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Sink or Swim
May 07, 2012
Think Andrew Luck has it tough? All Ryan Tannehill has to do is be Dan Marino and make the Dolphins forget the past decade
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May 07, 2012

Sink Or Swim

Think Andrew Luck has it tough? All Ryan Tannehill has to do is be Dan Marino and make the Dolphins forget the past decade

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By the time of that trip it was becoming clear that Griffin would be a high first-round pick, and by February, Luck and Griffin were certain to be taken one-two. When St. Louis auctioned off the second pick of the draft in March, Ireland dipped his toe in the water but didn't jump in. "I didn't see a huge separation between Griffin and Ryan at the time," Ireland said on Friday. "I just didn't see it."

There were some nagging issues with Tannehill. Twice at A&M he lost the starting quarterback competition, and he played receiver for half of his college career. Last fall the Aggies lost three games they led at halftime. Over those three second halves Tannehill completed barely 50% of his throws. His overall completion percentage fell from 65% in 2010 to 61.6%.

Ireland, Philbin and college scouting director Chris Grier separately broke down every throw of Tannehill's from 2011. "He loses to Oklahoma State and throws an interception where his receiver falls down," said Philbin. "He loses to Kansas State [in overtime] when he hits his receiver in the numbers on a two-point conversion and he drops it. He loses to Texas after leading [A&M] to a touchdown late, and his defense lets Texas drive down for the winning touchdown in a two-minute drill. I looked at every third-down throw, about 140 of them, and liked his decision-making. I counted 72 drops by his receivers."

In January, when the Dolphins hired Philbin, he brought in Tannehill's college coach, Mike Sherman, as offensive coordinator. During an interview at the combine, with Sherman in the room, Ireland asked Tannehill how he felt when Sherman twice picked another quarterback to start over him. Tannehill is a polite kid from West Texas, and Ireland wanted to know if he'd be comfortable speaking about two uncomfortable periods in his life. "I told Coach Sherman he was making a mistake, that I was the best quarterback he had," Tannehill said that night in Indianapolis.

As a last check, Ireland sent tape of Tannehill to several close friends in the business, to be sure he wasn't seeing just what he wanted to see. The reviews came back positive.

Projecting whether a first-round quarterback will hit it big or bomb is the greatest mystery in pro football. Much depends on forces beyond his control—quality of teammates, of coaching, of the front office. But Ireland, who had the final say on Tannehill, expressed no doubts last Friday. "I am pumped, excited, ecstatic," he said. "We got our guy. I am willing to put my name on it."

Tannehill has some advantages from the jump. Sherman is his coordinator. Zac Taylor, a former A&M assistant, will be a quarterbacks coach in Miami. When Tannehill walked into the Dolphins' offices on Saturday morning, the first thing he said to Taylor was, "Let's get to work." They spent about 90 minutes going over the playbook, and Tannehill figured about 75% of it is the same as he had at A&M.

"It'll definitely speed up my development," Tannehill said as he strolled with wife Lauren around Sun Life Stadium on Saturday. "I've already looked at tape to see different things, and I'm comfortable with them. Route combinations, some of the five-wide and three-by-one [three receivers on one side, one on the other] combinations, those are things you can adjust to."

For two days after the draft Tannehill said all the right things, and seemed to believe them. "Ryan's like this," Lauren said, putting her palm out and drawing a straight line. "Nothing bothers him. Whatever happens, he'll deal with it."

Now a spring shower fell over the stadium. In the Florida Marlins' old bullpen, Ryan Tannehill waited to be called out for a presentation on the field. He was asked about the burden of expectations he'd be shouldering on a team on a very long quarterback losing streak, and about the pressure he'd have to deal with on and off the field.

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