AFC East: Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck endorses Jonathan Martin

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
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MIAMI -- Perhaps the first potential trade partner for embattled offensive tackle Jonathan Martin stepped forward this week.

Luck
Martin
In an interview with Pro Football Talk, Pro Bowl quarterback Andrew Luck said he would be 100 percent in favor of adding Martin to the Indianapolis Colts. Martin and Luck are friends and former college teammates at Stanford. Martin was Luck’s blindside protector and the pair won a lot of games together.

“I’d say I love Jon, we had a great time at Stanford together, still stay in touch with him regularly and I think he’s a great man,” said Luck, who also added he'd welcome Martin to Indy.

This has to be music to Miami’s ears. The Dolphins are expected to trade or release Martin this offseason following the high-profile bullying scandal. The 144-page Ted Wells report pulled the curtain back on Miami’s locker room culture, and it wasn’t pretty. However, many Dolphins players believe the whole thing was blown out of proportion by Martin and don’t want him back in their locker room.

Luck does not make the personnel decisions in Indianapolis -- general manager Ryan Grigson does -- but the franchise quarterback’s opinion goes a long way. Luck’s endorsement opens the door for locker room acceptance with Martin, which is exactly what the offensive tackle needs next season. It also could open dialogue between Miami and Indianapolis.

There are not a lot of trade options at this point for Martin. Miami may have to outright release him. But it's clear one team the Dolphins should reach out to is Indianapolis.
Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill could be down to his last season to prove he's the long-term solution. Tannehill is just 15-17 in two seasons, and Year 3 could be make-or-break for the former first-round pick.

SportsNation

Based on what you've seen, is Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill the long-term solution?

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    52%
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    15%
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    33%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,843)

But it's time for ESPN.com readers to put their analyst hat on. Here is our latest "Poll Friday" question: Do you believe Tannehill is the long-term solution? Two seasons is enough to get a firm grasp on whether Tannehill is a franchise quarterback or just another Chad Henne.

We've seen plenty of flashes from Tannehill. He can make most of the throws and showed good toughness during a trying year in Miami. Tannehill was sacked a franchise-record 58 times and didn't have a consistent running game. Yet he set career highs in most statistical categories in 2013.

Or will Tannehill flame out? He's yet to lead the Dolphins to the postseason, while other quarterbacks from the 2012 class already have. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Nick Foles all have playoff berths on their resume. Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks even has a Super Bowl ring. Can Tannehill take Miami to the next level?

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on whether Tannehill is the future quarterback in Miami. You can share your thoughts in the comment section below or send a message via Twitter @JamesWalkerNFL.

NFLN survey/franchise player: Patriots

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
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When the question was asked to New England Patriots players about the one player they'd choose to build a team around, there was no age discrimination. Even at age 36, they were going with quarterback Tom Brady.

So then, just out of curiosity, the question was presented to them this way, "If not Brady..."

Respect for Peyton Manning was evident in the responses (he won the vote, with Brady third behind him and Andrew Luck). Dallas' DeMarcus Ware got a mention. So did Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson.

The question is a challenging one because quarterbacks such as Wilson or Andrew Luck are just beginning their careers and the general manager starting a team can build with the long-term in mind with them. A decade-long foundation is created when you make that decision.

With Brady and Manning, the window is most likely going to be less than a decade.

That's why I'd go with Luck, because of the position he plays and the promise he's already shown. It looks like he could be the next great one.

And, hopefully, I wouldn't have to bottom out in one season, like the Indianapolis Colts did in 2011, to make it happen.

Some might say this is just like old times.

The Indianapolis Colts visit the New England Patriots in a highly anticipated playoff game. We’ve seen this script before, and it was often extremely entertaining, not to mention history-making.

But in a way, this is also much different.

The marquee players have mostly changed. Furthermore, because the Colts are in the second year of a new front-office and coaching regime, there's a new face on what was once arguably one of the NFL’s greatest rivalries. Maybe a game like Saturday’s sparks it up again.

We can hardly wait, and here to break it down for us are ESPN.com NFL Nation reporters Mike Reiss (Patriots) and Mike Wells (Colts):

Reiss: Mike, it used to be the Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning storyline. Now it’s Brady against Andrew Luck. From having watched Luck throughout the season, what have you noticed about him that reflects his growth as the Colts’ franchise player in his second season?

Wells: His maturity and will to win. Both of those elements were on display last weekend when Luck led the Colts to an improbable 45-44 come-from-behind victory over Kansas City after being down by 28 points in the third quarter. It looked like the Colts were going to have a difficult time winning the AFC South after receiver Reggie Wayne was lost for the season with a torn ACL, but Luck continued to work with his young receivers to develop continuity with them. Luck didn’t pass for as many yards this season as he did during his rookie season, but he improved his completion percentage and also cut his interceptions in half from 18 to nine. Reducing his turnovers was huge for Luck. He went from trying to force the issue with his arm to tucking the ball and running or just taking the sack.

