How Miami should handle Ryan Tannehill

May, 2, 2012
5/02/12
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Ryan Tannehill and Stephen M. RossJoel Auerbach/Getty ImagesDolphins owner Stephen Ross, right, said he hopes to retire Ryan Tannehill's jersey someday.

The Miami Dolphins believe they have found their quarterback of the future in first-round pick Ryan Tannehill. Miami took Tannehill with the No. 8 overall pick in last week's NFL draft.

Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland called it an "all-in" decision by the entire organization. In many ways, this is a signature moment for Ireland, rookie head coach Joe Philbin and Miami's current regime.

If Tannehill develops into a stud NFL quarterback, Miami has a good chance to turn the organization around and become a force in the AFC East. If he's a first-round bust, the Dolphins can expect several more years of misery.

But Tannehill's success or failure is not totally up to him. There is a lot the Dolphins must do to ensure their prized rookie has the best chance possible to succeed at the next level.

Here is the AFC East blog's four-step plan that Miami should follow with Tannehill.

Step No. 1: Lower expectations

Miami is already failing in this department. I cringed over the weekend when Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said he hoped to retire Tannehill's No. 17 jersey someday. This was during Tannehill's introductory news conference. You don't put that kind of pressure on a rookie before his first NFL snap.

It also doesn't help that Tannehill is the first quarterback taken by Miami in the opening round since Dan Marino in 1983. In fact, Tannehill (No. 8) was taken much higher than Marino (No. 27). The pressure to fill those shoes has been immense for a long time. Miami hasn't had a legitimate, franchise quarterback since Marino retired in 2000. Fans expect Tannehill to be that player.

The good news is it's not too late to temper expectations. Tannehill will take the practice field for the first time this weekend during rookie minicamp. It's a chance for the media and coaches to see Tannehill in action and set the bar for where he really stands at the pro level.

For now, one of the best things Miami can do is stop talking about retiring jerseys, winning championships and filling Marino's shoes when it comes to Tannehill. Let the rookie develop his own identity with the team at his own pace.

Step No. 2: Sit Tannehill for a year

That brings me to my next point: Do not, under any circumstances, make Tannehill the starter this year. That would be the biggest mistake Miami could make.

The Dolphins have two veteran quarterbacks ahead of the rookie -- David Garrard and Matt Moore -- and a new scheme on offense. Let Garrard and Moore battle it out this year, while Tannehill holds a clipboard and gets ready for 2013.

Miami's offense is too fragile right now for a rookie quarterback, especially one with just 19 collegiate starts. Everyone is learning first-year head coach Joe Philbin's West Coast offense this year, and there aren't enough quality personnel in place to make the scheme successful.

Tannehill shouldn't be subjected to that right away. The strange thing is the rookie quarterback is probably the most knowledgeable about Miami's offense, considering his strong ties with Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who coached Tannehill in college.

This is a rebuilding year for the Dolphins and they know it. The sooner Tannehill plays, the better the chance he looks like Blaine Gabbert. That would be disastrous for Miami.

The Dolphins should put Tannehill on ice for a year. The only circumstance in which he should play is if Garrard and Moore get injured. Perhaps one exception is starting Tannehill in Week 16 or 17 if Miami has nothing to play for and wants to get Tannehill's feet wet for 2013.

Otherwise, Miami should keep Tannehill on the bench and resist the temptation of short-term buzz and excitement. Tannehill should be treated with the long haul in mind.

Step No. 3: Use Dan Marino as a mentor

[+] EnlargeDan Marino
Malcolm Emmons/US PresswireThe Dolphins had not selected a quarterback in the first round of the draft since taking Dan Marino in 1983.
Here is some free advice for the Dolphins: They should encourage Marino to be Tannehill's mentor.

Marino, a Hall of Famer, is royalty in Miami. I've said several times in the AFC East blog that Marino is an underused commodity by the Dolphins organization. This is the perfect time and situation to tap into that resource.

Marino has already accomplished what Tannehill dreams of doing. Marino also speaks the same language and can relate to Tannehill in ways that the coaching staff and front office cannot.

If Tannehill is trying to fill Marino's shoes, it makes sense for Marino to be in Tannehill's corner throughout the process to provide support. It may not seem like a big thing, but this could go a long way for the rookie quarterback.

Step No. 4: Get better wide receivers

We alluded to the personnel in Step No. 2. The Dolphins aren't ready at receiver to make things easy on Tannehill.

Philbin says the team's doesn't need a No. 1 receiver, but you do need good receivers who can makes plays and get open. A Tannehill-to-Brian Hartline connection is not all that attractive this year. Hartline is Miami's top receiver and he caught just 35 passes in 2011. Davone Bess is a solid slot receiver but may be asked to take on a bigger role due to lack of competition. The other receiver positions are wide open.

I was surprised Miami didn't take a receiver higher in this draft. The Dolphins waited until the sixth and seventh rounds, despite the position being one of the team's biggest needs. You're not going to plug every hole in the draft, but this is one more reason to keep Tannehill on the bench this year.

If the Dolphins follow this four-step plan, Miami has a good chance to get the best out of Tannehill. He has all the physical tools and potential to be a solid NFL quarterback. But it is very important that Miami does whatever it takes to give Tannehill a fair shot.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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