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Rookie challenge awaits between Miami Dolphins’ Ryan Tannehill, Colts’ Andrew Luck

The best thing that can be said about Ryan Tannehill’s ailing left knee is that, should he play Sunday against the Colts, he probably can’t hurt it any worse.

If everything that has been said about the injury — and, considering the MI5-style secrecy cloaking the Dolphins organization on that subject this week, that’s not much — is true, Tannehill didn’t sustain any structural damage.

Instead, it’s just a bone and thigh bruise — swollen, and very, very sore.

“It’s just like a bruise anywhere else, but it’s a little more impactful,” said Dr. Bryson Lesniak of the UM Health System. “It results in inflammation and bleeding in that area.”

And the expected recovery time?

“It depends on size, but usually, it can be anywhere from four to five days, to three to four weeks, depending on how severe the bone bruise is,” Lesniak said. “I think, if the swelling and the pain associated with the bone bruise and the contusion are under control, he should be able to play.”

The Dolphins certainly hope so — as does anyone interested in seeing Tannehill put his talents on display opposite Andrew Luck. (For the record, Tannehill is listed as questionable and is likely a game-time decision.)

Those two young quarterbacks, not to mention Washington’s Robert Griffin III, have been anything but rookies. They have been franchise changers.

Heading into the season, little was expected of the Dolphins or the Colts, both 4-3. But if the season ended after Week 8, both would be in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely the biggest game for us to date,” said Luck, the No. 1 pick in April’s NFL Draft. “It’s huge.”

When asked of his showdown with Luck, Tannehill said: “I think it’s exciting for a lot of people, but as players on the field … you’re not really thinking about the other quarterback of the other team, no matter who it is.”

Both young men come from football families and are experts in moving their lips but saying little. So it’s no surprise that Luck didn’t take the bait when asked this week about last fall’s win-by-losing “Suck for Luck” campaign.

“I wasn’t too fond of that idea,” Luck said. “I’ve never believed that fans should encourage their team to lose.”

Those days seem like a distant memory now that the Dolphins have their quarterback and a realistic shot at the postseason.

Tannehill and Luck’s relationship stretches back to the summer of 2011, when they both attended the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana. They reunited in New York some nine months later at the NFL Draft, and had their names called by commissioner Roger Goodell roughly an hour apart.

Luck was universally seen as a sure thing coming out of Stanford, the best prospect at the position since John Elway. Tannehill had plenty of doubters who were skeptical of him as the eighth overall pick.

But with each passing week, the skeptics’ voices have been muted.

Through seven games, Tannehill leads Luck in quarterback rating (75.8 to 74.6), completion percentage (59.1 to 55.6) and yards per pass (7.25 to 6.84).

“I think he’s done a good job, for him,” said Charley Casserly, a longtime NFL general manager and current analyst for the NFL Network. “I like him. If I’m a Dolphin fan, I’m buying season tickets.”

Still, Casserly believes Tannehill remains a notch below Luck and Griffin, who are “playing at an exceptional level as rookies,” he said.

Luck, in particular, stands apart because of his great field vision, his ability to spread the ball around and his control of the game at the line of scrimmage, Casserly said. Even with what appears to be an inferior supporting cast, Luck alone is enough for Casserly to give the Colts the edge Sunday.

And that’s assuming Tannehill plays. If not, Matt Moore will get his first start of the season after completing 11of 19 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown in relief last Sunday.

But all signs from this week pointed to Tannehill giving it a go Sunday, and in turn, giving the sporting world what it wants: The first chapter in what could be a decade-long rivalry between two promising young quarterbacks.

As for who’s the best of the Quarterback Class of 2012?

“I think all of that will be determined in about five years,” Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said. “I don’t think you can tell that right now. Everybody has had flashes. I know this: It’s one of the best classes to come out in a long time.”

Health permitting, of course.

• The Dolphins elevated safety Anderson Russell from the practice squad to their 53-man roster Saturday.

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