With all the talk about when the time will be right for Ryan Tannehill to take the reigns of the Dolphins offense, I think it could be helpful to look at another team that was recently in a similar situation. A very similar situation.
In 2011, the Tennessee Titans introduced a first-time head coach (Mike Munchak), drafted a quarterback #8 overall (Jake Locker) and brought in a veteran QB (Matt Hasselbeck) in free agency.
In 2012, the Dolphins introduced a first-time head coach (Joe Philbin), drafted a quarterback #8 overall (Tannehill) and brought in a veteran QB (David Garrard) in free agency.
There are, of course, a couple of key differences: Garrard was signed to a one-year deal before the draft and Hasselbeck signed a three-year contract in July (the lockout was in place). There’s also Matt Moore, a second capable veteran on the Dolphins roster, who could stand between Tannehill and the top spot on the depth chart (former FAU starter Rusty Smith was the third QB for Tennessee.)
That said, the similarities really are striking and so I decided to look back at last year’s Titans and ahead to this year’s team to see if there were any hints as to what may lie ahead for Miami.
2011 Titants/2012 Dolphins:
Unsurprisingly, Hasselbeck won the starting QB job in Tennessee last year and went on to start all 16 games, relegating Locker to a back-up role. Over the course of the season, Locker appeared in five games, attempting 66 passes.
For some context of those appearances, I turned to beat reporter Jim Wyatt, who covers the team for The Tennesseean and he told me that Locker had some late game/blowout type appearances. But he also a couple of significant moments on the field that came when Hasselbeck suffered a pair of injuries: in Week 11 he almost led the Titans back against Atlanta, throwing a couple of late touchdowns and in Week 14, vs. New Orleans, he nearly pulled off the same trick, but took an ill-advised sack at the Saints’ five yard line that allowed the clock to expire.
As you’d expect, it was a mixed bag for the rookie who was coming in off the bench.
2012 Titans/2013 Dolphins:
Despite the fact that Locker is coming into year two, it seems that this is still Hasselbeck’s job to lose. Wyatt told me that the sophomore will certainly push the veteran but that the pressure to start him Week 1 is nowhere near what it would have been had he received $30 or $40 million in guaranteed salary, which would have been the case prior to the most recent CBA.
This is perhaps one of the big differences between Tennessee’s situation and Miami’s. Even if Tannehill goes through all of 2012 without a start, I would imagine that he’ll be the odds-on favorite to be under center in Week 1 of 2013. Part of that, of course, is the contract situation: Hasselbeck has two years left on his deal and both Garrard and Moore are set to be free agents after this season.
There’s obviously no way to predict how 2012 and beyond will go for Tannehill and the Dolphins, but perhaps there are some things to glean from a Tennessee team that went 9-7 last year.
Part of why Tennessee never turned to Locker, of course, is that they were getting solid QB play from Hasselbeck and were in the playoff hunt all the way down to the wire. If the Dolphins’ season doesn’t go as smoothly as planned or if Tannehill shows a readiness that Locker could not last year, or if the injury bug hits the QB room, he may start some games. Whatever happens (or doesn’t), though, this is a team that will not be short of quarterback conversation over the course of the next 25 months.
You can follow Jesse on Twitter @finsjesse
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