In the wake of Friday’s 20-7 loss to the Buccaneers in the exhibition opener, the Dolphins are faced with two major concerns — one immediate and one more long-term.
The most pressing issue, of course, is deciding upon a starting quarterback now that front-runner David Garrard has been sidelined with a knee injury. Garrard confirmed on Twitter that he had surgery Saturday morning. With a recovery time of two to four weeks, the competition between Matt Moore and rookie Ryan Tannehill has intensified.
“Everything went great this morning,” Garrard tweeted. “Be back before u know it!! Phins Up!!!”
Beyond the battle for the starting spot, perhaps the bigger concern is that the Dolphins could not get the ball into the end zone Friday.
The Dolphins found ways to move the ball through the air. Miami threw for 311 yards, a number the team exceeded only once in 20 of its exhibition and regular-season games last year.
At the same time, the Dolphins were up against last year’s last-place defense in points allowed and yet managed to score seven. Miami was limited to single digits just once in 2011.
Six trips to within 32 yards of the Tampa Bay end zone resulted in an interception, two missed field goals, two failed fourth-down conversions and the lone touchdown pass from Tannehill to tight end Charles Clay.
Afterwards, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said the Bucs “deserved to win” and highlighted his concern that his team did not make many “great plays.”
“The big point that I don’t think we necessarily did a great job of was we talked to [the players] about – look, we’re looking for guys who can make great plays,” Philbin said.
“I don’t think we had enough of them. Tampa Bay had more of it.”
Frequently employing the West Coast, no-huddle offense, the Dolphins’ offense operated quickly throughout the game. Even though they ran seven more plays than the Buccaneers, the Dolphins held the ball seven minutes fewer than their opponents.
Despite the fast pace, wide receivers Chad Johnson and Roberto Wallace both said the game felt much slower than the practices they have been running the past two weeks during training camp. At those practices there are often two sets of 11-on-11 drills going on at the same time.
“The funny thing — [and] I’ve never had this before in my career — but the pace of practice is so hard, that the pace of the game felt easy,” said Johnson, breaking his self-imposed media blackout after just two days.
Although Johnson was the flashy offseason pickup by Miami this season, it were the lesser-known receivers who shined during Friday’s game.
Whereas Johnson went missed an open — but perhaps slightly high — pass on third-and-3, backups Roberto Wallace and Julius Pruitt led the team with 71 and 52 receiving yards, respectively.
“[This preseason feels] much, much different,” Wallace said. “I mean I feel more comfortable. Obviously this is the third year for me. I’ve been here before like I said, and I just feel really comfortable out there.”
Wallace’s 71 yards exceeded the 62 career regular-season receiving yards he has had in his two years with the Dolphins. Johnson said he was especially impressed with Wallace’s physical style.
“I wish I could play like that but I can’t; I’d probably be in the hospital,” Johnson said. “The physical style of play he plays with man, he looked really good.”
In terms of the running game, though, no one had a notable game. The team amassed just 43 yards on the ground, averaging less than 3 yards per carry.
“We’ve got to have better balance offensively,” Philbin said. “I don’t think we want to run for 28 yards or 38 yards. I think [quarterback] Pat Devlin might have been our leading rusher, which is a concern.”
Reggie Bush’s 17 rushing yards actually surpassed Devlin’s 15, but the point remains.
Then again, the team attempted only 15 rushes, compared to 50 passes.
Friday night the Dolphins had a few quarterbacking issues they were trying to sort out.
As for that quarterback battle, the crowd Friday seemed to have a favorite. And Tannehill, who entered to a rousing ovation, did not disappoint, going 14 for 21 with a touchdown.
Although Moore’s 7-for-12 performance, which included an interception, was not as impressive, Moore was the starter Friday and does have 35 NFL games under his belt.
Tannehill and Moore empathized with Garrard and resisted any acknowledgment that the injury could prove fortunate for either of their chances this season.
“It’s unfortunate,” Tannehill said. “David is a great guy. It’s really unfortunate and I wish him well, hope he comes back as soon as possible.”