DAVIE — Absorbing the Miami Dolphins’ playbook over the next month or so should be a snap for the rookie in line to man Jason Taylor’s old spot at outside linebacker.
By kindergarten the poor guy had to master all of this: Nawa’akoa Lisiate Foti Analeseanoa Misi. That’s his full name, a Tongan treasure, and at times it seems there is a syllable for every football life that Koa Misi has lived.
In college at Utah he played three positions, including nose guard and a little offensive tackle, all in his sophomore season alone.
Later, as an undersized 263-pound defensive end, Misi took on the elephantine Alabama offensive line in the 2008 Sugar Bowl and came crashing around the corner for four solo tackles. That inspired NFL scouts to morph him into yet another role as a full-service linebacker, chasing down quarterbacks and dropping smoothly into pass coverage, too.
“He terrorized the Alabama offense,” Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland said in April after Miami spent a second-round draft pick, the 40th overall, on good ol’ N.L.F.A.M.
Mesmerized Tony Sparano, too, once all the top prospects of 2010 were assembled in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, a game in which the Dolphins staff coached the South squad against Misi’s North.
“He’s pretty versatile,” Sparano said. “Now this guy hasn’t played a game yet but I just kind of feel we went through an evaluation process (at the Senior Bowl) where there were some things we knew we would get out of Koa in a game. Those are the kinds of things we’re seeing out there now. He’ll certainly be there and he’ll certainly get his turns.”
With J.T. and Joey Porter gone from last year’s linebacking group, Misi already is “there” as a member of the first unit in practice. Along with first-round draft pick Jared Odrick, the Dolphins might just have their most impactful pair of rookies on the front seven since Zach Thomas and Daryl Gardener in 1996.
If not, hey, Misi could always try out for some other position on the other side of the ball.
The guy’s not shy, and neither is his father, Sione, who played on the offensive line at Hawaii. Once during a high school game in Santa Rosa, Calif., Misi’s intensity wasn’t at its normal peak so his dad came running down to the sideline to wake him up with a head butt.
“I had my helmet on at the time,” Misi recalls with a grin.
It’s all part of the game for a guy who can pour as much or as little weight as you wish into his 6-foot-3 frame.
“I had a couple of burgers at dinner last night but I can pretty much eat what I want,” Misi said, demonstrating the level of sacrifice he is willing to make in support of a four-year, $4.5 million contract.
At the moment Misi goes around 255, a gain of 11 pounds from draft day. At various times at Utah he took it all the way up to 273, according to the roster crisis of the day.
Sparano, he’s looking for speed around the edge, and for that Misi is a pretty close physical match for Cameron Wake, the Canadian Football League sack specialist who made a lot of noise last year on passing downs for Miami. Misi appears much faster, however, at picking up the comprehensive tasks of an every down linebacker.