When the Miami Dolphins’ offense took the field at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday for their first dress rehearsal of training camp, rookie Tua Tagovailoa came out at quarterback. And the former Alabama All-American wished for all the world that he hadn’t had to.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Dolphins’ returning starter at quarterback, left the team after this mother died on Saturday morning.
At a press conference after the scrimmage, Tagovailoa called the 15-year veteran “a coach and a mentor on and off the field.”
“I told Fitz that I’m here for him,” Tagovailoa said. “But it was something more so emotional for me, too, because I kind of thought of my own mom, and just the thought of not having a family member, losing a family member, I mean, that’s – it’s hard.
“Being given that circumstance, being told that I have to be ready to go out with the first group today, it wasn’t something that I was nervous to do, but it was more so I kind of felt what, I would say, kind of what Fitz was going through. I got emotional when Fitz ended up leaving, too, and while we were about to pray as a team.”
Fitzpatrick’s absence left Tagovailoa and Josh Rosen to operate Miami’s offense during the scrimmage. Tagovailoa completed 13-of-23 passes for 119 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Rosen completed 11-of-24 passes for 143 yards with one touchdown (to former Auburn wide receiver Ricardo Louis) and one interception.
Tagovailoa said his “play wasn’t to where I want it to be.”
“I think there was some good today,” Tagovailoa said. “There were also some not so good. But I think it was a learning curve for me and a lot of the rookies. There’s some things we need to clean up offensively on my end and just things in general with the communication. And then for me, not turning the ball, being better with situational awareness — down and distance — and then communication, and that’s why we got film to be able to go over that.”
Dolphins coach Brian Flores said he saw “some good throws” and “some good decisions” from the quarterbacks during Saturday’s scrimmage.
“I think when you don’t see a bunch of touchdowns scored or big passes, you start to think the quarterback’s not playing well,” Flores said. “That’s not the case. Honestly, I thought those guys — I thought there was good communication, I thought we were in and out of the huddle, turnovers were down, so those are the things that are important and give us a chance to keep the game tight.”
During his Saturday press conference, Flores told reporters, “There’s no quarterback controversy,” but he didn’t know when the veteran QB would return. Fitzpatrick “tried to go out there today … but some things are more important than football, so he left to be with his family,” Flores said.
“He’s going to take as much time as he needs,” Flores said. “Me and as an organization, we’re going to give him this time to grieve. My thought on this is he’s going to try to get back as quickly as he can because that’s the competitive nature in him. Like a lot of us, football is our sanctuary, and it’s our place to get away the tough times, the pain, the anguish in our lives.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Flores said, the Dolphins have developed contingency plans for every spot on the coaching staff and every position on the field – just in case.
“The next guy has to step up,” Flores said of Fitzpatrick’s absence on bereavement leave. “And I know what the next question is: Hey, is it this guy or this guy? And I would say that’s yet to be determined.”
Tagovailoa joined the Dolphins as the fifth player picked in the 2020 NFL Draft. Miami traded for Rosen last year after he started 13 games as a rookie for the Arizona Cardinals in 2018.
With no preseason games this year, the Dolphins used Saturday’s scrimmage to prepare for their season-opening contest on Sept. 13 against the New England Patriots.
“Without preseason games, that’s our first real look in a stadium, sideline operations, headsets, officials, so there’s a lot to clean up,” Flores said. “I would say just from a coaching standpoint, we got a little bit of that cleaned up from first half to second half. Making adjustments on the sideline with the tablets, that’s something we haven’t been able to do, so to incorporate that going from series to series, that was good. On the field, I think we had some penalties out there. It’s good to feel that defensively, offensively, how they extend drives or kill drives in some instances, so the importance of trying to play penalty-free but also being aggressive and playing with good fundamentals, technique and discipline. I think overall anytime you get a live look or as close to the game as possible, it’s good.”
Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @AMarkG1.