MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. >> Much more of the talk surrounding Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa entering the 2023 season isn’t about his play, but rather whether he can stay healthy for a full season.
So even as Tagovailoa, along with the star wide receiver tandem of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, had what might’ve been the trio’s best practice a week into training camp, it didn’t feel too groundbreaking because it’s been seen before during much of last season.
His play in 2022 somewhat answered the questions about whether he could be a reliable starter in the NFL, but multiple concussions over the course of the season forced him to miss 5 1/2 games.
Offseason measures were taken between bulking up and adding muscle to better withstand big hits and offseason jiu-jitsu courses to learn how to fall less often in awkward positions that put his head at risk.
Oh, and that new quarterback-specific helmet that the NFL designed early this offseason to help reduce concussions for league signal-callers, the VICIS Zero2 Matrix, Tagovailoa is leaning toward using it in games. He last said he tested it through organized team activities and mandatory minicamp and has continued to use it in training camp.
“It was like a percentage better than the helmet that I had,” Tagovailoa said. “Everything matters and so I’m going to play that percentage. If you look at it last year, it wasn’t anyone really hitting my head. It was really just the ground.”
The helmet is designed to offer increased protection for head-to-ground contact and to the back of the head since quarterbacks are often taken down on their backs from a pass rush in front of them.
An offseason of weekly jiu-jitsu lessons can help certain techniques become muscle memory as Tagovailoa gets taken to the ground in different ways during games, but Tagovailoa said it’ll still take time before it’s truly instinctual.
“It’s not to where it’s something that’s muscle memory yet for me,” Tagovailoa said. “I don’t think that’ll be something that becomes muscle memory unless I do it for like a year or two years.
“You’re very conscious of it. It’s in the back of your mind when you do end up doing it. But it’s not like, ‘Oh, if I’m falling this way, I know exactly how to fall right here,’ unless I’m actually thinking of doing it that way. So I’ve just got to continue to work on it and practice it.”
The instincts won’t be tested in practice, when defenders aren’t allowed to tackle quarterbacks — or make much of any contact with them. But Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel recalled one instance where the results were exhibited, in a possibly exaggerated tale.
“In OTAs, I think he got stepped on and he fell down backwards and completed a backwards somersault,” McDaniel said Monday. “It was pretty sweet.”
Tagovailoa clarified today exactly what happened.
“I got hit from someone in front of me,” he explained. “I sort of hit a little somersault going backwards and I flipped backwards. No backflips over here, though. It was cool to see.
“I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing that we’re doing jiu-jitsu falls, but it’s hard to gauge that because that was the first time I’ve done it.”
Beyond the added muscle, martial arts training and new helmet, Tagovailoa also just simply has to make the right decisions with the ball once the games start. Sometimes, that just means being smart with a throwaway when a pass is not there, which is something he has shown on multiple occasions in camp.
“It’s always tough to live to see another play,” he said. “We want to have a big play. We want to have the ball completed to the right guy, the open guy. It’s just tough.”
As far as Tagovailoa’s actual passing in camp, he had multiple downfield connections with Hill and Waddle today, and the receivers seemed to get over the drops that had plagued them earlier in camp.
“My chemistry with Tyreek, my chemistry with Jaylen, my chemistry with everyone on the field, it’s continuing to be a work in progress,” Tagovailoa said. “You get comfortable at one point, but you’ve got to continue to work at it with their route depths, with where I’m expecting them to be, with where they’re thinking they should be, things like that.”
Tagovailoa isn’t the only Dolphin that participates in a martial art to sharpen his game. Left tackle Terron Armstead addressed what he gets out of boxing, which he has been seen doing on the side of practice early in camp while he was still on the physically-unable-to-perform list.
Armstead was asked simply, his boxing or Tagovailoa’s jiu-jitsu?
“I’d whoop Tua,” Armstead cracked to a room full of laughter today.
Tagovailoa, outweighed by nearly 80 pounds, conceded: “I give respect to the OG.”
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