That’s the number of starting quarterbacks the Miami Dolphins have started since Dan Marino retired in 2000.
Names like Jay Fiedler, Dante Culpepper, Chad Pennington, Ryan Tannehill and Jay Cutler bring back painful memories for fans who were searching for Miami’s next franchise QB.
But number 22, 2020 first round pick Tua Tagovailoa, feels different than the rest.
After an up and down rookie campaign where he went 6-3 as the starter but was pulled in 2 starts, Tagovailoa’s future in Miami was questioned.
The prospect of trading for established QB’s such as Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers spread through the media like wildfire. Analysts were questioning Tua’s physical tools, believing that he didn’t have what it takes to play on the pro level. Every time a QB looked to be available, Miami was instantly named a top destination.
But through the controversy, Tagovailoa remained locked in on his craft.
The first step in improving his game was getting back to the shape Tua was in when he was at Alabama.
Coming off of major hip surgery in 2019, Tagovailoa didn’t have the opportunity to train during the offseason. Instead, he had to do rehabilitation work on his hip, just to get to a level in which he could play in 2020.
But 2021 is a different story.
Working with renowned trainer Nick Hicks of PER4ORM gym, the former Alabama QB has been able to get to a condition beyond what he was in college.
With the physical strength that Tagovailoa has been able to amass, the expectation is that he should be much stronger with his throwing motion. This seems to be working, as we have seen clips from camp of the second year QB making several deep passes, something he didn’t do much of in 2020.
On top of his physical rehab, Tua Tagovailoa wanted to improve his processing, progression through reads, grasp of the playbook, and getting the ball out quicker.
As Tagovailoa stated in a press conference, he wasn’t fully comfortable with former Offensive Coordinator Chan Gailey’s playbook. While much of that comes from the playbook not being a fit for his skillset, he still put maximum effort towards learning his new scheme, under George Godsey and Eric Studesville.
Chemistry and Accuracy
Along with learning the playbook, Tua was working on his chemistry with weapons, new and old. Going to the fields with guys such as Will Fuller, DeVante Parker, Albert Wilson, and Mack Hollins, Tagovailoa truly used the offseason to his advantage, gaining knowledge of the intricacies of his receiver’s game’s. Whether it’s their timing, route tree, where they want the ball, or just getting to know them, Tagovailoa has put effort into having strong relationships with his receivers.
This relationship is starting to show in both training camp and preseason. Tagovailoa’s accuracy, which stood out in college, looks second to none, and is improving as he figures out his receivers. He has been able to put the ball on them in stride, where they can make plays.
Similarly to what Tua did at Alabama, he has become the point guard of this Miami offense, putting pocket passes in the hands of guys who can make plays, like speedster Will Fuller, who has taken notice.
Although Tua has made strides in categories such as accuracy and strength, few have been has big as his pocket presence. Known for making plays at Alabama, we saw flashes in Tagovailoa’s rookie year (such as the Cardinals game). Unlike previous Dolphins QB’s, his ability to see the pass rush before it gets to him looks like an elite trait, and it seems to have only gotten better in the preseason.
On several occasions against the Falcons, Tagovailoa was able to make a subtle move and proceed to deliver a strike. His eyes remained up, even though the pocket was collapsing around him, and he was able to make the correct read. Even with many of his snaps coming against pressure, he was still able to put up impressive numbers.
Although this ability was one that we knew Tua had in him, it’s impressive to see it as he returns to the “Tuscaloosa Tua” that we saw in college.
Although the physical traits are flashing on film and in practice, the MOST important developments that we have seen from him are newfound senses of confidence and leadership.
In 2020, it seemed like things were largely set up for a lack of confidence from the rookie QB. He was coming off of major hip surgery, he had a COVID-19 shortened offseason, his offensive coordinator ran a scheme he didn’t feel comfortable with, and the QB who was supposed to mentor him was put in twice to replace him.
But 2021 is a different year, and largely, a different Tua. Teammates and coaches have raved about how confident he is in the offense, and how willing he is to lead, and it has shown in the preseason. He has taken more shots down the field, and has even implemented some elements into Miami’s offense.
As stated before, he had also arranged meetings with his teammates during the offseason, citing the need to get a better understanding of the offense.
It looks like this taking of initiative is working, as countless teammates have spoken on rallying behind him and their willingness to play with him.
2021 and Beyond
Although Miami has had struggles with the Quarterback position in the past, Tua Tagovailoa is looking be the outlier. His willingness to get better, physically, mentally, and as a leader is something Dolphins fans haven’t seen since Dan Marino hung up the cleats in 2000.
Thus far, it looks like Tua is taking the strides we expected when he was selected in 2020, and we can only hope they continue into the season. But if Tagovailoa keeps putting in the work he has this offseason, then QB number 22 will finally be the savior Dolphins fans believe him to be.