The Miami Dolphins will kickoff their 2016 regular season this Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. The Dolphins enter the season with many questions still to be answered, including whether Arian Foster and Jay Ajayi can sustain a full year of running back workload, whether DeVante Parker can get and stay healthy, and whether Xavien Howard will be able to perform as a starting cornerback as a rookie.
The first week of the season brings with it a lot of unknowns, with teams adjusting to new players, coaches, and schemes. Even when there appears to be stability within an organization, there are still questions that only those who are closest to the team, watching them every day, may be able to answer. Luckily for us as Dolphins fans, we have the chance to get a closer look at the Seahawks ahead of Miami’s showdown.
Kenneth Arthur, the managing editor at Field Gulls, agreed to trade five questions with me this week heading into the Dolphins-Seahawks game. You can read my responses to his questions using the link below. Here are my questions and his responses:
Kevin Nogle (KN): This is week one of the season, so no one really knows what they have or what the team will become. This is the time of high hopes for fans, however. The Seahawks obviously had a good year at 10-6 last year, but also were second in the NFC West and the sixth seed when it came to the NFC Playoffs. What are your expectations for this year for Seattle?
Kenny Stein (KS): I think the Seahawks are better than they were a year ago. There are less concerns at outside cornerback (opposite of Richard Sherman) than there were at this time last year, less concerns about the interior of the offensive line, much better depth at running back than fans thought they had in 2015 after draft CJ Prosise, Alex Collins, and getting a resurgent Christine Michael, and higher hopes for Russell Wilson after he finished so strong last season. I think they also had their best draft since 2012 and a good-looking rookie class that includes Germain Ifedi, Jarran Reed, Prosise, Quentin Jefferson, Collins, and undrafted free agents Tanner McEvoy and Tyvis Powell.
Areas of concern would start at the offensive tackle positions, but even on the interior we don't what to expect until we see how they do against the likes of someone like Ndamukong Suh. They were pretty awful at blocking great interior pass rushers last season and I won't crown these guards and center just yet as being markedly improved -- Those three players have one combined start at their current positions. I would also like to see them improve their pass rush in terms of turning QB hurries and hits into sacks. Seattle may also have a weakness at strongside linebacker after Bruce Irvin left in free agency, as well as guarding tight ends, which they were awful at last season.
If you're asking for a record prediction, something like that, I would probably zero in on 11-5 and good enough to make the Super Bowl.
KN: The Seahawks are seen as a veteran team, yet, according to a report from PhillyVoice.com this year, there are the Seahawks among the top ten youngest teams in the league. Does the youth movement concern you, or is it just a sign that the Seahawks are going to be around for a long, long time?
KS: I think ranking systems like that can be pretty deceptive. I'm not saying that the difference between the youngest and oldest team is insignificant, but it can be drastically altered with just two or three roster moves. Seattle's "veteran" players are still pretty young. Guys like Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Doug Baldwin, KJ Wright are all 28 and younger. They got a lot younger just with the losses of Tarvaris Jackson, Marshawn Lynch, Cary Williams, Brandon Mebane, Will Tukuafu -- all players they had really moved on from by the end of last season. They have 14 rookies, an incredible number for a team that has been so successful over the last four years, but they have all of their core players signed through 2017, and in many cases, 2018. They've got the old guard and the new guard right now, and I'm not concerned about the old leaving any time soon. I think the future revolves around Thomas Rawls, Tyler Lockett, Ifedi, Reed, Jefferson, Clark, and I have a sneaking suspicion about a little-known cornerback named DeAndre Elliott. He went undrafted out of Colorado State, but he just beat out a lot of other players for a roster spot as the number five corner and with the exception of Earl Thomas, Pete Carroll has built his entire secondary out of day three picks and undrafted free agents.
KN: The Seahawks appear to be be set at running back this year, with Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael taking over for the retired Marshawn Lynch. Rawls is coming back from a broken ankle that ended his 2015 season. How is he, and should Dolphins fans expect to see him this weekend?
