DAVIE, Fla. (Oct. 10, 2005) -- The Miami Dolphins made a substantial offensive upgrade, adding a certified yoga instructor and student of holistic medicine notorious for his shyness and mercurial behavior.
Yes, Ricky Williams is back.
Returning from a four-week suspension that followed a one-year retirement, Williams took part in the team's brief walkthrough session. He'll rejoin practice Oct. 12 and likely play at Tampa Bay -- his first game since December 2003.
The Dolphins (2-2) won't burden Williams with the heavy workload that helped send him to Australia and India for an extended vacation. Instead, he'll share time with Ronnie Brown, the No. 2 overall pick in the April draft, who has rushed for 229 yards in the past two games.
At times they'll line up in the backfield together, a potentially potent combination.
"Maybe we can create some problems and issues for teams by doing that," coach Nick Saban said.
With Tampa Bay rookie Carnell Williams expected to return from leg injuries that forced him to sit out last week, the game shapes up as a showcase for running backs.
And the focus will be on the Dolphins' Williams, who has received interview requests this week from about 20 national media outlets, a number worthy of Dan Marino in his prime. Williams declined every request, saying he'll wait until after he plays in a game to talk with reporters.
He returned from retirement this summer knowing he faced suspension at the start of the season for violating the NFL drug policy. Williams was allowed to take part in team meetings and lift weights with other players, but he was prohibited from attending practice or games. He worked out on the practice field alone.
"It was kind of weird to see," Hadnot said. "We're coming in and he's going out -- a dayshift, nightshift kind of thing."
In the aftermath of the 20-14 loss at Buffalo, Saban showed more patience talking about Williams than when discussing Miami's team-record 18 penalties or the botched punt snap that led to a Bills touchdown.
The Dolphins' first-year coach declined to say how much he expects Williams to play. But the reaction of Williams' teammates to his return is no longer a worry, Saban said.
"The thing they were most concerned about is that he had a commitment to come back and try to help the team be successful," Saban said. "I think he showed that. The work he did since he was suspended has also earned him respect as far as how he goes about what he's trying to do to help his team be successful.
"That issue has gone under the bridge, under the next bridge, over the next dam and is gone."
Following Williams' abrupt retirement in July 2004, the Dolphins lost their first six games and finished 4-12, their worst season since the 1960s. He now owes the Dolphins $8.6 million for breaching his contract, and motivated partly by the need for a paycheck, he accepted Saban's offer to return this season.
When he reported at the start of training camp, Williams publicly apologized for the impact caused by his retirement. Teammates have unanimously embraced his return.
"It's a whole new year," guard Rex Hadnot said. "Last year has nothing to do with this year. I don't carry that with me."
Even running back Sammy Morris, who will see less playing time with Williams on the roster, spoke favorably of his enigmatic teammate.
"The thing I admire about Ricky is that Ricky is going to be Ricky, regardless of what people think about him," Morris said. "That's not real common in society. People change who they are to try to fit in. Ricky doesn't really care what people think. I admire that."
Williams is admired most for the way he carries the ball, and the 2002 NFL rushing champion showed a few flashes of his old form during the preseason, leading the Dolphins with 126 yards rushing on 30 carries.
One goal in practice this week will be to determine how much rust he accumulated while suspended.
"We need a little time to figure that out," Saban said. "We're going to take it from where it is and build for 12 games."