Will 0-9 Dolphins take troubled runner back?
Vail, CO Colorado
DAVIE, Fla. ” Ricky Williams arrived at the Miami Dolphins complex riding in a team van late Thursday morning, ready to resume his NFL career after a 11/2-year suspension ” if the team wants him.
Williams’ suspension ended Wednesday when he was reinstated by the NFL. The announcement came only hours after Dolphins coach Cam Cameron decided to give the quarterback job to rookie John Beck, who will make his NFL debut Sunday at Philadelphia.
The back-to-back developments might provide exactly the sort of shakeup a winless team needs. Cameron was mum regarding whether the winless Dolphins want Williams back, but linebacker Joey Porter said he would love to have the 2002 NFL rushing champion as a teammate “just because we’re 0-9.”
“I don’t care who you got … if you could run the ball like Ricky did,” Porter said. “I mean, right now I’d do anything for a victory.”
Williams wasn’t on the field for the start of practice Thursday. Instead, he watched from behind a window in the players’ lounge as he ate an apple.
Williams, who has played in only 12 games since the start of the 2004 season, was expected to meet with Cameron. The first-year Miami coach said he talked with Williams by phone for “five or six minutes” Wednesday, but hadn’t made a decision about activating him.
“I want to see where he is, and also let him know where we’re headed, and we’ll go from there,” Cameron said.
Williams’ agent, Leigh Steinberg, said the Dolphins were noncommittal with him previously regarding the running back. But following the reinstatement announcement, Steinberg was encouraged by a phone conversation with Matt Thomas, the team’s general counsel-football administration.
“His indication was they were interested in Ricky,” Steinberg said. “The spirit of the discussion was welcoming. It was a very similar discussion to what you would have regarding a draft choice or any returning player. The only contingent was whether they would have him practice Friday or Monday.”
The trading deadline has passed, leaving the Dolphins with limited options. They could cut Williams, or keep him but not play him and hope to trade him in the offseason. Another alternative: Work him into an offense that has scored one touchdown in each of the past two games.
Regardless, there will be a new look to the backfield. Barring injury, the plan is to start Beck in the final seven games, Cameron said.
“John has made tremendous progress in the last month,” Cameron said. “The timing is right.”
Beck, a second-round draft pick from BYU, will become the 12th quarterback to start for the Dolphins since Dan Marino retired following the 1999 season.
“I just want to be smart with everything I do,” Beck said. “Obviously the first game you don’t want to try to do too much, but also you can’t hold back. So I’m going to try to find that balance.”
Handing off to Williams would likely make Beck’s job easier, but the Dolphins may fear getting burned once more by the mercurial running back.
Williams, 30, was suspended in April 2006 after violating the league drug policy for the fourth time. His return was delayed when he tested positive again for marijuana last spring.
He played in the Canadian Football League last season and applied for reinstatement Oct. 1.
Williams is eligible to attend team meetings and practice immediately, but the earliest he would be allowed in a game would be against Pittsburgh on Monday night, Nov. 26. The team will have a roster exemption for up to two weeks if and when he starts practicing.
Williams rushed for 3,225 yards in the 2002-03 seasons after being traded to the Dolphins from New Orleans. He retired in 2004, sabotaging that season for Miami, and traveled in India and Australia before returning to the Dolphins in 2005, when he ran for 743 yards alternating with rookie Ronnie Brown.
Brown is on injured reserve, leaving the Dolphins thin at running back.
As part of the NFL drug program, Williams underwent therapy for the past 51/2 months in Boston and benefited from the treatment, Steinberg said.
“This is the program working exactly as it should ” treating a player for an underlying life problem in a positive and sophisticated way, and returning him to health,” Steinberg said. “The Dolphins, or whatever team, is getting a highly motivated player with a new lease on life.”