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Down Dolphins to put bye week to good use by getting away

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) _ Goodbye.

That's what the Miami Dolphins said to each other as they embarked on four days away from the disaster of their 1-8 season that started with a stunning retirement (Ricky Williams) and has led to a surprising resignation (Dave Wannstedt).

It's also a thought on the minds of some players who think it's the best time for a break _ just past the season's halfway point.

Tight end Randy McMichael was heading to his home state to watch the Georgia Bulldogs play Auburn and, in the meantime, get away from Miami, where fans pleaded for Wannstedt's firing for weeks.

``Especially at a time like this, after your head coach leaves, there's so much negative energy around here right now, it's really good to go somewhere where there's something positive and be around your family,'' McMichael said Wednesday in the locker room.

Left tackle Damion McIntosh also needs a break. He missed much of training camp after ankle surgery and was rushed into action after last year's starter, Wade Smith, struggled.

``My body's in shock, so this rest will help me try to play catch up with everybody,'' he said.

When the team returns to practice Monday, Jim Bates will be faced with the uncertainty that follows a struggling team. The Dolphins chose Bates as interim head coach when Wannstedt resigned Tuesday; his first game as an NFL head coach is Nov. 21 at Seattle.

He must decide on a starting quarterback, a new defensive coordinator to replace himself, and a new left guard to replace injured Jeno James, plus decipher how to motivate players who know the playoffs are out of the picture.

Jay Fiedler is nursing a damaged left shoulder, one of many aches caused, in large part, by an offensive line that struggles to protect the passer and has 33 sacks on its conscience.

A.J. Feeley has been erratic at best, totaling two touchdowns and six interceptions, but he cost the Dolphins a second-round draft pick in a trade with Philadelphia. He has also said he was indifferent'' to what's going on around him and has explained his propensity for tipped passes tobad karma.''

``There's something in the air where people have something to prove,'' Feeley said.

James is definitely out of the Seattle game after right knee surgery. The line has improved in recent weeks, opening some holes for Travis Minor and Sammy Morris, who took over after Williams left the team. Either Greg Jerman or Rex Hadnot will replace James.

Bates has told McMichael that the offense will be ``opened up,'' football slang for more throwing and gadgetry than Wannstedt's conservative approach, which was summed up when he once told his quarterback it's OK to punt.

But don't expect Air Coryell just yet.

I didn't mean that we're just going to go wholesale pass,'' said Bates, whose last head coaching job was in 1985 _ in the USFL.We believe in running the football, but also, we have some skill position people that have shown up.''

Bates also bears the burden of playing some younger players while not offending veteran leaders such as Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor, who feel such an approach would reduce their chances of winning.

If you see a coach say, `Hey, we're going to try all these new experiments,' you're going to throw in the towel,'' Thomas said.Why am I going to go out there and give up my body when we're just experimenting, and you feel like a test rat?''

Players such as Feeley, Smith, offensive lineman and first-round pick Vernon Carey, linebackers Tony Bua and Derrick Pope and cornerback Will Poole surely hunger for playing time.

Like any person, you want your shot,'' said Pope, a rookie out of Alabama.So, if I get a chance, I'll be happy ... but I've just got to wait my turn.''

Bates was mulling who would replace him as defensive coordinator, and will decide early next week, he said.

He must do all this while pleasing fickle fans. Dolphins followers showed their displeasure with the team last Sunday by halfway filling the usually packed Pro Player Stadium.

Another focal point of the fans' criticism has been general manager Rick Spielman, who says he received assurances from owner Wayne Huizenga that he will return for next season. Spielman has been criticized for several moves, including the Feeley trade.

Williams' departure, Wannstedt's resignation and injuries to free agent receiver David Boston, defensive tackles Larry Chester and Tim Bowens and linebacker Junior Seau have combined to form a bizarre season.

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