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Tannehill, Wallace need to connect more in practice

MIke Wallace caught slant pass from Ryan Tannehill midway through practice Monday and about 40 minutes later caught a deep pass from the starting quarterback over the top of the defense for a touchdown.

That was good.

That was also it.

Tannehill targeted Wallace three times in practice and the duo connected twice. And that's fine except when you consider that Tannehill actually attempted more passes to reserve receiver Brian Tyms. And tight end Dustin Keller. And Brian Hartline. And just as many to Jeff Fuller, another reserve receiver who may or may not be on the team in three weeks.

So if you ask me are the Dolphins feeding the Tannehill-to-Wallace connection a good diet in practice, I would say absolutely not. The fact is Monday's work was pretty much typical of what has happened in all the practices I've witnessed this training camp when counting Tannehill-to-Wallace connections.

Sometimes they hook up twice in a practice. Sometimes three times. Rarely more than that. Sometimes they go an entire practice and don't connect at all. Meanwhile, Tannehill connects with Keller all the time. He has a definite chemistry with Hartline. And he seems pretty comfortable throwing to Brandon Gibson as well.

All that is good -- except that none of those other guys are the caliber of playmaker that Mike Wallace is. None are being paid what the Dolphins are paying Wallace. None are feared around the NFL as Wallace is feared.

So why is Wallace catching fewer passes in practice than his peers? And, incredibly, why on this day was he targeted fewer times than a receiver who is fighting for a No. 4 or No. 5 WR job?

Perhaps I'm making too much of this. But it has happened on a number of days that I've watched practice. And, if you believe like coach Joe Philbin does, that practice is important and eventually will reflect what we see in games, then this trend is potentially alarming.

Tannehill doesn't seem to throw nearly enough to Wallace in practice to suggest this is going to be an elite combination in the NFL this season.

(Return of the peanut gallery here: But Mando, you're just a dumb columnist who never played the game and you're making a big deal out of nothing and, after all, Allen Iverson said this is just practice.)

Fine. So I asked Wallace the simple question: Is he getting enough passes thrown to him in practice from Ryan Tannehill?

"Ahhhh, I think it's going to come," he said seemingly surprised by the question. "Obviously I didn't practice for like a week and a half so that kind of takes away shots I would have had. But I think I get enough balls. Well, I wouldn't say ... We have a lot of periods in practice so you're going to catch a lot of passes. At the same time we have so many guys and there's so much going on so fast that you're not always going to ge the ball."

Stop right there. Wallace is a professional. He's not a troublemaker. But neither is he a liar. So he's clearly hedging his answer. He obviously doesn't want to say something that could potentially make folks look bad. But neither does he want to suggest something that is so clear is not true. He also doesn't want to sound like he's complaining.

So he just talked in circles a little bit.

"You know, there are certain plays that my coach wants to see me in and for those plays I make sure I get the rep and I get extra plays as well," Wallace said. "But there are certain plays he wants to see me run a certain route and I might not get the ball but this is the look we'll look for. I understand what's going on so you're not going to see too much frustration out of me just like I need to do this or that. I feel like I'm doing a great job at doing the things I plan to work on -- just getting in my spots and learning the offense. I feel like I'm a playmaker on the field. That's what I do. I'm not really worried about that. As long as I know where I'm going and I'm able to play fast, I think I'll be fine."

So to recap, does Mike Wallace think he's seeing enough passes from Tannehill in practice?

Ahhhh, at some point that will happen. I was injured for a while. I get enough passes. Well, maybe. We've got a lot of guys on the team and they have to get there's so I'm not always going to get the ball. There are plays I'm just running to see what the defense is doing. I'm not going to get too frustrated about this. I'm not complaining. I'll be fine.

Gotcha.

The only reason this is even a minor issue is because Wallace made his preseason debut last Friday and didn't catch a pass. Indeed, Tannehill never looked at him.

Was he open?

"I had a couple of shots out there we could have took," Wallace said. "But there's a lot of things that go into that. Obviously, it's not just me getting open. We have a lot going into that so everything has to flow together and I think we'll take care of it and I think we'll hit those shots I think we have."

Yes, getting the ball to Wallace deep means the offensive line has to block well and give Tannehill time. And then the QB has to feel confident about throwing it to Wallace.

Neither of those happened against Jacksonville.

"There was one where we came out and started a drive with a play," Tannehill said. "I ended up moving around and hitting Gibson over the middle, but going back and looking at it, I could have stayed in the pocked a little bit, just pushed up and kept my eyes downfield. Mike ended up winning on the outside. Other than that, that’s kind of the way the game fell."

The Dolphins studied the tape of the Jacksonville game and say they are committed to improving their ability to getting the ball downfield to Wallace.

"That’s one thing we are working on this week is using the pocket, getting a little bit better protection, but using what I have to do better, stepping up and finding a way to get the ball downfield," Tannehill said.

The irony here is that in a practice where that's a focus, Wallace only caught two passes. In a practice where the idea is to get the ball deep, Tannehill is throwing to Tyms more often. Really?

Obviously, it is still early. The Dolphins have the chance to multiply many times what we're seeing so far. But how that's going to happen in games, particularly ones that count in the regular season, if it doesn't happen in practice stumps me.

That has to change. Soon.

Because if Mike Wallace continues to catch only a couple of passes from Tannehill in practice, he's not catching two or three times that many in real games.

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