PAUL SOLIAI, Nosetackle
The 6'4", 355-pound Soliai has started just 19 games during his four-year career, 14 of them last season, but he made them count: Miami applied its franchise tag to him, making Soliai the unlikely answer to the trivia question, Who is the highest-paid defender in Dolphins history? The former Utah standout will earn $12.5 million this year, 22 times more than last season. "Obviously the way that we've made the commitment to Paul tells you what it is we think about him," says coach Tony Sparano. "In our [3--4] defense it's hard to find those types of players. It's hard to find Vince Wilfork. When you do, you've got to keep them."
"Those types of players" are large, nimble nosetackles who can form a solid eye around which the rest of the 3--4 alignment swirls, a role whose lack of glamour belies its pay grade. "I still consider myself an underdog," says Soliai, 27, who struggled with his weight for his first several years in the league. "My main job is to stop the run, take on two blockers, let my linebackers get through and make plays." That's a lot of main jobs, but each is crucial to a quality unit that lost only one starter from last season. "I'm shaking his hand every time I get in the backfield," says linebacker Cameron Wake, who finished third in the NFL with 14 sacks last season, due in part to Soliai's ability to keep would-be blockers occupied.