"Don't know," Miami Dolphins wide receiver Greg Jennings replied when asked how far from being an elite quarterback Ryan Tannehill is. Jennings was appearing on ESPN's First Take Wednesday morning, and he again pointed to the coaching staff as to why Tannehill may not yet be reaching his potential, or why people still do not know, as Tannehill prepares to enter his fifth year in the league, what the Dolphins have in their quarterback.
"I guess what I'm saying is he's far. I'm being honest. None of us know. I've made the statements about them [the coaches] babying him thus far through his career," Jennings explained. "It's like he ‘s been handcuffed. I've played with Brett [Favre], I've played with Aaron [Rodgers], I've played with great quarterbacks. So, you can assess, and you can quickly tell if he has it or not. It's been difficult for me to even tell if [Tannehill] has it or not, because he hasn't been given liberty. I'm just being honest.
"Simple checks at the line of scrimmage are not in his control. Until the end of the season, when there was a coordinator change, he was not allowed to check out of a play."
Tannehill not having the freedom to change plays was a long debate last year, with the coaching staff, led by former head coach Joe Philbin and former offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, saying he had all the freedom of any quarterback in the league, but the play on the field not matching those statement. Repeatedly, the defense would give Tannehill and the offense a look, one fans at home and analysts around the league could identify, that would not see a run play succeed or where the pressure would come from on a pass. And, repeatedly, Tannehill did not change the play, instead running into the strength of the defense or allowing a free rusher to come through and hit the oft-sacked quarterback.
Is this a case of Tannehill not being able to handle the audibles, or is it a case of the coaches believing they understood what was happening better than their quarterback on the field? As Jennings said, we just do not know. Tannehill has never been given that ability, so we do not know if he can handle it. We do not know if the offense will perform better with a Tannehill freed to do what a quarterback should do, or if it would crumble as Tannehill struggles with the freedom.
Tannehill is far from being elite, but it may be more from the coaching staff holding him back than from any talent levels he has.
Jennings also discussed the reports that the practice squad had to be told to "back off" from Tannehill because they were intercepting him and dominating workouts. Jennings explained, "That was true. In [Tannehill's] defense, that was a Friday practice - or maybe a Saturday practice. It's kind of like a "Feel Good Friday," so he is going to make the throw regardless. In his defense, He is not expecting the defender to try to make a play on the ball, on Fridays, because there is no contact, we don't want anybody on the ground. That's just the way it is, that's just the rule of thumb, across the league in the NFL, on Fridays. So, that is what took place.
"Now, as far as Wednesday, Thursday, no. No. Does he get picked off in practice? Yes. Every quarterback does. But to the point of him being an elite quarterback, a great quarterback, we don't know. It says a lot how much the trust level is with Ryan up until this point, if you don't give him freedom.
"In my opinion, if you don't let me be who I am, who you drafted me to be, you don't really trust me."
New head coach Adam Gase has come into the job explaining how he is going to show Tannehill that he is there to support him. The Gase and Tannehill, as well as offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen, trust has to be built, and the team has to give Tannehill a chance to prove, once and for all, exactly what he is as a quarterback. When a veteran receiver who has worked with two all-time great quarterbacks is still not sure what his current quarterback's ceiling is, there is a problem. The 2016 season will have to provide the answer.