Whether Ryan Tannehill likes it or not, he’ll always be compared to Dan Marino. That’s life when it comes to being a Miami Dolphins quarterback.
The good news for Tannehill is he at least was a bit Marino-like by taking command of the position last year as a rookie. Now, it will be seen if he can at least have a small amount of a Marino jump in his second year.
There’s no way Tannehill will be like Marino was as a sophomore in 1984, when he set then-NFL records by throwing for 48 touchdowns and 5,084 yards. But it’s not unreasonable to think Tannehill will show significant improvement.
How Tannehill looks is the most intriguing issue facing the Dolphins this season as the team has added significant weapons in wide receivers Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson and tight end Dustin Keller. Miami begins training camp Sunday.
“We expect a big year out of Ryan Tannehill,” Dolphins running back Lamar Miller told ESPN’s NFL Live. “This is his second year now. He’s really comfortable with the offensive end with the addition of the other guys like Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline (a wide receiver who re-signed after a 1,000-yard season) and Brandon Gibson. Now, he’s more comfortable with the offense. He has one year under his belt. So he should have a great season.”
Other than Hartline, Tannehill didn’t have much to throw to last season. He completed 282 of 484 passes (58.3 percent) for 3,294 yards with 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
The season was a learning experience for Tannehill, who had five touchdowns and just one interception in his final four games after throwing seven touchdowns and having 12 interceptions in his first 12. Now, he should feel more comfortable entering training camp due to his improved weapons and not having to worry about battling for a starting job.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity that we have with the team coming up with all the new additions that we brought in this spring,” Tannehill said. “And now is the time to put those pieces together and make the most of it …. Last year, I didn’t have the (starting) job (right away). I was in fierce competition with some other good quarterbacks (Matt Moore, now Tannehill’s backup, and since-retired David Garrard) and I didn’t know what was going to happen. This year, I can really focus on my game and getting better every day with the details of the position.”
Tannehill knows he has plenty of work to do. Let him explain.
“I have a lot to improve on as a quarterback, just going back to watching all the games, all my throws from last year,” Tannehill said. “I think I could do so much better on third down. My completion percentage could definitely increase and I’m excited to get the work in and improve on things.”
Tannehill didn’t have much success last year with the deep ball, but he didn’t exactly have speed merchants on hand. That has changed with the addition of Wallace, the NFL’s most coveted free agent after playing his first four seasons with Pittsburgh.
“What Mike brings to the table is he can really open up things for the other guys,” Tannehill said of Wallace, who has caught 196 balls for 3,286 yards the past three seasons. “Having a guy with that kind of speed … and being a threat to the safeties downfield, it’s a huge opening up the middle for the tight ends and inside receivers as well as our underneath routes for anybody.”
Among those benefiting will be Hartline, Gibson and Keller, who have each caught 50-plus passes the past two years. But while it all looks good on paper now, Tannehill knows it must translate to the field.
That will be a key thrust during training camp.
“We have a lot of potential, but it’s exactly that, potential right now,” Tannehill said. “We haven’t done anything to get to our goals yet. So we have to have a great training camp, a great preseason.”
Training camp and preseason also will be spent finding a starting running back to replace Reggie Bush, who left as a free agent to sign with Detroit. Miller, a second-year man, is the leading candidate but will be pushed by third-year pro Daniel Thomas.
Tannehill is confident his backs will get yards. But he wants something else.
“Their understanding of pass protection, that’s the biggest thing for me going into games,” Tannehill said. “I’m comfortable they can run the ball … But I want to feel comfortable in the passing game on them picking up protection on linebackers.”
Tannehill doesn’t want to be on his back as much as last season, when he was sacked 35 times, including seven in the season finale at New England. There are also concerns on the offensive line, where second-year man Jonathan Martin moves from right to left tackle to replace perennial Pro Bowler Jake Long, who bolted as a free agent to St. Louis.
Overall, though, the Dolphins are anticipating that their new receiving weapons will make up for any snags. If that’s the case, while it might not be a Marino leap, Tannehill still should make a big jump in his second season.