Barry Jackson

How Adam Gase has helped lift Dolphins’ Tannehill

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) breaks away in the second quarter as the Miami Dolphins host the 49ers at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Sun., Nov. 27, 2016
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) breaks away in the second quarter as the Miami Dolphins host the 49ers at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Sun., Nov. 27, 2016 adiaz@miamiherald.com

Ryan Tannehill has moved up to 24th on the NFL’s all-time passer rating list, and do you know with whom he’s tied?

None other than Dan Marino, with Andrew Luck and Brett Favre just behind them.

And though that reflects flaws in the passer rating system – after all, Tannehill is no Marino – it also speaks well of how far Tannehill has come. I asked two longtime general managers this week if Tannehill is past the prove-it stage and can be considered a quality long-term quarterback.

“You would like to see another season of this,” NFL Network analyst and former Redskins and Texans GM Charley Casserly said. “If I’m the Dolphins, I like him and am happy to have him. There are things I’ve wanted to see – more decisive, get the ball out more quickly, but he was playing handicapped with that offensive line. I’ve seen enough good things where I want the guy. He can get you to the playoffs. I don’t see elite ability but that’s OK. He’s good enough. Let’s see it for 16 games.”

ESPN analyst and former Colts GM Bill Polian seemed a bit more convinced, saying Tannehill is good enough to be a longterm quarterback on a consistent playoff contender.

“I think he has become a good solid quarterback,” Polian said. “I've always liked him because of intelligence, work ethic, focus. A lot of quarterbacks have arms and a lot can run. Very few can master offenses and call the game and understand what they're looking at.”

Three areas where Gase has benefitted Tannehill, who has nine touchdowns, one interception and a 104.7 rating in this winning streak:

1) He has coached Tannehill to make quicker dropbacks.

“Playing fast with my feet has been the biggest emphasis since we started this year,” Tannehill said. “Obviously there are times where I want to be faster.”

Gase said: "The thing that I always just remind him every once in a while is if I feel like he's getting a little stagnant at the back where you see him kind of sitting in the back of the pocket and his feet aren't moving or he's not sliding around, I'll just say something like, 'Keep moving,' or 'Push up in the pocket.' Just things like that, just little reminders. I don't want to overdo it because there are a lot of things going on there.

“We've encouraged him to get outside the pocket. 'Don't wait.' It's nice when he can stand in there and throw it. Every once in a while he will and he'll take a hit, but we'd rather him not get hit. He's done a great job. He's really bought into the fact that we're okay with him making, kind of ad-libbing plays. I have no problem with it. He makes good decisions.

“He's aggressive, I know that. When I see him roll to the left and throw it 40 yards down the field, I'm sure I'm going, 'No!' and then he completes it and I'm like, 'That was a great play.'"

2) His pocket awareness has improved, because Gase made throws difficult for him since the day the coach arrived, by personally waving his hands or rushing him in the pocket during drills or installing strategically-placed tackling dummies during practice.

Backup Matt Moore said pocket awareness is emphasized more than it ever has during Moore’s time in Miami, and it has paid off.

3) Giving Tannehill the freedom to change plays at the line.

That autonomy “has been really good,” said Moore, who’s very much aware of what’s happening with Gase and Tannehill during games. “Most of the time if he does change something, it's usually successful. Not that it's a touchdown but it's a positive play and that only feeds into it and gives Ryan more confidence.

“A lot of it is not mind blowing stuff. It's common sense: There are a lot of guys over here, so let's go over there. He has a menu in his head of things he can get to versus whatever and it’s up to him whether he gets to it or not. He's done a good job of getting us in the right play. If there's anyone who knows when to change, it's him.”

I asked offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen where Gase has made the biggest difference with Tannehill.

"I think in a funny way, Adam wants to see Ryan turn into him,” Christensen said. “Ryan is kind of the humble guy, and then you got the young guy who's (the) head coach with swagger. But I do think that Adam has injected some confidence in Ryan and some swashbuckler a little bit, if you will. I think he also has called games that really complemented him.

“On a more serious note, he has done a good job finding and reducing this thing to A to B to C and getting the ball out. Ryan is a really, really good out-of-the-pocket guy. He has been high percentage. It has given us a big lift. I think the thing I've seen Adam do is adjust. He's had pocket guys the last couple times and then now all of a sudden we're kind of a movement and an outside-zone team - a couple things that he hasn't been. He does a great job of adapting extremely quickly and doing things that Ryan can do. I do think that he has got him believing in what he's going to dial up.”

Christensen said “a lot of quarterbacks are rebellious - for lack of a better term - and they're going to do their own deal. Ryan is compliant. He wants to learn. He has been unbelievable that way. Coach Gase - not a huge ego that, 'It has to be my way.' So, it has been really a good mesh. I think they've really come out where they see the thing; they see how we're going to win a football game the same. That's rare in this league. It's still hard to win them, but you have a lot better chance if your play caller and head coach and your quarterback are on the same page and thinking the same."

Beyond Gase, Tannehill has had a lot of smart voices in his ear this year: Marino (who has been in most of the team’s quarterback meetings), Peyton Manning a few times (they haven’t spoken since the season started) and two Christensens: Clyde, but also noted quarterback guru Jeff Christensen, a former NFL quarterback who worked with Tannehill for the first time this past offseason and has tutored Kirk Cousins, Brock Osweiler and a bunch of others.

Jeff Christensen “was helpful,” Tannehill said. “It was something new for me I hadn't done before, just the mechanics thing. I've enjoyed working with him and I think it's helping.”

Tannehill told me he appreciates having so many smart people around him this season.

“You want good people around you and to learn from guys that have done it a long time: You have Dan. You have Peyton. Adam, obviously been coaching a long time. When you have guys that have done it well, at a high level around you, you can definitely pull from them, learn from them.”

It all starts with Gase.

“He’s brought a lot to me, I think his offense is really fun to play in,” Tannehill said. “He does a lot of things to help the quarterback. Just his knowledge of playing quarterback, being around all the quarterbacks he’s had. He’s learned so much and can help you in so many ways. He’s helped me in so many ways. Whether it’s drills, or footwork, whether it’s eyes in a certain place, what you’re looking at, there are all sorts of things that go into playing this position, and he’s got a solid knowledge base on doing that.”

Is this best stretch of career?

“I don't know,” he said. “I feel like I’m progressing. I'm really comfortable with what we're in doing in the offense, really kind of settled in.”

Another test arrives Sunday in Baltimore, with Miami facing the NFL’s No. 2 overall defense.

But there has never been a reason to feel more encouraged about Ryan Tannehill.

If you missed it, here’s our in-depth look at changes that the Dolphins and Ndamukong Suh have made to improve their relationship. And here’s a look at how their secondary has exceeded expectations.

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