Last season, the Miami Dolphins were not a good football team, but that was the plan. They made clear their year would be all about one thing: getting Tua Tagovailoa, then the starting quarterback for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Dolphins fans were united in the goal, using the hashtag #TankForTua throughout the season. They wanted a poor year to get a good draft pick to land the young quarterback. They achieved their goal, going 5-11 and landing the fifth pick in the draft, where they selected Tagovailoa.
Flash forward a year, and Tagovailoa is a Dolphin, but not yet the starting quarterback, as coach Brian Flores has so far opted to take a cautious approach with him rather than thrusting him into a sink-or-swim situation. He has continued with his approach despite a weak opening that has the team at 1-2 after losses to division rivals, the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills.
Dolphins fans are understandably excited, with Tagovailoa’s jersey sales ranking both first and second in May, with the Dolphins aqua shirt the best-seller, followed by their white shirt, according to Bryan DeArdo on NFL.Com.
Here are five things Tagovailoa must do to become the Miami Dolphins starting quarterback.
Learning from Ryan Fitzpatrick
Ryan Fitzpatrick is returning for his second year as a Dolphin and has been named the starting quarterback. The 37-year-old journeyman, now with his eighth team, has gained a lot of NFL experience that Tagovailoa can use. While they are direct competitors for the quarterback position, starting the season behind Fitzpatrick could be a good thing for Tagovailoa.
Fitzpatrick, a Harvard graduate, is one of the brightest minds in football. Before being drafted, players are asked to take the Wonderlic Test, a variation of an IQ test with 50 questions to be answered in about 12 minutes. According to Madilyn Zeegers of sportscasting.com, Fitzpatrick answered 48 out of 50 correctly, which ties him for the highest score for a quarterback prospect.
Mastering the Playbook
The Miami Dolphins have had a lot of staff turnover in recent years and coach Brian Flores is searching for consistency. The Dolphins recently hired an old face as their new offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey, who held the same position for the Dolphins in 2000 and 2001. He will be the team’s fourth offensive coordinator in as many years.
For Tagovailoa to succeed, he’ll need to study and learn the playbook that Gailey brings to Miami. Starting the season as a backup will allow him extra time to not only fully understand the playbook, but also do what is expected of him in this new offense.
Taking Advantage of Practice Reps
When working towards becoming a starting quarterback, practice is the best way to show your quality. Tagovailoa can show the skill set that made him such a coveted draft pick for the Dolphins.
As a 37-year-old veteran, Fitzpatrick is often held out of practice, which is where Tagovailoa needs to excel. When he receives practice reps, especially those with the starters, he needs to show he is ready to be a starting quarterback. He needs to exhibit the combination of skill and decision-making that gave him success playing under Nick Saban at Alabama.
Building a Working Understanding with his Teammates
The quarterback is the most vocal player on the field on offense. It is his job to read a defense before the snap and make adjustments accordingly. For Tagovailoa to be effective in doing this, he needs to build a good relationship with his teammates on the offensive side of the ball.
Tagovailoa needs to show his teammates he can make good decisions at the line of scrimmage and be very clear with what those adjustments are. Whether it be telling a running back to block, an offensive lineman to adjust his block or a receiver to change his route, he needs to be on the same page with his teammates if he is to succeed.
Ironically, the most important thing Tagovailoa needs to do may be out of his hands: he must stay healthy.
Tagovailoa was plagued by injuries at Alabama, suffering multiple ankle problems and a dislocated hip that was a cause for concern for many teams prior to the NFL Draft. Before his hip issue, Tagovailoa was largely projected to be the number one pick in his draft.
With these injuries come important questions: Can Tagovailoa get back to 100 percent? Can he overcome his injury-riddled past? Can his body withstand the physicality of the NFL? His future may very well depend upon the answers.