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A look at how Dolphins are accentuating Tannehill's strengths; Dolphins, UM defense, Heat notes

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN 

Just a month ago, when Ryan Tannehill’s play was disconcerting enough for questions to be asked about his job security, Bill Lazor was asked whether Tannehill simply wasn’t well-equipped to run his system.

“I cringe when you say your system,” Lazor responded. “Our offense is what Ryan can run. What you’re seeing are the things he’s very capable of doing and he will do.”

Lazor’s response was dead-on, because the first-year coordinator recently has accentuated what Tannehill does best, with a lot of short and intermediate routes and read options and de-emphasizing, or simply tabling, plays that proved problematic, such as deep throws.

A few points to consider about Tannehill, whose 72.0 completion percentage in the past month is the NFL’s best, topping Peyton Manning’s 70.8:

### Tannehill’s mobility and ability to run the read option are two of his greatest assets, and Lazor is maximizing those talents to a greater extent than predecessor Mike Sherman did.

Last season, Tannehill rushed 40 times for 238 yards, a 6.0 average. This season, he has 22 for 150 (6.8 yards per carry), a pace that would give him 59 carries and 400 yards. He has runs of 30 and 40 yards in the past two games.

No wonder Tannehill has risen from 10th in the league in rushing yards among quarterbacks in 2013 to fourth this season, behind Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton. That’s the company Tannehill should be keeping in this category, and he’s finally doing it because he has handled the read option adroitly and has a coordinator willing to call it more.

“If you have a guy good at those things, you probably call more of those type plays,” Matt Moore said. “Bill is learning what Ryan does better or doesn’t do too well.”

### Tannehill was very good in play action last season (109.6 passer rating) and Lazor has utilized that more. Tannehill already has 58 throws in play action and is on pace for 155 --- which would easily surpass last year’s 90 --- and has an 87.6 rating on play action passes, per Pro Football Focus.

### Tannehill hasn’t even thrown a “classic” deep ball in the past few games partly because Lazor apparently prefers to run plays that have a better chance of success.

Last season, Tannehill threw 64 passes that traveled 20 or more yards in the air and completed only 16, with six interceptions.

This season, he’s 5 for 18 with two picks on those passes and is on pace to throw among the fewest in the league (48).

### Lazor has started calling more rollouts for Tannehill but probably needs to call even more. According to Stats. Inc, Tannehill has run eight designed rollouts (with a 96.4 passer rating on those plays) and has a 104.2 passer rating on another 15 throws made on the run to escape a pass rush.

Last season, Tannehill completed 17 of 27 passes on those rollouts with four touchdowns and a 117.7 passer rating, which ranked fourth in the league on those types of throws. But Wilson had 73 designed rollouts called for him in 2013, and Tannehill might benefit if Lazor called more.

### The most optimistic comparison for Tannehill entering the season might have been Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, considering their second-year numbers were nearly identical. (Tannehill’s were slightly better, in fact.)

Ryan improved dramatically his third season, finishing with a 91 passer rating, 62.5 completion rate, 28 touchdowns and nine picks.

So it’s notable that Tannehill has an 87.8 rating, 63.3 completion percentage, and is on pace for 27 TDs and 13 picks. The Dolphins would be quite pleased if Tannehill can become comparable to Ryan; that would be good enough to make Miami a legitimate contender, considering the Dolphins' defense is better than Atlanta's.

CHATTER

Receiver Brandon Gibson, who has fallen behind Jarvis Landry on the depth chart, said no Dolphins coach has explained to him why he wasn’t active last Sunday and he’s reluctant to ask.

“There’s no doubt I can play,” Gibson said. “I don’t think it’s a decision that has anything to do with me.... It was a decision that was made and there's nothing I can do.”

Is there anything he can do to get back in the coach's good graces? "Nothing probably," he said.

Asked if he has requested a trade or might, he said, “Not really.”

Still, it was odd that receiver Damian Williams (who didn’t play special teams in the game) was active Sunday.

