Can Tannehill lift this Dolphins offense?

Dolphins' QB, offense show some progress in Saturday's scrimmage

Chris Perkins and Dave Hyde go over some positives from the scrimmage.

MIAMI GARDENS

It was one play, in a small scrimmage, in what quickly will fade into a forgotten Saturday. But even in this snapshot you saw all primary hope and fear, the optimism and concern, over Ryan Tannehill this season.

This is the Dolphins quarterback's third year, and conclusive results are the order of the timeline. Is he the real thing to build a regime on? Or will you still wonder after three years — a question that would be an answer in itself?

Coach Joe Philbin is direct in the details he wants from Tannehill this year: Bigger plays, quicker decisions and accuracy that makes a progressive jump beyond the 58.3 percent completion rate as a rookie to 60.4 percent last year.

"We'd like to see that get up into the mid-60s, absolutely," Philbin said.

And so it was worth watching this one play from Tannehill's solid Saturday workout. He read the coverage, timed the double-move of receiver Rishard Matthews and delivered a big-time throw to the back of the end zone for the highlight of the morning.

Except Matthews dropped the pass.

And the offense huddled again.

And so the day went blindly on to the lost moment. But there it was. That play symbolized a lot about Tannehill for anyone watching Dolphins' quarterbacks come and go, seasons rise a little and fall completely, regimes move in and out over the past 15 years.

Tannehill has all the goods. The arm. The mind. The professionalism. The work ethic. There could be a tick up in demanding more from players, which probably comes with age. There's need to improve the long ball, as everyone knows.

But the added concern about gauging Tannehill is that each year he has been asked to mask a supporting cast with a glaring weakness. Awful receivers in Year 1. Protection that yielded a franchise-high 58 sacks in Year 2.

Now there's a line with five new starters and what appears to be, let's be honest, an average playmaking unit. I get it. It's the NFL. Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger lift the talent around them. Right? Isn't that what's expected of Tannehill?

Except Brady and Roethlisberger weren't Brady and Roethlisberger in their opening years. They were game managers surrounded by good teams who blossomed into great quarterbacks capable of lifting average teams.

That's what Tannehill is expected to do this year. The new offense under coordinator Bill Lazor, he says, is making baby steps forward on days like Saturday.

The quick reads and developed passes were noticeable against mostly second-team defenders as Tannehill completed 15-of-27 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns. It was training-camp progress. That's notable. You need to see more.

"I feel myself becoming more in tune with the plays coming in, just having an idea exactly of what to do with the ball every play and that's exciting for me,'' Tannehill said. "Our offense [is] all timing. You can't be back there holding the ball or three, four seconds and expect to not give up a lot of sacks."

He's almost there with this offense.

"I'm finally getting to the point now where I know exactly what to do versus every coverage, and we'll continue to fine-tune that,'' he said.

Across the AFC East, there's the 36-year-old Brady and a crop of new quarterbacks. Buffalo with EJ Manuel and the Jets with Geno Smith are trying to talk themselves into believing they have a quarterback more than actually believing it thus far.

Tannehill delivered more than hope last year with 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He's not there just yet. He disappeared in the two biggest games of the year, the losses to Buffalo and the Jets that cost the team a trip to the playoffs.

But in a season where the Dolphins are full of loud questions, Tannehill is a quieter one. He has to take the next step. Everyone knows that. Yet here's the real story as symbolized by that one Saturday play:

I'm sold more on Tannehill than the cast around him.

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