As the eighth overall pick of the 2012 NFL draft, expectations have always been high for Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
After quietly and steadily improving each of his first three seasons, surpassing 4,000 passing yards and throwing 27 touchdowns in 2014, Tannehill regressed last season. Although he surpassed his passing yards total from the year before, throwing for 4,208 yards, his total touchdowns (24) and quarterback rating (88.7) both regressed as the Dolphins looked downright awful at times while limping to a 6-10 record.
Vast changes have since been made, and now entering his fifth season, Tannehill finds himself working with his 3rd head coach in Adam Gase, as well as his third offensive coordinator in Clyde Christensen. And the spotlight has never shown more brightly on the quarterback, who will turn 27 in July and is entering the prime of his career.
And he’s ready.
Tannehill, a quarterback turned wide receiver turned quarterback, has never shied away from challenges or hard work. He’s proven he’s tough as nails, absorbing 184 sacks in his first four years, and even finishing a game with a lacerated spleen, and has always been willing to do what it takes to support his team. And last week he spoke excitedly about the upcoming season and the challenges of learning and implementing a new and innovative offense with coach Gase this year.
“I'm excited. I'm excited about what this offense entails,” said Tannehill. “It entails a lot of fun stuff for a quarterback to be able to direct traffic, keep pressure on the defense … and get us into a good play. To me, that's exciting … 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 (has an) aggressive style, always wanting to keep the heat on the defense."
Most Dolphins fans probably don’t share the effusive enthusiasm shown by the players as the season approaches. Having heard these kinds of accolades so many times before, fans are approaching the 2016 season with a cautiously optimistic attitude.
After all, the team was expected to take a major leap forward last year after acquiring the best free agent of the offseason in defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and buffing up the offense with the additions of wide receivers Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker, tight end Jordan Cameron, and running back Jay Ajayi.
And we all know how that turned out.
But Tannehill has seen the different approach that Adam Gase brings to this team, especially when it comes to play design and the quarterback’s ability to change protections and plays at the line of scrimmage, something that Tannehill is aware he was highly criticized for in the former regime’s offense.
“With (former offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s) offense, we wanted to create tempo, and we were kind of locked in. What he called is what we ran.”
This year will be different. Markedly so, according to Tannehill.
“With this offense, we're going to mix things up,” said Tannehill. “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."
And Gase isn’t going to hesitate in trusting Tannehill to change the call at the line of scrimmage if he sees that the original call just isn’t going to work.
"I'm still the same quarterback,” Tannehill said. “Obviously, having that freedom to get the offense in a good play - we do a lot of things differently now. Being able to be on the line of scrimmage and adjust, whether its protections, routes, a whole new play. There's a lot of freedom in what we do … We're not going to have to sit on our heels and feel like the defense is coming after us, and we have to figure out a way to make it work. We can put pressure on the defense by getting in a good play and always keeping the heat on the defense."
Not only will Gase allow Tannehill to make changes during games, but he is also encouraging Tannehill to think more like a coach in game situations and to become comfortable enough with the entire playbook that he can then improvise and make this offense his own.
"It's an important thing, for sure. It's fun for me to be able to dive in and take ownership of the offense (and) being able to learn it like a coach. That's ultimately what I want to do: I want to be a guy on the field that anyone on the field can come to and ask a question, and I have the answers. I’m still in that learning process, but trying to get through that as quickly as I can, so that I am that guy that everyone can look to on the field and ask me a question and know exactly what they have.
“That's part of being a leader - knowing what everyone needs, and (being) available for them when they need help."
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
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