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Miami Dolphins must put Ryan Tannehill in position to lead

DAVIE, Fla. -- The footballs flew deep and pretty toward their targets, one after another on an afternoon of tempered hope that still, of course, meant very little to the overall picture of the Miami Dolphins' future under quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

You're right: It was only rookie minicamp. And yes: Most of these throws were made during 7-on-7 drills. So, fine: We'll wake you up when the veterans arrive or, better yet, when training camp begins. No reason to invest into expectations based on a weekend of low pressure.

"Given the fact that it was day one, practice one, I thought he did some good things," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said.

Good enough? Good. Because now that we've covered the football element of Tannehill's debut with the Dolphins in a No. 17 jersey, we can move toward a more important discussion about some lessons right now that actually do provide clarity.

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If Miami can absorb anything from the past three days, it might instead be Tannehill's clear desire to become the leader of this team, something that hasn't been fully embraced (or executed) by a rookie quarterback in Miami since Dan Marino.

Do you realize it wasn't until his fourth year that Chad Henne was voted a captain on offense? And that neither John Beck nor Pat White, the only other quarterbacks drafted in the second round or earlier since Marino in 1983, ever even sniffed the same role? The truth is, this team isn't just craving a longtime franchise quarterback. It also needs that leader.

Tannehill, in a very brief glimpse this weekend, looked up for the task. One of his rookie teammates, third-round pick Michael Egnew, said the quarterback quickly contacted him after both were drafted last month to get things going immediately.

"Before I even (arrived in South Florida), he was texting me pictures of the playbook," said Egnew, a tight end who should compete for playing time this year. "He was just trying to get me acclimated to their offense, which was quite a different offense than what we had in Missouri."

Tannehill is making it clear -- through his actions and his words -- that he absolutely plans on taking a leadership role as soon as possible. While it seems natural, it's also very deliberate (and not in a bad way).

"Well, I hope I'm looked at as the leader of the team, especially in these rookie minicamps," Tannehill said Friday. "Quarterbacks are the leaders of the team, and I want to try to get guys going. That's a job of a leader. That's a job of a quarterback."

Now for Step Two: The Dolphins must also put him in a position to be able to lead, something they've failed to do during the past several seasons. While Henne never truly exuded a strong sense of leadership, his team also didn't exactly create an environment to help him, either.

During his first year as a starter, Henne (signed by Jacksonville this offseason) was being backed up by Chad Pennington, who commanded respect in the locker room to a degree that it gave him more power with teammates than even Henne had. Add Brandon Marshall's controversial and confrontational game-day mannerisms into the mix, along with a very strict and critical coaching style from the staff, and you had yourself one mentally defeated quarterback.

It is true, of course, that Henne did himself no favors with his inconsistent play (particularly in the red zone). It is also true that Tannehill, regardless of his ability to be vocal, must be a successful passer in order to be a successful leader. But the Dolphins are at least already creating an environment favorable for both.

Although Miami has yet to adequately address the void left by Marshall's departure to Chicago, Tannehill might still be better off as a result of that trade. Marshall wore down Henne by the end of his tenure, and Dolphins coaches did their quarterback no favors by allowing the behavior out of fear that Marshall would create even more problems if they put their foot down with too much authority.

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It was a badly executed situation on the part of the staff, and it manifested an environment that took the power out of the hands of a young quarterback.

The Dolphins will soon face a situation when they'll need to decide whether to play Tannehill out of the gates or allow him to develop behind David Garrard or Matt Moore. Getting Tannehill to that point, when he's ready to own this team, will be nearly as much about his ability to lead the huddle as it will his ability to throw a touchdown.

In order to maintain his confidence through tough times, this team will need to also maintain a powerful amount of conviction, support and confidence in Tannehill -- something general manager Jeff Ireland and Philbin have done well in the past few weeks.

So far, in this new era of Dolphins football, the organization seems to be learning from the mistakes of the past several years, and this is beginning to build some momentum in a better direction. To keep it going that way, Miami brass must continue developing the young quarterback in a manner that breeds confidence in him and around him.

We couldn't tell a whole lot from this weekend's rookie minicamp, at least as it pertained to actual football, other than to say Tannehill seems to throw a nice spiral. But we can absolutely get a better sense of the type of leader Tannehill would like to be.

He wants to become the leader of this team. It's up to the Dolphins to do everything in their power to let him.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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