Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins believe Ryan Tannehill as durable as before injuries

Ryan Tannehill, who last started a game in December 2016, will be the Miami Dolphins starter for 2018.
Ryan Tannehill, who last started a game in December 2016, will be the Miami Dolphins starter for 2018. The Miami Dolphins

Ryan Tannehill came bounding down the long staircase connecting the first and second floor of the Miami Dolphins practice facility on Monday, and as he raced past reporters sitting on a couch in the lobby, he joked about them being present to uncover team secrets.

Well, meet Ryan Tannehill: The Dolphins' open secret.

It has been nine months since Tannehill completely tore (or retore, depending on your medical semantics) the ACL in his left knee, forcing him to miss all of last season.

He has never spoken of that injury publicly. He has not spoken about that fateful day at all, actually. He hasn't addressed his comeback. He hasn't discussed his difficulties the past nine months or his hopes for the months ahead.

The Dolphins, unable to keep Tannehill protected in the pocket as he became one of the NFL's most sacked quarterbacks his first four seasons, have built an impenetrable wall of privacy around their quarterback for nearly a year.

That changes Wednesday.

Tannehill not only is scheduled to answer questions about all relevant topics for the first time, but his play will be on display to reporters for the first time since that August 3, 2017, practice in which his left knee buckled awkwardly on a sideline after he scrambled — a moment that ended in his torn ACL.

So, yes, Tannehill is practicing under media scrutiny for the first time Wednesday, but it won't be his first OTA practice. He's practicing for the first time Tuesday because that's when the team's organized team activities of the spring begin despite being closed to everyone but the team.

Miami Dolphins VP Mike Tannenbaum and GM Chris Grier, say they are happy with QB Ryan Tannehill as they talk to the media about the upcoming 2018 Draft Day.

Tannehill is cleared to participate. He met with doctors last week and, as expected, was given the go-ahead to participate. It is yet to be seen how coach Adam Gase interprets that clearance in what Tannehill does or doesn't do in these light, no-contact practices.

So there are unknowns here. What will Tannehill look like even in these controlled drills? Will he be rusty? Will he still be mobile — a big deal for the Dolphins' spread option — given that knee injury last year that came atop one to the same ACL and the MCL that ended his 2016 season prematurely?

The Dolphins think they know the answers to these questions because this is the optimistic time of year. Everything mostly looks good in practices in shorts or against air. But the truth is no one knows for sure how things are going to look when, you know, real football begins.

(Remember Daunte Culpepper looked fantastic during the spring and summer of 2006. And then the regular-season began, the game sped up, and suddenly his surgically repaired knee was a problem).

Despite the unknowns, however, the Dolphins are confident about one thing I've asked about Tannehill over and over in private as well as in print:

Is Tannehill, who was seemingly made of steel as he endured 213 sacks without missing any of his first 77 NFL games, still durable?

Or is the man who has had knee injuries in back-to-back seasons and missed 19 consecutive games an injury risk?

I asked people within the Dolphins organization that question and came away buoyed by the fact that, at the very least, they have asked themselves that question. In other words they've done the homework to try to get an answer.

And this is part of that homework:

The past decade there have been multiple high-profile starting quarterbacks felled by ACL injuries. All recovered. And most have been able to continue without sustaining another knee injury after having reconstructive surgery — is what Tannehill had last year.

Tom Brady sustained an ACL tear the first game of the 2008 regular season. He was 31 years old at the time. He's 40 years old now and hasn't missed a game because of injury since returning from the knee injury.

Miami Dolphins new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains is excited about working with quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the upcoming season.

Brady has started 140 games since that injury. The only games he has missed since 2008 came in 2016 when he was suspended for four games.

Joe Flacco blew out his left knee in a November 2015 game against Los Angeles. He has started every game the past two seasons.

Phillip Rivers sustained a torn ACL in a Jan. 2008 playoff game. He played the following week in the AFC Championship Game against New England, subsequently had surgery, was back practicing in offseason camps 100 days later and has started 160 consecutive games since that surgery.

Robert Griffin III sustained a torn ACL, LCL and meniscus in a Jan. 2013 playoff game against Seattle. Griffin led the Washington Redskins to the playoffs that season as a rookie but never regained those heights again for a multitude of reasons. But he hasn't torn the same repaired ACL again.

There's one instance in which a quarterback has not enjoyed unlimited durability after ACL surgery. Carson Palmer tore his ACL in a January 2006 playoff game and then suffered another torn ACL to the same knee in 2014.

But even this example enjoys a nine-season span between injuries.

The Dolphins believe Tannehill is tough. Some within the organization contend he's so tough it worked to his detriment in 2016 because that potentially catastrophic hit to his left knee against Arizona only partially tore his ACL when a lesser player would have had a complete tear.

That led the team and the player to rehabilitate that injury rather than have a full surgical repair.

But following ACL surgery to repair the subsequent injury, the Dolphins believe Tannehill, now cleared for OTAs, remains as durable as ever.

They're betting their 2018 season on it.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero
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