One decade has dramatically changed Garrard’s football identity – with the state of Florida holding all of his cards.
At the age of 34, Garrard is hoping to resurrect his career as a quarterback for the Miami Dolphins and repay them for taking a chance on him in free agency when nobody else would. He took a big step during this week’s three-day minicamp, which came to an end today.
Head Coach Joe Philbin has made it clear that it will be an open and fair competition among Garrard, last year’s MVP
“All of these guys have accepted me and made me feel welcome. I am very comfortable here,” said Garrard, who made the Pro Bowl with Jacksonville in 2009. “I am just doing everything I can to make myself the best quarterback out here as best I can, but then also help all of my other teammates and Matt and Ryan be better players for themselves, too. I just always stress being a teammate first. That’s the most important thing. I think the cream will rise to the top and the best guy will play. That’s just how you’ve got to take it.”
Garrard played his high school football near Duke University in the city of Durham and his college football at East Carolina in Greensboro, but it was the other expansion team that joined the National Football League in 1995 with the Carolina Panthers that gave him his start. He was the backup and understudy to Byron Leftwich for most of his first four seasons in the league, but when a Leftwich injury opened the door for him in 2006 and he never looked back.
The 2007 season was Garrard’s coming out party as he led the Jaguars into the playoffs and to an upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Wild Card round. His three interceptions in the regular season tied an NFL record for the fewest by a starter and he had a 102.1 passer rating, securing his job for the next three seasons. A back injury kept him out all of last season and just when it looked like his career might be over, Garrard was allowed to stay close to home thanks to the Dolphins.
“I think it’s great. My family didn’t have to move far and I didn’t have to move far,” Garrard said. “Just being the older guy on the whole team pretty much, it gives me a great advantage with all of the guys because everybody is looking for that little nugget to be better.”
That leadership and desire to establish himself as the go-to veteran on the team is something that Philbin has been impressed with as much as he has with Garrard’s throwing ability. This is a young team, especially on offense, and Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman can use all of the on-field help they can get while teaching the system.
So while other critics around the league questioned Miami’s decision to bring Garrard onboard, all Philbin has to do is look back at Garrard’s initial visit with the team and subsequent audition to remind him why it was a good move.
“I think he is doing well. I tell you, he is impressive,” said Philbin, who worked with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. “When I walked over to the bubble the day that he came to work out, I saw he has got some charisma. He has got some leadership ability. He looks you in the eye, shakes your hand and you feel good about the guy. He still has got a very strong arm, he can still move well and I think that he is picking up the system relatively well. I like what he has done so far.”
And Garrard clearly is embracing that leadership role, not just on the offense but for the entire team.
“Everybody’s looking for that knowledge to improve their game,” Garrard said. “Whether that’s the defensive back asking me questions about ‘what did you think on that play, why wasn’t I able to make a play on that?’ and it’s for this reason, it’s things like that maybe younger quarterbacks or a younger player isn’t able to do. They haven’t had the reps in games, throughout all of the different practices and training camps to be able to give that kind of knowledge."
TANNEHILL THRIVES UNDER MICROSCOPE: As he promised on the first day of this minicamp, Philbin gave Tannehill his shot with the projected first-team offense today and the rookie more than held his own.
Tannehill excelled on the play-action fake by hiding the ball very well and he also made some keen adjustments at the line of scrimmage. He did have a few mistakes, including an interception, but overall he got what he hoped for out of the much-anticipated experience.
“That was the first day that I really got to get in for an extended period of time with the 1s,” said Tannehill, who became the first Dolphins quarterback taken in the first round since Hall-of-Famer Dan Marino in 1983. “I felt like the more the day went on the more comfortable I felt and the more I moved the ball.”
With the likes of four-time Pro Bowl left tackle
Philbin got to see his rookie connect on some long balls and on some tight passes over the middle. There are lot of tough throws a quarterback is asked to make and Tannehill is getting there.
“I thought he threw a couple of real nice balls and there was one specifically where he hit a vertical ball down the middle of the field and had real good location and velocity on it,” Philbin said. “I though he made a couple of good adjustments in the protection in terms of recognition of the pressure, what direction it was coming from and getting the line and the backs squared away in terms of identification. I thought there were a lot of good things.
“Obviously there were some things of concern, like we can’t throw an interception in the two-minute drill and we’ve got to have better awareness on some of that and the route running as well. I thought there was a little bit too much double catching out there and I didn’t think our awareness in the passing game from an offensive standpoint was very good.”
These next five weeks before the start of training camp will be critical for Tannehill and the other rookies as far as making the necessary corrections, but he got some valuable experience.