Joe Philbin has a checklist when it comes to developing Ryan Tannehill.
The Miami Dolphins’ coach is looking for his quarterback to improve his accuracy and decision-making.
In his second season, Tannehill’s rating and completion percentage have gone up, quantifiable measures of that improvement.
Philbin, though, has another measuring stick he uses for Tannehill’s progress, this one much harder to gauge.
“The third thing we’re talking about is, you have to make plays at critical times in games when you’re playing quarterback in the National Football League,” Philbin said this week on a conference call with the Western New York media.
Tannehill also can put a check in that box.
Exhibit No. 1 came in the second week of the season, when he took the Dolphins on the road and outplayed Andrew Luck in a 24-20 win.
Exhibit No. 2 was on display in Week Five, when the Dolphins faced a fourth down with less than 2 minutes to play against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. Tannehill scrambled left and completed a 46-yard pass to Brandon Gibson to give the Dolphins a chance at tying the game.
The Buffalo Bills will get a first-hand look at how far Tannehill has progressed since 2012 when they visit Sun Life Stadium on Sunday.
“He’s making plays, man,” Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus said of Tannehill. “He’s going to be a tough challenge.”
Tannehill took more than 1,000 snaps as a rookie last season, according to Philbin, experience the coach calls “invaluable.”
“We think his play speed is improving,” Philbin said. “We’ve seen development in all those areas I mentioned, but certainly he’s not a finished product by any means.”
Much as it is here in Buffalo with a seemingly never-ending search for the next Jim Kelly, the same can be said in Miami for the next Dan Marino. For his part, Tannehill won’t touch that comparison with a Hazmat suit on.
“I stay out of the media. I don’t read any articles or anything like that, so I couldn’t tell you there,” he said. “I’m just trying to go out and be my own player and lead this team to as many victories as I can. That’s all I can do.”
There are promising signs that in his second season, it’s working.
“The whole process, the whole game has slowed down, for sure. Especially at the line of scrimmage, pre-snap, just the complete grasp of what we’re doing on offense,” he said. “Things are coming to me a lot quicker, just recognizing what the defense is doing, making the adjustments and getting into the play quicker.”
Tannehill has completed 114 of 182 passes for 1,383 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions during the Dolphins’ 3-2 start. His completion percentage has improved from 58.3 as a rookie to 62.6, and his quarterback rating has jumped from 76.1 to 85.5.
The Dolphins went “all in” in the offseason in an effort to get Tannehill the weapons to be successful. Miami handed out contracts worth potentially up to $70 million to sign receivers Mike Wallace and Gibson.
“We were excited to get them this spring,” Tannehill said. “Our chemistry, our relationship has continued to grow throughout the year, and hopefully it’ll continue as we move forward. We have some playmakers across the board and it’s fun to be able to throw to those guys.”
To be able to do that, Tannehill has to stay on his feet. He’s been sacked 24 times in five games, Miami’s biggest offensive problem.
“It’s not one person or one group that’s the issue, it’s just everyone not being on the same page at the same time,” Tannehill said. “I think once we start doing that you’ll see that number decrease.”
“I think we can get after the quarterback and get him off his spot, rattle him a little bit and get a couple hits on him,” Bills linebacker Manny Lawson said.
“They throw a lot of different looks at you. They have a great dime package where it’s tough to diagnose exactly who’s coming and they’re good at disguising it,” Tannehill said of the Bills’ defense. “That’ll be a challenge for us, but it’s something we’re looking forward to.”