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  Can the Dolphins Depend on Ricky Williams?
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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We’ve been here before.

We’ve seen how the Dolphins come to depend on Ricky Williams, only to have things end in a bad way.

Could it happen again?

Yes, it could.

So why will this time be different?

In a way, this is old news. Bill Parcells believes in Ricky, enough to have given him a two year contract extension. Jeff Ireland concedes that they kept Ricky around knowing full well all the details of his past, but still confident based on his work habits, talent, and other considerations.

And Tony Sparano likes him as a football player as much as Cam Cameron, Nick Saban, and Dave Wannstedt did before him.

This should be enough for us, right?

In all fairness, Williams has worked hard to change since those seasons of drug suspensions and irresponsible behaviors broke hearts and coaches alike. He has worked hard to re-build his life and his career. He wants to be regarded in a positive light when he hangs up his cleats for good. He has plans to be a doctor. His personal life is reportedly in much better order now than ever before.

In short, Ricky has tried very hard to rebuild his credibility. And it would be unfair not to give him credit for his efforts.

Yet some things haven't changed completely.

Ricky still struggles with the public, especially the media. As Ronnie Brown's back-up, he didn't have to talk all that much; this suited him. But now, back in his former high profile role as the offense's most talented player, he will get more attention again.

Ricky hates the spotlight; always has and always will. His social anxiety disorder isn’t gone; he just deals with it in a different way.

With the added attention, will he be tempted to turn to marijuana again? Or, will his practice of alternative medicines and life philosophies help him to continue to find a better way to cope? Remember, Williams was smoking pot just three years ago and has fallen off the wagon numerous times.

There's also the matter of his health. Can a 32 year old RB handle a full load, even a guy who takes care of his body as well as Williams does?

No matter how much we pull for the guy to be successful, these are all fair questions to ask, especially in a situation where the Dolphins have little choice but to once again trust Williams with more than they had planned.

The good news here is that the current regime has gone into this thing with their eyes wide open. They know his failings as well as he does. The difference this time is better self-awareness by all parties. And the results thus far have been truly positive for everyone concerned.

Objectively, I must say that Ricky Williams is one of the best football players I have ever seen, a guy with Hall of Fame talent that still makes him one of the top runners in the NFL. Case in point: he is currently ranked 12th in rushing, and he hasn’t even been starting.

This is not your run-of-the-mill stuff. Yet it seems clear that the missed seasons of work have extended his career. It's like its 2002 again and Ricky is back to being the same guy who could dominate a game, just as he did against Carolina last week. And we all know the more Ricky runs, the less opponents want to tackle him. That 46 yarder he popped against the Panthers late in the 4th quarter was a classic example of how he gets stronger as the game goes on.

When Williams is like that, he is very tough to stop, which is why it will be fascinating to see how the offense changes with Ricky back to doing his thing as the starter. After all, no one appreciates Ricky’s talents more than rushing aficionado Dan Henning.

If Ricky stays healthy and on the straight and narrow, he will have a shot at breaking the team’s rushing record (Larry Csonka, 6,737) before the end of his current contract. He is currently 1,418 yards behind Zonk and will be gaining at a more rapid pace now that he will be getting most of the carries.

If Ricky breaks Zonk’s record, one of the most sacred marks in team history, even his most ardent detractors (me included) would have to concede that he not only deserves recognition as one of the greatest Dolphins of all time, but also election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Such thoughts were ludicrous just three seasons ago. Remember that season, when we were praising Ricky for his model citizenry? That was right before he ended up on Saban’s porch, eating pizza, and admitting to yet another violation of the league’s drug policy, a fourth strike and a one year ban from the NFL.

This is why we must ask if history is set to repeat itself, or if Ricky has truly left his controversial past behind him as he has so many potential tacklers.

We want to believe in Ricky. He is not a bad person, just an eccentric one, someone with interesting philosophic views on life. On talent alone, he stands second only to Dan Marino as the greatest offensive player in team history. But potential must be fulfilled if the recognition is to be deserved.

Said Marino during his Monday morning show on 560 WQAM, “It seems like his body, physically, is on a 25-year-old level right now. Maybe it's because he's missed a couple years and didn't take that beating for awhile. But, wow, boy is he running hard. He's always run that way. Maybe he's just in a place right now where he's enjoying the game. Maybe he didn't enjoy it for awhile with all the troubles and problems he had. But you could see it in his play -- it's really pretty amazing."

Marino is right. It is amazing. But as Sparano would say, the time has come for Ricky to finish. For his sake, and the Dolphins’, let’s hope that this time he runs to the finish line.

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