Ryan Tannehill has a way of cutting through the clutter and speaking to what’s truly important.
So what is important Friday night, when the Dolphins finally return to the football field (albeit in a game against the Atlanta Falcons that doesn’t count) for the first time since their collapse of late 2013?
“Score,” Tannehill said with typical brevity.
He continued: “That’s our whole goal as an offense. If we’re out on the field, we want to score points. It’s live football. It’s a preseason game and, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter, but it matters to us. What we put on tape, what we go out there and show, that represents what kind of team we are and who we are as players, so we want to play well.”
A simple plan, right? Not for this team. Not after a remarkable stretch of awful offensive play when the games counted most.
Any Dolphins fan with even a working knowledge of the team knows the ugly recent history:
A win against the Bills or Jets in the final two weeks of the season would have put Miami in the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Instead, the Dolphins played their worst football of the year.
They were outscored 39-7 in those games and had just one touchdown in their final 24 possessions. Tannehill threw interceptions in each of the Dolphins’ last two drives of the season.
Addition and subtraction
Pretty much everything the franchise has done in the seven-odd months since is to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman? Canned. The offensive line? Torn up and rebuilt.
The team’s strength, its receiving corps, was bolstered even more. And running back Lamar Miller now has real competition in Knowshon Moreno.
Starting Friday in Atlanta, the Dolphins need to start seeing a return on that hefty investment.
Bill Lazor surely won’t show everything in his preseason debut as an NFL coordinator. But make no mistake: He wants to show something impressive.
His offensive system is predicated on getting the ball to playmakers in space. At times in training camp, it has looked great. At others, Tannehill has thrown passes as if defensive backs were the intended targets.
So the No. 1 curiosity, by far, in this practice game Friday between two teams that won a combined 11 games last year is how much different — and better — Lazor’s scheme will look than his predecessor’s. And, based on what head coach Joe Philbin said Wednesday, we should at least get the broad strokes, if not the fine points.
“I can tell you that we’re certainly not going to create a new offense to send our future opponents down the wrong road,” Philbin said. “We’ve had these guys in the building since April 21, and we’ve been installing pieces of the offense really since that day. Then we’ve redone [the offense] a couple of times in the OTAs and now in training camp. So we are going to do what we do.”
Philbin told his players as much after practice Tuesday. The Dolphins are going to line up predominantly in a one-back set. They’ll sometimes go empty. And they’ll run many of the same sets Friday that they will in the regular season.
“That’s our system,” Philbin said. “That’s who we are. I think you have to be certainly cognizant of your tendencies, but I also believe it’s probably good to have a couple of tendencies.”
While the plays won’t change much between now and the season opener on Sept. 7, the players surely will. Many of the Dolphins’ top contributors on offense will likely miss Friday’s opener due to medical issues.
It’s hard to see how Moreno will play; he just came off the physically unable to perform list on Wednesday. Receiver Mike Wallace is iffy, at best, with a hamstring injury. Tight end Charles Clay is working through a minor knee situation.
As for the quarterback play after Tannehill? Dolphins fans might be well-served to go enjoy their Friday night after the first quarter.
With Matt Moore and Pat Devlin still working back from injury, the vast majority of snaps in Friday’s preseason opener against the Falcons might fall to a couple of players who have never touched an NFL field. Heck, Tannehill is the only healthy quarterback on the roster who played Division I-A football.
In the event that Moore and Devlin are scratched, a combination of Seth Lobato and Brock Jensen will finish whatever Tannehill starts in Atlanta.
Neither distinguished themselves in camp. Jensen has already been cut once by Miami for poor play, only to be brought back after Moore (shoulder) and Devlin (hamstring) sustained injuries.