MiamiDolphins.com lead writer Alain Poupart provides a closer look at the Miami Dolphins, the Seattle Seahawks' Week 1 opponent.
1. What are the expectations for the Dolphins in 2016 under first-time head coach Adam Gase? What has to go right for Miami to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008?
Poupart: Adam Gase will be trying to duplicate what Don Shula (1970), Dave Wannstedt (2000) and Tony Scarano (2008) accomplished in guiding the team to the playoffs in his first season as Dolphins head coach. The Dolphins enter the 2016 season as one of the most mysterious teams in the NFL because of the large number of unknowns they carry. For example, can Arian Foster and Cameron Wake bounce back from their Achilles injuries and return to their Pro Bowl form? Can Kiko Alonso again be the player who was such a playmaker as a rookie in 2013? Will Mario Williams return to his Pro Bowl form after a sub-par 2015 season? Will Byron Maxwell thrive again in a system better suited to his skill set? If the Dolphins get more positive answers than negative ones to those questions and if Gase can help quarterback Ryan Tannehill take a step forward, there's no reason the Dolphins can't challenge for a playoff spot.
2. A key thing to watch in this game is the battle in the trenches: Miami's offensive line against Seattle's defensive line. Which lineman for the Dolphins has the biggest assignment in your mind?
Poupart:This is more of a Seahawks-related question because it basically boils down to who I believe is the best Seattle defensive lineman, and that would be left end Michael Bennett. So from that standpoint, right tackle Ja'Wuan James has the toughest assignment. Leaving the opposition aside, center Anthony Steen will have a big task if he winds up starting in place of Mike Pouncey because this will be his first NFL regular season game and he'll have to make the line calls. That said, Gase said this week that Steen has handled that task very well so far. Steen's experience at the University of Alabama also will help with him not getting overwhelmed by the moment.
3. How do you think the Dolphins will utilize Cameron Wake on Sunday with him coming off an Achilles injury? Is the obvious answer he'll be used as a specialist on certain downs and in particular sub-packages?
Poupart: Yes, that is the obvious answer. That was the feeling all along, and it was confirmed by defensive coordinator Vance Joseph this week. The idea is trying to maximize Wake's impact every week while monitoring his play count with an eye toward the long term. The Dolphins have the luxury of having great depth at defensive end with former Seahawks player Jason Jones and former Jacksonville Jaguars starter Andre Branch.
4. Byron Maxwell returns to Seattle for the first time since leaving as a free agent. How has he fared so far in Gase's 4-3 defense? And what has Maxwell's relationship been like with rookie Xavien Howard, who will start alongside him at cornerback?
Poupart:With a couple of minor exceptions, Maxwell was solid throughout the summer, whether in training camp or the preseason and it's clear he's enjoying the more aggressive style of defense the Dolphins are playing. The Dolphins are confident they have a quality starting cornerback tandem with Maxwell and Howard. The rookie second-round pick made his preseason debut last week in the finale, but he showed an impressive skill set in the spring. He made it a point to stay involved while he was sidelined by an injury and this is where Maxwell came in because Howard was picking his brain. Maxwell also seemed very high on the rookie from Baylor.
5. And lastly, the Dolphins named Arian Foster the starter at running back this week. Does Foster figure to get the majority of the carries against Seattle's front-7? Or will he split a good chunk of those reps with second-year back Jay Ajayi?
Poupart: There has been no discussion through the media about the plans for the running game, but offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen did indicate the Dolphins weren't big on the idea of changing backs within series. As with Wake, the Dolphins are going to be careful not to overload Foster, especially early in the season, but if you factor in the passing game as well as carrying the ball, he's clearly the most balanced back the Dolphins have. I would expect it will be Foster who will get the majority of the work, but he won't be the only running back to get work against the Seahawks. One thing for sure, it won't be Ajayi who will be getting the other carries because he didn't make the trip to Seattle because of a coach's decision and won't play.
The Seattle Seahawks have faced the Miami Dolphins 15 times dating back to 1977, going 4-8 in the regular season and 1-2 in the postseason. They'll look to add another win this Sunday, October 4 at 10 a.m. PT at Hard Rock Stadium.