South Florida sportswriters have spent this week incessantly asking Miami Dolphins players and coaches about Tua Tagovailoa. How’s he looked in practice? How do you think he’ll do in Sunday’s game? Has he been asking good questions and preparing well?
It’s been Tua, Tua, Tua.
And the player those reporters have been asking about most after Tagovailoa?
Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald.
Because Donald could break Tua if the Dolphins aren’t careful.
Because Donald once ripped the facemask clean off an offensive lineman’s helmet. And the lineman was a teammate. And this happened in a practice at less than full speed.
And because Donald, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, can destroy more than a helmet. He has eight sacks and 15 quarterback hits in seven games.
So he can wreck an opposing team’s game plan and ruin everyone’s day.
All this is common knowledge. That’s perhaps the reason Dolphins left tackle Jesse Davis said Thursday that when Donald is opposite whichever offensive lineman he faces — he lines up at multiple positions — the offensive lineman’s first job is to remain calm and just play.
“Don’t freak out when he’s over you, I guess, is what I’m trying to say,” Davis said.
The problem with all this for the Dolphins? The Tagovailoa debut is kind of a big deal for the franchise.
Everyone is hopeful the rookie plays well and becomes the elite quarterback the Dolphins drafted him to be.
But he cannot be that if Aaron Donald hurts him.
He cannot be that if Donald is in his or anyone’s else’s head.
“Obviously, the premier player of the NFL on defense and the plan is we’ve got to have sound fundamentals and technique and give our best effort and obviously preparing in the week is a big part of that,” Dolphins center Ted Karras said. “And when it comes down to it when we’re out there Sunday afternoon, we’re going to have to perform our best when it counts the most.”
Yeah, there’s more to it than that.
The Dolphins are keenly aware Donald is good. Very good.
“He’s a tremendous player,” coach Brian Flores said.
So the idea is to be as aware of him during the game as they were during this week. And then to throw bodies at him. Many, many bodies.
“Somebody made a statement that a lot of people want to know where a safety is or where a linebacker is,” offensive coordinator Chan Gailey said. “Well, you want to know where he is. Is he lining up on the left or the right? Is he lining up on the tackle or on the guard?
“You want to know where he is and you want to scheme some things to help out whoever has him. At the same time, you can’t change everything that you’re doing. You’ve got to depend on our good players playing well against him, too. We’ve got to depend on that a little bit.”
That’s going to be the interesting part. Because while the Miami offensive line has been solid — Miami is ninth in fewest sacks allowed but 22nd in rushing — the unit is still a work in progress with two rookie starters.
And it’s a unit dealing with transition.
Remember that three weeks ago rookie left tackle Austin Jackson was placed on injured reserve. So the Dolphins predictably moved Davis from right tackle to left tackle and inserted rookie Robert Hunt at right tackle.
Davis became the new blindside protector for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Well, with Tagovailoa now in the lineup, Hunt becomes the new blindside protector because the new quarterback is left-handed.
So the Dolphins will be dealing with some moving parts as well as Donald.
“I don’t know what it will be like,” Hunt said. “I’m confident in all of us to do our job and do what we have to do to move him off the ball … I think that once we get our chance, get our hands on him, we’ll be fine.”
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