Of all the young quarterbacks that have entered the league over the last four years, many of them have encountered problems that have either stunted their maturation or left them with more questions than answers – players like Christian Ponder, Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert to name a short list.
But there is little questioning the skills that Ryan Tannehill possesses. In his third season, Tannehill will be making his 47th career start Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings and his improvement has been steady and well-defined.
Thrown into action as a rookie in 2012, Tannehill started all 16 games but threw for just 3,294 yards with 12 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a passer rating of 76.1. He took his lumps as a rookie, but in his second season he showed improvement in all of his numbers. He threw for 3,913 yards with 24 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and a passer rating of 81.7.
In his third season, Tannehill’s production is once again on the rise. His completion percentage is a career-high 66.3 – a jump of 6 percent from last year and 8 percent from his rookie season – with 3,390 yards, 22 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a passer rating of 90.8. But that is only part of the story.
Just as his passing numbers have improved, so has his ability in the run game. He has already set career highs for attempts (50), yards (316) and average per rush (6.3). As the Vikings prepare to meet Tannehill for the first time, he is showing them a lot of tape that casual fans who don’t see much of the Miami Dolphins may be surprised to see on Sunday.
Safety Harrison Smith has been impressed with what he has seen, which is a quarterback who can make all the throws but is a dual threat to run as well – making him a prototype quarterback for the Miami offense.
“He’s got the tools to be an in-the-pocket quarterback,” Smith said. “He’s got a great arm. He’s a smart guy. But he’s also got the ability to run. They don’t do it much, but it’s there. They run some of the read-option stuff with him because he has good speed. He was a wide receiver in college, so you know he can bring it and do some damage with his feet as well as his arm.”
It’s Tannehill’s running ability that has cornerback Captain Munnerlyn concerned, because Tannehill can make passing plays on the run or tuck the ball down and burn a defense that way as well. When it comes to keeping him where the Vikings want him, it’s going to require a full-team effort – the defensive backs holding tight coverage and the defensive line collapsing the pocket without allowing him to escape.
“Everybody knows he has a strong arm, but he can run,” Munnerlyn said. “People sleep on his running ability. He’s fast, so we have to close up those rush edges and keep him contained in the pocket. If you let him get to the outside, he’s got a little Aaron Rodgers in him. He’s a total package at quarterback.”
The responsibility of keeping Tannehill contained will be largely on the shoulders of defensive ends Everson Griffen and Brian Robison. They know their job is not only to pressure Tannehill but to get to him quickly so he doesn’t have time to heave long passes down the field.
“We haven’t seen them in person with our own eyes, but they have an impressive offense,” Robison said. “He has a really good arm and likes to get the ball deep to (wide receiver Mike Wallace). We can’t give him time back there because he has good touch on the deep ball and we can’t let him escape the pocket because he has good accuracy on the move and can run the ball well when he does the read option. We’re going to have to play with our technique being very sound, because he can make you pay for mistakes.”
Wallace is Tannehill’s primary big-play target. While Jarvis Landry and Brian Hartline catch their share of passes, it’s Wallace who is the playmaker in the receiver corps and his calling card is pretty simple and direct – speed to burn.
If Tannehill gets the time to allow plays to develop, he will likely be looking to take deep shots Wallace’s way if he gets the chance to get a free release down the field, because few receivers in the NFL are as dangerous as Wallace deep in the secondary.
“I haven’t seen him in person, but when you watch him on film, he’s flying,” Smith said. “Even fast guys don’t look like they’re flying on film because they’re so far away, but he does. He’s got some unbelievable speed and you have to be aware of that.”
Munnerlyn has faced Wallace before. Seeing has meant believing for him. He’s impressed with what he has seen in Wallace and knows that on Sunday the corners are going to require safety help because Wallace can break off a big play at any time.
“He can blow the top way off the defense,” Munnerlyn said. “He’s a guy you have to stay on top of and play him high and low. You can give up the short routes to him, but you know he’s going to run deep. He’s a deep threat and does that very well. We just have to stay high on him and not let him get over the top on us.”
For all the teams that have gambled on greatness with young quarterbacks, Miami appears to have hit it right with Tannehill. He has lived up to all expectations and the arrow continues to point upward for his potential and his ability to make the plays needed to consistently win games.
“He can do a lot of things very well,” Robison said. “We’ve faced a lot of good quarterbacks and you have to rate him right up there with the best we’ve seen this year. He does a lot of things very well and he’s still a young quarterback, just in his third year. The bottom line for us is that we’re going to have to play well at all three levels and dictate the pace, because if you give him too much time he can pick you apart with short passes and take deep shots that make big plays.”
Vikings wary of Tannehill, Wallace duo
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