I’ve said all season that there’s no better quarterback in the NFL than Brady when it comes to getting the most out of his receivers. Some Colts fans don’t agree with me. You’re around Brady on a regular basis. Why is he able to be successful with a group of relatively unknown receivers?

Reiss: Where to begin? Brady is exceptionally smart, with the recall of a golfer who might go through each shot of his round with vivid detail. Former offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien once nicknamed Brady’s brain “IBM” because it is computer-like, and when you consider that Brady has essentially been in the same offensive system for 14 years, that’s a major advantage. Brady also takes great care of himself physically, having just played every snap of a regular season for the first time of his 14-year career. I think it starts there, and it trickles down to his competitive drive and the feeling that he has an ownership stake in this team. He’s been having weekly film sessions with the young receivers on Tuesdays this year, as he’s almost morphed into another coach who demands excellence. He previously acknowledged that he had to learn to have more patience because of the unique situation and he’s been rewarded for it. It’s been impressive to watch.

We covered the quarterbacks, but let’s not stop there. Tell us more about the Colts’ defense and what linebacker Robert Mathis has done to put himself in the discussion for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Wells: Mathis hasn’t hidden the fact that he came into this season with a glacier-sized chip on his shoulder. He wanted to prove to people that he didn’t need Dwight Freeney starting opposite of him to be effective. Mathis backed it up by leading the league in sacks with 19.5. He became the 30th player in league history to record at least 100 sacks in a career earlier this season. He also set the Colts’ single-season and career sack records. I think Mathis is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year. Mathis has a knack for pulling off one of his customary strip-sacks at the right time. He did it against Manning and the Denver Broncos in Week 7 and he did it again against Kansas City last weekend. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was having his way against the Colts when Mathis forced the turnover. The Colts scored five plays later.

Speaking of defense, how much will the loss of linebacker Brandon Spikes impact New England?

Reiss: I thought Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower summed it up nicely when asked what the Patriots would miss without Spikes. He said, “Intimidation. Fire. He brings that spark to the defense that a lot of people don’t.” Spikes was most effective playing downhill in the running game, which was especially important for the team after losing powerful defensive tackles Vince Wilfork (Sept. 29) and Tommy Kelly (Oct. 6) to season-ending injuries. At times, the Patriots just sent Spikes straight into the heart of the opposing offensive line to account for those injuries. So they’ll have to piece things together, with top draft pick Jamie Collins (52nd overall) and four-year veteran Dane Fletcher the two linebackers who figure to see a spike in playing time. Spikes wasn’t a big factor in sub packages as pass coverage isn’t his forte, so he probably wasn’t going to have a very high snap count in this game anyway. He played 59 percent of the defensive snaps on the season.

We heard Bill Belichick say that if ever there was a Hall of Fame kicker, it was Adam Vinatieri. He just turned 41, is the oldest player in the NFL, and is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. What are your thoughts on his future with the Colts?

Wells: This is going to be a tough decision for the Colts in the offseason. Vinatieri was 35-of-40 on field goals, including four from at least 50 yards, and a perfect 34-of-34 on extra points in the regular season. But he’ll be 42 years by the end of next season. Age and the fact that Vinatieri just handles field goals and extra points are two major things that the Colts will take into consideration this winter. Punter Pat McAfee, who also handles kickoff duties, will be a free agent, too. The Colts have to decide what direction they want to go in the kicking department. If I were a betting man, which I’m not outside of penny slot machines, I’d say Vinatieri will not be back next season. He may end up being a Hall of Famer like Belichick said when he finally decides to hang up his cleats.

The Patriots were a perfect 8-0 at Gillette Stadium during the regular season. Half of those wins were by three points or less, though. Is Gillette Stadium really a home-field advantage for New England?

Reiss: I don’t think this is a home-field advantage like I’ve seen for other teams, such as Seattle with the “12th Man.” That, to me, is at the top of the list based on tough places to play because of the crowd and other factors. In this case, I think what makes the Patriots tough at home is that they are a good team that plays smart, and almost annually develops the type of mental toughness that is necessary to have when playing in the Northeast at this time of year. The Patriots’ home record (regular season and playoffs) since 2002 is 91-18, easily the best mark in the NFL over that span. I see where the Colts are 79-27 at home in that same period, third in the NFL. The Patriots have had some close calls at home this year and no one should be surprised if this game also comes down to the wire.

Colts' win from Patriots viewpoint

January, 4, 2014
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The Indianapolis Colts pulled off a shocking 45-44 comeback win against the Kansas City Chiefs in the wild-card round of the playoffs, and here are a few thoughts from a New England Patriots perspective:

Luck
1. Andrew Luck factor: If the Patriots host the Colts next week, which would happen if the No. 6 Chargers beat the No. 3 Bengals tomorrow, this is where it starts. Entering the wild-card round, the thought was that if there was one player who could take over a game and possibly end the team's season, it was Luck. He did it to the Chiefs, albeit with some luck (e.g. Donald Brown's fumble and recovery for a TD). It's one thing to prepare for a top running back like Jamaal Charles (Chiefs) or a top receiver like A.J. Green (Bengals), but when the signature player is a quarterback, it's a whole different ballgame.

