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Tannehill all about steady improvement

If one phrase can be used to describe Ryan Tannehill's time as a quarterback it is "steady improvement."

He improved in a multiple of areas in 2014. He set career highs in completion percentage (66.4 percent compared to 60.4 percent from the previous year), touchdowns (27 compared to 24 from the previous year) and passer rating (his 92.8 passer rating shattered his previous career high of 81.7 from the previous year).

And it should be noted the "previous year," or 2013, was better than his rookie year in 2012.

Tannehill's history for progress year-to-year goes back to his Texas A&M days when he performed better as a senior -- 29 TD passes and 15 INTs and 3,744 yards -- than he did his junior year when he wasn't even able to win the QB job outright the entire season.

Tannehill has been about steady improvement and that is good because now that he's the Miami Dolphins newly minted franchise quarterback, having signed an extension through the 2020 season on Monday, the name of the game for him has got to be progress.

No delays. No setbacks. And certainly no pratfalls of the variety we've seen from Robert Griffin III or Andy Dalton.

Understand, there comes a moment when a player reaches his ceiling. It is that critical mass moment when his abilities are at their height. His experience has reached a plateau that defends against surprise. His familiarity and comfort with offensive system and teammates matures -- making them his playbook and players.

When all of that harmonizes you have ... Tom Brady since 2006. Peyton Manning in his "Omaha, Omaha" heyday. Drew Brees after his third NFL season.

It is art when these men, at their very best, perform.

Tannehill is nowhere near those guys yet. But, thankfully, he is nowhere near his ceiling, either.

He has tons more room to grown. He has room for more steady improvement.

And the Dolphins, obviously recognizing this, paid Tannehill. The Dolphins, obviously betting this steady improvement continues, invested in a future where Tannehill is not just playing but performing.

So what do they see that can improve?

And why do they believe Tannehill will continue to take further steps toward orchestrating great quarterback play?

Firstly, the facts have something to do with it. Understand that Tannehill will be playing in Bill Lazor's offense for only his second year in 2015. The team, I am told, expects him not to think nearly as much about things but to feel the system. The team wants Tannehill thinking like Lazor. The team wants Tannehill knowing not only what his guys are supposed to do and going to do but how the defensive players are supposed to react and going to react. 

There really wasn't any time during 2014 when Tannehill reached that level. It is ahead of him. And with time it is attainable.

This is also ahead: The Dolphins have undergone a major reconstruction on offense to bring in players that better suit Tannehill's gifts and can help hide his flaws. The seam throws will now be more en vogue. The intermediate routes will be stressed. Yes, there will be deep throws as situations and the offensive line allow. But perhaps, just perhaps, the player Tannehill throws deep to in the future will have stayed with him after practice or worked with him during the offseason on those deep routes more than Mike Wallace ever agreed to do.

(Not blaming Wallace. It is the QB's job to get the ball to his open WR. No excuses. But extra work could have helped a bad situation and Wallace-Tannehill never really got locked in on that front).

I am also looking for greater leadership from Tannehill.

It is his team now.

When he arrived, Brian Hartline and Davone Bess and others were already well formed receivers. Tannehill wasn't going to be barking orders to those veterans. Wallace's arrival signaled a new dynamic because one guy was older and more accomplished and higher paid and the other guy was Tannehill.

That has all changed.

Now, Tannehill can tell DeVante Parker how he wants things and when and where and Parker must adjust his game to make that work regardless of the fact Parker was a first-round pick. Same with Kenny Stills. Same with Jarvis Landry. Greg Jennings, not a diva by reputation, will likely see the dynamics on offense and try to fit. If not, he'll be gone soon enough.

It is Tannehill's team. And that dynamic can help Tannehill assuming he takes firm grip of the reins as he started to at times last year.

I also want to see Tannehill start to make players around him better. That is the mark of greatness. Look, we've all seen players we believed gifted leave the Pittsburgh offense, or the Colts offense, or the Patriots offense and perform worse than they had previously.

Why?

We've also seen players go play with Brady, Manning, Aaron Rodgers and rise to a level they had not reached previously. And this isn't just about receivers.

Offensive linemen that seem pedestrian on other teams suddenly look very good playing in front of great quarterbacks because, well, the quarterbacks erase a lot of mistakes. Dan Marino did this better than anyone I've seen.

Tannehill has to do this to get better. He has to do this to be great.

And, yes, I know what some of you are doing now. You're murmuring that Tannehill will never be great. You think this despite the fact Tannehill is only 26. And, I grant you, that may turn out to be true.

But to dismiss the possibility as long as Tannehill continues steady improvement year after year is simply a poor bet.

[BLOG NOTE: The Dolphins will have a press conference for Tannehill to discuss his new contract at 3 p.m. Tuesday. I will attend and update this space at the time. For real-time updates follow me on twitter: @ArmandoSalguero]

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