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  Tannehill Promotion Risky, but Correct
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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This wasn't the plan.


The plan was for incumbent and team MVP Matt Moore and the newly signed David Garrard to compete for the starting quarterback job. Rookie Ryan Tannehill would sit most, if not all, of the season.


The plan was for Tannehill to learn, to watch film, ask questions, and therefore come to understand the advanced nuances of NFL defenses.


The plan wasn’t for Tannehill to be thrown to the wolves with only 19 college starts and a couple of NFL preseason games under his belt. But alas, as the Scottish bard Robert Burns reminds, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”.


This is what happened when Garrard suffered a freak knee injury and a maxed out Moore failed to demonstrate that he is measurably better than the promising Tannehill.


In other words, this is a good problem for the Dolphins. If Tannehill was flat out lost, Moore would be the starter on opening day.


So it stands to reason that head coach Joe Philbin made the right call in naming Tannehill as his starter for the 2012 season. Maybe it would have been better for him to wait another week, to see how Tannehill stood up to a good defense like Atlanta with respective game plans in place. But clearly Philbin felt he had seen enough to make the call now, a decision he believes is in the team’s best interest.


But let’s not be under any illusions that Tannehill is as ready for this as he should be. He isn’t. Not with such little experience under his belt. But this decision is as much about his upside as it is about the failure of the veterans to convince Philbin of a better course of action.


It's easy to imagine how opposing NFL defensive coordinators will respond to this. They’ll see a raw rookie, fresh meat, ripe for a heavy blitz, confusing coverages and forced errors. They know nothing erodes a rookie’s confidence more than this noxious combination.


So Tannehill will need help from his mates, much as a young rookie named Dan Marino needed it when he got the nod from Don Shula in his rookie season.

Whereas Marino was in an ideal situation, Tannehill is not.


Marino had a solid veteran back up in Don Strock who was willing to mentor him. He had a good veteran line in front him that could protect him and generate a decent running game. Guys like Dwight Stephenson, Jon Giesler, Bob Kuechenberg and Ed Newman took a lot of pressure off Marino and allowed that precious added click or two that all rookies use to make decisions.


Marino also had a talented backfield to work with, led by Tony Nathan and fullback Woody Bennett. They knew their jobs better than Marino did, and were very capable in pass protection; this helped Marino focus more on his own responsibilities.


Marino benefitted good, dependable receivers…guys like Nat Moore, Jimmy Cefalo, Mark Duper, and, later, Mark Clayton were of immense value to Marino’s early development. They knew how to run routes and read coverages as well as anyone in the league, and could be depended on to be at the right place at the right time. In some cases, Marino could count on a respected veteran like Moore to even correct a play call in the huddle if he got it wrong.


Needless to say, Tannehill doesn’t enjoy the same supporting cast Marino did, which will make his ascension more challenging and more risky.


Today’s offensive line is solid on the left side with perennial Pro Bowl LT Jake Long, probably the premier lineman in the game. LG Richie Incognito is the team’s best guard, while first team all-rookie C Mike Pouncey gives Tannehill confidence that the line calls will be right. But the right side of the line is still in transition, with RG a revolving door and a rookie manning the RT position. Can they protect Tannehill in this pass first offense, and give him the time he needs to make good decisions and throws?


RB Reggie Bush is a blessing, as are TE Anthony Fasano and H-back Charles Clay. Tannehill will lean heavily on them. But what about his thin receiver corps? Aside from the ever dependable Davone Bess, the Dolphins have a collection of reserve type talents that have been fairly inconsistent thus far. And there’s no veteran like Nat Moore to turn to.


It’s a big problem, and GM Jeff Ireland knows it.


"I'm evaluating the receivers very closely,'' said Ireland. "I like this group ... We've got 4s, 5s and 6s. What we need is 3s, 2s and 1s, We've got to find out if we have any of those guys."


It says here that they don’t, currently, which could mean big trouble for a rookie like Tannehill when he’s under pressure and needs an open man.


The biggest concern, however, could be a Strock-like veteran for him to lean on. Who is that guy? Garrard? Moore? Do one of these two vets get traded or released now that Tannehill has been elevated?


The good thing for Tannehill is that his college coach, Mike Sherman, will be with him every step of the way. Theirs is a comfortable relationship, one of mutual respect and confidence. Remember, Tannehill wouldn’t be in Miami if Sherman wasn’t a believer.


Suddenly, unexpectedly, the future is now for the Miami Dolphins. Philbin and Sherman think he is talented, smart, and tough enough to make this work. Respected alumni like Hall of Fame QB Bob Griese believe he is “the real deal”. At the end of the day, however, Tannehill has to be the one who steps up and validates the faith that’s been placed in him.

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