Dolphins say QB Tannehill is on path to greatness
Sep. 27, 2013
MIAMI (AP) — An afternoon practice had just ended, and Ryan Tannehill sat in the Miami Dolphins dining room picking at the big pile of broccoli on his plate, looking a little bored.
After all the excitement of recent weeks, steamed vegetables can't compete.
The Dolphins are 3-0 for the first time in 11 years, winning close games and showing some offensive pizazz for a change thanks largely to Tannehill, who's no longer overlooked in conversations about the remarkable rookie quarterback class of 2012.
"He's a monster," center Mike Pouncey said. "He has taken the next step, and everyone can tell."
By accelerating the steady improvement he showed last year, Tannehill has applied the brakes to the Dolphins' revolving door at quarterback, the position most responsible for their 13-year drought without a playoff win. Dan Marino's rookie season 30 years ago was the last time the Dolphins were this excited about a young quarterback.
"Every single day, he makes us more and more comfortable with his growth," receiver Mike Wallace said. "He's going down the right path to be a great quarterback."
One bad game could deflate the hype, however, which makes Monday's matchup of unbeatens between Miami and New Orleans potentially pivotal for Tannehill. Appearing on "Monday Night Football" for the first time, Tannehill will go against seven-time Pro Bowl passer Drew Brees.
But then, Tannehill and the Dolphins have already beaten Andrew Luck's Colts and Matt Ryan's Falcons. The latest victory was the most dramatic, with Tannehill orchestrating a last-minute rally for the first time, throwing the winning touchdown pass with 38 seconds left to beat Atlanta.
The Dolphins raved about how the 25-year-old Tannehill handled the situation.
"There was no panic," 10-year veteran Tyson Clabo said. "You could tell that he expected to go down and score a touchdown."
Tannehill's improvement this season has been most notable at important moments. He leads the NFL in red zone passing and has completed 71 percent of his attempts on third down, compared with 59 percent last year. Overall, Tannehill has a completion percentage of 66 to rank ninth, ahead of 2012 rookie classmates Luck, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III.
A year ago, fresh out of Texas A&M, Tannehill had a better completion percentage than Luck and threw for more yards than Wilson or Griffin III, but he ranked a distant fourth in accolades. RG3 won offensive rookie of the year honors.
"Last year those other guys were making highlight plays," Wallace said. "Ryan just didn't get as much hype. But right now he's getting it."
Among those taking notice is Brees, a fellow Texan who wanted to play at A&M but wound up at Purdue.
"His journey has been an interesting one," Brees said. "He's obviously a phenomenal athlete. He's probably a guy that isn't talked about a lot from last year's draft class. But man, he's having quite the career thus far. He's got a bright future."
Tannehill was the first quarterback drafted in the first round by the Dolphins since Marino, and they expected him to progress significantly because he started only 19 games at A&M after switching from receiver. He endured typical growing pains as a rookie, but also displayed a strong arm, athleticism and toughness for a team that stumbled to its fourth consecutive losing season, finishing 7-9.
Still prone to youthful mistakes, Tannehill tends to end too many plays in that position — prone. This year he has been sacked 14 times, more than any other quarterback, and leads the league with five fumbles.
"We are delighted about his progress," coach Joe Philbin said. "But he has to do a better job with the football. We can't have that stuff. There's no reason for it."
Tannehill acknowledged he must improve his ball security and get rid of the ball sooner when needed. He likely will, because he's a fast learner.