The Miami Dolphins’ 2020 training camp is ramping up the on field workouts, with full padded practices able to begin next week. It is the first time rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, selected with the fifth-overall pick in the NFL Draft, has been able to get on the field and start working with the Dolphins’ coaching staff and all of his teammates. It is also his first chance to show the dislocated and fractured hip he sustained last year at Alabama is a thing of the past and he is ready to play at the professional level.
How is Tagovailoa feeling, and how is he transitioning to work as an NFL quarterback? “It’s been good,” the rookie said during a media availability this week. “It’s definitely a different learning curve than what I’m used to at Alabama. There’s not as much time that we get on the field whereas we spend a lot more of our time watching film than really anything else – not to say we don’t get a lot of work out there, but it’s more in your meeting rooms watching film.”
In a summer with no preseason games following a spring with no offeseason training program, there are a lot nuances of the game that have to be learned in film study and practices. Simple things like clock management now have to be a practice element, and not something that can be experienced live. How are the Dolphins trying to adjust to the 2020 environment? “That’s a great question. It’s definitely going to be different not having a preseason game,” Tagovailoa stated. “Not to say we had one in college, but college is a lot different. We have school involved. There’s just a lot of other things involved with that; but with the NFL not having a preseason and understanding game management in a real live scenario – what to do end of game, end of half and whatnot – how we do that here is ‘Flo’ (Head Coach Brian Flores) gives us kind of game-situational awareness football during our team meetings, so we probably go over about three or four things as a team and how we want to go about running the clock out in this situation, how we want to do things in situation, and that’s really how we go about doing that. Then we would walk through it on the field and do things like that. That’s how we’re going about that.”
In addition to having a rookie quarterback learning as a professional for the first time, the entire Dolphins offence is learning a new offensive system as they move from last year’s offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea to Chan Gailey for 2020. Gailey, 68, returns to the Dolphins after serving as their offensive coordinator from 2000 through 2001. Tagovailoa discussed learning the former Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills head coach’s scheme as well as just relating to his new offensive coordinator. “No matter what offense you’re stepping into, it’s always going to be a process of learning and I think that’s where I’m at,” Tagovailoa explained. “I’m still in the process of getting to understand Chan’s offense. Now from a perspective of personality with who Chan is and whatnot, I mean Chan is phenomenal. Really great guy, down-to-earth. When it’s time to work he’s out there, we go to work. It’s a very friendly environment with him and the other quarterbacks as well.”
Tagovailoa showed up to the media availability wearing a Dolphins jersey - but not his number one jersey, but rather a number 14 representing veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. “Yeah, 100 percent,” he said when asked if wearing the Fitzpatrick jersey demonstrated a solid relationship between he and the incumbent starter. “I thought I could break ice making you guys laugh wearing a ‘Fitz’ jersey because you know ‘Fitz’, he’s very personable as well.”
He continued, “But kind of to start it off with ‘Fitz’ – (he is a) very, very down-to-earth person. Very humble. I got to meet his family about two days ago and it was pretty funny because everyone while we were on FaceTime, everyone’s just scattered around the house. So he introduces me to his kids and then he introduces me to his wife and he’s like, ‘This is it. This is everyone and this is my family,’ and then (laughter), lo and behold he forgets two of them. It’s like, this man really has a family. He’s really been in the league for so long. To be behind a professional like that, to me it’s kind of mind-boggling how down-to-earth he is. It’s one of those things where it’s, this guy gets it. I don’t know what it is, but he gets it and that saying goes true. It says ‘if you want to get somewhere fast, you go alone, but if you want to do it with purpose, then you bring people with you,’ and I think ‘Fitz’ has done a tremendous job in trying to help shape and mold me and Josh (Rosen) as well. So it’s been really cool to go through that process with him.”
Obviously, in Miami, Fitzpatrick is not the only quarterback from whom a younger player like Tagovailoa can learn. Hall of Fame passer Dan Marino works for the Dolphins, officially as a Special Advisor to the Vice Chairman, President, and CEO, in a role that allows him to workwith the team’s quarterbacks. “The first time I met Dan, I think Dan reached out to me after I got drafted, which was super awesome,” Tagovailoa said of the Dolphins’ 1983 first-round pick. “That was cool, but the first day I got into the building, Dan was in our meeting and I got to talk to Dan. He’s also a really down-to-earth guy – someone that you can just chat with. For someone who pretty much is the talk of the town with Dan, he’s super humble. He doesn’t hold his head high or walk around here like he’s the man – which he is, but he’s super humble.”
Can Tagovailoa be the next great Dolphins quarterback, adding to a legacy that includes Marino and Hall of Famer Bob Griese? Tagovailoa is not ready to discuss that possibility, turning back to learning as a rookie and doing whatever the team needs, “I think for me, my focus right now is just trying to get into the playbook – literally trying to understand what we’re doing offensively – and really just trying to build relationships with the guys on the team. I definitely believe that ‘Coach Flo’ (Head Coach Brian Flores), (Offensive Coordinator) Chan (Gailey), (Quarterbacks Coach) Robby (Brown) – all those guys that are going to be making the decisions – they’re going to put the team in the best position they think is possible; so if that means supporting someone or not, that’s what it’s going to be.”
The Dolphins will continue to evaluate Tagovailoa and his growth over the next few weeks. Will he be able to unseat Fitzpatrick as the team’s starter? Will he sit to start the year, learning from the veteran and taking over mid-season? Will he not take the helm until 2021? Tagovailoa is the future of the Dolphins, but right now he is learning in a most unusual training camp. He seems to understand the importance of this summer and he is willing to do whatever makes the team better.