DAVIE (AP) — When Don Shula reminisces about Dan Marino’s rookie year, the Pro Football Hall of Fame coach says he needed to see only a few throws on the Miami Dolphins’ practice field to realize they had a franchise quarterback.
Some 29 years later, with the Dolphins desperate for a long-term solution at the position, they have yet to declare that Ryan Tannehill can’t miss. The rookie from Texas A&M is winning praise, but it may be awhile before he gets a chance to win games.
Comparisons with Marino are unfair but inevitable, because Tannehill is the first QB since No. 13 to be drafted in the first round by Miami.
Marino won the starting job in the sixth game of his rookie year in 1983 and went on to become the most prolific passer in NFL history. Now, with the Dolphins about to open training camp, the quarterback situation is unsettled — which has been the case much of the time since Marino retired 12 years ago.
Holdover Matt Moore and newcomer David Garrard will compete with Tannehill during the exhibition season for the starting job, and one of the veterans is likely to begin the season No. 1. However, new coach Joe Philbin stressed that nothing was decided during spring drills, and the starter will be determined by what happens in August.
“We haven’t been in pads yet, and we are still learning,” he said. “We’ll have better information with pads and games. It’s going to be fun.”
Teammates rave about Tannehill’s arm strength, but poor decisions and interceptions were a problem in offseason practices. Philbin has installed the West Coast offense, and while the playbook is similar to what Tannehill ran at Texas A&M, he started only 19 games at quarterback after switching from receiver.
Given his relative lack of experience, the Dolphins figure Tannehill will need time adjusting to the speed of the NFL and the multitude of defense he’ll face.
“There are 16 weeks, and you are going to get 16 looks at defenses with variations, and some that are just completely different,” Garrard said. “That’s a lot to put on a rookie quarterback. Some guys can do it, and some guys have a tough time with it.”
Tannehill took by the far the fewest first-team snaps during the Dolphins’ spring workouts, a sign he’s lagging on the depth chart.
“He’s like any other rookie,” Philbin said. “There’s a system in place schematically that we want to implement, and obviously we’re still in the mode of learning more about our players, what they can and can’t do well. It’s not a matter of plopping the Texas A&M playbook down on the table.”
There remains a chance Tannehill will play this season, but he’ll need to come from behind in training camp to win the starting job for the season opener Sept. 9. Otherwise the nod will go to Moore or Garrard.
“It has been close,” Philbin said regarding the two veterans.
“The cream will rise to the top,” Garrard said, “and the best guy will play.”
The 34-year-old Garrard, a starter for Jacksonville in 2005-10, didn’t play last season. He was released five days before the opener by the Jaguars, underwent back surgery in October and considered retirement.
Garrard signed with the Dolphins in March after their failed courtships with Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn, and he expects the team to look to him for leadership.
“Just being the older guy on the whole team gives me a great advantage with all of the guys, because everybody is looking for that nugget to be better,” he said. “Everyone is looking for knowledge to improve their game.”
Moore exceeded expectations last year, when he became the 16th starting quarterback for the Dolphins since Marino retired. Over the final nine games his QB rating ranked sixth in the league, and he considers his holdover status an advantage.
“That’s a huge deal, especially for a quarterback, coming in and just really having the relationship with those guys, but also just being here as a Dolphin,” Moore said. “The experience I got last year is so valuable to have now during this camp. It’s a good thing to have in my back pocket.”
Whoever wins the QB job will lead a Dolphins offense with a different look. They changed diva receivers, trading Brandon Marshall and signing 34-year-old Chad Ochocinco, who legally changed his name back to Chad Johnson. Reggie Bush is back after rushing for a career-high 1,086 yards in his first year with Miami, and he gushes about his role in the West Coast attack.
“This offense is perfect for guys like me, because it gives us a chance to use our speed and kind of wear down the defense and have them chase us around all day,” Bush said. “It’s more of an attack offense. We don’t even have a huddle. We’re constantly attacking and constantly fast-paced, so I think that this year is going to be exciting, especially from a fan standpoint.”
The Dolphins went 6-10 last year and have endured three consecutive losing seasons, so fans are in the market for more excitement. An impressive training camp by Miami’s rookie quarterback might do the trick.
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