The QB battle in South Beach was expected to be a three-way fight between the incumbent starter Matt Moore, former Jacksonville Jaguars starter David Garrard, and rookie first-round pick Ryan Tannehill. Early on in the battle it was considered to be a toss-up between Garrard and Moore with Tannehill expected to hold a clipboard for his first season.
An injury to Garrard and quality night by Tannehill has changed that.
The Unfortunate Case of David Garrard
Garrard was set to start the Dolphins preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but an injury to his knee knocked him out. He's already had surgery to repair the damage and is expected to be out for just a few weeks. That will be long enough to knock him out of the race for the starter's job though.
It's unlikely that Garrard would have stayed in the No. 1 spot had he not been injured anyway. Reports out of camp have him struggling to get a grasp on the playbook. If you listen to rumors, there have been times where one of his teammates had to explain a play to him in practice before he could run it.
Matt Moore vs. Ryan Tannehill
Moore was given the nod Friday night and really didn't do much with it. He was 7-12 for 79 yards and an interception and had a hard time getting anything going. His progress in camp has been slow so far and it certainly looked like it.
Last season he did help the team finish strong in the second half of the season (6-3) after going through a slow start and learning on the job for a few weeks. What he did is not important now; it's what he's doing now.
Tannehill, on the other hand, looked pretty good. He engineered the team's only touchdown drive of the game, a nine play 70-yard drive that ended with an 11-yard toss to running back Charles Clay. For the night he completed 14 of 21 passes for 167 yards (and the TD). The general perception of his night is that he looked good throwing the ball, wasn't afraid to try and thread the needle in coverage, and was able to put a good touch on the ball at times.
It was just one game, a preseason one at that, and Tannehill was working with backups against backups, but he looked more like a guy that could start rather than one that needs to hold a clipboard. Should head coach Joe Philbin choose to give him a shot Tannehill has a distinct advantage over Moore; offensive coordinator Mike Sherman is his former college coach.
The Future is Now
After the team used a No. 1 pick on him the sign had to be clear to Moore; he (or Garrard) was the QB for right now while Tannehill is the QB of the future. Moore's best option was to win the starter's job this year and use the '12 season as an audition for the rest of the league. It all depends on the approach that the Dolphins want to take.
At first it appeared as if they were going to take the Aaron Rodgers approach; let him sit for at least a year, maybe longer, as he acclimates to the pro game. While that process appears to have worked for Rodgers, what's to say that Rodgers could not have done just as well as a rookie or second year player? Were those wasted years?
True, Brett Favre was in town still, but after sitting for three years he didn't become a starter till he was 25; durability starts to be a concern around the early 30s. Tannehill is already 24; he can't afford to wait three years.
The recent success of first year quarterbacks should be taken into consideration as well. Four of the 12 QBs drafted were intended to be starters. Of those four, three had quality seasons as rookies (Carolina's Cam Newton, Minnesota's Christian Ponder, and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton). This year the bar is not only set higher for those players, but for their teams as well.
It will be interesting to see what the team does when it faces off against the Carolina Panthers on Friday. Should they start Tannehill and he thrives against a weak Panther's defense, Matt Moore's time as QB1 could be coming to an end.