« December to remember for Chad Pennington? | Main | Channing Crowder not practicing Fri. morning »

Dolphins OLine still searching for right mix

It boggles my mind that after 14 games the Miami Dolphins are 9-5 this season. It totally blows my mind they are 9-5 with an unsettled offensive line.

And yet that is exactly where the Dolphins are today as they head into the final two games of the season with a playoff berth hanging in the balance.

The Dolphins have been trying to upgrade the right guard position since, oh, Week 3 when it became clear Ikechuku Ndukwe is a hard-working second-year player doing his best to fill in ... but that's it. He is about effort and desire but for a position that requires strength and explosion and pop, he's not there yet.

The Dolphins tried three or four players in games in place of Ndukwe during the season and haven't really found the perfect answer yet. But maybe, just maybe, they found a viable upgrade the last couple of weeks.

Last week the Dolphins unveiled the idea of moving starting center Samson Satele to right guard and plugging in veteran Al Johnson at center. The idea was hatched the second Johnson signed and it has come to a Miami offensive line near you.

This move is meant to address two issues: Improve the right guard play. And improve the center play.

That's right, I said improve the center play. Satele has started all 30 NFL games he's played but the Dolphins have seen some spotty work by him, particularly the second half of this season. He was dominated by Vince Wilfork a few weeks ago, and he hasn't been exactly outstanding in pass protection the past couple of weeks.

Last week was particularly curious for Satele. In one terrible series in the first quarter against San Francisco, he was called for a false start (from the center position no less) and then he followed that up the next play by giving up a sack when he whiffed in trying to get his hands on a defender.

The very next series Satele was shifted over to right guard and Johnson was inserted at center. Johnson played two series which translated to eight plays. He didn't make any mistakes that could be easily detectable to the lay person, such as myself.

So Johnson may be playing himself into more playing time very soon.

“Yeah, I can see that," coach Tony Sparano said Thursday when he was asked if Johnson might be getting more playing time very soon. "I can see Al getting more work during the course of the games.”

That quote sounds remotely similar to the one Sparano gave when he inserted Renaldo Hill as a starter into the secondary. It also sounds similar to the one he gave when the team at first began playing Jason Allen as the nickel cornerback -- a move that Randy Moss single-handedly forced the Dolphins to scrap.

Anyway, you have to remember this is a two-pronged hope for improving the line. The Dolphins hope they can improve the center spot with Johnson, yes, but there is still that troublesome right guard spot to be addressed. And apparently Satele isn't bad there.

“Not bad. Good," Sparano said. "Samson played pretty good. Again, it was eight plays worth of work out there and in some of those, he wasn’t really challenged a whole lot. He didn’t have a guy on him is what I’m saying."

Sparano went on to make the point Satele played guard at Hawaii and that, as the Dallas offensive line coach, Sparano studied the player before the draft.

"We really looked at him as a swing player at the time when we were in Dallas -- a center-guard," the coach said. "We knew that was something that he has done and I think, athletically, when you take the ball out from between his legs and you put him over there at guard, it gives him a chance to get his hands on people a little bit faster. So I thought he did a pretty good job.”

Well, don't be surprised if the Dolphins take the ball out from between Satele's legs more the final two weeks. Don't be surprised if eventually Johnson takes over at center and Satele and Ndukwe battle it out at right guard.

Doesn't that blow your mind?