Miami Dolphins’ Cornell Armstrong mentored by Pat Surtain, Bobby McCain

Miami Dolphins rookie cornerback Cornell Armstrong. (Charles Trainor/ Miami Herald)

DAVIE — Patrick Surtain was a three-time Pro Bowler with the Miami Dolphins and like rookie Cornell Armstrong, he played at Southern Miss.

So Surtain expressed a desire to connect with Armstrong, and it recently happened.

“He told me to go out there and get as many reps as I can,” Armstrong said Wednesday. “He said, ‘Don’t hide in the back, go out there and just do what I do, do what I did to get here and just play ball.'”

As a sixth-rounder, Armstrong knows there’s know guarantee he’ll make the Dolphins’ 53-man roster. Of course, there was no guarantee former fifth-rounder Bobby McCain was going to make the Dolphins as a rookie and he just earned a $27 million deal.

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McCain recently said Armstrong reminds him of himself. And so Armstrong has also connected with McCain.

“One day after practice, I just went up to McCain,” Armstrong said. “I just got out of that shell of just hiding back, so I had to go talk to him. I was like ‘Man, why did you do this? Why did you do that?’ Because I want to be up there where those guys are at one day. I decided to just stop shying around and just go out there and speak to all of those guys and treat them like they’re my brothers.”

In what ways is Armstrong’s style similar to McCain’s?

“Physical,” Armstrong said. “I like the way he plays. He’s a physical guy. He’s not scared to go in there and get rough with you. I like that. That’s just how my game is.”

Armstrong said McCain’s success gives him confidence.

“Man, it gives me a lot of motivation,” he said. “Yes, I look up to (McCain) a lot. Just to see that and where he came from – a fifth-round guy, late-round guy – yes, it means a lot. It does.”

Armstrong, whose focus in the spring has been at outside cornerback, said he’s had a few pass deflections.

“Every day I could say I laid a brick, I laid a foundation, to get better every day,” he said. “I may have a few mistakes but the next day, I’ll build off that. I’ll make sure that I don’t mess up again on the same mistake. Every day I’m just laying a foundation and just stacking bricks.”

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Miami Dolphins rookie LB Jerome Baker explains his pinned Twitter post about scars

Jerome Baker has a warm, open demeanor. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — @Lastname_Baker (Jerome Baker Jr.): “Please don’t fight my battles I need these scars.” 18 May 2016

Jerome Baker is a speaking about the Twitter post he’s had pinned atop his account for more than two years.

Baker is speaking about scars. And how many he has.

“Quite a bit,” Baker said Tuesday. “Quite a bit.”

Baker is rookie linebacker from Ohio State, a third-rounder. And right now, he’s a second-teamer. And right now, Baker can actually draw upon his freshman season in Columbus, when he questioned why he was struggling.

Then, older teammates like Raekwon McMillan (now a teammate with the Dolphins) pulled him aside. And assured him. We all need scars.

“I don’t need anybody to take it for me,” Baker said. “That pretty much was my whole college career. Coming in as a freshman, being behind some first rounders, Raekwon and all of those guys, they just sat me down and said, ‘You need all the pressure and all the hard times you go through. It’s going to pay off in the end.’ Honestly, it did and I kind of just stick to that. The hard times are going to come, but they’re not going to last.”

Baker has speed and athleticism and an ability to run and cover. But he doesn’t have the experience. It’s why a veteran like Stephone Anthony is ahead of him right now.

“I’m learning the playbook pretty well; but now it’s just the focus on the little details,” Baker said. “The little things I’m pretty much focusing on. The basic things are going well, but the little things is what’s going to separate me.”

Baker can draw a direct parallel to his college experience.

“I’ve been through it before, so I know it’s going to come and it’s going to go,” he said. “So, just take advantage of it and try to learn as much as you can. The faster you learn, the faster it gets over with.”

Baker knows with time, mistakes will become fewer and further between.

