With the Miami Dolphins offseason built around improving the supporting cast for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, he appears primed for a breakout season.
Playing in the shadow of a quarterback legend is never easy. Playing in the shadow of a legend, with a revolving door at the position is even harder. That is what Ryan Tannehill has had to endure his first four years of his NFL career.
After Hall of Famer Dan Marino hung up his cleats after the 1999 season, the Miami Dolphins franchise has spent the new millennium looking for a QB to step up and become the face of their franchise.
Since Marino retired, the Dolphins had used 17 different starting quarterbacks leading up to the 2012 NFL draft. Picking eight, the Dolphins had no shot to get either Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, the top two players and QBs in that draft.
Instead, when their eight pick came up, the Dolphins took quarterback Ryan Tannehill from Texas A&M, shocking many with snagging Tannehill higher than he was expected to go.
Tannehill became the Dolphins first quarterback selected in the first round since 1983, when the team selected Marino. Since he was drafted, Tannehill has grabbed the Dolphins starting quarterback role and has not relinquished it. For his career, he’s thrown for 15,460 yards, including 4,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.
Tannehill has thrown at least 24 touchdown passes in each season, excluding his rookie season. Tannehill has also seen his interceptions go from 17 in 2013 to stagnating at 12 each of the past two seasons.
For his career, Tannehill owns a 85.2 passer rating – although it’s been 90.8 the past two seasons. His best season came in 2014, when he tossed 27 touchdowns, threw for 4,045 yards, and posted a 92.8 passer rating.
Unfortunately, Tannehill seemed to take a bit of a step back last season, with his touchdowns dipping to 24 and his QB rating slipping to 88.7. He did throw for more yards, with 4,208, but his completion percentage dipped five points downward.
So after a season where he regressed, why is Ryan Tannehill primed for a breakout season?
Well, let’s start with the offensive line. Since Tannehill became the Dolphins starter, he has been sacked an NFL most 184 times. Tannehill was sacked 45 times last season.
The offensive line has been an issue for the Dolphins for a variety of reasons. While the roster does feature Pro-Bowl caliber guys like Mike Pouncey and Brandon Albert, both players have faced injury issues the past two seasons.
The rest of the line always seemed to be quick-fix patches, until the team drafted Ja’Wuan James in 2014, with their first round pick. James was rated a top 10 tackle his rookie season by Pro Football Focus, but also dealt with injuries last season.
If Pouncey, Albert, and James can stay healthy, the Dolphins hope the player that fell into their laps draft night, Laremy Tunsil, can translate his college success to the NFL and give the Dolphins an offensive line that should rank near the top of the league in 2016.
With an improved line, Tannehill would spend less time on the ground and be able to not only utilize his arm, but also his legs in the upcoming season.
With more time to throw, Tannehill will be able to take advantage of what can be argued as his best supporting cast at receivers he’s had for his career.
Jarvis Landry, though a bit overrated as a one-trick pony, has proven himself to be a strong NFL target. DeVante Parker is fully healthy and should have a chance to start opposite Landry and show off his NFL skillset. Kenny Stills is still a home run threat, one that could be even more dangerous if the QB has time to find him deep.
The Dolphins also drafted receivers Leonte Carroo, who has a real chance to make an impact his rookie season. In Adam Gase’s offense, one could expect the running backs to be utilized as pass catchers out of the backfield. Both Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake can fill that role admirably for Tannehill and the Dolphins.
The final reason why we should believe in Ryan Tannehill is because Tannehill finally has a coach that will give him control on the field of play-calling and being able to audible at the line, which he has not had in the past.
In other words, Tannehill finally has a coach that trusts him.
Gase recently commented to Dolphin reporters that “Tannehill’s intelligence is off the charts.” Gase believes in Tannehill in a way that Joe Philbin never quite did.
Publicly, Phibin threatened to bench Tannehill just two years ago, before the team’s game against the Oakland Raiders in London. This caused a lot of stress for Tannehill and a lot of commotion in the media.
While that does not seem to be too different from a lot of quarterback situations around the league, Philbin also pushed the Dolphins to draft Derek Carr to replace Tannehill during the 2014 NFL draft.
Combine those two things with the vanilla offense the Dolphins ran and the fact the team gave him zero ability to change plays at the line, it was obvious that Philbin did not trust his quarterback, which limited Tannehill’s chances to flourish.
With Gase at the helm, the Dolphins have changed all that up. No longer will Tannehill be “babied” as he was under Philbin, as former Dolphin receiver Greg Jennings framed it.
This is what Tannehill had to say to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald about the differences between a Gase-coached team and a Philbin-led squad.
"“With [former offensive coordinator] Bill [Lazor’s] offense, we were kind of locked in,” Tannehill said. “What he called is what we ran. With this offense, we’re going to mix things up. We’re going to move quickly at times, snap the ball quickly. At other times, we’re going to get up to the line quickly and take our time. At other times we’re going to huddle and be like a standard offense. Just the variability and the versatility that this offense has and the different things that we can do to create the drives that we want to create down the field.“I’m excited. I’m excited about what this offense entails. It entails a lot of fun stuff for a quarterback to be able to direct traffic, keep pressure on the defense and get us in a good play. To me, that’s exciting. That’s something you come to work and you’re excited about putting your team in the best possible situation.“I think this is an exciting offense to be in – regardless of what position you’re in – because of how we’re going to attack defenses, Coach Gase and what he brings to the table (and) his aggressive style and always wanting to keep the heat on the defense."
For a player, especially a quarterback, it is extremely important for him to have faith in the coaching staff, and vice versa. Under Philbin, it was apparent that was not the case. The discord between the coaching staff and Tannehill ultimately hurt not only Tannehill’s performance, but the Dolphins as well.
Philbin was ousted last year after a slow start to the season for the Dolphins and the team went in a completely new direction with Adam Gase this offseason.
If Gase shows the trust he has so far in Tannehill and allows him the freedom he’s never had as the Miami Dolphins quarterback in the past, there is no reason Tannehill cannot have a monster season in 2016.
He is poised for a breakout season. He has no choice. With all the off-season moves the Dolphins have made, it is make-or-break time for Ryan Tannehill.
Be prepared to see Tannehill take that next step.