Bold prediction? Jumping the gun based on a few snaps with the second team in the first pre-season game of the year? Drinking the kool-aid because Matt Moore looked “moore” pedestrian? Let’s go with an educated guess based on observation combined with subtle facts. Yes, it’s my opinion and I will explain below why Ryan Tannehill will be the opening day starter for the 2012 Miami Dolphins.
When training camp opened, Ryan Tannehill was a couple of hundred miles away training. When day three concluded, he walked into a team meeting room and met Joe Philbin officially as a signed Miami Dolphins rookie. He was the third team quarterback. He worked with the third team offense splitting time with last years practice squad player Pat Devlin. Above him? Long time veteran David Garrard and last years final nine game starter Matt Moore. The battle to get from 3 to 1 was a long shot. Not because he missed three days but because he is a rookie.
Call it the hand of fate, call it coincidence, call it bad luck/good luck, David Garrard’s injury this week has opened a door for Tannehill that will not likely close. The injury to Garrard will put the Dolphins in a different position going forward. For most of camp, Garrard and Moore have been flip flopping reps with the first team unit while Ryan Tannehill takes a few reps here and there. That is going to change now as Tannehill and Moore will alternate exclusively between the one’s and two’s.
Last night, Garrard was supposed to open the game, Moore would take the second unit, and Tannehill would take the third. Next week, against the Carolina Panthers, Moore will be penciled in from the start to open the game with Tannehill being more prepared to run the second. Here is where the separation will begin. By the third pre-season game, teams want to have a defined depth chart. They want their first team units to play most of the first three quarters. If Matt Moore plays pedestrian like he did last night, Ryan Tannehill will start week 3 of the pre-season and that will be the final indication that the regular season starting spot is his.
David Garrard will return to the Dolphins as early as two weeks, four the latest according to most reports. The problem is that a return to the practice field does not mean he will be ready to go out and play immediately. A four week return and Garrard could be looking for a job. Regardless, this is now a two man race between the incumbent starter and the first round rookie.
Unlike the Colts and Redskins, the Dolphins do not need to start Ryan Tannehill they can bench him all season if they desire. It’s a luxury that most teams drafting QB’s in the top ten of a draft seldom are afforded. The question however is this. Is Matt Moore head and shoulders above the rookie that the teams best chances at winning lie with him? I don’t think so.
Matt Moore is a player who plays better than he practices but the issue here is that at no time in his pro career has he had to play with his back against the wall. When the team was relying on him to take them from start to finish ending with the playoffs. In Carolina, he was the QB who was handed a gutted Panther team when owner Jerry Richardson forced veteran cuts across the board in John Fox’s last season as the HC. Last season he was signed and failed to beat out Chad Henne in training camp. By the time he took over, the season was lost. Moore played loose because he simply had nothing to lose.
With Garrard out of the picture, Moore is the penciled in starter but he didn’t earn this spot. He inherited it. Just like he has in the last two years during the regular season. I like Matt Moore. I think there is a lot of upside potential to him but the problem here is he has not reached it yet and in Miami, there is a young rookie who while not penciled into to be the starter is penciled in to be the teams future.
The difference between Moore and Tannehill in Friday night’s pre-season opener was not statistical. It was not a matter of who ran against the first team and who had success against the second. When the tapes are reviewed from this week and then again after the Carolina game, Joe Philbin and OC Mike Sherman will make a decision based on those tapes and practices. The conclusion will be Ryan Tannehill.
Tannehill knows this system well, but I’m not a stupid writer. I don’t buy into that being a reason to play one over another. To me, it is far more simple. It’s leadership. Last night, Ryan Tannehill became a leader. Matt Moore appeared to go through the motions. Tannehill seemed to command the offense. He directed his receivers, he called out the blocking assignments, he got in the players faces when they made a mistake and shook off the ones he made. When he failed to move the offense on his first drive, he ran back on the field and took advantage of a Tampa turnover by seemingly calming his nerves and playing football.
To me, Tannehill didn’t play like a rookie who was trying to quell the butterflies in his stomach. He didn’t appear to play like a kid trying to prove to everyone that he belonged, he appeared to play as though he was trying to win. Win the game, win the job, win over the fans. I don’t know, it was something in his approach. He wasn’t rattled. In the face of pressure, he moved up, got rid of the ball, and made decisions. Right or wrong, he made them.
Tannehill was a field general in his short appearance last night. The results were not scoreboard victories or statistical marvels, it was all in the presentation. It was how his team seemed to be more energized, more focused. I may be completely wrong here. It may simply have been nothing more than a familiarity with those on the field because those were most of the guys he had worked with thus far.
That is about to change.
Tannehill will begin receiving a lot more reps with the first team unit and sooner rather than later those reps are going to translate to game time. The player chide Tannehill as being the “people’s choice” but in reality they have also noted that he acts like a quarterback which means he is acting like a leader. Last night, Ryan Tannehill looked like a leader. He acted like a leader. Leaders win starting roster spots.
If all things are equal mechanically and physically I would take Ryan Tannehill’s leadership over Matt Moore’s NFL regular season experience.
Matt Moore is no longer fighting to win a starting job, he is fighting to keep it. As much as the Dolphins had nothing to lose by keeping Tannehill benched for the foreseeable future, they no longer have nothing to lose by starting him. David Garrard was not in danger of losing his job to Matt Moore and surely not to Ryan Tannehill. Garrard is gone and the Dolphins coaching staff are going to have to answer one simple question in the next two weeks.
Is Matt Moore undeniably better prepared to lead this team than Ryan Tannehill?