much pressure on either player too soon.
“I don’t know if I’m going start. I don’t know if I’m going to play this year,” Turner said. “But at the same time, I’m trying to do everything I can to help this team as soon as possible.”