Turner's best work? Maybe with Cleveland

Norv Turner's system is generally praised for what he accomplished with the Cowboys and Chargers, but last year in Cleveland he made the best of a bad situation and made stars out of previously average producers.

There is a sense of excitement as to what offensive coordinator Norv Turner brings to the table for the Vikings offense. Fans harken back to the offenses he had in Dallas, Washington and San Diego, but perhaps the best example of how his offense can be effective came from one of the worst offenses he worked with – the 2013 Cleveland Browns.

As a team, the 4-12 Browns were pretty anemic and it was no surprise at the end of the season when the coaching staff was cut loose and sent packing. But, when one looks at what Turner was able to accomplish with the pieces he was given, it is a testament that his offense works.

The biggest issue the Browns faced was the lack of a running game. Trent Richardson was an expensive mistake, but when the Browns found a dupe as a trade partner in Indianapolis, they shipped off Richardson for a first-round pick in May's draft. At the time, many thought the Browns were intentionally going into the tank to get the top pick in the draft, because, while they were getting a first-round draft pick in exchange for T-Rich, they were getting nothing in the short-term. But, instead of slipping into oblivion, the Browns turned lemons into lemonade and made the best of a really bad situation.

Considering what Turner was up against, some of the things the Browns were able to accomplish were a testament to his offensive system.

The quarterback situation was muddled at best, but the Browns rallied around career backup Brian Hoyer to win three straight games, including wins over the Vikings and the eventual division champion Cincinnati Bengals. But, when Hoyer went down with an injury, so did Cleveland's chances of winning. They finished out the season with journeyman Jason Campbell and former first-rounder Brandon Weeden, but were able to get as much from them as their limited skill sets would allow.

With Richardson gone, the Browns turned to plodding Willis McGahee to be their primary running threat, even though he posed little in the way of a threat out of the backfield. McGahee averaged just 2.7 yards a carry and was often facing defenders before he got back to the line of scrimmage. Typically, such ineptitude hamstrings an offense, but the Browns were able to get offense out of the talent they had – with a couple of true standout players leading the way.

Despite a quarterback carousel that never allowed the Cleveland offense to maintain any continuity, the Browns had five receivers that caught more than 40 passes. Leading the way was Josh Gordon. Suspended the first two games of the season, Gordon ended the season with 87 receptions for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns in just 14 games. He was the clear No. 1 option and Turner found ways to get him the ball consistently despite constant double-teams.

The Browns had a talented tight end on the team in Jordan Cameron, who emerged in 2013 after a pair of nondescript seasons, catching 80 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. He was the embodiment of how the Turner offense operates and the role a playmaking tight end can have in it.

While Gordon and Cameron were the focal point of the offense, Turner found ways to get the other primary receivers involved in the game plan as well. Wide receivers Davone Bess and Greg Little caught 42 and 41 passes, respectively, and receiving back Chris Ogbonnaya caught 48 passes. The Browns were able to spread the ball around and get the most out of the talent it had – leaning heavily on Gordon and Cameron, but getting others involved when those two options were taken away.

As Turner brings his offense to Minnesota, he does so knowing that he has the best starting running back in the game at his disposal, as opposed to the lead-footed Richardson and McGahee.

The three QBs he has with the Vikings are all better than the three he was forced to call plays for last year with the Browns. Matt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Ponder have all praised the new system Turner has installed and training camp might see a legitimate quarterback competition for the starting job.

The Vikings don't have a Gordon on their roster, but Turner is excited about the prospects of Cordarrelle Patterson as an offensive threat, along with veteran playmakers Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson. Throw in talented, hungry tight end Kyle Rudolph entering the last season of his rookie deal and one can easily envision Rudolph making the kind of career leap forward that Cameron experienced last year.

When fans discuss the positives that Turner brings to the Vikings offense, much of that talk will center on the successes he had in both Dallas and San Diego. But perhaps the most impressive assessment of how his offense works was what he was able to accomplish in 2013 with a talent-poor Browns offense. That is more of a testament to what his offense can accomplish and reason for optimism that, given the offensive weapons the Vikings have, his offense can flourish in Minnesota.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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