Joe Philbin has just made the most important decision thus far in his short tenure with the Miami Dolphins. Ryan Tannehill now gets his chance to prove that his new head coach made the right choice.
In his first appearance since being named Miami's starting quarterback, Tannehill will lead the Dolphins into battle for Friday's preseason skirmish with the Atlanta Falcons from Sun Life Stadium. The promising rookie came out on top of a three-man competition with veterans Matt Moore and David Garrard after acquitting himself well in the team's first two exhibition games, and officially won the job after outperforming Moore in last week's 23-17 loss at Carolina.
Tannehill wasn't stellar in his first NFL start, with the first-round selection completing just 11-of-23 passes for 100 yards and taking three sacks, but didn't turn the ball over while playing the entire first half and was more impressive than Moore, a 12-game starter for the Dolphins a year ago. The former Panther connected on an off-target 5-of-15 throws for 57 yards on the night.
Garrard had already essentially eliminated himself from consideration after the injury-prone 34-year-old underwent arthroscopic knee surgery at the onset of the preseason.
Through the first two weeks, Tannehill has amassed 267 yards on 25-of-48 passing with one touchdown and no interceptions.
"He's making good decisions, and that's the most important thing a quarterback has to have," said Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. "I think he's very much acclimated himself to the speed of the game at this point, and I don't think that's an issue."
Tannehill should have a challenge on his hands this week from an Atlanta defense now being directed by Mike Nolan, who had spent the previous two seasons as the Dolphins' defensive coordinator. Nolan's unit did allow a pair of long touchdown drives in the Falcons' most recent outing, though, a 24-19 setback to Cincinnati at the Georgia Dome.
While Atlanta's defense had a so-so showing, quarterback Matt Ryan continued his sizzling start to this preseason. The fifth-year pro was a razor-sharp 18- of-21 for 174 yards and a touchdown before giving way to backup Chris Redman late in the first half.
Ryan also shined in the Falcons' 31-17 defeat to Baltimore in the preseason opener, making good on 9-of-13 attempts for 155 yards with one touchdown and an interception. Wide receiver Julio Jones has stood out as well, with the physically gifted second-year target having racked up 150 yards on nine grabs in Atlanta's two games.
The Falcons will be attempting to halt a seven-game losing streak in preseason play, which includes a 28-23 ousting by the Dolphins at the Georgia Dome last summer. They'll also be doing so without the services of running back Jason Snelling (lower leg), defensive tackle Corey Peters (foot) and offensive swing tackle Will Svitek, out for the entire 2012 campaign after suffering an upper arm injury that will require surgery in Sunday's practice.
Atlanta is expected to get Akeem Dent back on defense after the projected starting middle linebacker was held out against the Bengals with a concussion.
Miami's stop unit should have its top pass rusher back in action after defensive end Cameron Wake returned to practice this week. The converted outside linebacker missed the Carolina game while recovering from injuries sustained in a minor car accident. Linebacker Kevin Burnett is also slated to return after being sidelined with a back issue the last two weeks.
Middle linebacker Karlos Dansby (knee) and wide receiver Brian Hartline (calf) will likely stay on the Dolphins' inactive list for Friday's clash, however.
Atlanta, which has prevailed in six of the 11 all-time preseason bouts between these teams, last won an exhibition game with a 16-6 decision over the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium in 2010.