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Dolphins open training camp

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) -As the morning sun baked the Miami Dolphins' practice field, Bill Parcells found refuge in the shadow of a camera tower. He stood with arms folded and a hand on his chin, judging the job he has done so far.

His efforts to revive the franchise entered a new phase Saturday with the start of training camp. The 81 players on hand included 45 newcomers, all acquired since Parcells took over as football czar last December.

Camp Parcells began with two practices, and goodness knows the Dolphins need them. A 1-15 record in 2007 was their worst ever and the worst in the NFL, and their six-year playoff drought is the longest in franchise history.

Thus the biggest organizational shake-up in decades, with Parcells protege Tony Sparano becoming Miami's fifth head coach since 2004. The other recent coaching changes led to tweaks of the roster, but this time the Dolphins are rebuilding from the foundation.

"It is a new beginning, and we need to believe that," Sparano said. "You've got to believe in what it is we're trying to accomplish. There are no shortcuts. I told the players, `Right now it's very dark. There's no light at the end of the tunnel, so don't look for it. We'll find it somewhere down the road."'

Only 36 players are holdovers from last year, and many of them are unlikely to survive the final cut. The turnover is such that the player with the deepest Dolphins roots is Ricky Williams, who joined them in 2002 and is back after playing only 13 games the past four seasons.

Among those gone are defensive end Jason Taylor and middle linebacker Zach Thomas, the faces of the franchise since Dan Marino retired. Taylor was traded last Sunday to the Washington Redskins, ending the soap opera that resulted from his feud with Parcells.

"When you get to training camp, you want as few distractions as possible," Sparano said. "What's good in this situation is there are no distractions."

With uniform Nos. 99 and 54 now unclaimed, the new faces of the franchise are Parcells, Sparano and general manager Jeff Ireland. To the surprise of Sparano, a first-time NFL head coach, their pictures adorn highway billboards promoting the upcoming season.

"I was driving from Hilton Head back to Miami with my wife," he said, "and I saw that thing out there, and I almost ran off the road."

Another new face at camp was New York real estate billionaire Stephen Ross, who bought 50 percent of the team from Wayne Huizenga last winter and watched the first practice.

Parcells stood off to one side and didn't talk to players or reporters. He has assigned Sparano and Ireland to be the voices of the franchise, but there's no doubt regarding who's in charge.

Redskins executive vice president Vinny Cerrato said he talked by phone with Parcells three times the day the Dolphins traded Taylor.

Parcells and Ireland have patched together a roster that's very much a work in progress. There will be frantic battles for playing time in every area except at running back, Miami's deepest position thanks to the one-two punch of Ronnie Brown and Williams.

Jake Long, the top overall pick in this year's draft, lined up with the first team at left tackle for the first practice. There were three other newcomers up front - tight end Anthony Fasano and guards Justin Smiley and Trey Darilek.

Other offseason acquisitions include quarterback Josh McCown, nose tackle Jason Ferguson, receiver Ernest Wilford, and linebackers Reggie Torbor and Akin Ayodele.

The final unsigned draft pick, former Michigan quarterback Chad Henne, reached a contract agreement Saturday and reported in time for the evening drills.

"It was big for me to get it done," Henne said. "You've seen in the past years about the quarterbacks holding out. For me to get it done, it's a great opportunity."

Another draft pick, defensive end Phillip Merling, signed Friday and took part in the first practice.

Brown, still recovering from a season-ending knee injury last October, took part in the first workout and said he's pleased with his progress.

"I think part of it is mental, and I'm trying to get over that part of it," Brown said. "Every now and then occasionally I catch myself kind of gathering my feet a little bit off of cuts, but for the most part I felt pretty good coming out of cuts and strides, so everything felt pretty good."

Linebacker Joey Porter (ankle) and cornerback Michael Lehan (ankle) sat out and were placed on the physically unable to perform list, but both are expected to join workouts soon.

Sparano said he wants to make practice harder than the games. He wants to educate his team on how to win, and how to lose.

Most of all, he wants to convince his players that the Parcells era will be different from the Dolphins' other recent regimes.

"The biggest challenge is that they believe in what it is we're trying to do - myself, Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland," Sparano said. "I told my players last night, `We picked you to be here.' It's important for them to know that."

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