Here's why quarterback whisperer Adam Gase is excited about Ryan Tannehill
The new Dolphins coach has had plenty of success with Tebow, Manning and Cutler
DAVIE, Fla. -- New Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase has a big problem sitting still, the fidgeting being almost as much a part of him as breathing. So on a late afternoon day in May, he was even more of a livewire as he sipped his Monster energy drink, helping to add fuel to his already-maniacal ways.
Sitting behind the desk in his spacious office above the Dolphins' practice fields, the big screen on the wall was frozen with tape from that day's OTA as he talked -- but not for long.
While Gase talked quarterbacks, which is something he loves to do, he grabbed the remote and jumped up and started highlighting Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins quarterback and his newest project. He went through a series of plays showing Tannehill doing a lot of good, and even some bad, pointing out detailed things.
"He's smart as (expletive) now," Gase said as he highlighted Tannehill making a right read. "We got screwed up on the pressure on this one, but he will stand in there. Watch this. Here he's screwing around with the defensive line on cadence. He keeps getting them to jump. They move the ball up 5 yards and it pisses the defensive line off."
Gase paused as another play rolled on.
"This is where he has to get better. If he sent the line to left, we could have had a big play. He had them go right the whole way. The only threat he had here off the edge was the slot corner (to Tannehill's left) and he didn't send the protection that way. Those are the small things that we are working to get better."
This is the quarterback whisperer at work.
At the coaching-tender age of 38, Gase has quickly earned a reputation as a guy who can work with the all-time greats (Peyton Manning), make miracles happen with limited passers (Tim Tebow) and help fix the troubled (Jay Cutler).
Gase's face lights up when he talks quarterbacks, and he's earned a nice reputation -- and a million-dollar head-coaching job -- working with them.
Not bad for a guy who never played the position.
So I asked him what would it look like if one of his pupils asked the teacher to take a snap under center and make a throw.
"It's not going to be pretty," Gase said.
You've never done it once with some of your passers?
"No,'' he yells. "No. Not at full speed. I might get hurt."
So how does a guy who can't even do a drop-back that would make his pupils proud get to be this quarterback guru?
"Good teachers," he said.
And, while he won't say it, he has a work ethic as good as any in the profession. It's what bonded him to Manning, himself a maniacal, all-day, all-night football mind who can't turn the football switch off.
Gase is wired the same way. He recently had a weekend with his wife at a Dolphins function, and when they returned to their temporary home, he said he had to go to the office for a few hours of work -- on a Saturday, in May.
"This is where I can just come in and get things done," he said. "I felt it getting to me that I wasn't working. So I came up here and just did some stuff."
Gase is a self-made coach. This is a kid who went to Michigan State after playing tight end in high school and begged to be a part of the coaching staff as a student, helping to break down tendencies for the staff. He eventually became a graduate assistant for the Spartans then followed Nick Saban to LSU. He nearly quit coaching to go into the insurance business, but was talked out of it.
He stayed with it, continued to work hard, and was hired by the Detroit Lions as a scouting assistant and then eventually became the quarterbacks coach under Mike Martz, then the offensive coordinator. He credits Martz with a lot of his thinking as it relates to coaching quarterbacks.
"Getting Tebow helped changed the way we thought on offense. ... We changed what we were doing. The big light went on for me."Adam Gase on adapting to Tim Tebow's skills in Denver
"I was so lucky to get with Mike," Gase said. "He had Kurt Warner and the Greatest Show on Turf. It was great to learn from him."
Then he went to Denver as the Broncos' quarterbacks coach, helped turn Tebow into a workable player, and then had the chance to live in the ultimate coaching laboratory for quarterback coaches: Working with Manning.
At the time he started with Manning, first as the quarterbacks coach and then as coordinator, Gase was 34 and Manning was 36.
"I never thought about who I was working with," Gase said "I didn't think, 'Hey, this is Peyton Manning.' To me, it was a new start for him and we were all trying to put things together."
The last two years he was in Denver, Gase was the coordinator of one of the league's most prolific offenses. But when the Broncos decided to part ways with coach John Fox last year, Gase was caught in the crossfire. He interviewed for the head coaching spot, but was passed up and eventually ended in Chicago with Fox. His task there was to help fix Jay Cutler, which he did. That led to his job with the Dolphins.
Some around the league marveled at what he did with Cutler, cutting down on his mistakes and making him a more team-friendly quarterback.
I asked Gase what it was like coaching each one of his last three starters -- Tebow, Manning and Cutler -- and how it might impact him going forward.
On Tebow: "Getting Tebow helped changed the way we thought on offense. What can we do to help this guy be successful? We changed what we were doing. The big light went on for me. Everything we do is about what can our players do. What are their strengths."
On Manning: "When he came to Denver, I got great advice from two guys who had coached him, Clyde Christensen and Frank Reich. They both said the same thing: You have to do a great job in educating yourself in protections and you have to be a great worker and must have the answers. It's a different challenge when you have a guy like that. He's going to ask questions no other player is going to ask you and he expects you to know the answer. With him, it was more about the mind. But both situations in Denver were the same. It was adapt or die. With Tim, we could have kept doing the same thing and failed or figured out what he does well and adapt to that. The same thing with Peyton. When he came in, we ran more two-back and went 2-3. Then we went no-huddle and did what he does best and won 11 straight. It's about doing what the players do best."
On Cutler: "I thought whatever happened in the past with Jay we set aside like it was a fresh start. He put a lot of time and effort into everything we did. He was there later than anybody else. Nobody knew the game plans like he did. He did things as hard as any of the guys I've been around. He practiced hard. Individual drills, he went hard. He treated every day like a game day. The one thing we truly worked on was ball security in the pocket. You have to remind these guys that what happened in the past is in the past."
Now comes Tannehill.
In four seasons with the Dolphins, Tannehill has experienced his share of ups and downs. Tannehill has started 64 consecutive games to open his career, but he's 29-35 and hasn't had a winning season.
He has averaged 25 touchdown passes the past three seasons, but the inconsistency has flashed on a continual basis. The pluses are that he's just 27 and he's still learning the position.
"He's smart, he's athletic and he has the ability to make all the throws," Gase said. "It's not as if he's been unproductive. Look at his numbers. They are good numbers. Now it's just a matter of translating those numbers into wins for this team."
Gase said he hasn't had to make sweeping changes with Tannehill the passer -- just little things.
"The way he's set up mechanically is good," Gase said "I don't want to mess with that."
It is a challenge that Tannehill is learning his third system in four years. Gase's system more closely resembles the system Tannehill ran as a rookie with the Dolphins, and is a lot different than what he ran the past two seasons when he quarterbacked a Chip Kelly-style of offense.
"I think what we do is suited well for his game," Gase said "But it's a challenge. How many quarterbacks can you say changed offenses and had a great year the next year? It's tough changing everything. The terminology is different. The play-caller is different."
Gase stopped to take a sip out of his Monster drink. Moments later, the livewire was up again, pointing to the big screen to point out something else about his newest project.
The quarterback whisperer who can't even take a snap, drop back and make a throw clearly can't wait to show off his newest pupil -- and put his quarterback whisperer reputation on the line again.
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