The Miami Dolphins, once the franchise with the highest winning percentage in the NFL, are heading into the 50th season in the league having not made the playoffs since 2008 and not winning a postseason game since 2000. It is a streak that the team is looking to send this year, a year in which they added players like All Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and drafted highly touted prospects like wide receiver DeVante Parker. The team appears set to make the playoff push, but it will likely all come down to the right arm of fourth-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
The Dolphins' 2012 first-round draft pick, the first rookie quarterback to start Week 1 of his first season for the franchise, has improved in all of his key statistics each year since joining Miami out of Texas A&M. Last season, he became the only Dolphins quarterback not named Dan Marino to throw for over 4,000 yards and set the team record for completions in a season. His completion percentage increased from 60.4 percent in 2013 to 66.4 percent last year, while he threw three more touchdowns and five fewer interceptions. Add in that Tannehill is entering his second season in Bill Lazor's offense, and things continue to look up for Miami's signal caller.
"I just feel more comfortable this year as opposed to last year at this same time," Tannehill recently told the media. "I’ve had over a year in this offense now, comfortable with the reads, with the progressions and I think that’s just helping me play faster and getting the ball out of my hands to the right spot."
That comfort has already show in the Preseason, where Tannehill is 18-for-22 for 158 yards, 2 touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 126.9. He is making solid decisions, and his accuracy has been on point. The first team offense appears to be firing on all cylinders, and Tannehill is directing it superbly. "I think the run game suits me, lets me use my feet a little bit," Tannehill explained when asked about the offense. "The pass game, I feel like I’m really settling in at this point and what we’re trying to do and where the ball is supposed to be."
The major concern for the offense remains the offensive line, however, especially when it comes to protecting Tannehill. Miami's starting quarterback was sacked 46 times last year, third most in the league - and that is an improvement over the 2013 league leading total of 58 sacks - and Tannehill has taken a beating in recent years. The Dolphins are relying on several young players, such as guards Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner, to protect Tannehill this year, but the key may be when can left tackle Branden Albert, who tore his ACL and MCL during the season last year, is 100 percent and ready to return to his Pro Bowl form.
"We brought him here for a reason," Tannehill said of Albert. "He had a great career while he was in Kansas City, but that’s why we wanted to bring him here. He lived up to that last year while he was on the field and unfortunately he had the injury, but he’s been battling his way back all offseason, in here working. I was in here February and March in the building, and he’s in here grinding away. I respected his grind that he’s had this whole year and I’m excited for him to be able to get back out."
Tannehill's presence this year is starting to take on the swagger of a self-assured starting quarterback in the NFL. His play is mirroring that, and he appears to be absolutely comfortable in his role on the offense and in control of the offense as a whole. Now, he just has to keep it all together - and get some protection - to finally end the Dolphins' playoff drought.