Mobility is still vital part of Tannehill’s game
MIAMI GARDENS — The Miami Dolphins offense needed a spark after going three-and-out in the first series of Saturday’s scrimmage so coach Adam Gase went to one of his old reliable plays.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill lined up under center, faked a hand off to tailback Kenyan Drake and then sprinted to the right side of the field, which was wide open because of the effectiveness of the naked bootleg he had just executed to perfection.
As defenders closed in on Miami’s starting quarterback, who has missed the past 20 games because of two left knee injuries, Tannehill waved off an open MarQueis Gray, instructing the tight end to go block a safety downfield.
Tannehill then turned on the afterburners to gain 16 rushing yards, delivering the first, first down of the scrimmage.
It was just one play, something Tannehill has probably executed a hundred times during college and NFL games in his career. But the fact the movement plays — bootlegs, play action, quarterback sprints and read-options — are in Miami’s arsenal because Tannehill can still execute them after his injuries is refreshing because a mobile version of Tannehill is the best version of him.
“It’s big. I like having that as part of our game,” said Tannehill, who has gained 1,065 rushing yards and scored six rushing touchdowns on 216 attempts the past five seasons.
“I think it matches up well [with] our outside run, zone-run plays that are going to be a foundation for this offense. You kind of have to have those in order to counteract the outside zones. It’s going to be big for us.”
Gase is not trying to make Tannehill a scrambling quarterback. But having those movement plays are critical for play-callers like himself because they prevent defenses from crashing down on the edges, and force teams to potentially play more zone coverage. The quarterback read-option forces teams to make one linebacker a spy.
During Miami’s 2016 playoff run, Gase’s offense started to come alive after he altered his play-calling approach that October, putting in more bootlegs, quarterback read-option plays and moving the pocket, allowing Tannehill to utilize his legs and throw on the run.
There was some concern Tannehill would lose some of his speed and mobility playing with a bulky brace on his surgically repaired left knee, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
“He rehabbed extremely hard. He’s probably stronger than he’s ever been,” Gase said of Tannehill.
“When you spend that much time in the training room and the weight room, it’s going to happen. I know he’s excited to get going and get in a real game and just kind of get the season rolling.”
Tannehill said he will play games with the braces that he practices with as a precaution, to prevent the type of injury he suffered when Calais Campbell hit him in 2016, ending his season.
“I wouldn’t say it limits me. It’s a bit cumbersome, but it doesn’t limit me from doing anything,” said Tannehill, who is experimenting with four different braces.
“I ran in the offseason with it, did all the drills with it and everything, so you get used to it and it becomes like second nature.”
However, it needs to be point out that Tannehill tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while scrambling during an 11-on-11 play in training camp a year ago. Nobody hit him during the play that cost him all of the 2017 season. So even wearing a brace can’t prevent injuries.
Still, Tannehill has no intention of changing the way he plays, and it appears Gase’s play-calling will feed into that approach.
“Anytime you have a mobile quarterback it will help. Having him back there will help us a lot in the passing game and running game,” said Gray, who was a scrambling quarterback during his college years at Minnesota.
“[Scrambling quarterbacks] move the chains. It’s good to have guys who can sit back there and throw the ball, but it’s better to have a guy who can make a play when an offensive linemen or anybody misses their assignment up front.”