Tommy Hendricks has been a standout on special teams play since he joined the Dolphins last year.<P>But he could wind up playing a much more significant role Sunday against the New England Patriots.<P>

With linebacker Zach Thomas hobbled by a knee injury, Hendricks finds himself staring at the possibility of starting against the Pats.

Thomas is confident he'll be ready to play on Sunday, but he's listed as questionable for the game and a determination on his status probably won't be made until Friday or Saturday.

In the meantime, Hendricks says he's ready if called upon.

"I'm excited," Hendricks said. "I take it as a challenge if I have to play. People are going to be putting a label on me that I'm untested, and it's true. All I can do is be prepared."

Hendricks was moved to linebacker by the Dolphins after being a first-team All-Big Ten safety at Michigan as a senior in 1999.

After playing mostly outside linebacker last year, Hendricks was switched to the middle this season.

"I've been here and have watched Zach play, seeing how he handles certain situations," Hendricks said. "The most important thing for me is to be where I'm supposed to be."

Although he's excited about a potential starting assignment, Hendricks' preference is for Thomas to be able to play. But for a change, Hendricks is enjoying the spotlight, something he hasn't been accustomed to as a special teams player.

Said Hendricks: "I was at Michigan the last time I got this much attention."

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