While Ryan Tannehill can impress for the Miami Dolphins, a lack of surrounding talent could stunt his growth

08/22/2012 12:00 AM

09/08/2014 6:02 PM

The great news is the Dolphins drafted a quarterback in the first round, and he hasn’t disappointed anyone since practices began a month ago. Truth is, Ryan Tannehill has been better than advertised because the kid who some worried had been drafted too high and others said needed a year on the bench for seasoning apparently is good enough to start right now.

So far, so great.

Surprisingly.

The Dolphins get an ovation for so far having the right answer to the quarterback question. General manager Jeff Ireland got it right on Kyle Orton last year, apparently got it right on not overpaying Matt Flynn this offseason, and so far seems to be right with the Tannehill gamble.

But football being a team sport that presents new problems even as old ones get resolved, one has to ask how prepared are the Dolphins to help Tannehill once he gets on the field?

It’s not enough that Tannehill will play as a rookie. John Beck did that. So did Pat White. The idea is for him to play well or at least not play so poorly that he loses confidence as the other two did.

The idea is to surround him with enough protection to keep him healthy, enough of a running game to offer him support and enough playmakers to lighten his load.

But so far this preseason, the Dolphins have shown their offensive line is too leaky, their running game is absent … and their playmakers downfield?

What playmakers downfield?

It should be pointed out that two of the three issues just raised could be resolved before this season is over, indeed, in time for the regular season to begin.

The Dolphins’ ground game, a necessary crutch for any quarterback and definitely for a rookie, has accounted for exactly 80 yards in eight quarters this preseason. That figure includes the 20 yards gained by quarterbacks who were running after broken plays.

Miami has thrown 108 passes and has tried only 27 runs.

That’s a terrible ratio, but the Dolphins explain it by saying it was all part of evaluating players in the passing game. The team didn’t run because coaches wanted to see players pass and catch.

Coach Joe Philbin promises more running in Friday night’s home game against Atlanta — a regular-season dress rehearsal for which the Dolphins have been diligently preparing.

Well, we’ll see if that which the Dolphins haven’t done much in exhibition games and frankly haven’t done with any balance in practice will suddenly come to them in the next game or in time for the regular season.

There’s cause for skepticism, but at least there is hope on that front because there’s an explanation for the problem.

There’s also a possibility the offensive line, which has been together since the first day of camp, can continue to mesh to the point Tannehill has some time to throw and a handful of his passes aren’t batted at the line of scrimmage as they were last week.

The line, a problem that has plagued nearly as long as the need at quarterback, also has a chance to be solidified this season. At least with the drafting of Jonathan Martin and the signing of free agent Artis Hicks, the issue was not ignored.

There is, once again, hope the issue can be worked out.

But as to giving Tannehill some playmakers … sorry, there’s no hope.

The manner in which Miami has addressed the problem so far looks to be bordering on an epic failure.

Consider that the Dolphins released Chad Johnson last week and traded Brandon Marshall in the offseason and had good reasons for both moves. But the lack of proven playmakers at the wide receiver spot is so deep and the inability to address the issue is so profound that if both discarded players were back on the team today they would be Miami’s two starters.

It gets worse. If Ted Ginn, discarded by Ireland and Tony Sparano in 2010, were on the team today, he’d probably start. Honestly, which Miami receiver is this year certain to eclipse both the 790 yards and 14.1-yards-per-catch average Ginn had in 2008?

The Dolphins’ West Coast offense needs a deep threat to at least threaten the defense with a long gain. Lacking that threat, the short throws that are a West Coast staple become only a nuisance to the defense.

Add to that the idea that Miami needs a tight end to threaten the middle of the field and none of the tight ends on the roster have ever done that consistently, and you have worries piled atop worries.

The Dolphins would argue they have bodies that can address all those concerns.

At wide receiver, B.J. Cunningham, Rishard Matthews, Jeff Fuller and Julius Pruitt are promising youngsters. Marlon Moore looks like an emerging talent. Clyde Gates has the potential to be a deep threat.

But all need significant development. None is proven. It would surprise if any earns the right to start in the next two weeks. And Gates, ribs aching so much he has had trouble bending over, has to excel the next couple of games merely to make the team.

No wonder Ireland looks at this group and tells people he’s got plenty of No. 3, 4 and 5 receivers but is still looking for someone to play like a No. 1 or No. 2.

That, of course, is not acceptable to Dolphins fans. If Philbin cannot develop someone now, they want Ireland to add someone soon.

Well, Mike Wallace is ready to sign his contract and report to the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend, and they say he’s not being traded. So forget that. Let’s see, what other team is eager to release or trade a star receiver?

This was a problem that began in the offseason and it probably cannot be properly addressed until next offseason. Until then, the Dolphins must pray someone currently on the roster steps forward as Ryan Tannehill stepped forward.

Surprisingly.

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