PHOENIX -- When Ryan Tannehill and Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase were having those stealthy and private workouts late last December and early January and then again when the quarterback ran some of the scout team drills in practice before the playoff game at Pittsburgh, the question everyone wanted answered was whether Tannehill could protect himself.
He had a partially torn ACL, a sprained MCL and was wearing a brace, so everyone wondered if Tannehill could get out of harm’s way. No, he wasn’t going to be like the guy who played receiver in college or could break the pocket and turn a busted play into a big gain in the NFL.
But the Dolphins wondered if Tannehill could move so he wouldn’t be a sitting duck in the pocket.
The answer was never cemented. Tannehill never played again after the his injury although he was lobbying to play and would have played if the Dolphins had beaten Pittsburgh and advanced to a second round playoff game.
But ask Gase about Tannehill’s mobility issues now and the question that loomed large then has shrunk considerably.
"I asked the same question,” Gase said Tuesday during a morning breakfast meeting with media. “I did not get the response of you have to change the way we're playing with him.
“It sounds like he feels comfortable how he feels. But it's going to be more the eye test where you guys will see him out there [during OTAs] and it's going to be, ‘How's it look?’ And I'm going to look for how are the reactionary type plays going to look for him. I'm going to expect him to look pretty much like he did before he got injured.”
That’s great news for the Dolphins because having a mobile Tannehill has been a major asset for them.
It has kept plays alive -- although not as many as the team would like. It has kept Tannehill as healthy as he was despite what was marginal offensive line play his first three years. It has posed a threat.
That threat remains.
The Dolphins believe mobility won’t be an issue for Tannehill even though he will wear a brace during the 2017 season.
“From my knowledge when we talked about the brace, it's not going to be a huge brace like he tried to wear before,” Gase said. “It's a lighter brace. It's not going to affect his mobility. He's tested out quite a few braces to figure out which felt the best…He doesn't want to feel like he's restricted too much. The biggest thing is we're getting him to wear a brace. That's a big step for him. Knowing him, if the mobility's not there, he might take that thing off and throw it to the side.”
Gase on Tuesday pulled back the curtain on exactly how close Tannehill came to playing in the playoffs. Tannehill wanted to play against Pittsburgh but obviously missed the game. But he kept pushing hard to return in the next game had the Dolphins advanced.
"When we were getting through that back half of the season, he was harassing quite a few people that he wanted to play in that playoff game,” Gase said. “He was testing all kinds of things and trying to figure out what was best for him. He may or may not have gotten some practice reps at some point, so we saw him move around with some bodies around him. We saw him with the brace that he was going to wear at the end of the season. And I know after that he was looking to see if there was something better."
Wait, may or may not have gotten practice reps?
"We threw him in there on some scout team stuff,” Gase said. “It was more to see what where to happen if we made it to the next round, there was a legitimate chance for him. We wanted to see him move around. It was just a few reps. We didn't want to make it a huge deal. He was pushing us that he wanted to play.
"I think it would have been really hard for us to keep him off the field for that game. It probably would have came down to us, as a coaching staff, to make a decision of what was best for him. That would have been a tough one for us because you want to do what's best for the team and the organization. But when your starting quarterback is saying, "I can go,' and I don't know if you guys have ever seen Ryan get mad, he's very persuasive. I know he comes across as very mild mannered but there's a side to him a lot of people don't get to see and that's what you want out of your staring quarterback.”
There’s another thing. What kind of player would Tannehill have been if he’d gotten back in time?
What kind of quarterback will he be when he returns in 2017?
And as I told you weeks ago, a much better Tannehill looms on the horizon ...
I told you how people close to Tannehill explained to me the quarterback’s emotion after the game in which he almost blew out his left knee. He wasn’t emotional because he was in physical pain or felt sorry for himself. Tannehill was merely frustrated because that game seemed to mark a turning point for him.
It marked, as I wrote then, a game in which the game slowed down.
On Tuesday, Gase repeated that very phrase in describing what happened that day.
"I think that was part of a lot of the disappointment. It had slowed down for him,” Gase said. “That game when you go back and watch that game, you could tell the timing was very good. And everybody else was flying by and he was just playing at slow speed and you can tell he knew exactly what he wanted to do.”
By the way, I was remiss in showing you concrete evidence of what I was saying in that long ago post about the game slowing for Tannehill. But thanks to reader Matty Infante, I offer that evidence now.
Just before he was injured, the game had slowed down for Tannehill and the proof was that he completed 15 of 20 passes (75 percent completion) for 195 yards, with three TDs and one interception.
Tannehill’s quarterback rating that day was 124.0