|National Football League|
Fates of new Dolphins coach and rookie QB linked
By STEVEN WINE
DAVIE, Fla. (AP) Even before his first game as a head coach, Joe Philbin is part of a trend.
By starting Miami Dolphins rookie Ryan Tannehill in Sunday's season opener, Philbin is trying to build a winning foundation around a young quarterback, and he's hardly the only coach to do so.
Ten starting quarterbacks this week have been in the NFL a year or less, which is a record to start a season. Tannehill is one of five rookie starters at QB.
So why are young passers so in vogue?
"Maybe a coach feels he wants to set the table for the future and establish a long-term player at that vital position," Philbin said. "With the length of the contracts - coaches and players - it's an instant-gratification league and there's not a lot of patience, whether it's player development or coaching development."
Patience, like success, has been rare around the Dolphins in recent years. Philbin is the team's seventh coach in the past eight years, the most in the NFL during that span, according to STATS LLC. Tannehill will be the Dolphins' 17th starting quarterback since 2000, another league high.
Beginning Sunday when Miami opens the season at Houston, the fates of Philbin and Tannehill will be intertwined. If the young quarterback blossoms quickly, the Dolphins might exceed expectations and end a streak of three consecutive losing seasons.
And if Tannehill's a bust, the revolving doors attached to the quarterback and coaching jobs might continue to spin.
Tannehill wore a Dolphins T-shirt Wednesday that read "1966," the first year of the franchise. But when asked about the team's more recent, mostly miserable history at his position, he shrugged off the subject.
"I don't think about the past," he said. "I just try to take care of what I can control here and now."
The Dolphins have reason to believe their first-round draft pick will do that well. He joined the Dolphins after making only 19 career starts at quarterback for Texas A&M, but during training camp he showed a strong arm, mobility, poise and leadership.
Texans coach Gary Kubiak was familiar with Tannehill in college and studied his exhibition-season play closely in preparation for Sunday.
"He's going to be a great player," Kubiak said. "There's no doubt in my mind you're talking about a franchise player. He's smart, great ability, moves around. That's what everybody's looking for in this league. I'm not surprised he's were he's at and he's getting the opportunity to start on opening day. I thought that he was heading in that direction coming out of college."
Tannehill beat out holdover starter Matt Moore for the No. 1 job. Philbin said he promoted the rookie in part because of the way he processes his mistakes even as he trots to the bench after a bad play.
"When he comes off to the side, he has a pretty good understanding of what he just saw and why he may have done something," Philbin said. "He may not always be right in terms of his decisions, but the thing that gives us confidence in a young quarterback with limited starts as a college player is that he's an aware player.
"He's jogging off saying, `Yeah, coach, they were playing one high man and that safety came down and was trying to rob No. 2, so I should have probably thrown the ball outside to No. 1.' His brain is working maybe ahead of yours. We like the way he thinks, because it's a complicated game to a certain degree. We're excited to see what he's capable of doing."
During training camp, Tannehill occasionally came across as a raw rookie not ready for the NFL spotlight. When pressed by amused teammates, he couldn't even name the other teams in the Dolphins' division.
But he was a hit at a team meeting with his melodious rendition of a Bill Withers tune. "Lean on me," Tannehill sang. And that's exactly what Philbin plans to do.
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Updated September 6, 2012