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Center is now the center of attention

Left tackle? Jake Long. Check.

Right tackle? After signing a 6-year deal worth a reported $42 million on Friday, Vernon Carey is the guy. Check.

Left guard? Justin Smiley has been injured two consecutive seasons but the Dolphins have invested a lot of money on him so he's the guy. Check.

Right guard? Donald Thomas impressed the holy heck out of coaches in training camp last year before getting injured the first game and missing the entire season. Despite questions, the staff is convinced he's going to be pretty darn good. So another check.

Interior line backups? Andy Alleman and Ikechuku Ndukwe have experience. Check.

Center? Problem ... problem ... danger Will Robinson, danger!

The Dolphins will absolutely address the center spot this offseason with an eye toward replacing Samson Satele as the starter. You don't need a highly placed source to figure that out. It's plain as day. And it makes more sense considering coach Tony Sparano refused to name Satele his starter during his one interview session in Indianapolis this week. In fact, his answer raised doubts Satele might even be on the team in 2009.

"Samson's obviously a member of our football team right now," Sparano said because that was the nicest thing he could immediately think about the kid without throwing him under the proverbial bus. "Whether or not he's our starting center? One of the things I think everyone of our players know on my team is that there's going to be competition at every position always.

"...There's competition at every one of our positions right now. One thing that we know, and I'm sure every team in this league will say the same thing, is the 53 you had last year doesn't mean that's going to be the 53 you have this year. For us, it's going to be the right 53 again, and whatever happens, happens. Everybody's got to be ready to compete. If not, they don't belong on the Miami Dolphin team."

So who will the Dolphins bring in to compete for the starting center job?

There is wild speculation about Baltimore unrestricted free agent-to-be Jason Brown. He's good. But the Ravens are working "diligently," a league source told me, to try and get Brown re-signed before the start of free agency Feb. 27.

So there is no certainty Brown, the best center that might hit free agency, will actually hit free agency. We'll see. Beyond that, Brown is going to cost the Dolphins, or any other team, a lot of money. I am told Brown wants to be paid among the highest-paid centers in the league. His initial asking price, on average, is in the pricey neighborhood of $6-$7 million annually. Tampa Bay's Jeff Faine was the highest-paid center last year at $7 million.

Frankly, I don't see the Dolphins paying that kind of price, considering there are several centers in the draft that fit what they like. Sure, any rookie comes with uncertainty and inexperience. But Big Tuna Bill Parcells and Tuna Helper Jeff Ireland prefer to fill their roster through the draft and have confidence that once they lock onto a player they see as a fit, he will, indeed, fit. [Never mind the small details named Ernest Wilford and Shawn Murphy.]

So what rookies will be available in the draft?

Think Jonathan Luigs (6-foot-4, 302 pounds) of Arkansas. Think Max Unger (6-5, 300) of Oregon. Think Antonie Caldwell (6-4, 307) of Alabama. Think Eric Wood (6-4, 305) of Louisville. Think Andy Levitre (6-3, 306) or Oregon State. Think Trevor Canfield (6-5, 311) of Cincinnati.

Yes, I know Levitre and Canfield made their reputations playing mostly guard in college. So? That only makes them more valuable because of that "position flexibility" love the Dolphins have.

All the players mentioned above, with Unger being the possible exception, should be available in the second round. Some will be available in the third round.

Regardless, someone will be signed, drafted, acquired in trade to compete for Miami's starting center job. And then the Dolphins will be able to check off their last major issue on the offensive line.

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