Ricky out: The fallout

A few questions remain in the wake of the announcement that Ricky Williams had been suspended for the 2006 season, among them what caused the failed drug test and also where does that leave Williams' NFL future? But the biggest, and most important, question for the Dolphins right now centers on who will fill Williams' shoes next season.

This isn't as dire a situation as 2004 when Williams left the team just before training camp because back the Dolphins offense ended and started with Williams -- and featured a lot of him in between as well.

This Dolphins offense has a lot more options, thanks to guys like Daunte Culpepper, Chris Chambers, Randy McMichael and Ronnie Brown.

But, make no mistake, Williams still was an important part of the Dolphins offense and he will greatly be missed.

Brown was a hit as a rookie, but Williams actually averaged more yards per game and scored more touchdowns.

Having both Brown and Williams allowed the Dolphins to have a No. 1-caliber running back on the field at all times without having to worry about overworking a guy.

Nick Saban himself said this offseason he believes running back is a two-player position. The big problem is that right now -- no offense to Sammy Morris or Travis Minor -- there is a major drop-off between Brown and any other running back on the roster.

Saban suggested recently that the Dolphins protected themselves against Williams' suspension when they re-signed Morris as a free agent, but the truth is Morris is no Ricky Williams.

Morris does have running ability, but it remains to be seen whether the Dolphins running game can be as effective with him in the lineup.

If you're thinking about a possible free agent who might be available, forget it. The list of the running backs still on the market isn't overly impressive: Anthony Thomas, Antowain Smith, Jonathan Wells, Lamar Gordon, Stephen Davis, Tony Hollings, Mike Cloud, James Jackson, J.R. Redmond. Ugh.

The other option, of course, is using a draft pick on a running back. The Dolphins probably will have their choice of two or three good ones at No. 16 in the first round. The problem with that, of course, is that it prevents Saban from using the pick to fill another need.

But this need at running back needs to be addressed one way or the other.

The question is whether Morris can do the job or the Dolphins need to bring him someone else. We've always liked Morris as a change-of-pace back, but, rightly or wrongly, it just seems like he wears down or breaks down if given too many carries. And if Saban is going to use "co-starters" again, we're not convinced Morris can handle that kind of load.

So we're thinking drafting a running back now might be the way to go.

As for the other two questions, Williams and not too many other people have the answers.

Williams said in his statement released by the team on Tuesday that he was looking forward to 2007, but he'll be 30 years old by then and will have missed two out of three seasons. Of course, he still has the $8.6 million judgment over his head, so that might give him incentive to come back. But, really, who knows?

And who knows what caused the latest failed drug test. It has been reported that the substance was not marijuana, but the league policy dictates privacy (even if that was violated when the Denver television station reported the failed drug test in February), so we might never know.

From a practical standpoint, it doesn't matter because the bottom line is that Williams is gone and the Dolphins again have to adjust.

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