The crowd roars for Ryan Tannehill as it did Saturday when he first ran onto the Sun Life Stadium field to work with the rest of the Dolphins third-team offense. The interest is for the first-round pick. The hype and hope centers around the player who has never played an NFL down and actually thought Saturday’s scrimmage gave him a good feel for the tempo of the league he just joined.
All that is great. All that is welcome.
But all that is about tomorrow.
Tannehill is the future. Today, meanwhile, when Dolphins coaches have yet another personnel meeting (or perhaps carry over the one they had Saturday) the only logical conclusion to draw about Miami’s quarterback competition is this:
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David Garrard is the leader and it is his job to lose in the preseason games that begin Friday.
Yes, Tannehill was the more impressive quarterback in the scrimmage. After throwing incompletions on his first two attempts he finished with 10 connections on his next 11 passes — including a 28-yard touchdown to Anthony Fasano.
But that was against second- and third-team defenders. And that didn’t speak to the seven previous practices when Garrard was Miami’s best quarterback even if occasionally the difference between best and everyone else was minimal.
So, if the work of the three practices before Friday’s preseason opener against Tampa Bay stay true to form, Garrard should start against Tampa Bay in the preseason opener because he’s leading the race to the starting job.
What does the most accomplished QB in Miami’s camp say about that?
“I say great,” Garrard said. “I’m going to keep working the way I’m doing. I’m not going to do anything any different. That’s all I can do. I’m going to try to seize my opportunity.”
The Dolphins have a dozen questions about their roster, indeed their organization as they search for a return to playoff relevance. But despite the multiple issues, the loudest buzz around this team centers almost exclusively on the current quarterback competition.
Some folks believe Tannehill should be handed the starter’s reins because he’ll be handed those reins eventually anyway. Some folks believe Matt Moore played well last season and deserves to begin this season where he finished last season, namely as the Dolphins starter.
And then there’s Garrard.
He’s the outsider. He wasn’t here last year. He isn’t the high-priced draft pick, either He’s in camp trying to revive his career after it fizzled in Jacksonville. He’s considered a stopgap at best.
And yet he’s outplaying everyone else. So while Garrard doesn’t sound like the exciting choice to start the season, at least two players I’ve talked to privately believe he’s the right choice right now.
“I’m glad you have that buzz,” Garrard said. “I just come to practice. Not one coach has come to me and said, ‘Buzz is, Dave, that you’re winning the job right now.’
“I’m not really going to pay attention to that. I let all my family, all my friends and the fans get into that and I just keep coming to work because the moment I start feeling bigger and better than myself and that I’m the starter is the day I start to slip and put too much pressure on myself.”
No one needs that kind of pressure. But playing quarterback in the NFL is mostly about pressure these days because that one position is more responsible for the team success than anyone else in the entire organization including the owner, coach, assistants and general manager.
And the Dolphins take that pressure and multiply it several times because their quarterback is asked to do more than other signal-callers around the league. Under Miami’s system, the quarterback spends a dozen or so seconds at the line of scrimmage basically reworking the Pythagorean theorem.
Before snapping the ball, Miami’s quarterback must identify the coverage, linebacker placement, check the defensive front and recognize whether the cornerbacks are playing inside or outside technique.
And then the quarterback has to take the play called from the sideline and adjust it or discard it altogether to get the offense in the best situation possible.
Oh and then he has to, you know, actually execute.
Moore has so far not done so well with the execution portion in practices. Even he admits he’s “in the middle of the pack” of the quarterback competition. Garrard admits he’s still getting comfortable with the system but isn’t reacting instinctively in it yet like he did in Jacksonville’s more familiar system.
Tannehill is familiar with the offense because he ran it in college and it shows.
So the question is whether one of veterans can get accustomed to the Miami offense faster than Tannehill gets acclimated to the NFL. Chances are good that in the preseason, the former happens before the latter.
“I’m not at my best like I was at certain points in Jacksonville,” Garrard said. “I think I give that to being in a new system. When I was in my second year in that system, I was rolling. But I’m picking this one up so well that it’s allowing me move a whole lot quicker as we go.
“With my age and my understanding of NFL defenses, that’s allowing me to play faster. I still have room for improvement, a ways to go, but I’m happy where I’m at right now. I can go out and win ballgames where I’m at right now. I have to still get to a higher level and I will.”