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WR experience benefits Tannehill

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Peter Schrager

Peter Schrager is the Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com and the national sports correspondent for FOX News Channel's "FOX Report Weekend." He's the co-author of Victor Cruz's New York Times' best-selling memoir "Out of the Blue" and lives in New York. Feel free to e-mail him at peterschrager@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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His NFL potential has been compared to just about every first-round bust imaginable — Akili Smith, JaMarcus Russell and Kyle Boller included — but Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill isn’t sweating it.

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Ten days prior to the biggest night of his football career, the man seemingly everyone has doubts about appears to be as cool as a breeze from a fan.

“You really can’t worry too much about what people are writing or saying about you in the weeks leading up to the draft,” Tannehill said Tuesday after spending a day working out for the Buffalo Bills coaching staff in Orchard Park, NY. “Mock drafts are different from site to site, from writer to writer and if you read into them too much, you'll drive yourself crazy. I guess I respect everyone’s opinion out there, to a point, but I don’t get too caught up with who is saying what or where they have me going.”

Though Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and Baylor’s Heisman Trophy winning gunslinger Robert Griffin III will be the first two quarterbacks selected in next Thursday night’s (April 26) first round, Tannehill’s future NFL home is arguably the most intriguing storyline of the 2012 NFL Draft. He could go as high as third overall to a quarterback-hungry team looking to swap draft picks with the Minnesota Vikings or slip to the end of the first round.

Regardless of which team ultimately selects the 6-foot-4 quarterback, there will be critics of the pick. ... And Tannehill is fine with that.

“All you can do is come in and try your hardest,” Tannehill adds. “As a rookie quarterback, nothing’s going to be handed to you, regardless of when you’re drafted. I know that going in. I’m going to commit myself to learning the playbook as quickly as possible and work as hard as I possibly can from Day 1.”

If his doubters — and there are many — have any ammunition, it’s in Tannehill’s lack of experience and success at the collegiate level. The three-time Academic All-Big 12 honoree started just 19 college football games at quarterback, his career record hovered around .667 and he recorded nearly three times as many receptions as touchdown passes over the course of his four-year career in College Station, Texas.

He didn’t take a snap at quarterback until the sixth game of his junior season.

But Tannehill’s situation was unique, making the fact he’s even being considered as the third overall selection all the more impressive.

A decorated high school quarterback at Big Spring (Texas) High School, he was overlooked by other big-time programs because his team ran a variation of the Wing-T offense.

“I think a lot of schools may have overlooked me because they assumed I was strictly a running quarterback,” Tannehill suggests.

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TCU and Texas A&M eventually came calling with scholarship offers, and though he met the Horned Frogs’ then-starter Andy Dalton on his campus visit to Fort Worth, Tannehill committed to play for the Aggies.

After redshirting his freshman season, head coach Mike Sherman sat Tannehill and fellow Aggies quarterback Jerrod Johnson down in his office.

“He told us that Stephen McGee would be the starter in 2008 and that one of us would be the backup. He also asked if we’d be willing to give wideout a shot,” Tannehill recalls. “I figured, ‘Well, I certainly don’t want to sit the bench the entire season. Why not?’ I just wanted to get on the field.”

So, Tannehill made the move to wide receiver. And guess what? At 6-4, he was pretty darn good. He caught 55 passes for 844 yards in his redshirt freshman season, the first time playing the position. The following year, he had 46 receptions for 609 yards and scored four touchdowns with Johnson playing quarterback.

“I loved playing receiver, but I never really viewed myself as a receiver," Tannehil said. "I was always a quarterback playing receiver. I didn't attend a single wide receivers' meeting while in college, either. That was important. Coach Sherman always had me in the quarterback meetings, even when I was the third-string quarterback and a starting wide receiver.”

He practiced all week at quarterback, learned how to operate Sherman's offense inside and out, then went out and starred at the wide receiver spot on Saturdays.

Tannehill doesn’t view his time spent at receiver as a negative, as so many draft pundits have seemed to be doing in recent months.

Just the opposite, actually.

“I saw the game from the receiver’s point of view for two and a half seasons,” he says. “I know what’s going on in a receiver’s mind when he hasn’t seen the ball on a few straight drives or when he runs a great route and doesn’t get the ball thrown to him. I saw the field from a receiver’s eyes. It’s helped me become a better quarterback.”

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At his height and weight (225 pounds), Tannehill never gave up his dreams of playing quarterback, even when he started his junior season as the team’s No. 1 receiver on the depth chart. After Johnson, the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, struggled in a game against Kansas, Tannehill received his shot under center. He completed 12 of 16 passes and led the Aggies to victory.

He never looked back.

The next week against Texas Tech, he set a school record by passing for 449 yards in a 45-27 win. With Tannehill starting at quarterback, the Aggies finished the season with wins over Baylor, Nebraska and arch-rival Texas. Though teammate Von Miller got the bulk of the headlines, Tannehill finished the season strong and was recognized for being named an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention.

He started every game his senior season, too.

Tannehill played wide receiver because he wanted to get on the field. He wanted to make an impact. Once the opportunity to play quarterback presented itself, he grasped it wholly and never let it go. An optimist would view that in a positive light. A cynic would question what took him so long to get the opportunity.

“You’ve got to block all that negativity out, but yeah, I see my time at wide receiver in college as tremendously helpful,” he said. “I recognize it’s a very different situation than most quarterbacks in the NFL Draft.”

As for Luck and Griffin, his two fellow first-round quarterbacks?

“I was a year older than both of them in high school,” Tannehill adds. “We’re all from Texas. Everyone knew all about Andrew Luck when he was in middle school. Griffin was a recognizable name for his track career. He was a big-time hurdler in high school. The football accolades always came after the track stuff.

“They’re both great talents. I’d like to think I will be as good, if not better, than both of them. As a competitor, it’s the only way you can approach it. But it’s not just the two of them I’ll be compared to. I’m going to be competing with all the great quarterbacks in the league. I’ve watched many of them for a lot of years. I’m looking forward to getting the chance to compete against them, too.

Tannehill rattles off names — Brady, Rodgers, Brees and both Manning brothers — and says he respects all of them greatly. Brady’s composure, Rodgers’ ability to throw on the run, Brees’ pocket awareness, Eli and Peyton’s command of their respective huddles. Tannehill wants to be mentioned in the same conversation as all of the greats.

“I just want to be the best NFL quarterback I can be,” he says confidently. “Wherever and whenever I’m drafted, I want to make that team better. I want to be great.”

Ryan Tannehill looks and sounds the part. Now all he has to do is deliver.

If and when he does, he’ll be proving a lot of doubters wrong. ... Even if he’s had them tuned out all along.

Tagged: Steelers, Jerrod Johnson

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