QB Ryan TannehillAs the preseason reaches the halfway point, two winners have emerged from this year’s trio of quarterback competitions (Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson will try to wrest the job away from Matt Flynn against the Chiefs on Friday).

Although the battlefields may have been tilted towards the coaching staff’s desired outcome, the Dolphins have named rookie QB Ryan Tannehill as their starter for the season, while second-year signal caller Jake Locker has emerged victorious over Matt Hasselbeck for the Titans’ job.

Both QBs have distinct advantages that they can harness – Locker with a strong arm and mobility suited for the vertical Run-and-Shoot-inspired passing game ran by offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, and Tannehill with his firm grasp of Mike Sherman’s offense and the complicated verbiage associated with a West Coast offense.

Dave, with the Titans facing a number of daunting defensive units this season, and the Dolphins wide receiver corps lead by Roberto “Ankle Weights” Wallace, do you think that this pair of quarterbacks can elevate their teams to playoff contention?  And if either Locker or Tannehill gets off to a slow start, will they get the hook or will their coaches show the confidence to stick with their young guys?

Dave’s Response

To answer that last questions Shawn, Locker and Tannehill will be set back years if the coaches had to give them a hook this year. That’s why it is so important not to start a quarterback before he is ready. Like in anything, confidence is as important as the skill set.

Head coach Joe Philbin made a statement by making Tannehill the starting quarterback earlier this week. The Dolphins already made a statement when picking Tannehill 8th overall: this is our quarterback of the future. Philbin giving Tannehill the starting nod says, the future starts now.

So, it seems highly unlikely Tannehill would get pulled during the season anyway especially when the Dolphins, realistically, won’t be fighting for a playoff spot. If Tannehill struggles, sure, Matt Moore or David Garrard could come in and win a few games, but what’s the difference between a four win and six or seven win season?

The Titans, on the other hand, could be in the playoff hunt in the AFC. Tennessee finished 9-7 last year and barely missed the playoffs. They certainly would like to get back there for the first time since 2008.

Locker could very well make a difference if he becomes the starter. The Titans should at least be in playoff contention, but that expectation makes head coach Mike Munchak’s decision even harder. If Locker can’t do it this year, does he go with savvy veteran Matt Hasselbeck one more time?

Shawn’s Conclusion

QB Jake LockerI agree, Dave, that the confidence factor is just as important as experience. If a quarterback is not put in a position to succeed, then that is a poor decision by the coaching staff and detrimental to the future of both the player and the coach with their franchise.

First of all, I will lead off with Locker because he has already shown that he can hang with the big boys in limited time last season. While he still needs work on his touch throws, he can gun it into tight spaces and plays with a fearless confidence that is exhibited by the best gunslingers.

With Locker in the saddle, Palmer can spread out the defense and open running lanes for Chris Johnson, helping him to get back on track after an abysmal 2011.

Opposing defenses have to play two safeties over the top in deference to Locker’s strong arm, while against Hasselbeck the teams could play a flat zone: stacking the box to stop Johnson while daring Hasselbeck to take the top off their defense.

While Hasselbeck started in the first preseason game, Johnson could not find a hole to fit through and was often hit before he could even get going. At the same time, the second team with Locker created big lanes for Darius Reynaud.

In Locker’s first start in preseason Week 2, Johnson ran for a pair of 14-yard scores, and, if I squinted closely, I could see the vintage CJ2K toting the ball. Emerging power back Jamie Harper can also take the pressure of both Johnson and Locker by excelling in goal-line and short-yardage situations.

With rookie wide receiver Kendall Wright picking up the pro game more quickly than expected, the continued emergence of tight end Jared Cook and the eventual return of Kenny Britt, the Titans and Munchack should feel comfortable giving the reins to Locker. Sure, he’s going to throw an ugly interception occasionally, but some guy named Favre used to do that, too.

Conversely, Philbin naming Tannehill his starting quarterback on Tuesday might be as much of a result of Garrard’s knee injury as it was Tannehill’s play. While Garrard looked competent with the roll-outs, anticipation and accuracy required in Miami’s offense, Moore does not have the athleticism or ability to throw receivers open needed for a West Coast scheme. As a hold-over from the Sparano regime, he has had his best success in a run-first, downfield attack like he ran under Sparano or John Fox in Carolina.

Tannehill has made his rookie mistakes while running the first-team offense against Carolina in Week 2 of the preseason, but his firm grasp of the offense showed and allowed the unit to dictate a fast tempo to keep the defense on their heels, much like Philbin did in Green Bay.

He does have a motley crew of receivers, but Tannehill was able to deal with the lack of separation by anticipating holes in coverage and guiding his receivers into those holes with his ball location. As a former wide receiver, Tannehill has the insight to help elevate the play of this group. He will need to.

Luckily for Tannehill, he will share the backfield with running back Reggie Bush, fresh off a career-rejuvenating year last season, and two backs with experience in the Dolphins’ new zone blocking scheme: Steve Slaton and blazing-fast dual-threat rookie Lamar Miller.

It would seem unlikely that Tannehill will lose his job after Philbin proclaimed him the starter, but he looks to have his work cut out for him. He might not be winning any post-season awards, but Tannehill will do enough to hold off Garrard when he returns from his knee injury (if he does in fact come back and make the team).

Both quarterbacks have flaws in their game, but after a year under his mentor and friend, Hasselbeck, Locker is the more likely to lead his team to a playoff berth in the weak AFC South.

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