July 10, 2009
Paul Soliai is the last Polynesian standing.
When the native Samoan joined the Dolphins in 2007, the roster was filled with Polynesians. Five spent that season on the roster.
Two years later, everyone is gone but Soliai. And if the former fourth-round pick doesn't get a handle on his weight battles, he might be the next one shown the door.
While the defensive lineman has been decent in spurts, showing flashes of productivity in a few games, his performances and work habits are too inconsistent, coaches say.
Entering his third season, Soliai, who was suspended twice in 2008 for violating team rules, realizes his size and draft status can take him only so far, and that it's time for his work ethic to start carrying him now.
"My rookie year I wasn't productive in what I was doing. I wasn't ready. Last year I was, but there's still another level to take it to, and that's my goal," said Soliai, who has seven tackles and a forced fumble in the 23 games.
"I'm more experienced with the nose [tackle spot] now. I played three technique in college, and I know a lot more than I did in my rookie year. Now it's about putting all that I know and all that I learned on the field with some technique."
Soliai said his focus in 2009 is to "practice like I'm playing in the game."
If he does that, coach Tony Sparano will be pleased because the Dolphins believe the former Utah standout possesses plenty of potential considering the offensive linemen label him the team's most difficult defender to move.
"He's very unique because I've never had a guy that big, that strong and that athletic. Some of the things you watch, it's like 'how did he do that,'" defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers said. "He's just got to keep coming. He's got to really decide what he wants to be as a football player."
This training camp Soliai has stiffer competition for his spot as Jason Ferguson's backup. Former Gator Joe Cohen, who spent a couple of months on the practice squad, is getting an extended look in camp. And the Dolphins signed Louis Ellis as a rookie free agent.
Tony McDaniel, who was acquired from Jacksonville for a seventh-round pick this offseason, also split his practice time between defensive end and nose tackle during the recent minicamp.
That means if the Dolphins don't like what they see from Soliai heading into training camp, or during it, it will be easier to move on. However, those who watched Soliai flash plenty of upside during the team's offseason work realize there's still hope.
"Paul is a big dude, but don't get it mistaken now, he can move with it," Ferguson said.
Sparano has given Soliai, who is hovering around 350 pounds, an undisclosed weight he needs to be at for training camp. Last week, Soliai said his focus over the next six weeks will be getting there.
"It's not hard," he said. "It's just about being committed to it, committed to watching my weight."
Sparano said he'll be watching how serious Soliai is to being a "professional," which Sparano hinted is at the heart of the problem.
"I've just got to stay on this guy because I'm telling you, I think he's got a lot of untapped potential," Rodgers said. "He's great in the meeting room. He's great around us. We've just got to get to him. We've got to see how good can this guy be."