DAVIE, Fla. (April 29, 2005) -- Nick Saban walked off the field following his first practice as coach of the Miami Dolphins and mounted a foot-high podium to address a media throng.
"I need all the help I can get," Saban said.
The new coach might have been referring to his modest height, or to the state of the Dolphins. He inherited a team that went 4-12 last season, and Saban eagerly welcomed the 51 newcomers who began a three-day rookie minicamp.
Only a handful will survive to September, but the Dolphins are counting on several draft picks to make an impact. All six players drafted last weekend worked out, including No. 2 overall pick Ronnie Brown.
Drills also included 16 rookie free agents and 29 tryout players practicing without a contract.
"We're all in the same boat," Brown said. "We're all trying to make the team."
But some -- like Brown -- have a better shot than others. The Auburn running back signed a waiver to participate this weekend but will likely command a multimillion-dollar signing bonus before he reports for training camp.
"I'm trying to learn as much as I can," Brown said. "Hopefully by the time the season comes around, I can contribute in some kind of way."
Among the undrafted free agents on hand were former Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brock Berlin and running back Kay-Jay Harris, a 26-year-old rookie who rushed for 1,483 yards and 14 touchdowns in two seasons at West Virginia after playing Class A baseball for four years.
Evaluating the rookies won't be the goal this weekend, Saban said.
"This is all about learning on their part, and teaching on our part," he said. "We don't have enough people out here to get a lot of reps. This is about gaining knowledge. When we teach, we try to tell a guy what to do, how to do it and why it's important to do it that way."
Fourth-round draft pick Travis Daniels, a cornerback who played for Saban at Louisiana State, said the coach was more laid back than in college as players began absorbing the playbook.
"Because it was everybody's first day, he was expecting some mistakes," Daniels said. "But as we go on, he's going to expect us to know it."
Daniels said the defense is the same used by Saban at LSU. Third-round pick Channing Crowder, a linebacker from Florida, found the scheme more complicated than in college.
"There's a lot more to learn," Crowder said. "But you don't have to worry about class. Now you just have to worry about learning the defense. So the time evens out."
Saban said he could tell the rookies were nervous in their first NFL workout.
"They're uncertain about what they're supposed to do and what's expected of them," he said. "Even though you explain it to them in a meeting, until they get a feel for it on the field, there's a level of anxiety.
"It's the same level of anxiety I had at the Buick Open when we teed off on the first hole and there were 15,000 people there to watch Tiger Woods, and I still had to line up and hit the ball. I did get it airborne, but that's about it."
Nerves aren't a concern this weekend, because the Dolphins have another 4½ months before they tee it up.
The Associated Press News Service
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