It was Dan Marino’s 60th birthday Wednesday, and on top of wishing him a happy birthday, Tua Tagovailoa reflected on what Marino has taught him since he arrived in Miami.
“Pick a guy, and let it fly,” said the current Miami Dolphins quarterback on what he has picked up from conversations with the greatest Dolphins quarterback.
Is it a coincidence that this advice came to mind the week that Tagovailoa gets deep-threat wide receiver Will Fuller inserted into the lineup?
Fuller’s imminent debut with the Dolphins could surely incline Tagovailoa to “let it fly” a little bit more after much of his completions came on underneath throws in the 17-16 Week 1 win at New England. The 6-foot-1, 184-pound wideout who ran a 4.32-second 40-yard dash at the 2016 NFL scouting combine is coming off the final game of his six-game suspension stemming back to last season while he was with the Houston Texans.
“I think it’s fun and good to have Will back,” said Tagovailoa, who was 16 of 27 for 202 yards, a touchdown passing and rushing and an interception against the Patriots. “We can see in the game plan what things he can do to help us win this game, but really, it’s still things that we need to work with Will on — with me and his timing.”
Tagovailoa has worked on building chemistry with the Dolphins’ speedy free-agent acquisition since he signed in March. They were in communication from the moment they became teammates. They got together to throw and catch when Fuller first moved down to Miami, and Fuller even began working with Tagovailoa’s strength trainer.
Much of training camp was then spent with Fuller sidelined since the opening practice. Then, he couldn’t practice with the Dolphins in preparation for Week 1 as he served the final game of the suspension for use of performance-enhancing drugs last season.
“It’s getting there” Fuller said of his chemistry with Tagovailoa.
Now, the infusion of his deep threat could help open things up in the passing game after Tagovailoa’s lone downfield completions on Sunday were a 36-yarder to Jaylen Waddle at the end of the first half and one that went for 30 to DeVante Parker to start the second half.
“In a defensive room, the first thing they’re telling the DBs is ‘Don’t get beat deep,’ ” said Fuller, who had 3,110 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns over his five seasons in Houston. “I use that to my advantage. Just play as fast as I can and that gets the defense on their heels.”
Added Parker of what Fuller brings: “Speed down the field, spreading the ball down the field, and probably having other guys open with his speed.”
It will be revealed what Tagovailoa and Fuller can do together in-game when the Dolphins kick off at 1 p.m. on Sunday against a tough Bills defense at Hard Rock Stadium. Tagovailoa has been criticized for his arm strength at times, so there are questions about if he can deliver the ball out to Fuller if he gets open over the top.
“I just think it’s a surprise,” Fuller said. “I don’t know what it’s going to look like; the Bills don’t know what it’s going to look like, but I’m going to do my best. I’m going to get open, and I’m going to catch the ball. We’ll see how Sunday goes.”
The Buffalo secondary is headlined by star cornerback Tre’Davious White, who fellow elite cornerback Xavien Howard of the Dolphins Wednesday called “a baller.” The Bills also disguise blitzes well, which will take a team effort to counter, but Tagovailoa will have to be ready to identify.
“Tua is a big part of that,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said. “He’s got to have good awareness and good overall knowledge of what may or may not happen. But everyone is involved in that and we really need everyone on the same page.”
Tagovailoa looks to make strides in going through progressions. Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson said of Tagovailoa’s late interception in New England: “That’s what Tua do. If he doesn’t have his first read, he’s just gonna throw the ball up.”
Said Tagovailoa Wednesday of how comfortable he is going through multiple reads: “I’d say I feel good, but obviously, it’s a continued process for me. It’s a continued process for all of us to continue to learn.”
When it comes to anything Tagovailoa needs to make improvements on, at least he has Marino in his corner.
“Dan’s done a great job of being in our meetings. He has a lot of input,” Tagovailoa said. “Not much of a texter, but in person, Dan sits in our meetings. He helps us with things that we don’t see or we never thought of seeing, but yeah, I think it’s really good to hear it from his perspective.”