AFC East: Lousaka Polite

AFC East Q&A: Lousaka Polite

February, 2, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS -- It's been a wild journey through the AFC East for fullback Lousaka Polite. It started with the Miami Dolphins and ends this Sunday in Super Bowl XLVI.

Polite was a fixture and a fan favorite in Miami. But he was unexpectedly released this past summer by the Dolphins. The New England Patriots felt they needed a fullback late in the season and picked up Polite in December. Now, Polite is one game away from winning his first Super Bowl.

[+] EnlargeLousaka Polite
AP Photo/Ben Liebenberg Lousaka Polite is one of several ex-Dolphins that will be playing in the Super Bowl for the Patriots.
The AFC East blog caught up with Polite Thursday to recap all that went down.

Lou, how do you reflect on your time in Miami?

Lousaka Polite: I remember all of it, because it was all a very exciting experience for me. To be able to sign with them and find a role was a good experience. We had a good time. We won some games. Of course, we didn’t do as well as we’d like to, but that’s part of the game. But once I was released, I waited a long time to get here. The fact that I was able to get on somewhere was another blessing and a great experience. This game has taught me a lot over the years to stay hungry, to stay ready and control what you can control. That’s probably the No. 1 lesson I learned over the years.

With you, Wes Welker, Donald Thomas, Nate Jones, it seems Patriots coach Bill Belichick isn’t afraid to bring over players he faced in Miami.

LP: I would assume he would know this division best, because he played us twice a year. So seeing us twice a year over the last few years probably gives him some insight and intel on what we can do. It makes sense, especially against players you’re not going to see up close and personal all the time. I’m guessing that has something to do with it.

A lot of Dolphins fans were upset when you were released. Any message to them?

LP: Man, I love the Miami Dolphins fans. They showed me tons of love and I appreciate them. I still have a home there in the offseason, and I’m sure I will see them. I thank them for everything they’ve done for me the last couple of years. It was a great ride. I appreciate all the Dolphans.

What do you think of Miami starting over again with a new head coach and a new program?

LP: That's the way this game is played. It’s the evolution. It’s always evolving. It’s always changing. The turnover is ridiculous. It’s constant. It’s like a revolving door. Because in a high-performance business, they’re always searching for the right fit. That’s just how it is, whether it’s coaching, whether it’s players. They will always continue to search for something new, something that might be a better fit. That’s just the way it is.

Are you surprised your former coach, Tony Sparano, ended up with Rex Ryan in New York?

LP: [Laughs] Oh yeah, that was interesting. I was, like, "OK." But that lets you know that it’s always business first. That's an example. A year prior, they were rivals. Now, they're working together.

A year ago you were with the Dolphins, and a year later you're in the Super Bowl with a rival team. Could you have predicted this?

LP: No way, man. This journey has been so unpredictable. But that’s why you stay in the moment and stay mentally prepared and mentally tough. You just don’t know what’s going to be coming your way. So the best thing you can do is keep that tunnel vision. Because if you start doubting yourself, or start questioning what the next move is, you have to remind yourself that you can’t control that. But you can stay in shape and stay prepared.

AFC East update: Mankins sprains MCL

December, 27, 2011
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Here are the latest happenings Tuesday evening in the AFC East:

Making millions in the AFC East

March, 4, 2011
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Mark SanchezRichard A. Brightly/Icon SMIMark Sanchez is set to earn $14.75 million in base salary next season, the most in the AFC East.
Sports labor squabbles often are described as billionaires arguing with millionaires over money.

While that's a catchy rhyme that sums up fan frustration, the phrase is not entirely true.

Inspired by a blog entry from the minister of all things AFC South, Paul Kuharsky, I looked at NFL Players Association files to count up the number of AFC East players scheduled for $1 million base salaries in 2011.

Granted, up-front bonuses and incentives can make base salaries misleading. But base salaries are the only figures that create a common ground, player for player.

You'll see a vast majority of NFL players make much less than $1 million a year. Although many will make seven figures before they walk away from the game, careers are short and treacherous. They'll never see that kind of cash again for the rest of their lives.

That's why they're fighting for every dollar now.

Of the 226 players under contract in the AFC East, only 62 of them (27.4 percent) will make base salaries of $1 million or more.

The NFLPA hasn't acknowledged any franchise tags that have been signed. Those players are marked with an asterisk and not factored into the totals.

Buffalo Bills
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 19

Players under contract: 54

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 35.2

Miami Dolphins
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 15

Players under contract: 55

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 27.3

New England Patriots
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 14

Players under contract: 60

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 23.3

New York Jets
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 14

Players under contract: 57

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 24.6

Wrap-up: Lions 34, Dolphins 27

December, 26, 2010
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The Detroit Lions defeated the Miami Dolphins 34-27 in Sun Life Stadium.

