When the Miami Dolphins hired Adam Gase as their head coach last January, the prevailing opinion was that the offensive-minded guru would elevate quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s level of play. Tannehill had steadily progressed through his first three seasons, but his production leveled off somewhat in the year prior to Gase’s arrival.
And those perceptions proved true, albeit as a byproduct of Gase’s offensive system which utilizes the strengths of the players at hand, along with a process that evolved throughout his first season working with Tannehill.
In 2016, Tannehill’s injury-shortened season ended with the second-lowest yards-per-game average (230.4), but he was on pace to reach his average TD total of the past three seasons (25) and his quarterback rating of 93.5 was the highest of his career.
To say Tannehill struggled early in the season would be an understatement. Although he threw for over 300 yards twice in the first five games, he also threw seven of his twelve overall interceptions during that span and fumbled once, sealing the fate of games as the Dolphins limped to a 1-4 start to the season.
While some were calling for Tannehill’s head at the time, Gase knew his quarterback’s capabilities, and stuck with him through those struggles, never doubting the potential he saw from his first offseason of working with Tannehill.
“I think it's really probably more perception for everyone else outside,” said Gase of the early season criticism. “I was able to be with him that spring and see who he was and how he went about his business, his athletic ability and his ability to be accurate and throw down the field. It was really a matter of time of just showing it in a game. Which he did.”
While most were focused on Tannehill’s play, Gase looked at his own gameplans and offensive scheme, and realized that he needed to change his offense, simplifying the schemes and molding his system to emphasize the strengths of his players and to exploit the talent he had on hand.
“We went through some rough times early in the season,” said Gase. “I probably put that more on myself than (Tannehill). It was us trying to figure each other out, all the guys on offense trying to figure each other out. As we got going and we kind of rolled a little bit last year, he really played well and did exactly what we needed him to do.”
The result? The Dolphins went on a roll, winning seven of the next eight games that Tannehill played, on their way to a 9-2 finish that put the team in the playoffs for the first time in eight years. Sometimes simple is better.
Said Gase, “Guys made plays when they had to … and (Tannehill) adlibbed a lot during the season.”
In fact, Gase feels that when Tannehill got hurt, it actually resulted in a realization of growth and leadership from the Dolphins signal caller.
“When he got hurt, I think that was an even bigger development for him,” noted Gase. “I told him 'You're actually going to grow for the better because of this.' He took a different mentality in our meetings. You saw him teaching, coaching a little more, and guys accepting it. That was probably a good thing for him, even though (it was tough) for all of us to watch him in a cast and on crutches. At the end of the day, it was probably good for him."
As the Dolphins finish up the NFL combine this week and with free agency right around the corner, the team stated that they have no concerns about Tannehill or the health of his left knee. Tannehill’s rehabilitation work has gone well, the knee responded well, and when general manager Chris Grier spoke at the combine, he put any worries to bed.
"Ryan has done a tremendous job working,” said Grier. “He'll be there in April. He's fine. He's good. I saw him the other day and he's working out, he's doing great, so he'll be healthy.”
When Gase was asked if he had any concerns about Tannehill’s knee and his readiness for the seasn, he responded similarly.
"No. He feels good about it. He feels good about the brace he's going to wear. I'm not worried about it."
Grier added, “He's ready to go. And I know he's excited for next year."
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
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