Monday, August 20, 2012

Ryan Tannehill named Dolphins' starting quarterback

It's amazing how quickly things change.

In late July, Ryan Tannehill was a rookie first-round quarterback embroiled in contract negotiations. He was a raw prospect out of college that wasn't even present when training camp began. He was destined to sit for a year as two veteran quarterbacks battled it out for the Miami Dolphins' starting "stopgap" job in 2012.

Three weeks later, David Garrard is out with a knee injury that leaves his future with the team in doubt; Matt Moore has gone from the incumbent starter to the bench after an unimpressive preseason; and the raw first-rounder has been named the Dolphins' starting quarterback to begin his rookie season.

The news was announced by Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin on Monday, ending the quarterback controversy that many didn't even expect to take place. With the 0-2 Dolphins slated to host the Atlanta Falcons this Friday, it was a necessary announcement as the third preseason game is typically a "dress rehearsal" of sorts for the starters.

Despite the early predictions by many (myself included) that Tannehill would sit as a rookie, it's certainly no surprise at this point to see the rookie named the starter given the way the preseason has gone and how Garrard has fallen out of the mix.

Tannehill did little to embarrass himself in two preseason appearances, including one start. He showed a strong arm, good accuracy, athleticism and decision-making despite not getting much help from his supporting cast. On top of that, he has yet to turn the ball over this preseason, which can't be said for the veteran Moore.

As many of you know, I was a proponent of Tannehill sitting for a year since he was drafted in April. Despite having knowledge of Mike Sherman's offense from their time together at Texas A&M, I felt he lacked sufficient starting experience at the collegiate level (compared to someone like Andrew Luck) and might be better served sitting and learning for a year—especially during a season in which the Dolphins were unlikely to contend for the playoffs and were still missing key pieces.

After seeing Tannehill play, however, I'm inclined to believe that he won't be ruined by starting a rookie, even if it takes two or three years for him to perform at a very high level compared to other NFL quarterbacks. He's a natural leader with a good grasp of the offense and seems to have no issue commanding the team on the field.

In all honesty, my biggest concern with Tannehill starting lies not with the quarterback himself, but rather the pieces (or lack thereof) around him. The running game has been nonexistent this preseason and the right side of the offensive line made up of guard Artis Hicks and rookie tackle Jonathan Martin has been a disaster in the early going.

One criticism I did have for Tannehill in last week's start against Carolina was not always knowing exactly when to move around and step up in the pocket. Combine that with questionable pass protection and things could certainly be rough for the Dolphins' offense early on.

The Dolphins also lack a true No. 1 receiver and arguably have the worst depth at the position of any team in the league. This is far less of a concern to me than the offensive line is though, as good quarterbacks tend to elevate the play of their receivers over time and Tannehill should be able to rely on his tight ends and pass-catching backs early on.

It's an exciting time for the Dolphins as the future is starting much sooner than many of us expected. While the Dolphins are sure to have their tough times in 2012 and will probably be battling just to crack .500 in the standings, it is certainly nice to have a reason for optimism looking toward the future and having a quarterback prospect that appears to have all the tools needed to be elite and turn the team back into a winner.

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