The Miami Dolphins are 1-3 after their first month of the 2020 season, and the question begs to be asked:
Is it Tua time yet?
Dolphins rookie Tua Tagovailoa, Miami’s top draft pick in April, has yet to play a down in his NFL career. And that may still be the case as Miami prepares to head across the country to play the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday in Week 5.
“Look, the honest thing for me is if it was my kid, and he had a serious injury like that, I wouldn’t want his coach to throw him in there because of media pressure or anything like that. That’s kinda how I approach this situation and really all situations,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said of Tagovailoa on Monday.
“With the players, they are my kids. So, no one is going to pressure me into doing anything. If we feel like he’s ready to go, we’ll put him in.”
Although Flores said Tagovailoa has “checked all the boxes from a medical standpoint,” his hip and its full recovery continue to be at the focal point of the decision to keep him on the sidelines.
Tagovailoa is considered 100% healthy and likely just as eager to make his rookie debut as Dolphins fans waiting to see him.
Tagovailoa is more than 10 ½ months removed from the hip injury that caused a dislocation and posterior wall fracture during his final game at Alabama on Nov. 17, 2019.
Tagovailoa has participated in all but two Dolphins practices as a rookie with both absences coming last week due to a fever that was not related to COVID-19.
Tagovailoa has also been healthy enough to be marked active on game days, and available to backup starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The opportunity to take a snap, however, has not been afforded to Tagovailoa through Miami’s first four games.
And it appears Tagovailoa will remain behind Fitzpatrick — for the time being.
“I understand where everybody’s coming from with Tua, and I get all that. At the same time, he’s a young player. He’s coming off the injury,” Flores said.
“We’ll make the decision on the starter … I mean, I would presume it’s going to be Fitzpatrick.”
Fitzpatrick, the 16-year NFL veteran who led the Dolphins to five wins last season, rebounded from a poor effort in the season opener against New England to lead Miami’s offense on three scoring drives in a three-point loss to Buffalo in Week 2 and four touchdown drives in a Week 3 win at Jacksonville.
But against the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday, the Dolphins offense regressed while their defense played well enough against Russell Wilson to keep the game close until the fourth quarter.
Fitzpatrick, despite two interceptions, led the Dolphins offense on five drives into the red zone, which all resulted in field goals, before he scored on a 10-yard run with less than two minutes remaining when Sunday’s game was out of reach, ending in a 31-23 loss.
The Dolphins were hampered by miscues in the red zone, which included a holding penalty by left guard Ereck Flowers on the first drive, a near-interception by Fitzpatrick on the second drive, a failed double move play for Jakeem Grant on the third drive, a dropped slant pass from DeVante Parker on the fourth drive, and a loss of two yards on a run by running back Myles Gaskin before the fifth field goal.
“Whether it was a penalty or poor execution or just a bad read by me, it just seemed like every time we got down there, something popped up. And red zone execution really falls on the quarterback,” Fitzpatrick said after the loss.
“And, so, for me, I walk out of this game feeling terrible in that I felt like there was a lot of guys on our team that played well enough to win and I, unfortunately, was not one of them. And when that happens and your quarterback doesn’t play up to his ability, then you’re not going to win a whole lot of games in this league.”
Despite Miami’s 1-3 start this season, the Dolphins are making progress in preparation for Tagovailoa’s debut.
Miami has welcomed four new offensive linemen to its starting unit, including rookie draft picks in left tackle Austin Jackson and right guard Solomon Kindley.
Together, Miami’s offensive line has allowed Fitzpatrick to be sacked just six times in four games — which is better than only three teams before Monday night’s doubleheader to end Week 4.
That’s an average of 1.5 sacks per game, which is down from the 3.6 average Miami saw a season ago when it gave up a league-high 58 sacks in 2019.
Miami needs more from its receiving core, outside of Parker, who leads the team with 24 catches for 279 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Mike Gesicki has caught only one pass in each of the past two games after having eight catches and 130 yards in Week 2.
Gaskin has also paced the offense on the ground, more than offseason acquisitions Jordan Howard and Matt Brieda, with 192 yards rushing and 18 catches out of the backfield.
The Dolphins may not feel the need to make widespread changes on both sides of the football, but some alterations could come after the first month of the season.
“Look, we’re a quarter of the way through the season right now,” Flores said.
“We’re obviously going to do an evaluation of our team from that standpoint, try to play the guys we feel are going to help us try to turn this thing around, play better in situations like red zone, in two minute, in the fourth quarter. That will be at all positions.”
For now, it appears Flores is leaning more toward keeping Tagovailoa on the sidelines than playing him over Fitzpatrick.
©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)