2002 NFL training camp

John Clayton

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Williams is ready to run in Miami

By John Clayton

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Weeks ago Ricky Williams told the south Florida media that he preferred to be Miami Anonymous. Understandable. His social anxiety disorder left him fearful of leaving his home in New Orleans two years ago.

Now, Williams wants to be recognized.

"In New Orleans, I kinda ran from people," Williams said. "Here, I want everyone in Miami to know who I am. I want to go places and have people be like, `Wow, that's Ricky Williams.' I want to ride my bike and everybody honk at me and yell, `Go, Ricky."'

Ricky Williams
Ricky Williams rushed for 1,245 yards last season for the Saints.
It has nothing to do with Williams' offseason 128-mile-per-hour speeding ticket, but the Dolphins knew they were going to be in for a wild ride with Williams. Since camp started, Williams has hit the accelerator. Coaches are thinking, "Go, Ricky," and they are surprised where and how fast he's going.

"The other day, Ricky ran outside and ran away from people down the sidelines," coach Dave Wannstedt said. "You put the film on and you watch him run last year and you watch him run this year, there is a major difference in his quickness and speed."

Part of the change is Williams' body. He was a 240-pound rookie, but he felt he wasn't durable. So last year, he let his weight go up to 252 pounds after reporting at 238. Williams survived 16 games and rushed for 1,245 yards, but the Saints traded him because he couldn't produce runs longer than 20 yards.

"When you are 252 pounds, it's tough to run away from people," Wannstedt said.

Williams reported to Dolphins camp weighing 233 pounds and could be below 230 before the start of the season. He looks great. Though he gained only six yards in three carries in a Saturday scrimmage against the Titans, Williams showed quickness to the hole during the four practices against the Titans. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner even let him float out into some pass routes.

"I think Ricky is capable of leading the league in rushing," Turner said. "I think he expects to do that."

Good backs normally get between 1,200 and 1,400 yards in a Turner offense, going back to the days of Emmitt Smith in Dallas, Stephen Davis in Washington and LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego. Turner's theory is that a good back should get 100 yards in a game. A couple of weeks that might not happen, but by the end, a healthy Williams should get about 1,400 yards.

"The thing with Norv's offense is that he takes what a defense gives him," Williams said. "You get so many coordinators who overlook that. They get into scheming. They are trying to push their will on a defense. Here, we're going to take five plays and run them well. We're not going to force it. If a defense is going to get eight defenders in the box, he's going to adjust. In New Orleans, we didn't do anything different if they had eight in the box."

Even though Turner is known as one of the best schemers for passing routes, his reputation among running backs is also good. He'll mix in two tight end sets. He'll balance the attack and give his quarterbacks the flexibility to change plays based on the defenses in front of them.

"We're going to be a lot more balanced on each situation on first down through third down," quarterback Jay Fiedler said. "Chan Gailey was more run-oriented on first down and pass-oriented on third. Norv's balanced. It think it's great. You have to make quick decisions at quarterback. You've got to get rid of the ball quickly. You can move a little bit. Those are the things I do well."

Turner compares Fiedler to Trent Green and Brad Johnson, two quarterbacks he had success with in Washington. Like Green and Johnson, Fiedler had to wait years for his chance to play. Like Green and Johnson, Fiedler is smart and makes good decisions. The idle time made Fiedler a good student, but Turner is thrilled about some of Fiedler's throwing skills.

"He's similar to Brad and Trent as far as arm strength and accuracy, but his deep arm is the thing that's exciting," Turner said. "We've had great success with the deep ball in practice. I hope it will be a big part of what we do."

So do the receivers. A year ago, the Dolphins loaded up on faster receivers, adding the likes of Chris Chambers, James McKnight and Dedric Ward to go along with split end Oronde Gadsden.

Chambers will be the star of the group. He's ready to break out as the go-to receiver. He'll move from doing some of the simple split end duties of last season to be more of a flanker. Turner will move him all over the line of scrimmage to seek mismatches.

The other day, Ricky ran outside and ran away from people down the sidelines. You put the film on and you watch him run last year and you watch him run this year, there is a major difference in his quickness and speed.
Dave Wannstedt, Dolphins head coach

"I'll be able to run around a little and be in motion a little more," Chambers said. "I'll get involved in more under routes instead of just being on the outside. The biggest thing I have to work on is my underneath routes. Ricky is definitely going to help the play-action part of the offense. That might open some post routes and let us go over the top."

That was the case Saturday in the scrimmage against the Titans. Fiedler pump faked after showing the ball to Williams and then went into his retreat. Chambers ran down the left sideline and beat Titans cornerback Dainon Sidney for a 23-yard touchdown.

Still, the success of the offense revolves around Williams. The Dolphins plan to use him on all three downs, including those passing plays.

"Ricky has the vision and the hands are a lot better than people think," Wannstedt said. "Everybody looks at him as a big, strong run you over type of back. He is more than that. He's going to make the cuts. And he's going to catch the football. Those were the things we weren't sure of until we made the trade."

It seems that Williams' marriage with the New Orleans area was rocky from the start. Maybe it was too much to ask of a player who was so young. Williams signed an incentive laden contract that left him underpaid compared to what Colts halfback Edgerrin James received. With his long, hanging dreadlocks, Williams couldn't go anywhere without being recognized.

And his mood swings left management wondering which Williams would show up from day-to-day. The Saints questioned him so much that they drafted Deuce McAllister in the first round last year to provide some big plays. Meanwhile, Williams' longest run in his mind was to get out of New Orleans.

"Honestly, the pressure doesn't affect me," Williams said. "From day one, I always asked for the pressure and always wanted the pressure. I thrive under pressure. What hurt me was that the people around me didn't apply the same type of pressure in order to try to do there best there. I wasn't necessarily happy in New Orleans. Anything interested me in getting out of there."

Miami turned out to be a great landing place. He didn't miss a single workout during the lengthy Dolphins offseason program. He told teammates that he'd go into the weight room every day and see veterans such as cornerback Sam Madison working hard daily. How could he not match that intensity?

"The biggest thing is that I wanted to go somewhere where they had a good defense and they won," Williams said. "I couldn't imagine being in a better situation. Me, being a physical runner, is going to add a lot to this team. When the offensive linemen see how you run, they are going to be more motivated to block and hit people in the mouth. That's going to carry over the offense."

So, Miami, honk if you see Williams riding his bike. Don't worry, he says. He's not going to hide in his home from the attention. Ricky's ready to go.

John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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