Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins offense shows positive signs of progress, including one possibly dynamic player

Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill takes responsibility for two drop balls in first quarter.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill takes responsibility for two drop balls in the first quarter of their game against the Baltimore Ravens Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018, at Hard Rock Stadium.
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Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill takes responsibility for two drop balls in the first quarter of their game against the Baltimore Ravens Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018, at Hard Rock Stadium.

Let’s begin with the perspective because that matters: What we saw Saturday night from the Miami Dolphins’ offense was preseason good. It happened against backups because Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh opted to rest all of his starters on offense and defense and it comes with no guarantee that everything we saw can carry over to the real games.

So there is your dose of reality to keep you from rushing to your nearest travel agent to book a Super Bowl trip to see the Dolphins play next February.

But ...

That was a very promising ending to the first half, folks. The Dolphins, which had not gotten a touchdown from its starting offense this preseason, finally got in the end zone for the first time near the end of the half.

And when the defense failed to play good complementary football by stopping the Ravens the very next time they got the football -- Miami gave up a field goal instead -- the offense answered that score as well.

That was all for the starters this night but those final 12 minutes were encouraging.

“Well, it was good to see that we converted a third down inside the red area,” coach Adam Gase said. “I thought [Tannehill] got to his third progression, so that was really good to see. I thought the line did a good job of holding up.

“I think we had another shot at the end of the half. If he would have had just a fraction of a second more … It was tough because we got kind of pressure early and then he’s going to Albert (Wilson). We might have had a shot for another touchdown and stole some more points there. It was really what we wanted. We had a 2-minute drive and we were able to get some explosive plays and put ourselves in position to where if we score a touchdown there and then we get the ball back at the end of the half or in the second half, that’s really what we want.”

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Those two drives of clarity included a 30-yard run by Kenyan Drake to start off the touchdown drive. And it included a 36-yard pass completion to Drake to start the field goal drive.

Drake has been good this preseason. Even if you forget he was averaging 6.4 yards per carry going into this game, you must understand that in practice he has shown an explosiveness and cutback ability that are nothing if not impressive.

Obviously, it’s practice. But that combined with the final five games he played in 2017, the ones in which he averaged 4.9 yards per carry, are a sign that better things are on the way.

After he saw the performance, coach Adam Gase was obviously churning ideas for Drake because he was talking about how what we’re witnessing is the reason the Dolphins valued Drake as both pass-catcher and runner when they got him.

And let me say this now: If there’s a player who has the potential to be dynamic on this offense and burst onto the scene to help the unit be more than mediocre it is Kenyan Drake.

He is a big play waiting to happen.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is excited about runningback Kenyan Drake's explosive playmaking during the preseason.

And there was more to those last two drives. You saw quarterback Ryan Tannehill pass to Danny Amendola on third-and-10 from the Baltimore 16 yard line. Amendola didn’t have a first down when he caught the ball. But then he planted his right foot and headed upfield, the tackler overran him. Then Amendola used his quickness to outrun the next defender into the end zone.

Touchdown.

So what this means is you fantasy players out there should consider drafting Amendola somewhere onto your teams. Because Tannehill to Amendola, particularly on third downs and in times the quarterback desperately needs help, is a play I’ve seen in practice time after time after time.

These two have been working together only a few months. But they’ve probably connected on probably a thousand passes in that time. That’s not an exaggeration. Amendola has probably caught that many passes from Tannehill since the spring.

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And the repetition has become a habit. And that habit will be evident in the regular season.

(Yes, I know Amendola replaces Jarvis Landry at the slot receiver spot and there’s no way he’ll match Landry’s production. But Amendola will deliver something Landry did not and that is dependability in how he runs his routes and carries out his assignments. He also isn’t making $15 million per season.)

No, I didn’t forget Tannehill. This has been a good preseason for Tannehill considering he had not played a game in 606 days when he took his first preseason snap a few weeks ago.

In this game Tannehill finished with 11 completions on 16 attempts (68.7 percent) for 115 yards and a touchdown. He did not throw an interception. And he did not throw one all preseason. His quarterback rating in the game was 110.2. But those are only the statistics.

What I’ve seen is Tannehill become progressively more decisive. He seems to have a plan when he snaps the football. That’s good.

He’s not standing in the pocket like a statue, waiting for a receiver to come open or something terrible to crash in on him. He’s moving around a little bit. He’s active.

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Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill attempt to throws a pass during first quarter of an NFL preseason football game against the Baltimore Ravens at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, August 25, 2018, in Miami Gardens. David Santiago dsantiago@miamiherald.com

He’s looking good. And Tannehill believes he’s ready for the season.

“Yes, of course.,” he said. “I think we’ve had a lot of good reps going through training camp. Like I said, we didn’t start the way we wanted to but we got in a groove there in the second quarter and played the way we want to play, keeping that tempo and got the defense on their heels and we were able to move the ball effectively.

“So yes, I feel we’re right on track.”

It begs attention that Tannehill was sacked two times Saturday and that was the first time this preseason that happened. But one cannot blame the offensive line for the problems.

Both sacks this game came when Tannehill mishandled the football. On one, he dropped the ball as he was getting ready to throw and simply fell on the loose ball for the sack. The next time he mishandled the snap from center and again fell on the ball.

The point is Tannehill was not pressured nor harried. He was given time to throw and that has been the case all preseason.

Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill disappointed with slow start in their defeat to the Baltimore Ravens .

So this offensive line that is rebuilt at left guard with Josh Sitton and at center with Daniel Kilgore has gone from being a perpetual question mark in past years to a topic of hope and optimism.

None of this means the Dolphins are going to break scoring records or remind you of yesteryear’s Dan Marino offenses. But we’ve had a lean decade of offensive football in this town -- even in 2016 when the Dolphins went to the playoffs, but were 17th in scoring.

This group just might offer something much better -- something to be excited about.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @Armando Salguero
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