Armando Salguero

Jay Cutler must be more consistent beginning Thursday when he starts first game for Dolphins

Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler practices with teammates on Sunday.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler practices with teammates on Sunday. cjuste@miamiherald.com

Jay Cutler will start his first game in a Miami Dolphins uniform Thursday night at Hard Rock Stadium (unless something horrible happens in practice the next two days) and that will mark the next significant step in the transition away from Ryan Tannehill and to Cutler as the starting quarterback.

“Just being behind some of these guys and missing most of training camp, missing OTAs, I think it’s important for me to get some valuable reps out there, feel good and get some positive stuff on tape with some of these guys,” Cutler said Sunday, making the point he’s eager to finally play with his new team.

Cutler has so far impressed the Dolphins by how seamlessly he’s integrating into the team even beyond knowing the offense and calls.

When he negotiated with reserve quarterback Brandon Doughty for the No. 6 jersey he’s worn in 11 previous NFL seasons, Cutler was careful not to leave Doughty unhappy. The two men settled on a price Cutler would pay to have Doughty give up No. 6.

And then Cutler added more money than agreed upon to the check he wrote his new teammate.

Coaches were concerned that on his first day on the field, Cutler might alienate incumbent quarterback Matt Moore. They were worried Cutler would try to “bigfoot” Moore by cutting ahead of him in line for practice repetitions with the first-team offense. Moore, a prideful man who helped the Dolphins reach the playoffs last season, is respected in the locker room and doing anything to disaffect him would have been a mistake for the new guy.

But Cutler seemed to instinctively get it. He got in line behind Moore and took his first-team repetitions only when coaches called him in.

So the change to Cutler from Tannehill has been smooth the first few days. But there have been some hiccups.

Cutler threw two red zone interceptions in practice on Saturday. On Sunday, which Adam Gase proclaimed a much better practice for the new starting quarterback, Cutler was seen throwing a handful of passes off his back foot.

And that is what we might be in for with Cutler in 2017: Some euphoric moments of greatness. And some truly frustrating or baffling times as well.

That’s not me predicting how it’s going to go this coming season. That’s how Cutler’s career has gone and that’s what we’ve seen in his three practices so far.

Cutler’s first day on the field for the Dolphins was eye-opening good. He was in command, even if he only ran four plays he knows really well. He had excellent velocity on his passes. He was, well, impressive.

His second day was a step back. His third day Sunday was something of a recovery although, again, the footwork seemed off.

And this is where we’re likely to see one of the notable differences between Tannehill, who is out for the season with a knee injury, and Cutler, who now holds the reins to the offense.

Tannehill played more or less to his demeanor most of the time in that he never really got too high or too low. He was not often terrible on the field. But neither was he often elite.

He was good. Solid.

Tannehill, for example has only two career four-touchdown games in 77 starts. But he’s never had a four-interception game and only five games of three interceptions.

Cutler? He’s more of a roller coaster ride.

He’s had six four-touchdown games which is three times as many as Tannehill. But Cutler’s had 10 games in which he’s thrown three or more interceptions, including a five-interception meltdown in November 2012.

Cutler led the league in turnovers in 2014. And the next season, under Gase, he was the only NFL quarterback with at least 10 starts through 15 games without a multi-turnover game. (He threw three interceptions in the season-finale).

Cutler is capable of notable heroics as his 25 career game-winning drives and 21 fourth-quarter comebacks attest. Tannehill, by the way, has 10 career game-winning drives and 12 fourth-quarter comebacks in five fewer seasons.

But again, Tannehill’s consistency has rewarded him in that he’s kept his mistakes down. He’s thrown 12 or fewer interceptions three consecutive seasons and never more than 17.

Cutler had a 26 interception season in 2009 and had 18-interception seasons twice more.

So Gase has work to do because he doesn’t love the idea of his quarterbacks wildly delivering Everest highs followed by Death Valley lows. The coach wants consistency.

“Players want the same guy every day,” Gase said. “When you know what you’re going to get day-in and day-out it just helps the rest of those guys around him. They know what they’re getting and they know if we’re in the right spot, we’re going to get the going to get the ball ... That consistency day-in and day-out is the key to everything.”

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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