Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin waited until the team flight from Houston to have an in-depth talk with his young quarterback. In a 30-10 loss to the Texans, Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill had three turnovers in his first regular-season start.
Philbin watched tape of the game on the plane, paying particular attention to the performance of Tannehill, who threw three interceptions. The coach's meeting was part-educational, part-psychological. It certainly was a teaching moment for Philbin, but the coach also wanted to make sure his 24-year-old rookie didn''t lose confidence.
“[I] visited with him and said, 'Look, now you know where you're at. The big thing is we've got to make a dramatic improvement between Week 1 and Week 2,'" Philbin explained of his talk with Tannehill. "We talked to the guys in the locker room about 'this is where we are.' The film is what we are right now, and so we have to accept responsibility for that, and we’ve got to move forward and improve."
Philbin is correct: The film doesn't lie. After one start, it is clear Tannehill has growing up to do. He is prone to mistakes that Miami must avoid for Tannehill and the team to improve.
On Sunday against Houston, for example, Tannehill stared down his first option way too often. That allowed defenders to jump routes and bat down balls at the line of scrimmage. Tannehill also had rookie blunders, such as tripping over a pulling guard on a running play and bobbling a shotgun snap because he was focused on reading Houston's blitz. Late in the game, Miami needed eight yards on fourth down and Tannehill quickly threw a 3-yard out that didn't give Miami a chance.
These are losing plays that a good, veteran quarterback probably doesn't make. But this is what Miami must live with this season to speed up Tannehill's learning curve.
The continuing education of Tannehill is Miami's biggest storyline in 2012. Chapter 1 is in the books. Chapter 2 begins Sunday at home against the Oakland Raiders (0-1).
"Obviously, I want to get better every week," Tannehill said. "Doesn’t matter if I'm six years in the league. You want to improve constantly. I need to make bigger strides, I guess, now than you’re going to make later in your career, but I’m excited about where we’re at."
The best Miami (0-1) can hope for this season is Tannehill getting better each week. The Dolphins are a rebuilding team that doesn't have enough talent to make the playoffs.
The Dolphins' front office made the critical mistake this offseason of not providing Tannehill with enough good receivers or tight ends. The right side of the offensive line also is questionable. Those mistakes have the potential to stunt Tannehill's development. His best weapon is running back Reggie Bush, who led the team in rushing (69 yards) and receptions (six) in Week 1.
Tannehill is one of five rookie starting quarterbacks. In Week 1, Robert Griffin III (320 yards, two touchdowns) lit it up in his debut for the Washington Redskins. Andrew Luck of the Colts threw for 309 yards, but had three interceptions. Brandon Weeden (112 yards, four interceptions) of the Cleveland Browns looked shell-shocked, and Russell Wilson was a mixed bag. The five rookies, including Tannehill, went 1-4 in Week 1.
Griffin and Luck appear to be the most NFL ready. The Dolphins must take baby steps with Tannehill, who started only 19 games at quarterback in college.
"Some quarterbacks walk into the league and their production is great, their passer rating is great, their interception ratio is low," Philbin said. "So I would guess those guys probably feel comfortable very early on in their career. There’s some guys that take a little bit of time and seasoning, so to speak. "
The good news is Tannehill doesn't appear flustered. Most of his mistakes are correctable with experience. It would be more concerning if Tannehill looked scared in the pocket or couldn't make the necessary throws. But physically, Tannehill looks the part of an NFL quarterback.
Sunday's game against Oakland will be telling. This will be Miami's home opener, and the Dolphins have some advantages. The Raiders are coming off a short week after playing on "Monday Night Football." Oakland also has must make one of the longest trips possible in the NFL, going from Northern California to South Florida. This has the makings of a winnable game for the Dolphins.
But much of Miami's growth coincides with Tannehill's growth. Getting better from Week 1 to Week 2 is the next step in his maturation process.
"I think the next game will be huge for him," Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. "I think from the first game to the second game, for any team, it’s huge, especially for a young quarterback. One thing I know about Ryan: He corrects himself and he is accountable."