For years — 13 to be exact — the Miami Dolphins waited for a franchise quarterback. Searched would probably be more accurate, as “waited” doesn’t necessarily exemplify a proactive approach.
16 different quarterbacks started a game for the Dolphins in the 13 years after the great Dan Marino called it a career. And those were 13 years filled with agony for the franchise, with the likes of Ray Lucas, Joey Harrington, Brian Griese and Cleo Lemon taking snaps under center.
Given how elusive that franchise quarterback was for the team, one would undoubtedly conjecture that once he was found, he would be valued. Knowing what it was like to live without an upper echelon quarterback or at least a passer with the potential to become one, for over decade only figured to aggrandize the appreciation of his arrival.
Well, it appears the Dolphins may have finally found their guy. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was selected by the Dolphins in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, has displayed more promise than any Dolphins passer in this millennium.
Sure, Chad Pennington had one solid year in 2008 and Jay Fiedler was serviceable in the early 2000s, but neither had an elite ceiling, which is something Tannehill possesses.
Shockingly, however, Tannehill’s emergence and the potential he brings to the table haven’t been reciprocated with care from the Dolphins’ organization. And that lack of support hasn’t been subtle or a slight mishap. It’s been blatant irresponsibility.
Through five games, Ryan Tannehill has been sacked an incredible 24 times. That puts the Dolphins on track to surrender 77 sacks on the season, which would blow their previous record of 53 to smithereens.
And although the all-time record for sacks conceded is 104 by the 1986 Philadelphia Eagles, the most sacks on one quarterback in a season is 76, which transpired in 2002, when rookie David Carr was beat up week after week for the expansion Texans.
That means the Dolphins’ current clip of 4.8 sacks given up per contest puts Tannehill on schedule to absorb the most sacks one quarterback has ever taken in one season. Of course, that is assuming Tannehill can stay healthy, which is, all things considered, becoming extremely unlikely.
So, the Dolphins’ offensive line’s inability to pass protect is more than just a problem. It’s an absolute embarrassment of historic proportions that could not only derail the season, but a young quarterback’s career. And after everything this franchise has been through at the quarterback position in recent years, this team’s incompetence will have breached an all-time high if the latter becomes a reality.
Given the offensive line’s ineptitude, it’s really somewhat remarkable that Tannehill has been moderately productive this season. He’s currently on pace to throw for 4,425 yards in 2013, which would be the fifth highest total in franchise history and 772 more yards than any quarterback not named Marino has produced.
Tannehill hasn’t resembled a finished product, but he’s appeared well on his way to cementing himself as the long-term answer at quarterback in Miami. And, despite the allegations by many pundits and commentators, Tannehill isn’t to blame for the high-sack volume.
According to Pro Football Focus, Tannehill released the football on average of 2.29 seconds in the first four games, which ranked third quickest in the entire NFL. On plays in which Tannehill was sacked, the average time elapsed before he was brought down was 3.62 seconds in said games, which ranked seventh quickest in the league.
The point is, the offensive line is to blame for the majority of this debacle. And the onus will fall on the group to make drastic improvements as the season progresses. If not, it is very difficult to envision the Dolphins acquiring any sort of sustained success. It is very difficult to envision them playing in a 17th game come January.
And that drastic improvement isn’t likely to come via staying the course. After the first couple games of ineptness from the offensive line, many suggested that the group would improve as they began to garner continuity.
Well, it’s been five games now, and the unit hasn’t improved in the slightest. They’ve arguably gotten worse.
And pass protection isn’t the only issue. The offensive line has also been fairly pitiful attempting to generate holes for running backs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. Miami’s running game produced a mere 20 yards in Week 1 and only 22 during Sunday’s loss to the Ravens — the third and fourth fewest rushing totals in team history.
So, the Dolphins’ offensive line has been historically bad in pass protection and run blocking. Change isn’t just one of several options, it’s the only option for the Dolphins moving forward.
I’m not going to speculate as to which linemen general manager Jeff Ireland should attempt to sign or trade for. But I am suggesting that something needs to be done, either by way of acquiring a new player(s) or promoting from within.
For starters, Tyson Clabo simply cannot remain the starting right tackle. Continuing to employ him there would be a complete disservice to Ryan Tannehill.
John Jerry could potentially move over from right guard to right tackle, where he’s shown potential in the past, or Nate Garner, who is Miami’s most versatile backup, could be entrusted with a starting role.
At right guard, if Jerry isn’t converted to tackle, he should be considered for a demotion. Danny Watkins, who the Dolphins signed shortly after the preseason concluded, has been inactive for every game this season, but has starting experience and could be more effective than Jerry in a zone-blocking scheme.
Mike Pouncey is obviously fine at center and I don’t see the Dolphins replacing Richie Incognito, who is a team leader and former Pro Bowler, at left guard or Jonathan Martin at left tackle this season. In regards to Martin, he has been porous, but Miami doesn’t have a realistic fix on the roster and attaining a starting-caliber left tackle would be an incredibly tall order this late into the season.
No, the Dolphins will likely have to ride this season out with the left side of the line as is. That’s a scary thought, considering Jonathan Martin has been one of the league’s worst blind-side protectors, but an overhaul on the right side of the line could foster the improvement the unit is desperate for.
The Dolphins aren’t going to field a solid offensive line at any point this season. They likely won’t put an average one on the field, either. But striving for mediocrity along the line should be the aim. That is normally a loser’s mentality, but unfortunately for the Dolphins, it’s the only realistic mentality to have regarding this group.
Being one of the worst offensive lines in the history of the NFL isn’t going to cut it. That’s the case for obvious reasons, but especially so considering the Dolphins might have finally found their quarterback.
Unfortunately, we’ll never know how good Tannehill can truly be throwing behind the Dolphins’ current offensive line. He could be elite, he could just be another guy — we simply won’t be able to distinguish who he really is until his protection substantially improves.
For the Dolphins to have possibly, finally gotten it right at quarterback only to throw him into a situation where he’s being given every opportunity imaginable to fail, is a true shame and indicates incompetence on the part of the general manager and coaching staff.
If Tannehill’s protection doesn’t, by any means necessary, surface from the bye week more reliable, he isn’t going to last this season. He’ll be injured at some point. And if by some miracle he can stay healthy, he’ll likely never perform to the level he’s capable of with no time to step into throws, no time to consistently allow receivers to develop deep routes and no time to maximize his confidence.
It’s time for the Dolphins to value Ryan Tannehill like he’s the quarterback they’ve been waiting on for 13 years. If they don’t, the wait might continue.