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  Time to Move Forward with Feeley
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Time to Move Forward with Feeley

by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

It's too bad that there are no mulligans in the NFL.

Not that Sunday's dismal Dolphin result would have been any different. But it sure could have started out on the right foot....and arm.

A.J. Feeley's.

Give Dave Wannstedt credit. No, not for starting Jay Fiedler. Give him credit for having the awareness to recognize that a quarterback change was needed at halftime.

Now Wannstedt needs to make the change permanent.

Starting the second half of Saturday's game against the Titans, Feeley did a solid job of moving the offense with high percentage passes and the occasional middle third poke. He even involved the tight end, a dimension that had been lacking in the past.

The way Feeley was spreading the ball around, it was easy to see that fullback Rob Konrad was the most missed Dolphin player from Saturday's contest. For sure, the Dolphins could have really used his skills in the hook zones and flats to complement Feeley's efforts.

Perhaps most impressively, Feeley moved the ball club with a still unsettled offensive line in front of him, a revolving door of offensive backs behind him, and a starting receiver beside him who has worn the team colors for not quite a month yet.

Yeah, Feeley threw a pick that Titan Lamont Thompson promptly returned for a 37-yard touchdown. Feeley tried to make something happen when he should have just "thrown it in the dirt", as Wannstedt reflected afterwards. But it was an aggressive mistake, forced by an unencumbered blitzing linebacker. It was an understandable mistake for a young but promising QB to make.

Let's be honest; it could have been worse. A lot worse. But to their credit, dysfunctional offense and all, the Dolphins actually had their chances to win.

Really, most of the damage done on the scoreboard was self-inflicted and correctable. The rest was a testament to how well the Dolphin defense played.

Ten points versus Steve McNair, a top 3 QB in this league? That's a pretty good stuffing by anyone's yardstick.

But what about the offense?

First and foremost, people will have to be patient with the offensive line as they come together. The fear was that they would not be ready for Tennessee's defense.

They weren't. They may not be for a while yet.

Dumb penalties sure don't help. The Dolphins had a record-tying share of those (14).

What would help is moving forward at QB as continuity on offense starts there.

Look, I like Jay Fiedler. I want my QB to be mentally tough and to play tough. I want a guy who will never quit, who will always put the team first. I want my QB to be a quality person who will represent my team with class at all times.

(Quick, someone send the above paragraph to Ricky Williams.)

But here's the hard truth: Fiedler has had 4+ years to display his wares and to improve. The results have been mixed.

This year, Fiedler had an almost unfair advantage in camp; he had knowledge and experience in the current offensive system whereas Feeley did not. Despite this advantage, Fiedler wasn't able to demonstrate that he was clearly better than Feeley.

Yes, there's Fiedler's winning record as a starter, a testimonial to Fiedler (and, in all fairness, his teammates). But when one looks more closely one sees Saturday's first half outing for what it was, another consistent "inconsistency" in Fiedler's career.

At age 32, Fiedler is what he is. Realistically, he will not improve. He will not improve the Dolphins beyond what they are today.

Feeley gives the Dolphins a chance to get better. He has more developmental upside, an upside that GM Rick Spielman likens to Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck.

Right now, a Matt Hasselbeck would suit the Dolphins just fine.

It also matters that Feeley has a better arm than Fiedler and can threaten the deep third of the field with meaning, a dimension that the Dolphins have been sorely lacking since Dan Marino dazzled us.

Now keep in mind that Feeley has started just 13 games since high school (8 at Oregon, 5 with the Philadelphia Eagles). Clearly, what he needs right now more than anything else is maximum playing time.

He needs to get comfortable with executing the playbook and working with his teammates. He needs more experience reading and reacting to defenses under game conditions.

He needs actual on-the-job experience. He needs to get as many snaps as possible.

Maximizing snaps was an important part of the successful formula that Don Shula used when breaking in a new QB, be it David Woodley or Dan Marino.

Wannstedt should do the same to position Feeley for success.

Another thing Wannstedt should do is stop the "this week" view of who starts at QB. History has shown time and time again that QB swapping rarely works. It's unsettling for the team and it will stifle Feeley's development.

Besides, an NFL season is more of a marathon than a "this week" sprint. Wannstedt needs to approach the season in more of a "big picture" way.

And, finally, Wannstedt needs to be more objective about the state of the Dolphin offense and manage it for what it truly is: a rebuilding project.

Only THREE players that started on offense last Saturday were in the same capacity and positions last year. After a pathetic first half of quarterbacking, Wannstedt winnowed that number down to two.

Rebuilding projects on offense generally start with the QB. Wannstedt made the right call last Saturday by bringing in Feeley. Now he needs to build on that decision by staying with Feeley and allowing the investment the Dolphins made in him as the QB of the future to pay off.

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