2. Defense looks vulnerable: One area where I gave the Colts too much credit is on defense. That's a vulnerable unit, particularly in the secondary. The presence of Patriots rookie receiver Aaron Dobson could be key in this type of matchup, as he's a bigger target (6-foot-3, 200) with more of an outside-the-numbers and downfield presence. The Colts struggled against the Chiefs' bigger receivers, and Dobson (foot injury) is really all the Patriots have in that area.

3. Don't get fooled by a dome team playing outdoors: The Patriots are undefeated at home this season, and it's absolutely an advantage for them that they will be playing at 8:15 p.m. ET on Saturday, Jan. 11. They are also one of the NFL's best teams playing in adverse conditions, and it figures to be cold. With this in mind, there might be a thought to dismiss the Colts' chances as a dome team coming outdoors, but that would be a mistake. The Colts showed a lot in this area in a Week 16 win at Kansas City, where it was frigid and they played one of their best games of the season. I'd still pick the Patriots, but this Colts team deserves respect.

Double Coverage: Dolphins at Colts

September, 12, 2013
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Luck-Tannehill Getty ImagesSecond-year quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill face off in Indianapolis on Sunday.

The Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts are two undefeated teams trying to establish themselves in the AFC. Both have young quarterbacks with promise and solid second-year head coaches.

Indianapolis beat Miami last year, 23-20, in an exciting matchup in which quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill both played well.

But who will win this season’s matchup? ESPN.com Colts reporter Mike Wells and ESPN.com Dolphins reporter James Walker weigh in.

Wells: Sunday will come down to which quarterback from the Class of 2012 -- Luck or Tannehill -- can limit his mistakes. And I’m sure we’ll talk about them before we end this conversation, but before that, James, we have to address the Mike Wallace situation. It seems like Wallace was being selfish by making Sunday’s win over Cleveland all about him because he only had one catch. For a Dolphins team that’s had only one winning season since 2006, Sunday should have been about getting a nice road victory to open the season. Not about Wallace. I know Wallace cleared up his comments Monday, but it shouldn’t have gotten to that point. Is that a sign of things to come out of Wallace, the $60-million man?

Walker: The situation was not ideal, but I thought the Dolphins did a masterful job putting the Wallace issue to bed during the week. Miami’s coaches supported Wallace’s competitiveness and desire to make an impact. Wallace also clarified that he was more upset at himself, and I expect he will be extra motivated to have a big game. Speed kills in domes, and I don’t think there will be a faster player in Sunday’s game than Wallace. Look for Miami to find more creative ways to get him the football in the event the Colts consistently double Wallace, which was Cleveland’s strategy. Speaking of strategy, I was surprised to see how much Indianapolis struggled last week with the Oakland Raiders. The Colts trailed Oakland at home with less than 6 minutes left in the game. Was this first-game jitters and what needs to be fixed?

Wells: You weren’t the only one surprised. I think most people were, especially when you look back at the Colts’ first two offensive series. They scored with ease and all indications pointed to Luck having a special day after he started 11-of-11 with two touchdowns. But you have to give credit to Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor. He did an excellent job creating with his feet. He kept the Colts off balance and his team in the game until Luck became the hero. Tannehill is a more traditional quarterback. Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson are the quarterbacks everybody talks about from 2012 -- and they should be talked about after they led their teams to the playoffs -- but do you get a sense down there in South Florida that Tannehill has the tools and work ethic to close gap on the three QBs I just mentioned?

Walker: I really like Tannehill’s tools, Mike. He can make all the throws, has good mobility and feet as a former college wide receiver, and he doesn’t get rattled often. Those are all qualities you want in a quarterback. He looks the part, but I still need to see him win consistently. What was interesting about last week’s win over Cleveland is Tannehill took over the game in the third and fourth quarters. Last year Tannehill played not to lose games. Last week Tannehill went out and won the game. That’s probably the biggest thing that separates Tannehill from Luck and other members you mentioned from the 2012 quarterback draft class. Tannehill can certainly learn from Luck and his fourth-quarter comebacks. Mike, where is Luck in his development in Year 2?

Wells: Everybody talks about sophomore slumps with players. You should go ahead and look elsewhere because that won’t be the case with Luck. He refuses to settle. The only thing he wants to talk about is getting better. That’s what you like to hear from your franchise player. Luck likely won’t pass for as many as yards this season because the Colts are putting an emphasis on the running game with Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw. Those two players should take a significant load off Luck’s shoulders. But it won’t be easy for Luck this weekend. Miami’s defense looked pretty good last week against the Browns. Six sacks and three interceptions. What makes the defense so dangerous?

