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Ronnie Brown: Healthy and ready to break out

Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown is entering what is unquestionably the most important season of his brief NFL career.  His rookie contract expires following the 2009 season, meaning Brown must prove his worth to this regime if he wants that lucrative long-term contract from the Dolphins.

The Miami Herald reported on Thursday that Brown "looked great in practice and is looking in great shape overall."  Head coach Tony Sparano agrees, saying:

"As far as shape goes, he's outstanding right now. That sounds like a company line, but I mean it. I just watched film a little while ago, and watching the tape, he makes this catch on the sideline today, extends for the ball, and ends up really kind of hyper extending both legs to do this. No sign of any of those hesitations, any of those things that he went through a year ago. In the weight room the guy is super right now, he weighs 230 pounds, he's running better, he is stronger, so all of those things from a progress standpoint I see as positives."

That play that Sparano speaks of above also caught the attention of the Sun-Sentinel's Ethan Skolnick.  Skolnick writes:

Ronnie Brown made a difficult catch down the right sideline. The catch itself wasn't as impressive as the fact that Brown attacked the ball, and then walked away healthy after bouncing off both feet, in a way in which it would have been very easy to jam his surgically-repaired knee.

There was no hesitation, and no damage.

Brown, at 230 pounds, also looks leaner and stronger than he has at this time in past years.

Ronnie now has a full season under his belt since a torn ACL ended his spectacular 2007 campaign.  That year, Ronnie led the league in yards from scrimmage, had a real shot at breaking the NFL single season record of yards from scrimmage, and averaged 5.1 yards per carry.  He was well on his way towards proving what many Dolphin fans have believed since his rookie season - that Ronnie is as talented a back as there is in the league.

Ronnie spoke out on Thursday following practice, saying that he believes his name belongs in the conversation when discussing the league's top running backs.  Said Brown:

''I definitely do. You've got to have confidence on this level and if I didn't, I wouldn't want to be playing this game. So obviously when their names are brought up I want my name to be in that same group.''

Ronnie knows, though, that you can't just proclaim yourself as deserving to be in that elite group of backs - you have to prove it.  Brown said that his "goal in this league is to be the best I can be and at the same time to be among the elite guys that do what I do."

So how can he do this?  First, he must put together a full 16 game season.  Ironically, the season Brown was recovering from a torn ACL was the only one in his four year career that saw Brown play in all 16 regular season games.  Now fully healthy and in the best shape of his career, Brown must show he's not only a great player on the field but that he is also durable enough to stay on the field.

Brown also must show that he's beyond the mental part of the ACL injury.  He can't hesitate - as he did sometimes last year.  He can't think about each step he takes.  He must trust that his body - his knees in particular - won't fail him.  He needs to find that explosiveness that he displayed in his 2007 performance.  And, as Tony Sparano says, Brown needs to show the ability to create the big play - "being able to get to the second level and finish runs."

Call me a "homer" if you want - and it's no secret that Brown is my favorite current Dolphins outside of Jason Taylor - but I have this gut feeling that tells me Ronnie could be in store for a career year.  It's the same feeling I had prior to the '07 season - and that turned out to be accurate. 

Let's hope "my gut" is right yet again.

Note: Our "Around The AFC East" feature is taking the week off but will be back next Friday.