Armando Salguero

Larry Csonka sees great possibilities in Dolphins retro running offense

Former Miami Dolphins battering ram running back Larry Csonka just got an up-close look at the team's new power running attack. That reminded him of past success and suggested to Csonka this team could be en route to future success.
Former Miami Dolphins battering ram running back Larry Csonka just got an up-close look at the team's new power running attack. That reminded him of past success and suggested to Csonka this team could be en route to future success. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Larry Csonka has punished some television sets with a similar violence and brutality he used to treat defensive players half a century ago during his days as a Miami Dolphins running back.

“Trust me,” Csonka says on a phone call this week, “in the last eight years I’ve destroyed at least seven or eight TV sets trying to watch the Dolphins -- where from as far away as Alaska I stuck my foot through the TV a couple of time because I was so pissed because of unnecessary errors and penalties.

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“It’s idiotic things that happen that can cost you a game. And I’m seeing a much more disciplined team the last few weeks of this season.”

Csonka got a close look at the 2016 Dolphins last Sunday when he watched from the Miami sideline during the team’s victory over the Buffalo Bills. And the Hall of Famer who was a personification for power-running-football came away impressed with the latter day version of Dolphins physical football.

Csonka saw the work of 200-yard rusher Jay Ajayi and Miami’s offensive line and came away thinking a retro-style offense is returning to his team.

“I think I have been very pleasantly surprised,” Csonka says. “And I don’t mind admitting that I’m using the word, ‘surprised’ because what I really kind of looked for from Miami the last few years, based on the history with the quarterbacks starting all the way back to Shula-Marino, was that everyone was trying to throw the ball, throw the ball, throw the ball on offense.

“It was just like beating your head against a doorknob ... But at the same time, any team that has the capability of beating you with a short passing game and a power running or ball-control offense, really poses a threat on today’s market. As it did in yesteryear. As it always will. Because when you have the ball and control it and control the clock, you control the game.

“And if you get good enough at that, you can beat people that normally, if you’re playing their game of wide-open offense, you might not.”

Larry Csonka weighed 10 pounds at birth. He was a 6-3 and 237-pound running back when some NFL defensive linemen were about that size. The running style he used on defenses, for the uninitiated, was akin to a jackhammer driving unceasingly into concrete.

When he retired, the man who baked in Miami’s heat for seven season began working in Alaska because, well, once you beat the sun you can apparently also take on snow and ice.

So Zonk was and remains one bad dude. He knows about being tough and playing physical. And he is seeing both from these Dolphins.

“What I noticed besides the fact the offense was on the field for more than a minute and a half was the difference in the unit that had come off the field after getting the ball back repeatedly,” Csonka says. “They were setting down there and getting oxygen and getting rested. And they started to look refreshed. And they started to stand up and walk toward the sideline.

“Then the offense not only stayed on the field, they actually drove over 50 yards the length of the field. When they did that, this was the middle of the third quarter, I saw the defense standing up and cheering. When your defensive players feel good enough in the third quarter to stand up and be encouraging toward the offense, you’ve got two things happening: You’ve got a great team situation happening. And you’ve got an offense that is letting the defense get back on their feet after stopping the offense.”

Csonka is a student of great offensive line play. This conversation includes talk of a double-trap power run play. But Csonka obviously is aware it is Jay Ajayi who is carrying the Miami offense with his hard-running style while also benefitting from excellent offensive line blocking.

Sound familiar?

No, Larry Csonka isn’t going to compare himself and Ajayi. But he does see similarities to a great back when he watches Ajayi play.

“I would say, you remember a guy named John Riggins?” Csonka asks. “He had the jets, meaning he could turn it on. Perhaps not as much as the fellow we’re talking about. But he had speed. But he also had the little nifty move that I’ve seen executed several times on this Dolphins field lately.

“He just had a way of seeing it coming, because of his good peripheral vision, and at the last minute he would go the opposite direction or cut back underneath it. Those in-tight moves, almost basketball moves, I see some of those [in Ajayi]. That makes me think about Riggins. He had that.”

Csonka makes it clear that “having” and “keeping” are different. And he values Ajayi being able to sustain what he’s currently doing.

“If he can sustain that, it’s going to be just aces,” Csonka says. “If he can, that means the offense is staying on the field and you’re getting that many running plays complemented by short quick passes coming off the running action, that means you’re a whole different ball of wax to be dealt with by the other team’s defense.

“Whatever Mr. [Ndamukong] Suh drinks, whatever kind of Gatorade or health drink that he drinks, I think that running back should start drinking that same thing because he needs a big dose of mean. He’s got to have mean and tough all sewed up. And I don’t mean talking tough or acting tough. I mean doing tough.

“I mean doing tough in the sense of you can take the pounding and keep coming at them ... So far he is doing that in spades. But he’s got to maintain that. He’s got to be able to withstand the pounding. And it seems to me that’s a hungry lookin’ kid. What round did he go? Fifth round?

“He’s chompin’ at the bit and he’s starting to establish himself as a guy who can do it, and sustain it.”

You can follow Larry Csonka on twitter: @Larry_Csonka39 and on Facebook.

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