The grin splashed across quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s face as fast as the play call came in.
A play-action fake, with an option to throw — deep.
Now this was the way to make an entrance.
Sure, it was only a scrimmage, a glorified practice that will likely be forgotten by this time next week.
But for Tannehill, handpicked by the Dolphins as their cornerstone for the next decade, it was his first real chance to reward their faith in him. It was his first snap in the stadium that, if all goes right, could be his personal playground for the next decade.
So what do you think he did? Of course, he gripped and ripped it.
“When I heard the play call, a big smile lit up across my face,” Tannehill would say later. “I saw the coverage they were in pre-snap, and I loved it.”
And if his opening salvo was a touch shorter, or wideout Legedu Naanee a step faster, it would have been his career’s perfect opening chapter.
See, Naanee was open. And the pass looked true. Just a stride too long.
It might have been Tannehill’s worst pass of the day.
Tannehill, the first-round pick with the Texas swagger and the beauty-pageant wife, almost lived up to his prodigious billing Saturday. In the three-way quarterback battle, he was the best passer on the field this day.
After misfiring on his first two throws, he went on to complete 10 of his final 11, good for 114 yards and a touchdown that was half-designed, half-Houdini act.
Playing with the first-string offense, Tannehill faced a second-and-8 from the opposition’s 26. Flushed right, he looked as though he was headed out of bounds. Tannehill’s coach, Joe Philbin, was surely screaming for him to do so. Instead, the brawny, 6-4 hurler spotted tight end Anthony Fasano in the corner of the end zone and let it fly. The pass arched just over the last line of defense and into Fasano’s mitts.
Official or not, it was touchdown No. 1.
“We just wanted him to feel confident,” said Philbin, who admitted the play call was a message to his young quarterback. “We’ve said all along, you’ve got to believe in your players. So if this guy is going to be playing for us, he’s going to be the future potentially at some point in time you’ve got to have faith.”
The salient question after Saturday’s scrum: Is the future sooner than anyone thought?
Before Tannehill’s pass, the Dolphins sent a different kind of message. David Garrard, a steadying veteran who has impressed during camp, got the start and played well. Although not as flashy as Tannehill, he was efficient, leading the Dolphins on two scoring drives.
Meanwhile, Matt Moore had a hard-luck day, though much of the fault was beyond his control. While Tannehill and Garrard worked with the starters against the second-string defense, it was vice versa for Moore, who completed 50 percent of his passes but only threw for 3.3 yards per attempt.
Neither dink nor dunk was in Tannehill’s vocabulary on this day, what with his 11.4-yards-per-completion average. And the Dolphins’ plan for him was clearly to let it fly. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman called eight passing plays for Tannehill before finally acquiescing to a run.
“I thought he looked natural out there,” said Philbin, who said he wouldn’t make a snap judgment on his quarterback derby until after viewing the game film. “It wasn’t too big for him.”
As for Tannehill, he was practically perspiring confidence. When asked if he had made up the time missed during his contract dispute, he answered, “I think so.”
“When we pulled up [to the stadium Saturday], I thought, ‘This is my new home.’ ” he said.
On Saturday, Tannehill threw one heck of a housewarming party.