Without his top targets, Ryan Tannehill sharp in scrimmage

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — An enthusiastic crowd showed up Monday night at the Miami Dolphins’ scrimmage at Sun Life Stadium to see “it.”
 
If you don’t know what that is, listen to ESPN analyst and former NFL star receiver Cris Carter talk about Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
 
“Tannehill is going to be a special player,” said Carter, who will be inducted Saturday into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, the day before the Dolphins face Dallas in the Hall of Fame Game. “He has the ‘it’ factor from a quarterback. . . . Quarterbacks are not made, they’re born. And when the ball comes out of his hand, it comes out special.”
 
That’s just the latest praise to be lavished on Tannehill, entering his second season with the Dolphins. With a year under his belt and with the Dolphins having given him ample new weapons with free-agent signees Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson at wide receiver and Dustin Keller at tight end, he’s expected to take a big leap.
 
Expectations are high. And Tannehill is embracing them.
 
“I like it,” he said. “I put high expectations on myself, so regardless of what the outside is putting on me, I put higher expectations on myself. I know I can improve tremendously over last year.”
 
There was no reason Monday for fans to doubt that. A crowd of 22,876, the largest ever to see a Dolphins scrimmage, watched Tannehill put on a solid showing.
 
Tannehill completed 9 of 13 passes for 75 yards and threw three touchdown passes. He had TD passes of 24 yards to tight end Charles Clay, 14 yards to Keller and nine yards to running back Daniel Thomas.
 
Tannehill didn’t throw downfield Monday and he didn’t have an opportunity to connect with the speedy Wallace, who didn’t play for reasons the Dolphins didn’t provide. But that will come, and you better believe Wallace is looking forward to it.
 
“I learn every day that (Tannehill’s) arm is like crazy strong,” Wallace said before the event. “He can really fling it, man.”

(Like all Miami players, Wallace was unavailable for comment after the scrimmage.)

 
That’s one reason why Tannehill is expected to be Miami’s best quarterback since Dan Marino retired after the 1999 season. In fact, there were way more Tannehill No. 17 jerseys in the stands Monday than No. 13 ones, something not a lot of Miami quarterbacks who have followed Marino have been able to say.
 
Tannehill last season completed 282 of 484 passes (58.3 percent) for 3,294 yards and 12 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. Count on those numbers getting much better this season.
 
“He’s gotten better as a leader,” said wide receiver Brian Hartline, who caught 74 passes for 1,083 yards in 2012 to make him Miami’s only returning player who caught 20 or more balls. “He’s spoken up when he needs to, and he hasn’t when he doesn’t need to. He’s making good throws, he’s taking command of the offense. He has complete control of certain situations, and we don’t look for the sidelines for plays anymore. They’re coming through Ryan. So his growth is happening.”
 
Hartline also sat out Monday, meaning Tannehill didn’t have either of his starting wide receivers. Kicker Dan Carpenter might have wished he didn’t play, having missed two 49-yard field goals and having an extra-point attempt blocked. Carpenter is battling rookie Caleb Sturgis, who sat out Monday because of a groin injury.
 
Certainly not surprised with anything Tannehill has done during training camp is offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who knows more about Tannehill as a football player than anybody. Sherman was Tannehill’s coach at Texas A&M and has been with him in Miami since he entered the NFL.
 
Sherman has predicted Tannehill this season will be the NFL’s most improved quarterback. Sherman had no problem saying that because he knows how to motivate his pupil.
 
“He responds to challenges,” Sherman said. “Whenever I’ve challenged him, he’s responded. I anticipate a great response this season for him. He’s tirelessly working. He comes out every day as the same. He’s consistent. . . . He has the qualities, not just talent-wise but mentally and emotionally, you look for in a quarterback.”
 
In other words, Tannehill has “it.”

Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson.