DAVIE — With a front-row vantage point at the Miami Dolphins' Friday night game, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was like the fans in the stands: curious to check out rookie Ryan Tannehill.
Ryan impressed Ryan.
“He's athletic,” the Falcons quarterback said. “He's got a strong arm. He looked comfortable for a young guy. It's not an easy transition. I know that very well.''
Atlanta's Ryan won the starting job in training camp his rookie year — as Tannehill did this summer — and led his team to the postseason. That was in 2008 and he's now a Pro Bowl passer for a perennial playoff team.
The Dolphins would be thrilled with a similar transition by Tannehill but his first game as their starter underscored what Matt Ryan said: It's not easy.
Tannehill went 11 for 27 for 112 yards and one interception Friday night in a 23-6 loss to the Falcons. Unlike Ryan, who had a talented supporting cast as a rookie, Tannehill finds himself directing an offense with a nondescript receiving corps and an unimposing line.
The Dolphins dropped seven passes against Atlanta, including four thrown by Tannehill, one of which would have been a touchdown. Pass protection was not in sure hands, either. Tannehill was sacked once and hit several other times, making it easy to wonder how the Dolphins will keep the rookie healthy for an entire season.
“Offensively it really wasn't much good to look at,” first-year coach Joe Philbin said Saturday. “There wasn't very much rhythm or consistency.”
Defense is expected to be the Dolphins' strength and the first-teamers held Atlanta's high-powered attack without a touchdown. But the first-team offense has produced only 10 points while playing about five quarters through three exhibition games, all defeats.
“Definitely not what we want to be,” receiver Davone Bess said. “We've got to make some strides real quick, real fast, because the season is approaching real quick.”
The final exhibition game was set for this Wednesday at Dallas, followed by a return to Texas for the season opener Sept. 9 at Houston.
That gave Philbin two weeks to choose his top three receivers, roles that have thus far gone unclaimed. As general manager Jeff Ireland said on HBO's Hard Knocks, Miami's receiving corps is dominated by “fours, fives and sixes.”
No receiver has reached the 100-yard mark for the entire preseason. Legedu Naanee, Roberto Wallace and Marlon Moore — all considered in the mix for playing time — combined to make one catch for 8 yards against the Falcons.
“The coaches told us that, coming in, they want someone who is going to start it off for us,” Naanee said. “Nobody grabbed that.”
And so the search for reliable targets continues.
“It has been an area where we feel like we've provided a lot of opportunity for guys and we're not at the stage we want to be,” Philbin said.
In March the Dolphins traded Brandon Marshall, who created headaches in the locker room but also made 167 receptions the past two seasons. They then signed six-time Pro Bowl receiver Chad Johnson but his bid for a career comeback in Miami ended with his arrest in a domestic case. Brian Hartline, who made 109 catches in his first three years with the Dolphins, hasn't been an option because he has missed the entire preseason with a left calf injury.
Tannehill's not complaining about the state of affairs. Maybe it's the optimism of youth but he was quick to shrug off all those dropped passes.
“It's my job to put the ball there,” Tannehill said. “There were some throws that I didn't make. That has nothing to do with the receivers, that's just myself putting the ball in a bad spot. I've got to be more consistent with my accuracy. There are a few throws that I would like to have back.”
Tannehill was recently promoted to the No. 1 job, which made him the first Dolphins rookie QB to become a starter in training camp. And although things went badly against Atlanta, he didn't seem in over his head.
“He's pretty poised,” Philbin said. “You would worry if a player came to the sidelines and didn't have a reason for why he did certain things. He might not have been right all the time but at least if somebody can explain to you what the thought process was you feel a little bit better, as opposed to players who lose a play and weren't real sure or indecisive.”
For the Dolphins' rookie QB, coping with failure will be a big part of the job.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins released nine players, including RB Jerome Messam, a 1,000-yard rusher in the Canadian Football League last year, and TE Les Brown, a long shot who hadn't played competitive football since 2005. RB Jonas Gray was placed on the PUP/NFI reserved list.