Defensive lineman Paul Soliai is, by the account of teammates and coaches, a good-hearted kid. But as a professional football player he's probably too much of a kid.
That is one reason former Utah coach Urban Meyer, a disciple of discipline, didn't like Soliai too much. That is one reason former Miami coach Cam Cameron also didn't like Soliai a whole lot and made him inactive half of 2007.
That is one reason Soliai has been suspended twice this season by the Dolphins.
Soliai is expected back in the Dolphins lineup Sunday and that's important because the Buffalo Bills are a team that wants to run downhill at Miami. But Soliai's return to the lineup, barring another late-week mistake, is testament not so much to Soliai getting his act together but to the work of teammates and willingness of coaches to be patient with the second-year player.
"I'm pretty patient with guys I think have a pretty good heart," Coach Tony Sparano said today when I asked how deep his patience for Soliai runs. "I think this guy has a pretty good heart, I really do. He wants to have success. I think down inside there, somewhere, there's a chance to have a pretty good player.
"That being said there's a point in time where enough and enough. I'll determine when that point in time comes but right now I'm trying to be patient. To his credit, Paul understands."
One reason Soliai understands is because teammates, particularly Jason Ferguson and Vonnie Holliday, are putting out maximum, almost superhero effort to keep him from wasting his Miami career.
"He has to mature off the field," Holliday said. "He has to grow up. He knows it. We've talked about it he and I. He has to grow up and take this opportunity seriously. And the great thing about it he has an organization and some coaches that are trying to work with him.
"I've seen Jason Ferguson take the time he's taken and the amount of energy he's put into helping that young guy and it's impressive. No doubt about it. It's impressive. Paul is one of those guys you have to like. He has that personality. Unfortunately people make bad decisions and find themselves in situations that they don't want to be in."
I do not know what Soliai did before the Baltimore game Oct. 19 to force Sparano to suspend him. I do not know what Soliai did before the St. Louis game last Sunday to force the coach to suspend him a second time. But I know that the Dolphins see some talent in this 6-4 and 355 dude that makes them reluctant to give up on him.
But the time is growing short for Soliai to get right. The time is now.
"Paul can play this game," Holliday said. "He's a big bodied, athletic guy who has to grow up. It's the like the little brother or the child you're working with and you want to see be successful. You put your time and energy into them and all of a sudden there's a setback. I don't love him any less or like him any less.
"But you tell him, 'Let's go man you have another chance but the window's closing. The window is definitely closing.' You never know when enough is enough or when the problem is too big of a problem. But right now he has an opportunity to do the right thing and I'm rooting for him."