Zach Thomas has been the heart and soul of the Dolphins defense since he joined the team in 1996, and this week he also was honored as Miami's Most Valuable Player for the 2001 season.<P>Thomas was one of four players honored during the team's kickoff banquet, held June 5 in Davie.<P>

Also receiving awards were wide receiver Chris Chambers as the Newcomer of the Year; linebacker Derrick Rodgers, who won the team's Leadership Award; and linebacker Twan Russell, who received the Community Service Award.

Thomas was named the team MVP for the second time in his career; he also won as a rookie in 1996.

"It's a great honor, but I've got to give all the defensive linemen credit," Thomas said. "All those 300-pounders there, they take care of me, man."

While Thomas dished out kudos to his teammates, he certainly earned the honor with yet another stellar season. Thomas tied a career high in 2001 with 180 tackles, and also had three sacks and two interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown in the opener at Tennessee. Thomas was voted to the Pro Bowl for the third straight season.

As for Chambers, he led all rookie wide receivers with 48 catches for 883 yards and seven touchdowns.

The MVP and Newcomer of the Year awards were voted on by South Florida media and fans; the organization picked the community service winner; while the players selected Rodgers for the leadership award.

When asked about the significance of linebackers winning three of the team's four awards, Russell said with a smile: "That's a testament about who holds the team together. You got Zach in the middle and Derrick, and I may sit on the bench but I make a lot of noise."

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