Feeling the pressure? Tua only sees opportunity

  • Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa smiles during a news conference at the Dolphins NFL football training facility, Wednesday, April 20, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Tua Tagovailoa should be feeling the pressure in 2022.

At least that’s one widespread belief as he heads into his third NFL season amid an offseason where the Miami Dolphins have equipped him with what can be considered one of the league’s best group of pass catchers, an improved offensive line and a running game, as a specialty of new coach Mike McDaniel, that should see a significant uptick in production.

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Through uneven play his first two years, Tagovailoa has had more excuses at his disposal than healthy playmakers. Not that he uses them — the excuses — but they’ve been there for others to use for him.

Now, it’s flipped. He has everything he needs to be successful. And if the quarterback play isn’t up to par with the offensive talent surrounding him, blame will land solely on Tagovailoa instead of all the reasons that were previously given for why he couldn’t creep into the top half of NFL starting quarterbacks after being the 2020 draft’s No. 5 pick, one ahead of Los Angeles Chargers Pro Bowler Justin Herbert.

For Tagovailoa, there isn’t any additional pressure. At least that’s what he says.

“I think pressure is going to be there every time,” he said Wednesday, speaking with the media for the first time since the end of the 2021 season. “I don’t feel more pressure that we’ve acquired all of these guys. It’s more of an opportunity that I get, that we all get as a team, to show what we can do this year.”

Last season, the Dolphins had what was likely the NFL’s worst pass-blocking offensive line; the running game ranked among the bottom three teams in that category; and Tagovailoa never had his full slate of receivers. He didn’t play one game with wideout Will Fuller, the $10 million free-agent pickup of the 2021 cycle who missed 15 games, with the two he did play coming while Tagovailoa was out.

That’s not even mentioning the apparent friction that was there between him and ex-coach Brian Flores. Or his own injuries that either caused him to miss time or limit him in some of his appearances.

Now, he has one of the NFL’s most productive receivers and the league’s fastest in Tyreek Hill on his side, along with slot receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr. The pair joins budding wideout Jaylen Waddle, coming off a rookie receptions record (104), and tight end Mike Gesicki, who was placed on the franchise tag. Top free-agent left tackle Terron Armstead and guard Connor Williams were signed to revamp the line. Running backs Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert were brought in to form a dynamic backfield duo.

After speaking extensively of the support he feels from McDaniel, which may not have been the case when Flores was at the helm, Tagovailoa appeared as loose as he’s been as a Dolphin on Wednesday.

“I just feel like there are so many things that have happened,” he said. “There are a lot of changes, and a lot of good changes, I guess, with the people that we’ve picked up and the guys that we’ve acquired as well. The locker room feels different. We’re all excited.”

Beyond McDaniel, new offensive coordinator Frank Smith and seasoned quarterbacks coach Darrell Bevell, Tagovailoa has the support of veteran quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, with 63 starts in his career, as his backup. That can also add to the pressure, though, because if Tagovailoa can’t perform with everything at his disposal, Bridgewater probably can. Starting 14 games for the Denver Broncos in 2021, Bridgewater had a better quarterback rating than Tagovailoa (94.9 to 90.1).

Tagovailoa was 7-5 in his starts in his second NFL season, completing 67.8% of his passes for 6.8 yards per attempt, 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Dolphins general manager Chris Grier sees not only the roster additions, but McDaniel’s system benefitting Tagovailoa.

“Kind of the offense that Mike does and what he’s building here and what his philosophy has been, I think, yes, we’ve added some pieces on offense as well, but a lot of fits what Mike is looking for,” Grier said. “And yeah, a lot of it does fit what Tua does well, and I think we’re all very excited. I know Mike has been raving about Tua here. … So yeah, we’re very excited for him and looking forward to the season and how he keeps progressing.”

Tagovailoa noted how McDaniel allows him to lead how he feels comfortable. Tagovailoa is also another year removed from the hip injury that cut his college career at Alabama short in 2019 and has moved past last season’s rib and finger injuries, but he said he doesn’t necessarily feel like he’s throwing the ball harder this offseason.

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