Will the Dolphins evolve, like most of the NFL, away from the traditional fullback position - costing Lousaka Polite a job?
The Miami Dolphins found a gem in 2008 when they signed Lousaka Polite to fill their fullback position. The "Lousaka Monster" has become an integral part of the Miami Dolphins running game, constantly finding the first down marker on third- or fourth-and-short situations. Whenever the Dolphins need that one yard gain, Polite will find it.
In fact, in 2009, Polite was perfect in his one- or two-yard conversions.
So, who is going to compete against Polite for his starting role? The NFL.
The NFL has transitioned into a passing league. The power run game is going away. With that, the use of two tight end sets, and the advent of the H-back's increased role has resulted in fewer teams keeping the fullback position. There's just not enough of a need to carry the fullback slot on a 53 man roster.
But, that hasn't changed how the Dolphins plan to use Polite. When asked on Monday about Polite's role with the team, Head Coach Tony Sparano stated:
"It doesn't really affect [Polite] in 21 personnel and we have not really gone into 22 personnel. We have done it in practice, but we haven't done it - obviously we didn't do it [Friday night against the Atlanta Falcons]. But, 22 personnel is still part of our package. You have to have the fullback, and I think there's enough good things that he does right now that will help us, and somebody's really going to have to do a heck of a job in there for me to think otherwise."
Sparano's explanation of the offense is based on the number of running backs and tight ends on the field. The "21" indicates a 2-running back, 1-tight end formation, while "22" adds an additional tight end. The remaining eligible receivers make up the number of wide outs on the field (i.e., 2 in a 21, and 1 in a 22).
The coach was also asked about running back Lex Hilliard's role on the team.
"Well, I mean, first and foremost, this guy is probably [one of] the best two special teams players that I have on the team. But Lex is kind of a Jack of trades for me right now, in that this guy can play both fullback and halfback, and did it in the games last year. I know exactly what I am going to get out of Lex when he's running the ball as a halfback. I mean, the guy is a big, strong back that runs big and strong. He has good hands. He protects well. From there, I can use him as a hold the fort fullback if you will. If something were to happen to [Polite], or I want [Hilliard] to take snaps off of [Polite], you know Lex is a guy I can do that with and feel real good about."
Although everything points to Polite having a lengthy career in Miami, he also has to be looking over his shoulder. Rookie H-back Charles Clay is finding success with the team, and is being used mostly in a fullback role right now. He is expected to add in to the tight end mix eventually, but his addition could threaten Polite's lock on the fullback role.
Plus, the NFL is a changing game. And, even if the Dolphins continue to press with the power running attack, how long can an NFL team tie up a roster slot with a guy who plays just the fullback role? Could Charles Clay push Polite out the door, or could the Dolphins just evolve away from a fullback altogether.
Maybe this isn't a position battle right now, but expect Polite to be battling for a future job this season.