If Ricky Williams can anchor the offense, the Dolphins might avoid sinking early this season.
By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002
They are at it again in Miami, where hope springs eternal (at least during the preseason).
The Dolphins are thinking big this season, just as they did last season and the season before, only to be disappointed long before the Super Bowl. But this year, they insist, is going to be different.
"We have everything intact," said linebacker Zach Thomas, who has been the most vocal about the team's past failures. "But I'm just tired of having excuses at the end of the year. We just have to prove ourselves. The biggest key is no excuses. I don't care about injuries or anything."
The biggest reasons for Dolphins optimism are the additions of star running back Ricky Williams and offensive coordinator Norv Turner. The Dolphins believe Williams, acquired through free-agency this offseason, finally gives them the consistent runner they have craved for years.
Williams is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with the Saints, and is expected to be the anchor of a Miami offense that figures to rely heavily on the run to take pressure off quarterback Jay Fiedler.
Williams only looked average during the preseason, but the Dolphins promise that with more carries, he'll gain more of a rhythm and wear down defenses in the late stages of games when the Dolphins traditionally have had difficulty closing out opponents.
In fact, coach Dave Wannstedt said he expects to run Williams right into the team's record books. He said Williams should get enough carries to surpass Delvin Williams' single-season team record of 1,258 yards.
Williams, whose off-the-field troubles and erratic personality are well chronicled, said he never has felt better going into a season and expects big things out of himself.
"I can really see the light," he said. "I just really feel like this is my time."
Turner is arguably the best offensive mind the team has had as offensive coordinator. As offensive coordinator in Dallas, he helped the Cowboys win two Super Bowls in the early 1990s.
More important to Miami fans, he bolstered the Cowboys offense, which was one of the league's worst when he arrived, elevating it from 28th the season before he showed up to ninth in 1991 and fourth in 1992 and 1993.
He also seems the perfect fit for Miami's new run-oriented approach. Turner's offenses have traditionally produced big numbers from their rushers, from Emmitt Smith in Dallas to Stephen Davis in Washington to rookie LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego last season.
"Everybody who has played in his offense has done well at the running back position," Williams said.
Miami is counting on Turner getting the most out of all its talent -- particularly receivers Chris Chambers and Oronde Gadsden, and using Williams as a receiver out of the backfield -- with his creative offensive schemes.
ESPN analyst and former quarterback Sean Salisbury called Turner's arrival in Miami "one of the great offseason moves." And Wannstedt said, "There's not a better play-caller in the NFL."
If Turner gets the offense clicking, the Dolphins should have few worries on defense, which typically has been one of the team's strengths. Last season's unit, which was one of the best in the AFC, returns mostly intact.
The question marks are along the defensive line where the Dolphins lost key contributors Daryl Gardener, Kenny Mixon and Lorenzo Bromell. Fortunately for Miami, it still has Tim Bowens and has added defensive tackle Larry Chester and defensive end Rob Burnett.
Perhaps the key to Miami finally reaching the promised land (the Dolphins haven't been to the Super Bowl since January, 1985) will be its offensive line, where only one player -- guard Todd Perry -- started every game.
Mark Dixon's surgically-repaired right ankle seems solid and he has been moved to left tackle. Perry and tackle Todd Wade are solid on the right side with veteran Tim Ruddy at center.
Plus, this season there's plenty of size with the additions of veteran Leon Searcy and 350-pound Jamie Nails.
If the line can open holes for Williams and protect Fiedler, Miami could own the AFC, which would be fitting considering this is the 30th anniversary of its famed perfect Super Bowl season.
"If you go into the season saying you just hope to make the playoffs; you just want to be good, you're selling yourself and your team short," safety Brock Marion said. "As a team, our goal is to win the Super Bowl. That's the bottom line."