Walker: The Dolphins focused in the offseason and training camp on forcing turnovers and pressuring the quarterback. The work clearly paid off with the stats you mentioned. But perhaps the most impressive stat is Miami hit Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden 16 times, which included the six sacks. The Dolphins’ front seven is both fast and physical. They have a deep rotation on the defensive line. For example, No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan is a backup who only gets limited snaps. Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has done a good job and really likes the group he has. I think the best way for Miami to beat the Colts is the rattle Luck, force turnovers and try to make it a low-scoring game.

Bills season prediction: 6-10

August, 28, 2013
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There’s a new head coach in Buffalo. There are new philosophies on offense and defense. And one way or the other, there will be a new quarterback. Wrap that all into one, and there’s hope for the franchise with the NFL’s longest playoff drought.

But can Doug Marrone, in his first season at the helm, bring the Bills back to the postseason for the first time since 1999? The odds are against him and his rookie quarterback, EJ Manuel. Sure, the Indianapolis Colts pulled it off last season with Andrew Luck, turning a 2-14 squad into an 11-5 contender. But it’s a tough task.

The Bills are headed in the right direction. But it will be difficult to improve over their 6-10 record from last season. It’s not Manuel who stands in their way -- he looks the part of a franchise quarterback in the early going -- but rather their schedule. Outside of the NFC West, the NFC South and AFC North might be the NFL’s toughest divisions, and the Bills’ path to the playoffs will require taking down teams such as the Saints, Falcons, Steelers and Ravens.

Then, of course, there’s the Bills’ perennial problem: the Patriots. If they can pull off at least one win against New England, they might have a shot. But it’s a lot to ask of a first-year coach and rookie quarterback. Predicting another 6-10 finish.

Predicted finish in AFC East: third
Ryan TannehillAP Photo/Wilfredo LeeRyan Tannehill hopes to be the next quarterback from the 2012 class to lead his team to the playoffs.
DAVIE, Fla. -- NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino showed up to Miami Dolphins' minicamp on Wednesday. There was no major announcement or holding court with the media. Marino simply arrived, kept close tabs on second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the offense, then quietly left about two hours into practice.

Marino's mere presence was symbolic of the pressure Tannehill faces in Miami. No Dolphins quarterback has come close to filling the large shoes of Marino after he retired after the 1999 season. Miami’s quarterbacks in this millennium have either been awful (Cleo Lemon, Joey Harrington), former draft busts (Chad Henne, John Beck) or caretakers who couldn’t consistently take over games (Chad Pennington, Jay Fiedler).

But something appears different about Tannehill. He is more Marino than Harrington in arm strength and physical ability. The 2012 first-round pick was also taken higher than Henne, but you don’t get that same feeling of bust potential. Unlike Fiedler, Tannehill has already demonstrated that he can take over a game and explode for 400 yards, as he did in September in an overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

But what are realistic expectations for Tannehill in Year 2? Fellow rookies Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson each led their teams to the playoffs last season. Tannehill showed promise but was a couple of notches behind his peers. He threw for 3,294 yards but had more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (12). Tannehill also had a losing record (7-9) and was left on the outside looking in during the postseason.

However, the Dolphins are showing the same confidence in Tannehill that the Indianapolis Colts are showing with Luck or the Washington Redskins are with RG III. More than anything, Miami’s coaching staff said, they love Tannehill’s work ethic and mental approach. Combine that with Tannehill’s athleticism and ability to make all the throws, and the Dolphins believe the sky is the limit for their young quarterback.

“One thing about Ryan is he never gets too high and he never gets too low,” Miami quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor told the AFC East blog this week. “Last year things never got too big for him. It’s not that he never made mistakes -- there were drives and stretches here and there. But I don’t think it ever got too big where he totally broke down, and that’s encouraging for a rookie quarterback. With all the looks that he saw, I thought he handled it pretty well.”

Taylor was a former assistant coach at Texas A&M and has been around Tannehill since he was 19. Taylor watched Tannehill, 24, grow from a redshirt freshman who played receiver his first two years in college to an NFL quarterback with high expectations. According to Taylor, Tannehill is much more comfortable in his position as a building block in Miami.

It was noticeable in organized team activities and minicamp that Tannehill is in control of the offense. He’s more vocal with teammates and has a quiet confidence that this is his team.

Miami is in search of leaders after several veterans like Reggie Bush, Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett were released or didn’t return in free agency. Tannehill is one of the young, inexperienced players who must fill that void.

“It’s night and day compared to last year,” Tannehill said of his standing on the team. “Just the confidence and the knowledge of the game and what is going on. I still have a lot of work to do, but I am comfortable with where I am at and where this team is at. Anything we can do to get better, myself included, it’s easier to build this year compared to last year.”

