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Dolphins' immediate future rough, but they now have QB to build around

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A healthy and productive Reggie Bush should only help Ryan Tannehill's development. (US Presswire)  
A healthy and productive Reggie Bush should only help Ryan Tannehill's development. (US Presswire)  

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- It must be noted that the first game of the Ryan Tannehill era was played on a rain-soaked field at dimly lit Sun Life Stadium before perhaps 25,000 people on a stormy South Florida night (a hurricane watch has been issued in for the area). And it served to show, as much as anything else, how far this Miami Dolphins offense has to go and the steep climb this franchise faces to galvanize this fan base.

Tannehill, the eighth overall pick starting for the first time since being named Miami's Week 1 starter, was erratic Friday in a 23-6 defeat to the Atlanta Falcons. Tannehill failed to make some easy throws but also made things happen with his athleticism while repeatedly being let down by his patently pedestrian supporting cast, often at critical times. When he threw a strike, far too often the ball clanked off a pair of Dolphin hands and fell to the ground, and Miami had no semblance of a vertical game in the two-and-a-half quarters with the rookie quarterback under center.

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"Offensively, let's face it, we didn't have a whole lot of rhythm out there," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said of a night his team mustered 246 total yards, held the ball less than 23 minutes and went 3 for 15 on third down.

Tannehill finished his evening 11 for 27 for 112 yards, an interception and a 40.2 rating. His biggest play was a completion of 25 yards (aided by yards after the catch; the ball was rarely sailing deep in the air), and as would be expected with a novice under center, a lot of work was done on check downs and safe underneath routes.

When Miami did march deep into Atlanta territory the offense bogged down in the red zone -- the lack of playmakers on the roster tends to show up most then. Of his first 17 first-half attempts (prior to Atlanta dropping in a prevent shell for the final drive of the half), only in one sequence did Tannehill complete consecutive throws.

Tannehill connected three straight times at the end of the first quarter on the his best drive, resulting in Miami's only three first-half points.

"It wasn't pretty at all," Philbin said of the performance.

Of course, had starting tight end Anthony Fasano -- never mistaken for an explosive player -- held on to a ball between both his mitts in the end zone, that drive would have resulted in a touchdown. Fasano was not the only repeat culprit, as Legedu Naanee -- the de-facto "No. 1 receiver" after the trade of Brandon Marshall at the draft and with Brian Hartline injured -- couldn't haul in balls he should have grabbed (Davone Bess still has the surest hands of this group).

Other times, as on a simple slant to Naanee, Tannehill delivered well behind the intended target. His lone interception came when Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon made an acrobatic play to leap and tip the ball.

"I've got to be more consistent with my accuracy," Tannehill said. "There were a few throws I'd want back."

There also were times, however, when Tannehill ranged far to his left and flicked the ball perfectly to his fullback, or uncorked a perfect fastball into traffic, or even when he stepped up on a third down and alertly scrambled for 15 yards before sliding into the grass, where you could see the future for the Dolphins.

"I felt comfortable," said Tannehill, who felt like being named starter didn't change his approach. "I felt good out there."

Atlanta starter Matt Ryan, who was crisp again tonight, said of Tannehill: "He's athletic, he's got a strong arm. He certainly looked good for a young guy out there. ... I was impressed."

Tannehill can flat-out do some things that neither of the veterans he was competing with can. That, coupled with his draft pedigree and experience with coordinator Mike Sherman in college was why I long maintained Tannehill would start pretty much right away and end up getting the bulk of regular-season games, health permitting.

If he showed a little somethin', somethin' in the preseason, a little spark, then the Dolphins wouldn't hesitate to turn the club over to him. Throw in the knee scope for David Garrard, the starter during OTAs, and a poor preseason from Matt Moore, last season's starter, and the decision became even easier.

Fact is, no quarterback would prosper here given this assemblage of "skill players," with Miami's collective a bevy of possession guys, much less someone as raw as Tannehill (the mere sight of Atlanta's Julio Jones scampering around wide open, seemingly at will, crystallized the receiving talent imbalance on display here).

When asked if he thought his receivers would start to separate from the pack, Philbin said, "We were hoping." Oh, and Miami's run game remains a work in progress at best, though Reggie Bush did rip off a few nice inside runs.

So Philbin must also be graded on a curve this season -- seeing the talent put together by general manager Jeff Ireland. This looks like a rebuilding team in every sense of the word (the secondary is another area of concern and in a pass-first era, Cameron Wake remains the only true pass rusher). And once you get beyond the nominal starters on offense, characters like Julius Pruitt and Marlon Moore are next up on the depth chart, which can't be particularly comforting to the quarterback or head coach.

Perhaps Miami will find an upgrade or two among the hundreds of players who will be cut elsewhere before the season begins. It seems like a safe enough assumption.

The team will also have to figure out what to do with its backup quarterback situation. Garrard should be back in a few weeks, as expected, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. Moore, who has looked solid for spells with Carolina and the Dolphins, would have more trade value of the two (Arizona could be a candidate in that instance, other general managers have suggested to me).

So it seems to make more sense to keep Garrard, given the youth of the starter, and see what Moore could fetch. The reality is the next few years belong solely to Tannehill now. After striking out on big-name coaches and big-name quarterbacks, Miami will try to develop them both the old fashion way. It could mean more days of empty stadiums and unsightly football ahead, in the near term, but at least now there is a reason to believe that might be changing over time.


Before joining CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora was the Washington Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post for six years and served as NFL Network's insider. The Baltimore native can be seen every Sunday during the season on The NFL Today.
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