“The physical part, I really never really questioned,” he said. “It was more the mental part of, ‘I keep making the same petty mistake.’ And after a while, three mistakes turned into two, those two mistakes turned into one and next thing you know, you’re not making as many mistakes anymore. The mental part is what’s – with any athlete – is what’s the hard part. Once I got that under control, the physical part just took care of itself.”

Ohio State has a tradition of linebacker play that is hard to live up to.

“My freshman year at Ohio State, that was the biggest hard time in my life,” Baker said. “Coming in as a senior in high school and a star player, you think I’m going to come in and pretty much do whatever I want to do, be behind Darron Lee, Christopher Worley, Josh Perry, Raekwon (McMillan). They humble you fast. They try to bring you along, but they understand that it’s a growing process and they definitely helped me.”

Baker’s social media accounts are worth following. At @Lastname_Baker, he’s constantly trying to motivate himself and others.

“Don’t count the day, make the days count.” – 11 June 2018

“I just don’t got time to feel sorry for nobody. Nobody felt sorry for me. #KeepPushing” 5 June 2018

“Sitting in a chair, but in the future it’s a throne.” 29 May 2018

But Baker has elected to keep his post about scars atop his account for some time, now.

“I need that struggle,” he said.

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Miami Dolphins CB Cordrea Tankersley: ‘It’s my job to lose’

Miami Dolphins’ Cordrea Tankersley deflects the ball from Atlanta Falcons’ Austin Hooper last season. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS)

DAVIE — At the NFL owner’s meetings in March, Dolphins coach Adam Gase outlined the approach he wanted cornerback Cordrea Tankersley to take into this season.

“We’d love to see him come in really with the mindset of that’s his spot and he’s not going anywhere and really be aggressive as far as not let anybody take that spot that he’s had,” Gase said.

Tankersley said Wednesday that Gase addressed that directly with him.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Tankersley said. “I kind of had the idea myself that it’s my job to lose kind of a deal. He definitely let me know that. And it’s just extra motivation.”

Tankersley started 11 games as a rookie, picking up 24 tackles and 7 passes defended.

What’s the next step in his game?

“My next step is to become one of the best corners in the league,” Tankersley said. “I’m still learning from the guys on the team. Just stepping up and being more aggressive. I feel like I can be more aggressive in my second year. Take what I learned last year. Step it up a notch.”

Tankersley said the biggest adjustment he had to make as a rookie was to the speed of the league. Tankersley was very good on short passes. He played a physical style. And he was an excellent tackler.

To reach the next level, he’ll need to continue to work on his his footwork, ball recognition and downfield plays. Tony Lippett, who is returning from an Achilles injury, is more vulnerable underneath but excellent on balls deep in the air.

“It’s hard to say,” Gase said of Tankersley. “I think he got better. I think there were times where he wishes he could go back and do some things different; but that’s the rookie year.”

The Dolphins expect Xavien Howard to emerge as a legitimate number one, shutdown corner this season. But one area of concern is definitely the level of play they can expect opposite Howard.

There is not a lot of depth at cornerback. And Miami needs Tankersley to grow quickly.

“I feel like we have competition all over the field,” Tankersley said.

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Adam Gase: Ryan Tannehill thought ‘Don’t waste the draft pick’ on QB (via MMQB)

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill listens to offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains at training camp in Davie. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Ryan Tannehill knew every time the Dolphins were visiting with a quarterback draft prospect, in Davie or in their town, because coach Adam Gase kept him aware of every visit.

According to Albert Breer of MMQB, Tannehill had a clear perspective on the possibility.

“I really think his thought was—don’t waste the draft pick,” Gase said, according to Breer. “He focused on work and bringing the same intensity he does every day. He’s very competitive. He’s not going to bat an eye at any of those things. He just keeps going. If there’s some kind of internal thing going on, you’re not going to know. He’s not going to show his cards. So I never worried about it.”

Gase wasn’t worried about Tannehill’s approach. But should the Dolphins be worried about not drafting a quarterback?

