IN MY OPINION

Miami Dolphins should give QB reins to Ryan Tannehill right away

 

gcote@MiamiHerald.com

Ryan Tannehill’s conspicuous absence was the news of the day as the Dolphins set sail on their 47th year with the start of preseason training camp on Friday. That was bad enough. Your No. 1 draft pick needs to be at work from Day One, especially if he’s a quarterback trying to absorb waves of new information and be seen as a team leader all at once. But why Tannehill wasn’t there was worse.

He turned 24 on Friday, but he didn’t get his birthday off. His absence as one of the NFL’s last three unsigned first-round draft picks arose from some serious mixed signals from the Dolphins, who say all the right things about this kid being a franchise player and future star but haven’t shown all that much confidence in him with their actions.

The contractual snag essentially was that Miami wanted to limit the guaranteed money Tannehill was owed in the event he was waived — cut — prior to his four-year contract expiring. Hmm. Strange. One side of the management mouth is telling Tannehill he’s The Man, the future, while the other side of the management mouth is telling Tannehill they’re worried enough about him being a bust to try to cover their financial tail in the event he is.

Here is another way the Dolphins are inviting fans to wonder how confident the team is in Tannehill:

Why isn’t he being looked to as the starter right away?

He should be (assuming he reports to camp any time soon), if he is as talented as his being drafted eighth overall indicates. If he is an elite quarterback in the making.

Miami needs to give Tannehill his guaranteed money and then hand him the football — or at least a fair opportunity to win the job. Hey, if you’re in, go all in. If you say this kid is the future, fast track that future by starting it now. Let the learning curve begin, on the job, under fire, so Tannehill will get to where he’s going quicker.

“He’s the chosen one, the golden child, The Franchise,” cornerback Sean Smith called Tannehill on Friday. “The first time I get one of his passes [with a practice interception], I might have him sign the ball.”

Rookie QBs do start in the NFL. It isn’t against the rules. And Miami is the perfect situation for a rookie to take over, especially because Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman was Tannehill’s college coach.

If this were an expected playoff team with a premier sitting quarterback — say the Patriots with Tom Brady — naturally the rookie would be in sit-and-learn mode.

But this isn’t New England, and the veterans dueling for the starting job here are not Brady, they are the nothing-special duo of soft incumbent Matt Moore and journeyman import David Garrard.

This is closer to the situation last year in Cincinnati, where Andy Dalton (a second-round pick) started as a rookie and played well. (Some said he wasn’t “ready,” either).

At the very least I hope Miami’s is a bona fide three-way competition. I hope I can believe new coach Joe Philbin when Friday he said, “I’ve read these reports about he’s ahead, he’s behind, he’s not ready — that’s all news to me.”

Who puts Miami in a better position to win right now should not be the priority here, not with a team whose Las Vegas betting over/under is seven wins. It would be better — and in the long run smarter — to win six games this season with Tannehill, as he banked that essential experience, than to win, say, eight games with Garrard or Moore.

I know owner Stephen Ross and Philbin need to avoid the R-word (rebuilding) and preach winning now, and that’s fine.

But if you truly believe Tannehill is the future, why not get to that future a year sooner? He could end up being great as a rookie. But if he isn’t, the experience moves him toward his potential that much quicker.

I’m tired of hearing that Tannehill isn’t “ready” or needs “developing.” That’s what training camp and the preseason are for. Throw the toddler in the pool and see what his instincts for survival are.

Dan Marino (drafted 27th overall in 1983) started by midseason, and Don Shula immediately wished he’d started him from Day One.

Plenty of other QBs who started and failed as rookies have gone on to greatness. The idea a kid might be permanently scarred by being thrown in too soon is a fallacy.

Troy Aikman went 0-11 as a rookie starter, played terribly. He turned out OK.

Peyton Manning led the league with 28 interceptions as a rookie. He ended up being pretty good, too, I hear.

When the Dolphins drafted Tannehill there was a genuine positive buzz among Dolfans for the first time in a long time, so let the kid play. Let’s see what we have.

The Dolphins have been propped up on false hype and fake buzz for too long.

Nobody cares about your celebrity part-owners or your Orange Carpet, Mr. Ross. Those are bells and whistles meant to distract from the lacking product on the field, and they don’t work.

This season’s fake buzz is courtesy HBO and its Hard Knock” training camp reality series focusing on the Dolphins. Several other teams said no thanks before Ross decided the intrusion and distraction of nosy cameras was a small price to pay for needed attention to maybe help raise the club’s deteriorated stature in this market, and nationally.

Rest assured the HBO cameras will focus on more false hype such as loquacious Chad Ochocinco turning back into Chad Johnson, or Reggie Bush having dated a Kardashian, or rookie players showing up Friday with blond spots and stripes dyed into their hair as part of a brotherly team hazing.

These would be needed distractions for Hard Knocks.” Otherwise, stripped down to its essence, the Dolphins present to HBO a fallen franchise that last won a Super Bowl in 1973, last played in one in 1984, last won a playoff game in 2000 and has sputtered to a 20-28 record during the past three seasons.

No fans in the NFL are hungrier than Miami’s for winning, not celebrities on an orange carpet, and for new heroes to cheer. The franchise has been substantially faceless, a blank stare, since Marino retired.

Tannehill has the chance to be that face that makes Dolfans smile again.

The hype and buzz that surrounds him is legitimate, and there’s only one way now to find out if it’s justified.

Hand him the football and let it fly.

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