There are times when you worry that someone you know has had one too many hits to the head. They suddenly seem to lose awareness and they start making no sense. Is it possible that the Dolphins franchise quarterback has finally been knocked to the ground one too many times?
The biggest weakness on the Dolphins for the past several years has been their offensive line, which has been so bad that Tannehill has been sacked 139 times since his rookie year.
Only one other QB who played in the NFL has been sacked more times than Tannehill in his first three years as a starter. That's former Houston Texans QB David Carr, who was sacked 140 times.
So it is with great confusion and bewilderment that Dolphins fans got a statement from Ryan Tannehill after a long, hot Wednesday at training camp that made everyone scratch their heads.
"I feel safe."
If I were to speak to the Dolphins quarterback, I would ask him to define what he considers "feeling safe." The Dolphins have two unproven guards both fighting for starting positions with veterans who aren't any more proven to be good, and their top lineman, left tackle Branden Albert, is still limited from a knee injury he suffered last year against the Detroit Lions.
Even head coach Joe Philbin has recently admitted that the offensive line has its share of problems in pass protection, and he hasn't exactly been trying to deny it.
“We have to have a little bit cleaner pocket for our quarterbacks,” Philbin said. “That’s one thing that I noticed overall. It’s not one specific guy. But I would just say overall that’s something that we want to do. If we push the ball down the field, we have to take seven steps at times and hold the ball to let the routes extend.”
So why would Ryan Tannehill, who has spent practically half of his time on the football field on his back, go out of his way to say that he still felt safe? Was he delirious?
Well, if you consider his reasoning, it just might make sense.
“Those guys are competing and facing one of the best – if not the best – defensive tackle in the league." Tannehill said. "It’s not always going to be pretty no matter who’s up there. You got an All-Pro guy up there going against Suh; it’s going to be a battle. I don’t expect those guys to be able to block Suh each and every play. But they’re competing and getting better.”
It sounds crazy without that bit of context, but when you take into account the level of competition that the line is facing, it suddenly seems logical that Tannehill doesn't feel quite as worried about the line as fans are, and he's actually glad that the offensive line is getting to face off against the highest possible level of competition.
“Definitely, I think you start with Suh and go out to OV (Olivier Vernon) and Cam (Cameron Wake), and we have one of the best fronts in the AFC and in the NFL." Tannehill said. "To be able to practice against that day-in and day-out is really going to prepare guys for the season.”
There's also the fact that Branden Albert is still hurt, and he's been slowly coming back from his major knee injury. Without him, the line is severely weakened, and that point was proven over and over again last season after he went down against the Lions.
“Obviously, we would love to have Branden back. We know what kind of player he is, what he brought to us last year, but he’s not ready to go." Tannehill said. "While he’s out, (Jason) Fox has got to step up and I think he’s been doing a good job.”
Fox, for his part, spent his career at the University of Miami in college at left tackle, so he does have some semblance of experience at the position, and his teammates seem to have confidence that Fox will be able to hold up until Albert returns.
"He has the quickness and footwork to be able to keep up with speed," defensive end Cameron Wake said last Sunday. "And he's still a guy that has enough rocks in his pocket to sit down with power when the bigger guys come."
Wake would know exactly what Fox is capable of, as he faced off against him several times before when the veteran was lined up at right tackle. Now back at his old college position, Fox is taking a very rational approach to the new challenge he's facing.
"Every day, every [repetition], every period, you're going to have really good plays, and you're going to have plays you wish you could do over again — take a better step here, land a better punch, for his side vice versa," he said. "It's just a constant grind."
There's definitely need for concern, and I'm sure that Ryan Tannehill is aware of that. However, the confidence and swagger that the quarterback is exhibiting despite the constant pressure he faces should give Dolphins fans great encouragement that the team is moving in the right direction, and given time, the line will be able to truly improve and make sure that Tannehill will stay on his feet - and not on his back - in 2015.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @FLSportDebater
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