The talk about Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa does not end. He is either the greatest quarterback anyone has ever seen, or he is a worthless schlub under center who should never touch a football again. Okay, both of those may be hyperbole, but there always seems to be a constant debate on exactly who Tagovailoa is and if the Dolphins should move forward with him.
Remember when quarterbacks used to sit for their rookie year, learning and adjusting to the speed of the game before being thrust into the lineup? Remember when a rookie quarterback who was immediately thrust into the lineup was giving the benefit of the doubt for their rookie season? Now, it is show the world you are a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection in your first nine starts, or have everyone spend the entire offseason talking about how your team needs to replace you.
Tagovailoa did not have a stellar rookie season. He did not exactly have a horrible one either.
Throwing for 3,739 yards (233.7 yards per game) on just a 56.7-percent completion rate with 26 touchdowns and a league-high 28 interceptions for a 71.2 passer rating is unacceptable and has to be improved.
Oh, I’m sorry. That was Payton Manning’s rookie season.
Instead, Tagovailoa threw for 3,284 yards (205.3 yards per game) on a 60.8 completion rate with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a 76.9 passer rating. Still not good enough.
I did it again. That was Drew Brees in his first season as the starter for the San Diego Chargers.
Time to try again. Tagaovailoa threw for 2,074 yards (172.8 yards per game) on 52.8 percent completions with 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, a 67.9 passer rating.
Oh, wait. Josh Allen’s rookie campaign.
How about 3,089 yards (193.1 yards per game) on a 58.8 percent completion with 20 touchdowns and 9 interceptions for an 85.3 passer rating.
Josh Allen’s second year.
Joe Burrow last year threw for 2,688 yards (268.8 yards per game) with 13 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, am 89.8 passer rating.
Tagovailoa threw for 1,814 yards (181.4 yards per game) on a 64.1-percent completion rate with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions for an 87.1 passer rating. I think he is going to be okay.
Tagovailoa opened himself to discussion this past week when he admitted it was not as easy for him to learn Miami’s playbook:
“You’re trying to learn a bunch of different things and you’re trying to not only learn an offense, but learn your way to work or learn guys’ names. I didn’t even know where the quarterbacks’ room was or [where] the full team meeting room was. You get in here and your brain is trying to figure out a lot of different things. Every day that goes by it’s getting a little bit better. I’m glad we’re not playing a game this Sunday — I’m glad we have time to prepare. It’s been a good week or so being in here and I think I’m going to take advantage of the opportunity to improve myself so that I can be the best quarterback for this team that this team really deserves. These guys are working really hard and I want to come in here and do a great job for them.”
Oops. That was 20-year vet Tom Brady, used to the NFL game, understanding how to prepare for a season and having been through all of the rigors of the preseason and becoming a professional, talking about trying to adjust to moving to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year. Yes, that was a preseason quote, but in a year with no offseason training program, no preseason, no ability to get into the team facilities and get ready for the year, Brady had to rely on 20 years of experience. Tagovailoa did not have that background. He also was not the starter to begin the year, with Ryan Fitzpatrick receiving the first-team repetitions in the truncated training camp and early-season practices.
Tagovailoa’s actual statement to the media was:
Well, I think last year for me, last year wasn’t – I wasn’t as comfortable just in general. I wasn’t comfortable calling plays. I think the guys that we had last year were phenomenal. I just didn’t have the comfortability of kind of checking plays, alerting plays and doing that. I just rode with the play even if I knew in a way that it wasn’t going to work. I was going to try to make it work still. But the firepower that we have this year, it’s good but you’ve got to get it out to them too. If you’re able to protect yourself and then get it out to them and have them make plays, then you’ll be good.
Actually, what I’m saying is that I didn’t actually know the playbook necessarily really, really good; and that’s on no one else’s fault but my fault. Our play calls were simple when I was in. I didn’t have alerts and checks whereas now, feeling more comfortable, I can kind of maneuver my way through these things now.
Remember when Ryan Tannehill was not allowed to audible out of plays? Remember when Jimmy Johnson took away Dan Marino - DAN MARINO’s - ability to check out of plays?
Is it really a surprise that a rookie quarterback who was not set to start to begin the season may question his check and audible calls? Tagovailoa was not saying he was out there making up plays because he did not know the playbook. He was saying he was not comfortable with making the right call to the right play with an audible. He could recognize the play may not work, but he did not feel ready to change the play either.
Ryan Fitzpatrick knew Chan Gailey’s playbook. He knew the checks and the audibles. He had to learn the specifics of the system as Gailey modified it for the Dolphins in 2020, but the basics were already there. Tagovailoa had to learn the entire thing, in a year where he did not really get a chance to work with the coaches and the receivers until just before the season. Is it a surprise that - again, without getting the majority of the first-team snaps in training camp or the early-season practices - a rookie quarterback did not transition from learning the basic playbook and play calls to being able to be 100 percent in control of the offense and able to smoothly audible the play call?
Yes, Tagovailoa said something you do not often hear a quarterback say. He did not come out with cliches. He did not try to say his hip was an issue. He admitted that he needed to feel more comfortable with the playbook. And, he admitted that he is ready to do that this season.
He had his bachelor’s degree last year in NFL playbooks. This year, he is ready to move on to his master’s and PhD levels.
This year, with a full compliment of weaponry around him, a (hopefully) improved offensive line, and a full offseason program to prepare for the year, Tagovailoa should be more comfortable with the game, his role, and the playbook. The Dolphins coaching staff is building a new playbook this year, taking parts of last year’s scheme and adjusting them to fit the 2021 edition of the team. The entire team will be learning the playbook together. They will learn the checks together. They will learn the audibles together. And they will all be comfortable with the play calling and playbook together.
Tagovailoa will be better in 2021, and it will not be because he did not know the playbook in 2020. It will be because he will not be a rookie anymore.