Life Without Ronnie

The Dolphins haven't needed Ronnie Brown to win their past two games, but that doesn't mean the injured running back's presence won't be sorely missed as Miami (5-6) tries to keep its faint playoff hopes alive, particularly with games against Jacksonville and New England coming up.

Brown is expected to miss at least Sunday's home game against Jacksonville because of a fractured left hand suffered in last Thursday's 27-10 victory over Detroit. Brown underwent surgery the following day to repair a fracture in his second metacarpal, which is located at the base of the thumb and index finger.

"It may be several weeks before (Brown) gets back, but we don't know that and nobody knows that right now because it's a combination of two things," Dolphins coach Nick Saban said of his left-handed running back. "It's going to be a medical decision relative to him healing and how we can protect him so that he doesn't have further issues with his hand.

"Running back is not an easy position to play when you don't have use of one of your hands. It's different than some of the other positions might be. That's something we'll have to address."

The Dolphins hope Sammy Morris can serve as a short-term fix, with Travis Minor as his backup, until Brown returns. Morris is coming off a season-high 91-yard rushing effort in relief of Brown against Detroit thanks to a career-best 55-yard carry. Morris, though, has lost two fumbles in limited touches this season since missing the first four contests while serving a suspension under the NFL's steroid policy.

Saban feels positively enough about Morris that he didn't make a roster move to try to replace 2005 backup Ricky Williams, who was suspended in April for the 2006 campaign after a fourth violation of the NFL's drug policy.

"Sammy's done a nice job," Saban said. "Sammy had a very good game in this game. We have a lot of faith, trust and confidence in him. I feel the same way about Travis Minor."

Morris and Minor aren't in the same class as Brown, who leads Miami with 783 yards and five touchdowns. But Saban sounds like he will be extra cautious in his handling of Brown's return even though his team will need to mount an effective rushing attack if Miami is to legitimately contend for a postseason berth.

"If you're a running back, you use your hands every play," Saban said. You could say, 'Well, he could carry the ball in the other hand.' But how is he going to ward people off? It's just a difficult circumstance for his position and this is going to have to be evaluated on a week-to-week basis based on the healing process relative to how we can protect his hand.

"We're going to do all of the research that we can medically to see how we bring those two things together. But we're not going to put him at risk of injury just to get him on the field, that's for sure."

The reality is that Jacksonville and New England are two of the best run-defending teams in the league, and the Dolphins didn't figure to have much success on the ground even with Brown in the lineup.

These might be two games where the pressure will be on Joey Harrington to produce in the passing game.

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