Not only did Miami not land a top quarterback in the first round — Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen were all selected before they chose Minkah Fitzpatrick — but they didn’t take a quarterback at all.

The idea of selecting a quarterback was never just about replacing Tannehill. It was also about creating legitimate competition at the position, to push Tannehill (Gase would say he does not need pushing) and also to add depth.

As of now, unproven David Fales and underachieving Brock Osweiler are Miami’s backups. That’s not idea;. Of course, Miami’s entire season rides on Tannehill staying healthy for the first season since 2015 anyhow.

“Just being around him, this being my third year [as head coach], the guy competes as hard as anyone I’ve been around, especially at that position. And it’s a good feeling as a coach when we’ve got him back out there,” Gase told MMQB.

Everyone is happy Tannehill is back. Probably even Kristin Cavallari.

Gase spoke more about culture in his conversation with MMQB, praising Danny Amendola, Albert Wilson, Robert Quinn and Frank Gore for competitiveness, conditioning, motor and grit. Those are all good things.

If defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, Miami’s first-round pick, is a candidate for defensive rookie of the year, well, yeah, that won’t have been a wasted draft pick. And it will look even better, of course, if Ryan Tannehill stays healthy.

Then Tannehill and the Dolphins will have been completely right.

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What big-money guard Josh Sitton is bringing to Miami Dolphins

Dolphins guard Josh Sitton can apparently kick field goals, too. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE — Josh Sitton had an idea at a recent Miami Dolphins organized team activity practice.

Sitton decided the offensive lineman should participate in a pass-punt-kick competition.

“He’s very competitive, a very competitive guy,” Dolphins offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn said. “He’s just a natural athlete.”

Anyone who’s been around a Dolphins practice has seen how well offensive tackles Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James can throw a football. For such big men, they really are nimble, all-around athletes.

“Yes,” Washburn said. “I have seen them throw it and I’m just going to tell you right now, I’ve got video evidence that they both lost to (Josh Sitton), so absolutely. They have to work on their field-goal kicking in the offseason.”

The biggest reason Miami’s offensive line is expected to be better this season is the addition of a guard. Now, historically, Miami hasn’t really felt doling out much dough to a guard is the best way to spend.

But for Sitton, the Dolphins ponied up a 2-year, $13.5 million deal. It’s because he’s tough, physical and proven.

“He’s very competitive but he’s got a really calm demeanor, which is great for an offensive lineman, particularly an interior lineman,” Washburn said.

Sitton is a four-time Pro Bowler, including three of the past four seasons.

“He’s just a really good guard,” Washburn said. “He’s really productive in what he does. I was in Detroit for seven years so we watched him non-stop. He was kind of our guy in that room, as well, as just a guy that was really good in the zone game. He’s a natural pass blocker and he’s just a smart football player and a good guy to have in your room. All of those qualities made it pretty easy for us.”

Guard Jesse Davis said he had studied Sitton even before he signed with the Dolphins.

“We watched a lot of Chicago film with (coach Adam) Gase, so seeing him and his game reps from previous years, he’s a great athlete,” Davis said. “You wouldn’t expect it as a big guy, but he’s a hell of an athlete. He can move. He can do it all. You kind of want to take some of his aspects of games and say, ‘Maybe I can use this on a certain play,’ or if you’re struggling or something, because he has a lot of good things and good qualities.”

Gase said Sitton’s knowledge of the game is as important as his strength.

“He brings confidence with that group,” Gase said. “He’s got something about him that’s probably different than a lot of guys I’ve been around. He’s very confident, very knowledgeable.”

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How drive for perfection causes Danny Amendola to go bonkers in practice

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Danny Amendola at OTA’s (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE — Danny Amendola may toss a helmet or cuss himself loudly during a May practice, but don’t be alarmed.

For Amendola, it’s just part of the process.

“I’ve always been that kid, really,” Amendola said Thursday.

Miami’s newest slot receiver demands a lot of himself. And when he makes a mistake, look out.