What it means: The Dolphins blew a 10-point lead with about five minutes left in the game and lost to the feeblest road team of the past three years. The Dolphins finished the season 1-7 at home, tying the worst record in franchise history.

Home finale: Such a humiliating defeat to punctuate such a humiliating home schedule might mean the end for head coach Tony Sparano. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross predicted his team would reach the Super Bowl this year, indicating where his head was after offseason acquisitions such as receiver Brandon Marshall and inside linebacker Karlos Dansby. ... Running backs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown might have walked off the field for the last time as Dolphins. Williams rushed 14 times for a game-high 71 yards. Brown had 12 carries for 37 yards and a touchdown.

Davone intervention: The football gods giveth, and they taketh away. With 31 seconds left in the first half, Dolphins receiver Davone Bess caught a touchdown pass that went through the hands of Lions defensive back Tye Hill. But earlier in the game, Bess fumbled on a punt return that set up a Lions field goal, and with a little more than two minutes left in a tie game, Bess fell down on a route, allowing Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy to intercept Chad Henne and return it 30 yards for the winning score.

Offensive implosion: The Dolphins amassed 425 yards and held the ball for nearly 15 minutes more than the Lions. Henne had a decent game until crunch time. The Dolphins led by 10 points with about five minutes left, but Henne threw his only two interceptions on third down in Dolphins territory inside the final four minutes. The first allowed the Lions to kick a game-tying field goal. The second left Sparano shaking his head.

Fins firsts: Popular fullback Lousaka Polite, who is virtually automatic in converting short-yardage third downs, finally scored his first NFL rushing touchdown in his seventh season. Mickey Shuler Jr., son of the former New York Jets tight end, caught his first NFL pass, a 28-yarder to set up a field goal.

What's next: The Dolphins will have the chance to punctuate their disappointing campaign with a victory against the New England Patriots in Gillette Stadium.

Dolphins run game historically anemic

November, 19, 2010
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The Miami Dolphins were forced to start their third-string quarterback Thursday night against the Chicago Bears.

Tyler Thigpen revealed during the week he hadn't taken a single practice rep since the regular season began, and he had only three days to prepare for his first start in two years.

[+] EnlargeRicky Williams and Ronnie Brown
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeDolphins running backs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown combined for just six carries for 11 yards against the Bears.
One might think the Dolphins would help him out by letting Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown take as many handoffs as possible.

Whoever would dare think such a thing turned out to be dead wrong. The Dolphins abandoned the run in a 16-0 loss at Sun Life Stadium. It was only the second home shutout in 40 years for Miami.

"You know, that was our game plan," Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long said. "We wanted to come out and establish the run and then protect Tyler. We didn't do either of them."

Three quick nuggets that should disgust Dolfans:

  • The Dolphins rushed for only 39 yards, their worst output since Tony Sparano became head coach.
  • They have rushed for under 100 yards in each of their past eight home games, the longest current streak by any NFL team and the longest such streak in Dolphins history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
  • They tied a franchise record for fewest combined rushes by fullbacks and running backs with seven.
Seven rushing attempts? This from the team that was known for fielding one of the most punishing ground games in the NFL since Sparano took over in 2008.

Brown ran three times for 10 yards. Williams ran three times for 1 yard. Patrick Cobbs ran once for 1 yards. Lousaka Polite didn't have any carries.

Where did the other 27 rushing yards come from? Thigpen on six scrambles, preventing the Bears from adding to their sack total of six.

The only other times Miami running backs ran seven times were, as you would expect, during the Dan Marino era: in a 42-20 loss to the Washington Redskins in 1990 and in a 34-7 loss to the Bears in 1988.

Don Shula watched Thursday night's game from the Dolphins bench. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning calls plays from the booth. I wonder what Shula might've said to Henning had they been on the sideline together.

Sparano justified the low number of handoffs by pointing to the fact the Bears dominated time of possession at nearly 38 minutes, leaving the Dolphins with only 48 offensive plays.

The Dolphins also went into the game with a banged up offensive line and lost center Cory Procter to a knee injury early. That forced left guard Richie Incognito to handle snaps.

"We didn't get out of our way on offense," Sparano said. "We couldn't help ourselves there and really couldn't get off the field consistently on defense.

"So starting to talk about whether or not you didn't run the ball or throw the ball -- now, at one point you're down 16 points you've got to throw the ball."

