There have been times this spring when Tua Tagovailoa made a bad call or a bad pitch and the Dolphins quarterback was immediately hard on himself.
“Hey, it’ll be fine,” coach Mike McDaniel would say to Tua.
There were times this spring when Tagovailoa had a poor day overall as he picked up yet another new offense while working with many new teammates.
“It’s only May. It’s only June,” McDaniel told Tua.
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McDaniel led a chorus of fans now surrounding the Dolphins third-year quarterback. The message percolated to Tua’s teammates.
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McDaniel is patient and supportive and relentlessly positive. But even McDaniel, who has been stressing all spring that there is time, knows time is running out.
The Dolphins will open training camp on Wednesday.
And then Miami’s first joint practice — at the Tampa Bay Bucs — will be just 14 days later. Fourteen days!
Almost all the attention in Dolphins training camp will be on a new offense.
In the spring, McDaniel correctly noted that the strong defense, with a returning coordinator, along with all of its key players, was already performing algebra.
This summer, it’s time for the Miami offense to show its mastery of more difficult equations. Yes, it’s a new zoning scheme. Yes, it’s a new play-caller in McDaniel.
And yes, new additions such as Hill, Cedrick Wilson, Terron Armstead, Connor Williams, Raheem Mostert and Chase Edmonds will need a bit more time to merge. But time is running out.
The intensity of this training camp should be palpable. Who isn’t looking forward to Hill versus Xavien Howard? Who isn’t looking forward to Emmanuel Ogbah against Armstead?
McDaniel is blessed with a roster as deep and talented as any Miami in at least six years (when freshman head coach Adam Gase led the team to the playoffs).
In late spring, McDaniel, the cold, good-natured, self-deprecating first-year head coach, said his team was well-positioned to compete at a high level.
This training camp will reveal so much about where the Dolphins really stand. Here’s a look at 10 players we’ll be watching very, very closely:
McDaniel feels Tagovailoa is “attacking the moment” and that the young quarterback shares more of a personality that had been toned down in a colder football climate.
It will be great if Tagovailoa shows his teammates, fans and media in attendance that he is now relaxed and confident, in a new culture where bluster is not only allowed but encouraged.
Yet Tua must also demonstrate this summer that, yes, his arm is stronger, and yes, he can perform deeper passes. And that yes, he is the man to capitalize on and maximize the impressive number of fast weapons provided to him.
There’s a reason Jackson was the 18th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. It had to do with height, athleticism and advantages. Maybe Jackson will find his place at right tackle.
Jackson wants to play tackle and Miami coaches believe he has the physical qualities to protect Tua’s blind side. They also feel that he is fit for the outside zone.
Eyes will also be on Liam Eichenberg, who has played tackle and guard, and who coaches say has a chance to be a solid left guard. Eichenberg believes this offensive system will result in less guesswork, which will manifest in less hesitation.
How will Hill’s production as the Dolphin compare to his legendary production in Kansas City? It would behoove Tua to lean on Hill early and often, in camp and this season.
The challenge of competing against Xavien Howard should provide tremendous training camp fodder. It will also be interesting to see how often Hill lines up in the slot compared to Jaylen Waddle and Cedrick Wilson, who have all thrived there.
The Dolphins desperately need Hill to show he can connect with Tua on long streaks and messages. But also that Hill can take short tilts and screens and routes for long touchdowns after the capture that the organization has long gone without.
Ingram was one of the NFL’s top sack artists from 2015 to 2019, reaching the Pro Bowl three times with the Chargers. But Ingram has just three sacks in his last 22 games with Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Kansas City.
McDaniel thinks Ingram is motivated to show that at 33 he has quite a bit left in the tank. Miami hopes it works better than, say, Mario Williams once did.
It will be interesting to see how Channing Tindall (rookie) and Jaelan Phillips (2nd year) make it to Ingram. Ideally, Ingram provides leadership and also offers some tips on spinning and power moves.
Mostert actually played one game with the Dolphins, in 2015. Since then, he’s proven to be an excellent guard for the 49ers, when healthy.
Over the past 50 years, no running back in the NFL with a minimum of 200 carries has averaged more yards per carry than Mostert, with 5.67. The Dolphins could rush for 4.67 yards per carry in 2022.
When and how Mostert returns from knee surgery in 2021 will be highly anticipated. McDaniel says Mostert expects to play Week 1. How do Mostert and newcomer Chase Edmonds compare this summer?
Armstead also didn’t participate in the spring as he recovers from knee surgery in 2021. Armstead can’t come back fast enough, providing leadership and stability to a young and battered offensive line.
Can Armstead help Eichenberg, Robert Hunt and Austin Jackson as they all try to live up to lofty draft statuses? Will Armstead fit nicely into Miami’s zoning scheme?
Will Armstead be the tone-maker Miami is paying $75 million for?
The Dolphins and Gesicki haven’t agreed to a long-term contract, which makes sense for both sides. Thus, Gesicki will play on the tight one-year franchise tag.
Blocking Gesicki is a tired story, but he can really help himself if he can improve a bit in that area because McDaniel’s offense demands it. Will Gesicki’s snaps go down? Will Gesicki’s catches drop?
Gesicki is an exceptional receiver and McDaniel figures to implement it creatively. But we’ll be monitoring where and how often Durham Smythe, Hunter Long, Adam Shaheen and Cethan Carter are also used.
Bridgewater is one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL. We said that last season about Jacoby Brissett, but Bridgewater is better.
Brissett has a career record of 14-23 and a career passer rating of 83.0.
Bridgewater has a career record of 33-30 and a career passer rating of 90.7.
If Tua struggles or gets hurt, McDaniel won’t hesitate to turn to Bridgewater. This isn’t a knock on Tua, who should have a higher cap. But Bridgewater is very capable.
It was widely believed that Williams had been signed to play left guard, alongside Armstead. But Miami sees Williams as potentially even more valuable at center.
As a Cowboy, Williams was strong in both pass protection and run blocking, although last season he had an unusually high penalty total.
We’ll know just how solid Williams is in the middle when he tries to slow down Raekwon Davis and Christian Wilkins in training. as well as Vita Vea (Bucs) and Fletcher Cox (Eagles) in joint practices.
Igbinoghene was the 30th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
He started three games. That’s largely because Xavien Howard is an All-Pro and Byron Jones is a Pro Bowler and Nik Needham is very solid.
But Miami needs to know if Noah could replace one of the three, if needed. It’s been a critical summer for the former Auburn player.
Igbinoghene needs to show he can crush Miami’s No.4-No.4. 6 receivers, which currently include Erik Ezukanma, Preston Williams and Lynn Bowden.
Miami hopes Igbinoghene working with new assistants Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain will help.
Joe Schad is a reporter for the Palm Beach Post, part of the USA Today Florida Network. You can reach him at js[email protected]. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.