“It’s the mentality you bring to the field every day,” Amendola said. “You want to bring an atmosphere that is conducive to winning. Practice at a championship level. Whether that’s an individual drill or the open of practice. You want to be perfect. You want to practice with great fundamentals. That’s what it’s about.”

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Amendola and veteran Kenny Stills are setting a positive tone for the younger receivers in the room.

“Whatever I can do to help, on the field, or off the field, I’m always willing to help out my teammates,” Amendola said.

But why get so revved up about a practice — we’re talkin’ about, well, you know.

“Just try to bring intensity to practice in every drill,” he said. “Practice at a high level. I feel like if you practice at a high level in OTA’s and in camp and bring that into the season, then it correlates to how you play on the field on Sunday.”

Amendola has been impressed by the overall team speed on offense, including Jakeem Grant, Kenny Stills, Kenyan Drake and Albert Wilson.

“They are fast,” Amendola said. “Whoever crosses the line first. Jakeem is fast dude for sure. We’ve got a bunch of guys that can fly.”

Amendola ran a 4.58 in college, which is quick, but not as fast as the others.

“That was a long time ago,” Amendola said. “I’m faster now than I was in college.”

Amendola also knows what coaches often say — running fast doesn’t matter if you don’t know where to run.

“You have to know how to play football,” he said. “Football is not track. You see guys that aren’t necessarily the fastest guys on paper. But good football players. And that’s it. Every guy is different. Preparation goes into your routes. And knowing where to go, and when to go, your steps, and depending on the coverage and how smart you are, and where to be at the right time. A lot goes into being a good football player. And that can make up for a lack of speed or you know, track speed or whatever.”

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Miami Dolphins’ Kenyan Drake: Kalen Ballage is one ‘smooth’ ‘freak’

Miami Dolphins running back Kalen Ballage is a prototype. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE — Kalen Ballage is the tallest player in the Miami Dolphins’ running back room and he’s also the heaviest.

Ballage is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds and he’s also really, really fast. It’s hard to understand how Ballage lasted until the fourth round of the last NFL Draft, but he did, and you can count running back Kenyan Drake among those happy he did.

“He’s a freak,” Drake said Tuesday. “(Ballage) runs so smooth that it doesn’t really seem like he’s running fast. For him to be as tall. Obviously, me being a long, tall back, I always had trouble running behind my pads. He always seems to have a natural bend, a natural ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.”

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Drake knows it’s very early in camp, as only four practices are complete.

“Obviously we don’t have pads on, so blocking is a different story with pads on,” Drake said. “He definitely seems to be a three-tool type of player and I’m just looking to see his development.”

Dolphins offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains does believe Ballage will be able to protect.

“When he walks through the door, that’s what they’re supposed to look like,” Loggains said. “He’s big, he’s put together and he’s a really smart kid. We’re excited about trying to tap him out and make sure his head is hitting the ceiling. He’s got size, he’s got height, weight, speed. Doing those things, we’ve got to figure out what he does well and find out quickly with that stuff.”

The Dolphins acquired Ballage with a pick acquired from Philadelphia for Jay Ajayi. Coach Adam Gase believes the additions of free agent Frank Gore and Ballage creates an opportunity for increased competition and results.

“He’s a big man that runs fast and can catch the ball well,” Gase said. “He really has all of the things that you’re looking for in an all-around back. It’ll be fun to see how he progresses and how things go … how quick he learns everything and how he fits in with the group.”

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How will Jordan Phillips do with more of Ndamukong Suh’s snaps?

This may be Jordan Phillips’ last chance to fulfill his potential (Allen Eyestone/ The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE — Ndamukong Suh didn’t just play well as a Miami Dolphin. He played an incredible number of snaps.

Suh played 84 percent of snaps for the Dolphins last season, unheard of for a defensive tackle. With Suh cut for salary reasons and off to the Los Angeles Rams, somebody is going to have to play a lot more.

“I don’t think snap count has an effect with anything,” defensive tackle Jordan Phillips said on Thursday. “I played 30 to 40 snaps last year, as well.”

