The Miami Dolphins have moved to rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa as their starting quarterback, allowing the fifth-overall pick to take the reins of the offense from veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. The move is not surprising in that it happened this year, but that it happened as early as it has, given Miami’s 3-3 record and positioning in playoff contention early this season.
On Wednesday, head coach Brian Flores met with the media for the first time following news of the switch. He explained the reasoning behind it, looking at how Tagovailoa has developed since he was selected back in April. “Practice,” Flores said of the detemining factor in the move. “We talked about it as a staff, with (General Manager) Chris (Grier), the personnel department. We just felt like it was the best move for the team right now. That’s how we’re going to move forward.”
Two weeks ago, Flores had leaned the other way, citing Fitzpatrick as the right guy to lead the team and stating that Tagovailoa was not yet ready for the starting position, both in preparation for the game itself as well as still looking to protect the rookie health-wise. Asked what had changed, Flores looked at it like any other injury in the league, stating, “Sometimes a guy is a week out, two weeks out, three weeks out, four weeks out. I think we talk about kind of situations like this on a weekly basis. He’s day-to-day, he’s going to back in a couple weeks; and this is no different than that. We feel like through practice and meetings and walkthroughs, that he’s ready. And that’s how we’re going to go moving forward.”
Flores also broke down some of what the coaching staff has seen in practice that allowed for the change. “I think we’ve seen a lot of improvement form Tua and really from all of our rookies, I would say, and a lot of our non-rookies, second-year players, third-year players, etc,” he stated. “I think Tua specifically, I think he’s gotten more comfortable. But yes, accuracy, decision making, all of those things have been good in practice; but again, practice is very different than games. We’re going to do everything we can from a meeting, a walkthrough, a practice standpoint to get him ready to play in a game. Obviously we’re comfortable and confident that he’ll be able to be competitive in those games when the time comes. There is a lot that leads up to that. And also, I should say again, it’s not just one person. We’re going to need contributions from really everyone – o-line, running backs, tight ends, receivers, defense, special teams. It’s a team game. It’s never on one person. We’ve got to coach it well. I think if we do that, we’ll at least put ourselves in the best position to try to have some success.”
The news of the change at quarterback broke on social media before Flores had a chance to address the team and tell them of the swap. He expressed some regret that it happened that way. “One thing on this situation that’s unfortunate is that I didn’t get a chance to address the team before this was out,” the coach said. “The media – it’s not the way I or we want to do business. Unfortunately that’s kind of the way of the world right now. That’s unfortunate. I’m not happy about that at all. I’ll address that to the team and really apologize to them that they had to find out through social media. I don’t think that’s fair to them.”
Fitzpatrick, after serving as the starter for most of the 2019 campaign, came back as the incumbent in 2020, knowing Tagovailoa would eventually be named the starter. In six games, he has a 70.1 percent completion rate with 1,535 yards, 10 touchdowns, and seven interceptions, giving him a 95.0 passer rating. According to ESPN’s Quarterback Rating, Fitzpatrick has a 79.6 score out of 100, the seventh-highest rating in the league. Moving on from Fitzpatrick was not an easy decision for Flores, who explained, “Look, ‘Fitz’ has been great. He’s been great really for the last two years, or year and a half. I don’t know if there’s anybody who has been more instrumental in trying to instill a culture and embody a lot of the things we’re looking for from a toughness, competitiveness, team first (standpoint). He’s made an impact on Tua, but also a lot of players on this team, so I have a great respect for him. That made this decision very tough. But at the end of the day, as a team, we felt like the best thing to do for our team, now and moving forward, was to go with Tua. But I think ‘Fitz’ and the way he handles himself and his impact on the team, I think it will still be there. He’s been a tremendous asset and leader on this team.”
Turning back to Tagovailoa, Flores addressed how the offense could change, or more accurately, what the rookie has to do to keep the offense in rhythm. “I think every week [the offense] is a little bit different based on the opponent – what they do well, where their weaknesses are, where their strengths are – so I think the offense is different every week. The defense is different every week, so it’s kind of hard to say. But ‘Fitz’ (Ryan Fitzpatrick) did a lot for us offensively as far as communication, getting guys lined up. Tua’s going to have to do a good job of that as well and we going to need everyone to step up.”
Flores is confident that Tagovailoa will be prepared to lead the Dolphins offense and that the team will continue to find success with the rookie. He summed up the move simply saying, “We feel like that’s the best thing for the team.”