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Original Issue

Inside The NFL

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, picked
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
got, which was none," Johnson said last week at Miami's
minicamp. "Our wide receivers are as 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

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."

Atwater, 32, knew what was coming. Late last season Denver began
replacing him in passing situations with the speedier George
Coghill. The Broncos were also looking for salary-cap relief,
and Atwater was scheduled to make $2.6 million in 1999. "My
former team thinks I can't play anymore," he says.

Several other teams thought otherwise. The Chiefs and the Eagles
had already made bids when the Jets offered Atwater a
three-year, $8.25 million contract with a $1.8 million signing
bonus. "If it hadn't been the Jets, there was a good chance I
would have hung 'em up," says Atwater, who believes the Jets are
on the brink of a title. "I feel like a rookie again."

Atwater is only a season removed from a sterling Super Bowl
performance in January 1998, when he made six tackles, broke up
two passes and sacked the Packers' Brett Favre, causing a fumble
that set up a Denver field goal. On Oct. 3 the Jets play the
Broncos at Mile High Stadium. "I marked it on my calendar,"
Atwater says. "I'm already daydreaming about knocking one of
[the Broncos'] helmets off."

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATOGadsden scored seven times in '98, but he isn't fast enough to stretch a defense.