As a rookie, Davon Godchaux was second among Miami defensive tackles with 48 percent of snaps. Phillips was third with 38 percent. And Vincent Taylor was fourth with 18 percent.

Phillips is sensitive to criticism. Since his arrival from Oklahoma in the 2015 NFL Draft, he’s faced questions about if he can even live up to his second-round draft status and if he can perform at a high level with increased snaps. Before last season, Phillips openly discussed how he had discovered some tricks to stay more motivated snap-to-snap.

Does Phillips expect more snaps in 2018?

“I couldn’t tell you,” Phillips said.  “I mean if that’s the message you guys got, then roll with it I guess.”

Phillips’ tackle total decreased from 23 to 16 last season. He showed a few flashes of greatness but also inconsistency.

“I mean my production wasn’t what I wanted it to be,” he said. “The good games I played, I still did really well. So, I’ve got to keep it moving forward.”

Phillips and Godchaux figure to rotate with free agent addition Akeem Spence and Taylor, with William Hayes also taking some snaps on the interior.

“We’ve got some young players in there with Jordan (Phillips) and Davon (Godchaux) that we’re expecting to make leaps from,” defensive coordinator Matt Burke said.

Dolphins coach Adam Gase believes first-year defensive line coach Kris Kocurek will have a positive impact.

“He’s going to get those guys better,” Gase said. “That’s all he has ever done in his career. He has taken guys that sometimes when you watch some of his past film, some of those guys that you’re not really sure who they are, but they’re playing hard, they’re getting to the ball, they’re harassing the quarterback. He gets guys better.”

According to Pro Football Focus, Phillips had his best season in 2017. Phillips was graded 43.3 as a rookie, then 74.9 and 75.5 in the next two seasons. But Phillips was PFF’s 74th-rated interior defender, and he was graded particularly harshly against the run last year.

With Suh gone, Phillips needs to be right more often in his run-stop gap responsibilities.

“It’s hard to replace a man like Suh, but we don’t have an option to do it,” Phillips said. “It needs to get done, so we’re going to do what it takes to get (it done).”

Phillips is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Miami can only hope that provides extra motivation.

“I can’t speak for everybody else,” Phillips said. “I know what I’m intending to do this year. That’s all I’m focused on. Be the best player I can be.”

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Albert Wilson: I’m open to race against Jakeem Grant, Kenny Stills

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Albert Wilson at OTA’s. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE — Albert Wilson is a bit soft-spoken. But when it comes to speed, he lacks no confidence.

He is fast. In fact, he believes he is the fastest. The fastest Dolphin.

“Definitely,” Wilson said Wednesday.

According to Daily Dolphin research conducted earlier this month, the Dolphins who tested with the best pre-draft 40-yard dash times are: Jakeem Grant (4.38 seconds), Kenny Stills (4.38 seconds), Albert Wilson (4.43 seconds) and Kenyan Drake (4.45 seconds).

So the Daily Dolphin asked Wilson if he would be willing to participate in a 40-yard dash against the two other receivers.

“Oh yes, definitely,” Wilson said.

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But would he be willing to do it on the practice field, in front of reporters?

“If it sets up that way, definitely,” Wilson said.

But what would happen?

“I’ll win,” Wilson said.

In the first organized team activity open to the media, Wilson caught a long pass from Brock Osweiler. Make no mistake, he is a burner. And make no mistake, the Dolphins’ offense is fleeter overall.

“When you have the kind of athletic ability he does, the speed he does, the playmaking ability, you just try to find ways to get the ball in his hands and let him do his thing,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said Wednesday.

Wilson said he’s already lined up in at least three positions in the Miami offense. His versatility and speed should help offset the loss of Jarvis Landry.

“I really like working on the inside,” Wilson said. “I feel like I’ve got that down pat; but, I work good on the outside also, so it really doesn’t matter.”

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5 Reasons why Miami Dolphins’ Ryan Tannehill can still be elite

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is back. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Ryan Tannehill ran onto the Miami Dolphins practice field Tuesday, without a knee brace, which should give some insight into how he feels about his surgically-repaired body.

