Impact of Dolphins rookies a mixed bag
What Ted Ginn Jr. has to learn as a wide receiver and what he hasn't done as a return man are as well-documented as the arguments for and against giving quarterback John Beck his first NFL start next Sunday.
But what about the rest of the rookies who the 0-8 Dolphins hope become part of the widest scale southern reconstruction since the 1870s?
Halfway through the first season, it's impossible to say which F the Dolphins rookie class of 2007 will be: Foundation for the future or F-grade failure.
''Time is going to bear out whether it's been a good group or not, but we feel good about the guys,'' Dolphins general manager Randy Mueller said after the trade of veteran wide receiver Chris Chambers. ``Obviously, Samson [Satele] starts, Reagan [Mauia] starts, [punter] Brandon Fields starts, Paul Soliai plays a lot and [Ted Ginn Jr.] plays a lot. We've got a couple of other guys that we feel good about in the future. We've got a couple of undrafted free agents that are helping on special teams -- Courtney Bryan and [Edmond] Miles -- so it's a good group of guys. We feel OK about that.''
Saying Soliai, a defensive tackle, ''plays a lot'' isn't an advertisement for him considering the way the Dolphins have been run on this season and turned to five defensive linemen who were waived or free agents to help plug the holes. And third-round pick Lorenzo Booker only got off the inactive list for the last game because of a season-ending injury to Ronnie Brown.
Still, it's accurate to mention Satele first among the rookies and trumpeting the fact he starts. The center position requires more than just safely transferring the ball to the quarterback's hands and hitting the guy in front of you. It's not ideal to have a rookie in the job on a line with five guys either new to the roster or playing spots they didn't play last season.
''He's got a lot of stuff on his shoulders, a lot of calls to make, a lot of things to understand,'' said Dolphins left guard Chris Liewinski, in his 10th season. ``I think he's done a great job of adjusting to the NFL game.''
Satele's adjustment was smoothed by his predecessor, Rex Hadnot, the Dolphins' center in 2005 and 2006 and now the right guard.
''I had a lot of help from Rex, because he played center last year, Chris, all the guys up front,'' Satele said. ``I can make a wrong call and Rex will tell me the right call. When [we go] into [the] meeting, he doesn't take the credit, but he knows that he did the right call.''
Nobody is confusing Satele with Dwight Stephenson. But teams don't get their top two rushers above 5.0 yards a carry -- Brown at 5.1 and Jesse Chatman at 5.4 -- without strong clearance by the middle of the line.
Booker craves the opportunity to take advantage of that clearance. Each of the first seven weeks, someone would ask Dolphins coach Cam Cameron what it would take to get Booker into uniform. Cameron's answer was that it wasn't so much what Booker wasn't doing, but that Chatman and Patrick Cobbs were playing so well in front of him.
In his most expansive version of that, Cameron said Oct. 10: 'I told him with the look-squad, I said, `Lorenzo, I don't want you to come off the field. If you're not at tailback, I want you to be a wide receiver. If you're not the No. 1 receiver, I want you to be in the slot.' He's still like all of these guys; they need to grow as football players. He's kind of 'tweener,' so you've got to have a specific role for him.''
Slight in build compared to Cobbs and Chatman, Booker went from stellar in helmet and shorts during minicamp to nearly invisible during training camp. He only stood out when demonstrating that even good athletes can have trouble fielding punts (he tended to muff about one a day).
He was productive during the third exhibition game, taking his only punt return back 16 yards and catching six passes for 41 yards in the second half. That was countered by 11 yards on seven carries and one catch for 5 yards in the exhibition finale, a game he needed to star in to edge past Cobbs. The Dolphins kept four running backs, thus keeping Booker off the practice squad and out of another team's reach.
Until Week 8, when Booker was in uniform but didn't play, even on special teams. He was in the same boat as linebacker Abraham Wright.
GOOD FIRST IMPRESSION
Wright was the last player drafted by the Dolphins in April, but few rookies got higher praise in training camp. His speed off the corner prompted false starts in drills and drew raves from teammates about his potential. Offensive tackle Vernon Carey said everyone would know who Wright is by the end of the season.
But after two tackles, including a sack, near the end of the first exhibition game, Wright faded. Even preseason game speed swallowed the effectiveness of Wright's speed, and he couldn't seem to impose himself on plays any other way. He has been on the scout team each week.
Although he has been buried on the depth chart after believing he would at least be involved each week as a substitute or on special teams, don't look for any pouting from Wright, a budding minister with six Bible quotes in his locker.
''I don't care if I'm just here for a few years and never get into a game,'' Wright said. ``How many people would love to make this kind of money to play a game? I'm blessed to even be on this team.
``My brother's getting shipped to Iraq in Jaunary and he's got three kids. I'm feeling like this is nothing.''
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