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Enter the Dolphins: Fearsome defensive line again looms over Seahawks opener

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Miami’s new brand of offense could yield first looks at Seattle’s exotic nickel schemes

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Miami Dolphins Andrew Innerarity-USA TODAY Sports

“You are dreaming again…” “I dreamt I was a city.”

It’s too bad about Germain Ifedi. Week 1 could have been a good chance to showcase two first-round tackle talents, the last selection in that round and the once-presumed top overall pick—both minding their posts at guard (for now). That’s right reader: Laremy Tunsil, noted collector of chemical warfare apparatus, will play left #guard for the Miami Dolphins on Sunday much like the way the Seattle Seahawks had been grooming Ifedi on the right side. Given the draft-day drama and pedigree, he’ll still be a Dolphins player to watch. Ah well #nfllife

With Ifedi unavailable for comparison or quarterback protection, Seattle will try to avoid a repeat of the opener in St. Louis last year spoiled by Robert Quinn, Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers crawling “through fences, through dooryards, in and out of gullies” for six sacks and an overtime like the demolishing tractors from chapter 5 of The Grapes of Wrath.

They might have a chance. Miami lost sack specialist Olivier Vernon but replaced him with a genuine No. 1-overall pick—albeit from 10 years ago—Mario Williams, formerly of the Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans. Williams joins Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake as pieces (hypothetically) in the Dolphins’ own fearsome foursome, which could be trouble should the Seahawks offensive line appear again as inexperienced and discombobulated as it did to start 2015. Suh is Aaron Rodgers’s most feared player in the league. However, Wake is fresh off the Kobe Bryant-career-killing torn Achilles tendon (I think that was also the mythic Achilles’s soft spot) and doesn’t figure to play starter snaps right away, while it’s not clear if Williams’s struggles in Buffalo were founded in failures of Rex Ryan’s 3-4 scheme or his own declining abilities.

Even with Vernon, Miami’s pass rush disappointed last year producing only 31 sacks, good for 22nd in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate. The Dolphins were better against the run, finishing 10th in adjusted line yards despite facing the most carries by running backs of any defense last year. Indeed, Miami feels like a team that underachieved—in Thursday’s Seaside Chat Kenneth Arthur mirthfully called them “constantly on the rise.” That’s why the coaches got fired; because expectations were raised going into 2015. So you might believe they’re ready to rebound under a new staff, but if you look at their Pythagorean expectation according to point differential, at 6-10 the Dolphins actually more likely outperformed their play a year ago. Miami won more close games than it lost, but it lost seven times by 10 or more. Pro-football-reference.com’s SRS system placed them 28th out of 32. Miami could be due for more regression.

Football Outsiders in fact projects the Dolphins as the third worst team in the league headed into 2016, including an estimated 24th-ranked defense. Danny Kelly thinks Adam Gase is a savior for Ryan Tannehill and the offense, which may become a revitalizing factor eventually. But I’ll say wake me up after Gase get past year three, since there have been more coaches (and interim coaches) in Miami since Don Shula retired in 1995 than you can find bodies sunken in Miami harbor in any given episode of Magic City.

If the Dolphins do get innovative with the pass, though, I’m eager to see if Seattle responds with any of its mysterious new nickel alignments. The overtaking of base defenses by subpackages has become a dominant storyline this summer, but the advent of those packages dates back more than 30 years in large part thanks to adjustments made to counter Shula’s early volume-passing offenses with Dan Marino in the 1980s. When I watched the Seahawks’ 1983 divisional playoff win over Miami earlier this summer, specifically to get myself lubed up for this game, the announcers (Bob Trumpy and Marv Albert!) highlighted how Tom Catlin’s defense when trying to combat the Dolphin’s comeback effort in the fourth quarter went so radically into dime that they sometimes played as many as eight defensive backs—all that were on the Seahawks roster at the time—on the field at once.

Meanwhile in the present, Seattle’s players are planning a “demonstration of unity” during the national anthem Sunday, ostensibly as a continuation of Jeremy Lane’s continuation of Colin Kaepernick’s ongoing protest—unless they’re not, and unity in this case only ends up meaning Lane will stand with the rest of his teammates.

Whatever else you think of these displays, or whether anything even goes down, I find it interesting how Doug Baldwin has postured himself as an unequivocal spokesman for the rest of the roster in this regard.

Baldwin is the most veteran Seahawk on the offense and is no doubt a team leader: He famously took it on himself to stir Russell Wilson’s coals during the abysmal cold in Minnesota last January, and after the draft signed a tweet “Sincerely, The Players,” directing Pete Carroll not to allot anyone Marshawn Lynch’s number. Yet when Seattle voted on team captains last week Baldwin was not among them, so it’s potentially strange if he’s acting in a role that goes either above official captaincy or somehow subversive to it.

Wilson, for one, has made no social media mention of a possible group protest or expression of solidarity—not even a peep about any September 11 commemoration. He and Richard Sherman, among others, previously said they would not perform any show of objection to the anthem or the American flag. But both Nate Boyer and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, each of whom has advised Kaepernick on the matter, indicated Thursday they have been in contact with members of the Seahawks, and Carroll seemingly seconded Baldwin’s “announcement” about the group action with a retweet. So it will be fascinating to observe how this gesture of unity and its coordination affects the various bonds and dynamics within the team.

A football team after all is a community on macroscopic and microscopic scales—much like the living coral that houses and feeds the waterways of Miami’s ports, whose natural fluorescence mirrors the Dolphins’ Day-Glo colors and whose ancient skeletons are the materials, in the forms of limestone and marble, from which the city itself is built.