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Dolphins restrict Tannehill's freedom to change plays and why they do it; UM coach search update

There always seems to be something exasperating and puzzling about how the Dolphins operate their offense.

Under Mike Sherman, everyone wondered why Ryan Tannehill shouted “go” before snapping the ball on most passing plays and “go go” before running plays.

Under coordinator Bill Lazor, two different issues have surfaced that irritate fans and elicited recent criticism from CBS analyst Rich Gannon, both on air and off:

### Issue 1: Why doesn’t Tannehill have the freedom to change to any play he wants?

As a Dolphins player explained, Lazor gives Tannehill two options on some plays (usually one run, one pass) and Tannehill can call either, depending on the defensive look. But he cannot call anything other than those two plays. But on many other plays, Tannehill goes to the line with one play and isn’t allowed to change that play at all.

“It’s a big mistake,” Gannon said last week. “If you can’t change protections and change plays on the fly at this level, you’re in big trouble.”

I asked Tannehill if he’s tempted to ask Lazor to give him permission to change to any play he wants or a lot more than two.

“We’ve had conversations,” Tannehill said. “But he’s the coordinator.”

This isn’t the way every team does it.

Receiver Kenny Stills, who spent his first two seasons in New Orleans, said Drew Brees had the authority to audible to any play he wants at the line of scrimmage. Does that make it more difficult or confusing for the other players?

“No,” Stills said. “It gives us an advantage because we can see what the defense is giving us” and the quarterback can then adjust.

Dolphins and former Green Bay receiver Greg Jennings said Aaron Rodgers “had a lot more freedom that Ryan does. We don’t run audibles here. The adjustments we make are with protection, not changing the play.”

So why don’t the Dolphins give Tannehill the freedom to change to any play he wants?

“When you do that, there’s two schools of thought,” interim coach Dan Campbell said Thursday. “When you do that, certainly Ryan can handle that mentally but you take the chance it slows him down in his rhythm. You open the full playbook up, those are sometimes the problems you run into. I’ll be honest with you. His first few years with Mike Sherman, he somewhat had that a little bit.

“He had a lot of options he could do. He did a good job of getting us into the right plays and protection, but we felt like it slowed him down a little bit with his rhythm. We felt like he could be a better passer by taking a little bit of a load off of him. And he is throwing the ball better.”

Gannon criticized the Dolphins’ restrictive audible policy after unblocked Eagles players sacked Tannehill twice on blitzes last week.

Tannehill said on the first one, which resulted in a safety, he had the option to make a short throw before the blitzer swallowed him up on his blind side.

That throw, if attempted, likely would have gone to tight end Dion Sims, who said his assignment on that play was to go out in coverage. “That was my fault,” Tannehill said.

But Tannehill said on the other sack, the play called by Lazor did not give him the ability to change to a quick, short throw, which seemingly could have helped avoid a sack.

“We felt we were all right on those plays, but they got us,” backup quarterback Matt Moore said. “Our execution has to be on point when we don’t have the freedom to change the play.”

Center Mike Pouncey said “me and the right guard [Billy Turner] have to do a better job coming over” and picking up the blitzer on those plays. He made clear that right tackle Jason Fox wasn’t to blame on either.

Lazor continues to play the semantic game with the audible issue, saying he believes there were four occasions last week when Tannehill changed the play. But he changed the play to a second option that Lazor had made available to him.

“I watched in the Jet game, him walk up, make the call, change it,” Lazor said. “He changes it with words, he changes it with hand signals, hopefully subtly. He audibled at the line of scrimmage against the Eagles. Certain play we could have called the play with motion or line up and shift to it, and he had a chance to call the way he wanted it to, run and pass. You know me enough to know I'm not lying.”

He's not lying, but he's telling only a small part of the story. And the full story is Tannehill cannot go to the line of scrimmage (or the huddle, for that matter) and call any play he pleases.

### Issue 2: Gannon, like fans, wondered why the Dolphins --- on third down --- run so many routes that are short of the first-down marker.

Two issues are at play here: “Sometimes, we allow the defense to dictate our routes, and that’s our fault,” Stills said.

But Stills said other times, the routes called are intentionally short of the yardage needed to make the first down because Miami’s offense is “designed to catch and run.”

The Dolphins’ 5.8 yards-after-catch average ranks 11th in the league. But the Dolphins nevertheless are converting only 29.5 percent of their third downs, second-worst in the league and ahead of only St. Louis.

Lazor said on one occasion last week, a receiver did not run a route deep enough.

“There was a play run last week that was caught short of the sticks that was disappointing,” Lazor said. “Sometimes on third and long, we complete a decent number of passes that have been short of the sticks. He shouldn't be short of the sticks, but the guy getting the check down ends up getting [the ball]. If they cover what you have intended down the field, that happens.”


### UM’s search firm, Korn Ferry, is meeting with school officials this week and is presenting them with a list of 40 potential candidates for the football coaching job, according to a school source. That list will be whittled down and interviews will follow.

### We’ve reported about Texas coach Charlie Strong’s interest in the UM job in recent weeks and UM’s interest in him. The Palm Beach Post reported yesterday that Miami will “pounce” on Strong if Texas fires him, and that Miami has “zeroed in” on him as their leading candidate.

Two high-level UM sources said athletic director Blake James holds Strong in high regard.

One of them said he expects Miami will pursue Strong if he parts ways with Texas.

But another said it’s way premature to say Strong would be offered the job because Korn Ferry might have discovered other employed successful coaches who have interest or other appealing options could become available later (such as Georgia’s Mark Richt).

### At the request of UM, Korn Ferry has reached out to 24 former UM players. One of them, former All-American offensive lineman Joaquin Gonzalez, said these were some of the questions that Korn Ferry asked him Thursday:

What makes UM unique? What are the qualities we should look for in a coach? Is there anything specific instrumental in having a winning program? Of the coaches mentioned, who would you pick?

Gonzalez said Korn Ferry mentioned that Butch Davis and Mario Cristobal are getting the most votes from ex-players contacted, followed by Rob Chudzinski and Greg Schiano.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz