One of the first lessons Adam Gase taught his new quarterbacks when he took the job as Dolphins head coach was the concept of fast feet.
He came in with a handful of ideas for Ryan Tannehill, but this was one of the top items on his list. What he saw on film from previous years was a quarterback who needed to get in playmaking position more quickly and have a better feel for traffic in the pocket. Speeding up the amount of time Tannehill spends on his drop-back, for example, increases the time he has to make a decision and fire the ball out.
“Playing fast with my feet has been the biggest emphasis since we started this year,” Tannehill said. “Obviously there are times where I want to be faster. But that’s been a big emphasis for us, and I feel like I’m getting better.”
Everything’s been better for Tannehill lately. His pristine performance in Sunday’s win over the 49ers was the best he’s looked all season and he’s stacking up the best stretch of his five-year career. Over Miami’s six-game winning streak, he has nine touchdowns, one interception and cumulative passer rating of 104.7.
Passer rating has never been an all-encompassing measurement, but it provides some context. A 104.7 rating would have been third in the NFL last season, and he topped 89 for the year just once in his first four seasons. His rating before this run was 83.6. Two of the three highest ratings of his career have come this month.
“He’s impressed me as far as his faith in where guys were going to be,” Gase said. “I’ve seen him make a couple throws where he doesn’t see it and he puts it in the spot that we had talked about during the week and — whether it’s a receiver, tight end or running back— they’re where they’re supposed to be.”
The fast feet have a lot to do with Tannehill being able to make those plays. Not only does that term mean dropping back expediently, it applies to moving adeptly in the pocket.
Tannehill’s often struggled pocket feel and had trouble with it early this season. The injury-weathered offensive line had trouble holding off pressure and Tannehill was under more duress than he should’ve been, but he bore some responsibility for appearing oblivious to what was going on around him.
Against Cincinnati in Week 4, back when this team looked like its season would be irrelevant, Carlos Dunlap got Tannehill for a strip-sack in which Tannehill was still scanning for a receiver the millisecond before Dunlap hit him.
Gase put the quarterbacks to work preventing malfunctions like that as soon as he got to Davie. Back-up Matt Moore, who has been here since the Tony Sparano era, said he’s never done this many pocket presence drills, which Gase insists upon as a staple of his quarterbacks’ daily routine.
They do bag drills, which consist of rectangular pads arranged in a way that the quarterback has to shuffle forward and laterally in a snakelike pattern while maintaining throwing position throughout. They’ve had assistants rush past them as they set to throw. They’ve set up mock pockets with tackling dummies, and some drills even include hurdling.
The two threads running through all those exercises is having agile footwork and always being ready to make a move, whether it’s throwing or running. That translates to the field by making Tannehill more efficient in all of his movements and being able to have a quick trigger when he sees an opening.
“It’s a theme in our room and it means not being lazy or slow with your feet,” Moore said. “(Gase’s) whole thing is the quicker you play, the quicker your decision is and the more accurate you are. And he’s got evidence on film to prove that.
“It’s really easy to get lazy in the shotgun because you already have your depth, so it’s a reminder to play fast. Don’t gallop back there. Just take a legit drop from gun, get your feet going and be ready to go.”
It’s something Gase tracks as closely as anything else that transpires during a game. If he sees Tannehill getting careless about footwork, he chirps, “Keep moving,” or “Push up in the pocket,” to remind him.
“I just try to hit him up with that every once in a while,” Gase said. “If something breaks down, just be ready to move and run. We’ve encouraged him to get outside the pocket. ‘Don’t wait.’”
There’s some liberation in that. Gase has empowered Tannehill with the authority to break from the script at any moment. That’s an ongoing element of the trust they’ve tried to fast-track in their first year working together.
There are moments when that freedom tests Gase’s grit, like when Tannehill rolls left and uncorks one down the field. Gase will wince on the release, then pump his first when it’s a completion.
“Gase has talked a lot about trust,” right tackle Ja’Wuan James said. “In order for us to get where we want to go quickly, we have to be able to trust each other. It took some time, but you see now that it’s working.
“They’ve done a pretty good job of it. Ryan’s the type of guy that’s gonna accept coaching. It just takes a little while for anyone to get in rhythm with a new style.”