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Miami Dolphins Quarterback Ryan Tannehill Faces Pivotal 2016 Season

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How often is it in today’s NFL landscape that a team isn’t sure about a quarterback after playing four years in the league?

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That is the case with the Miami Dolphins as Ryan Tannehill is entering his fifth season, but there are still questions about his ability to become a quality NFL starting quarterback.

Under former Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, Tannehill didn’t have a lot of ability to audible at the line of scrimmage. The coaching staff usually gave Tannehill three plays he could decide to run, but they limited what he could do beyond that.

That’s the main reason Dolphins owner Stephen Ross decided to hire Adam Gase as his next head coach, who was considered by many to be one the hottest young coordinators in the league. During this offseason, Gase hasn’t been shy about wanting to give Tannehill more responsibility in his offense.

“He’s a smart kid,” Gase said. “He’s very intelligent. I think this is what he’s been waiting for his whole career, is to go out there and be the guy to kind of call the show. We’ll see how it goes, but we think he’s going to do, really well here.”

Tannehill has taken a lot of criticism during his four seasons because of his inconsistent play and his inability to lead the Dolphins to the playoffs.

In 2013, the Dolphins began the season 3-0 and were in control of their playoff destiny at 8-6 after defeating the New England Patriots 24-20 in Week 15. Miami would lose its final two games to the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets to finish 8-8 and miss the postseason. Tannehill finished with 3,913 yards passing and 24 touchdowns, but he also threw 17 interceptions.

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The next season, the team finished 8-8 again, leaving the Dolphins on the outside of the playoffs for the third straight season with Tannehill at the helm. The 2012 first-round pick, however, posted his best numbers to that point, throwing for 4,045 yards and 27 touchdowns. He also cut down on his interceptions (from 17 to 12).

He took another step forward, statistically speaking, last season with a career-high 4,208 yards. But other categories didn’t follow suit, as his touchdowns (from 27 to 24) and completion percentage (from 66.4 to 61.9) both went down. What’s more, Miami went 6-10, finishing last in the AFC East and missing the playoffs for the seventh straight season.

Throughout training camp, Dolphins offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen has defended Tannehill and believes his quarterback is one of the hardest workers he has been around at the position.

"I think he's really, really sharp,” Christensen said. “He works unbelievably hard. He works as hard as anybody I've been around. I think I've been around elite workers at the quarterback position. Those guys are elite. Peyton Manning (and) Andrew Luck are elite workers, and this guy works his tail off. I've been unbelievably impressed. There are some things we install and I go, ‘This is going to take a while,' and he comes in the next day and he knows what's going on. He’s burning the midnight oil in here and you can't ask for anything more than what he's doing. We've just got to stay the course and keep learning."

After five seasons in the league, this is Tannehill’s prove-it campaign. In his defense, he has played for three different offensive coordinators and two head coaches in his short time in the NFL.

One positive during training camp so far is Tannehill is starting to become much more of a leader than in years past. He is yelling at receivers that run the wrong route and his play has been a bit more aggressive.

Before the beginning of the 2015 season, Tannehill signed a four-year, $77 million contract extension with the Dolphins, but the deal is very team-friendly. With the addition the Dolphins have made on the offensive line and at receiver, Tannehill has to show vast improvement or the team could decide to go in another direction at quarterback.

Tannehill is due to earn a little more than $20 million if he is still on the roster next year, so in a make-or-break season, Gase and the Dolphins will need to decide if Tannehill is truly the best option at quarterback going forward.

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.