Tua Tagovailoa’s improvements led to Dolphins starting QB job

Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores confirmed Wednesday rookie Tua Tagovailoa will become the starting quarterback.

And the move is a far cry from Flores’ stance on playing Tagovailoa earlier this month before the Dolphins rookie made his brief debut last Sunday.

Flores had said, because of Tagovailoa’s injury history, he did not want to throw Tagovailoa into an NFL game due to any media or outside pressures. He later said Tagovailoa was not yet ready to start an NFL game.

Apparently a matter of two weeks proved to be a big difference for Tagovailoa, Flores and the Dolphins franchise, who formally announced Wednesday Tagovailoa would overtake 16-year veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick as Miami’s starting quarterback.

“We feel like it’s the best thing for the team,” Flores said Wednesday of Tagovailoa, whose first start will come on Nov. 1 against the Los Angeles Rams at Hard Rock Stadium, following Miami’s bye this week.

“We feel like through practices, walkthroughs and meetings, we feel like he’s ready.”

Tagovailoa made his NFL debut in Miami’s 24-0 win over the New York Jets last Sunday, appearing in five plays at the end the game. He completed two passes for 9 yards, including a 7-yard strike to receiver Jakeem Grant for Miami’s lone third-down conversion of the game, while handing off the football three times in the final 2:27 of the contest.

Tagovailoa received a rousing ovation from the announced crowd of 10,776 people in Hard Rock Stadium with Dolphins owner Steve Ross, CEO Tom Garfinkel and Hall of Famer Dan Marino watching from the sideline.

After an evaluation of the Jets game on Monday night, which saw Fitzpatrick throw three touchdowns, two interceptions and ended seven of 13 drives with a punt, the Dolphins decided it was time to hand the keys to the franchise over to Tagovailoa.

Flores expressed his confidence in Tagovailoa, as well as the other players on his team, for how he expects them to handle the change with the Dolphins hoping to improve their second-place standing in the AFC East with an eye toward a playoff spot this season.

“I’m confident in all our players, to include Tua,” Flores said. “I think he’s practiced well. He works hard in meetings and walkthroughs and he’s got a good rapport with his teammates. Every week we go out to win, so yeah, I’m confident that if we prepare the right way, if he prepares the way he’s been preparing, I’m confident we’ll go out there and have good results.”

When the Dolphins fell to 1-3 earlier this season, Flores was peppered with questions about Tagovailoa’s readiness to play.

Although Tagovailoa was medically cleared to practice, play and be active in games to backup Fitzpatrick for the first month of the season, Flores cited Tagovailoa’s hip recovery as a major reason why he did not want to play the Dolphins’ top draft pick.

“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. … 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,” Flores said on Oct. 5 of Tagovailoa.

Two days later, Flores said Tagovailoa could go in on any snap just like any other backup player.

“As far as being a starter, we don’t feel like he’s ready, there just yet,” Flores said on Oct. 7. “That’s where we’re at with him and other players or other rookies that aren’t ready to take that step just yet.”

Flores’ stance on Wednesday during Miami’s bye week was quite different, adding Tagovailoa’s persistence in meetings, walkthrough practice sessions and full practice sessions have trended in the right direction.

“I think we’ve seen a lot of improvement from Tua. … I think he’s gotten more comfortable. But yes, accuracy, decision making, all of those things have been good in practice. But again, practice is very different than games,” Flores said.

“We’re going to do everything we can from a meeting, a walkthrough, a practice standpoint to get him ready to play in a game. Obviously, we’re comfortable and confident that he’ll be able to be competitive in those games when the time comes.”

Flores did not lead on any indication that the team was going to wait until the bye to make a move to Tagovailoa. The Dolphins’ bye was originally set for Week 11 until widespread schedule changes affected several games for Miami.

Flores also credited Fitzpatrick — Miami’s starting quarterback in 19 of the past 22 games, who produced an 8-11 record overall — for his role in helping the franchise’s rebuilding process take shape.

“Fitz has been great. … I don’t know if there’s anybody who has been more instrumental in trying to instill a culture and embody a lot of the things we’re looking for from a toughness, competitiveness, team first (standpoint). He’s made an impact on Tua, but also a lot of players on this team, so I have a great respect for him. That made this decision very tough,” Flores said.

“But at the end of the day, as a team, we felt like the best thing to do for our team, now and moving forward, was to go with Tua. But I think Fitz and the way he handles himself and his impact on the team, I think it will still be there. He’s been a tremendous asset and leader on this team.”


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