Veteran guard Todd Perry heard the whispers after the Dolphins signed Leon Searcy in the offseason, but he had other reasons to want to improve his game from last season.

Perry said he simply wanted to improve after what he admitted was a disappointing 2001 season.

The result has been a much-improved Perry this summer. And, even though many expected Perry to lose his starting job to Searcy, Perry remains a starter.

"I've always been a self-motivator. I'm not the most talented guy, but I've always been self-motivated and it's gotten me on every level to where I'm at," Perry said. "I was more driven to do better because I knew last year I didn't play anywhere near my potential.

"I didn't worry about anybody else's performance. I just wanted to do the best that I could do. I knew that if I did that I could be comfortable with myself. I did everything I could to help my performance, and that was kind of my focus."

Don't think for a second, though, that Perry didn't notice when the Dolphins brought in Searcy, who went to the Pro Bowl in his last healthy season in 1999. He also was well aware that few observers expected him to be able to hang on to his starting job.

"That wasn't lost on me," Perry said. "I understood what my position was even before they ended up bringing Leon in. I knew I needed to play a whole better if I wanted to be a part of this team. I suppose it was a factor in my motivation but it wasn't the main factor, not even close. I just knew, for myself, that I wanted to play up to my potential, and that's something I didn't do last year."

Part of Perry's problem last year was making the move from left guard to right guard, a transition Perry said took a longer than he expected.

But Perry now is getting the job done, and Coach Dave Wannstedt has praised Perry's work this summer.

And that's not just a coach supporting his player. Perry has looked much better this summer.

"I feel night and day better right now than I did last year, really, almost in every sense," Perry said. "Mentally, I'm in a better mind frame. Physically, I feel a little better. I feel a little bit more comfortable. Last year I was adjusting from the left side to the right side, which took a little bit longer than I even thought it would.

"I feel much more comfortable, much more in a rhythm, just everything, physically, mentally, everything like that."

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