2 NFL MVP quarterbacks weigh in on Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa and one deja vu experience

Barry Jackson
·9 min read

A six-pack of Miami Dolphins notes on a Friday:

The quarterbacks-turned-broadcasters who were named the NFL’s Most Valuable Players in 2001 and 2002 have plenty of thoughts on new Dolphins starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

For 1999 and 2001 NFL MVP Kurt Warner, what he witnessed this week with the Ryan Fitzpatrick/Tagovailoa QB change feels like deja vu. (More on that in a minute.)

Meanwhile, Rich Gannon — the 2002 NFL MVP, two-time All Pro quarterback and one of CBS’ top four NFL game analysts — told me over the summer that “the biggest challenge” for Tagovailoa will be “the speed of the game and getting him mentally prepared to go out there and have answers. The why is so important. Why is [offensive coordinator] Chan Gailey calling this play and this protection? What are we expecting from this defense? You can do all these installs, but until you live it and rep it — until you’ve done it in game-like situations — it’s hard to know whether that player is ready to do it.

“And it’s not just whether or not a rookie quarterback is ready to play. Is the team around him ready for a young quarterback? When Joe Flacco went to the Ravens, they had Ed Reed, the No. 1 defense, a really good running game. The message was: Don’t steer us into an iceberg.”

Gannon likes Tagovailoa, like most former quarterbacks-turned-broadcasters who evaluated him.

“He’s an intriguing player; he fits the mold of some of these dual-threat QBs,” Gannon said. “He can make plays with his legs and has a great feel to elude the rush. He has good anticipation. The guy had amazing production. He’s got the release and accuracy and touch you like, both on the short and intermediate stuff and the mid-range stuff, and he throws a pretty deep ball. Sometimes he looks like he’s playing at a different speed than anybody else.

“The other part about him you like is he’s a tough guy. How he handled the locker room and the huddle at Alabama [were positives]. He’s got a lot of experience playing in big games.

“He’s got to learn that sometimes the only play is to throw the ball away, because the best ability is availability. When he goes outside the pocket, he’s got to protect his head, shoulder and legs and it takes a while for some of these guys to learn that. Even from the SEC to the NFL, the speed of the game on the perimeter is so different.”

As for Warner, his career track differed dramatically from Fitzpatrick’s, but Warner experienced in 2004 what Fitzpatrick is experiencing now.

Warner had led St. Louis to a Super Bowl championship and won the two MVP awards but eventually lost his starting job and was released by the Rams in June 2004. He then signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Giants, was named New York’s starter to open the season and won five of his first seven games but then lost two in a row and was replaced by rookie quarterback Eli Manning.

New York went 1-6 under Manning to finish 6-10 and Warner voided the second year of his contract after the season.

“My initial reaction was why now?” Warner, now with NFL Network, said of the Dolphins’ quarterback switch. “The team is playing the best it has played. Ryan Fitzpatrick is playing great football. But the very next thought in my head was where have I seen this before?

“Oh yeah, it happened to me in 2004 with the New York Giants. We were 5-4. We were a playoff team if the season had ended at that time and they made the move to go to Eli Manning. The big thing I remember is coach [Tom] Coughlin bringing me into his office and basically looking me in the eye and saying, ‘Hey Kurt, the reason we’re sitting where we’re at right now is because of how you played. This is not fair; this is not anything you deserve. But this is what I feel I need to do in the best interests of this organization.’

“It wasn’t about that season. It was about the future. So when that team was ready to win a championship, their quarterback was ready to win a championship. And we all know how that played out for the New York Giants” with Manning leading them to two Super Bowl titles.

“And that’s what you have to look at here,” Warner said of the Dolphins. “We understand this is a longterm decision for the future of this organization. The team is starting to play well. Now it’s get our young quarterback in there so he can play well as we get ready to compete for a championship. There’s going to be growing pains. Tua is going to take some lumps but we hope those lumps lead to the greatness the Giants got to see with Eli Manning. We hope the same thing happens for Tua.”

ESPN’s NFL Live analysts (Marcus Spears, Dan Orlovsky, Mina Kimes) spoke this week about Gailey using RPOs (run/pass options) for Tagovailoa.

