It's an old NFL axiom: If you have two starting quarterbacks, you actually have no starting quarterbacks. And unless your roster has both Joe Montana and Steve Young on it (or Aaron Rodgers and He Who Shall Not Be Named), that axiom is generally true. The quarterback position is hard enough to play at an elite level; never mind what happens when Mr. Head Coach decides to complicate things with a major positional scrap through training camp.
Two NFL teams have decided to throw that thought process by the wayside this season. After swinging and missing on Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn earlier in the year, the Miami Dolphins selected Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill with the eighth overall pick. But since Tannehill played just a season and a half at quarterback for the Aggies, he's going to need some developmental time before he's ready for the complexities of the NFL -- and yes, this is even true of the Dolphins' offense. So, incumbent Matt Moore and free-agent pickup David Garrard are also in the mix, and there's no clear head man at this point. Tannehill is obviously projected to be the man over time, but what does that do for the Dolphins now?
"I think he's very close," head coach Joe Philbin said of Tannehill, by way of the competition, in early June. "I think it's very close. I think they all bring certain attributes to the table. I will say the room itself, and the quality of individuals in the room, I think is excellent. As you know, Matt Moore was voted as the most valuable player. He played well down the stretch and he's picked up the offense very well. David Garrard when you look at this last season and he was active, but he didn't play last year. ... He played very well in 2010 and he's been working his tail off. Then we've got a young guy who has some familiarity with the offense, but not a lot of familiarity with the NFL game, but he is holding his own very much, so it's been a good competition so far."
Last we saw, it was Garrard (who struggled through back injuries before making a 2012 comeback) who had the top spot, but the common thread with the Dolphins and the Seattle Seahawks, who also have a three-way battle, is that the "starter" can change on a daily basis. Add in new receiver Chad Ochocinco and the fact that their QB battle will be dissected on "Hard Knocks," and it's safe to say the Fins don't lack a storyline or two.
Seattle got the quarterback in Matt Flynn that the Dolphins tried to acquire, but signed him to a three-year deal worth $26 million. That's hardly long-term starter commitment money, and as head coach Pete Carroll recently said, the Seahawks will not let salary dictate reps. At last week's three-day mandatory minicamp, Carroll gave each of his quarterbacks -- Flynn, incumbent Tarvaris Jackson and third-round rookie Russell Wilson -- one day of reps with the first team.
If Carroll saw something out of that process that would inform a final decision, he certainly wasn't telling anyone.
"We don't know yet," Carroll told the NFL Network this week during a PLAY 60 event in Los Angeles. "We're going to stay with Tarvaris as number one; he maintained that through the OTAs. But Matt is really ready to go, and so is Russell. They performed very well in our camps, their numbers were really close. They just deserve the chance to keep battling. We'll figure it out in time. I keep telling our people up there that I'm going to be patient, so you'd better be patient or it's going to be hard on you."
As one of the people "up here" in Seattle covering the team, I can confirm that Carroll has been coy throughout the process. Asked every day of media availability whether one quarterback has distinguished himself, Carroll stuck to his "Always Compete" credo and put it simply -- they've all distinguished themselves.
Through practices, though, the competition has been pretty tight. Jackson looks like the quarterback he was last year -- capable of making every throw in the book, but lacking touch on certain finesse and distance throws at times. Flynn is perhaps the most practiced at the little things -- looking off safeties and throwing with anticipation -- but his mechanics have him pushing the ball at times, and he often struggles when throwing against his own momentum or across his body.
Without question, Wilson has been the story of interest. Many of his new teammates have said that he would have selected much higher in the draft were he taller than 5-foot-11, and he's shown why during practices. He has the deep arm of Jackson, but with an uncanny touch at times. And he's got the fast break offense down from his days at Wisconsin, but he's a more dynamic and consistent intermediate thrower than Flynn. A team competing for a division title, as Carroll says the Seahawks are doing in the NFC West, would not prefer to start a rookie mid-round pick at the game's most important position ... but stranger things have happened.
"We'll find out if it is," Carroll said, when asked about Wilson's perceived height disadvantage. "Everybody assumes that it is. We haven't seen any evidence of that so far in the camps that we've had. He's got extraordinary film from his college days, he can do everything that you need a guy to do. He's a very exciting young man, a very exciting young player and he's going to get a heck of a shot here."
One thing's for sure in both camps -- the Dolphins and Seahawks will need to pull the trigger sooner than later. With training camps just five weeks away, and offenses to install, any competition led by players new to the schemes must be decided with extreme expediency. It's something that Carroll understands, as much as he claims that the battle could go all the way through August.
"It would help us to make it sooner just to get things together, but I have to wait until we can figure it out," Carroll said. "We're doing everything we can to even out the reps and we're going to have to get into the preseason to know anything about some [things].
"We'll try to go from there. We'll do it when we can."