Halftime thoughts from Fins-Ravens

November, 7, 2010
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BALTIMORE -- Halftime thoughts from M&T Bank Stadium, where the Miami Dolphins trail the Baltimore Ravens 13-10:
  • The Dolphins demonstrated comically bad defensive pursuit and tackling on Willis McGahee's 32-yard screen catch for a score. It was the first time all season the Ravens scored a touchdown on their opening possession.
  • Ronnie Brown's first two carries went between the tackles for 12 and 14 yards. He capped the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run on the Dolphins' first red zone play. Brown finished the drive with 45 yards, more than he had in all of Weeks 4 and 7 and 20 yards shy of all but two games this year.
  • Brown's touchdown was his first since the season opener. It was the first touchdown Baltimore allowed on an opening drive this year.
  • But Brown had just one more rushing attempt the entire first half -- for 2 yards in the second quarter.
  • The Dolphins dodged an even bigger deficit after Ravens safety Lardarius Webb returned a Chad Henne interception to the 4-yard line. The Ravens had an atrocious series: McGahee run for minus-1, Paul Soliai sack for 10 yards, delay of game, Cameron Wake sack at the line of scrimmage, botched field goal hold. Zero points.
  • On the Ravens' next possession, they managed to gain a first down at the Dolphins' 13-yard line. Offensive pass interference, a false start and Wake's second sack torpedoed any hope for a touchdown.
  • Dolfans will have another Dan Henning call to debate. On third-and-goal from the 1 at the end of the half, rather than hand off to Brown or fullback Lousaka Polite, the Dolphins tried a play-action pass. Henne's pass to Anthony Fasano looked like it was thrown left-handed, and the Dolphins had to settle for a field goal.

Buffalo's O more productive than Miami's

October, 25, 2010
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Compare the offenses of the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills.

If you were putting a unit together, how many Bills -- position for position -- would you select ahead of Dolphins?

The Dolphins have what appear to be franchise players all over the place: quarterback Chad Henne, receivers Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess, running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, tackles Jake Long and Vernon Carey.

A lot of those players were on fantasy rosters this weekend. I doubt there were many Bills active in your league.

But the winless Bills have put together a vibrant offense that has been unnoticed by a lot of people outside Western New York. They nearly shocked the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday before falling in overtime 37-34.

The Bills can't win because their defense is terrible, but their offense has scored 10 more points than the Dolphins have.

Buffalo has 121 points through six games, not exactly the 2001 St. Louis Rams but more points than three clubs that have played seven games. More impressively, the Bills started with just 17 points over their first two games.

Since Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced Trent Edwards at quarterback in Week 3, the Bills are averaging a reasonable 24 points a game and have scored at least 30 points in two of their past four games.

Hey, it's a start, and Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning should be envious.

The Dolphins haven't posted more than 23 points in any game because they can't score touchdowns and settle for field goals far too often. They kicked five field goals in a 23-22 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

Competition has been similar between the Bills and Dolphins. They've played three common opponents and each other.

The Bills' different opponents have been the Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars, while the Dolphins have played the Steelers and Minnesota Vikings.

The average defensive ranking for Buffalo's opponents is 17.5 compared to 15.7 for Miami's opponents.

Tough call was not reason Dolphins lost

October, 24, 2010
10/24/10
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Ben RoethlisbergerAP Photo/Alan DiazBen Roethlisberger's goal-line fumble may not have gone Miami's way, but it's not the reason the Dolphins lost the game, Tim Graham writes.
MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins and their fans have every right to be upset over the late call that went against them Sunday afternoon.

To say that was the reason they couldn't close out the Pittsburgh Steelers, however, would be erroneous.

With the help of a fortuitous ruling on a Ben Roethlisberger fumble Miami appeared to recover, Pittsburgh escaped Sun Life Stadium with a 23-22 victory.

"We will take it and exit stage left," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

The Dolphins seemed to snatch the game with 2:28 to play. They were clinging to a two-point lead against the driving Steelers when safety Chris Clemons knocked the ball from Roethlisberger's grasp at the goal line. Dolphins linebacker Ikaika Alama-Francis appeared to recover in the end zone, but video replays were inconclusive to referee Gene Steratore, and the Steelers retained possession.

Jeff Reed kicked an 18-yard field goal to give the Steelers a one-point triumph.

A Dolphins win would have been gargantuan. Given the Steelers' profile as one of the NFL's handful of elite teams, the Dolphins would've been mentioned as legitimate contenders.

Instead, the Dolphins returned to .500 and remained winless through three home games.

But Steratore's ruling wasn't the reason.

"It was a big play in the game, but it shouldn't have come down to that play," Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano said. "We had plenty of opportunities to win, but we didn't."

