Way back in 1967, Bob Griese needed all of one NFL quarter to go from the Miami Dolphins’ future to their present.
We remember Griese now as the Hall of Fame triggerman who directed the Dolphins to three consecutive Super Bowls. But he began his rookie season on the bench, where he was supposed to be groomed behind John Stofa. The plan went haywire when Stofa broke his ankle in the ’67 season opener, and Griese would own the job for the next decade (when he was healthy).
At some point — maybe next week, maybe next year — the modern-day Fins will have a similar changing of the guard. Ryan Tannehill is the future. But for the first time since the Dolphins took him with the eighth overall pick, Tannehill on Friday night will get an in-game chance to prove the future should be now.
Miami opens its 2012 preseason Friday at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7:30 p.m., CBS), but neither the opponent nor the final score will much matter. The real competition will be how effective each of the Fins’ quarterbacks is, and whether Tannehill, like Griese before him, can fast-forward through his apprenticeship.
“I look at that position, and I smile because I know [the] future is taken care of,” Griese said earlier this week. “I’ve seen Ryan Tannehill, and I think he’s the real deal.”
“I think they’ve found it,” Griese continued, when asked about the Dolphins’ long-term answer at quarterback. “And I think it’s about time.”
But is it quite time yet? The NFL is about winning games now, particularly when you’re a first-time head coach like Joe Philbin and an embattled general manager like Jeff Ireland.
And so the Dolphins will spend the coming season walking a tightrope — allow Tannehill to get the sunlight necessary to bloom, yet still put a competitive product on the field that’s a service to the other 52 men on the team.
“There are no excuses — we’re tired of being that run-of-the-mill, average football team,” Cameron Wake, the Fins’ pass-rushing ace, made clear. “I know I speak for a lot of the players when I say, ‘We want to do this thing. We want to make it work.’ ”
And so, exhibition games like Friday’s matter. A lot.
While Philbin declined to announce his plan at quarterback this week, the depth chart — which was unchanged Thursday — hints at his thinking. Tannehill is listed third, behind David Garrard (who is expected to start) and Matt Moore (who, if a traditional rotation holds, would play the second quarter).
Meaning: We might not see the big-armed rookie from Texas A&M until the second half, and if then, only playing with and against backups.
“I’m looking forward to it regardless of how many snaps I get to play,” Tannehill said earlier this week. “Just try to take advantage of each snap and go out there and have fun.”
He will face a Buccaneers team that, like the Dolphins, is in flux. Sure, the Bucs have settled on their starting quarterback — Josh Freeman. But Tampa Bay also has a new coach, Greg Schiano, who is looking to change the culture of a franchise that lost the final 10 games of the 2011 season.
The Buccaneers (4-12 in 2011) were brutal defensively last season, finishing 30th in yards allowed (394.4 per game) and last in points surrendered (30.9). But Tampa should at least be slightly better in 2012, adding cornerback Eric Wright in free agency and starting two former first-round picks on its defensive line.
That’s the challenge facing Garrard, should he start. But the bigger story line to follow: How will his reconstructed back respond the first time he gets hit?
Garrard last took a live-action snap on Sept. 1, 2011, the final game of what was an ineffective preseason. In his three exhibition games, Garrard completed just 19 of 44 passes for 216 yards, didn’t throw a touchdown pass and was intercepted once. What few knew then was that Garrard had a herniated disk in his back, needed surgery, and ultimately would miss the entire regular season. Now in Miami, he claims he is fully healthy — and as Hard Knocks showed, felt good enough to wakeboard over the summer. Meanwhile, the Dolphins’ other two quarterbacks have their own concerns:
And, finally, Friday’s game will be the first chance most fans will get to see new additions Chad Johnson, Legedu Naanee, Jonathan Martin and Richard Marshall — all of whom should start.
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