Jon Gruden says he hasn’t looked back since returning to coaching in 2018.
But many football fans have been deprived of watching Gruden meet and evaluate quarterbacks before the NFL draft during his “Jon Gruden QB Camp” TV show he used to shoot with ESPN.
Gruden rubbed shoulders with some of the best prospects in recent memory like Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton, Andrew Luck before he retired, and so many more.
So how would Miami Dolphins rookie Tua Tagovailoa do on Gruden’s show?
“I was a big fan growing up watching those shows. I watched with my dad while I was young, growing up. A lot of those Spider 2 Y peel bananas — whatever he had going on — I thought was so cool,” Tagovailoa said with a laugh on Wednesday as the Dolphins prepare to face Gruden’s Las Vegas Raiders this Saturday night.
“I don’t know how’d that be. I could only imagine how that be. It’d be either you’re getting yelled at or ‘Yeah, good job. Good job.’ ”
It’s likely Gruden would have docked a few points on his evaluation of Tagovailoa for incorrectly saying his play call, “Spider 2 Y Banana”.
But Gruden will get his chance to see Tagovailoa up close during Saturday’s game between both teams.
While many NFL rookies have dealt with their fair share of struggles during this season affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Gruden is impressed with Tagovailoa’s progress through the first seven starts of his NFL career.
Gruden praised the Dolphins’ decisions to have Tagovailoa mentored by longtime veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey who Gruden says knows how to move the ball many ways.
“You knew when you drafted that kid, he was going to be a quick study,” Gruden said of Tagovailoa during a conference call with the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Tuesday.
“He’s quick in the pocket. He’s got a quick accurate arm. He’s obviously very sharp mentally. He’s got surprising mobility.”
Tagovailoa has been on the move quite a bit in recent weeks, with his latest performance against the New England Patriots, featuring the first two rushing touchdowns of his NFL career.
When Gruden praised Tagovailoa’s mobility, he wasn’t talking about it as a result of the quarterback’s journey back from major hip surgery last year.
But he did praise Tagovailoa’s work ethic for getting to the point he is now in his hip recovery, where the injury seems like an afterthought during the Dolphins’ starter’s rookie season.
“I think that’s a great thing to see,” Gruden said of Tagovailoa.
“Anybody that can overcome an injury like that, that fast, you could only imagine the amount of work this kid put in privately without anybody watching. A lot of self-discipline. I think that makes him unique and he’s always been a great competitor.
“But he’s always had functional moment in the pocket. He can keep plays alive, and he’s a threat to keep it on a zone read, which is a real problem for defenses.”
Tagovailoa will make his eight NFL start against the Raiders, looking to improve his record as a starter to 6-2, while helping the Dolphins continue their push for a playoff spot this season.
Gruden praises other Dolphins, too
Gruden also had kind words to say about the job Dolphins coach Brian Flores and the organization has done this season.
Gruden said Miami’s decision to sign Kyle Van Noy from the Patriots brings a “world-champion pedigree” into the locker room. He also praised cornerback Xavien Howard, who leads the NFL with nine interceptions, as well as cornerback Byron Jones and safety Eric Rowe.
And his analysis of Miami’s defensive line, featuring defensive ends Emmanuel Ogbah and Shaq Lawson, and defensive tackles Christian Wilkins, Raekwon Davis and Zach Sieler was typical Gruden fashion:
“They’ve very big up front,” Gruden said. “They’re big. You look at the size of these men, and they’re very, very big.”
While Gruden and the Raiders hope to improve to 8-7 on Saturday, and make a final push for a wildcard playoff spot, he’s in for a tough challenge against Flores, whose 9-5 Dolphins are holding on to the No. 7 and final spot in the playoff race.
“It’s a credit to him, his staff, and certainly the general manager and all their scouts,” Gruden said of the Dolphins. “They’re in the playoff hunt for a lot of reasons, and I think you need to start with Coach Flores and the job he’s done.”