Not awarding Miami the fumble recovery is a convenient way to overlook a few issues that allowed the game to be decided by one bad break:

  • Poor red zone offense.
  • Poor two-minute offense.
  • Poor third-down defense.

The Dolphins failed to score touchdowns despite starting their first possessions at the Steelers' 22- and 13-yard lines within the first 1:58 of the game.

Sparano bemoaned his offense's inability to get at least 10 points out of those glorious opportunities.

"We could be up 14-0 right off the bat," Dolphins left tackle Jake Long said. "But we didn't start fast enough. We've got to be better than that."

Each time, the Dolphins failed to convert a first down and didn't take any shots into the end zone. Ronnie Brown ran once for 1 yard. Ricky Williams ran three times for 0, 8 and 0 yards. Chad Henne threw two short incomplete passes.

"Field goals are great to have, but in this situation we needed touchdowns," Sparano said. "When you get down there with that many opportunities, you have to convert them into touchdowns. That's the bottom line."

Settling for a field goal would have been wonderful after Pittsburgh converted that controversial call into a late lead.

The Dolphins had 2:26 left to get Pro Bowl kicker Dan Carpenter within field-goal range, but gained 4 yards on four plays against an injury-ravaged defense.

Carpenter made five field goals in the game and has a robust leg. He has made field goals from 53 yards and 50 yards this year. The Dolphins' offense should have been able to move the ball, especially with outside linebacker Lamarr Woodley and defensive end Aaron Smith sidelined with injuries.

The Dolphins work on their two-minute offense every practice. Sparano usually puts them into situations with a minute less than they had Sunday.

The Dolphins were out of timeouts, but they had the two-minute warning, a strong-armed quarterback, star receiver Brandon Marshall and pair of quality running backs.

"We felt strongly in that situation we'd be able to get the ball down the field and have plenty of time on the clock," Sparano said.

In the rain, Brown ran up the middle for 2 yards on first down. Henne got off a snap right before the two-minute warning and threw a quick pass. But tight end Anthony Fasano dropped it to set up a tough third down while wasting a precious clock-stoppage.

On third-and-8, Henne tossed to fullback Lousaka Polite, who gained only 2 yards and was tackled inbounds. Amid a heavy Pittsburgh pass rush on fourth down, Henne frantically got the ball out of his hands, but the ugly pass hit the grass.

Miami's offense wasn't alone in its struggles.

Pittsburgh moved the chains on third-down plays of 16, 11 and 9 yards. On third-and-5 from Miami's 43-yard line on the decisive drive, Mewelde Moore gained 29 yards on a dump pass. One play later, Miami defensive lineman Tony McDaniel committed an unnecessary roughness penalty to give Pittsburgh first-and-goal from the 4.

Pittsburgh converted six of its 15 third downs.

Steratore had nothing to do with a lot of problems Miami had Sunday.

"If you lose, you lose," Dolphins inside linebacker Channing Crowder said. "You can make all the excuses, but our record's 3-3. There's not going to be an asterisk next to the third loss. Who cares? Good call, bad call, I don't know the rules. But we should've won. We never should have been in that situation. To put it in the ref's hands was our fault."

Rapid Reaction: Steelers 23, Dolphins 22

October, 24, 2010
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MIAMI -- The Pittsburgh Steelers caught a giant break late in the fourth quarter and edged past the Miami Dolphins 23-22 in Sun Life Stadium.

What it means: The Dolphins have a reason to complain after a controversial ending, but that won't erase their 0-3 record at home. A Dolphins victory would have propelled them into the conversation of best teams.

Play of the game: On third-and-goal from the 2 with 2:37 left in the game, Ben Roethlisberger scrambled toward the end zone. He was met at the goal line by Dolphins safety Chris Clemons and apparently fumbled. The play was ruled a touchdown. The Dolphins challenged. The play was overturned, but there was no video evidence the Dolphins recovered. Jeff Reed kicked an 18-yard field goal.

A less-controversial critical play: With the Dolphins up two points with about three minutes left, the Steelers had third-and-5 on the Dolphins' 43-yard line. Roethlisberger flipped a short pass to Mewelde Moore for a 29-yard gain. One play later, Dolphins defensive lineman Tony McDaniel commits unnecessary roughness to give the Steelers a first down on the doorstep.

Two-minute grill: The Dolphins had more than two minutes left and needed only a field goal against an injury-depleted defense, but they couldn't muster anything. Chad Henne passed three times before losing the ball on downs.

Worthy of debate: Dolphins fullback Lousaka Polite is virtually automatic when it comes to gaining 1 yard for a first down. On third-and-1 from the 50 early in the fourth quarter, the Dolphins handed to Ronnie Brown for no gain and then punted on fourth-and-inches.

