INDIANAPOLIS -- Certainly, all the talk about quarterbacks at this year's scouting combine has been about Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Neither of those top prospects will throw in Sunday's positional drills, leaving a lot of face time for the next level of quarterbacks -- names like Brandon Weeden, Kirk Cousins, Brock Osweiler, and Nick Foles. While one or two of those guys may move up based on their performances, it's the man between the top and the bargain bin -- Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill -- who will have to shine it on until his Pro Day on March 29. The young man who wants to be an orthopedic surgeon after his football career will have a lot of time to study foot structure in the meantime -- the January injury to the fifth metatarsal bone, suffered while preparing for the Senior Bowl, will have him sitting out all the drills in Indianapolis.
Thus, the man who would have been the one to watch -- Tannehill could have cemented a first-round grade by most NFL teams with a strong combine showing -- has to watch and wait.
"It happened on the second day down in Florida for me, right there in January," Tannehill said of the injury. "I was rolling out to my left, just a normal rollout quarterback drill. Turned my shoulders to make the throw and felt a pop in my foot. So it's kind of an unfortunate thing, very frustrating at the time. Come to find out, I probably had a stress fracture there that was kind of a ticking time bomb and just waiting for the right moment to pop. So it was very frustrating the fact that it happened, but it was kind of a blessing in disguise at the same time, because I was able to get it fixed. I'm going to be able to have a full Pro Day and prepare for an NFL season. When it comes down to it, that's what we're preparing for is to play in the NFL, not just the combine. So I'm excited about the rehab and where I am right now and getting ready for my Pro Day."
Tannehill will be preparing with quarterback guru Chris Weinke at IMG in Florida, where Weinke did great things for the mechanics of Cam Newton and Christian Ponder before the 2011 NFL season. He's an intriguing quarterback with an impressive set of skills, but not everything has come together just yet. Though Tannehill played quarterback in high school, he spent his first two years at A&M at the receiver position, increasing his throwing reps halfway through the 2010 season. The athletic and mechanical aspects of his game are very solid, but the fine points might take a while. Still, ex-head coach Mike Sherman is a big believer in Tannehill's future.
"He was a receiver for us for two and a half years. He had over 1,000 yards receiving," Sherman said of Tannehill, who caught 112 passes for 1,596 yards and 10 touchdowns at his former position. "Like all good quarterbacks, he had great poise. Very confident in any system, west coast or not," Sherman said. "Any quarterback has to be confident in his own skin and believe in himself. They always say a great quarterback makes those around him better. I thought [Brett] Favre did that. I think Aaron Rodgers does that. I think Tannehill does that as well."
Tannehill saw himself as a quarterback all along. "It was kind of a unique experience changing positions," he said during this Thursday combine press conference. "I went to A&M as a quarterback. I redshirted as a quarterback. I went into camp my freshman year as a quarterback and was going to be third on the depth chart and they moved me out to receiver. I ended up having some success that day and about two days later, I was in the starting rotation at receiver. It was a quick turnaround. I was frustrated by the fact that I didn't get to play quarterback. It's what I always what I wanted to be. So I was frustrated by it, but blessed by the opportunity to be able to play another position. Not a lot of people get to contribute in another way to help their team. It was exciting for me to be able to do that. I learned a lot about the game, got a lot of experience.
"Even though it wasn't at the quarterback position, I did get experience playing football and seeing the game out there. I learned a lot from it, and fortunately I was able to get back to where I wanted to be under center."
One personnel executive who agrees that Tannehill is on the right track is Seattle general manager John Schneider, who pointed to Tannehill this week as the perfect example of the kind of player he wants running his offense -- as much an athlete as a quarterback.
"First and foremost, that's what we're looking for," Schneider said on Thursday. "Especially at that position. Guys that have always been in the quarterback schools, the special camps, and all that kind of stuff. They make me a little nervous to a certain extent. This guy is a real football player. He played defense. You could see him last year when he stepped in, he just went out and played. He had this natural toughness about him that the players really rallied around and went on a winning streak and he did a great job. I felt like this year, he had well over 60 drops. He did a nice job."
His former coach is impressed. The NFL is waiting. And Ryan Tannehill, the third man in this year's quarterbacks class, will have to be patient, see a month go by, and then have the league descend on him to roll the final grade.
- Ryan Tannehill