The Miami Dolphins have turned over the reins of the team to Tua Tagovailoa, beginning the quarterback’s transition from rookie starter to developing franchise quarterback.
But this isn’t a journey Tagovailoa can travel alone. He’ll need the entire team to help him maximize his production, and showcase his talent level.
Here is a look at 10 things Tagovailoa will need to succeed this season, and beyond.
Must learn to not hold onto the ball
One of the main criticisms about Tagovailoa is that he holds onto the football too long trying to make big plays happen. That’s exactly how he got hurt at Alabama last season, and Miami’s defensive players admitted that the rookie needs to speed up his internal clock. While one extra second for a playmaker to get open could lead to a big play, it could also put him in harm’s way if he allows a defensive lineman to plaster him into the ground. Miami’s coaches must help Tagovailoa break this bad habit.
Right side of offensive line must be stout
Robert Hunt and Solomon Kindley, the two rookie starters on the right side of Miami’s offensive line, have had two games to work together, and the future looks bright for the pair of draftees. But Tagovailoa being a left-handed quarterbacks makes them his blind-side protectors, which means their role becomes even more important. The hope is that this pair can grow, and develop right along with their rookie quarterback. And when Austin Jackson comes back from his foot injury it is possible that Miami’s offensive line coach feature three rookie starters if Hunt continues to blossom.
Ryan Fitzpatrick must embrace mentor role
Coaches can’t teach a player all he needs to know about the NFL because they usually haven’t played in the league. That’s where veterans such as Fitzpatrick, who is respected as one of the smartest players in recent years, come in because they can help fill in the gaps. While he’s hurt about the demotion, Fitzpatrick’s mature enough to keep mentoring Tagovailoa, and should be able to help him read defenses better. If Fitzpatrick can accept his role as a mentor it’s possible he could extend his stay in South Florida past this season.
A run-game identity must develop
Heading into Sunday’s games the Dolphins' average of 105.2 rushing yards per game ranked 22nd, with their 3.8-yard-per-carry average coming in at an awful 26th. Both those numbers are low enough to make Miami’s run game a recipe for disaster while breaking in a rookie quarterback. Miami must find a run-game identity that the offense can lean on for early-down success — keeping the offense in third and manageable — and to close out games where the Dolphins are in possession of a lead.
Chemistry must be developed with weaponry
DeVante Parker, Preston Williams and Mike Gesicki all possess the talent needed to be elite players at their position. But to get there the trio must stay healthy, and they have to develop chemistry with Tagovailoa. A main component of Chan Gailey’s offense is a receiver’s ability to improvise on his routes. But that only works when the receiver and his quarterback are on the same page. It’s likely going to take some time for Tagovailoa and his weapons to gel.
Find a receiver who can deliver run-after-catch yards
The Dolphins would benefit from finding and establishing a receiver who can take a short reception the distance after shaking defenders. That’s the one component missing from Miami’s 2020 offense, and it’s the type of weapon that makes a quarterback’s job easier. Lynn Bowden, the former Kentucky quarterback Miami acquired before the start of the season, and Malcolm Perry, the former Navy quarterback Miami selected in the seventh round in April, each have that skill set. But both rookies need to learn the intricacies of the offense, and how to run routes properly.
Get an all-purpose tight end
As talented as Mike Gesicki is, he’s a one-dimensional tight end who telegraphs the team’s intentions when he’s on the field. In order to keep defenses guessing on first and second down, the Dolphins need Adam Shaheen and Durham Smythe to turn up the volume on their game, and their contributions to this offense. It would be ideal if one, or both became forceful blockers, both in the run game and in pass protection.
Chan Gailey must adjust his play-calling
Teams will eventually tighten the screws, playing close to the line of scrimmage to force Tagovailoa to read defenses and beat them with his arm. The Dolphins need to find a way to counter that approach, especially when the scripted plays Miami has worked on all week aren’t working. It will likely take opposing defenses and their coordinators five games to figure out how Miami will use Tagovailoa, identifying his strengths and weaknesses. When that happens the Dolphins must be ready and willing to adjust.
Miami’s defense must continue to compliment offense
The Dolphins defense has aggressively hunted quarterbacks — creating 2.8 sacks per game — and producing turnovers (plus-two in turnovers) lately, and if Miami’s going to keep the wins coming, the defense must carry more than their fair share of the load while Tagovailoa and the offense grow up. That means Miami must become even more aggressive when playing with a lead, and the defense needs to create turnovers to give the offense extra possessions.
Patience from the fan base and media
The Patience Brigade that rallied behind Chad Henne for three seasons, and loyally supported Ryan Tannehill for his six seasons as a starter for the Dolphins need to catch their second wind, and loudly cheer on Tagovailoa, including doing so during his struggles. For this change of quarterbacks to work, and for this investment in the rookie to grow roots, the organization can’t turn back. That means no matter how badly Tagovailoa struggles, this franchise can’t reinstate Fitzpatrick as the starter to save the day. Remember, these 10 games are an investment into the franchise’s future, and the 2020 season might have to be sacrificed.
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