MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Tua Tagovailoa’s confidence may be at an all-time high.
And that’s encouraging news for the Miami Dolphins and new coach Mike McDaniel, who is tasked with helping the quarterback reach new heights in his third NFL season.
Tagovailoa ended his Thursday practice with two touchdown passes, in his opinion, to new Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill.
The first was a 55-yard touchdown pass. Then, just to create a red-zone opportunity inside the 5-yard line after the throw, Tagovailoa threw a slant to Hill two plays later to complete a better practice than he had the day before.
“I don’t know if I could throw the ball downfield still, but by my account, I think that might have been a touchdown to Tyreek. If not, then we scored two plays after that to Tyreek,” Tagovailoa said in a confident and wry manner.
“So, however you want to write down any of that to social media or whatever outlets you guys are with, you do so.”
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It’s clear Tagovailoa has heard enough of the criticisms and fans jokes on social media regarding his presumed arm strength.
Tagovailoa dealt with extensive recovery from his gruesome hip injury sustained in November 2019 while in college at Alabama, coupled with a limited offense and roster his first two seasons.
With Hill in the fold as the highest-paid receiver in NFL history, Jaylen Waddle, his former Alabama teammate, entering his second season, and McDaniel’s reputation as an offensive-minded coach, Tagovailoa’s play could take a considerable leap in 2022.
Regardless, Tagovailoa will let his play do the talking for him.
“For me, it’s just zone that out. We come out to practice. Everyone else – Twitter warriors, keyboard warriors, whatever you want to call them – they’re not out here practicing with us, working hard,” Tagovailoa said.
“So, I don’t know if you guys recorded that last one to Tyreek. I don’t know about you, but that looked like money.”
Tagovailoa was 9 of 14 on his passes Thursday, including another 45-yard pass to Hill inside the red zone that was challenged by the Dolphins defense. He would’ve been sacked on at least three plays, saw an interception between touchdown throws to Hill dropped, and saw Waddle drop a pass near the sideline.
A day earlier, Tagovailoa did not have a deep pass and was 7 of 16 passing with the Dolphins defense pressuring him for five sacks.
Thursday was exactly the type of rebound effort McDaniel – who Tagovailoa likes to call “Mystic Mac” because of his fun-loving attitude – was hoping to see from his new quarterback as they continue to forge a bond in Miami.
“You’re going to have things that you don’t execute to perfection. You’re going to have people talking about how you’re not performing and guess what? No one cares. It’s about leading,” McDaniel said of Tagovailoa.
“He’s opening up. He’s coming into his own in that regard and he’s been unbelievably coachable. He’s let his guard down and we’ve been able to keep his confidence high, which it should be right now for sure, while correcting and getting his game better, which is the ultimate goal for everyone.”
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As for the arm strength, Tagovailoa and McDaniel know they must find the sweet spots offensively for plays between 30 and 60 yards to play to Tagovailoa’s strengths.
While young quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Josh Allen have rocket arms that can surely push a football at least 70 or 80 yards down the field, the practicality and execution of a 70- or 80-yard play depends on factors like a clean pocket, receiver speed, and the incoming pass rush from defenders.
“He’s not throwing the ball 85 yards, but I don’t see the practical application of an 85-yard thrower unless you have the best offensive line in the history of football and a defense that is too poor to add on rushers when you’re max protecting,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel has gone out of his way to foster a relationship with Tagovailoa since becoming the Dolphins’ coach.
Whether it’s having a chat in a meeting room or hallway at the Dolphins’ facility, to participating in Tagovailoa’s charity event in April, McDaniel’s efforts have allowed Tagovailoa to feel more comfortable in his own skin.
Tagovailoa is naturally hard on himself. His father, Galu, is hard on him, just like coach Nick Saban was at Alabama. Tagovailoa did not have the best relationship with his first NFL coach, Brian Flores, who is suing the NFL after the Dolphins fired him following three seasons.
Still, Tagovailoa challenges himself through self-criticism.
And McDaniel’s easy-going approach has taken Tagovailoa some time to get used to.
“Mike is always trying to encourage you and trying to keep you going so for me it’s a little backwards,” Tagovailoa said. “I’m used to being hard on myself and the coach getting hard on me, too. Whereas I’m getting hard on myself and he’s trying to tell me, ‘Hey, it’s going to be OK. We’re only in May. We’re only in June. There’s a lot more time to grow.’ ”
The change in Tagovailoa’s confidence has been noticeable to many close to him, including his friends and teammates.
Confident enough to even challenge his critics, like he did after Thursday’s practice.
“I would say I’ve shown glimpses of coming out of my shell with Coach [McDaniel],” Tagovailoa said.
“I can be myself. That’s all I can say.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa claps back at ‘Twitter warriors’
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