The Seattle Seahawks open their 2016 season at home against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, a team they haven’t faced since their epic midseason turnaround in 2012. The Seahawks lost that game and dropped to 6-5, but won their final five games in order to make the playoffs and start a rather historic four-year run that they hope to continue this weekend.
In order to catch up with what’s happened with the Dolphins over the last four years, I spoke to Kevin Nogle from The Phinsider. I sent him five of my best Qs and he replied with 5 incredible As.
Q: Mario Williams went from being one of the best players in the NFL to being an afterthought once he proved to be a horrible fit for Rex Ryan's defense in Buffalo. I'm sure many people have been cautiously optimistic then regarding how Williams would conform to the Dolphins under new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and playing alongside Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh. It seems like a "Supergroup" of defensive linemen but maybe things are never quite that simple. How has Williams looked so far and what sort of defense is Joseph running?
A: Joseph has stated repeatedly that his goal for this defense is to be "attacking." They have brought in the Wide-9 technique for the defensive ends, and everything seems to focus on getting to the quarterback (which is a good thing because the secondary might not exactly be the strength of the defense). Williams has looked okay so far this season. He has not been a dominant, All-Pro type of player, but he has been able to get into the backfield and cause some chaos. He is clearly much more comfortable playing defensive end purely, rather than working as an outside linebacker for the Bills last year. I don't think we have seen everything he has, yet, but I also do not think he is going to necessarily be the top pass rusher on the team either. If he is in the 8-10 sacks range, and Wake is healthy all year on the other side of the line, it will probably be a good year for Miami.
Q: I really liked DeVante Parker going into the 2015 NFL Draft, and thought Miami got a steal at pick 14. But Parker was perhaps inconsistent as a rookie and I feel like the reports I've heard in preseason aren't good. What are the expectations for Parker and who do you expect to be Ryan Tannehill's second-favorite target after Jarvis Landry?
A: Parker comes into this year with some really high expectations. He had to undergo foot surgery last summer, which slowed him during his rookie year, but he eventually turned it on at the end of the season and gave hope for what Miami should see this year. Fast forward to this year, and the Dolphins seem to be in about the same place when it comes to Parker. He injured his hamstring during the offseason program, which slowed him at the start of training camp, then strained both hamstrings near the end of the preseason, and he has not been practicing this week thus far. I do believe, by the time the season is over, he is back as the second option behind Landry, but I would not be surprised if Kenny Stills, who Tannehill seems to have much better chemistry this year as compared to last year, or rookie Leonte Carroo could challenge for that role early.
Q: The biggest shock on day one of the draft was the video of Laremy Tunsil smoking weed dropping just before it started and the apparent tumble from a top-five pick to going 13th to the Dolphins. I look at that offensive line now and I see three first round picks (Tunsil, Mike Pouncey, Ju'Wuan James) and a really good left tackle in Branden Albert. How good is the Dolphins offensive line right now and what is their biggest weakness?
A: The offensive line in Miami has been the biggest question mark around this team for several years now. It does appear they may have finally found a way to solve the protection issues that have led to Ryan Tannehill being the most sacked quarterback over the last four years. Albert at left tackle is a Pro Bowler; Tunsil at left guard has some learning to do in a new position, but is a strong addition there and is the heir apparent to Albert; Pouncey at center is a Pro Bowler; right guard will have Jermon Bushrod, a left tackle who followed Adam Gase from the Chicago Bears to Miami and has looked solid at right guard; and Ja'Wuan James at right tackle has developed into a solid player there. The offensive line may not be perfect, and they need to improve their run blocking early this year, but they are better than any line we have seen from the team in the past few years, so that is exciting. Health will be a concern, especially given Pouncey is already injured and may miss this week's game with a hip issue, and there will be some growing pains especially from Tunsil, but they do appear to be the best line of the last few years for Miami.
Q: It will be interesting seeing Byron Maxwell in a Dolphins uniform lining up opposite of Lockett, Jermaine Kearse, or Baldwin. How has he looked in the preseason and are you concerned about the depth at cornerback if Seattle comes out in a three or four-receiver set?
A: Cornerback depth is a huge concern this year. Maxwell has been solid. Nothing spectacular, but good enough to not be a concern heading into the season. It is the rest of the cornerback group that leads to questions. Rookie Xavien Howard is the starter on the opposite side from Maxwell, but he has only played in one preseason game, this most recent one, after having to have his knee scoped after minicamp this year. He is going to make rookie mistakes and no one is 100 percent on what he will bring this year - the expectations and potential are there, but will he live up to it this season? Tony Lippett has had some really good moments this preseason, but he is inconsistent as he enters his second year in the NFL and continues to transition from college receiver to NFL cornerback. Bobby McCain has also been inconsistent, making some good plays, but allowing some big plays too. The team may choose to use safety Michael Thomas as the nickel corner, and he has actually played well when given that chance. Thomas spoke about the idea of moving to nickel corner in the offseason, and he seemed to really like it, so that will be a possibility come into this game.
Q: The Seahawks will have to face all four teams in the AFC East this season and as usual, it's been four years since that last happened and we can lose touch so, what can you tell fans about the division right now: Who is more improved between the Bills and Jets? Who do you think is the worst team in the division? Has enough bad stuff happened to the Patriots now to finally unseat them from the top spot or will they survive the first month and run the table?
A: I think the final standings in the division probably has New England on top, followed by the Jets, then the Dolphins and Bills fighting to not be in the basement. I think enough craziness has happened around Rex Ryan and the Bills to pull them down some this year. I despise the idea of the Jets being the second best team in the division, but they probably are right now - and I do respect Todd Bowles, a former Dolphins interim head coach, so that is a positive I guess, even though it is the Jets. The Patriots probably are not going to go 14-2 this year, but, unless the Dolphins come out and shock everyone under a new head coach, or the Jets and Bills take giant leaps forward, I do not think it is enough to see New England knocked from their perch. For the Dolphins, even if the talk is about his they are not "rebuilding," this year is all about making progress and looking like a team turning it around, even if the record does not make a giant leap from the 6-10 last year.