It’s crazy how a year ago, there was excitement, along with so many unknowns, at this point in time. This time last year, A global pandemic was about 5 months in of hitting the United States, the NFL has to do a virtual draft, the preseason was canceled, the NFL schedule that to be released at a later time to try to align with contingency plans of if games were to be postponed(which was a mess, but that is neither here nor there). This also meant that fans of the Miami Dolphins did not get to see prized 1st round pick from the 2020 NFL Draft in Tua Tagovailoa get any action until he came in late in Miami’s 24-0 victory in Week 6 against the New York Jets. There the battles of whether Tua or Ryan Fitzpatrick would start, which earlier this preseason, Fitzpatrick voiced his frustration about the situation.
What a difference a year makes; Tua spent an offseason getting to the gym bulking up for this upcoming season vs. rehabbing his hip that he injured at Alabama, which are two different types of offseasons, ask any athlete. No veteran quarterback that is here now has to worry about coming into the game in the case that he struggles. The only way Tua is pulled is if A) he is injured B) the game is way out of hand (good or bad) and you do not want risk anything before heading into the next week. The common denominator, injury.
However, we are seeing a sense of confidence this preseason that we did not see when Tua Tagovailoa was inserted at the starting quarterback position midseason of 2020. Tua admitted that he did not know the playbook well, last year and people crushed him for it. I don’t understand why people did because he was a quarterback coming from the college game to the pros, did not have a preseason, and was rehabbing an injury. Of course, he would not grasp the playbook fully, so when the offense flowed with Ryan Fitzpatrick last year, it made sense. Tt helped Fitzpatrick have experience with then offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey. What are we seeing at this point of the preseason that Tua did not really do much of in the 2020 season? Knowing when to move up in the pocket to make a play. An example was the second Touchdown of the night by the Dolphins on a pass to Myles Gaskin. Pocket awareness is way better right now, though it is the preseason.
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) August 21, 2021
Speaking of, Austin Jackson’s preseason has just been discouraging, able the left side of the offensive line for the most part being blasted by the Chicago Bears in week 1 of the preseason. Jackson had a holding call that negated a 17 yard run by Savon Ahmed against Atlanta. Tua turned what could have been a sack to an 8-yard TD pass. That’s growth from year one to now. Though the offensive line is still an issue, Tua has learned when to get out and run. Though it is not Tua’s blindside, that left side of the line continues to be questioned. We don’t know what it will look like come Week 1. With Liam Eichenberg out and not playing vs the Bears and Solomon Kindley starting against the Falcons, Head Coach Brian Flores and company will continue to monitor who are the best 5 to start vs New England on September 12th.
Another story is Dolphins 2021 1st round pick Jaylen Waddle. He has 3 catches for 21 yards on 4 targets. The one incomplete pass happened to be on an overturned call because of a low throw by Tua Tagovailoa that put Waddle in an awkward position to make the catch, so one slight criticism on Tua on that throw. Waddle did have a bit of an injury scare in the first half where he ran into on a blocking play but continues to show his toughness all the way back to his Alabama days, where Waddle played in the National Championship game with an obvious limp from ankle surgery and still wanted to contribute. Something drastic would have to happen for Waddle to miss time, and Tua has that reliable weapon at his disposal and a guy with who he is familiar from his time in college. Now add Will Fuller V, Devante Parker, and Albert Wilson, and maybe Jakeem Grant (if he makes the team, but I mostly see him as a special teams guy) that will likely throw defenses off this coming season because speed kills in this league. Chris Grier and the Dolphins front office have provided Tua with the Wide Receivers, and Tight Ends to become a force this season. Running back is still a question that will likely be addressed more next offseason, despite drafting Gerrid Doaks in the 7th round of the 2021 draft. But for now, the Wide Receivers and Tight Ends are good enough to help Tua take that next step and continue the progress that he has made at this point of the preseason.
The defense, though with the issues that were going on with Xavien Howard this past offseason and him not really playing at all so far this preseason, we are starting to see that this unit is still what is going to carry this Dolphins team to many wins this season. Nik Needham, a UDFA from the 2019 draft, continues to be a major depth piece for the Dolphins had another pass deflection in the end zone. And an unlikely player who is making a case to not only make the team, put to be a key contributor, LB Sam Eguaveon, who had 4 sacks, 11 tackles, and 1 safety on Falcons’ quarterback Felipe Franks.
It seems as if every week, a different defensive player is making some player turn the tides for the Dolphins. Sounds familiar? It sounds like something that’s consistently happened with Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots defense. This is what the defense is doing without Xavien Howard playing, insert him and Byron Jones back into the lineup, and the Dolphins could very well be that same team that had the number one scoring defense for the majority of the 2020 season (before the wheels fell off in Buffalo, but that game skewed that stats).
So at this point, there’s a bit of progress and confidence that we see in the Dolphins. Sure, not everybody is playing, and these games do not count. Still, that comfort, familiarity, and hopefully positive momentum from the 37-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons should give the Dolphins confidence once they hit the ground running in Week 1, starting September 12th against the New England Patriots.