[+] EnlargeMike Wallace
AP Photo/J Pat CarterThe Dolphins opened up their wallet to bolster their offense, including giving Mike Wallace a five-year, $60 million deal.
Tannehill has all the tools to succeed this year. The Dolphins have put together as nurturing an environment as possible to ensure Tannehill takes the next step in his development. Miami spent $60 million to land free-agent receiver Mike Wallace and an additional $15 million total to land starting tight end Dustin Keller and slot receiver Brandon Gibson. Tannehill now has deep speed at receiver and a safety valve at tight end that he lacked last season. The Dolphins were 26th in passing in 2012 and scored only 18 points per game.

If minicamp is any indication, the Dolphins will not be afraid to air it out this year. Tannehill is taking his shots deep and throwing the football all over the field in practices. Tannehill is also routinely making more checks and changes at the line of scrimmage to get out of bad plays, an area where he struggled in 2012.

“He can see a safety start to creep up or lean a certain way, or a linebacker's depth from the line of scrimmage from the heels of his defensive lineman,” Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. “Determining whether we turn and protect there or do we go the other way because that guy is in coverage, which I think [is] more recognition of defenses. ... We threw the book at him last year in the hopes that he would get to a point where we are at right now, where now he is just focused and not so much on the offense but on the defense.”

It also doesn’t hurt that Sherman and Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin know what a talented quarterback looks like. They have coached future Hall of Famers Brett Favre (Sherman) and Aaron Rodgers (Philbin) during their stints with the Green Bay Packers and know how to make it easy for quarterbacks. The fact that they both view Tannehill as a franchise starter carries a lot of weight.

“They’re able to relate those experiences with Ryan and the struggles [Favre and Rodgers] had and the success they were eventually able to achieve,” Taylor said. “So they’ve kind of seen the step-by-step process those guys took and [are] able to use that to relate it to Ryan.”

The Dolphins are going all-in with Tannehill, and much is expected this season. On paper, Miami looks like a team ready to make a playoff push in 2013, and much of that will come down to Tannehill’s development and improvement.

Tannehill may not get the same press and national attention as other quarterbacks in his draft class, but his goals are the same.

“Ryan wants to win Super Bowls at the end of the day,” Taylor said. “I do think he has a long ways to go right now. He knows that. So every day he’s just trying to become a better player, and be better than the day before and don’t make the same mistake twice.

“What that ceiling is, it’s hard to predict. Time will tell.”
The New York Jets are in full rebuilding mode in 2013. That is why it makes sense for the Jets to hand the ball to rookie quarterback Geno Smith sooner than later.

Smith, a second-round pick and the second quarterback taken in this year's draft, is competing with incumbent Mark Sanchez for the starting job in New York. But will success by last year's rookie quarterbacks place unfair pressure on Smith and others to perform well immediately?

The stellar 2012 quarterback class led by Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson all took their teams to the playoffs in their first seasons. Two other rookie quarterbacks --Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden -- started 16 and 15 games, respectively, and put up decent numbers. Fair or unfair, the bar has been raised for Smith, EJ Manuel of the Buffalo Bills and other rookie quarterbacks to produce immediately when they get their chance.

"Those guys have done great and I’m happy for them, but I have my own task," Smith recently told reporters about the 2012 quarterback class. "I’m going to continue to handle things the way I have always done, which is to keep working hard. I don’t worry about those things, I don’t worry about what the next guy did. That’s not for me to do. That’s not my job. I’m just here to work hard and here to try and help my team."

Smith has as good a chance as any rookie quarterback to win the starting job in Week 1. Sanchez led the NFL in turnovers the past two seasons, and reportedly some in the locker room feels it's time for a change.

The Jets are switching to a West Coast scheme under new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. The quarterback who grasps the offense best will have the advantage. So far both quarterbacks have had their moments in organized team activities.

"I think he’s done well," Sanchez said of Smith. "He works hard. He’s done his best to get completions like we all are."

Rookie quarterbacks like Luck, RG III and Wilson were the exception, not the rule. The bar certainly has been raised. But do not expect a lightning-fast turnaround and immediate playoff results from this year's quarterback class.
The AFC East blog continues its "Show and Prove" series for players in the division in 2013.

Next up, we take a look at Miami Dolphins left tackle Jonathan Martin.

2012 stats: 16 starts

What he must prove: Martin has to prove that he can make the switch full-time from right tackle to left tackle, which is one of the toughest transitions in the NFL level. Fortunately for Martin, he played left tackle most of his career at Stanford University protecting college teammate Andrew Luck. Martin is a smart player who understands the mechanics of the position. However, he has big shoes to fill replacing four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long.

Walker’s 2013 outlook: Opinions vary on Martin’s ability to make the switch. I thought he was more consistent on the right side last season and struggled when facing top competition on the left side. The thing I’m most concerned with is Martin’s strength. But Martin did a good job of adding noticeable bulk in the offseason in his upper body. What made Long so good was his consistency. In his prime, Long would go weeks without a bad play or allowing a sack. Martin still has to prove his consistency in Year 2. His development is one of the most important storylines for Miami this season.

