RB Ronnie Brown hoping to show durability to match his ability with Dolphins

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For Ronnie Brown, a moment of alarm interrupted the drudgery of training camp when he felt his foot under a teammate's cleats on the practice field.

Not another injury, Brown thought.

"I got stepped on, and I froze a little bit," he said. "Then you take a deep breath and realize everything's cool."

Despite that close call, Brown is feeling fine and will start Saturday night's exhibition opener for the Miami Dolphins against Tampa Bay. It will be the running back's first game since he broke his right foot last November, also against the Buccaneers.

Brown has a handle on how to carry the ball, and playing triggerman in the wildcat is a snap. But since being taken with the second pick in the 2005 draft, he has had a hard time staying healthy, playing all 16 games only once.

Brown missed the final nine games in 2007 with a right knee injury, and missed the final seven games last year. He knows he's considered injury-prone.

"It really doesn't bother me," he said. "I've thought about it and looked back at the few injuries I've had. I don't think it's lack of preparation or something I didn't do. Sometimes the body tells you, 'That's enough.'"

Brown's body has held up well enough for him to rank third on the Dolphins' career list with 4,081 yards rushing. That's despite missing 20 games in five seasons.

"I don't think I would label a guy who carries the ball as much as he has as injury-prone," coach Tony Sparano said. "I think he's a pretty durable player."

The Dolphins must harbor reservations, though, because they have yet to make Brown a multiyear contract offer. He can become an unrestricted free agent after this year, and Brown knows he needs to show durability to match his ability, because another major injury would seriously hurt his market value.

Just in case, the Dolphins again have Ricky Williams as a backup. He filled in for Brown last year and rushed for 1,121 yards, his best season since 2003.

Brown's goal this year is for both to run for 1,000 yards.

"There are a lot of things that go into that," Brown said. "But that goal is very attainable. It's realistic."

Miami's only 1,000-yard tandem was Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris in 1972. That team went undefeated, and the 2010 Dolphins will be a formidable force if Brown and Williams reach the 1,000 milestone.

"There are a lot of things that have to happen for all those moons to line up properly," Sparano said. "I do know that the ability of both players says it could happen."

Brown has had only one 1,000-yard season, and that was four years ago. But his career average is a healthy 4.4 yards per carry, and he made the Pro Bowl in 2008.

He has been especially effective in the wildcat, averaging 5.9 yards per run and throwing for two scores.

"Ronnie Brown is a huge part of our offense," Pro Bowl tackle Jake Long said. "He's such a hard runner. When we have him in the backfield, it's really fun to block for him."

When he hurt his foot last year, Brown was on pace for his best season, and the Dolphins ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing. They figure their ground game will be even more effective now that quarterback Chad Henne has a year of experience as a starter and newcomer Brandon Marshall offers a primary target.

"We have an opportunity to spread the ball out a lot more, so defenses can't key on one guy," Brown said.

That's assuming everyone stays healthy.

In the first week of camp, the Dolphins lost two backup players to season-ending injuries. When kick returner Kory Sheets went down with a torn Achilles' tendon, Brown was one of the teammates to gather around him.

"You see guys work so hard in the offseason and put so much into it," Brown said. "For an injury to bring all of that to a halt is tough."

He spoke from painful experience.