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The Miami Dolphins are a significant step ahead of the Buffalo Bills in their respective rebuilding processes in one very key area.

That’s at quarterback, where the Dolphins feel like they finally have a successor to Dan Marino in place with rookie Ryan Tannehill. Here in Western New York, the search for the next Jim Kelly continues into its 17th year.

“I think he has an excellent future, and he’ll just continue to get better,” Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman told the Miami Herald this week, describing Tannehill. “His mind set, that’s the beauty of Ryan. He knows when he makes mistakes. He’s fairly critical of himself but doesn’t beat himself up. When you evaluate quarterbacks, you really have to look at their psyche as much as their talent. As a rookie quarterback, you’re going to make mistakes. You just can’t let every mistake weigh heavily on your shoulders, and Ryan doesn’t do that.

“That’s the sign of a good quarterback that has a chance to be a great quarterback.”

Tannehill is coming off his most efficient performance as a pro, a 24-3 win against Jacksonville in Week 15 in which he completed 22-of-28 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for 52 yards on eight carries. He had a career-high passer rating of 123.2.

Tannehill’s thrown only one interception since a 19-14 loss to the Bills in Week 11.

“I think that we came away [from that game] feeling like we didn’t play very well, obviously. The turnovers at the end for me, you know, throwing interceptions when we had a chance to go down and win the game there. You never know what’s going to happen,” he said this week on a conference call with Buffalo reporters. “We can’t turn the ball over in critical situations.”

Said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin: “We’ve seen a lot of growth in that period of time and there’s also some things we want to see him do better, just like our entire offensive unit. I think offensively, we’re still a work in progress is probably the best way to describe us. We’ve got a lot of work to do. He’s part of that, but we certainly saw some good things last week in the game against Jacksonville.”

That Tannehill is a quick study is no surprise. He graduated from Texas A&M with a 3.63 grade-point average and a bachelor’s degree in biology. He wants to go to medical school and become and orthopedic surgeon when his playing days are over.

“Ryan Tannehill is a unique individual,” said Sherman, who was the quarterback’s college coach with the Aggies.

The biggest knock on Tannehill coming out of college was his experience. He made only 19 starts at quarterback after converting from wide receiver. But at 6-foot-4, 222 pounds, Tannehill’s got prototype size for the position. He’s also got excellent arm strength, poise and athletic ability for the position.

“He’s a young guy, but he showed some things as far as being able to throw the ball deep and keep his composure under pressure,” Bills defensive end Mario Williams said. “[It’s] something that we definitely have to fight hard to get him rattled and get him off his mark.”

Tannehill, the eighth overall pick in April’s draft, actually has a higher quarterback rating than the No. 1 pick, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck (75.9 to 75.5).

Luck has thrown for twice as many touchdowns (20 to 10) and significantly more yards (3,978 to 2,929), but Tannehill’s got a better completion percentage (58.7 to 54.6) and has thrown fewer interceptions (12 to 18). Tannehill’s not interested in comparisons to Luck – let alone Marino.

“I’m just trying to get better every week. It’s a long season and you learn something every time you go out on the field. I’m just trying to progressively get better,” he said. “All performances are not going to be great, but you just try to build on what you’ve done in the past and learn from each experience and keep moving forward.”

Tannehill is one of eight rookies to start and win a game this season, an NFL record.

“I don’t know the exact answer to that,” Tannehill said, when asked how those new to the league have had so much early success. “I think a lot of guys are playing in situations in college where you’re playing in big-time games and getting exposed to a lot of good talent.”

email: jskurski@buffnews.com