Dolphins coach says the starting quarterback will be determined by performance not youth or experience
The Dolphins have opted for some of the youngest possible players at a few key starting positions on their team — rookies Michael Deiter and Shaq Calhoun at guard and Christian Wilkins at defensive tackle.
And yet, at quarterback, Miami has gone back to 36-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick as the expected starter in Thursday’s preseason home game against Jacksonville, even though Josh Rosen — younger by 14 years — has had the better preseason statistically.
So the question was posed to coach Brian Flores on Tuesday: Considering that the Dolphins are rebuilding, wouldn’t it make sense to go with the younger player at quarterback if the two are about even?
“That case could be made,” Flores said. “A case could be made [for] playing the older guy. A case could also be made that the younger guy is not ready. I understand that thought process, but I’m the one dealing with the individual player, and sometimes guys just aren’t ready.
“The whole sink-or-swim mentality, it’s easy for somebody on the outside to say. But for that individual player and the best interests of that individual person, that might not be the case. For those who aren’t in the trenches and dealing with the day to day, they wouldn’t understand that. If a guy is ready, we’ll put him out there. If he’s not, we won’t put him out there. I think that’s the right way to approach it.”
Flores has said Fitzpatrick likely will start Thursday’s nationally televised third preseason game against Jacksonville but hasn’t said how much — if at all — Rosen will play with the first team after Rosen got all the snaps with the first team during the Tampa Bay preseason game last week.
Fitzpatrick received the overwhelming amount of first-team snaps — if not all of them — in closed practices this week, according to someone with direct knowledge, suggesting Fitzpatrick is still clearly the front-runner to start the season opener against Baltimore.
Asked if whoever plays better Thursday would get the starting job, Flores said: “I wouldn’t say that. I would say there’s been a lot of practice reps, game reps, from the spring to training camp to games to our practices last week with Tampa. For it to come down to one game, no I don’t think it’s that.”
Rosen said he has not been told where he stands but believes he could be an effective NFL starter now. At least publicly Tuesday, both quarterbacks took a vastly different public position about their desire to start.
Rosen said “I’m not focusing on the competition at all. Where I stand [in the competition] I really could not care less,” making clear he’s focusing instead of individual improvement.
By contrast, Fitzpatrick — asked if he’s cautiously optimistic that he will be the starter for this team — said: “That’s what I’ve been working toward all offseason. That’s what I want to be and where I want to be. I want to be the starter for this team.”
Fitzpatrick — who has a 44.4 passer rating in limited work in preseason compared to a 73.7 to Rosen — said the objective Thursday is “communication in and out of the huddle, be efficient. I’m hoping I’ll do a better job of that this game, communication, efficiency, converting third downs and everyone staying healthy and getting ready for the regular season.”
Even though several national broadcasters — from NFL Network’s Rich Eisen to Daniel Jeremiah to former NFL offensive line Geoff Schwartz — have talked about needing to see Rosen for all 16 regular-season games to get a complete evaluation, Flores sees benefit to Rosen sitting at least initially, if it plays out that way.
“I would say there is a long list of guys who have gone through that process,” Flores said, listing Pat Mahomes, Tom Brady, Steve Young and Aaron Rodgers as top quarterbacks who didn’t play immediately. “There’s a pretty good list. I’m not even naming them all. I think sitting — in some instances, not all — could be a good thing. Sitting, learning, improving your technique, improving your fundamentals, going through the mental reps of games and practices.
“I think guys have gotten better that way. I think there is a hunger to play by sitting, and I think guys understand that it’s a privilege to be in this league and privilege to play. When they get an opportunity, they understand how important that is and they take full advantage of it.”
While Flores has praised Rosen, he also has — on multiple occasions — said Rosen needs to get rid of the ball sooner and not take as many sacks. Does Flores worry about young quarterbacks taking too many sacks and it wrecking their confidence?
“Look, bad plays happen,” Flores said. “We can’t get too high, we can’t get too low. When the bad plays happen, if they happen, I think if you have a guy in there, that’s not what you are worried about. You’re not worried about wrecking his confidence because if that’s the case, you shouldn’t put him in there in the first place.”