MIAMI — Despite not playing football for nearly two weeks, Tua Tagovailoa impressed Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel with his focus when he returned to the practice field last week.
Tagovailoa suffered a concussion on Sept. 29 against the Cincinnati Bengals and missed the Dolphins’ next two games. McDaniel said the star quarterback is preparing this week as the starter for Miami’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, adding that Tagovailoa is eager to return.
“He’s laser focused. He’s in his normal mood, but he doesn’t lose attention span at the task at hand,” McDaniel said. “And that’s what I’ve grown to love about the guy. That’s why he’s been able to have some success in a completely new language and system.”
Tagovailoa cleared concussion protocol this past weekend but returned to the practice field for the first time on Oct. 12. He was inactive for last Sunday’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings but was on the sideline and had been present at the Dolphins’ team facility since his concussion.
McDaniel said Tagovailoa “fully embraced” his role as a leader over the past two weeks and successfully allowed that role to supersede his desire to play.
“He knows that he has to be in the moment for the players that are playing and contribute the way he can,” McDaniel said. “And so, he has been very positive, but I can also tell that like he thirsts for the brotherhood, for the camaraderie, for the competition.
“It was just blatantly obvious to everyone around him that he was missing out on something that he truly loves. And it’s a cool thing to find out in an adverse situation about a player that you coach.”
McDaniel noted that in Tagovailoa’s three practices last week, he took on a supportive role as Skylar Thompson prepared as the starter and Teddy Bridgewater as the primary backup.
McDaniel was particularly impressed with the way Tagovailoa kept focus despite the change in his normal routine.
“What you saw was every single play of practice saying the play,” McDaniel said. “After I say it, like he’s saying it in the huddle, then watching the timing of the concept, watching the footwork of Skylar, getting excited when perfect technique is executed — because he knows exactly what it looks like. And then you go through an entire practice, you’re used to being the starting quarterback, which in the NFL season means you are taking every snap when the offense is up. So you get in a routine where it kind of goes by fast because you have all this stuff going on.
“Well, to see that focus last for the entire practice also speaks to the point that it’s not just about him, his selflessness, which is why he has a unique aura of leadership that people gravitate to because it’s genuine, authentic, and real. “
The Dolphins, mired in a three-game losing streak after starting the season with three straight wins, have seen a sharp offensive decline without Tagovailoa on the field. Through the first three weeks of the season, the Dolphins ranked first and second in the league in points per drive and offensive expected points added, respectively. In the time since, they’ve fallen to 28th in offensive EPA and 29th in points per drive.
Both Bridgewater and Thompson started games in place of Tagovailoa, but both were forced out of their lone starts due to concussion protocol and a thumb injury, respectively. Dolphins offensive lineman Robert Hunt said after Sunday’s game that injuries are “part of the business” of the NFL, and added Monday that while getting Tagovailoa back would be galvanizing, they have a job to do no matter who is at quarterback.
“Tua is Tua — Tua is our leader,” Hunt said. “He’s the guy who has been running the show and we’ll be excited to get him back. But exactly what you said — if not, and it’s somebody else back there, we still got to do our job and try to play a game and win a game.”