"It’s not really necessarily an indictment of Brandon, and Brandon I know is going to contribute here this season," Joe Philbin said. "I’m confident he will.”

Gibson, who has a $4.5 million cap hit if he’s on the team next season and $1 million if he’s not, seems unlikely to be here longterm.

### The Dolphins thought Caleb Sturgis would be a more effective long-range kicker than Dan Carpenter, but his accuracy on 50-plus-yard field goals (4 for 9) is tied with Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski for second-worst in the league since the start of 2013, narrowly ahead of Houston’s Randy Bullock.

Sturgis missed from 50 yards and had a 37-yarder blocked Sunday, and Philbin told him in a team meeting, in front of everyone, on Tuesday that “we have to make those kicks.”

### One reason Reshad Jones says he has been very good since his return: his work with LeBron James’ trainer during his suspension. Another reason: “I’m one of the better safeties in this league.”

### UM defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio believes that not only are he and his defense getting a bad rap, but UM actually has played well on his side of the ball.

“I’m happy with our performance,” he said. “The coaching staff is pleased with the [players on defense].”

To support his assertion, he mentioned UM is seventh in yards allowed per play (4.46, not much worse than Alabama’s 4.38). That’s a fair point.

But what UM doesn’t say is this: The Hurricanes are 53rd in scoring defense, 56th in rushing defense, 69th in red zone defense, 71st in third-down defense, 61st in first downs allowed and 108th in tackles for loss per game.

Here's one problem: Because UM is subpar in third-down defense and poor in third-down offense, UM's defense is on the field far too much; UM's opponents are averaging 73 snaps per game, compared with 61 for UM's offense.

D’Onofrio is opposed to having his corners play tighter coverage because “we certainly don't want gamblers. The worst thing we could do is give up an easy touchdown on defense, right?"

UM would prefer a long drive against them if given a choice between a methodical march and a quick strike.

“We certainly can't have our [last line of defense safeties and corners] not be deep,” D'Onofrio insisted.

“That's the worst thing that can happen to a defense. I hear [Seattle coach] Pete Carroll say it: `When you're deep, you're deep,' and it's worked good for him. The deep players need to stay deep.”

That’s his philosophy and he’s sticking to it.

### A few postscripts from the Heat's 90-85 win against Houston Tuesday night: If you add Josh McRoberts (who remains out with a toe injury) and subtract center Khem Birch (who played 10 minutes), the Heat lineup for this regular-season dress rehearsal probably looked very much like the Heat's early-season rotation, with Shawne Williams starting in place of McRoberts at power forward and Chris Andersen, Mario Chalmers, Danny Granger and Shabazz Napier off the bench. That meant no James Ennis (despite a strong preseason), no Shannon Brown and no Udonis Haslem (sore back, according to Erik Spoelstra). Spoelstra said he didn't play Ennis because he wanted to give Granger more minutes....

Dwyane Wade (22 points, 11 for 17 shooting, six assists in 29 minutes) and Chris Bosh (22 points, six rebounds in 35 minutes) were very good... Keep in mind that whereas Wade and Bosh played down the stretch, Dwight Howard and James Harden did not....

Norris Cole started his sixth consecutive preseason game and had four fouls in 14 minutes.... Chalmers had an impactful 33 minutes, with 13 points and four steals. Chalmers also continues to find a way to get to the line; he had nine free throw attempts. Though Spoelstra has declined to discuss his thinking at point guard, Chalmers has responded well to playing off the bench at both guard spots....

Rebounding remains a concern; the Rockets outrebounded the Heat, 44-35. But the Heat's defense in the second half was encouraging, with Houston closing at 39.9 percent from the field... Napier shot 0 for 7, with two assists and a turnover in 21 scoreless minutes, ending a multigame stretch of standout performances.... Spoelstra said McRoberts believes he's ready to play in a game, but the coaching staff is being cautious.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... Please see the last post for Tuesday afternoon Dolphins, Heat and Hurricanes notes. 

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