Commentary

Ryan Tannehill is no Blaine Gabbert

Offseason workouts and a familiar offense in Miami QB's favor

Originally Published: May 7, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Ryan in Minot, N. D., is sick of hearing Ryan Tannehill could be the next Blaine Gabbert if he's rushed into a starting job in Miami.

His point is that Gabbert didn't have an offseason to prepare for the 2011 season because of the lockout last year. And unlike Gabbert, Tannehill has some advantages. His transition into the NFL started over the weekend with a rookie minicamp that wasn't there for Gabbert. Tannehill will have two months of prep before the start of training camp.

Plus, as Ryan points out, Tannehill already knows 80 percent of the offense because his college head coach, Mike Sherman, is the offensive coordinator in Miami and is installing a familiar system. Ryan doesn't want the Dolphins to baby Tannehill. A two-year learning curve is not in Ryan's plans. He wants Tannehill to start as early as possible.

I think the Dolphins need to be patient, but Ryan is right that sitting the entire first season might not be the right answer. Gabbert didn't show the instincts that made Cam Newton and Andy Dalton first-year successes. Tannehill may have similar problems.

Because colleges are producing more quarterbacks who are fluent with passing offenses, teams can use them earlier than in the past. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III have already staked their claims to starting jobs. They should be fine.

I still think the Titans and Vikings did it the right way with Jake Locker and Christian Ponder. Locker learned behind Matt Hasselbeck and might do the same this season. Ponder waited seven weeks into the season before getting the starting job. He struggled through 10 starts, but should be better this season.

The one point that needs to be made is whether the Dolphins have the receivers to make Tannehill a success. They dumped Brandon Marshall and have to make do with Brian Hartline and Davone Bess. They drafted receivers in the sixth and seventh rounds, but the only other addition was Legedu Naanee. The Dolphins also don't have a tight end who had a 40-catch season.

That's the scary part for me. If the Dolphins show their receiving corps was as bad as the Jaguars', it would be a disservice to start Tannehill too early. That's the reason I'd let him sit for about 10 weeks.

From the inbox

Q: It seems to me that the in-game management responsibilities now in the hands of the head coaches should be partially allocated to game theory specialists. Reading some stats and information articles on ESPN made me realize that some football decisions, like going for it on fourth-and-1 on your end of the field, or always going for the 2-point conversion, can be based on actual mathematical probability. It seems head coaches are unwilling to make an unconventional decision even if it statistically would yield a positive result, thus making it the correct call. Do you agree with me that ultimately a revolutionary coach like Paul Brown will come along and hire a "strategy coach" to evaluate the mathematics involved with the in-game decisions and break down the current football decision morays?

Skippy in Los Angeles

A: As time goes on, I do believe more statistical evaluators will enter the game, and it's already happening on the scouting side. I don't think it will be dramatic on the coaching side, though. Coaches have tape-breakdown coaches to study trends. They subscribe to stats services to understand statistical trends. The numbers are getting better, so the evaluations are getting better. Ego could play into the idea of having a statistical strategist, though. If a coach admits he has a statistical strategist, then the outside perception of the value of the head coach could come into question. The coach might have one, but he might not admit it publically.

Q: I have heard all of the talk about abolishing kickoffs for safety reasons, which I understand especially after hearing your explanations about it. However, the one part I don't understand is what the NFL will do about onside kicks, because that is a major part of the game, especially when one team scores late and are still down by one possession. What have they decided to do about that?

Michael in Plano, Texas

A: The onside kick would go away if they eliminate kickoffs, but I don't see a rush by the league to eliminate kickoffs. The league said there was a 40 percent reduction in concussions and injuries on kickoffs with the rule change that led to more than 40 percent of the kickoffs turning into touchbacks.

The NFL isn't trying to overdo the changes in the game. The league is concerned about safety. The NFL worries parents may be worried about the physical damage of football and prevent their kids from playing. If it requires the elimination of kickoffs to help, the league would do that. I don't see it happening, though.

Q: What kind of production do you expect the Seahawks to get from Bruce Irvin?

Colin in Seattle

A: I can see him getting 11 sacks as a rookie. I don't think he will get many starts his rookie season, but Pete Carroll's system is set up for him being a double-digit sacker. Carroll considered him the best pass-rusher in the draft. He figures to get Irvin on the field 60 percent of the snaps. If the strategy works, the Seahawks will have two 11-sack players -- Chris Clemons and Irvin.