Tannehill expressed confidence last spring and summer, before a knee tore completely and Miami’s season essentially ended on that practice field. But all feel good, really good, about Tannehill’s health now.

And no, I’m not going to use the phrase “next step” because it’s cliche and because Tannehill debaters on both sides of the aisle (aqua and orange, of course) have been tossing around that phrase since 2013, his second pro season.

But I am here today to tell you that Tannehill is much better than you think. That he was an ascending player before his most recent injury, and that, yes, at the age of 29 (he’ll play this season at 30), Ryan Tannehill can still be elite.

That’s a sensitive, delicate phrase, of course. Was Alex Smith elite last season? Yes. Smith led the NFL in passer rating. Was Kirk Cousins elite? Yes. We know this because the Minnesota Vikings just paid Cousins $28 million per season.

The group of NFL quarterbacks described as elite should not be limited to Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Yes, clearly those three can be considered in a tier above all others, the super-elite.

At $19.2 million a season, Tannehill ranks 18th and this is an extreme value for the Dolphins. I know, I know. You are a Tannehater. You don’t think he can win playoff games. You say Matt Moore led them into the playoffs in 2016 (hogwash) and that Jay Cutler is a superior talent (how’d that work out?).

Why can’t Tannehill do enough to be fairly lumped with the NFL’s elite quarterback in 2018?

I’m going to predict that eight to 10 NFL quarterbacks will be fairly classified as elite at the end of next season and that they will come from this group: Brady, Rogers, Brees, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, Kirk Cousins, Carson Wentz and… Ryan Tannehill.

Here are 5 Reasons we think Tannehill is nowhere near as bad as ESPN says (28th in confidence ranking) and in fact, should be one of the 10 best in the NFL in 2018:

  1. How Tannehill ended 2016. He finished 12th in the NFL in passer rating in his first season under Adam Gase. Oh, you forgot? Tannehill won 7 of his last 8 starts as a Dolphin, with 13 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Tannehill was throwing well on the run, throwing well to all three levels of the field and playing with as much confidence as he has in Miami.
  2. Improved offensive line. The last time Tannehill played for Miami, he stood behind an offensive line of Branden Albert-Laremy Tunsil-Anthony Steen-Jermon Bushrod-Ja’Wuan James. This time, it will be Laremy Tunsil-Josh Sitton-Daniel Kilgore-Jesse Davis-Ja’Wuan James. Tunsil should be much better in his second season at tackle. Davis has an enormous ceiling. And Sitton may end up as their most important off-season addition. It should be better.
  3. More diverse offense, with tempo. Gone is security blanket Jarvis Landry and former plow horse Jay Ajayi. But Danny Amendola, Albert Wilson, Mike Gesicki and Frank Gore may have greater impacts than most expect. One thing Miami’s offense should be is less predictable. Kenyan Drake and DeVante Parker are physically capable of steps toward stardom. And Miami is really, really going to try to go NASCAR tempo more often this season.
  4. Mastery of offense. Why can Miami’s offense go faster? Because Tannehill knows every single thing about his options in Gase’s offense. And after a year on the sideline, Tannehill can process faster where everyone else is supposed to be. Tannehill was impressive at times getting to the line of scrimmage quickly in 2016. Tannehill now knows exactly how to get Miami into the best plays.
  5. He’s not Jay Cutler. Ouch. Sorry, Jay (and Kristin). But, I mean, Tannehill is tough as nails. And for most of last season, Cutler looked like a guy who didn’t want to be hit. He didn’t exactly inspire confidence among his teammates. Hanging with Cutler for a year made everyone involved miss Tannehill! They appreciate him more now! Quarterbacks returning from ACL’s now often regain most or all of their mobility. And Tannehill throws an accurate, catchable ball. You probably don’t realize how good Tannehill’s anticipation on throws can be. And you probably don’t realize just how good he can be, this season.

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