Few conclusions from Ricky’s return

General Published on : 8/9/2005
By Vic Carucci
National Editor, NFL.com

CANTON, Ohio -- There was nothing much to conclude from Ricky Williams’ first game after one-year absence from football.

He didn’t start, but that wasn’t a surprise considering he has been working as a backup since the Miami Dolphins opened training camp on July 24.

Ricky WilliamsStill, Williams did receive some prominent playing time as the Dolphins opened their preseason schedule with a 27-24 loss to the Chicago Bears in the AFC-NFC Hall of Fame Game.

The results were far from spectacular for the two-time NFL rushing champion.

Williams had only five carries during his first-half appearance. He finished with eight yards (for an average of 1.6 yards per carry), with his longest gain covering three yards and producing a first down. Williams also caught a two-yard pass.

He sounded as unimpressed with what he did as anyone else who witnessed it.

“I didn’t expect anything to be honest,” Williams said. “It was like always when I play -- it takes me a while to get warmed up.”

On this night, he clearly needed more than five runs. But in the preseason, that is fairly standard for a veteran player -- even one playing for the first time since his shocking retirement just before Miami’s 2004 camp was to open.

It was impossible to tell from the showing whether there truly is any chance of Williams actually helping the Dolphins, who are still without holdout rookie running back and second overall pick Ronnie Brown. Even if the Dolphins decide to keep Williams around for the regular season, he would have to sit out the first four games due to a substance-abuse suspension.

It also was impossible to determine if any of the other NFL teams that are, or might be, in the market for a running back would see Williams’ preseason debut as a reason to give serious consideration to acquiring him if he were to be available in a trade.

For what it is worth, Lamar Gordon, the Dolphins’ starting running back in the Hall of Fame Game, also saw action on special teams. Williams did not.

“I didn’t feel rusty,” Williams said. “I was seeing everything good and I felt good. I know the timing and the flow of everything will come, not necessarily in the course of the preseason or when I play, but in the course of the game.”

New Dolphins coach Nick Saban and some Dolphin players have been complimentary of Williams’ work and attitude in training camp.

But all that anyone knows about Williams so far is that he is about 10-15 pounds lighter than his standard playing weight of 225-230 pounds in 2003. The lack of bulk shows because he does not quite have the same power and drive that he did when he last played for the Dolphins.

In his last game against the Bears, on Dec. 9, 2002, Williams ran 31 times for 216 yards and two touchdowns. He would end that season as the Most Valuable Player of the Pro Bowl. But that was a different time and, perhaps, a different Williams.

Or was it?

Defensive end Jason Taylor, for one, likes what he has seen of Williams’ comeback. Taylor has told reporters that he “looks like the Ricky of old. He is not quite as big as he was, but looks fast and quick.”

Fast and quick are nice qualities for a running back, but they are not the qualities that have made Williams a once-premiere talent.

Saban admitted that it wasn’t the sort of game that would shed much significant light on what he has in Williams.

“I didn’t think he had a lot of chances out there,” Saban said. “We didn’t run the ball very effectively. I think, when he was in there, they were kind of gearing up to stop the run.”

Of course, isn’t that what every opponent tries to do against Williams? And isn’t his ability to consistently overcome that challenge why the Dolphins have even bothered to give him a second chance?