MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa responded pointedly to comments made by ESPN NFL analyst Ryan Clark that questioned his offseason work ethic.
Clark, a former NFL player, said earlier this week that Tagovailoa “wasn't in the gym” during the offseason.
Clark played 13 seasons in the NFL as a defensive back with the New York Giants, Washington and Pittsburgh. He won Super Bowl 43 with the Steelers in the 2008 season, made the Pro Bowl in 2011 and finished with 16 interceptions in 177 games.
“He might spend a lot of time in the tattoo parlor,” Clark said. “He was not at the dinner table eating what the nutritionist had advised. He looks ‘happy.’ He is thick.”
Clark also compared Tagovailoa's current body to a dancer at a strip club.
After Dolphins practice on Wednesday, Tagovailoa defended his offseason preparation and asked Clark to keep “my name out your mouth.”
“He probably knows more about me than I know about myself,” Tagovailoa said. "Ryan’s been out of the league for some time. I don’t know. It’s a little weird when other people are talking about other people when they’re not that person. It was just a little weird.
“I come from a Samoan family. Respect is everything. But if it does get to a point where — hey, a little easy on that buddy because I think we’re pretty tough-minded people and if we need to scrappy, we can get scrappy too. Just saying.”
Tagovailoa bulked up his frame during the offseason to better withstand the hits he takes on the field after two diagnosed concussions cause him to miss several games last season. The fourth-year quarterback also has yet to play a full NFL season without injury. He added about 15 pounds during the offseason in addition to taking jiu-jitsu training to learn better ways to fall on the field.
“I’m not someone to talk about myself the entire time, but it takes a lot,” Tagovailoa said. "Do you think I wanted to build all this muscle? To some extent, I wanted to be a little lighter. There’s a mixture of things that people don’t understand, that people don’t know about, that are talked about that go behind the scenes. So, I’d appreciate if you kept my name out your mouth. That’s what I’d say.”
After Tagovailoa's comments, Clark responded.
“I 100% take accountability for it!! I said it!! I meant it!! It was a joke!!” Clark wrote on X. “If asked why I said it by Tua I would tell him. I have 0 issues looking a man in the eye and telling my truth. I accept any consequence.”
Tagovailoa has been a national talking point since the Dolphins drafted him fifth overall in 2020. He faced criticism during his first two seasons when he hadn't taken the leap many thought he should, and there were questions on whether the Dolphins should move on from him.
Tagovailoa had a breakout 2022 season under coach Mike McDaniel, setting career highs in passing touchdowns, passing yards and passer rating. The Dolphins picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract in March.
“When it comes to the criticism and stuff, it’s crazy because when I first got here, I was like, ‘Bro, why is everybody always talking about you?’” said Dolphins linebacker Bradley Chubb. “He just laughed it off, 'Uce, man, I don’t know.’”
Tagovailoa said he tries to ignore outside comments as much as he can when asked if he thinks people use his name to boost their engagement.
“I try to live my life as private as I can so if they think it’s chasing clout, buddy, I’m the wrong person,” Tagovailoa said. "There’s nothing about me that tells you that I’m chasing clout, so I mean, go find Jake Paul or go find Logan. Go find those guys if you want to chase clout. Like those are the guys you want to chase.”
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Alanis Thames, The Associated Press