NASHVILLE – Pat O’Hara would like to take Ryan Tannehill at his word. Experience has taught the Tennessee Titans quarterbacks coach to do otherwise.
“There’s a lot of communication between he and I because a lot of times when you ask Ryan,’ ‘How are you feeling today?’ he’s like, ‘I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine,’” O’Hara said. “I’m like, ‘Hey, talk to me.’ ‘All right, I’m a little sore today.’ So, we have worked through that.”
That is all, though, just a little soreness from time to time.
When the Titans traded with the Miami Dolphins to acquire him prior to the 2019 season, Tannehill had started to build a reputation as someone who was injury-prone. The label has stuck in the minds of many NFL observers even though as he enters his 10th NFL season he has started 26 consecutive games in the regular season and four others in the playoffs without incident. The only times he has missed any snaps have been in the final minutes when a contest is out of reach or the rare occasion when coaches have gotten creative with a personnel package.
It is not like Tannehill has played it safe during his time with Tennessee either. For proof, look no further than his two-point conversion run with 23 seconds to play against the Kansas City Chiefs (his fourth start for the Titans) when he lowered his left shoulder, took on safety Tyrann Mathieu and drove his way into the end zone.
“If it is a critical situation, and a first down is on the line, the game is on the line, and I am two yards from a first down and I have a collision coming, yeah I am going to try and take on the defender and find a way to get the first down and keep the chains moving,” Tannehill said. “It is just finding that balance of being smart and taking care of yourself, making sure you’re not taking any unnecessary hits and also competing and finding a way to win.”
The truth is that Tannehill does not exactly have a lengthy history. In fact, when compared to those of former Titans quarterbacks Steve McNair and Marcus Mariota, for example, his is almost laughable.
The most serious issue was a torn ACL early in training camp that caused him to miss all of the 2017 season. Other than that, there was a thigh bruise in 2012, a partially torn knee ligament in 2016 and an issue with his throwing shoulder in 2018. Outside of 2017, when he spent the whole season on injured reserve, he missed just eight games, three after the first knee injury and five with the shoulder issue.
Most important to Tennessee is that all of those issues took place when Tannehill was with the Dolphins.
“It was just a couple unfortunate situations,” he said. “It was really out of my hands. If you look at my career before that, I was able to play almost five straight years without missing a game. Then kind of had a little bit of bad run there, with major injuries. Kind of how the cookie crumbles sometimes. … There for a little bit it didn’t fall in my favor, and [I’m glad] glad we are past that.”
When he started all 16 regular-season games last season, Tannehill became the first Titans quarterback to do so since Matt Hasselbeck in 2011. Mariota twice started 15 of 16 (2016, 2017) but at times had to play through things in order to do so.
At no point since Tannehill replaced Mariota as the starter in Week 7 of 2019 has there been a question about his availability for a game. Nor has he been limited when he has been on the field. Tannehill has registered 43 rushing attempts each of the last two years, the first time in his career he had more than 40 in consecutive seasons.
Of his 17 career rushing touchdowns, 11 have been with Tennessee.
“We do value (Tannehill’s) ability to run the football when we ask him to, or if a play breaks down,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “He is competitive … and has a high level of toughness. Also, we have to be smart. His availability is important.
“… We have conversations … on those instances where we are out of the pocket and we turn up, that we are using good judgment. Where are we at? Are we close to the end zone?”
Tannehill was the third quarterback the Titans acquired to ensure they had an experienced hand available if Mariota was not. First, it was Matt Cassel (2016-17) and then Blaine Gabbert (2018). Those two were a combined 3-2 as starters when Mariota was sidelined.
Since the start of last season, the backup quarterback has been Logan Woodside, a 26-year-old who never has started an NFL game and has thrown just three passes in the regular season. Clearly, franchise officials are not as concerned about their starter’s availability as they once were.
“We all trust (Tannehill),” O’Hara said. “He’s certainly a very competitive guy, though. I think there’s moments when – we say in our room – we’ve got to know when the journey’s over. When to throw the ball away. When to get down. When to get out of bounds. He’s mindful of that, but he’s also a competitor.
“With the game on the line or a huge play that he needs to go get, we’ve seen that repeatedly where he’ll go and get it. And that’s what we love about him.”