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  Satele at the Center of O-Line Success
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Samson Satele is the starting center of the Miami Dolphins.


This simple statement is really quite remarkable when you consider that he is the first and only rookie in team history to pull this off.


Jim Langer couldn’t do it, biding most of his rookie season on the taxi squad.  Neither could the incomparable Dwight Stephenson, regarded by many as the finest center ever to play the game.


Both men are in the Hall of Fame.


Really and truly, and this is not a knock on those who haven’t pulled it off, the simple reason why rookies generally aren’t trusted to start at center is because of the tremendous mental demands of the job.


It is the center’s responsibility to read the defensive front and make the appropriate line calls. It’s a massive responsibility, even for a seasoned veteran. To expect a green rookie to take on that job, given the complexity and clever deception of NFL defenses, borders on the unreasonable.


Crazy, actually.


Nevertheless, Satele has beaten the odds. It’s really something because the Dolphins didn’t have to start him. They could have taken the easy way out and kept Rex Hadnot at center and instead played Satele at guard.


But Dolphins coach Cam Cameron and line boss extraordinaire Hudson Houck became convinced early on that Satele was up to the job.


And Satele hasn’t disappointed them, despite his extreme baptism by fire.


“Everything’s good about this”, said Satele. “I’m happy that I started. One goal that I had was to start against Washington (in the season opener) and not lose my spot after that.”


As expected, defensive coordinators have had some success in taking advantage of Satele’s inexperience. We’ve seen him whiff, we’ve seen him block the wrong guy, and we’ve seen him mess up blitz pick-ups.


None of this is surprising, of course, because the orientation to the pro game can be rude. But here is where the old football axiom of “making mistakes at full speed” means the most.


Satele is always playing at full speed, a very good thing. Now, the challenge for him is to learn to play under control more consistently.


“Yeah, sometimes I am too aggressive and need to set off the ball more”, admitted Satele. “I need to do what Hud (Houck) tells me to do, not what I want to do.”


That’s music to Dolphin ears because it shows that Satele is tremendously self-aware of what he needs to do to get better. That’s not as common a quality with young players as some might think.


What is common, however, is periodic loss of confidence by young players when facing seasoned veterans. After all, it’s a humbling thing to take one’s lumps as an NFL rookie in front of a national audience and 75,000 attendees.


The only way to get through it is to be mentally tough and to focus on continuous improvement. Some rookies get this straight away. Others figure it out after a year or two. Some never make the leap.


Satele seems to have made the leap.


“It all starts with the guy, and every rookie in this league is different”, noted Cameron. “Not only with the positions they play, (because) some positions are more demanding as a rookie than others, (but) not many are more demanding than a starting center.”


“(Satele’s) a unique guy. He’s very mature, he loves football, and he plays football for all the right reasons. He’s doing a tremendous job.”


So how did the Dolphins uncover this gem of a rookie, taken in the second round with the pick obtained from New England for Wes Welker?


Mike Baugh, Assistant Director of Player Personnel, explains.


“Samson was unique because he played guard his junior year and then going into his senior year played center”, Baugh recalled. “So we went back and looked at his games at guard and center and tried to figure out what (best) to do with him.”


“The first thing for offensive lineman is that you have to be intelligent, especially at the center position. You have to be able to grasp volumes of information. Physically, you’re looking for a guy with balance and knee-bend. If you watch when Samson comes off the ball, he’s always got his knees bent and his feet underneath him. It’s a hard quality to find.”


“Howard Mudd was the first offensive line coach I worked with in Seattle”, said Baugh. “He used to tell me that one of his fundamentals with offensive line play was ‘first touch’. If you look at a defender and an offensive lineman, whoever establishes that ‘first touch’ and controls the chest area of the opponent first, is probably the indicator of who is going to win the battle.”


“These are some of the things you can look for when you see Samson (play).”


If you’re looking for evidence of what Baugh is talking about, just watch Satele on one of those screen passes that Ronnie Brown has been tearing people up with. You’ll see Satele pulling out in front, using his nimble athleticism, leverage, and power to crush linebackers flat.


All in all, he’s off to a pretty good start. But don’t expect him to be satisfied with just not “losing his spot”.


See, Satele knows that there is very high standard of play set by Dolphin centers in the past. And he wants to get there someday, in the rarefied air alongside Langer and Stephenson.


“I’m working toward it”, said Satele. “It’s not something that just going to be handed to me. Dwight Stephenson was the best center there ever was here, a Hall of Famer. I want my name to be with him, to be greater. I’m just working at it, taking it one day at a time. I’m no All-Pro yet.”


“I still have a lot of things to work on. I love this game.”

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