It'll be interesting to see whether more teams go into two-tight end sets against the Seahawks to try to minimize Irvin's impact. Of course, if teams do that, it could take away some big-play ability from the downfield throws. It could also play into a strength of the Seahawks, who have the best young safety corps in football.

Q: With the announcement of Saints players being suspended without pay, my question is this. Since the coaching staff continued the bounty program after being instructed not to, and if they didn't tell the players that they were under instruction from the NFL to stop it, can those players bring action against the coaching staff to recover the lost wages? It's an unlikely scenario, but I was curious if they could use the defense of "I was instructed to do so by my coach and was unaware that the NFL told us them stop?" Also, could they use the same defense in an appeal and reduce the suspension?

Mitch in Hamilton, Ontario

A: I'm sure they will use that defense, but I don't see it carrying much weight. Roger Goodell believes a player has to take responsibility for his actions. He picked out leaders on the team who could meet with the coaches and discuss not doing that. I'm sure the league has evidence of the players' individual contributions. I don't know whether you saw the players' grievance, but the union had an interesting strategy. The NFLPA claims Goodell released all players from punishment for conduct before Aug. 4, 2011, which is the start of the new CBA. That could help the former Saints -- Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita -- but it may not help Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma, who were on the team last year when the bounty system allegedly continued.

Q: One would think that the way Adrian Peterson has been playing for the past…. oh, I don't know … 4 YEARS!!!, that they would give him more carries. What I don't understand is why the Vikings' coaches keep turning to the quarterback, which time and time again hasn't done anything for them. You would think their offense would be based off of Peterson.

Jeremy in Oklahoma

A: He had 363 carries in his second season, 314 in his third and 283 in his fourth season. That's a lot of work. The days of the 25-carry-per-game running back are gone. A back is going to be lucky to get 18 or 19 carries a game. This is a quarterback-driven league.

Once Brett Favre got there in 2009, Peterson's rushing attempts dropped from 363 to 314 and the team won 12 regular-season games and went to a championship. Peterson's carries don't translate into victories. The combination of Peterson's carries and a good passing attack translates into victories. Running only gets you so far these days.

Q: Now that the suspense regarding where Vontaze Burfict will land has ended, what is your opinion on him signing with the Bengals? I don't think that will be a good locker room environment for him. With the many "red-flag" players they have already -- and he'll be being mentored by one of them in MLB Rey Maualuga -- won't that be like the blind leading the blind?

Ruskin in Grand Forks, N.D.

A: Maualuga is a free agent after this season. If Burfict fits in, he could be a starter next year. Once again, though, the Bengals are taking a chance on a player with some character questions. I don't think this is a bad move, though. If Burfict screws up, he will be cut. He knows he has to focus on being a good player on the field and a good person off it. Sure, it was a gamble for the Bengals, but the risks aren't bad.

[+] EnlargeCedric Benson
Jim Rinaldi/Icon SMIThe Raiders need a reliable backup RB, and Cedric Benson needs a new home.
Q: Why haven't the Raiders looked into Cedric Benson? Had a solid year and would be great insurance for Darren McFadden. I haven't even heard any rumors about them being interested. They need a solid backup, although I like Taiwan Jones and Mike Goodson, it'd be better with Benson.

Mike in Indiana

A: I agree. I speculated this week the Raiders would be the best team for Benson. He's durable and dependable. Maybe the Raiders used this weekend to look at Mike Goodson and see if they need to bring in Benson. I think it would help. Michael Bush bailed out the running offense when Darren McFadden suffered injuries and missed time. They need a dependable back and that could be Benson.

Q: With the Mike Adams pick in the second round by the Steelers, do you think he will start right away? Will Willie Colon become a guard? Is Marcus Gilbert or Adams the LT of the future?

Jody in Hastings, Pa.

A: The Steelers will make Adams earn the starting job, but I think he will end up at left tackle. Adams has to get stronger. He also knows that he lost being a first-rounder because of off-the-field issues. The Steelers have the option of moving Gilbert or Colon inside, but the Steelers drafted Adams to be their left tackle, as long as he's willing to work hard at it. Under the circumstances, Adams comes into the league with the right attitude. Being taken off draft boards had to scare him. Now he goes to a great organization and should be a great player for them.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer