Our Secret Superstar tour has reached the second stop on its AFC South leg, bringing us to Indianapolis.
Limping into 2011 without their bona fide superstar Peyton Manning, the Colts were found wanting. We discovered that behind Manning there was a lack of talent and no “Secret Superstars” waiting to emerge. Those responsible for putting together that shallow, Manning-centric roster have been shown the door and one of the most dramatic and abrupt rebuilds of recent years is underway. Consequently, there are plenty of potential candidates–and, at the same time, very few concrete candidates–for the Colts’ Secret Superstar selection. New talent is flooding the roster and almost every position on the depth chart is up for grabs, so targeting one player to emerge could be tricky.
As a result, we’re going to take a closer look at one of the Colts’ many new additions for this column, the man in line to be their new starting center. The Colts’ offensive line has struggled for years, but, like the rest of the roster, the cracks have been held together by the magnificence of Peyton Manning. With Manning now plying his trade in the Mile High City, Indianapolis will look to a new breed to give the Colts a strong foundation up front led by our Secret Superstar, Samson Satele.
Satele comes from a talented football family; his brother (Hercules) and uncle (Alvis) both made it to the NFL and four of his cousins (Brashton Satele, Melila Purcell, Isaac Leatiota, and Reagan Mauia) have all reached either the NFL or the Arena League. Satele has had the most success of the current generation and emerged from the University of Hawaii a year before his brother as a highly touted offensive line prospect with the versatility to play both guard and center. The Dolphins pulled the trigger on him in the second round and he started immediately at the center position.
After an extremely difficult 2008 season in Miami (-18.2 overall grade, 37th-ranked center), the Dolphins chose to move on. Having signed former Raider starter Jake Grove as a free agent (+0.3 grade in 2008) the Dolphins orchestrated a de facto trade sending Satele to Oakland for a pair of picks, seeing Grove and Satele take each other’s starting spots. The “trade” worked well for Satele as his play improved markedly during his first season in Oakland, his grade bumping to -5.6 in 2009, but the Dolphins and Grove clearly got the better end of the deal with Grove accruing a +20.5 grade during 2009, fifth-best that season.
Satele’s biggest improvement in 2009 could be seen in his pass protection where only the one really bad game in Denver (Week 15), blotted his copybook and dragged his grade significantly below average. Gone were the series of really poor games and, unlike in 2008, he didn’t have a dreadful opening month. Without a poor finish to the season as a run blocker–he didn’t grade above 0.0 after Week 13–Satele might have let the Raiders forget about the centers they lost.
Typical Raider Inconsistency
After that growth in 2009, Satele and the Raiders were poised to grow and develop; the Raiders into a threat for the AFC West title and Satele into one of the league’s better centers. Unfortunately for both parties, that didn’t happen and the same reasons apply to both team and player, inconsistency and ill-discipline. At his best, Satele can dominate in the running game like few other centers and can make handling pass rushers and picking up blitzers look like it comes naturally. But he fails to string those performances together.
The last month of each of Satele’s 2010 and 2011 seasons have been as good as any center in the league (+9.4 from Week 13 on in 2011, +8.7 from Week 14 on in 2010), but the months preceding have been wildly inconsistent, that dominance in the running game eluding him from week to week. Combine that with the lacking discipline–holding and illegal use of the hands being a particular problem–that fuels the Raider roster and you can easily see why the new regime in Oakland chose to move on at center.
A Fresh Start
So with all of that inconsistency and negativity why is Satele a Secret Superstar? Well, in spite of it all, those stretches where Satele gets it right are the sort of quality that you just don’t stumble over when searching for centers.
Center is perceived by many to be a more cerebral position and, as a result, physical dominance in the middle of an offensive line is a rare thing to see. Performances such as his display against the Jets, one of the most physical and aggressive run defenses in the league, make the mouth water at the potential that a player entering his sixth season still has. Against players like Mike Devito, David Harris, and Sione Pouha, Satele consistently got the upper hand and paved the way for the Raiders to pick up an astonishing 5.3 yards per carry through the Jets’ A-gaps in that game. Working left and right Satele was equally comfortable and he even got himself out into space on a reverse to lay a block on Jim Leonhard that helped spring a 23-yard touchdown carry by Denarius Moore, handing the Raiders a lead late in the third quarter.
Those run blocking displays were more consistent in 2011 and are the reason that Satele is the Colts’ new Secret Superstar. For a team bringing in a college quarterback who did so much work off of play action at Stanford a really powerful, nasty center like Satele is a key piece of the puzzle. He only had a pair of poor games in each facet last season–a clear step forward on his consistency worries of 2010–and if the change of scenery can cure his propensity for penalties, the Colts may have found a player worthy of filling the shoes of the departed Jeff Saturday.
You won’t be fooled into thinking Saturday is still there in the mental stakes, but in terms of physicality, the Colts should have some real power in the heart of the offensive line this year.
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