Tua Tagovailoa is special. It’s undeniable to anyone who watched his college tape.
“Anyone” includes members the Miami Dolphins’ coaching staff, who helped Chris Grier decide on Tagovailoa as the Dolphins’ quarterback of the future.
Fast forward three months, and that fact has not changed — even if those very same coaches would prefer you not to point that out.
And the guy who will work with Tagovailoa the closest this fall — first-year quarterbacks coach Robby Brown — followed suit Saturday in his debut news conference as a Dolphin.
Someone asked Brown, hired by his mentor Chan Gailey months back, what he’s seen out of Tagovailoa since rookies reported nearly two weeks ago.
“He’s just like every other rookie,” Brown said. “He’s got to come in and learn what we’re trying to do first. The first thing you have to do is learn what you’re doing as an offense and then it expands; ‘OK, what’s the defense trying to do to us?’ He’s just like every other rookie trying to come in and learn that. And learn it as as fast as possible.”
That echos what Flores said of Tagovailoa as training opened; the Dolphins, he insisted, are not going to ask anything more of the Alabama lefty than any other player.
“To come in every day, having gone through the install from the night before, mentally prepared to go out there and practice, physically prepared to go out there and practice and try to improve every day,” Flores said recently.
Reality check: Tagovailoa is unlike any other Dolphins rookie, no matter what his coaches say.
He is uniquely talented and uniquely positioned to alter the trajectory of a franchise that hasn’t won a championship in nearly five decades.
And his success (or failure) could either catapult coaching careers or stunt them.
If Brown, 40, can develop Tagovailoa into a superstar, he’ll quickly advance up the NFL ranks. Perhaps someday Brown succeeds Gailey, his college coach at Georgia Tech, as Dolphins offensive coordinator.
Or maybe another team will view him the way the Saints viewed Sean Payton and the Bengals viewed Zac Taylor. Both made the jump from quarterbacks coach directly to head coach.
That talk is way premature, of course, considering Tagovailoa still hasn’t even taken a full-speed practice rep. He’s behind Ryan Fitzpatrick on the Dolphins’ depth chart, and will probably stay there for a while.
But Flores and Gailey believe Brown — who was previously a senior offensive analyst at West Virginia following a four-year stint on the Jets’ staff — is the right person to unlock Tagovailoa’s greatness.
“I was fortunate enough to be Robby’s college coach and I knew then how intelligent he was,” Gailey said. “And that he wanted to coach. He’s been a coordinator in small colleges. He’s called plays. He’s been successful. I have a great deal of respect for Robby and his understanding of football. And more importantly his understanding of people. He is somebody that really understands the inner workings of a person and how to get the best out of them and how to relate to them. He’s excellent at that.”
That might be true. But he’s never done it at this level, with this kind of pressure.
Brown’s resume includes coaching experience at a bunch of small schools that don’t appear on national TV. His big break came in 2015, when Gailey — then the Jets’ offensive coordinator — hired Brown as an offensive quality control coach.
He remained on staff through 2018 — the year the Jets drafted their own ultra-hyped quarterback in the top 5.
By that point, Brown was no longer working with offense, but he watched closely how Jeremy Bates prepared Sam Darnold to play.
“I don’t know how much you can compare Sam Darnold to Tua or their experiences,” he said “That’s something you’d have to ask Sam, who’s in Year 3. Seeing him come in, there was a lot of hype around him. You have to manage each person differently and the first step is learning what we do offensively, and that’s what we’re trying to do with him now.”
Added Gailey: “You look at the success [Tagovailoa has] had; obviously he’s a very good leader and you take all those great players that they had at Alabama, it’s got to come together on the field. You can do all the coaching you want, but when they walk out there on the field, the players play. Obviously his leadership and his ability to throw the football, his touch, game management — all of that type of stuff. There were a bunch of good quarterbacks. We could’ve gotten one of several and we were very glad to get Tua.”