OC Mike Sherman, QB Ryan Tannehill make early strides as Dolphins offense progresses

Ryan Tannehill’s final pass of the day Sunday was at once a perfect illustration of what the Dolphins’ offense was in 2012 and what it can be in 2013.

Tannehill, throwing off his back foot, launched a towering pass downfield. Marvin McNutt, covered by Brent Grimes, created separation and came down with the football. Touchdown.

The reality: That play never would have happened in a game. Safety Reshad Jones had a free run at Tannehill, and would have sacked him before the ball was thrown had contact on the quarterback been allowed.

Translation: The Dolphins have ample weapons to be an explosive offense. But those pieces don’t quite fit together perfectly — at least not yet.

“Would I say we’re where we need to be right now? No,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said Sunday, when asked about the team’s emphasis on creating big plays. “But do I see us making progress? Yes.”

Added Brian Hartline: “It can’t be worse [than in 2012]. I would say that we are making strides in a positive direction.”

Hartline’s right. The Dolphins were one of the league’s least explosive teams a year ago. Opposing defenses dared Miami to beat them deep, often crowding the line with a safety in the box and sitting on underneath routes.

And yet, the Dolphins had just seven touchdowns of 20 or more yards — and three of those came courtesy of Reggie Bush, who is now a Detroit Lion. Overall, the Dolphins ranked 22nd in explosive plays, with just 55 of their 981 offensive snaps going for at least 20 yards.

It’s up to Mike Sherman to fix it.

Sherman, the Dolphins’ second-year offensive coordinator, fielded questions for the first time this camp Sunday, and most of them were a variation on the same theme: How to score more, and faster, than in Year 1.

“I certainly don’t ever blame it on personnel,” Sherman said. “I think our experience together for another year will allow us an opportunity to have more explosive plays.

“I think we will have some more explosive plays,” he added. “Bottom line is we’ve got to make those plays.”

Sherman might not want to blame last year’s personnel, but Jeff Ireland sure wasn’t satisfied. Ireland cleaned house this spring. The only skill position starters returning on offense are Hartline and Ryan Tannehill.

Mike Wallace has replaced Davone Bess. Lamar Miller has taken Bush’s spot in the lineup. And Dustin Keller is expected to start at tight end with Anthony Fasano now in Kansas City. You can make an argument that the Dolphins have gotten faster, if not more athletic, at each of those spots.

Now Tannehill must make it all work. After a ragged first few days of camp, he was better over the weekend. Among his highlights Sunday was a nifty completion to Wallace on a second-level crossing route.

The Dolphins are giving Tannehill more leeway, too. Hartline said that in 2012, the sideline used hand signals to relay the play call in on every snap. Now, coaches trust Tannehill to make the calls himself.

“I don’t know where you are supposed to be at this point of camp, but I’m excited about the improvements we are making daily,” Tannehill said.

During his 10-minute Q&A session Sunday, Sherman touched on a range of issues, including:

• The running game: “Last year when you have a Reggie Bush in the fold, there’s a certain identity that goes with Reg. This year these guys have to create their own identity.”

• Tannehill: “He responds to challenges, whenever I’ve challenged him he’s responded. I anticipate a great response this season from him. ... I think he has some qualities, not just talent-wise, but mentally and emotionally, that you look for in a quarterback.”

• Wallace’s impact on the offense: “If in fact they did take Mike away with a certain coverage deploying two people over the top, one underneath, we have enough other guys that will step up and make plays.”

• Going against Miami’s aggressive defense every day: “I’m probably, next to Kevin Coyle and Coach Philbin, the biggest fan of our defense and how they play. They certainly present challenges for us as they will for our opponents.”

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