One of the main reasons that Stephen Ross hired Adam Gase to coach the Miami Dolphins was his reputation as a quarterback guru, having worked with and improved the performances of a myriad of quarterbacks in his previous stops with Denver and Chicago, and getting the most out of the complementary parts on hand.
While quarterback Ryan Tannehill fell short of his career highs in passing yardage and touchdowns, his efficiency and quarterback ratings did increase, and Tannehill was well on his way to arguably his best season before succumbing to a knee injury against the Arizona Cardinals.
And while the defense left much to be desired, giving up the most yards team history, the offense appears to be in good shape heading into the offseason. After a slow start, the team ended the season with wins in nine of the final eleven games to clinch a wildcard spot in the playoffs, and averaged 25 points per game during that streak.
And now the expectations increase as Gase heads into his second season working with Tannehill
Unlike last year, when the coach and quarterback had never met before Gase came to town, this offseason starts with raised expectations as Gase looks forward to fine-tuning Tannehill and the Dolphins offense as a whole.
"We got on the same page a little later than we really wanted to,” said Gase about the slow start this past season. “I really felt like we were going to hit the season running. I think it took us some games to get it really rolling. It took me a little longer than I thought to get used to our whole group as a play caller. Once we really got in a better groove as far as what everybody was good at and what we could lean on, that's where I felt like we took off a little bit.”
Much of that success was due to the offense taking off, and as Gase admits, it took a while for him to figure out what he had to work with, and to utilize players in the best possible positions. And it helped to have a quarterback who was on the same page, and willing to work to get better at every phase of the game.
“(Tannehill) did a great job of sticking with what we had talked about, especially from the spring on, said Gase. “You look at him, but it's really the whole group - offensive line, the tight ends, the running backs and wide receivers - those guys getting on the same page at the right time.”
"When you play quarterback,” Gase continued, “you're at the mercy of a lot of guys. It's really about, 'How many guys can we get doing their job right on the same play?' There are times where he has had to make plays, which he has done. There have been some times where he has been put in some bad situations where it's the perfect coverage versus what we had called, and he made something happen in some critical parts of the game, and then other guys have stepped up to make a play to help him on that play.”
The area where Gase feels Tannehill has made the most improvement is in his mobility and ability to escape collapsing pockets. Criticized in his first four year for taking far too many sacks (putrid offensive line play certainly didn’t help), Tannehill was sacked 63% less in 2016 than he’d averaged in his career.
“Really, that's where I feel like he has grown the most,” said Gase. “He has made those plays where he has had to escape from the pocket and make those throws down the field or just run with the ball. The more we can get him to really do those things that the off-scheduled plays - the off-scheduled plays that he makes that were huge plays within our season - the more comfortable he feels doing those type of things, the better we'll be on offense.”
But the optimism doesn’t come without a subtle warning. Throughout the season, in his own trademarked blunt way, Gase has begun each week telling the team each week that it’s about being 1-0 at the end of each week.
And he’s well aware that the team will start next season 0-0.
“Every year is so different,” says Gase. “Things happen within a season, and sometimes confidence can go up and down. It's hard to say how much better (Tannehill) can get. When we start next year, it's going to be a different animal for him. He's going to have a different perspective. I'm sure we're going to have different guys on our roster. You're starting over. You're not starting as far back as what we did this year, where we started from scratch.”
“We'll see how quickly we can kind of gel as a group, starting in the spring. But we're at least going to have a good starting point.”
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
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