The plan was for
incumbent and team MVP Matt Moore and the newly signed David Garrard to
compete for the starting quarterback job. Rookie Ryan Tannehill would sit most,
if not all, of the season.
The plan was
for Tannehill to learn, to watch film, ask questions, and therefore come to
understand the advanced nuances of NFL defenses.
The plan wasn’t
for Tannehill to be thrown to the wolves with only 19 college starts and a
couple of NFL preseason games under his belt. But alas, as the Scottish bard Robert
Burns reminds, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”.
This is what
happened when Garrard suffered a freak knee injury and a maxed out Moore failed
to demonstrate that he is measurably better than the promising Tannehill.
words, this is a good problem for the Dolphins. If Tannehill was flat out lost,
Moore would be the starter on opening day.
So it stands
to reason that head coach Joe Philbin made the right call in naming Tannehill
as his starter for the 2012 season. Maybe it would have been better for him to
wait another week, to see how Tannehill stood up to a good defense like Atlanta
with respective game plans in place. But clearly Philbin felt he had seen
enough to make the call now, a decision he believes is in the team’s best interest.
But let’s not
be under any illusions that Tannehill is as ready for this as he should be. He
isn’t. Not with such little experience under his belt. But this decision is as
much about his upside as it is about the failure of the veterans to convince
Philbin of a better course of action.
It's easy to
imagine how opposing NFL defensive coordinators will respond to this. They’ll
see a raw rookie, fresh meat, ripe for a heavy blitz, confusing coverages and
forced errors. They know nothing erodes a rookie’s confidence more than this
will need help from his mates, much as a young rookie named Dan Marino needed
it when he got the nod from Don Shula in his rookie season.
was in an ideal situation, Tannehill is not.
Marino had a
solid veteran back up in Don Strock who was willing to mentor him. He had a
good veteran line in front him that could protect him and generate a decent
running game. Guys like Dwight Stephenson, Jon Giesler, Bob Kuechenberg and Ed
Newman took a lot of pressure off Marino and allowed that precious added click
or two that all rookies use to make decisions.
had a talented backfield to work with, led by Tony Nathan and fullback Woody
Bennett. They knew their jobs better than Marino did, and were very capable in
pass protection; this helped Marino focus more on his own responsibilities.
good, dependable receivers…guys like Nat Moore, Jimmy Cefalo, Mark Duper, and,
later, Mark Clayton were of immense value to Marino’s early development. They
knew how to run routes and read coverages as well as anyone in the league, and
could be depended on to be at the right place at the right time. In some cases,
Marino could count on a respected veteran like Moore to even correct a play
call in the huddle if he got it wrong.
say, Tannehill doesn’t enjoy the same supporting cast Marino did, which will
make his ascension more challenging and more risky.
offensive line is solid on the left side with perennial Pro Bowl LT Jake Long,
probably the premier lineman in the game. LG Richie Incognito is the team’s
best guard, while first team all-rookie C Mike Pouncey gives Tannehill
confidence that the line calls will be right. But the right side of the line is
still in transition, with RG a revolving door and a rookie manning the RT
position. Can they protect Tannehill in this pass first offense, and give him
the time he needs to make good decisions and throws?
Bush is a blessing, as are TE Anthony Fasano and H-back Charles Clay. Tannehill
will lean heavily on them. But what about his thin receiver corps? Aside from
the ever dependable Davone Bess, the Dolphins have a collection of reserve type
talents that have been fairly inconsistent thus far. And there’s no veteran
like Nat Moore to turn to.
It’s a big
problem, and GM Jeff Ireland knows it.
evaluating the receivers very closely,'' said Ireland. "I like this group
... We've got 4s, 5s and 6s. What we need is 3s, 2s and 1s, We've got to find
out if we have any of those guys."
It says here
that they don’t, currently, which could mean big trouble for a rookie like
Tannehill when he’s under pressure and needs an open man.
concern, however, could be a Strock-like veteran for him to lean on. Who is
that guy? Garrard? Moore? Do one of these two vets get traded or released now
that Tannehill has been elevated?
thing for Tannehill is that his college coach, Mike Sherman, will be with him
every step of the way. Theirs is a comfortable relationship, one of mutual
respect and confidence. Remember, Tannehill wouldn’t be in Miami if Sherman
wasn’t a believer.
unexpectedly, the future is now for the Miami Dolphins. Philbin and Sherman
think he is talented, smart, and tough enough to make this work. Respected
alumni like Hall of Fame QB Bob Griese believe he is “the real deal”. At the
end of the day, however, Tannehill has to be the one who steps up and validates
the faith that’s been placed in him.