Does Miami now have the speed to make its passing game go?
At least this time it wasn't his knee. Dolphins wide receiver Yatil Green, the team's first-round draft pick in 1997 who has yet to play a down in the NFL after blowing out his right knee in successive training camps, showed up for the first day of a minicamp last week and was promptly sent home after doubling over with stomach cramps. The next day Green was admitted to a hospital with gastroenteritis. He was released after several hours but missed yet another week of practice as Miami's receiving corps remained in an extended state of limbo.
"We still feel like Yatil is ready to play," says coach Jimmy Johnson. "But we've been disappointed the last couple of years. So now our approach is, when he shows up and contributes, then we'll count on him."
Last season wideout O.J. McDuffie, a possession receiver, kicked up some of the slack, quietly becoming the first Dolphin to lead the league in receptions, with 90, surpassing his previous career high by 14. "He deserves a lot more recognition than he jot, which was none," Johnson said last week at Miami's minicamp. "Our wide receivers are is underrated as any group on our team."
Maybe so, but without the speedy Green, Dan Marino didn't have a wideout who could stretch a defense. Although Lamar Thomas caught 43 passes for 603 yards and Oronde Gadsden finished with a club rookie-record seven touchdown catches, the Dolphins tied for 23rd in the league in receptions of 40 yards or more, with six. "The chemistry, between our quarterback and our wide receivers was a real problem last year," admits receivers coach Robert Ford.
To shore up the position Johnson signed free agent Tony Martin, who caught 66 passes for 1,181 yards and six touchdowns for the Falcons last season. Martin gives the Dolphins the burner they desperately need, but he comes with serious baggage. Atlanta released him after he was arraigned on felony money-laundering charges. (His trial is scheduled for August.)
Meanwhile Green continues to work on his comeback. The 6'2", 205-pounder has less than 5% body fat and can still run a 4.3 40. As a precaution Johnson plans to keep him out of two-a-days during training camp and monitor his practice snaps.
"This team has spent a lot of time talking about how it's going to play with the big boys," says Ford. "Well, it's time to step up to the plate, take some cuts and see if we belong. If we can keep our receivers healthy and out of jail, we should be fine."
Cold Shoulder in Denver
Atwater Starts Over with Jets
The night before the Broncos' brass paid tribute to John Elway at the press conference officially announcing his retirement, there was a less extravagant send-off for another mainstay of the two-time Super Bowl champions. Last month, in the back room of a Denver restaurant, 50 players and coaches gathered to say so long to free safety Steve Atwater, the Broncos' first-round draft pick in 1989 who was a starter all 10 seasons that he spent with the team. Atwater, a defensive captain who played in eight Pro Bowls, learned of his release by telephone on Feb. 17. "Yeah, they could have sugarcoated it," Atwater says, "but you take the sugar off, it's still the same thing underneath."