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No clear-cut answer at QB in Miami
The long-term quarterbacking answer is on the roster.
The short-term solution is less clear.
Ryan Tannehill has displayed the early earmarks of being the franchise passer the Miami Dolphins have sorely lacked since Dan Marino's retirement 12 years ago. But whether the 2012 first-round pick starts the season on the field or the bench isn't clear quite yet.
The competition between Tannehill and veterans David Garrard and Matt Moore was expected to rise to another level with Miami's preseason opener against visiting Tampa Bay. Garrard was going to get the start with Moore and Tannehill playing in reserve. But as first reported by ESPN, Garrard was forced to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery. FOXSports NFL insider Jay Glazer reports that Garrard will likely need two to four weeks of recovery time.
Ideally for new head coach Joe Philbin, a clear-cut choice would have emerged during the first two preseason contests. But since a front-runner hasn't emerged, with Tannehill going 11 of 23 for 100 yards in his first start and Moore struggling in relief (5 of 15, 57 yards), Miami's third preseason game, Aug. 24 against Atlanta, could decide who gets the nod for the Sept. 9 opener at Houston.
"The coaches have done really a great job for all of us to be able to have a shot," said Garrard, who was listed atop Miami's quarterback depth chart before 2011 starter Moore supplanted him. "I haven't really felt like they want anybody more than the other. When you say it's an open competition, that's how it should be."
If the Dolphins were right about Tannehill, this will be the last time for a long while that the starting spot is up for grabs during training camp.
The fact that Miami is giving Tannehill the opportunity to vie for immediate action speaks volumes about how much he has impressed. Tannehill has the advantage of playing in an offense run by new coordinator Mike Sherman, who was his college head coach at Texas A&M.
"There are definitely some tweaks, but the foundation is the same," Tannehill said. "I definitely think it's helped me so far in camp being able to focus on my on-field play more than just basically understanding the play and what's going on."
Tannehill's comfort level has quickly become evident on the practice field.
"We're trying to play fast and up-tempo and move things along," Philbin said. "He's so doggone poised that it sometimes looks like, 'Come on, get going!' but he's under control. He knows what he wants to get to. He can communicate the signals. He can direct the offensive line if need be. He can offset the (running) back in the other direction if he thinks the safety is coming from that side.
"I think he has a very, very good handle on things. You're never totally sure until you get those guys out in a game, but he's really done well. I think he has a chance."
To their credit, Garrard and Moore are trying to help Tannehill develop even though both want their crack at the job. For example, Garrard has educated Tannehill about route checks and adjustments in two-minute drills.
"I was really not nervous but questioning how they were going to respond to me entering that (meeting) room," said Tannehill, the No. 8 overall pick in April's draft. "They've been great throughout the entire process. They've really accepted me and helped me along as much as they can. Obviously, they're competitors but it's been a friendly competition. We want the best thing for this team and the best guy to play."
But is it best for Tannehill to play so early in his NFL career, especially considering his lack of college experience — he started for only 1 1/2 seasons at Texas A&M after converting from wide receiver as a junior — and some of the offensive challenges Miami may be facing with a suspect wide receiver corps and right side of the offensive line?
The dangers of prematurely fielding a young quarterback with a poor supporting cast were evident last season in Jacksonville with Blaine Gabbert. The Jaguars must now hope that Gabbert wasn't ruined like other celebrated college quarterbacks whose confidence was shattered by early failings, including David Carr and Joey Harrington.
Part of the reason Gabbert and Jacksonville suffered such a fate is because the club surprisingly decided to release Garrard at the end of the preseason. It was later learned Garrard had suffered a back injury that required surgery and prevented him from playing in 2011. Garrard has looked sharp in Dolphins training camp and displayed good mobility.
Garrard is on record as being unhappy with the timing and manner in which the Jaguars cut ties with him after nine years with the franchise. But there is someone in his family who was even angrier: Garrard's 4-year-old son Justin.
"My son was throwing stuff away because he was very upset with the Jags," Garrard said as Justin bounced on his knee. "He did not want to see anything Jaguar in the house. I told him, 'You've got to keep some things for memories down the road.' He's like, 'No, you can do that.' He's all about the Dolphins now."
Coincidentally, Moore may be in line to suffer the same fall from grace in Miami that Garrard had with the Jaguars. Moore, who was voted by teammates as Miami's Most Valuable Player after starting 12 games last season in place of an injured Chad Henne, acknowledged he was frustrated at being listed behind Garrard on the initial depth chart.
If the Dolphins opt to keep Garrard, Tannehill and/or the promising Pat Devlin — a second-year quarterback who general manager Jeff Ireland described as "brilliant" intellectually — Moore and his $2.5 million salary would become expendable.
Garrard’s spot on the team may also be in jeopardy because of his knee injury. Garrard has a base salary of $2.25 million.
Even if he sticks or wins the starting job, Moore knows what the future holds for Miami at quarterback.
"(Tannehill) is not your typical rookie," Moore said. "He doesn't act like it. He doesn't look like it. He's so advanced in how he lives his life and plays the game. He's been coached well. He's a good kid.
"Just being the type of guy he is and having the experience in this offense, he's already that much more ahead. He's going to be a heck of a player in this league. You just know. It's been cool to watch him and play with him. He's going to do some big things."
The question now is when.
Alex Marvez and co-host Bill Polian interviewed Joe Philbin, Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore, David Garrard on SiriusXM NFL Radio