Injury report: The Steelers lost three players during the game: right tackle Flozell Adams (ankle), defensive end Aaron Smith (arm) and linebacker Lamarr Woodley (hamstring).

What's next: The Dolphins visit the Cincinnati Bengals next Sunday.

A yard to go? Chalk it up for Polite

September, 29, 2010
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When the Miami Dolphins find themselves 1 yard away from moving the chains on third or fourth down, the Sun Life Stadium crowd can tell the visiting defense exactly what's about to go down.

Polite
Polite
Dolfans will start chanting Lousaka Polite's name before he takes the handoff.

But they're not tipping off the opponents to information they didn't already know.

"I don't think the fans are telling Rex Ryan or [Bill] Belichick anything different," Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano said.

Polite has a reputation for being a sure thing in short-yardage situations. In Sunday night's loss to the New York Jets, he extended his streak of third- or fourth-and-1 conversions to 20.

ESPN.com researcher Vincent Masi harvested the databases and found nobody has come close to that kind of production since the start of the 2009 season, when Polite's streak began.

David Garrard is second with a dozen in a row. Brady Quinn has converted eight straight, but he's on the Denver Broncos' bench. Running back Lynell Hamilton has converted seven straight, but he won't get another chance until 2011. He's on injured reserve.

Sparano, a fastidious stat tracker, was pleasantly caught off guard Wednesday when a reporter said Polite's streak was at 19. Little did Sparano know Polite's efficiency was more impressive than that.

"That's a stat you should be chasing," Sparano said. "He prepares really well for that role. The other night in the game, everything on that play dictated [a handoff to Polite]. I mean, they were clearly geared up to try to stop that one handoff in the game with the way they built their defense, and Lou was smart enough to understand the weakness in the defense, and he gains, like, 4 yards on the play."

Sparano called Polite "a football rat" who's always thoroughly prepared for whatever the defense shows. Sparano suggested Polite's vigilance rubs off on his teammates in point-blank scenarios because he's so proven.

"When they know Lou is getting to ball in some of these situations the backside of the blocking scheme is starting to work a lot harder," Sparano said. "That's something that I've noticed. They think they're all alive. In other words, even though the play might be a four-hole or a five-hole play, he could bring the ball back to the other side in this situation [because they] don't want to be the reason why" the run failed.

But Sparano also pointed out the Dolphins passed on third-and-1 from the Jets' 11-yard line in the third quarter. Chad Henne found Brandon Marshall for what turned into a touchdown.

"If the pass was incomplete, you guys would be asking me why we didn't give it to Lou," Sparano said.

Here's my preseason All-AFC East team

September, 9, 2010
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In February, the wait felt like it would be interminable. As it does every year.

But we're finally here. The start of the NFL regular season is upon us. A meaningful game will be played Thursday night in the Superdome.

Let's mark the occasion in the AFC East with a look at my preseason all-division team.

I've selected a full team of starters on offense, defense and special team -- down to the holder -- based on how I predict they will have performed when we look back on the season in January.

With four 3-4 defenses, I didn't have to bend positions to include everyone. In addition to position, I adhered to which side a player lined up.

The New York Jets and Miami Dolphins lead the way with eight selections each. The Buffalo Bills have six (one player was chosen in two special-teams spots) and the New England Patriots have five.

OFFENSE

WR: Randy Moss, Patriots

LT: Jake Long, Dolphins

LG: Andy Levitre, Bills

C: Nick Mangold, Jets

RG: Brandon Moore, Jets

RT: Vernon Carey, Dolphins

TE: Dustin Keller, Jets

WR: Santonio Holmes, Jets

QB: Tom Brady, Patriots

RB: Ronnie Brown, Dolphins

FB: Lousaka Polite, Dolphins

DEFENSE

LE: Marcus Stroud, Bills

NT: Vince Wilfork, Patriots

RE: Jared Odrick, Dolphins

OLB: Calvin Pace, Jets

ILB: David Harris, Jets

ILB: Karlos Dansby, Dolphins

OLB: Cameron Wake, Dolphins

CB: Darrelle Revis, Jets

CB: Antonio Cromartie, Jets

FS: Jairus Byrd, Bills

SS: Brandon Meriweather, Patriots

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots

P: Brian Moorman, Bills

H: Brian Moorman, Bills

LS: John Denney, Dolphins

KR: C.J. Spiller, Bills

PR: Roscoe Parrish, Bills

The hardest spots to select were left guard, defensive end and outside linebacker because there are so many young or unproven players there. Stroud is an established veteran, but he's moving to a 3-4 defense.

Let me know what you think in the comments section.

