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Tuesday, July 16
Updated: August 15, 7:55 PM ET
Dolphins: Taking the next step

By John Clayton

The Dolphins are in an intriguing rut. Whether Jimmy Johnson or Dave Wannstedt is in charge, the Dolphins are a consistent playoff force, but they haven't been able to advance to the championship game. Major changes weren't needed, but Wannstedt felt a bold move would help. The answer was halfback Ricky Williams, who gained 3,129 yards in three seasons with the Saints. After putting their money and future on quarterback Jay Fiedler, Wannstedt figured giving him a consistent inside runner and more speed at the wide receiver position could be the ticket to the championship game.

The key to all of this is offensive coordinator Norv Turner, one of the best offensive play designers in the sport. Turner actually has more to work with than in his past couple of years in Washington or San Diego. Though Turner is known for his passing offense, he usually gets at least 1,200 yards from his starting halfback. Williams should get 1,300 yards if he stays healthy but the question is whether or not he will top the 4.0 yard per carry mark. He's a career 3.8 yards per carry back, which may be why he's trying to get down to 225 pounds after playing at 240. Turner should get great production from the improved receiving corps of Chris Chambers, Oronde Gadsden, James McKnight and Dedric Ward, which improved team speed at that position by two-tenths of a second.

 Jay Fiedler
Jay Fiedler passed for 3,290 yards and 20 TDs last season.
  Location: Nova university, Davie Fla.
Rookies report: July 25
Veterans report: July 28
Preseason schedule:
   Aug. 12: at Tampa Bay
   Aug. 15: New Orleans
   Aug. 24: at Houston
   Aug. 29: Chicago

Defensively, the Dolphins are solid. Wannstedt stresses a big defensive front and tight man-to-man coverage by the league's top pass defense. Middle linebacker Zach Thomas is the brains of that operation. Dating back to the Johnson days, the Dolphins have had a championship defense. The moves on offense may allow that unit to catch up.

After all, the Dolphins are chasing a championship.

Man in the spotlight
Williams is normally camera shy. During his rookie year, he did most television interviews while wearing his helmet. He needed depression medicine to help him through last year, so being in the spotlight isn't a favorite spot for Williams. But his situation is no different in Miami than he experienced during his three seasons in New Orleans. The Saints traded almost an entire draft to acquire him. The Dolphins traded for him to carry them to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, the extra spotlight has been a problem. He's had two offseason problems with driving incidents, which has the team worried about how he will handle adversity. More than anything, Wannstedt is hoping that Williams drives the offense better than he does his speeding automobile.

Key position battle
The Dolphins didn't want to pay $28 million over the next five years to keep defensive ends Lorenzo Bromell and Kenny Mixon. So one of the keys to the season will be at defensive end where Daryl Gardener is coming off two years of back problems. Over the past three seasons, Gardener quietly has been one of the better inside linemen but back problems put his career in jeopardy. Doctors suggested letting him lose weight and move to end, but Gardener has to prove he can play well in space. Losing Mixon, Bromell and Trace Armstrong over the past two seasons has left the Dolphins thin at end, which is why they added veteran Rob Burnett and continue to look for more help. Jason Taylor battled back from an injury-marred 2000 season to return into being a star last season.

Injury update
The Dolphins always seem to lead the league in surgeries. Because they've had so many surgeries, players have histories of recovery. Fiedler recovered from a right hip surgery in a 22-day stretch in August of 2000, so the team isn't worried about last week's left hip scope. They will let him go easy the first week of camp, saving contact for the final two or three exhibition games. Gardener's back problems remain their biggest worry, but the switch to end may help that problem. Two other areas of concern are at wide receiver and offensive line. Gadsden is coming off shoulder surgery and Ward has had a couple of foot operation. Both are on track to be ready for the season. Tackle Brent Smith (knee) and guard Mark Dixon (broken leg) may be limited early in camp but that shouldn't prevent them from starting. Guard Leon Searcy is coming off two injury-marred season, but looks like one of the steals of free agency.

Rookie report
Without first- and second-round choices, the Dolphins didn't expect much this year from the draft. They didn't have a choice until the third round. Despite that, they like the future of guard-center Seth McKinney and tight end Randy McMichael, who could end up starting if Jed Weaver doesn't progress and Alonzo Mayes can't meet weight requirements.

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

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 Two Much
Jay Fiedler and Tim Levcik aren't happy about the Dolphins preseason schedule.
Standard | Cable Modem

 More Confidence
Zach Thomas and Ricky Williams are excited about Miami's new running game.
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 New System
Ricky Williams is comfortable with Miami's offensive game-plan.
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