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Is Tua Tagovailoa starting Week 1 a ‘foregone conclusion’ for Dolphins?

NFL Combine - Day 1 Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins used the fifth-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to select Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The conventional wisdom has Tagovailoa starting the year on the bench while veteran incumbent Ryan Fitzpatrick serves as the starter. That may not be the case, however, as more and more people seem to see Tagovailoa winning the starting role straight out of the preseason.

Mike Freeman from Bleacher Report wrote in his “10-point Stance” article last week, “According to every coach I’ve spoken to, it’s a foregone conclusion that he will beat out veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and start Week 1 against the Patriots on Sept. 13.”

Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick agrees in an appearance on Fox Sports’ “The Herd” with host Colin Cowherd, explaining “It won’t be long, I expect Tua to be the starter Week 1. I’m excited to watch this guy. Just watching him throw the football there, he reminds me of Steve Young.”

The Dolphins themselves will not make a comment about the depth chart or any potential starter this early in the year, However, some of Tagovailoa’s new teammates seem excited to have him on the roster. “I wouldn’t say to strike that balance,” cornerback Bobby McCain said last week of how a team balances the excitement of a new player like Tagovailoa joining the roster while having a veteran like Fitzpatrick who performed so well last year. “It is a good balance because ‘Fitz’ is a good player and is also a good leader. He helps everyone. He’s a guy that’s been around a long time. He’s seen a lot of football. He’s going to do nothing but elevate that room and elevate the quarterback room. Being that we drafted Tua, he’s a good player, as well. He’s going to come in, there’s going to be a learning curve – it’s the league – and hopefully he learns fast. Regardless, I feel like ‘Fitz’ and Tua – that whole entire room is a good room with Josh (Rosen) and everybody. It’s going to elevate everybody’s game.”

“Obviously, I think his performance in college speaks for itself. I think he had a super successful career at Alabama and made a ton of plays and obviously did everything in his power to put himself in a position to be successful and get to where he is right now, so I’m really happy for him and the opportunity that he now has with us,” tight end Mike Gesicki said of his college impressions of Tagovailoa. “Obviously once you get drafted, your phone starts blowing up and you’ve got everybody congratulating you, so I kind of let that cool down for a little bit and I was able to just kind of reach out and tell him that we’re excited to have him and obviously just talked to him real shortly. But I think that what you guys see from him – just kind of being super positive and a great kid and excited to be out there working – I think that’s kind of the same thing that I’m able to grasp from him as well.”

Fitzpatrick discussed the selection of Tagovailoa and his role as a mentor to the rookie. “I think just like everybody else, it was expected that if there was a guy that they liked in one of those selections, they were going to pick somebody. Tua happened to be the guy in that spot and obviously they really liked him,” he said during a media availability last month. “So for me, I’ve been in this situation before a little bit. I just try to go in every day and be myself. Even in the Zoom meetings right now, I just be myself. I’m an open book and try to make sure that they know and are comfortable with coming to me with questions. I’m also going to express my opinions and thoughts on plays that we are watching and 2-minute drives. We’ve been going over some of that stuff, and my mind and the process and how I think through it, right or wrong, just to provide some perspective. I’m excited for him to be here. I loved watching him play in college. I think he’s going to be an awesome addition to the team for a long time.”

Fitzpatrick may be excited about Tagovailoa and believe he will be an awesome addition, but that does not mean he is ready to pass the torch just yet. “I’m as competitive as they come, so I want to go out there and start,” the veteran explained. “I know there are a lot of forces that go into it from all kinds of different sides. Whether that happens or not, who knows. I know that in order for our team to be successful, whoever is playing from that quarterback room has to be successful. Whether that’s me out there, doing everything I can to put the team in position to win, or whether that’s somebody else – be it Tua that is out there doing it – I’m going to do the best I can to help him to make sure our position is doing the things that are going to make our team win. That’s my mentality, that’s how I think about it. You know me very well I think from last year, and you know I want to be out there competing on Sundays.”

There are a lot of questions that need to be answered between now and the start of the season when it comes to the starting quarterback position. It still feels like Fitzpatrick will assume the role, and he clearly is planning on that as well. Tagovailoa’s health - he is coming off a fractured and dislocated hip last year at Alabama - is a factor as well; do the Dolphins want to give him additional time to recover and strengthen the hip, or do they feel he is at 100 percent and ready for Week 1? Will Tagovailoa pick up the offense and adjust to the speed of the game at the NFL level fast enough to warrant starting in Week 1?

It may not really be a “forgone conclusion” that Tagovailoa starts the season under center for Miami, but it is starting to be discussed.