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Reasons why Tannehill starts tonight

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin wasn't kidding. He said the quarterback competition was open. It is. He said Ryan Tannehill would have a chance to win that competition. He does.

And that's primarily the reason Tannehill gets his opportunity to start tonight against the Carolina Panthers.

Tannehill may not necessarily be better than Matt Moore right now. He may not necessarily be ahead of Moore. But he starts tonight while Moore comes in afterward because the Dolphins coaching staff wants to go into next week's Atlanta game with their starting quarterback decision made.

And the only way to come to that decision is to see if Tannehill can have the same sort of success against starting-caliber competition while leading Miami's starting offense that he had against backup competition last week.

We know that Moore was good but not great in the starting role against Tampa Bay's first-string defense. Now the Miami coaches have to see how Tannehill does against Carolina's first-string defense. Coaches can then have an apples-to-apple comparison of both their starter candidates against first-string defenses.

That's important because Phiblin would like to go into next week week's third preseason tilt with his quarterback decision made.

And that meant Tannehill had to face starting defenders before next week. Put another way, the Dolphins could not have been certain that Tannehill would face starting-caliber competition tonight if Moore started. Philbin has said he does not contact opposing coaches before preseason games to set play-time plans so he couldn't be certain the Panthers would keep their starting defense on the field beyond one series.

It also helps Tannehill that he's been quite good in practices since joining the team and has shown improvement with each passing week. That's the reason I told you Monday not to be surprised to see Tannehill start against Carolina.

And having said all this, we have to take a very long look at this evening.

Remember that Tannehill starting tonight doesn't mean he's won the starting job by any means. So we must survey the landscape after tonight to see what we see.

If Tannehill plays exceedingly well but Moore does not, that will make Tannehill the favorite to open the season as the starter because David Garrard (out probably another two weeks) is out of that starting picture.

If Moore plays out of his mind and Tannehill struggles, then Mooe will be the favorite to be the starter because coaches will likely believe the rookie simply isn't ready yet.

The gray area will be if both Tannehill and Moore play out of their minds. Or both struggle. Then what?

If both deliver similar performances tonight and we're basically all tied up in the quarterback competition going into next week then Philbin may not be able to have his clear-cut starter by the third preseason game as he hoped.

At that point, the two players will continue to be evaluated -- even into the coming game -- until somebody takes the job. This scenario also raises the possibility Garrard gets the opportunity to start the first or second regular-season game because, remember, he was leading this quarterback race when knee surgery sidelined him.