After just six games of the Miami Dolphins’ 2020 schedule, head coach Brian Flores decided it was time to change the clocks early in Miami, despite the fact that Daylight Saving Time would end in less than two weeks.
In Flores’ mind, it’s Tua Time.
With a 3-3 record and a second-place spot in the AFC East standings, the Dolphins will reportedly go forward with rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa as the team’s go-to guy under center, forcing previous starter Ryan Fitzpatrick into the second spot on the depth chart.
The move was puzzling to some when news broke on October 20, given that the Dolphins were on a two-game winning streak, and the fact that Fitzpatrick had thrown for three touchdowns in each of the team’s victories against the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets the prior two weeks.
It could also seem baffling due to the fact that Tagovailoa had thrown just two passes in the NFL at the time of the announcement, both in the game against the Jets that was already well in hand by the time he stepped onto the field.
But, in Flores’ mind, he must think strongly about the future of the team with the Alabama product under center, and doesn’t want to wait any longer to see what the 22-year-old can do in the NFL.
It makes sense from that standpoint for a few different reasons, both long-term and short-term.
From an overarching perspective, the Dolphins invested a lot in Tagovailoa the second they drafted him with the fifth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Despite dislocating his hip and fracturing the posterior wall during his final collegiate game in 2019, Tagovailoa took a shot and declared for the 2020 NFL Draft. Had he been fully healthy, there would have been a serious case to be made for the Cincinnati Bengals to select him, instead of LSU alum Joe Burrow, with the first overall pick.
Instead, Tagovailoa dropped a few selections, and wound up right in the Dolphins’ hands. While there was some excitement around Fitzpatrick and former 10th overall pick Josh Rosen in the team’s depth chart, Miami took a risk and invested their stock in the 22-year-old Hawaiian.
Using a fifth overall selection on a quarterback is all a team needs to do to signal what their future looks like, and in this case, the franchise put all of its eggs in Tagovailoa’s basket on that April night in 2020.
So, it isn’t shocking that the Dolphins want to quickly see what they hitched their wagon to with regards to Tagovailoa as the team’s starter.
From the short-term, immediate perspective, the switch at starting quarterback has its positives, as well. The team is entering its bye week with a 3-3 record, and is still within striking distance in a division that has long been dominated by the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots.
With Brady down in Tampa Bay with the Buccaneers, the window is wide open for three of the four AFC East franchises, with the Jets continuing to fall further in the standings as each week passes.
While it may make the most sense to let Fitzpatrick “lose” the starting job and prove that he isn’t the guy in a close divisional race, it isn’t a bad move to throw Tagovailoa into the fray after two full weeks of preparation for his first opponent.
Two full weeks of first-team reps at practice, and two full weeks of knowing that you’re the guy going forward. On that same not, it’s two full weeks of Fitzpatrick knowing that Tagovailoa is the guy, allowing him the chance to mentor the young rookie, rather than do everything he can to win the job back right away.
The Los Angeles Rams also serve as the perfect opponent for Tagovailoa to make his first start against, especially after the defensive performance the Rams put together on Sunday Night Football against the San Francisco 49ers.
Outside of Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, there isn’t much of a threat for Tagovailoa to worry about, and it’s just enough of a challenge to see what he’s really made of. With those two weeks to work with before the game, it could serve as the perfect coming-out party for #1.
From there, the Dolphins’ next few games allow Flores and the rest of the team’s coaching staff the ability to see how Tagovailoa stacks up against some of his fellow 2020 NFL Draft class members, and some of the league’s best quarterbacks.
Tagovailoa will go up against Arizona Cardinals sophomore Kyler Murray, the first overall pick from the 2019 NFL Draft in Week 9, followed by Los Angeles Chargers rookie Justin Herbert, the sixth overall pick from the 2020 NFL Draft, in Week 10.
He’ll battle Denver Broncos sophomore Drew Lock in Week 11, and Burrow’s Bengals a few games later in Week 13.
Add in a game against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 14, and a divisional game against Cam Newton and the Patriots in Week 15, and it all equates to a heck of a stretch for the new Dolphins starter.
It likely won’t be pretty for Tagovailoa in his first season under center for the Dolphins, but the reps are likely all that matters when Flores looks at the situation. The Broncos benefitted from getting Lock reps in 2019, and even the Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens gave Mahomes and Lamar Jackson respective starts during their rookie campaigns to get in-game action under their belt.
The most important part for the Dolphins will be not to give up on the Tagovailoa experiment right away, or give up on the young quarterback in the upcoming offseason for a new quarterback like Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence.
At this point, it’s Tua Time for the Dolphins, and it has to stay that way if the team wants to give the rookie any shot of succeeding in the NFL.