Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero spoke to three anonymous Dolphins players about Tagovailoa and the organization’s decision to name him the starter for 2021, and they expressed doubt about Tagovailoa’s overall talent and his ability to develop into what the team needs him to be: a top-tier quarterback.
Concerns started during training camp
According to Salguero, the three players he spoke with — who remained anonymous because they said Dolphins coaches “demand” they never reveal any concerns to the media — agree that Tagovailoa is a great teammate. But that doesn’t automatically translate to on-field talent, and what they saw this season has them worried that he doesn’t have what it takes to elevate his game.
It started during training camp, when the three players were so “unimpressed” by Tagovailoa that “they thought he wouldn’t be ready to play in 2020.” To be fair to Tagovailoa, he came into training camp eight months after hip surgery. He was cleared for full, unrestricted practice in late July, five to six weeks before the start of the season, and wasn’t named the starter in Week 1. It’s not known if their opinion of Tagovailoa improved over the first half of the season.
The three players were caught “totally off guard” when quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was benched before Week 8 and Tagovailoa was named the starter going forward. Several told Salguero that they were frustrated when they were told Fitzpatrick wasn’t available for their vital Week 17 game against the Buffalo Bills. The Dolphins needed to win that game to get into the playoffs, and at least one player thought Fitzpatrick should have started that game (which ended up a 56-26 loss) instead of Tagovailoa.
“We always think next man up no matter what,” the player said. “But I saw Tua as the next man up because Fitz was better.”
Doubts about Tua’s future
The 2020 season was just Tagovailoa’s first as a pro, and he has a grand total of nine starts under his belt. His future is completely unwritten. But one player told Salguero that he’s not sure Tagovailoa has the ability to improve to the level he needs to be at to make the Dolphins truly competitive.
…the players also say they don’t see a special trait in Tagovailoa’s skill set beyond his accuracy.
One defensive player said he isn’t impressed with Tagovailoa’s ball velocity or arm strength or ability to make off-schedule plays with his legs. So he ultimately questions whether Tagovailoa will ever be able to match the feats of other quarterbacks in the AFC such as Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson.
“Those are the boys we got to beat, right?” this player said. “It looks right now like that’s going to be a big challenge.”
Salguero only spoke with three players, and said that it’s not known if other players feel the same way. And it’s entirely possible that Tagovailoa could make great strides in 2021 and prove these players wrong. But until he does, questions about his future and overall ability won’t go away.
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