My answer is “no”, Tua shouldn’t start and here’s why:
Head coach Brians Flores instills competition at every level. Tua will have to face off Ryan Fitzpatrick in order to win that starting job.
Fitzpatrick may be approaching his retirement from football at age 37, but his brain contains a vast extent of NFL knowledge. This is the knowledge that helped Fitzpatrick steal the starting quarterback duties back from youngster Josh Rosen after Rosen took over as quarterback for the Dolphins in Week 3 of 2019.
After retaking the job in Week 6 versus the Washington Redskins, Fitzpatrick created a spark for the Dolphins, the “it” factor that Brian Flores had been looking for in a quarterback. Tua will have to show that in practice and in preseason games if he wants to catch Flores’ eye.
Before that, during the 2019 preseason, there was a quarterback competition between Rosen and Fitzpatrick. The Dolphins made a trade for Rosen thinking he may be the answer. After all, he was a top prospect at his position coming out of the 2018 draft class.
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Both quarterbacks got chances with the first and second-team offenses during the preseason games. The battle was tight, but Rosen looked like he was going to win the job. Rosen was making plays with his legs, showing poise in the pocket, and getting the team into the endzone. While Rosen was flashing, Fitzpatrick was disappointing and getting highly criticized for looking like an aged gunslinger who shows why he is a career-backup.
Local media and fans were clamoring for Rosen to open the season as the team’s starter. Rosen offered youth, potential, upside for a team still looking for an answer at quarterback. Fitzpatrick was a player that everybody around the league already knew what he was. He wasn’t the future, but Rosen could be.
But Flores chose Fitzpatrick regardless of what the fans and media thought.
Because there are intricacies to the game of professional football that only the coaches see. Things that are seen behind closed doors. Things that a longtime veteran quarterback may have over a player entering his 2nd year on a new team.
During the NFL preseason, it’s easy for a young quarterback to flash against vanilla defenses. Look at what Giants quarterback Daniel Jones did before the regular season started. But once the regular season starts, defensive coverage and looks become much more complicated which leads young quarterbacks to struggle. Partly why Daniel Jones had an up and down year throughout 2019. And in a former-Patriots Chad O’Shea offense that asked the quarterback to make a lot of pre-snap reads, that’s something a young quarterback like Rosen can struggle with.
Fitzpatrick had the edge in this area over Rosen. And Rosen’s slow recognition of defenses and lack of anticipation led to him falling out of favor with Flores.
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Tua Tagovailoa, although he seems like an NFL-ready prospect, will have to prove to Flores that he can handle the intricacies first before stepping onto the field. The offense has changed with new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey stepping in, but this is how Flores likes to handle things— learn the mental part of the game first, study, and then go out and prove it physically.
And let me ask the fans out there something…
Who will have a better handle on the new offense? Tua or the 16-year veteran, who has two-time history playing in the Gailey-scheme when he was on the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets?
There are benefits to sitting behind a veteran quarterback. Especially Fitzpatrick, who has made a very long career after being selected as a 7th-round pick back in 2005.
Fans and media will say it’s a different league, that 1st-round quarterbacks need to start Day 1.
I would counter this by saying that it wasn’t too long ago that current stars like Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and Ravens’ Lamar Jackson were sitting behind veterans.
Mahomes sat behind Alex Smith in 2017. The following year, Mahomes won league MVP.
Jackson sat behind Joe Flacco in 2018. The following year, he won league MVP.
If the Dolphins didn’t have an established veteran to take the reigns of the offense, I wouldn’t mind having Tua lead the way. But that’s not the case. And there’s something to be said in having a rookie QB follow a veteran and learn what it takes to prepare for success in the NFL.
Also, a rookie coming into the Dolphins and being handed the starting duties would go against everything Flores preaches in that locker room about competition and working hard to earn your place on the team. That locker room believes in Fitzpatrick right now. He’s earned his place. The players don’t know Tua yet. They don’t know what he’s all about.
Last but not least, COVID-19 pandemic creates a unique situation in itself. This is a limited offseason, an unprecedented offseason, where players are having virtual sessions with their team. Players had to approach the facility in order to pick up their playbooks and learn them at home. NFL facilities are opening, but there is still limited personnel allowed inside. Teams are still figuring out how to make a 90-man roster practice onfield safely. Tua may not have an efficient offseason because of this. There may not even be fans in the stands. If so, not many.
Does any of this add up to be the right season to throw Tua Tagovailoa into the fire and showcase him to the eagerly awaiting Miami fans?
I would say no.
The Miami Dolphins, their fans, the media… they all know what time it is. They all know it’s only a matter of time before Tua starts for this team.
But it’s not Tua-time… yet.