Ryan Tannehill-Mike Wallace connection making strides as Miami Dolphins wrap training camp

As training camp ended, receiver Mike Wallace said he is ‘totally comfortable’ in Bill Lazor’s system and expects to be an improved player.

08/14/2014 4:31 PM

09/08/2014 8:06 PM

If real life were more like the movies, the last deep pass of training camp from Ryan Tannehill to Mike Wallace would have gone for a touchdown.

Instead, like too many before it, the ball fell harmlessly to the ground.

But this time, there was a significant difference: It took an acrobatic defensive play from Brent Grimes to break up a near-perfect throw.

So yes, the Dolphins can indeed point to progress as their 49th training camp wrapped up Thursday. The passing game is far from perfect. But it’s certainly better than it was a month ago.

“[Ticked] me off,” Wallace said with a grin. “I thought I had one. Every day in ‘pat-and-go,’ coach tells us to body them off. On that play right there, just let it fall over my shoulder. Grimes made a great play. I actually didn’t think he was going to get there, but that’s Grimes. He does it all the time.”

Fortunately for the Dolphins, there aren’t many Brent Grimeses in the NFL. If Grimes hadn’t run stride-for-stride with Wallace down the right sideline, he wouldn’t have been in position to make the leaping deflection.

More often than not, the speedy Wallace will have a step or two on the defender — particularly when his hamstring heals fully.

Wallace said Thursday the injury is better but not 100 percent. Regardless, he intends to play in Saturday’s preseason game in Tampa.

“Just two days off in this offense will have you gassed,” said Wallace, who missed last week’s exhibition opener. “You’ve got to keep going, keep building your endurance every single day. I definitely need to go out and get some plays.”

Assuming he does play, Wallace believes it will be as an improved player. Last year’s top free agent acquisition will be used several different ways in Year 2, requiring an enhanced set of skills.

He has apparently bought in. Dolphins coach Joe Philbin praised Wallace’s commitment to catching passes out of the ball machine following each practice.

“That gives me confidence that things, somehow, some way, are going to work out fine,” Philbin said.

Wallace also thinks he’s getting in and out of his breaks well, and ran good routes throughout training camp.

“I’m totally comfortable,” he said of Bill Lazor’s offense. “I feel really good about it.”

Added Philbin: “He has in-breaking routes, he has out-breaking routes, he has vertical routes, we’ve got slip-screens to him. I think he’s going to be involved. He’s been working on his route tree on a daily basis.”

That versatility of responsibility has been great for Wallace’s frame of mind. He said he looks forward to practice because of the new possibilities that each day brings.

And he has been surprised by just how well Lazor’s system works, when run correctly. There have been times when he has been skeptical about plays introduced in meetings, only to see them get receivers wide open when run at practice.

Philbin, meanwhile, praised the overall attitude of the team this camp — an aspect of the franchise always on the radar after last year’s divisive bullying scandal. He has made a concerted effort to improve morale, even participating in the ALS ice-bucket challenge — and daring Dolphins alumni to do the same.

Dan Marino was among those to accept the challenge, surviving a few gallons of frigid water after practice.

Of course, these all will seem like quaint footnotes this winter unless Wallace and Tannehill can connect deep, regularly, during the regular season. Their inability to do so last year possibly cost Miami a playoff spot. Their continued inability might cost people their jobs.

Grimes’ deflection aside, there have been some encouraging developments. Tannehill and Wallace hooked up for a touchdown during 1-on-1 drills.

Plus, as Philbin mentioned, the Dolphins plan on finding ways to get production out of Wallace beyond simply running go-routes — a proposition that has not just Dolphins players encouraged but also team employees up and down the organization.

“If we execute the plays when the coach puts us in position, we can score an unlimited amount of points,” Wallace said. “It could be higher and higher, depending on our execution. I don’t think it’s the plays or the offense that’s going to make us score points. It’s the players and the execution of the plays.”

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