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When is the Time for Tannehill?
By on July 17, 2012 at 1:52 pm

One of the most asked questions of this Dolphins off-season has been one of the most difficult to answer: When will Ryan Tannehill be the Dolphins’ starting quarterback?

It’s a reasonable question. When a team invests the eighth overall pick in a player, fans expect him to play.

And if Miami would have selected a wide receiver or a guard or a linebacker with their first round pick, you can almost be assured that he would be all but penciled in atop the depth chart.

Quarterback, though, is different.

Yes, Andrew Luck (#1) and Robert Griffin III (#2) are the likely starters for Indianapolis and Washington and even Brandon Weeden (#22) is expected to take the reigns in Cleveland, but that doesn’t mean that drafting a quarterback in the first round means he’s automatically your starter.

When the Dolphins last used a first round pick on a quarterback, it took a few regular season games before Dan Marino was put into the starting role, even after David Woodley’s five touchdown/eight interception season in strike-shortened 1982.

Don Shula recently told me about Marino’s transition to starter in 1983, recalling how whenever he put Marino in during late-game situations, he moved the team up and down the field with such efficiency that eventually Shula had no choice but to start him.

If you want more recent examples, in the past five years 13 quarterbacks have been drafted in the first round but just six of them have been their team’s Week 1 starter and of those six, three were number-one overall selections (JaMarcus Russell was also taken #1 overall, but Josh McCown was Oakland’s Week 1 starter in 2007 after Russell’s hold out carried into the regular season).

When you look at the guys who did start right away, one thing becomes clear: they were set up to play right away. What I mean is that they weren’t presented with a huge battle for the starting job. Here are the six guys who started right away and who the other QBs to appear in the preseason were during their rookie seasons:

2011: Cam Newton (Jimmy Clausen, Derek Anderson)

2010: Sam Bradford (Keith Null, AJ Feely, Thaddeus Lewis)

2009: Matthew Stafford (Drew Stanton, Daunte Cullpepper, Brooks Bollinger)

2009: Mark Sanchez (Erick Ainge, Kellen Clemens)

2008: Matt Ryan (Joey Harrington, DJ Shockley, Chris Redman)

2008: Joe Flacco (Kyle Boller, Troy Smith, Casey Bramlett)

Tannehill, who will be competing with the likes of veterans Matt Moore and David Garrard this preseason, doesn’t seem to fit this list. He’s a rookie who is coming in with a heck of a fight in front of him, part of the reason why many fans and media consider him a dark horse in this race.

Tannehill, unlike Sanchez and Flacco and Ryan and Stafford and Bradford and etc., is facing legitimate competition for the starting role.

He is in a situation that much more closely resembles that of a guy like Jake Locker (the eighth pick in last year’s draft) or Christian Ponder orJosh Freeman–all first round picks who did not start Week 1 of their rookies years despite the fact that they heavily factored into the future plans of their respective organizations.

Locker had Matt Hasselbeck in front of him last year in Tennessee, Ponder sat behind an aging Donovan McNabb, who the Vikings thought they could squeeze one more year out of and Freeman initially looked up at Byron Leftwich in Tampa.

Now all that said, Tannehill (like Locker, Ponder and Freeman) is considered the future of his team at the most important position in all of sports. You don’t take a guy eighth overall and not expect him to start eventually.

And so oftentimes this offseason when people have asked me that impossible-to-answer question of “When will Tannehill be the starter?” I’ve simply responded by saying that it’s up to him. When he’s ready, he’ll start.

I ran that theory by general manager Jeff Ireland and here’s what he said:

“I think it is. I think it’s up to Ryan. The coaching staff is going to have something to do it, obviously. They’re going to say, at some point, that this guy’s ready to go. Either he’s going to win it outright, or Matt’s going to win it outright, or David’s going to win it outright. When is Ryan Tannehill going to be ready? When Ryan Tannehill’s ready, he’ll to play. I can tell you one thing: David and Matt are going to have some something to say about that. There’s something to say about pro players. These guys are pros, and they know how to approach the game, they know how to compete and they didn’t get this far in their career with just giving things up. These guys are highly, highly competitive, they’re tough and that’s why they’re here.”

Whether Tannehill starts no games or one game or five games or 16 games for Miami in 2012 is totally up in the air, but the one thing that seems to be clear at this point is that he is considered the inevitable future for Miami. One other thing that’s clear? It should all be a lot of fun to watch.

When do you think it's most likely that Tannehill will make his first regular season start?

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The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
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