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Camp previews: Dolphins, Seahawks
To get you fully prepared for the unofficial start of the 2012 NFL season, we're ranking every team from worst to first in the weeks leading up to the opening of training camps.
Every day, we'll be previewing two teams, one from each conference, analyzing them from top to bottom and giving you all you need to know to be an informed fan. What's the major storyline heading into camp? What's the key training camp battle to watch? Who's the young guy to watch? Is there any hope?
No. 26 Miami Dolphins
Training camp site: Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Fla.
Training camp start date: July 27
BetOnline preseason Super Bowl odds: 44-1
What I like about you: There's a new regime in Miami. The Dolphins have an upbeat first-time coach in Joe Philbin, a good front seven for a new 4-3 scheme and an offensive coordinator with a track record of NFL success, Mike Sherman.
What I don’t like about you: There isn’t a surefire NFL starter among the three competing for the quarterback job. The defensive backfield has some question marks. And the receivers leave a lot to be desired.
Burning question: Does general manager Jeff Ireland have a rabbit in his hat, or is he clueless? There have been a lot of swings and misses in Miami the past few years. Jim Harbaugh was a swing and a miss. Peyton Manning, apparently, was a swing and a miss. And, according to every Dolphins fan under the sun, quarterback Ryan Tannehill — the team’s first-round draft pick in April — is already a swing and a miss. But as someone who has seen Giants fans question Jerry Reese not once — but twice — before Super Bowl campaigns, I’m going to wait before joining the masses in killing Ireland for another somewhat confusing, albeit quiet offseason. New coach, new quarterback and a few new pieces — we’ll see what comes of the 2012 Dolphins and ultimately, Ireland’s reputation.
Key training camp battle: Right tackle — Jonathan Martin vs. Lydon Murtha: Sure, there’s a three-way battle for the starting quarterback job (Tannehill, Matt Moore, David Garrard), and, yes, there are about a dozen receivers in camp trying to grab that No. 1 wideout spot. I like the battle at right tackle. Martin slipped to the middle of the second round, a shocker for many draftniks who had him slotted in as a top-20 talent. Capable of playing either side of the line, Martin’s a smart player with good pass-blocking capabilities. He wasn’t as athletic or as strong as some had hoped and did himself no favors with a few underwhelming pre-draft workouts. Murtha was expected to start a season ago but missed the whole season because of a nagging toe injury. Both being young — Murtha’s in only his fourth year — this should be a good one to watch, even if “Hard Knocks” doesn’t give it much airtime.
The new veteran in town: Richard Marshall, cornerback: Go wild over Chad Ochocinco, if you so wish, but the bigger free-agent signing in Miami this offseason was the inking of Marshall to a three-year, $16 million deal. Now entering his seventh season, Marshall had, arguably, his best year as a pro in 2011, starring for the surprising Arizona Cardinals defense. A longtime starter in Carolina before Arizona, he likely won’t start the season in front of either Sean Smith or Vontae Davis, but could serve as a veteran presence and key third corner in the D. Versatile and capable of even playing safety if asked to, Marshall will be on the field aplenty.
Young gun: Michael Egnew, tight end: Anthony Fasano will start at tight end and serve as the blocking force in running situations, but Egnew’s an intriguing addition to the Dolphins' offense. He had 90 catches two seasons ago at Missouri and, though he likely won’t block a lick, he can cause fits across the middle as one of those new-breed 6-foot-5 pass-catching tight ends. There’s a recent history of big pass-catching Mizzou tight ends struggling in the NFL (Chase Coffman, Martin Rucker), but Egnew could be the exception. Talented kid, and one whom Sherman knows from going up against him in the Big 12.
Schrager prediction: I was in the minority on this one, but I actually really liked the Dolphins' 2012 draft and think Tannehill could have a nice future as a pro. I’m just not sure 2012 is the season we see him shine. This was a competitive team once it broke out of its early season slump and started winning some games in October and November and a lot of the guys who had big years a season ago are back with the right attitudes in 2012. I don’t see the Dolphins contending for a playoff spot, but I think they’ll be better than expected, whoever ends up being the quarterback.
Final prediction: Fourth place, AFC East
No. 25 Seattle Seahawks
Training camp site: Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, Wash.
Training camp start: July 28
BetOnline preseason Super Bowl odds: 50-1
What I like about you: The Seahawks brought back three key free agents — defensive tackle Red Bryant, running back Marshawn Lynch and offensive tackle Breno Giacomini — and went and upgraded at quarterback, tight end and in the pass rush. They also have three Pro Bowl defensive backs. Looking top to bottom, they didn’t lose any key performers.
What I don’t like about you: There’s a quarterback controversy and we’re not even in August. Seattle’s expecting a lot out of wide receiver Sidney Rice, a guy who’s coming off two shoulder surgeries. And the pass rush — though improved — doesn’t exactly have Julius Peppers or Jared Allen coming off the edge.
Burning question: So, who’s the starting quarterback? A year after inking Tarvaris Jackson to a fairly lucrative deal (and Jackson played very well at times, last year), the Seattle front office inked Matt Flynn to a three-year, $19 million deal this offseason. Oh, and then the Seahawks drafted a very popular, very capable quarterback, Russell Wilson in the third round. They can’t all start. Coach Pete Carroll says the best man will earn the gig, but three-way quarterback battles rarely benefit any of the competitors.
Key training camp battle: Quarterback — Matt Flynn vs. Tarvaris Jackson vs. Russell Wilson vs. Josh Portis: Portis really doesn’t stand a shot at the starting gig, but the coaching staff is enamored with his versatility, and there’s a good chance he makes the squad. The excitement and college success that Wilson brings to the table reminds me of what Tim Tebow brought to Denver — that natural charisma — and Wilson can actually throw a football. In the end, though, it will be between Flynn and Jackson. And I have a feeling we’re going to see both of them over the course of the season. At the very least, it will make for a heck of a battle in July and August.
New veteran in town: Kellen Winslow, tight end: Having been traded from the Buccaneers in the offseason, Winslow joins his third team and serves as a wild card in the Seahawks' offense. If healthy and focused, he could be a major target across the middle and a guy whom either Flynn or Jackson (or Wilson?) relies on. He averaged 73 receptions a year the past three seasons in Tampa Bay, despite injuries and spotty quarterback play from Josh Freeman. Winslow never has played on a playoff team but has come close twice. He would love to get there in Seattle.
Young gun: Richard Sherman, cornerback: Sherman came out of basically nowhere last season to have a tremendous rookie campaign. Watching some of Seattle’s better performances on film, Sherman pops off the screen. A more-than-capable cover corner, he has good speed and great ball awareness. Kam Chancellor got a lot of headlines, Earl Thomas is a stud and big Brandon Browner is a fan favorite. But Richard Sherman could be the very best of that young, talented Seahawks defensive backfield.
Schrager prediction: There really is a lot to like about the Seahawks — their star-studded defensive backfield, the running attack, the home-field advantage with the 12th man — but in the end, I’m still not sold they have the talent in the front seven of their defense or the passing game necessary to compete for the playoffs. Flynn has looked good the two times — yes, two times — we’ve seen him in NFL regular-season games, but he hasn’t seen anything like that 49ers or Cardinals defenses. The NFC West is always wide open, and there’s a chance Seattle clicks this year. But I see them more as a six- or seven-win team than a nine- or
Final prediction: Third place, NFC West