DAVIE, Fla. — Sure, the Miami Dolphins line up 11 guys on offense. But none of them so far has been No. 11.
In a scrimmage last week before fans at Sun Life Stadium and in their first preseason game Sunday, the Dolphins were without wide receiver Mike Wallace, their most pivotal offseason acquisition who has been sidelined with a groin strain. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill sure is antsy to get the speedster back.
“Mike definitely is a big factor in this offense,” Tannehill said Tuesday at Miami’s training camp. “We brought him in for a reason. He got paid a lot of money for a reason, and we are excited to have him. Once we get him back on the field and are able to work as a full unit, I’m looking forward to that.”
Without Wallace and fellow starting receiver Brian Hartline, Tannehill was pedestrian in the preseason opener, a 24-20 loss to Dallas in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. While playing 10 snaps, Tannehill completed 2 of 5 passes for 11 yards and a had a fumble on a hand-off to running back Lamar Miller, although that was more Miller’s fault.
Calling Tannehill pedestrian during Tuesday’s practice would have been very kind. He was dreadful.
Tannehill threw four interceptions. And this is the guy who is supposed to be Miami’s best quarterback since Dan Marino? If he doesn’t get it going, he might make Dolphins fans long for the days of Jay Fiedler.
But it’s not fair to really judge Tannehill until he has Wallace as a target. The ability by Wallace, who signed a five-year, $60 million contract, to stretch defenses is what is supposed to open up the offense and make Tannehill a much better quarterback in his second season.
Without Wallace, the Dolphins aren’t any better this season on offense. The offensive line, with the departure of Jake Long, is worse. The running back situation, with the exit of Reggie Bush, remains a big question mark.
Hartline was back at practice Tuesday after having a calf problem. But Wallace stood on the sidelines, watching Tannehill throw interception after interception.
“I’m frustrated. (It) wasn’t a good day,” Tannehill said. “Very frustrating. But, if you take a step back at look at the whole, I am definitely moving in the right direction if you take out (Tuesday). Frustrated with the day, not happy about it, but I will make the corrections and move forward.”
For those trying to look on the bright side Tuesday, maybe Miami’s defense is just really good. But, of course, more will be known Friday when the Dolphins play their second preseason game at Jacksonville.
Jacksonville’s defense conjures up no memories of the Monsters of the Midway. The Jaguars gave up an average of 27.8 points last season, 29th in the NFL.
So it might be a good idea for Tannehill to have a decent outing to get the momentum going the right way. Still, it remains to seen if the Dolphins have Wallace, with Coach Joe Philbin unsure if he will play.
“Obviously,” Miami center Mike Pouncey said about it not being fair to judge the offense until Wallace plays. “(Wallace makes) just a big difference. I think teams won’t stack the box on us. They’ll respect his speed, so having him out there is a huge part.”
Pouncey was among those who spent Tuesday telling Tannehill to keep his head up during the trying practice. He told him you “can’t dwell” on the tough day.
“Ryan’s a competitor,” said third-string quarterback Pat Devlin, who offered encouragement while sitting out practice due to an injury he (and the Dolphins) wouldn’t disclose. “He’s as hard as anybody is going to be on him. So, as his friend and fellow quarterback, you just try to keep him in the right mindset and tell him the next-play-mentality-type thing.”
Then again, the next play wasn’t always better. Tannehill at one point threw interceptions to Will Davis and Brett Grimes on consecutive snaps.
“Even though it goes under his name, I wouldn’t put them all on (Tannehill) but, obviously, everyone will associate him with that,” Miami offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said of the interceptions.
Naturally, Twitter lit up with each Tannehill pick. There are plenty of doomsday-thinking Dolphins fans considering the team has been to the playoffs just once since the start of the 2002 season and hasn’t won a postseason game since 2000.
But there was a reason the Dolphins made Wallace their top target in free agency. The thinking was Tannehill didn’t have a playmaker last season who really could keep defenses honest.
Wallace is supposed to be the guy who can help take Tannehill to the next level. But until Wallace steps on the field in a game-time situation, it’s more difficult to evaluate whether Tannehill can get to that level.