That is the final installment of "Show and Prove" in the AFC East this week. For a recap, here's a look at the "Show and Prove" Class of 2013.
  • No. 1: Running back Lamar Miller, Dolphins
  • No. 2: Linebacker DeMario Davis, Jets
  • No. 3: Defensive end Mark Anderson, Bills
  • No. 4: Wide receiver Danny Amendola, Patriots
  • No. 5: Quarterback Kevin Kolb, Bills
  • No. 6: Wide receiver Stephen Hill, Jets
  • No. 7: Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, Patriots
  • No. 8: Left tackle Jonathan Martin, Dolphins
Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC East:
  • Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com writes about how several quarterbacks are switching teams. Yet, there’s been no interest in New York Jets backup Tim Tebow.
Morning take: I would be surprised if any team takes Tebow via trade. But once Tebow is released, there may be some teams that show interest. The key could be Tebow's willingness to change positions.
  • According to Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550, the Buffalo Bills will work out former Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib.
Morning take: It’s no surprise Nassib is on Buffalo’s lengthy list of quarterback workouts. Nassib played for Bills head coach Doug Marrone and knows his system well. Consider Nassib a strong candidate for the second round.
  • Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com writes about former New England Patriots executive Scott Pioli's praise of quarterback Tom Brady for taking a below-market contract extension.
Morning take: Brady took the guaranteed money in exchange for a higher number. In the process, Brady saved the team cap room over the next two years to keep the Patriots in title contention.
  • Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network examines whether West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is a better prospect than Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill?
Morning take: This is an interesting topic, because Tannehill was the third quarterback taken last year behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Smith is the top-rated quarterback this year, but I would take Tannehill after his solid rookie year.
Ryan TannehillRonald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesThe Dolphins have surrounded young QB Ryan Tannehill with big-name talent this offseason.
The Miami Dolphins are the darlings of the offseason. They entered free agency with more than $40 million of cap room and cleaned up by signing the best receiver on the market (Mike Wallace), the top-rated linebacker (Dannell Ellerbe), a pass-catching tight end (Dustin Keller), another athletic linebacker (Philip Wheeler), and kept their own starting players (Brian Hartline, Randy Starks, Chris Clemons).

On paper, the Dolphins look like a clear playoff contender and the only legitimate challenger to the New England Patriots in the AFC East. The sky could be the limit for Miami this season and beyond.

But there is one catch for the Dolphins: None of this is possible unless second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill takes the next step.

The Dolphins proceeded this offseason with full confidence that Tannehill is a franchise quarterback. It’s a calculated risk after Tannehill had a promising rookie season where his stats didn't necessarily stand out. He threw for 3,294 yards, 12 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and made his share of rookie mistakes.

However, Miami believes Tannehill showed enough flashes of brilliance to go all-in with him. He played winning football most weeks, and led the Dolphins to a better-than-expected 7-9 record.

There is no time for Tannehill to be a one-hit wonder or have a sophomore slump in 2013. A majority of Miami’s moves in free agency were about making Tannehill a better quarterback.

“Ryan has got 35, 36 games under his belt as starting quarterback combined from a college and pro career, and you would normally like to have 35 games under your belt as a graduating senior,” Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said recently. “So I think that there is a bunch of upside left in Ryan’s potential, and I like what I see so far. I love his intangible makeup, I love his athletic skill set. We have a long way to go, he knows that, but he can get a lot better, I am very confident in that.”

The Dolphins committed $30 million guaranteed to get Tannehill a legitimate deep threat and No. 1 receiver in Wallace. Despite Tannehill's strong arm, Miami was limited with the deep ball last season because of a poor supporting cast. He completed only 14 passes of more than 20 yards last season. Wallace has elite speed and should be able to change that.

Miami also snagged Keller from the rival New York Jets, and former St. Louis Rams receiver Brandon Gibson. Keller is the safety valve Miami lacked at tight end, and Gibson brings another weapon to add to a strong group of receivers that already includes Wallace, Hartline and Davone Bess.

The Dolphins learned when you have a potential franchise quarterback, it's easier to recruit free agents. Gibson, Keller and Wallace all cited Tannehill as one of the key reasons they signed with Miami.

“I watch tons of film and I really think he’s going to be one of the better young quarterbacks in the NFL,” Gibson said. “He’s got a big arm, and he’s very intelligent and a very good athlete, and I think that can go a long ways.”

Keller played with embattled quarterback Mark Sanchez in New York for four seasons. Keller leaves the Jets for a quarterback in Miami with a much higher ceiling.

“I’m very impressed with him. I like his game a lot,” Keller said of Tannehill. “I think now you put a Mike Wallace on the team, re-sign Brian Hartline, I love Davone Bess in the slot. You’ve got Charles Clay there working at tight end, too. I think there’s a lot people that they’re going to help him thrive this year, and I’m just happy to be one of the pieces.”

