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With Miami rookie at QB, Marino recalls 1st start

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MIRAMAR, Fla. (AP)

Dan Marino remembers all sorts of details about his first start as an NFL rookie - the opposing quarterback, the disappointing outcome, even the novel pep talk he received from a veteran teammate shortly before kickoff.

''After the national anthem,'' Marino recalled, ''Lyle Blackwood comes over to me and he says, `You know, Dan, it's your first start. I don't want you to feel any pressure at all. But if you play bad, we're going to lose.'''

Marino laughed as he related the anecdote Tuesday for the Miami Dolphins Touchdown Club. The Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback was an appropriate choice as guest speaker, because the Dolphins are turning to a rookie passer again this season.

In April, Ryan Tannehill became the first quarterback drafted in the first round by the Dolphins since Don Shula took Marino in 1983. On Sunday at Houston, Tannehill will become the first Miami QB to start a season opener as a rookie.

Marino didn't become the starter until the sixth game of his rookie season. He joined a team that had reached the Super Bowl the year before and had David Woodley returning at quarterback.

''Coach Shula told me right from the beginning, `I want you to come in here and work as if you're going to be the starting quarterback,''' Marino recalled. ''He said, `Now, that could be Week 1. It could be Week 10. It could be maybe next year.' So my expectations were to come in and start right away. I didn't, but I wanted to be the starter.''

Marino twice came off the bench and played well, and by early October the job was his. He made his first start against the Buffalo Bills and had his first pass intercepted, but bounced back to throw for 322 yards and three touchdowns.

The Dolphins lost 38-35 in overtime because Joe Ferguson threw five touchdown passes for Buffalo. But afterward Shula couldn't suppress a smile: The Dolphins had found their quarterback for the next 16 years.

That sort of stability is now a fading memory. Marino retired after the 1999 season, and Tannehill will be the Dolphins' 17th starting quarterback since, the most of any NFL team during that span.

''It's a tough position to play, and it's hard to find really good players,'' Marino said. ''There's always pressure at that position. That's why it's probably the hardest thing to do in all of team sports - play quarterback.''

Marino hasn't seen Tannehill play in person but said the athletic, strong-armed rookie appears to have what it takes to succeed in the NFL. With the Dolphins in transition after three consecutive losing seasons, Marino endorsed new coach Joe Philbin's decision to give Tannehill the No. 1 job.

''They're in a rebuilding phase right now, and I like the idea of starting a young quarterback right away,'' Marino said. ''There's going to be a lot more pressure on Tannehill because of that, but the coaches are with him every day and know whether he's going to be able to handle it.''

As a rookie, Marino joined a team with veteran leadership, a stout defense and two talented young receivers in Mark Duper and Mark Clayton. They made the playoffs in 1983 and went 14-2 the following year, with one of the losses in the Super Bowl.

Tannehill joins a team with question marks at receiver, in the offensive line and in the secondary. The Dolphins haven't won a playoff game since 2000.

''I was very fortunate when I first came into the league to have some great talent around me,'' Marino said. ''As a rookie it really helped. Ryan Tannehill is going to have to grow with the people around him and learn as much as he can on the run. ... I would just tell him to go out there and turn it loose.''

Marino offered one other suggestion, drawing from his own experience in his first start.

''The first two series, I threw two picks,'' Marino said. ''You've got to have a short memory.''

Actually, that's not quite accurate - Marino didn't throw interceptions on back-to-back series. When it came to turnovers, he always had the hazy memory of an All-Pro passer.

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Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Tagged: Rams, Dolphins, Mark Clayton, Ryan Tannehill

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