Saturday, September 18, 2004

Williams has left Dolphins in lurch


Trio of runners trying to fill void

By Kevin Kelly
Enquirer staff writer

One was an unavoidable natural disaster. The other, a man-made mess.

As residents of South Florida recover from the damage caused by Hurricane Frances - and prepare for the possibility of another storm - the Miami Dolphins are negotiating their own on-field aftermath. The summertime decision by running back Ricky Williams to retire stunned those around NFL and left the Dolphins backfield in disarray.

Though it remains an oft-discussed topic externally, coaches and players say it's time to move forward.

"Our players have been good," Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt said. "As a head coach you don't hear any conversation about it, and you sure as heck would hope that it's not on anybody's mind."

The timing (a week before training camp opened) and manner (a phone call to Wannstedt) in which Williams exited a star-crossed career were not as curious as his reasoning.

Williams, who gained 6,354 rushing yards in five seasons, cited a desire to travel abroad, freedom of obligations required from a professional football player and multiple violations of the NFL's substance-abuse policy as factors in the decision.

"He didn't give us much time," Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas said. "It was a little shocking at first.

"At least it didn't happen this week. We'd really be done mentally. But we've had time to really prepare, to say, 'Hey, we're not going to have Ricky this year.' "

Williams' retirement at age 27 does raise some interesting questions.

How vital is trust and loyalty to team chemistry? And to what extent, if any, did Williams breach a bond soaked with sweat and sealed over time?

"In this business, and life in general, you treat everybody with respect," Bengals running back Rudi Johnson said. "I think his situation was a little different. You can't be mad at the guy. In this game, if you're heart is not into it, there's no sense in you playing.

"Can't nobody make you get into the game. You have to be into it yourself."

Any time a Bengals player enters the team's locker room from the parking lot at Paul Brown Stadium, they must pass through two doors and walk down a hallway.

Dissecting the corridor's ceiling are three beams - each decorated with a word.

Determination.

Discipline.

Dedication.

"You can't go out there half-speed because you're risking bodily injury," Bengals defensive end Duane Clemons said. "And there's really nothing worse than to look at your teammates - see them sweating, bleeding, fighting and scratching - and know you didn't give your best effort."

The Dolphins have turned to three young running backs in Williams' absence.

Travis Minor, Sammy Morris and Lamar Gordon, who Miami acquired from the Rams on Sept. 9, have 1,727 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in 127 career games.

"We've learned that we're going to do it other ways on offense," Thomas said. "That's why they're trying to spread it around.

"It's tough to lose a great back like (Williams) but we've got to have other guys step up."

Minor (ankle) will not play Sunday, and Morris (ankle) is questionable.

Gordon, who backed up Marshall Faulk, replaced both players in Miami's loss against the Titans a week ago, rushed for 32 yards on 12 carries and caught five passes for 30 yards in his first game.

"He's excited about the opportunity here," Wannstedt said.

"I think the challenge for us as coaches is to remember that he's only been with us (for a short time) and not try to do too much with him and give him a chance to learn as we go."

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E-mail kkelly@enquirer.com




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