Wide receiver Dedric Ward, who is expected to play a major role in the Dolphins offense in 2001, will be out approximately 4-6 weeks because of a stress fracture in his left foot.<p>

Ward was scheduled to undergo surgery on Thursday, and the hope is that he'll be ready to return by the end of the preseason.

"It's unfortunate, but it's part of the game," Ward said. "It was a gradual thing and all I can do now is work as hard as I can after the surgery to get back on the field as soon as possible."

Ward sustained the injury while running routes in practice, and the pain has gotten progressively worse.

If there is any consolation for the Dolphins, it's that Ward's injury will give the coaching staff a chance to take a longer look at the team's young wide receivers, such as rookie Chris Chambers, Robert Baker, Jeff Ogden and David Foye.

Signed as a free agent in the offseason, Ward is being counted on as a key backup to projected starters Oronde Gadsden and James McKnight. With the Jets last season, Ward caught 54 passes for 801 yards and three touchdowns, and averaged 14.8 yards per reception.

Ward became the third Dolphins player to sustain a significant injury during training camp, following offensive tackle Brent Smith and rookie linebacker Morlon Greenwood.

Smith was lost for the season when he tore the ACL in his left knee on the first full day of training camp, while Greenwood was sidelined for 2-3 weeks when he sustained a sprained left foot.

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