Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Al Johnson has brains, experience to step in

By Edgar Thompson

December 6, 2008

As a rookie last season, center Samson Satele started 16 games and was one of the few bright spots during a 1-15 season.

But Satele hasn’t been quite as impressive as a second-year player and could find himself fighting for a job he’s held ever since he arrived in South Florida.

Recently acquired center Al Johnson not only is going to push Satele, Johnson could unseat him.

Signed recently off waivers as he’s recovered from two knee surgeries, Johnson played four seasons under Tony Sparano and Bill Parcells. This week, Sparano called Johnson, “the smartest lineman I’ve ever coached.”

Told of Sparano’s comments, Johnson said, “I’m glad he thinks that highly of me in the past. I just hope I can stay that way; that’s the biggest thing.”

Like Satele, Johnson is a former second-round pick (in 2003 out of Wisconsin) who had a quick rise, starting 31 games in 2004-05 for Parcells’ Cowboys.

Signed by the Cardinals last season, Johnson said he suffered a knee injury that he said was misdiagnosed and eventually needed two surgeries. He finally began to feel close to 100 percent around Thanksgiving and his agent, Neil Cornrich, contacted the Dolphins.

“This was by far the best situation I could ask for,” Johnson said. “Everything fits. I just have to knock a little bit of the rust off.”

Joining a team in the midst a playoff race, Johnson knows “90 percent” of the offense and a number of ex-Cowboys. He also knows several members of the coaching staff and front office, including Parcells.

He said he’s noticed a change in his former head coach, who’s now Miami’s head of football operations.

“He’s a lot different now than he was when he was a head coach,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t seem like he has so many things on his mind … a little bit more mellow.”

Sparano said this week was like training camp for Johnson, who wasn’t in game shape. Once he is, coaches could give him some snaps at center, which could free Satele to play guard - a position in search of answers because of last Sunday’s season-ending injury to Justin Smiley.

Second-year pro Andy Alleman will start in place of Smiley at left guard Sunday, but if he struggles Johnson would offer Sparano some flexibility with Satele, who played some guard in college.

At 6-foot-5, 305 pounds, Johnson is a little bigger than Satele, who is 6-foot-3, 300 and relies more on quickness than power.

Satele, who turned 24 Nov. 29, is expected to make his 29th consecutive start this weekend. But he realizes Johnson will be challenging him.

“He’s going to be pushing me and I’m going to watching him … closely,” Satele said. “I’m going to learn a lot from him. He doesn’t know it, but I’m going to be watching a lot of film of him.”

Johnson, a six-year veteran and 45 NFL starts, said he’s impressed with Satele, but also sees some bad habits he has to fight himself.

“He’s a good young player. Plays hard,” Johnson said. “He’s been in this offense. But I think sometimes all young players, including myself, get into a lull once in while.”

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