|By Alex Marvez, South Florida
Sun-SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Business News
Aug. 21, 2006 - PLANTATION -- David Bowens has endured the smell of slaughterhouses, inhabited cramped dormitory rooms with a teammate and slept on beds so uncomfortable he ultimately dozed on the floor instead.
This is why the defensive end recently expressed gratitude for his temporary accommodations at the Renaissance Fort Lauderdale-Plantation Hotel during Dolphins training camp.
"We've got it good here," said Bowens, who had just filled a Styrofoam container with food from the daily lunchtime buffet set up for players at the hotel. "Everything is in our backyard. If I need anything, I can go home 10 minutes away. I have my own room. The beds are comfortable."
When the Dolphins broke camp last Friday, 135 team members had stayed at the Renaissance for almost a month. Players, some of whom will stay at the hotel until learning whether they make the 53-man roster Sept. 2, shuttled between the Renais-sance and Dolphins head-quarters 3 miles away in Davie.
"There is something to be said for getting away and guys not having other distractions and that type of thing," said Nick Saban, who has held camp in South Florida during his two seasons as Dolphins coach. "On the other hand, there's a comfort zone for people working in the place that they're used to -- same locker, same meeting rooms, eating in the same place. It's a little less disruptive."
That comfort and convenience wasn't lost on Bowens.
Before joining the Dolphins in 2001, Bowens spent his first three NFL preseasons with three different teams (Denver, Green Bay and Buffalo) that held camp on college campuses. Players at Broncos camp in Greeley, Colo., had to cope with an omnipresent stench from local slaughterhouses.
The air was cleaner in De Pere, Wis., and Rochester, N.Y., where Green Bay and Buffalo have their camps. But as with the Broncos, Bowens was matched with a roommate in dormitories that offered sparse amenities.
Bowens and most Dolphins veterans had their own rooms at the Renaissance, complete with new beds.
"I can't complain," Bowens said. "They've done a good job taking care of us."
While there are horror stories involving roommates -- especially snoring players and those who show no consideration for the other's sleeping patterns -- some Dolphins have reaped the benefits of such close quarters. Safety Yeremiah Bell said he and cornerback Eddie Jackson compared notes about defensive schemes and how both fared during practice.
Rookie punter Thomas Olmsted said he was thankful about being paired with Ola Kimrin, a Swedish kicker who has spent time in three other NFL training camps.
"He's a little older and he's been through the grind," Olmsted said. "He's helped me so much by telling me, 'Keep your head up and get through the day.' If I didn't have that, I'd feel like a lost puppy."
Keeping camp in South Florida is one of the few aspects of football operations that Saban hasn't changed since replacing Dave Wannstedt as head coach. The Dolphins moved player lodging from the Rolling Hills Hotel and Resort in Davie to the Renaissance in 2004.
The Dolphins were given hotel space for dining, meetings and the medical staff in case player treatment was required. The hotel staff, which often dressed in Dolphins garb, personally placed wake-up calls so players had no excuse for oversleeping.
Players were allowed to use the Renaissance's back entrance and service elevator. Fans seeking autographs or photos were ushered to a special area that players have the option of visiting to accommodate such requests.
There also is special parking for the Dolphins, although the annual problems with car thefts continue. Rookie linebacker Sam McGrew recently had four $1,000 rims stolen off his Cadillac Escalade after he didn't park in his team's designated area. Two other players had the same model car stolen in 2004 and 2005.
"[Thieves] know we're here, so we're going to be targeted," Dolphins wide receiver Wes Welker said.
Saban's football-intensive approach on the field carries over to the camp schedule. With a nightly 11 p.m. curfew, players have scant time for anything but preparation for another day of work.
"We eat, sleep, go to meetings and practice," Welker said. "That's pretty much it."
For relaxation, some Dolphins played video games or got together to attend movies; Talladega Nights was a recent selection. Others pass the time by doing Sudoku puzzles (linebacker Keith Newman), calling loved ones (quarterback Cleo Lemon), playing guitar (Olmsted) or sleeping.
"There's jobs on the line right now," said Lemon, who is battling Joey Harrington for a second-string role behind starter Daunte Culpepper. "Everybody's either in their playbook or getting some rest. We'll have plenty of time for fun after camp."
By breaking camp early, players who have homes in South Florida are now allowed to sleep there. But Renaissance events manager Alyna Acosta said the hotel is looking forward to the team's expected return in 2007.
"Right before football season starts, the staff starts asking when the Dolphins are coming," Acosta said. "We want to take care of the Dolphins so they know we're their home away from home."
Alex Marvez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright (c) 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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