DAVIE, Fla. -- After years of others characterizing who he is and who he isn’t, Ryan Tannehill decided that this year he’s going to make it clear to the Miami Dolphins and the world.
The outside perspective of Tannehill often describes him as quiet and a bit isolated. It didn’t help Tannehill that one of his former receivers, Jarvis Landry, blasted him earlier this summer, saying the two didn’t have a great relationship.
Some of Tannehill’s teammates and coaches have noticed that he is taking more ownership of the team this preseason. Tannehill says it hasn’t been his No. 1 focus this offseason, but noted it has been a career-long “progression” and he knows he’s made a jump there in 2018.
“The more confidence you get as far as games under your belt, time spent with the guys, time in an offense, dealing with all the bull crap that you deal with in this profession,” said Tannehill, who missed the 2017 season with a torn ACL. “At some point you’re kind of like, ‘Screw it. I’m going to be me and do everything I can to win and if they don’t like it, then oh well.’”
It’s a make-or-break year for the 30-year-old Tannehill, who is entering his seventh NFL season. The Dolphins chose to pass on drafting a quarterback this spring, betting on another year of productivity with coach Adam Gase and Tannehill. They hope it works out the way it did in 2016, when the Dolphins made the playoffs. But another year like 2017, when they went 6-10, could signal a rebuild. Most media expectations for the Dolphins are low.
Tannehill heard it. Expect a less-filtered, more vocal and a particularly authentic Tannehill this year.
A recent example occurred on Sunday, when Tannehill kicked Kalen Ballage out of the huddle after the rookie running back made a mistake on a blocking assignment that resulted in a sack. It was fiery and unusual from Tannehill.
“You don’t want to be an iron fist all the time; at least I don’t. I like to pick my spots and have a reason for everything that I do. I believe in Kalen. I know the talent that he has,” Tannehill said. “I told Kalen after the fact, I just want him to have more urgency. We want him to help us; I know he can help us, but we have to know what we’re doing when we’re on the field, especially in pass protection. I think he’s picked it up.”
Ryan Tannehill explains why he kicked Kalen Ballage out of the huddle after a blown assignment a couple of days ago: pic.twitter.com/Gec687wFdA— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) August 14, 2018
Gase and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains loved the accountability of that interaction and want to see it more.
“Ownership. Ownership. Coach Gase can only tell them so many times. Eventually it’s their responsibility to control this stuff,” Loggains said. “It means more if all of a sudden you bust a protection and the quarterback throws you out. So the level of accountability, that’s where Ryan took a step. It needs to be understood that if you step in the huddle with the ones and you get that opportunity, which a lot of rookies don’t get, you have to earn that right. So for Ryan to hold him accountable, I think that was absolutely the right thing to do.”
Gase agreed. Ballage, even though he was the example made in this situation, also understood and respected the constructive criticism.
Multiple receivers mentioned that Tannehill, who typically sits with the quarterbacks in the cafeteria, has made more of an effort to sit with receivers at lunch, having fun and joking around with them.
“I definitely see something different than the outside [world] sees,” receiver Jakeem Grant said. “He leads on and off the field. He’s not afraid to get on us. That’s what I feel like a quarterback is. He takes over the offense.”
“That’s what I like him about this year: he’s opening up, spreading his wings and being the Ryan that he really is.”
The Dolphins are still searching for an identity. They have an interesting mix of age-30-plus free-agent signings and hungry rookies. The biggest Dolphins personalities in recent seasons – Landry, Ndamukong Suh, Jay Ajayi and Mike Pouncey – have all been jettisoned in the last year.
They need a leader to be the players' voice. That’s where the evolved Tannehill comes in.
Even through his uncertain long-term future with Dolphins, Tannehill can lead, take ownership and delve out criticism and instruction when needed.
“That’s what needs to happen. It needs to happen more offensively. It needs to happen on defense, and when things start to go that way, it has to come from the players,” Loggains said. “It’s our job to put them in situations to be successful, but they need to hold each other accountable and set the standard for themselves.”
If the Dolphins figure that out, stay healthy and play up to their skill level, it could be the difference between a team fighting for a top-five draft pick and one competing for a wild-card playoff spot.