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Tannehill Entering Rarefied Rookie Air

Posted Oct 8, 2012

Numbers don’t lie for Miami’s first-round pick.

Naturally, there was a lot more hype surrounding the first two quarterbacks taken in April’s NFL Draft – Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, but through five games Miami Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill is quietly creating some buzz of his own.

With yesterday’s 17-13 win at Cincinnati, during which Tannehill completed of 17-of-26 passes for 223 yards, he reached 1,269 passing yards on the season. He became the first rookie in NFL history to pass for more than 1,250 yards and record at least two wins in his first five games. That number also is the second highest yardage total ever by a rookie through his first five games, behind only Cam Newton’s 1,610 yards last season.

Nobody inside Miami’s locker room is at all surprised with Tannehill’s production thus far after being around him during OTAs, minicamps, training camp and the preseason. His receivers obviously are benefiting from his development, as are the running backs and tight ends, but even his offensive line can see the positives.

“He’s getting better every single week and you can see it just in the way he puts us in the right spots, checking the plays and putting us on the right people to block,” said Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long, who is in his fifth season with his fourth different starting quarterback. “When stuff breaks down he’s able to make plays and the opponents we’ve faced in these first five games have been great defenses and really tough. He’s handled it well and has been playing well in crunch time.”

It’s those big plays being made in the passing game when the pocket has broken down that have really stuck out, like the two long passes Tannehill completed to Davone Bess and Brian Hartline on the run that resulted in a 28-yard gain and a 30-year gain, respectively. Most young quarterbacks tend to narrow their vision on the move and either look for the short outlet receiver for a dump off or pull the ball down and run.

Tannehill kept his eyes down the field on both occasions, especially on the pass to Hartline where he placed a perfect deep pass over the coverage and into his receiver’s hands. The play to Bess had the added element of awareness as Tannehill got as close to the line of scrimmage as legally possible before releasing the ball.

“That was him making a play and it was just carryover from practice just keeping the play alive,” Bess said. “We work on that all the time and if it breaks down in practice we are coached and trained to keep the play alive. That’s where most of the big plays occur in the National Football League, when the protection breaks down and the quarterback gets out of the pocket and is keeping his eyes down the field.”

Even early on in the regular season when he was victimized by tipped passes at the line and some costly interceptions, Tannehill didn’t blink. In fact, he worked even harder to make sure those same mistakes didn’t happen again and the evidence is on film.

His passer rating has slowly improved from that first game at Houston to a 70.4 overall after putting up a career-best 92.3 at the Bengals, and his completion percentage has climbed to 57.4. Tannehill is 2-0 in games that he did not throw an interception and is proving equally effective standing in the pocket and absorbing hits as he is outside of the pocket on the run.

“Very seldom does he make the same mistake twice,” said offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who was Tannehill’s head coach at Texas A&M. “You tell him you need to do this, he does it, so I think that his maturation throughout the course of the NFL season going into Week 6 is very evident. He’s taken steps every single week and he’ll continue to do that throughout the course of the season and throughout the course of his career.”

Hartline is Miami’s leading receiver with 514 yards on 29 catches and still leads the entire NFL heading into tonight’s game between the Houston Texans and New York Jets. He is averaging 17.7 yards per catch, which coupled with Tannehill’s average of 7.5 yards per pass completion underlines the knack for big plays being made in the passing game for the Dolphins.

The fourth-year receiver out of Ohio State has developed a good chemistry with Tannehill and the two have a trust in one another that is evident on those broken plays. In fact, all of Tannehill’s receivers are now on the same page with him when it comes to knowing where and when to expect the ball in certain situations.

“He’s a guy that’s definitely more athletic than most and can get outside of the pocket fairly well and throws well on the run,” Hartline said. “With those combinations I think he feels comfortable with being out there and he does a good job with it.”

As a converted wide receiver in college, Tannehill’s speed and athleticism were never in question coming out in the draft, although a foot injury prevented him from doing any of the drills at the NFL Scouting Combine and caused him to miss the Senior Bowl. It was the fact that he made only 19 starts at quarterback for the Aggies that drew some concern from NFL scouts and general managers.

Now that he has put the kinds of games on film that indicate a tremendous upside in terms of identifying tight windows to throw the ball and being aware of the increased speed of NFL defensive backs, Tannehill seems ready to take that next step.

“He’s a very accurate thrower on the run and sometimes those throws aren’t the easiest when you’re running away from a 295-pound defensive end chasing you down,” Sherman said. “To make that throw with accuracy is not the easiest thing. I thought he did a great job of not only pushing the pocket, escaping the rush but then finding the receiver and making some big plays. I thought it was his best game.”

Hopefully for Tannehill, he can get Sherman to repeat that compliment after this Sunday’s home game against the St. Louis Rams.
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