Dolphins coach settles on Fitzpatrick as first squad quarterback but it’s still a competition
Let’s get this abundantly clear right now: The Miami Dolphins don’t give a bleep what you think.
So if the news Ryan Fitzpatrick is leading the quarterback competition is confusing because you believe that may not maximize the team’s chances of learning everything it can about Josh Rosen or landing Tua Tagovailoa next April, well, too bad.
You know who’s opinion on this topic actually matters to the Dolphins brass? The players in the Miami locker room.
That’s who Dolphins coaches are considering most aside from the actual play on the field.
And let it be known, Fitzpatrick is already a favorite of many teammates. Indeed, from the moment Fitzpatrick began working with his new teammates in Miami, he began winning them over. He began relating to them -- something Ryan Tannehill didn’t always do the past few years.
Fitzpatrick took his work and his assignment seriously, but didn’t take himself too seriously. Guys really liked that. He was professional but not aloof.
“He gets it, man” one Dolphins player told me last week. “That’s one reason guys were buying into him before training camp even began. And every day, what he does out here convinces everyone he’s our guy.”
That obviously is just one player’s opinion and admittedly an opinion he doesn’t want publicly tied to his name because he doesn’t want to alienate Rosen in any way. But this player is not alone.
Fitzpatrick has the support of the locker room as the team’s best quarterback and likely starter right now. (Rosen also has support but it’s simply not as enthusiastic).
‘When guys look at him, I don’t think guys see just some guy that is trying to compete,” offensive lineman Jesse Davis said of Fitzpatrick. “They see a guy out here making everybody else better and that’s awesome.”
Every practice this camp, with the possible exception of plays here and there, Fitzpatrick has been better than Rosen. Yes, Fitzpatrick has had hiccups. But when coaches met to evaluate their roster on Monday -- a day off for players -- the consensus was Fitzpatrick is clearly the better quarterback right now.
And there was another consensus: Fitzpatrick has the full support of the locker room.
That’s important to any coaching staff. It’s especially important to a first-year Miami coaching staff that is trying to establish a new identity and set a new team culture.
“You want someone (at quarterback) that they see as their leader,” offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea has said of the relationship the starter must have with the locker room. “You want somebody to be the ambassador of your program, to be your flag bearer. Basically somebody that you trust to carry on the message of what your vision is from coach Flo, from the offensive staff, through to the team.”
Fitzpatrick has done that. He’s been that guy so far.
“He’s come in our building and he’s provided great leadership,” O’Shea said this offseason of Fitzpatrick. “He’s obviously provided a veteran presence and he has certainly embraced everything we’ve asked him to do.”
This isn’t to suggest Rosen has bombed in this area. But it’s different with him. Rosen has seemingly had his hands full learning the offense and getting such minute details as figuring out the Mike linebacker point before, you know, becoming a team leader.
“This offense gives a lot of control to the quarterback, and there are a lot of things I’m doing that I’ve never done before; but I think that it’s an empowering thing, and Fitz shows that when you can control everything, you can operate quicker and you can really take advantage of certain things as opposed to sort of dispersing responsibilities,” Rosen said. “So it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.”
It’s strange. These two guys are competing for the same job. But one’s depth of knowledge is way deeper. It’s like they’re not in the same conversation in that regard. And Rosen kind of admits it.
“He obviously sees defenses in a blink of an eye,” Rosen said of Fitzpatrick. “He’s been playing for 15 or 16 years, so he can recognize defenses a lot quicker, and I’m trying to get to that level eventually.”
One thing I expected to make this competition closer was having Rosen operate on a very high talent plane -- one so unmistakable that it could overshadow his obvious experience disadvantage.
I expected a battle between a more experienced quarterback and a more talented quarterback. But, shockingly, Rosen’s gifts haven’t awed anyone. He’s got a good not amazing arm. He’s shown acceptable although inconsistent accuracy. It simply hasn’t been spectacular.
Rosen’s ability has seemed no better than Fitzpatrick’s while Fitzpatrick has taken his considerable experience to read the defense faster and make decisions quicker and just owned the competition.
And everyone watching practice has seen it. The players on the field have seen it and then seen it again on the practice tapes. So the players know. And the coaches know.
“He’s been more productive,” Flores said of Fitzpatrick. “I think at the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to. I think he runs the offense very efficiently. He has a great rapport with the entire team.
“He has some leadership – not some, a lot of leadership ability.”
This is where I tell you the decision to have Ryan Fitzpatrick start the regular-season opener has not been sealed. Not even close. But he’s on the way. He just cannot, you know, lose his way by stacking terrible practices or performing poorly in the preseason.
“We need him to grow in that role,” Flores said. “We need all of the quarterbacks to grow and improve and get better. Like I said, it’s still a competition. Every day is a competition. I think they all know that. But as we stand today, I think Ryan has done a really good job and hopefully he continues to improve and is consistent. That will help this team, for sure.”