Dolphins fans have waited a dozen, maddening years for Dan Marino’s heir to arrive.
They won’t have to wait much longer to see whether Ryan Tannehill is that guy.
Coach Joe Philbin announced Tannehill, the strong-armed rookie from Texas A&M, as the team’s starting quarterback Monday afternoon — formally ending a competition that began when the Dolphins took Tannehill eighth overall on April 26.
Tannehill beat out Matt Moore, the sixth-year veteran who ended the 2011 season as the Dolphins’ starter and team MVP, but who has been largely unimpressive in this month’s practices and exhibition games. David Garrard had been the atop the depth chart before his knee injury took him out of the running.
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“It was a close competition, but in the end, we feel like this is the best decision for our football team at the present time,” Philbin said. “We like the way he handles himself.
“He’s relatively mature. We like his poise.”
And, according to Philbin’s own criteria, they believe Tannehill gives the team its best chance to win now — showing extraordinary confidence in the rookie considering he was a collegiate wide receiver this time two years ago.
Yet here he is, on the verge of becoming the first rookie quarterback to open the season as the starter in the team’s 46-year history. Neither Marino nor fellow Hall of Famer Bob Griese can claim that distinction.
Philbin informed Tannehill and Moore of his decision Monday morning — and although both knew the news when they met with reporters in the afternoon, each played coy.
They were presumably under orders to let Philbin break the news first, and so both feigned ignorance when asked whether a decision had been made.
Handed the reins
Still, the signs were there for anyone who saw the team practice earlier in the day. For the first time, Tannehill took every snap with the No. 1 offense, and Moore ran the scout team — a task often reserved for a third-string quarterback.
“The guy’s got the talent to be in the league,” Moore said of Tannehill on Monday. “He obviously understands the game very well.
“He’s capable of being a starting quarterback in the NFL. He works his butt off. He’s got everything you want. I think the coaches understand that.”
The next question: Is he capable of being a winning quarterback in his first year? The odds aren’t in his favor. The combined record of starting rookie quarterbacks drafted in the past two seasons is 37-65.
Even Peyton Manning struggled as a rookie. But Tannehill will be asked to turn around a franchise that has had losing records in five of the past six seasons.
Coaches often strip down the playbook to make it easier on their young quarterbacks. But that might not be the case with Tannehill because he will be running essentially the same offensive system that he directed at Texas A&M. Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman was Tannehill’s college coach.
“He won’t need to think too much because he’s been through it hundreds and hundreds of times,” Philbin said.
Tannehill completed 63 percent of his passes at A&M, throwing twice as many touchdowns (42) as interceptions (21). But the best players he faced in college will be decent players in the NFL, with the game twice as fast. The training wheels will start to come off in Friday’s exhibition game against Atlanta.
Statistically, Philbin’s decision makes sense. Tannehill (total exhibition stats: 25 of 44, 267 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions) has outplayed Moore (12 of 27, 136 yards, no touchdowns and one interception) in both exhibition games.
Yet there is a gulf between the speed he saw in exhibition games and what he’ll see in real action. With the decision made, Tannehill will have the benefit of taking at least 80 percent of the first-team snaps in practice.
“I expected it to be faster,” he said. “I expected windows to be tighter, coverages to be tighter. I think that’s something I adjusted to early on, and something I can continue to adjust to.”
Said Philbin: “We don’t think it’s too big for him. We think he has a chance to be an accurate passer in this league. He has good mobility, throws the ball on the move. I think he has a chance to be a very good player.”
He better be. The hopes of an entire fan base are riding on it.