Something is different about these Miami Dolphins this year and, in case you haven’t noticed, all you have to do is pull up a seat in the lobby of the team’s training facility and talk awhile with quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
He is the face of the franchise. That’s been true to one degree or another since Tannehill was drafted in 2012. But it was cemented in the offseason when he got a new $96 million contract.
Now the man who in many respects speaks for this team is showing a confidence in himself, his teammates and the coming season in a manner that has not been seen here — yes, I’ll say it — since Dan Marino ruled the roost.
“You’re not missing it; there’s definitely more confidence, more positivity, more encouraging each other around this team,” Tannehill said after Saturday’s practice. “We’re realizing we’re all working together for the same thing. I honestly think it starts with Coach [Joe] Philbin. He started the year off with confidence, talking about championships. We’re not here to compete. We’re here to win championships.
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“That set the tone for what everybody was already thinking and saying in the locker room. But to hear your coach say it, it really means a lot.”
Philbin might have set the agenda but Tannehill is running with it as if it were a breakaway spread-option keeper.
At a time the quarterback with a new set of receivers might be worried about timing and cohesion, Tannehill is at ease and thrilled with the possibilities the new guys — Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Greg Jennings among them — will offer.
“They fit this offense better,” Tannehill said. “They fit what we do in this offense. And I think the offense fits me also. … I feel like this year we have all the weapons to attack all parts of the field.”
All parts of the field includes quick slants, bubble screens and the vast assortment of short passes the team lived on last year. But it also means successfully completing deep passes — a rarity last season.
“It’s important,” Tannehill said. “You can stretch the field vertically. You can open up a lot of other things. Not many teams can sit on short things. I think we’ve done that so far in camp. We’ve had balls in the right locations and sometimes we don’t always come down with it, but I feel good about where I’m putting the ball.
“I’m giving guys a chance, and I think this receiving corps is going to be much better at coming down with those footballs.”
Tannehill is drawing on anecdotal evidence from the first three days of training camp. Yes, there have been missed connections. But Tannehill has had as many deep connections in three days as he had perhaps in a couple of weeks the past couple of training camps.
“I worked a lot on it in the offseason,” Tannehill said. “I think it’s going to be big for us. I can see it already. I can feel it. I think those guys out there are excited. We all understand it’s going to be a big factor.”
The Dolphins made a big investment on Tannehill in the offseason, in part, because he improved consistently his first three seasons and that suggests he’ll keep improving in the future. But Tannehill sees progress as more an realistic expectation than a distant possibility.
“I do,” he said, “that’s why you play the game, to get better. That’s why you practice every day, to get better. I expect to continue to get better as my career goes along.”
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, improvement from the quarterback hasn’t had a direct effect on the team’s record. Even as Tannehill jumped from 24 to 27 touchdown passes and had his interceptions drop from 17 to 12 last season, the Dolphins finished 8-8 for a second consecutive season.
Philbin says the team has to play better complementary football — meaning perhaps the defense has to be better — for Tannehill’s continued improvement to figure more prominently in the standings.
But Tannehill isn’t thinking about that. He’s thinking of doing his part.
“You think about the NFL, and to be a good team you have to have a quarterback and a quarterback that’s playing well,” Tannehill said. “I understand that and I know that I have to play well in order for us to do well. I expect that if I play well this year, we’re going to have a great year.”
The Dolphins are paying Tannehill to play well, but his new deal might also bring the added benefit of giving them a more confident and prominent team leader.
“It gives me security,” he said of his new contract. “It gives me peace of mind and I know I don’t have to worry about anything. I’m going to be here. I can just go out and play. I think it lets everyone in the building know I’m going to be here, and we’re going to work together to win a lot of games.”
Tannehill’s leadership style has not always been visible to the public. But there is a side of him that isn’t going to avoid confrontation, if that’s required.
“In most cases, depending on the situation, I’ll try to talk to a guy face to face and address the issue,” Tannehill said. “Now, if it’s a repeat mistake, something we’ve talked about and been over, then, yeah, I’m going to lose my cool a little bit and jump on a guy. But if it’s a first-time mistake or something we haven’t talked about, we’ll just clear up the issue and move forward.”