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Ready for Ricky?
DAVIE, Fla. -- His once-and-future teammates aren't yet ready to roll out the red carpet for Ricky Williams. But with the return of the erstwhile running back to the NFL now taken for granted around here, neither are Dolphins players sprinting to lock the front door to team's complex.
When he arrives here -- and it appears his return to South Florida, at least as a resident, is imminent -- Williams figures to be greeted by a collective wait-and-see attitude from the teammates he abruptly abandoned last summer.
It isn't as if Dolphins veterans can't wait for Williams to come back. That said, there are some who want to see how much, if any, he has changed. Call it a natural curiosity. Call it, too, a situation over which they have no control for now. Because no matter their personal feelings, Williams is probably just about six weeks removed from being back among them.
"This is America, man, and everybody gets a second chance," said defensive end Jason Taylor between mini-camp practices on Saturday afternoon. "You can't keep a guy nailed to a cross forever."
Queried as to whether he and other team leaders will accept Williams back in the locker room, Taylor suggested that the welcome the running back receives in training camp will essentially be determined by the commitment he demonstrates to the game and the team. One of the most vocal critics when Williams walked away from the Dolphins just before the beginning of camp in 2004, Taylor was even less committal when pressed on whether he would want him back if he was Miami's general manager.
"The one thing that isn't going to change," Taylor said, "is that Ricky has to show that he is committed. That's the case for everyone in our locker room. If you're in that room, and wearing our uniform, you better want to be a part of what we're trying to do here."
Those sentiments were echoed by several Miami players, most of whom were around last season when the Dolphins struggled mightily after Williams' departure. The two players who were critical of Williams opted not to speak for attribution.
Whether or not Miami players agreed with Williams' action last summer -- or, more accurately, his inaction -- there is already a palpable sense of curiosity about how he will carry himself on and off the field once his second NFL incarnation commences. Williams has spoken far more with the media in the last month, and with first-year coach Nick Saban, than he has communicated with Dolphins players.
One player noted on Saturday that, while Williams won't quite be viewed as if he is the new kid in the classroom, there will still be plenty of eyes on him.
"He's going to have to understand that, even when guys aren't watching him, guys will be watching him," said one veteran. "Everything he does is going to be magnified. It might not be fair, I don't know, but people are going to read things into everything that he says and does. That's just the way it's going to be. I mean, it's not business as usual, not after what happened [last year]."
According to his representatives, Williams will soon re-enter the NFL's substance abuse program, which means he will have to agree to random testing. How the Dolphins will deal with the $8.6 million judgment the team won against Williams, basically because he breached his contract, is unknown.
Said linebacker Zach Thomas, summing things up succinctly: "When it happens, and Ricky is actually here instead of people just talking about it, then you deal with it."
The one thing that seems certain is that the Dolphins are about as certain as anyone can be, at least in matters regarding Williams, that he is coming back after a year's hiatus. On Friday, the first day of mini-camp, quarterback Gus Frerotte referred to having an offense designed in part to take advantage of the matchups Williams can create.
Saban said on Saturday afternoon he still can't say unequivocally that Williams is coming back. But the Dolphins coach, who has spoken at length with Williams and agent Leigh Steinberg, sounded like he expects Williams to be in camp. And for his players to handle the situation professionally.
"I'll say what I said to [the local media] the other day," said Saban. "If he does come back, as an organization, we're going to support Ricky Williams as best we can."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com