Andy Cohen: A Close Look At The QB Battle

Posted May 9, 2012

The bottom line on the most important position in football, maybe even in all of sports: The Miami Dolphins are deeper at quarterback than they have been in a long, long time. Three deep. Three interesting storylines. Three players who each, at this very early juncture, can make a clear-cut argument for starting in Houston on Sept. 9th.

I am hard-pressed to think of the last time the Dolphins have had three quarterbacks, all with legitimate starting shots, all with a pedigree that shouts they deserve a chance.

Coach Joe Philbin has made it clear. This is a wide-open competition. There is no early favorite, no pre-conceived plan. The best man will win, regardless of age or experience. Can you really ask for any more than that?

Three intriguing options.

You’ve got the returning starter in Matt Moore who showed so much over the final nine games of last season despite no offseason program and a very limited training camp. How can you not give him a real shot?

You’ve got free agent veteran David Garrard, who sat out last season while recuperating from a bad back, but who has put together a canvas of impressive seasons, impressive performances, over the years. How can you not consider Garrard a viable alternative?

You’ve got the highly-publicized rookie, Ryan Tannehill, who was taken eighth overall in the recent NFL draft and who is dripping with enormous potential and raw athletic ability and who knows the system, at least right now, better than any of the others. How can you not take him seriously?

One of these three will show over the next four months that they deserve Philbin’s unwavering trust. The unanswerable question at this precise moment: Which one?

There are a lot of noteworthy storylines on this football team as offseason practices progress. How will the offensive line come together? Which young players will step forward at a receiver position void of star power? Who is going to be the pass rusher to complement Cameron Wake? What is this football team going to really look like with a new head coach and two new coordinators?

All legitimate. All worth following with high-powered binoculars. And the answers to some of those offensive questions will  help determine how much the Dolphins improve at the QB position, no matter who is the starter.

But none of those questions can come close to the most important question of all: Who will line up behind center on opening day?

It’s impossible to predict at this early juncture.

On one hand, Matt Moore is an easy answer because he finished last season there and he did put up Chad Pennington type numbers over a nice nine-game stretch that saw the Dolphins win six games. Moore is in the prime of his career. He has a chance, under a quarterback-savvy coach like Philbin, to take his game to another level. Those in the know say don’t discount Matt Moore. He is confident. He is poised. He is smart.

What does he need to do? He needs to make better decisions. He needs to show consistency. He needs to rid himself of one or two poor throws a game. He needs to learn and understand this new offense. Those are the challenges he now faces.

Then there’s Garrard. The old man of the group at 34. So proficient for Jacksonville for so many years. Threw for over 16,000 yards and 89 touchdowns. Started 76 games. You look at his numbers, his quarterback ratings, some big victories he helped engineer, and it is clear he should be taken seriously. A back injury kept him out of football last season, kept him from signing with the Dolphins. But now he is healthy and eager to make a difference once again.

What does he need to do? Garrard needs to first prove that the back problems will not return. Like Moore, he needs to learn this new offense. Like Moore, he needs to show consistency. Garrard clearly has the ability to be a first-rate starting quarterback simply because he has shown he can do it. Now, he must show it again.

Finally, there’s Tannehill. The prize catch. The former receiver. The confident  kid with all the tools you need. There are those who believe that there is no way Tannehill will start as a rookie, that he needs time to mature and to get a real feel for the speed of the pro game. I believe those skeptics are fooling themselves. I believe exactly what Philbin is saying, that if Tannehill shows over these next four months that he deserves to start, then the job will be his. The fact that he already knows the offense, or at least most of it, is something that can’t be ignored.

What does he need to do? Show that the game isn’t too big for him. Cut down on the type of mistakes that usually haunt rookie quarterbacks. Gain the confidence of his teammates. Display an ability to hit on every throw, not just the ones in his comfort zone. Use his athletic skills to separate himself from Moore and Garrard. A tough task? Sure. But not an insurmountable one.

Undrafted second-year player Pat Devlin is the fourth quarterback in the mix. He’ll get his shot in training camp. He just doesn’t come with the credentials of the other three.

Moore. Garrard. Tannehill. How will it play out? Which of those three will do enough to convince Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman that he deserves the first shot? Important questions. Franchise-defining questions. But this isn’t the time of year for answers. There is a constant evaluation that has already begun and will continue through training camp and the preseason schedule.

The importance of this competition can not be overstated. But at least now it is comforting to know that, after so much instability at this position for so many years, that the Dolphins appear to have an excellent combination of depth and talent.

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