Turner's history: Maximizing young talent

By all accounts, the Vikings are close to hiring Norv Turner as their offensive coordinator. Given his last two stints as offensive coordinator, that could be good news for young Vikings like Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Rudolph.

Norv Turner's last two stints in the NFL as an offensive coordinator have both been one-year stays marked with big jumps of improvement in young stars.

Turner turned his 2006 run with the San Francisco 49ers into a head coaching gig with the San Diego Chargers, where his six-season stay there featured only one losing season – his last, with a 7-9 mark.

In the last decade, Turner has been a head coach more often than an offensive coordinator, spending 2006 with the San Francisco 49ers and 2013 with the Cleveland Browns as their offensive coordinators.

So if Turner is installed as the offensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings, what can fans and observers expect? He is known for a vertical passing game and commitment to the running game. Both of those philosophies came easier when he had LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates and Philip Rivers with the Chargers, or, going way back, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman with the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1990s.

But what about when he didn't have a triumvirate of superstars at skill positions on offense? Looking at what the San Francisco 49ers were before Turner arrived and then when he was there, or what the Cleveland Browns were before he arrived and what they were in 2013, it seems Turner has been able to identify young talent and quickly maximize it.

With the 49ers, Turner's only season there was far and away the best year for running back Frank Gore. With the Browns, his only season there turned Josh Gordon into a superstar. In both cases, he didn't have much else to work with at the skill positions and, at best, marginal quarterbacks.

So maybe Turner can maximize Adrian Peterson's talent and quickly bring on the star-quality seasons for younger players like Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Rudolph.

Here is look at Turner's last two go-rounds as a one-and-done coordinator:



Running attack:
Trent Richardson nearly hit the 1,000-yard mark, but he still only averaged a paltry 3.6 yards per carry as the featured back.

Passing attack: Josh Gordon proved himself as a deep threat, averaging 16.1 yards per reception but he had only 50 catches, keeping him at 805 yards and five touchdowns. Greg Little was the leading receiver with 53 catches and had 647 yards and four touchdowns. Brandon Weeden took the majority of snaps, but completed only 57.4 percent of his passes and threw more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (14).


Running attack:
The team rushed for only 1,383 yards on 348 carries but averaged 4.0 yards per carry. It seemed to be a lack of commitment to the running game, but there wasn't a truly productive guy in the bunch that would really make Turner want to run the ball much. Willis McGahee rushed 138 times but averaged only 2.7 yards. Before they dumped Trent Richardson for a first-round pick, he averaged only 3.4 yards per carry. Their running game was a lack of talent more than anything.

Passing attack: Josh Gordon had a breakout season, catching 87 passes for 1,646 yards (18.9-yard average) and nine touchdowns. It's no wonder the Browns turned away teams that were interested in trading for him. Tight end Jordan Cameron also nearly hit the 1,000-yard mark, catching 80 passes for 917 yards (an 11.5-yard average) and seven touchdowns. Brian Hoyer was effective enough early, but he attempted only 96 passes before a knee injury ended his season and he was the only quarterback on the roster with a rating above 80. After him, Weeden (52.8 completion percentage and 70.3 rating) and Jason Campbell (56.8, 76.9) didn't do enough to impress. Interestingly, despite Turner likely the long ball, the Browns actually regressed slightly in yards per attempt, from 6.5 in 2012 to 6.4 in 2013.

Conclusion: The quarterback situation was even more restrictive in Cleveland than in Minnesota. Turner definitely maximized on the potential Gordon showed. Ultimately, it was hard to balance an offense, or at least make it productive, that didn't have a top running back and didn't have much at quarterback either.



Running attack:
The 49ers were trying to break in Frank Gore and rookie quarterback Alex Smith and didn't have the elite weapons to get that accomplished. Gore got the most out of the running attack, but still only carried 127 times for 608 yards and three touchdowns. He didn't carry it more than 10 times in a game until the second half of the season.

Passing attack: Smith didn't get to do too much either until the final five games of a 4-12 season. As a team, the 49ers finished with only 2,190 yards passing and averaged 5.6 yards per attempt. Their team passer rating was an abysmal 53.6.


Running attack:
Gore exploded onto the scene in 2006 with Turner at the helm in his only season there as offensive coordinator. Gore rushed 312 times for 1,695 yards (5.4-yard average) and eight touchdowns. He was also their leading receiver with 61 catches for 485 yards and a TD.

Passing attack: Arnaz Battle caught 59 passes for 686 yards and Antonio Bryant had 40 catches for a team-leading 733 yards. Alex Smith was the full-time starter, completing 58.1 percent of his passes for 16 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and a 74.8 rating. He accounted for all 2,890 yards passing, which isn't great but was a 700-yard improvement over the quarterback-by-committee approach in 2005.

Conclusion: Turner took two second-year players on the upswing of their careers – Gore and Smith – and turned in some productive seasons. For Gore, it was easily the most productive year of his career and he hasn't come within 400 yards of that output since. For Smith, it was the only time in the first six years of his career that he exceeded 2,400 yards passing. He elevated the team's yards per attempt to 6.5, nearly a full yard better than the previous season.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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