Miami Dolphins  

 

Ryan Tannehill represents new beginning for Miami Dolphins

  • By Jeff Darlington NFL.com
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DAVIE, Fla. -- It only took a quick phone call before the blades of the helicopter were spinning at the Miami Dolphins' training facility Saturday, prepared to lift rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill high above his new city for an impromptu aerial tour.

Owner Stephen Ross made this happen -- yes, the oft-questioned billionaire does indeed still know how to make a few things happen -- after Tannehill mentioned during a casual chat with his new boss that he'd never ridden in a chopper.

So off the quarterback went, cruising above South Florida for nearly 40 minutes, surely undaunted by the gray and rainy afternoon that greeted him two days after his pro career was born. You could not swipe the smile from his shaven face, not on a weekend when hope and optimism also reigned around him.

With 29 years separating the Dolphins from the last time they picked a quarterback in the first round (Dan Marino in 1983), Tannehill and the organization deserved to fly high for these few days. But now, it's time to come back to earth; time to begin preparing for the three words on the minds of everyone in Miami's fan base:

This. Better. Work.

"I feel really good about this," general manager Jeff Ireland said during a midnight phone call not long after the first round ended. "You need to have conviction in these decisions, and I have it here."

There's something to be said for that. Actually, there's something to be said for a lot of what the Dolphins did this weekend. They got it right on a number of levels, at least making it clear they're trying their damnedest to get this thing back on track.

So while skepticism still exists like a lingering fog -- some of which can be attributed to Tannehill's inexperience and some of which can be tagged to Miami's perceived dysfunction -- the process that led to this point does at least finally feel right.

Ireland has long had his eye on Tannehill, putting a first-round grade on his ability during his junior season at Texas A&M. Last August, during training camp, his beliefs strengthened, but he mentioned it only to his wife and Chris Grier, the team's director of college scouting.

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"I was marveled by his athletic ability, his size, his mental capacity, how fast he got familiar with being a quarterback," said Ireland, who took two more visits last fall to watch Tannehill play. "At the end of the day, I didn't tell anybody how strongly I felt because I didn't want to influence anybody's opinion during the process.

"Sometimes, when a GM likes someone, guys will want to agree with you. I wanted to make sure everybody was on the same page."

Did Ireland take a leap by drafting a quarterback with only 19 games of starting experience at A&M? Sure he did. But isn't that what everyone has been begging him to do, to finally pull the trigger? At least this leap was educated. At least, particularly since his job likely depends on it, this leap comes with conviction and confidence. No, Bill Parcells wouldn't have taken Tannehill, not with such a small college résumé. Then again, Parcells' influence hasn't always properly steered Ireland, has it? He's also the one who taught Ireland to give the media nothing -- advice that ultimately led to a misinformed perception that Ireland is a cold-hearted jerk.

Ireland, for the first time, is acting in many ways like his own man, not a deformed clone of a person (Parcells) he was never going to become. And he's allowing the organization to follow suit -- all of which could help in more ways than anyone in the public will ever actually realize.

Take, for example, a situation that arose Saturday: A day after the Dolphins selected tackle Jonathan Martin in the second round, a local newspaper writer interpreted the decision to mean Jake Long might be on his way out. The Ireland of old would have not responded because it's not his place to correct the media, a decision that would have fueled more speculation and more discontent.

"I don't normally go overboard on media speculation, but last night I saw an article about Jake Long," Ireland said. "I have plans to keep Jake Long right here for a long time."

Now was that so hard?

On Saturday, the Dolphins marched Tannehill out in front of the media, proud and unabashed about their belief in him. And while Ross might have taken it a bit far when he suggested that he could someday retire Tannehill's No. 17 jersey -- let's let him play a game or two first, shall we? -- you cannot fault Miami's pride and public stance.

Don't forget: Only two years ago, after the Dolphins landed Brandon Marshall in a trade with the Denver Broncos, they refused to hold a news conference on the team's property. Instead, Marshall's publicist had to arrange an introduction of his client to the local media at a nearby hotel.

In many ways -- from Ireland's decision to pull the trigger based on his strong beliefs to the team's willingness to finally start rationalizing their own plans with actual explanations -- the Dolphins acted like a real, functional organization this weekend. And while the past several years of dysfunction likely will continue to create skepticism, they had to start somewhere. Perhaps this weekend marked that beginning.

So, what's the next necessary step in the process? Well, that much is obvious.

"What's going to energize the fan base is winning," Ross said.

That's the truth -- the one way the Dolphins will truly begin to turn around their misfortunes. Selecting a quarterback in the first round will surely help instill some level of hope, particularly given the strength of Ireland's conviction. But now, it's time for the parade to end. It's time for the party supplies to go back in the closet.

Tannehill has a ton of work to do. So does Ireland, who still must find weapons to flank his new quarterback. And so does coach Joe Philbin, who must turn his current crop of wide receivers into a group capable of carrying the load.

When Ross' helicopter landed behind the Dolphins' training facility Saturday, Tannehill had a new understanding of the South Florida landscape. He'd seen it from high above, scanning the ocean that stretched from Palm Beach to Miami. It surely was beautiful, a perfect way to start his career as the quarterback of this franchise on a weekend that seemed to open a new chapter. But more importantly than this ideal beginning, it is now time to find out where this ride goes from here.

Yes, indeed: This better work.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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