Should Tua Tagovailoa play in the Dolphins’ second preseason game? What he thinks

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With the Dolphins’ second preseason game at home against the Las Vegas Raiders drawing near, head coach Mike McDaniel hasn’t made a decision yet on whether Tua Tagovailoa will play.

The starting quarterback wants to see the field Saturday night, though.

“Man, I always want to play,” the third-year player said after Wednesday’s practice. “I’m going to be honest, I wanted to play last week, too, at least a couple snaps. But [coach] Mike [McDaniel] decided that then wasn’t the time. So hopefully, he gets the first offense an opportunity to go out there, hopefully get some plays in, understand some situations, how to manage a game. And kind of get back into the groove of things in that sense where we have no coaches on the field, we have no one to really line us up. We just figure things out on our own when we’re out there playing.”

Tagovailoa was one of about a dozen projected Week 1 starters who didn’t play in the team’s preseason opener, a 26-24 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The decision to sit Tagovailoa, McDaniel said, was because of an encouraging set of performances that preceded the first exhibition game, including impressive sessions in the pair of joint practices with Tampa Bay.

Watching from the sideline throughout the night, Tagovailoa praised the debut of rookie Skylar Thompson — who threw for 218 yards and one touchdown — while telling reporters that the Dolphins’ first game under McDaniel was only a piece of the offense the team will showcase in the regular season.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) speaks to reporters after practice drills at Baptist Health Training Complex in Miami Gardens on Wednesday, August 17, 2022.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) speaks to reporters after practice drills at Baptist Health Training Complex in Miami Gardens on Wednesday, August 17, 2022.

“A lot of plays that we’ve also been running haven’t been shown out there,” Tagovailoa said. “Those are just glimpses of the plays that we do have in our arsenal, but there are a lot of plays that we didn’t get to run, as well. To me, it looked really good.”

With the NFL shifting to three preseason games, the second — and now penultimate — exhibition game is perceived as the dress rehearsal, in which starters play most, if not all, of the first half. In some cases, they play into the second half.

However, many teams have elected to sit their quarterbacks until the regular season, citing the injury risk and minimal gain from playing. With a new scheme and multiple veterans such as Terron Armstead and Raheem Mostert seeing limited reps in practice, one or multiple series for the first-team offense could prove beneficial ahead of the team’s regular-season opener against the New England Patriots at home on Sept. 11.

“I don’t like to shortchange individual practices,” McDaniel said of the decision to play his starters. “I think that deciding everyone’s playing time based upon where they’re at for this team, for our young team, I think that doesn’t do right or justice to the individual practices. So we’ll be working through that and it will probably be about the same timeline that I’ll know as it was last week, unfortunately.”

The first week of the preseason was a reminder, though, of the dangers of playing key starters. New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson sustained a bone bruise and a meniscus tear on a noncontact injury in the team’s preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. He underwent surgery Tuesday, placing his availability for Week 1 in question.

“I would say there is some understanding of playing smart in the preseason,” Tagovailoa said. “Obviously, you want to get real-life reps. You want to get game reps, but at the same time, you want to be smart. These preseason games don’t count but they do add additional reps for us when we’re going out there to work with each other.”

If a string of positive practices was the impetus for McDaniel holding out Tagovailoa and the offense last Saturday, then the most recent sessions could lead to a few series from the starting unit. In the past two practices, Tagovailoa has thrown five interceptions, and he alluded to being unsatisfied with the offense’s execution.

However, McDaniel animatedly addressed the team after Wednesday’s practice, and multiple players said the first-year head coach was pleased with their energy after a sluggish Tuesday session.

“I was very pumped with how the offense and in particular Tua, came out in practice,” McDaniel said of Tuesday’s session. “I let it known early and often to the defense that I didn’t think they were performing to the standard. I think it was probably the most successful red zone period that we’ve had, certainly being here, offensively versus the defense. But after bringing that to the defense’s attention, we got into some situational periods and man did they answer the bell. And in those periods, we turned the ball over way too much, which was a great learning lesson for Tua.

“We hadn’t been in a couple of those situations yet. So we got to talk about it and learn from it. So overall, I had half the practice that I was pumped at the offense, half of the practice I was pumped at the defense and simultaneously being mad at the other side of the ball. All of which is either a blip on the radar or something that is some of the best stuff that can happen to you.”