The Miami Dolphins head into their final preseason week not entirely settled at linebacker.
Tony Sparano is moving his players around in hopes of finding the right mix. Inside linebackers Channing Crowder and Tim Dobbins have been battling injuries. So Sparano is trying outside linebacker Charlie Anderson on the inside.
An intriguing player to monitor is Ikaika Alama-Francis, a converted down lineman who didn't play high school football, has been mounting a summer drive to crack the starting lineup at outside linebacker.
After another solid preseason performance Friday night, Alama-Francis shared first-team reps with rookie Koa Misi at strongside outside linebacker in Sunday's practice. Misi still projects as the starter opposite Cameron Wake, but Alama-Francis has been a revelation.
"I love it, man," is what Alama-Francis told me at Dolphins camp three weeks ago.
Sparano has been steadily impressed with him at outside linebacker since training camp began. It's important for the Dolphins to find those types of players with Jason Taylor and Joey Porter signing elsewhere.
"He's a handful in the rush," Sparano said a week into camp. "He set the edge of the defense pretty well, strong guy and very, very smart."
When Sparano said that, Alama-Francis hadn't been an outside linebacker for long, just a handful of practices. But it wasn't the first time Alama-Francis had switched on a whim, and this change brought an opportunity to stick in the NFL after bombing out with the Detroit Lions.
Alama-Francis is the son of Joe Francis, who backed up Bart Starr for two seasons with the Green Bay Packers. But Alama-Francis didn't play organized football until his sophomore year at Hawaii. He was a basketball walk-on, but football coach June Jones convinced him to convert.
The Lions drafted Alama-Francis 58th overall in 2007. He played tackle and end under D-line specialist Rod Marinelli, but started only two games over two seasons. The Lions cut him at the end of last year's preseason. He remained unemployed until November, when the Dolphins signed him to play defensive end at 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds.
Then, with three offseason workouts to go before summer break, the Dolphins approached Alama-Francis about standing on two feet for the first time. No more springing out of a three-point stance. They wanted him to try outside linebacker.
Sparano and linebackers coach Bill Sheridan saw something in the way Alama-Francis moved for a player his size. Alama-Francis said he had "three good practices" to show he could handle the gig.
"That's not a lot," he said. "When they're throwing things at you to see how you'll react, you have to do the best you can with what's been given to you. But it was an opportunity, and I embraced it. I was thankful."
After those three OTA workouts, Sparano didn't view the move as experimental anymore. Alama-Francis is at about 275 pounds now.
"Moving from a different position, it's a total 180, dropping into coverage," Alama-Francis said. "When you're on the line, you're moving forward. When you're standing up, you see a lot more and you've got to be aware a lot more. Rushing the passer, coming off the edge and dropping into coverage, I'm excited about all that."