The Miami Dolphins have completed their first set of Organized Team Activities for the 2017 season, a three-day period that ran from Tuesday through Thursday this week. The team will be back for another three-day period next week, then they will have a four-day OTA the following week. Media access during OTAs is limited, unlike when training camp rolls around in July, so there has not been a great ability to analyze what the team is doing and how things are happening, but that does not mean the players and coaches have not talked about the practices, and the one day the press was allowed to watch gave us some insight into the team.
The first thing everyone wants to know, when it comes to the Dolphins and the 2017 season, is the health of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. This will, for obvious reasons, be a key story line throughout training camp, the preseason, and, probably, the regular season as well. In December, Tannehill sprained the ACL and MCL in his left knee, an injury that was initially thought to need surgery and an extended recovery time. However, after repeated doctors analysis, it was determined that the injury was not severe enough to require anything more than rest and rehabilitation work. As OTAs have opened, Tannehill was a full participant in the drills, though he was wearing a knee brace.
“Feel good,” Tannehill replied when asked about the knee. “I’m feeling good. I’m feeling back to 100 percent. Everything feels totally normal and I’m excited to keep pushing to get better next year.”
The knee brace, however, will be a permanent part of Tannehill’s practice and game apparel. “The brace doesn’t really do anything for stability,” the sixth-year quarterback explained. “It’s more just protection and getting used to it, getting comfortable. I am going to be wearing it during the season, so I just want to wear it now so that I’m comfortable throughout the year and it’s just second nature at that point.”
A strength of Tannehill’s game is his ability to move around when the pocket breaks down, using the mobility that led Texas A&M to use him as a wide receiver when he was slotted as a backup quarterback. Tannehill’s ability to roll out and find a receiver while the quarterback is moving toward the sideline, or the offense’s use of the read-option to have Tannehill run the ball for chunk yardage, is a big part of the offense, and one that the injury and the brace could impact. According to Tannehill, that will not be an issue, “That was one of the concerns when I first started wearing the brace back in January, just moving with it. I’d worn one previously in college, and I kind of thought that. So, that was kind of my hesitation: ‘Aw, man. This thing is going to really limit me a little bit.’ But it doesn’t at all. That’s one thing that I’m excited about. I guess the brace technology, the fitting is a little better. There’s an extra strap on there that I think that wasn’t on there on my previous brace and that kind of holds it in place and allows you to keep the mobility.”
Dolphins head coach Adam Gase echoed Tannehill’s statement on the quarterback’s mobility, saying, “I can’t notice a difference. He looks the same to me.”
Tannehill heads into the OTAs and the rest of the offseason without any limitations to what he can and cannot do in practice. His knee is considered 100 percent healthy, and it appears Miami will be ready with their starting quarterback for this summer. “It’s big, because this is such a growth period for everyone – quarterbacks, everyone who steps foot on the field,” Tannehill said of the “no restrictions” label. “This is a big period that you can work on the little things that go into playing the position. Year 2 in this offense, everyone on offense is really detailing things I think more than ever. Especially last year, grasping big concepts, understanding schemes and what we’re trying to do this time of the year. Since we have a year under our belt now, we’re able to understand the concepts as our foundation and now we’re fine-tuning things (and) getting details a lot more exact where maybe we missed a few plays a game last year because of details. Hopefully we can clean those up and make those (plays) this year.”
“Any time you can keep getting reps in the same system you’ve already been in, it’s valuable,” Gase added. “Just constantly learning body language of receivers, all the things that go into communication with the offensive line, the running backs, the tight ends. That’s why spring, training camp, preseason games, regular season games, they’re all valuable because you learn something in every game.”
Tannehill may not have limitations, but that does not mean there are not limitations on other players when it comes to Tannehill. “Stay as far away from Ryan Tannehill as possible,” defensive end Andre Branch said, laughingly, when asked what the coaches said of practicing against Tannehill.
He added, when asked if Tannehill is “radioactive” as far as the defense is concerned, again laughing, “We touched him a little bit. But it won’t happen again.”
Branch continued, “We’ve got a fine line between saying, ‘we got the sack,’ and saying, ‘it’s not a sack.’ So we kind let him know, ‘this one was a sack but I won’t come back here this close again.’ But if we get close to the quarterback, [Head Coach Adam] Gase would definitely let us know.”
Gase summed up the week for Tannehill, saying, “I thought he looked the same as the last time I saw him playing. It was a good week for him. He looks good. The only thing that looks different is he’s wearing a knee brace where last year he wasn’t.”