How nice: Polite a rugged servant for Miami

August, 21, 2010
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If you want to get a sense of what Miami Dolphins fullback Lousaka Polite is all about by watching him on the field, then you'll quickly come to the conclusion he does not live up to his name.

Polite's game is all about violence -- marrow-rattling blocks and sledgehammer runs.

But talk to Polite or those who benefit from his ruthless collisions and you'll get a different impression. The soft-spoken Polite is as agreeable as his surname implies.

[+] EnlargeLousaka Polite
AP Photo/Brian BlancoLousaka Polite is as important to Miami's run game as Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown.
Polite's all about harmony, teamwork, selflessness.

"He's very humble, very honest and a very hard worker," Ricky Williams said. "And he's so dependable."

Dolphins coach Tony Sparano recently called Polite "one of the most critical guys" on an offense that includes blossoming quarterback Chad Henne, star running backs Ronnie Brown and Williams, prolific receiver Brandon Marshall and franchise left tackle Jake Long.

But when I spoke to Polite about how much he means to the Dolphins, he repeatedly steered the conversation back to the team, declining to take any credit.

"The best thing about our team is we're very unselfish," Polite said. "We're all rooting for each other, no matter who's in there. That's important for a team. It's a long season, and we're all going to need each other."

Polite is one of the NFL's top fullbacks, a position that ranks slightly above holder on the anonymity gauge in today's game. What happened to the days of Jim Brown and Franco Harris anyway? Or even Larry Centers?

But when it comes to the jobs fullbacks must do in today's game, Polite is among the very best at them. He wasn't drafted and had been released five times before last season began, but by the end he was generating Pro Bowl buzz.

Polite has evolved into a quality blocker and was automatic in short-yardage situations. On third- or fourth-and-1, he converted all 16 of his carries for first downs.

"His role on the offense is very, very important," Sparano told Dolphins reporters this week. "Never mind what he does in some of the short-yardage situations. This guy is one of the people that you can really trust out there.

"Ricky and Ronnie would tell you they trust him because they know that he's going to help them get through the smoke. They just trust that the guy is going to be in the right place at the right time. ... As a football team you hope that you have more and more people that can trust each other like that group trusts Lousaka Polite."

Williams also appreciates that Polite can be so amenable. Williams explained a lot of fullbacks he has played with in the past can't diversify their approach, but Polite will cater to either Williams' or Brown's running styles.

"The way that I run, I like to get downhill as soon as possible," Williams said. "Some backs like to make people miss more. They trust and use their vision more.

"But the way I run, I say 'All you can do is get in the guy's way, Lou, because I'm going to be off your butt so fast you just need to get out of my way.' When I get the ball, there's never even a doubt in my mind he's going to be in the right place and that there's going to be a crease."

Polite rarely gets the glory. He has one career touchdown, a 12-yard catch and run for the Dallas Cowboys a half-decade ago. Fittingly, the toss from Drew Bledsoe was on a fourth-and-1 play.

Polite spent three years with the Cowboys, all under head coach Bill Parcells and with Sparano the run-game coordinator. Those relationships led Polite to the Dolphins.

He is the prototypical Parcells/Sparano player, a proud and effective grunt who does what he's told for the good of the team.

"I take pride when my number's called and my team is depending on me to deliver," Polite said. "I don't want to feel like I let them down. This is a role-based team. If they have something they want you to do, you have to do your best to get that job done."

Sizing up how AFC East chips are stacked

July, 24, 2010
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Michael Lombardi of NFL.com recently composed a unique look at every NFL roster with a system ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons convinced him to adopt.

Lombardi, a former NFL personnel executive who now provides analysis for the NFL Network and National Football Post, appraised each team by the number of blue-chip and red-chip players they have.

Blue-chip players are among the top 10 at their position: "He is good enough to create mismatches versus most opponents. He must also be one of the team's featured players and have a direct impact on the outcome of the game."

Red-chippers are among the top 15 at their position: He "plays the game with no real weaknesses, is a solid starter, and will be able to capitalize on certain opponents, but is never consistently dominant. He might not play as well against the league's very best, but shows up each week and has a high degree of competitiveness."

I'll summarize each AFC East team, with the players listed in the order Lombardi mentioned them. Click on the link above to read Lombardi's explanations.

Buffalo Bills

No blue-chip players, and only three red-chip players: receiver Lee Evans, linebacker Paul Posluszny and safety Jairus Byrd.

Miami Dolphins

Five blue-chip players: left tackle Jake Long, running back Ricky Williams, receiver Brandon Marshall, inside linebacker Karlos Dansby and fullback Lousaka Polite. Five red-chip players: running back Ronnie Brown, right tackle Vernon Carey, defensive end Kendall Langford, defensive tackle Randy Starks.

