Ryan Tannehill was the picture of health Monday afternoon. The NFL’s most-sacked quarterback the past four years spent weeks after the 2015 season recovering and rehabilitating from his latest round of beatings. He’s no longer urinating blood as he was after one particularly savage game. The bruises he wore throughout the season have mostly faded.
But when the Miami Dolphins quarterback says he’s “happy” and “excited,” it’s not just because defenses have stopped the abuse. It’s not because the pain from without has taken a pause.
Ryan Tannehill was also smiling because the obstructions from within his own organization have stopped.
Tannehill’s coaches are no longer abandoning him, setting him up for failure, or otherwise throwing him under proverbial buses. One teammate’s wife who called him a “bum” in the most public of forums is gone because the teammate, Brent Grimes, is gone.
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Things changed dramatically for Ryan Tannehill when the Dolphins hired Adam Gase as their new head coach.
His relationship with the head coach changed. His stature in the locker room changed. And that might mean everything changed for Tannehill.
“[Gase] has made it abundantly clear to me that we’re on the same team,” Tannehill said. “He has my back and just to have that reassurance, that confidence in me, it’s huge.
“It gives me a lot more confidence in the things I can do and how I can carry myself. I can just believe he’s always going to have my back. Obviously, you have to play well to keep your spot. But just to have his confidence going in and that he’s going to have my back, it means a lot.”
Fixing Tannehill is Job 1 for Gase. It is as much as anything the reason Gase was hired despite being only 37 years old and having never been an NFL head coach before.
And the new coach, being a quick study, recognized immediately that rehabilitating Tannehill was not just about making him physically sound again. It was also about making him confident again, making him feel valued as a franchise player again.
Gase wanted Tannehill to know that he — perhaps for the first time in years — is inexorably tied to the head coach.
Tannehill didn’t feel that way when he heard that former coach Joe Philbin wanted to select Derek Carr in the first round of the 2014 draft — a move that would have ended Tannehill’s days in Miami.
Tannehill couldn’t have felt certain of his status when Philbin gave him private assurances about being the starter early in 2014 but refused for a couple of days to make those same assurances in public.
And Tannehill didn’t feel that way when Philbin hired coaches who refused to give the quarterback the reins to the offense. Under former offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, Tannehill never had the option to audible at the line of scrimmage to any play other than those set by the coach before anyone saw how the defense deployed.
The audible issue handcuffed the offense from a football perspective. But the issue was deeper than that because it was an open manifestation of the team’s mistrust of Tannehill.
Think of it: Coaches not knowing how the defense would look on the field thought they knew a better play than Tannehill even after he saw the defense line up right before his eyes.
Things will change under Gase. Although Tannehill won’t get the offensive reins right away, he will get a chance to be more of the offense’s on-field steward rather than just another cog in the machine.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Tannehill said. “We’ve been in some adverse situations, and to be able to have a head coach and offensive coordinator that give me that freedom to attack teams that way, give me the versatility at the line of scrimmage, it’s exciting for me. It’s something I’m really looking forward to and can’t wait to get started on.”
This kind of stuff affects players, and quarterbacks in particular. It affects their confidence. It affects their status within the locker room because other player see the attitude flowing from the top and follow that lead.
So Gase has promised to change more than just something so mundane as audibles. He comes to the Dolphins having forged a relationship with demanding Peyton Manning and standoffish Jay Cutler.
Gase promises he will be able to work with the malleable Tannehill. He will get close to Tannehill.
It is already happening.
“I like Adam a lot,” Tannehill said. “His mentality, really everything about him. The little pieces I’ve picked just watching his teams play on offense … he always puts together a talented offense that’s multi-dimensional and attacks teams. That’s exciting for me.
“Beyond that he’s easy to communicate with. He’s energetic, He’s excited. All those things translate well to me and the guys.”
Tannehill, by the way, reports he’s feeling “100 percent” following the punishment he took last season. He’s speaking about the physical pain he absorbed in 2015.
He could as easily be talking about feeling whole after other mistreatment.