Hello Fellow Fin Fans!
Only two days till the Big Game! I love saying that, because right now, every game is the "big game". :)
So I have been piecing (that word always looks weird), together some quotes and opinions on the changes taking place on the O-Line since Big-Bad Smiley went down, and an interesting picture is shaping up.
Most of you know that at the end of last year, the beginning of this year, I was a bit skeptical of Satele's ability. I wasn't convinced that he was as good as he looked last year, simply because, well, the Dolphins stunk so bad that I thought he might just have been one of the best of a bad bunch. Others have also seemed to hold this opinion about Vernon Carey, as well.
Well, Satele seemed to come out playing pretty well this year... not great, but serviceable. He certainly hasn't been blowing anybody off the ball, but he hasn't been making many big mistakes either. But it does raise the question, "As we upgrade all positions, and the line improves, is the center position subject to being "upgraded" as well?
I would have said, before Smiley went down, that the line was "good enough" and the biggest problem was solving the right guard spot. I mean, they were working well enough on pass blocking, but not really opening up many holes for the running game. But why mess with a good thing when you are winning, right?
But what now? With Smiley gone we have a very good ROOKIE (let's not forget that!) tackle in Jake Long. We have a serviceable 2nd year center, and our RT Carey is the only real veteran.
Let me show you a few "snippets" from the local rags.
From The Sun Sentinel, Omar Kelly:
I was pretty impressed with the way offensive guard Andy Alleman played against St. Louis. He allowed two pressures and was one of the four linemen called for a false start. But he made a number of second level blocks, and is on his feet 90 percent of the time, which means he's not being over powered and plays with control.
Alleman has spent the past month rotating in at right guard with Ikechuku Ndukwe, playing 20 snaps a game. However, he's now being asked to replace Justin Smiley, who had been playing at a Pro Bowl level before breaking his leg. I'm tipping my cap right now to Smiley because he was my favorite player to watch on offense. Dolphins fans better hope his leg, which I hear was broken in two places, heals properly.
In my opinion the offensive lineman under the most pressure from this point out is Ndukwe, not Alleman. Ndukwe must improve his fundamentals and stop physically wearing down. It's possible that Brandon Frye, who the Dolphins poached off Houston's practice squad, will get worked in for 20 snaps like Alleman was. The Trifecta likes to get young linemen work in actual games so they know exactly what they have to work with in 2009.
Hmmm, so it looks like we have a winner to replace Smiley at LG. Are they using the RG spot for "try-outs"? Looks like they know that Ike is not the answer, but he is a placeholder until "the answer" shows up. Is it Brandon (another Brandon?) Frye?
Next up, the PBP's Edgar Thompson:
Sunday, Alleman stepped in for Smiley in the first half and again pleased Sparano, a longtime offensive-line coach before joining the Dolphins.
"The guy just was flying all over the place," Sparano said. "That's a good sign when a guy walks into a game like that in that kind of situation and he plays that fast."
If Alleman slows down or the line hits another snag, Sparano has options.
Brandon Frye, a second-year pro out Virginia Tech, has appeared in the past three games and is the first backup option at guard. But the wild card could be Al Johnson, a six-year veteran signed by Miami from Dallas last week.
Johnson, 29, has made 45 starts, including 31 at center for the 2004-05 Cowboys. He also plays guard. But he is coming off a severe knee injury and hasn't played in '08.
"He's the smartest lineman I ever coached," said Sparano, who was with Dallas before taking over the Dolphins. "But physically would be the issue."
Okay, so Alleman again at LG, but who is this Al Johnson cat? Sparano seems to like him, but there is a question about the knee. Still, we need to address the RG spot... but... Center? Didn't think much about that.
Finally, our own "darling" cub reported, From the Herald (please don't say Armando!).... Jeff Darlington:
On Wednesday, tackle Vernon Carey pulled the group together before practice and reminded the unit to work harder this week, with an increased level of concentration.
`STEP IT UP A LITTLE'
''We couldn't wait to get out there as an offensive line group,'' Satele said. ``Vernon talked to us. He wanted us to come out and fire out. He wanted us to step it up a little. Vernon has to step up even more as a leader with Justin out, and he did that.''
Keep in mind, this isn't entirely about Smiley's absence, either.
Even before he was injured, the Dolphins were contemplating some potential changes along the line. That is partly why the team signed center Al Johnson last week. He was a former starter under coach Tony Sparano in Dallas.
Johnson spent all of Wednesday's practice playing center, sparking what soon could be a competition between him and Satele -- with the consolation prize possibly involving a move to the guard spot.
''It makes me want to practice harder and play harder,'' Satele said of Johnson's arrival, also noting that he realizes how much he can learn from a six-year veteran such as Johnson. ``But every time they bring in a center, I treat it as a challenge. That's just how I am.''
Because of the loss of Smiley, Johnson's incorporation into the Dolphins offense might be accelerated even more than expected. Although he isn't expected to start Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, he could see significant action in the game.
''A large part of it will have to depend on where he is toward the end of the week and how he feels physically,'' Sparano said.
Whether Johnson would play at guard or center also remains to be seen. Whatever the case, Andy Alleman is the likely starter at left guard, and Ikechuku Ndukwe probably will stay at right guard for now.
Well now, this is very interesting. First, I would like to congratulate Mr. Carey for stepping in as the "veteran leadership" on the line. Carey has always reminded me a bit of old TimBo, in that he seems to be pretty quiet for a big guy. But here he is, standing up and donning the mantle of "Veteran Lineman".
Secondly, give Satele some credit for not trying to dance around the issue of competition. The way I see it, competition is a great thing for him, he either gets better or gets replaced, but either way the line gets better.
But what really intrigues me is the potential for the line to get DRASTICALLY better over the next few games. Good teams get hot at the end of the season, and the Fins running game really needs to get HOT if we are going to have any chance to get to the postseason and beyond. Looks to me like we could have the RG spot fixed pretty soon, but who will it be?
Will Johnson end up replacing Satele at Center, and Satele shifts to RG? Is this an UPGRADE at both Center and Guard?
How about Satele at Center and Johnson at RG (any replacement at RG is likely ann upgrade)??
And what about the Brandon3?
Anyone consider the possibility that Johnson replaces Satele and Frye snags the RG spot, leaving Satele one more CamCasualty?
Stay tuned Fin Fans, for the answers to these and other exciting questions (like what is the next ultra creepy thing RZ will say?).
Same Fin time, Same Fin channel!