Joe Barry's defense will get their first challenge on Sunday with Ryan Tannehill leading a Dolphins passing attack loaded with talented wide receivers.
The most telling sign of fourth-year Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill's improvement comes in the stat sheet, as he's improved on his numbers across the board over the last three seasons.
As a rookie in 2012, Tannehill threw for 3,294 yards with 12 touchdowns. In 2013, the Texas A&M product tossed for 3,913 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Last season – Tannehill's best to date – he threw for more than 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns while also accumulating a 92.8 passer rating.
"The thing that I've been most impressed about him is that he is, I think as a coach, when you look at a player, whether it's your own player, you view other players, especially with young guys, you look for them, for a progression," Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry said on Thursday. "You look for them to get better year in and year out. When you really look at the year that he had last year, compared to the year before, he had 28 touchdowns, only threw 12 picks, threw for 4,100 yards. I think he was right about at a 93 quarterback rating."
Barry also believes that Tannehill can "make all the throws" regardless of what situations he finds himself in.
Along with that threat, Tannehill can also be effective when he tucks and runs, as he's averaged more than five yards per attempt in his career.
"It's one thing when a quarterback can drop back and sling it, but when a quarterback can drop back and sling it and take off, it adds a whole other dimension," Barry said. "So, he's a very good young football player in this league. Like I said, to me, the thing that's been the most impressive, every year he's improved."
Sunday will mark the Redskins' first regular season game with Barry as the head of the defense.
Joining the Redskins following a three-year stint with the San Diego Chargers as their linebackers coach, Barry brings a different mentality to the unit than that of the previous defensive coaching staff.
From their first practice together up until the days before the regular season opener, Barry has seen progress in his unit.
"It's a building process," Barry said. "Every day is better. You hope you build and stack a block on top of each other every day. Training camp's a process. We kind of broke it down into phases. We had the offseason. We had training camp, and then we had the preseason. Now, we're moving into another phase, but each progression of each phase, I think I've been satisfied with. Now ultimately, none of those other phases matter. Now, we've got to go to the phase of playing games and winning games but the progression, I like what we've been able to do."
Barry and his staff – which returns Kirk Olivadotti but also adds guys like Robb Akey and Perry Fewell – made a concerted effort throughout the offseason to focus on fundamentals in tackling.
Each day during practice, the team starts with individual drills. The defensive linemen and linebackers, especially, first work on tackling drills before anything else — or, at least the best they could under current league guidelines.
"I think tackling is a major issue in the NFL right now just because of the way the rules are now," Barry said. "You really can't, from the time you play your last game, last year on December 29th or whatever it was, you really don't tackle anybody until damn near the first preseason game. You can emphasize it, you can talk about it, you can drill it. But, until you actually go out and tackle a dude, that's the only true way to do it. …We try to create drills for guys in the offseason, that nine-week period when we're out on the field. Try to be as creative as possible but there's no way to create a real tackle, unless going out and tackling a guy. You can't do that until the preseason."