Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is no longer grounded, but coaches say he doesn’t quite have the green light to run.
Through the first nine games this season, Tannehill had just two games with double-digit rushing yards.
Over the last four games he averaged 34 yards rushing. At Pittsburgh on Sunday, Tannehill broke away for a 48-yard gain on a read option — the longest run by a quarterback in team history — and Miami won 34-28.
Despite this recent success on the ground, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman doesn’t want Tannehill to be “a running quarterback.”
“He’s a pocket quarterback who has good feet and can get himself out of trouble and was able to convert some (first) downs by running on pass plays,” Sherman said.
He described Tannehill’s running as a way “to keep people honest for the most part.” His runs remain relatively rare.
“Some weeks we use it, some weeks we don’t,” Sherman said. “I think the element of surprise allows you an opportunity to maybe pull a run out like we did.”
Tannehill is emerging as a passer. He currently is 10th in the NFL with 3,315 passing yards — ahead of veterans such as Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Joe Flacco. Tannehill also is ahead of Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson — other second-year quarterbacks who have been far more heralded.
Tannehill’s teammates like the fact that the former college wide receiver can mix in the run. They said that when he does so, it’s rarely on a designed play.
“He decides when he wants to run,” left tackle Bryant McKinnie said. “It’s not really a play call. If he doesn’t see somebody open he takes off.
“It brings another dimension to us. Now people have to really focus on keeping him contained because he’s actually a pretty fast runner. The defensive line has to become more disciplined — you have to worry about keeping him in the pocket.”
Tannehill has been rolling out more in recent weeks. It’s been successful and his sack total is down. The Dolphins were allowing nearly four sacks a game through the first 10 games. They have given up an average of two sacks per game in the last three.
“Teams throughout the league, there’s quarterbacks that maybe aren’t the most athletic guys but still run for first downs,” receiver Brian Hartline said. “It’s very important to get runs from your quarterback.”
Sherman said the read option — already fading in the NFL after its popularity a year ago — is nothing new for Tannehill.
“We’ve had that in the offense, and there have been times where he’s given it and there are times previously where he’s kept it — not that he did to the level on Sunday,” Sherman said.
He said he didn’t want Tannehill running too much as a rookie because the team “wanted to make sure that we developed his skills as a quarterback.”
“He’s going to be recognized as a pocket quarterback before he’s going to be recognized in this offense as a running quarterback,” Sherman said.
Tannehill actually is on pace for fewer rushing attempts than last season. As a rookie, he ran 3.1 times per game. This year, he is rushing 2.8 times per game, although in the last four weeks his average is up to 3.3 attempts per game.
His yards per carry are way up — 6.1 this season compared to 4.3 in 2012. He already has more rushing yards (220) than last season (211).
Tannehill said of his runs: “A couple of them are designed, but I’d say primarily it’s just finding a running lane on as a pass play and scrambling for some yards.
“It’s not something we went in and coaches said, ‘We want you to run X amount of times per game.’ It’s just a feel, like OK, no one’s open down field, you feel a running lane and you’re able to get out and get some yards.”
Tannehill said he would be happy to use the run to diversify his game.
“I’m still developing,” he said. “I don’t think I’m done by any stretch of the imagination.”