Tannehill is significantly ahead of the curve. The Dolphins' initial plan last season was to let Tannehill sit while Matt Moore or David Garrard ran the team. Instead, Tannehill took advantage of injuries and opportunity and started all 16 games.

In fact, Tannehill’s Total Quarterback Rating, which measures a player's complete performance, was better last season than other big-name quarterbacks such as Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, Andy Dalton and Sam Bradford. The Dolphins believe Tannehill is just getting started.

Tannehill also flew under the radar last season with a potentially special 2012 quarterback class. Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts, Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks all shared the spotlight while leading their teams to the playoffs. Tannehill was the only rookie of the four not to lead his team to the playoffs, but those expectations will rise for Miami next season.

"We're looking for improvement from him. There's no question about it," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said at the NFL’s owners meetings. “Part of it’s the decision-making that we think is so important. Part of it’s accuracy. Part of it’s play-making ability at critical times in the course of a game. While we think he made some really nice strides in his first year, there’s still a long way to go, and he’s well aware of that.”

The 2013 Dolphins will be Tannehill’s team, and certainly Tannehill’s offense.

An important part of Tannehill’s sophomore season is that he must take more of a leadership role. The Dolphins are a young team that lost a lot of leadership this offseason. Left tackle Jake Long and running back Reggie Bush bolted in free agency, and linebacker Karlos Dansby was released.

Tannehill will lead one of the youngest teams in the NFL next season. He doesn't get the publicity of fellow draft mates Luck, Wilson and RG III, but he will be just as important to the success of his team.

AFC East links: Grading the Patriots

February, 7, 2013
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Buffalo Bills

Brad Smith is trying his hand at something new this offseason.

Ryan Nassib is just one of several quarterbacks the Bills are looking at as the draft draws closer.

Miami Dolphins

Watching fellow 2012 draft picks Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson reach the postseason as rookies serves as motivation for Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. “I’m confident in what we can do here in Miami going into the future,” said Tannehill. “I think going into the year outside people didn’t really have any expectations for us but we had expectations for ourselves. Obviously, we came up short but we were right there down to the end. We wish we could have won some of those close games early on in the year that we felt like we should have won, so moving forward we’re excited about the opportunity we have and the guys that we have on the team.”

Is it time for Miami to part ways with defensive end Jared Odrick? The answer is yes, according to The Miami Herald's Armando Salguero.

New England Patriots

The Boston Globe's Greg Bedard hands out his grades for the 2012 season.

The Patriots have some important decisions to make when it comes to their in-house free agents.

New York Jets

Count safety LaRon Landry among those who "would have loved" to see Tim Tebow throw the ball more this past season.

General manager John Idzik has some work to do to get his team under the salary cap.

Does Tannehill lack the clutch gene?

December, 13, 2012
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The quarterback class of 2012 could be one of the deepest in recent memory. The Indianapolis Colts (Andrew Luck), Washington Redskins (Robert Griffin III) and Seattle Seahawks (Russell Wilson) are all happy with their rookies. There is a strong chance two or three of these quarterbacks will lead their teams to the playoffs.

The Miami Dolphins (5-8) feel they have a good rookie quarterback, too, in No. 8 overall pick Ryan Tannehill. However, there’s something with Tannehill that really stands out: Tannehill drastically trails his rookie counterparts in fourth-quarter comebacks.

Is Tannehill not clutch?

Tannehill has the lowest Total Quarterback Rating of all four rookie quarterbacks in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins have five losses by seven or fewer points this season. Tannehill's inconsistent play in fourth quarters is a major reason.



Despite throwing for a lot of fourth-quarter yards, it hasn't resulted in victories for Tannehill. His only fourth-quarter comeback came against the Seattle Seahawks at home in Week 12.

Tannehill failed to produce in the clutch in recent losses to the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts. If any of these games had a different outcome, Miami would still be in wild-card contention.

Tannehill is a young player who only had 19 career starts in college. He's learning on the job, but so are Luck, RGIII and Wilson. Tannehill's inability to come through in the clutch is concerning, but it's still too early to make a firm determination.
Brady/BushAP Photos, US PresswireTom Brady, left, and Reggie Bush are their respective teams' most potent offensive threats.


Few predicted before the season that Sunday's meeting between the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins would have playoff implications for both teams. But New England and Miami each has a lot at stake in this AFC East matchup.

The Patriots (8-3) are fighting for a first-round bye and possibly home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They trail the Baltimore Ravens (9-2) and Houston Texans (10-1) in the chase for the top two seeds in the AFC with five games remaining.

Meanwhile, the surprising Dolphins (5-6) want to keep their playoff hopes alive. Miami is only one game out of the final wild-card spot behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) and Cincinnati Bengals (6-5).

Something has to give when these two rivals meet at Sun Life Stadium. Our ESPN.com experts weigh in on this matchup.