New England Patriots

Four blue-chip players: nose tackle Vince Wilfork, receiver Wes Welker, quarterback Tom Brady, guard Logan Mankins. Lombardi also named Bill Belichick a blue-chip coach (top six). Six red-chip players: receiver Randy Moss, tackle Sebastian Vollmer, tackle Matt Light, defensive end Ty Warren, safety Brandon Meriweather, outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain.

New York Jets

Seven blue-chip players: cornerback Darrelle Revis, tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, center Nick Mangold, outside linebacker Calvin Pace, inside linebacker David Harris, receiver Santonio Holmes. Three red-chip players: guard Brandon Moore, inside linebacker Bart Scott and tight end Dustin Keller.

Ranking the AFC East's backfield trios

July, 22, 2010
7/22/10
8:49
AM ET
An interesting cyberdebate unfolded beneath an item I wrote Wednesday about Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey's ground-game tendencies.

The piece was inspired by a column written by ESPN fantasy analyst Matthew Berry, who noted Gailey has an undeniable history of designating one workhorse running back during his stops as a head coach and offensive coordinator over the past 22 years.

Some writers scoffed, insisting Gailey's trend wouldn't apply in Buffalo because they have three capable backs in Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson and rookie C.J. Spiller.

In the process, reader migarvin21 boldly declared the Bills have the NFL's best trio of backfield mates.

As is the hallmark of a spirited debate, some immediately shot down migarvin21's opinion, while others offered support.

When I expressed skepticism, readers Bills451 and Jpicc8049 dared me to name a team with three better backs.

As I responded in the comments section, I would take the Baltimore Ravens' (Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, Le'Ron McClain) and the Dallas Cowboys' (Marion Barber, Felix Jones, Tashard Choice) trios over the Bills. Other readers mentioned the Washington Redskins (Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson, Willie Parker).

But it's tough to compare trio for trio because most good teams don't rely on a third running back.

I'd also take the one-two punches of the Carolina Panthers (DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart) and New York Giants (Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs) over the Bills' threesome. Some fans would prefer Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson by himself to sprinkling touches among Jackson, Lynch and Spiller.

Motivated by the discussion, I put together my AFC East preseason backfield rankings for 2010. The order is determined not by the offensive lines or the coordinator's playbook. This is purely on the talent of the top three backs for the upcoming season.

1. Miami Dolphins: Yes, Ronnie Brown always seems to be hurt, and Ricky Williams is 33 years old. But they are the best tandem in the division. Brown's versatility and explosiveness is what turned the Wildcat into a fad. In a recent Sporting News column, an NFL scout rated Brown the fourth-best back and said if it weren't for injuries he'd be the league's most complete. The Dolphins also have a true fullback in Lousaka Polite, who is automatic in short-yardage situations.

2. Buffalo Bills: The Bills are too unproven to be in the conversation for best NFL trio -- for now. We can justify the argument if we base it on how well they could be. But neither Jackson nor Lynch has established himself as a go-to back. Jackson topped 100 yards two times last year. Aside from trampling the Indianapolis Colts' junior varsity in the season finale, Jackson rushed for more than 70 yards twice against a team with a winning record. Lynch looked like a monster his first two seasons then plummeted out of favor last year. Spiller doesn't have an NFL touch.

3. New York Jets: They boasted the NFL's best attack last year, averaging 172.2 yards a game. But leading rusher Thomas Jones is gone. Sophomore Shonn Greene looked like the real deal in the playoffs but needs to show he can be the workhorse for a full season. LaDainian Tomlinson is a surefire Hall of Famer, but he's 31 and looked ragged last year with the San Diego Chargers. Fullback Tony Richardson will be 39 by the end of the season.

4. New England Patriots: They're a grab bag. They have the perpetually uninspiring Laurence Maroney and three veterans -- Kevin Faulk, Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris -- who are 33 or older. They're good enough to get by, as evidenced by the fact the Patriots finished 12th in rushing last year, but none of the backs is good enough to be dominant. Maroney was the leading rusher with 194 carries for 757 yards, a 3.9-yard average. Faulk was next with 335 yards.

'Madden 11' ratings revealed for AFC East

June, 30, 2010
6/30/10
9:43
AM ET
EA Sports has given ESPN.com exclusive rights to reveal complete "Madden NFL 11" player ratings, from agility to trucking to run blocking to pursuit. The numbers started rolling out Monday, two teams at a time.

Lucky for us, the AFC East was first up. That allows us to see how all of the scores within the division compare.

Team scores came out a few weeks ago, but individual scores are the ones the players will be bragging about and talking trash over.

