Ryan Tannehill had it rough last year.
I'm not referring to the expectations that were piled on his shoulders before he even took the field. I don't mean the pressure of taking the helm of a franchise whose mascot could just as easily be a wet paper bag instead of a dolphin. And I don't mean the steep learning curve he faced after starting only 19 games in college.
Ryan Tannehill had it rough last year because he spent the year criminally underrated, all because he happened to be drafted in the same year as Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson.
To be fair to those three, they did take the league by storm. Each of those quarterbacks was phenomenal and led their respective teams to the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Tannehill quietly grew into an NFL quarterback by being thrown to the wolves every week.
His mechanics tightened, his decision-making grew stronger, and his morale lifted. If he would have had a legitimate receiving option outside of Brian Hartline, it's entirely possible he could have led the Dolphins to the playoffs.
A year after his rookie season, Tannehill appears poised to take a pretty big step. The Dolphins' bright future completely hinges on No. 17 taking that step and landing it. If he trips, Miami fails.
Thankfully for the Fins, here are three reasons why Tannehill will take the biggest step of any sophomore quarterback.
2nd Year in a Familiar Offense
One of the biggest boons for Tannehill in his first year was the system new offensive coordinator Mike Sherman installed in Miami. The offense was very similar to the one Tannehill ran in Texas A&M, which makes sense as Sherman was his head coach at the time.
Familiarity with the playbook helped the young quarterback step into Week 1 as the Dolphins' starter. In fact, Tannehill was brimming with confidence because of his intimacy with the offense. According to a report by NFL.com, he claimed that 80 to 85 percent of the playbook was familiar to him.
That's huge. NFL offenses can be dizzyingly complex—just ask anyone who's heard Peyton Manning bark out audibles and assignments. The fact that Tannehill entered his rookie season with a basic understanding of over three quarters of his new scheme allowed him to focus on other things like honing his mechanics.
After a full year of studying the offense, Tannehill should know it front and back by now. Sure, the Dolphins have likely added a few wrinkles here and there (more on that a few sentences down), but there's no reason to believe QB doesn't already have a firm grasp on any additions.
Tannehill's increased familiarity with Miami's playbook is the first step in his transformation into a franchise cornerstone.
The Addition of the Read-Option
Tannehill showed off some impressive chops as a pass-thrower last season. His arm is a cannon, and he displays an impressive amount of touch.
But there's one aspect of Tannehill's game Miami didn't utilize anywhere near enough: his natural athletic ability.
Tannehill spent the first couple years of his college career as a receiver, and a pretty quick one at that. He's a natural athlete, and the Dolphins should let him use his legs more often.
Just look at his stats from two games in which he was allowed to run a bit more. In Week 15 against Jacksonville, he ran eight times for 52 yards. In Week 16 against Buffalo, he ran six times for 44 yards. Those are great ground numbers for a quarterback.
In the current NFL atmosphere, dual-threat quarterbacks are a hot commodity. Two of last year's rookie phenoms, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, ran the ball effectively. Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl with his legs.
It's time for the Dolphins to take the governor off Tannehill and let him run free.
In 2013, they plan on doing just that. The Dolphins revealed earlier this year that they plan on incorporating the read option, as reported by SI.com, into their offense. This is excellent news for Miami and its young quarterback.
The Dolphins will head into 2013 with a more dynamic offense that's led by a quarterback who can attack through the air and on the ground.
But Tannehill won't have to do it all on his own, which leads to the third reason he's poised for big things next year.
A Mightily Improved Supporting Cast
It was mentioned at the beginning of this article that Tannehill's lack of weapons held him back last season. That is incontrovertibly true. Luck had Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton. Griffin had Santana Moss and Pierre Garcon. Wilson had Sidney Rice and Golden Tate.
Hartline had a career season, but even that wasn't enough to put Miami's offense over the edge. Davone Bess and Anthony Fasano were nice complements, but neither instilled much fear in defenses.
Just a few months after the conclusion of the 2012 season, Miami has vastly revamped its offense. Bess and Fasano are gone. Hartline is returning as a No. 2 receiver, a position in which he can do a lot of damage.
Miami snagged Mike Wallace, the offseason's biggest catch, to be its new go-to receiver. He hasn't played a down for the Dolphins yet, but he's already the team's most explosive receiver since Brandon Marshall. His speed is otherworldly, as evidenced by an amusing anecdote in which Tannehill mistook his half-acceleration for full throttle.
Wallace is the ever-present threat the Dolphins needed on offense. He will draw the secondary's attention any time he's on the field. He's just one addition, though.
Brandon Gibson was added to the receiving corps as well. He is a young receiver who has the chops to become a very deadly support option. His one-handed catch against the Dolphins last season showed off his potential.
Replacing the vanilla Fasano is the electric Dustin Keller. He terrorized Miami over the middle for years as a New York Jet. Now, he'll give Tannehill a new kind of threat in center field, one the Dolphins haven't had in a very long time.
All of these new additions should have Tannehill chomping at the bit to get started in 2013. A young quarterback's best friends are the weapons that surround him. After this offseason, Tannehill is equipped with the artillery of a global superpower.
Miami's young quarterback has a bright future. After a promising rookie season, he looks ready to grab some of the national media attention that's paid to Luck, Griffin and Wilson. Tannehill should take a big step next season.
Indeed, Tannehill's jump in 2013 will be the biggest of any sophomore quarterback.
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