Dolphins' offense could be best of Ryan Tannehill era

The Miami Dolphins ranked 24th in total offense and 17th in scoring last year. Nevertheless, there were several signs that they were building something positive for the future.

Miami saw a breakout performance from running back Jay Ajayi, who made his first Pro Bowl after compiling 1,272 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Receiver Kenny Stills had his best season in Miami with a team-high nine touchdown catches, and Jarvis Landry also made his second Pro Bowl following his second consecutive 1,100-yard season.

This core group of skill players, which also includes receiver DeVante Parker, is stocked with young standouts who are approaching their prime. By all accounts, the future is now for this group as it enters its second season together in head coach Adam Gase’s offense.

It's almost hard to fathom that Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, 28, is entering his sixth year as a starter. On paper, this is the best offense he's had, and now the pressure is on him to match or surpass last year’s production. His highlights in 2016 included going 8-5 as a starter -- the first winning season of his career.

At times, Miami’s offense struggled in areas such as third-down conversions. This year’s group has enough talent and balance to improve in those areas and accomplish whatever is needed on a given week.

“I think as an offense, we’ve got to stay on the field longer,” Tannehill said during Miami’s minicamp. “I think we didn’t have enough plays as an offense and we’re trying to combat that in a number of different ways, but ultimately it comes down to getting first downs. We’ve got to be able to get first downs, convert on third down and keep drives alive.”

The Dolphins acquired veteran tight end Julius Thomas to address that precise need. Thomas is a big target in the middle of the field who should take pressure off Tannehill, particularly on third down. Thomas also is a dangerous red-zone threat. He scored 24 touchdowns in two seasons with the Denver Broncos when Gase was the offensive coordinator.

There are two major question marks facing the Dolphins’ offense heading into training camp. One is proven depth; Miami doesn’t have much proven talent behind the starters. For example, can 2016 third-round pick Leonte Carroo step up if one of the receivers goes down? Can backup running backs Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams carry the load if Ajayi gets injured? Will former Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey stay healthy for a full season?

The other big question involves Tannehill. The starting QB claims he is back to full strength following an ACL and MCL sprain at the end of last season that forced him to miss the final four games, including the playoffs. Tannehill’s mobility looked fine in spring practices without contact. But it will be a different game in the fall, when he'll have to sustain hits from defenders.

“I feel totally normal,” Tannehill said of the knee, which didn’t require surgery. “I felt good back in January, so my offseason has been pretty normal up until this point as far as throwing with the guys before we started up as a team and then going through the team activities before we started practicing against the defense. So, it has been pretty normal. I’ve been doing all of the drills and everything. It feels pretty standard as far as that stuff goes.”

A healthy Tannehill is critical to Miami’s offense taking the next step in 2017. Growth on offense would go a long way toward helping the Dolphins reach the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.