Sunday, August 22, 2010

Alama-Francis Embraces Position Change, Weight Loss

As a basketball player at the University of Hawaii, Ikaika Alama-Francis packed on pounds just to be a football walk-on. So when the Dolphins told him to lighten up to move from defensive end to outside linebacker, Alama-Francis responded predictably.

``'Whatever I can do to help the team -- you want me to go free safety, strong safety, what do you want?'' Alama-Francis said, a laugh running through his recollection.

There's a reason he was so willing and is relentlessly buoyant about his position change, which has seen him taking some snaps with the first and second teams early in training camp. Actually, three reasons. One is perspective.

Detroit made Alama-Francis a second-round draft pick in 2007, and he was there a year later, in 13 games with two starts, for the NFL's first 0-16 season. Then, a week before the 2009 season opener, he was cut by a team that had managed only one victory in its previous 24 games.

Think about being a part of the worst fiscal year by a franchise in the past 31 years of your business, then being judged not good enough to help even that franchise. That usually sends people into career transitional periods.

``All of it is tough,'' Alama-Francis said. ``Oh-and-16, nobody wants to do that. You're the only team to go 0-16 in the history of the league. I'm not proud to say that, but it happened. You've got to move forward. And when I was released -- you never want to get released by a team. But I stayed positive, kept in good shape and I'm just glad the Miami Dolphins gave me a chance to come here.''

Two months passed before the Dolphins signed Alama-Francis as a free agent, five days after nose guard Jason Ferguson's season-ending quadriceps injury necessitated some shifting along the defensive line.

``It's very tough,'' Alama-Francis said of that period. ``There's a lot of things playing on your mind. You're thinking this, you're thinking that. But you've got to stay focused on what your main goal was and my main goal was to be on a team and help a team win a Super Bowl. That's always been my goal.''

Reason No. 2 for being willing to change is he has done it before: the aforementioned basketball-to-football change. At 6-6, he was a rangy 190-pound shooting guard. The son of former Green Bay quarterback Joe Francis, he put on 70 pounds to play defensive line at Hawaii and put on another 30 by the time he got to the NFL.

But Alama-Francis retained his basketball feet despite the bulk (and he insists it's not even a question who's the best hoopster on the Dolphins). Behind insistent linebackers coach Bill Sheridan -- ``he's the guy who kind of jammed it down my throat'' Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said -- the Dolphins got an idea that might give them a big, strong side linebacker who could stop the run and do an adequate job in coverage.

``So, we saw [Alama-Francis] move and thought the way this guy moves, you know he's a strong player,'' Sparano said. ``We wanted to take a good, long look at it and the more we got him involved in coverage things, the more fluid we kind of saw him move out there. Now, he's not a finished project by any stretch of the imagination, but I think the guy's getting better and he really works at it. He's a conscientious kid.''

So when the Dolphins late in the last minicamp asked him to drop from the high 280s to 275, Alama-Francis changed his diet. ``Not so much of that Hawaiian food, more egg white omelets and all that stuff,'' he said.

Linemen who make this conversion, such as Matt Roth with the Dolphins in 2008, usually feel at ease when they have to drop into coverage against running backs.

``[It] Feels good,'' Alama-Francis bubbled. ``They're a little bit faster. I'm light on my feet now. I'm 275 now.

I can dance a little bit with them. But I can't run down the field with them. That's a little different story.''
Sparano insists this isn't an experiment.

``I don't think right now we're putting our toe in the water on this,'' he said. ``We're kind of saying, `Hey, we really want to see this guy and give him the opportunity to play this position.' ''

Oh, and Alama-Francis' explanation for his sunny disposition goes back to his sunny native Hawaii.

``That's the Polynesian attitude,'' he laughed. ``You've always got to keep it up.''

No comments:

Post a Comment