This is the first of multiple posts today, including a live blog tonight, so come back often.
Tonight's preseason-opener for the Dolphins is a time to unveil (sort of because they don't want to show too much) a new coach, a new staff, a new offense and defense, and a new philosophy. But let's not kid ourselves ...
Tonight against Tampa Bay and next week's preseason game at Carolina will be the main deciding factors as to which quarterback will win the starting job. (The Dolphins want a starter settled in by the third preseason game.)
So tonight is mostly about the quarterbacks.
And all four have something to prove, something to worry about, something to hang their hats on. All four have a chance to either improve or hurt their chances. All four will be under the microscope.
Breaking it down for all four:
David Garrard: He's leading the pack right now, but that doesn't mean his lead is insurmountable. Indeed, coach Joe Philbin named him first-string but declined to say he's start the game because the depth chart came out Monday and there practices Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and the coach said if someone had a better week of preparation, that player might start tonight. So while we expect Garrard to start, it is not absolutely certain right now to outsiders such as myself.
Wherever Garrard plays, his performance tonight is important because it can help solidify his status as the favorite to win the job or turn it into a major question. He's got to show that he's knocked the rust off after missing all of last season. He's got to show that he has command of the offense and respect of his teammates. He's got to show he can take a hit after missing last year with a back injury that required surgery.
"Yeah, I’m not even going to lie to you just because I haven’t been hit since then, but I feel great," Garrard said. "I don’t feel any different than before surgery. I should be fine. There shouldn’t be any issues."
Yes, that's what we heard from Daunte Culpepper in the 2006 preseason about his knee. So pardon me if I believe stuff when I see it.
Matt Moore: He's not a happy man right now -- understandably so. He came into this training camp knowing he'd be in a quarterback battle, but also recognized as the leading candidate to win the starting job based on his leadership, the respect he commands in the locker room, and the fact he was the starter at the end of last season. That is mostly gone now.
Moore's play wasn't as good as Garrard's (and I'd even say as good as rookie Ryan Tannehill). That's right. I think Tannehill has been better than Moore. So wasting that initial advantage has Moore frustrated.
"I’m the No. 2 like you said, so I guess it’s frustrating a little bit, but I’m not worried," Moore said. " I’m not overly concerned that it’s going to wreck my performance or wreck my play from here on out. We’re just competing and nothing’s changed in practice at all. I think they had to have a starting point and that’s how they went. That’s how this league works. Not everybody can play.”
I've heard a lot that Moore has struggled in practices because he's more of "a gamer." I've heard he's a lot better when the lights come up and the people are in the stands and the pressure is on. Even Moore has fed into that a bit.
“I think that’s when you need to be at your best and, playing in a game, that’s why you play this game," he said. "You love doing that. You love competing. It is one thing to do it out here, but you really got to step it up on game day. So I’m pumped."
Well, this is his chance to prove that. This thing they're playing tonight is called a game.
Ryan Tannehill: Did you read what I wrote above? I think he's the second-best quarterback in camp right now and the gap between him and Garrard isn't insurmountable that Tannehill cannot win the starting job this preseason.
Now, there are theories out that that state Tannehill is simply being groomed this preseason. That when it is all over, the plan is to have him sit for a while and marinate and get more mature and we'll get back to him later on when he's more ready to play.
That a bunch a hooey.
Coaches haven't decided Tannehill isn't going to start. They don't have some agenda to sit him no matter what. If he is the best QB in camp, he'll start. Coaches feel that way and Tannehill feels that way.
"I’m excited about where I’m at, I guess eight practices in now," Tannehill said. "(I’m) just trying to be the best quarterback that I can be. Obviously, as a competitor, I want to be the guy from Game One. It’s really up to the coaches to decide if they found the best guy for the team. I want the best guy that’s going to be able to lead this team to the most victories this year to be in there obviously. Hopefully, that’s me. I’m doing everything I can to be that guy, but, if not, then I’m just going to try and keep getting better every day."
I believe his improvement has taken him past Moore already although the depth chart says otherwise. Can it take him past Garrard? Tonight's game will help us find out.
Pat Devlin: This kid is smart. He works hard. He has shown himself to be coachable. But ...
He's in a tough spot against either more talented competition or more experienced competition or both. Devlin cannot play himself into the Dolphins starting job, no matter what he does out there against third- and fourth-team players. It is simply not reality.
But he can play himself into a practice squad job. He can play himself perhaps into the coaching staff's confidence to the point where he might be the third quarterback and if one of the two vets are cut or traded.
And, of course, he can play himself into role on another team as I watched some games Thursday night and the backup QB play on some teams is atrocious. So Devlin has high stakes on the table. Not as high as the other three. But high nonetheless.