CBS’ Phil Simms told me this summer that Tagovailoa is “not going to be a dynamic runner in the NFL; he’s not Lamar Jackson. He’s a pocket quarterback [but] he also throws well on the run.... Get rid of the ball [when pass rushers are closing in]; I wouldn’t say that to Jackson or Patrick Mahomes” because Simms believes they have more escapability than Tagovailoa does.

Dolphins rookie receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. was introspective on Twitter on Thursday after a tumultuous first six months as an NFL player - including a trade from Las Vegas to Miami.

“Sometimes I wish I went back to college for my senior year but everything happens for a reason,” he said, before adding, soon after, “And no, nothing is wrong. Just a thought at hand so relax please.”

Bowden, the Raiders’ third-round pick in April, was a first-team All American at Kentucky last season and starred there as a quarterback, receiver and returner, among other things.

Bowden — who is being used as a slot receiver and Wildcat quarterback with the Dolphins after being trained as a running back with Las Vegas — has played just 23 offensive snaps for Miami, the same number that Dolphins receiver and key special teams player Mack Hollins has logged this season.

Gailey said this week that Bowden is still learning the nuances of playing receiver in the NFL.

Asked how the Dolphins are trying to teach those nuances to their two former college quarterbacks (Bowden and Malcolm Perry), Dolphins receivers coach Josh Grizzard said: “It really comes from the reps, on those guys taking them. They can look at it as possible from somebody else doing it or things we’ve done over the last couple of years; but to physically do the reps themselves and feel the spacing on things, then they file that away for the next time they need to run it.”

Perry, the team’s seventh-round rookie, caught multiple deep balls in training camp but hasn’t been active for a game.

Not only does defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah rank tied for fourth in the league with five sacks, but those sacks have lost 54 yards, which ranks first in the league.

“He can do a lot of things,” defensive coordinator Josh Boyer said of Ogbah, who signed a two-year, $15 million deal this past offseason. “With a lot of things that we ask him to do, we can be multiple with that. He’s been able to do that and he’s shown constant improvement week after week.

“I know a lot of people, they look at... ‘flash stats,’ but there’s a lot of things that he does for us defensively that opens up things for other people, and he does a good job of setting the edge and we can move him around. He’s a joy to be around.”

The key to Ogbah’s success? “It’s just good film study, good coaching. Just let me go out there and do my thing and they trust me, I trust them,” he said. “They put me in the right position to make plays.”

We were told this week that the Dolphins thought they were going to land running back Le’Veon Bell last week and were surprised he signed with Kansas City.

A couple of factors that contributed to that, according to a source: 1) Bell loved the idea of playing for the Super Bowl champion Chiefs and coach Andy Reid, who has a creative offensive mind. 2) The Dolphins would not guarantee Bell a certain amount of carries or specifically promise what his role would be. He likely would have played a lot but there were no promises; that’s not how this organization does business.

Because suspensions are allocated for games and not weeks, Dolphins practice squad receiver Antonio Callaway’s status is not affected by the Dolphins’ bye moving earlier in the season, according to the league.

Callaway, a former Cleveland Browns receiver, must sit out the first seven games on NFL suspension, meaning he becomes eligible to play in Miami’s eighth game of the season Nov. 8 at Arizona, should Miami surprisingly decide to use him that soon in a game. Callaway can attend meetings but isn’t permitted to participate in practice until the suspension ends.

Quick stuff: Special teams coordinator Danny Crossman has done a good job with his coverage teams, and the front office and staff have found capable players to fill those units. Miami ranks No. 1 in kickoff return coverage (fewest yards allowed per return) at 14.2. Asked who his best players have been on punt and/or kickoff coverage, Crossman mentioned that Jamal Perry and Hollins “have done a nice job” as gunners, and credited Clayton Fejedelem, Kavon Frazier, Sam Eguavoen, Calvin Munson, Andrew Van Ginkel and Kamu Grugier-Hill ...

Fox will use Kenny Albert and former UM and NFL linebacker Jonathan Vilma to call Tagovailoa’s first NFL start, against the Rams. The game likely will go to a decent part of the country in the 1 p.m window of a Fox double-header Sunday, but Week 8 TV regionalization maps haven’t been set. Here are this Sunday’s maps, with the Dolphins off.

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