James Walker, AFC East blog: Mike, it's no surprise the Patriots are playing meaningful December games. But Miami is a total shock. I thought this would be a rebuilding year for the Dolphins with a rookie quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) and rookie head coach (Joe Philbin). But the fact that sports fans in South Florida will still be talking about the Dolphins in December -- and not the Miami Heat -- is a miracle in itself. In terms of the big picture, I think we’re seeing the beginning of a new threat developing in the AFC East. The New York Jets are no longer a threat to the Patriots, as we saw on Thanksgiving, and the Buffalo Bills never seem to have it together. But Miami is a young, up-and-coming team that should be solid in the next year or two. Sunday is a good measuring stick to see where the Dolphins stand against the best team in the division. Mike, how are the Patriots viewing this game?

Mike Reiss, ESPNBoston.com: James, the Patriots call these type of situations "hat-and-T-shirt games." Our colleague Tedy Bruschi came up with that saying because if the Patriots win, they clinch the AFC East and will have hats and T-shirts waiting for them. They have two difficult games after this one -- back-to-back home prime-timers against Houston (Dec. 10/ESPN) and San Francisco (Dec. 16/NBC) -- but I don't see them overlooking the Dolphins. South Florida has often been a challenging place for the Patriots to play. I think they respect the Dolphins, and specifically the threat that running back Reggie Bush can be and how stingy the defense has been in the red zone and on third down. Still, the Patriots have looked lethal the past two games and should be up for the task.

Walker: Miami’s front seven has been solid most of the year. But there is a huge mismatch with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throwing against Miami’s secondary. The Dolphins are 26th against the pass and have been short on cornerback depth all season. Opponents have been picking on Miami corners Nolan Carroll, Jimmy Wilson and R.J. Stanford. The Patriots have enough weapons to spread Miami out and take advantage of these matchups. Brady is seeing the field extremely well. He has thrown 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions during New England’s five-game winning streak. It will be up to Miami’s offense and Tannehill to keep pace. Andrew Luck recently struggled against New England. Why do rookie quarterbacks often get embarrassed against Bill Belichick’s schemes?

Reiss: I'm not sure I would necessarily say that has been the case. This Patriots defense has done some great things in recent weeks, but it has also had its struggles at times. The main thing the Patriots have going for them is their amazing turnover differential. They are plus-24 -- easily the best in the NFL. But opponents have moved the ball on them at times. I would envision the Patriots’ plan to be centered around Bush. Try to take him away as both a rusher and receiver, and look to create turnovers from there.

Walker: Miami’s running game averaged 6.8 yards per carry last week against Seattle. The Dolphins are at their best then they can run and stop the run. This might be the only way for the Dolphins to beat the Patriots. Miami, in many ways, has to play defense with its offense. The Dolphins have to control the clock and reduce the number of plays for the Patriots’ offense. Miami is not the type of team that wins in shootouts. The Dolphins average only 19.2 points per game. This is a plodding, physical team. And if this game gets into the 30s, that probably means the Patriots win.

Reiss: I'd agree with that, James. It's challenging to control the tempo against the Patriots, but most of the teams that have had success in recent years did so by controlling the ball on offense. The other area that I think is important to focus on is the Dolphins' pass rush against the Patriots' offensive line. The O-line has generally been excellent for the Patriots this season, and last Thursday, they were without starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and didn't miss a beat. Cameron Wake can obviously be a disruptive player, so let's keep a close eye on the edges and if the Patriots can continue to protect Brady, whose name seems be generating some momentum in the MVP discussion. On the other side of the ball, the right defensive end spot bears watching. That's where the absence of rookie Chandler Jones (sidelined since injuring his ankle Nov. 18 against the Colts) and top backup Jermaine Cunningham (four-game suspension) could create a large void. Jones' status could become more clear in the coming days, and if he plays, that's a one-on-one matchup I don't want to miss -- Jones versus Dolphins left tackle Jake Long. If Jones doesn't play, can the Patriots generate enough pass rush without two of their best threats?

Walker: With huge games looming against the 49ers (8-2-1) and Texans (10-1), normally I would label this a trap game. But as you mentioned, the Patriots are not the type of team that looks ahead. They do a good job of focusing week to week and that should be more than enough to handle the Dolphins. I predict New England wins 31-17. The Dolphins don’t have enough horses to compete with the Patriots just yet. But it’s a good chance for the Dolphins to see where they are at this stage.

Reiss: The Patriots are the class of the AFC East and have been for most of the past decade. The question that interests me is which division foe -- Bills, Dolphins or Jets -- is closest to making a run at them. I pick the Dolphins because I think they have the greatest future potential at quarterback. I have always enjoyed conversations with Philbin, who grew up in Massachusetts, and believe he is the right coach for the Dolphins. He's establishing the foundation with the Dolphins and believes in fundamental football first and foremost. They are on their way. But I agree with your thoughts in this game, James, as I see the Patriots on a different level.

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