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You look at Ryan Tannehill entering his second season, you examine the body of work he has compiled over the past few months, you talk to his teammates and watch carefully what he does and how he does it, and the conclusion you form is that this is a player ready to take his game to another level.
The success of this football team is depending on it.
Talk all you want about the offensive line. Toss and turn over who is going to play tight end. Wonder out loud if the Dolphins have a difference-maker at running back. All valid. All worth exploring. But none of that, in truth, really matters unless Ryan Timothy Tannehill, about a month passed his 25th birthday, can be the quarterback this franchise needs him to be.
What should we expect? How much better will Tannehill be? Will the rookie mistakes of a season ago be replaced by a more efficient, more confident player? These answers will start coming Sunday in Cleveland.
The signs we have seen are all positive. Look at his preseason numbers; they shout progress. The laser-like throws. The accuracy. The ability to avoid pressure. The leadership. The confidence. That look in his eyes. It’s all there. Now, comes the most formidable task of all: Proving he can do it when the games really count.
I asked Tannehill after a recent afternoon practice how much better he expects to be this season. “A lot better,” he said. “It’s hard to quantify. There are so many instances where I can be better than last year and I feel I have worked to improve those areas. I’m not where I want to be at the end of the year, but I’m excited to be where I’m at.”
Then I went to Matt Moore, who as the back-up quarterback probably spends more time with Tannehill than any of his teammates. And to listen to Moore, to hear the way he speaks about Tannehill, you get the feeling something very special is about to happen.
“He can absolutely be a great player,” Moore said. “He really gets it. A lot of it is his attitude and how he approaches the game, how he shakes things off, how he uses his eyes. He’s got all the tools and he’s got the brains. But it’s his work ethic that is unmatched. I wouldn’t just say it to say it. If you don’t know where he’s at, he’s in the quarterback room watching something. It’s pretty impressive.”
Consider this: I was critical of Tannehill after the Tampa Bay preseason game for pulling back on what would have been a long throw to Mike Wallace. Why not just throw it, I asked. Instead, Tannehill checked off to Charles Clay in the flat.
So I asked Tannehill a few days later about that play. The response came quickly. “Wallace put a double move on the guy, but was pushed out of bounds,” he said. “Once I saw that, there was no reason to waste a throw. So I went somewhere else.”
Smart decision. Lousy suggestion on my part.
But I need to see more of Tannehill before I’m willing to praise him the way his back up quarterback does. I need to see the big throws, the game-winning drives and the ability, when all else fails, to carry this football team on his broad shoulders. I need to see that intangible quality that all the top quarterbacks have. The “IT” factor. You can’t explain it; you just either have it or don’t.
“Ryan Tannehill,” says Moore, “definitely has IT.”
If that is the case, if what we saw in the preseason is a clear indication of things to come, than these Miami Dolphins can make a mountain out of its Tannehill.
My biggest concerns? Tannehill’s ability to look off defensive backs, his ability to connect on the deep throw and his ability to avoid the most costly of mistakes. These are the indicators I will be looking for Sunday in Cleveland and throughout this season.
Veteran cornerback Brent Grimes has gone up against Tannehill every day in practice. “When I got here, the first thing I noticed is that he has all the talent and can make all the throws,” Grimes said. “But as I’ve now been here for a while, what really impresses me is his reads and decisions. This is no longer a rookie quarterback.”
Which is exactly what the Dolphins are counting upon. It is too early for conclusions. Other young quarterbacks clearly out-performed Tannehill a season ago. Luck. RGIII. Wilson. Kaepernick. Go down the list. But every quarterback matures at his own rate and who’s to say that Tannehill’s moment isn’t now?
Indeed, this is what this season is all about. A young quarterback growing up. A team providing that young quarterback with more playmakers. A franchise having waited far too long for another top-tier player at the most important of all positions.
The challenge is clear; the season begins Sunday. It is Tannehill’s Time.
On Thursday, A.C. in the A.M. takes a close look at Coach Joe Philbin
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
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