The Miami Dolphins refurbished the roster and their stadium, and both will be on grand display for the first time together Saturday.
The team is playing what NFL coaches call their “rehearsal” preseason game, the one in which starters typically play into the second half as teams make a strong push toward the regular season. It’s a big deal for teams. It will be important for the Dolphins.
And it says here the Dolphins might be smart to let quarterback Ryan Tannehill sit out the entire affair.
“That,” a Dolphins source said Monday when I posed the idea, “is kind of radical.”
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I cannot argue. Preseason games offer important preparation for the next five do-or-die months of professional football, and this game is the most important of that bunch.
But no one can convince me risking the health of the starting quarterback in a preseason game simply to get some prep work is rational, considering the heightened risk Tannehill might face against the Atlanta Falcons.
So what is that expanded risk?
The Dolphins are not going to be playing starting left tackle Branden Albert in this game, barring an unexpected and significant change in the progression of his return following last year’s reconstructive knee surgery.
Albert is on schedule to play in the regular-season opener Sept. 13 against Washington.
Saturday is not Sept. 13.
No big deal, right, because the Dolphins have been playing Tannehill this preseason with Albert on the mend because second-team left tackle Jason Fox has protected the quarterback’s blind side.
The problem is Fox left last week’s preseason game with what a team source said was a concussion. Having tested positive for the concussion, Fox must now pass concussion protocols this week to have any chance of practicing.
Fox playing against the Falcons is uncertain.
So maybe Fox, something of a tough cookie, swats away the little birdies that were circling his head last game and passes this week’s concussion tests. Maybe he is given clearance to play against the Falcons.
Then and only then, the Dolphins can feel good about playing Tannehill.
But if Fox, proficient enough when he’s healthy to protect Tannehill’s blind side, cannot play there is a good argument to make that Tannehill should not play, either.
And this is where tough guys start writing letters and e-mails suggesting I’m a wimpy journalist who never played the game and doesn’t understand the idea of simply moving on to the next man up.
This is where some people might argue the Dolphins should simply risk their entire 2015 season by sticking in a third-team left tackle to protect Tannehill against Atlanta’s starters in what the standings say is a meaningless game.
Look, I cover this team. But I’m not going to bother reaching across my desk to that roster 10 inches away to tell you who the third-team left tackle is on Miami’s preseason depth chart because it doesn’t matter. Whomever it is will be cut within the next two weeks.
And the idea of protecting Tannehill’s blind side with a man who isn’t good enough to make the roster is not smart.
There are other possibilities, of course. Maybe the Dolphins shift left guard Dallas Thomas to left tackle and plug in rookie Jamil Douglas at left guard and say that’s good enough to protect Tannehill.
Or maybe the Dolphins decide to move James to left tackle and plug in Thomas at right tackle. That’s the combination Miami used after Albert was injured last year.
Neither combination is the best plan Miami came up with this offseason to protect Tannehill. Neither is even the second-best plan the Dolphins drew up, because Fox was the backup plan. So why risk your quarterback’s health in August by resorting to Plan C in a preseason game?
There’s one more fact Joe Philbin should consider when he decides how much or how little Tannehill should play Saturday:
Tannehill’s play in training camp and so far in the preseason suggests he’s poised for a big year in 2015. His quarterback rating after two preseason games is 126.9, or better than Phillip Rivers, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
He’s completing 81.8 percent of his passes. He has led Dolphins starters on three touchdown drives in five possessions this preseason.
He’s pretty much ready for the regular season now, folks.
What’s the point of risking all that Saturday night in exchange for a little more prep work?