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The simple answer to the question everyone wants to know: Ryan Tannehill looked just fine.
Want more details? He did not favor his surgically repaired knee at all, evidenced in part by the fact that he wasn’t even wearing a knee brace. His passes were, for the most part, right on, his footwork was excellent and his command of this offense was evident on just about every play.
Go ahead and take a deep breath. Through two OTA practices, Ryan Tannehill is exactly where we hoped he would be. Sure, there are other storylines worth talking about, other players who rightfully deserve our attention. But Tannehill’s comeback is the headline, and that’s the way it should be when you’re talking about the most important player on the team.
About an hour after walking off the field Wednesday afternoon, Tannehill stood in the front of the team auditorium for his first press conference since just before re-injuring his knee in an early training camp practice on Aug. 3 of last year. Nineteen games have passed since Tannehill last played a down that mattered. Needless to say, the desire and the hunger and the determination is off the charts right now.
“It feels amazing,” Tannehill said of his return to practice. “It’s been a long road, a lot of hard work and a lot of time and effort.”
There were indeed some dark days, some gut-wrenching moments. In as candid as I’ve seen him over the past six-plus years, Tannehill spoke of sitting in the cafeteria, adjacent to the practice field, and looking through the glass as his teammates prepared week after week.
“Like a little kid who’s not allowed to play,” he described the feeling.
He opened up about his injury, the search for the right solution, the role his wife Lauren played during those long, painful months, the importance of Adam Gase assuring him that he was still the starter and the feeling that gripped him last week when he flew to Dallas, where he had the surgery, and received the official go-ahead to resume full football activities.
Or as Tannehill put it, “It’s just let it rip now.”
This ordeal has clearly changed Tannehill. Helped him mature. Re-enforced how much this game really means to him. Allowed him to take a step back and look at things through a different type of lens.
“I learned a lot last season,” he says. “It’ll help me the rest of my career.”
See, as much as Tannehill doesn’t mind looking back, as much as he has no problem re-living some of the hardest days, what he truly relishes now is what’s straight in front of him, an opportunity to take over this offense once again and a chance to build off some of the things he accomplished just before the initial injury in the 2016 season.
He speaks with certainty and with confidence. And why shouldn’t he? He’s turning 30 in July, which is the prime of his football life. He knows this offense about as well as Gase, the person who designed it, and there are no longer even the slightest physical reminders of the long, arduous journey to where he is today.
“I’m past even thinking about it,” he said.
Indeed, it’s all let it rip, which is exactly what he’s done on the practice field the past few days. There is no hesitation in his movement, no detectable rust in any part of his game. In fact, he looks even quicker than he was before the injury. He’ll wear a brace during games just for precautionary reasons, but that’s about it.
On one play Wednesday, Tannehill rolled right, threw across his body and delivered one of those bullets we know he can throw. Everything about the play was impressive and nothing about it screamed of a player who was easing himself back into things. On another play a teammate inadvertently stepped on his foot. Tannehill didn’t give it a second thought.
Indeed, it is all full-throttle right now or as receiver Albert Wilson put it, “He’s really trusting himself.”
Can there possibly be any better news than that in the third week of May? The Dolphins have a done a lot of good things this offseason, brought in some nice additions. “We really have a stacked wide receiver room,” Tannehill said.
But the bottom line never changes in this league. It’s got to start with the quarterback. You have that and you always have a chance. That’s the urgency of Tannehill coming back strong. That’s why these OTAs carry special significance.
Looking through that window in the cafeteria, watching his teammates practice and wishing he could be out there with them now seems like so long ago. Ryan Tannehill is back doing what he loves and, as these past few days have shown, he is clearly embracing every step of the process.