The game will be released in August, but for those who can't wait to see what the game will look like -- and to catch a glimpse at some notable players such as Karlos Dansby and Santonio Holmes in their new uniforms -- EA Sports has provided a photo gallery of AFC East images to sort through.

Here are some highlights from the division.

Buffalo Bills

CJ Spiller
EA Sports C.J. Spiller's on-field speed will also be apparent in "Madden NFL 11."
Top five overall scores: Punter Brian Moorman (90), S Jairus Byrd (87), ILB Paul Posluszny (86), WR Lee Evans (84), RB Fred Jackson (83), CB Terrence McGee (83), S Donte Whitner (83).

Quick take: No wonder Marshawn Lynch wants to play the game as the Jets when it comes out. The Bills' top player is their punter, and they have a dearth of skill players in the 80s. But rookie running back C.J. Spiller is joystick-friendly with 95 speed, 97 acceleration and 95 agility.

Quarterback analysis: Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick each scored a 70, while Brian Brohm is a lowly 65, just two points higher than seventh-round draft pick Levi Brown. Edwards has a 62 in the swagger category, whereas Brohm and Brown are 70s.

Surprise score: Unproven left tackle Demetrius Bell scored a 74, the same number as veteran center Geoff Hangartner and one point higher than veteran tackle Cornell Green.

No respect: As ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi noted recently on "NFL Live," a Madden awareness rating of 65 or lower was the source of ridicule in the Patriots' locker room. Bills tackle Jamon Meredith received a miniscule 35.

Miami Dolphins

Top five overall scores: T Jake Long (96), WR Brandon Marshall (96), FB Lousaka Polite (91), ILB Karlos Dansby (90), RB Ronnie Brown (89), NT Randy Starks (89).

Quick take: If you love to run the ball when you play "Madden," then Miami is the team for you. In addition to Brown and Ricky Williams, it might be fun to mix in Kory Sheets, who has a 93 speed and a 95 acceleration. The average run-blocking score of their top five offensive linemen is 89.4.

Quarterback analysis: Chad Henne's overall rating of 79 is only a point higher than Chad Pennington, but Henne's throwing power is a 94 compared to Pennington's 69. But Pennington's accuracy is a 90, and his awareness is 88. Henne's 79 accuracy beats out only Brohm's 77 and Kellen Clemens' 75 among the eight AFC East quarterbacks who started a game last year.

Stud alert: When you need a big play, just hang the ball up to Marshall. His 99 score for catching in traffic is the game's highest. Maybe using Pennington to throw intermediate routes to Marshall is the way to go when you need a decent gain.

No respect: Miami's defensive backs are the lowest-rated in the division. Cornerback Vontae Davis and safety Yeremiah Bell lead the way with 82s.

New England Patriots

Top five overall scores: QB Tom Brady (95), G Logan Mankins (95), WR Randy Moss (95), NT Vince Wilfork (95), K Stephen Gostkowski (91), WR Wes Welker (91).

Quick take: The Patriots have a lot of star power at the skill positions. But their starting lineup, especially on defense, is littered with players rated in the 70s.

Quarterback analysis: Brady has the third-best overall score of any quarterback in the game. His 96 swagger rating is second. There's a big drop-off if Brady gets hurt. Backup Brian Hoyer has a 63 overall rating.

Stud alert: Moss tied for the game's top score in several categories -- 97 awareness, 99 jumping, 99 spectacular catch, 95 swagger.

No respect: The backfield is led by ... Sammy Morris? His 80 is the highest overall score among New England's running backs. Laurence Maroney is a 78.

Mark Sanchez
EA SportsMark Sanchez's overall rating is second among AFC East quarterbacks.
New York Jets

Top five overall scores: CB Darrelle Revis (99), C Nick Mangold (97), NT Kris Jenkins (94), FB Tony Richardson (94), ILB David Harris (91), T D'Brickashaw Ferguson (91).

Quick take: For context, an 83 ranks among the Bills' top scores at any position. The Jets have four offensive linemen, three receivers and eight players on their defense with that score or higher.

Quarterback analysis: Mark Sanchez has an overall score of 82. His awareness came in at 74, but you otherwise won't find numbers that indicate he throws too many interceptions. His throwing accuracy is an 83.

Surprise score: Running back Shonn Greene didn't do enough in the playoffs to impress "Madden" evaluators. He has an overall score of 80, three points lower than his supposed backup, LaDainian Tomlinson, who plummeted from a 94 last year.

Stud alert: Don't test Revis. He's the best cornerback in the game, is tied for first with a 98 in man coverage and has a 97 swagger. But his toughness rating is 65, fifth-worst on the team.

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