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Saturday walkthrough: A tough sell

There's no escaping the little black cloud now. It's just waiting for Ricky Williams to step onto U.S. soil, where it promises to hook on and never let go.

Should the former Miami Dolphins running back ever return to the NFL, it would cough and spit on him ceaselessly. It will rumble on A.M. sports radio. And his mailbox? It's already been roosting there for months – an avalanche of cuss words in block letter handwriting.

Williams hopes – needs – to get back into the NFL for the 2005 season. In a forthcoming interview with Esquire, he says he'd like to play one year. Internally, the Dolphins are prepared to trade him, knowing full well they won't recoup anything near his talent value. But there is an overwhelming tide of player perception just waiting to wipe out the franchise that takes Williams on.

"I don't know why anyone would," said one AFC offensive lineman. Said another: "I'm sure none of those guys [in Miami] want to bust their asses for him after what he did. Yeah, I would question [if we traded for him]. He was already a different kind of guy, but he makes me think he just doesn't care. I don't want you here if you don't care."

These are players who would potentially be doing the dirty work opening holes for Williams.

Williams' return will be a tough sell. An arbitrator ruled Williams owes the Dolphins $8.6 million in signing bonus money. The team believes he doesn't have it, and now Williams is measuring the impact a likely substance abuse suspension would have on him in 2005. But he's nuked his reputation so badly, Moses would have a hard time leading Williams to another team.

You almost have to feel sympathy for oft-reviled agent Leigh Steinberg for having to represent him.

In his career, Williams has been labeled as aloof, selfish, manic and uninterested. Now you can add "quitter" and "substance abuser" to that list. He's done more devastation to the Miami Dolphins than all of their other problems combined.

And he seems to show zero remorse. He leaves, then pops up and tells The Miami Herald he's been smoking weed. He disappears again, then asks the league what would be required for him to play. He says he wants to play, but only for one more year. He took a fat signing bonus, but now says he doesn't want the Dolphins' "blood money."

He's not a football player. He's a hurricane who periodically kicks South Florida in the teeth.

Earlier this week, Miami linebacker Zach Thomas heard Williams was hoping to return to the league, and shook his head. He wasn't interested. And in reality neither is the overwhelming majority of the Dolphins organization.

"Ricky is not going to help us out this year," Thomas said. Now the question remains: Can he help anyone ever again? And at what price in the locker room?

Wind sprints

  • It's not going to shake out this way, but the Clinton-Portis-for-Champ-Bailey deal is toeing the line of an early two-way bust. Portis, held up as a franchise running back, has had fumbling problems - but that's nothing compared to last Sunday's open criticism of Redskins coach Joe Gibbs' offense as too predictable.

Gibbs and assistant Joe Bugel refuted Portis' thoughts publicly, and while Bugel says the saga is over, the whole affair apparently isn't sitting well with the coaching staff. Said one NFC general manager: "He's another one of those guys yapping off when things aren't going his way. Terrell Owens can get away with that, but I don't think [Portis] can."

  • On the other side of the deal in Denver, Bailey has been his typical Pro Bowl self, but the hole left by Portis is festering and will likely be the Broncos' postseason undoing. The team is averaging 2.8 yards per carry in its last three games, and is considering featuring the ultra-mediocre Reuben Droughns, one of the NFL's worst receivers out of the backfield.

When Droughns was playing for the Detroit Lions during the 2001 season, a beat writer asked then-coach Marty Mornhinweg to address Droughns' poor receiving history. Just as Mornhinweg began to answer, a football pinballed into the group of reporters after skipping off Droughns' hands during post-practice reps.

  • Don't expect a whole lot to change now that quarterback Chris Simms is starting in Tampa. The receivers and offensive line still are the same shambles Brad Johnson was dealing with. Having running back Michael Pittman back in the mix will help some, but expect Simms to flash the wide-eyed look of every inexperienced NFL quarterback.

A good story: During last season's training camp, Simms roomed with former Tampa quarterback Jim Miller, who is now with the Patriots. On more than one occasion in the preseason, Miller was awakened during the night to someone yelling in the bedroom. It Simms howling out play calls in his sleep.

  • I'm not one to second-guess Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, but Dallas would be taking a monumental risk using cornerback Terence Newman as an occasional punt returner against the New York Giants this weekend. Newman is a fine playmaker and was a quality returner in college. But since the regular season opener, the league has averaged slightly more than nine season-ending injuries per week.

Lest anyone forget, that includes Cleveland tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., who broke his leg playing special teams. Dallas already has a depleted secondary and losing Newman would be devastating.

  • Everyone is talking about New England setting a new NFL winning streak this weekend against Miami, but the hype is a week early. Next week's Super Bowl precursor in Foxborough against the Seattle Seahawks is the game to see.

Though it won't show against an awful Miami offense, the Patriots continue to have mild issues against the run, largely thanks to the offseason departure of barge/defensive tackle Ted Washington, who signed with the Raiders.

New England gave up 202 yards to the Colts in Week 1, then saw the Buffalo Bills hang tough into the fourth quarter last week with a steady diet of running back Travis Henry, who finished with 98 yards. The real test will be how the Patriots deal with Seattle touchdown machine Shaun Alexander, whose knee should finally be 100 percent when the teams meet next week.

  • Those people jumping on the Detroit Lions' bandwagon after a 2-1 start would be wise to take a closer look at the numbers. It's undeniable coach Steve Mariucci has a young team turned into the right direction, but Detroit's core units leave something to be desired.

The Lions are 29th in the league in offense and 30th in defense, have no running game, and their secondary sorely needs Pro Bowler Dre Bly to return this week. Also consider: Both of Detroit's wins featured an unconventional touchdown -a blocked field goal against the Bears and a kickoff return against the Titans.

Final thought
While watching Buffalo's loss last week at New England I was struck by the broken-play 34-yard run by Bills punter Brian Moorman. Not so much by Moorman's surprising speed, but the fact that he actually gave a brash wave to the crowd behind his bench when he reached the sideline. It was a heady play, but Moorman should have been a little more humble. His run wouldn't have been necessary had he not dropped the shotgun snap in the first place.

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