Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa ‘100 percent ready’ for first start since fractured ribs

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In the leadup to the Dolphins’ Week 6 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London on Sunday, the team was moving carefully but with cautious optimism that it would have its starting quarterback in the lineup for the first time in more than a month.

And coach Brian Flores made it all but a formality before Friday’s practice, again saying that Tua Tagovailoa would make his first start since fracturing his ribs in Week 2 if all things went well.

“I’m just 100 percent ready to get back out on the field,” Tagovailoa said after practice, his first public comments since the injury.

A few dozen media members from the United Kingdom and United States made their way to a practice field in Ware, England, about 40 miles north of London, to see the Dolphins — but mainly, Tagovailoa — practice ahead of their matchup with Jacksonville at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

And they watched, with smartphones, cameras and inquisitive eyes during the viewing period as the No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 Draft calmly lofted passes to his receivers and threaded others in red zone drills for the third straight day.

After practice, Tagovailoa, who like many of his teammates was making his first trip out of the country, expressed intrigue in the uniqueness of the United Kingdom — “over here you’re driving on the left side of the road and the drivers are on the right side, so it’s different” — but even more excitement in returning to a familiar feeling: playing with his teammates on game day.

Tagovailoa remained involved throughout his time on injured reserve, from participating in meetings to hearing the play calls on game day. He agreed with a sentiment shared by quarterbacks coach Charlie Frye, that watching from the sideline gave him a different perspective of the game.

“I was ... in the meetings with the quarterbacks just trying to help the quarterbacks out, although I wasn’t playing with the game plan and whatnot,” Tagovailoa said. “Being on the sideline, that’s not something I take lightly as well because when I’m in, I want the next guy or whoever it is on the sideline helping me out, too.

“One of the differences that I see is that I’m not in there calling the play. I know what the play is and I’m just looking at the defense. You know what’s going to happen, what’s not going to happen watching film. It’s a totally different ball game when you’re on the sideline than when you’re in the game. In the game, you got to manage where everyone goes, you got to put people in the right spots and then aside from that you have to go out there and execute. It’s a little tougher.”

When asked if he would wear a flak jacket, a piece of protective equipment that adds padding to the abdomen area, Tagovailoa noted that he wore a rib cage protector when Bills defensive end A.J. Epenesa drove him into the ground with that fateful hit. He then added, “we’ve made some adjustments to what I’m going to wear and whatnot.”

Tagovailoa, Flores and multiple coaches deflected the notion that he’s under more pressure to perform well despite the team’s 1-4 start, four consecutive defeats since Week 1 and an offense that regressed under backup Jacoby Brissett. Tagovailoa will enter Sunday’s game without top receiver DeVante Parker, ruled out with a shoulder and hamstring injury, and an offensive line that continued to be shuffled even while he was sidelined. Flores said he will opt to keep the same starting offensive line that played in last Sunday’s loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“I think my message is always the same to him,” Flores said. “Clean operation, in and out of the huddle, be clear with the play call and then go through his progression one play at a time, and he has a specific progression that he goes through. And then take the plays that are there. If there’s an opportunity for a big play, try to make it. Don’t try to force anything and it’s not a one-man game.

“We’ve got 53 guys on the team over there to support and help him and he’s there to support and help the rest of his teammates. So that’s really always the message. That’s the message to the entire team. Obviously he’s a competitive guy and wants to do everything he can to help us have success, but yeah, my message to him is take it one play at a time, go through your progression one play at a time and try to execute.”

In the Jaguars defense, Tagovailoa and the offense will face another unit trying to leave early-season struggles in the past. Jacksonville ranks 27th in yards allowed and 29th in scoring defense, allowing 30.4 points per game.

“It felt good, having him back out there, getting back into the flow of things and making some plays with him,” tight end Mike Gesicki said. “So we’re excited to have him back and look forward to it.”

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