KS: Yes, Carroll has guaranteed that Rawls will play. He got two carries against the Raiders in the preseason finale too. Rawls is a legitimately good running back that I'm sure a lot of people are skeptical about because he went undrafted and because he broke his ankle last season. But Rawls went undrafted partly because he had a legal issue and partly due to three super unsuccessful seasons at Michigan; but before he played at Michigan he was a pretty well-regarded recruit and after he transferred to Central Michigan for his senior season, he was incredibly productive. I think people will find out how good Rawls really is this year, if he can stay healthy. If there's anything getting in his way, it's that Michael played so well in the preseason that it would be a shame to not give him some carries and sees what happens. I still think it's Rawls 75-80% of the time on first and second down though. In this first game, Michael might only get the start if they feel that Rawls needs to be eased back in and in that case, he could be a sharing situation. You'll see the rookie Prosise on third downs.
KN: What was the biggest roster surprise for you from all of the moves the Seahawks made this week?
KS: At first it was that they kept unknown defensive tackle Justin Hamilton, but then they released Hamilton a day later in favor of adding Garrison Smith from the 49ers. Also that they traded for two safeties -- Dewey McDonald, LJ McCray -- and still kept the other five safeties they already had. So they have seven safeties all of a sudden and I was wondering how they'd be able to keep more than five. McDonald and McCray likely only play special teams. I'm a little surprised they kept offensive tackle George Fant because he was a basketball player two years ago and would seem to need a lot of development, but that shouldn't concern the Dolphins on Sunday. Over the course of the whole training camp, I'm shocked that Bradley Sowell became the starting left tackle. He has not played in a game since 2013 when he was with the Cardinals and seemed to be a camp body, but then he beat out the favored Garry Gilliam for a job protecting Wilson's blindside. I'm surprised that undrafted Tanner McEvoy made the team as a wide receiver -- at Wisconsin, McEvoy played quarterback, running back, receiver, and safety, but he only had 10 career catches. He also had six interceptions, but I don't think Carroll liked what he saw from McEvoy as a safety. Now instead he's a 6'6, 230 lb receiver and perhaps a backup tight end. It's interesting that he cracked this roster, beating out a seventh round pick (Kenny Lawler) and two local guys who were on the team last year (Kasen Williams, Kevin Smith.)
KN: Heading into a new season, what is the scouting report of what we can expect from the Seahawks on the field? What are the strengths of the team and where are the weaknesses?
KS: Well, as always, the way Carroll describes his defense is that it's very simple. They don't run a bunch of complicated concepts. They run a "4-3 base with 3-4 personnel." The "Legion of Boom" secondary gets all the publicity, but this is a really great run defense. The rush defense may have surpassed the pass defense at this point and the addition of Reed (who should be probable for the game) in the middle is significant. I also think that Sherman is still one of the top three corners in the NFL, so I'm confident that the Seahawks can shutdown Miami's top receiver, if that's who he is covering. Sherman can and has covered the slot, if that's where Jarvis Landry is going to be. I have less confidence in their ability to cover Jordan Cameron or maybe DeVante Parker.
Offensively, the tone will be dictated by the ability of Rawls and Michael to prove threatening in the run game. If Seattle can get a run game going early, it's going to draw defenders in and then you might see the zone read option offense motoring down the field. When that happens, Wilson can be incredibly efficient -- he had 24 touchdowns and one interception over the last seven games of 2015. I think Baldwin's career is just getting started... Even if he doesn't catch 14 touchdowns again, I think he will still be Wilson's favorite target. I believe that Lockett and Paul Richardson are incredibly gifted athletically and can do some amazing things on the field. And Jimmy Graham might have a little impact on Sunday if he plays, just by being present on the field. You have to account for a guy like that. I just worry about the Seahawks' ability to stop Cameron Wake and Mario Williams on the outside while still blocking Suh on the inside. It could be a long day for Wilson and Seattle might be calling on their defense or special teams (Lockett is still returning punts and kicks and he was an All-Pro last year) to bail them out in this one.