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Tannehill, starting defense should sit Thursday night

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin declined to say this week whether his starters would play in Thursday's preseason-finale against New Orleans at Sun Life Stadium. Throughout the preseason Philbin has deftly avoided telling his plans for using players in the preseason by saying he won't "finalize" the plans until the day before the game -- which is always coincidently a day he doesn't have any media obligations outside the television broadcasters.

So don't ask me if quarterback Ryan Tannehill is playing in Thursday night's game and, if so, how much.

Don't ask if Cameron Wake is going to play and, if so, how much.

You may, however, ask whether Tannehill and Wake and those folks should play.

Here's my answer: NO WAY!

Here's my other answer: What for?

Here's my third answer: Are you nuts?

Here's my fourth answer: I would play some starters but not others.

I would not play Tannehill. I would not play Mike Wallace. I would not play Brian Hartline. I would not play Brandon Gibson.

That group has had a good enough camp and plenty of time to work in controlled practice conditions that they don't need to be exposed to a freak injury in a meaningless final preseason game 10 days prior to the start of the season.

In four preseason games, Tannehill has completed 34 of 56 passes (60.7 percent) for 377 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. That's an outstanding preseason and it shows significant progress from last preseason when he completed 41 of 78 passes (52.6 percent) for 414 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Personally, I've seen all I need to see from Tannehill this preseason. He's good. There is no issue he needs to solve that can be solved Thursday night. He and his receivers can use some more time together but that's precisely the reason you don't play any of them.

The truth is even a minor injury to one of the receivers, such as a groin pull or tweaking the hamstring or a calf injury, could set the program back as it will certainly cost practice snaps and possibly affect availability for the opener. Why risk that?

And if Tannehill gets injured, how would that feel? The fact is every other AFC East team has had quarterback injuries or at least a quarterback injury scare this preseason. The Dolphins are the only team immune so far.

The Jets had Geno Smith injure his ankle and Mark Sanchez is still day-to-day with a bruised shoulder. The Bills lost Kevin Kolb to a concussion and E.J. Manuel had to have minor knee surgery. Even all of New England held its collective breath for one evening this preseason when Tom Brady got his knee rolled into during a dual practice with Tampa Bay.

So it makes zero sense for the Dolphins to risk adding Tannehill to that list for the mere benefit of playing, at most, a series against New Orleans. The risk far outweighs the reward.

Now, those rules don't apply to other starters, in my opinion.

I would, for example, play the starting offensive line as a unit. They need the work together as John Jerry has been there only two weeks and one preseason series. It would be good to get him another series or two with his starting mates.

It also is necessary because if you're not playing Tannehill, you're going with Matt Moore and I wouldn't want to increase Moore's chances of getting injured in the meaningless preseason finale while playing behind reserve linemen.

The fact is Moore is also very valuable (I refer you to the 2012 game at New York) and I want him whole for the start of the season. Moore has taken enough punishment already behind mostly reserve linemen, taking some vicious hits and getting sacked a team-high six times this preseason. I'd start him and play him behind the starting offensive line.

By the way, Moore hasn't had a good preseason. He's only completed 55 percent of his passes, has thrown more interceptions (2) than TDs (1) and his passer rating is 64.2. So he could use the work and the confidence boost against the Saints' turnstile defense.

So starting Moore behind the staring offensive line makes sense on every level.

It also makes sense for Moore to throw to the young corps of tight ends, who need work very badly, and the reserve receivers, who are playing for a roster spot.

I also do not use either Lamar Miller or Daniel Thomas. Yes, it can be argued both need more work. But if that's the argument, I would say that reflects on the coaching because the Dolphins have already played four preseason games and you shouldn't be still searching for answers to a starting running back competition in the fifth preseason game only 10 days before the regular season.

If Miller and Thomas need more work, they should have gotten more carries earlier in the preseason.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins are looking for a No. 3 running back. Both Mike Gillislee and Jonas Gray are still on the team. Have at it, boys.

On defense, I don't play my starters. I sit all of them. I'm good.

Night off.

Everyone knows the Dolphins defense has been good for years under multiple defensive coordinators and this year should be no different. The unit has had a very good preseason. There is nothing to prove.

Let the backups who are still fighting for roster spots get their fill of snaps this game. It would give the coaching staff more evidence on which to make their final roster decisions. And if an unfortunate injury happens, you are dealing with a reserve player instead of a key starter.

Another reason it makes no sense to use the starting defense? They wouldn't be much tested anyway. You see, quarterback Drew Brees is not going to play for the Saints Thursday night.

Coach Sean Payton, who led the team to the Super Bowl XLIV championship, made that announcement days ago.

 

 

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