Ryan Tannehill's first throw of the preseason looked like most of the other rookie quarterbacks throwing the ball last weekend. He threw a line drive to Julius Pruitt at the positive side of the first-down marker on the left sideline. It was too high for Pruitt to get, 0-for-1, and Tannehill's first drive was finished.
Between Tannehill's first throw and his second, the Dolphins got the ball back after recovering a fumble on a punt return, just as the rain started to fall.
The rookie's second pass was pretty ordinary by most standards. He got the ball on a shotgun snap, gave a quick glance at the field in front of him before hitting tight end Charles Clay with short pass to the right side of the field that turned into a 19-yard gain. What stood out about it on the replay was the collapsing pocket. Tannehill roped his throw with Tampa Bay jerseys encroaching on his semicircle. Two pass rushers from the outside were inches away as he made the throw. At that point, the signal flares went up that there might actually be something to see in the dreck of preseason football.
VIDEO: Ryan Tannehill Interview | Scouting Report
Miami used the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft on Tannehill, the third signal caller picked. It was almost predetermined. Mike Sherman, Tannehill's former coach at Texas A&M, was hired as the offensive coordinator after management cleaned out the coaching staff.
Robert Griffin III became the media's favorite with the stage talent to match the skills. Andrew Luck stood outside the spotlight, too talented for reproach. Tannehill was the third part of that trio, the one that divided opinions. Most pundits took a skeptical view of the converted wide receiver with just 19 starts at quarterback in a spread offense. A few maintained with unblinking faith that Tannehill would never succeed in the NFL.
After one weekend of preseason play, the narrative has changed. Luck's effortless display got most of the ink. RGIII's debut was a well-managed first step into the NFL. Then there was Tannehill.
Expectations for Tannehill had nowhere to go but up in his first game. When camp opened, the Dolphins maintained their position from the spring that he was the third quarterback. Something happened in training camp; he started to play really well. The coaching staff praised him in the media, opening the door for more of a genuine quarterback competition.
Late breaking knee surgery put David Garrard on the shelf prior to the Dolphins preseason game against Tampa Bay. That meant even more reps, even earlier in the night for Tannehill. He picked up where he left off in practice.
On the stat sheet, Tannehill was 14-for-21 for 167 yards and the only touchdown of the night for the Dolphins. Preseason stats carry about as much weight as the election year direct mail flyers crammed into your mailbox these days. Go beneath Tannehill's numbers and there is still plenty of substance.
The Phinsider, SB Nation's Miami Dolphins blog, explains what made the rookie's performance more than just nice raw data:
Tannehill worked with the second-string offense in last week's preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He clearly stood poised in the pocket, was not rattled by defensive pressure, and made some great throws. The offense moved with a better rhythm and more efficiency under Tannehill, but, to be fair to quarterback Matt Moore, who started the game, Tannehill's success also came against second- and third-team defenses.
Take a look at the shot below. This is Tannehill on third-and-six with 29 seconds left in the third quarter. He makes this throw with a defender bearing down on him, the pass rushers' hands on Tannehill's back as he make the throw. The pass to Lamar Miller was right where it needed to be, but Miller was unable to make the catch.
Watching this game again, the Dolphins gave him better protection than expected from the second-team offensive line. Of course, he was playing against a second-team defense at this point.
Here's one of the more impressive throws he made in the game on first-and-10 with a 1:46 left in the second quarter. Julius Pruitt is covered pretty tightly in man coverage by Anthony Gaitor. Tannehill throws it to the receiver's outside, just above his waist, and he makes the catch for 22 yards.
Then of course there was his touchdown pass to Charles Clay in the third quarter. Again, you see his pocket presence, his feet anchored and making his throw to the tight end, leading him ever so slightly so that he walks right into the ball.
Plays like these helped Tannehill move the Dolphins offense down the field effortlessly, and I was impressed just how in-sync he was with his receivers, a much maligned group of receivers.
The angle in the GIF of his touchdown also shows his height, 6-foot-4. His size was usually listed near the top of his scouting report. Ditto his arm. His inexperience and ability to handle pressure made the biggest stumbling points for analysts.
From a pre-draft interview with Pro Football Talk (via Buffalo Rumblings):
"What I see though, Mike [Florio], is a kid that has a big arm; understands and has a work ethic and a passion for the game; and the thing that he doesn't have that needs to develop... he lacks some anticipation, and he'll throw late into coverage," Mayock said. "In other words, he doesn't have enough trust in himself yet where he can throw a guy open. He's got to see the guy open before he throws it."
Tannehill was throwing into tight windows last week with success and without any tentativeness. He was also doing that against the bottom part of the Buccaneers' depth chart. Defensive backs will be more savvy when the real shooting starts. Pass rushers will be more insistent.
All caveat's aside, this was still a positive start for Tannehill. I dare say this is a little further along than most of us believed he would be. Even the Dolphins sounded unconvinced of it just three weeks ago. His level of play might have something to do with the other quality Mayock mentions: his work ethic.
Tannehill spoke to his ascension earlier this week, giving observers some insight into his progress.
"I don't know. It's not up to me to decide, but I'm just going to go out here every day (and) try to do the things I can do to make this team better. (I) try to improve my game as much as I can every day and, hopefully, when it comes that time, I'm that guy. I want this team to win, so if I'm not the best guy at that time, I want this team to win."