Tua Tagovailoa struggled to grasp Dolphins playbook as a rookie

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa admitted he had trouble grasping the playbook during his rookie season in 2020. He needs 2021 to be different.

Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins are going into 2021 with expectations to meet and questions to answer.

The team showed significant improvement in Year 2 under Brian Flores, going 10-6. However, they missed out on the playoffs.

First-round draft pick Tua Tagovailoa started nine of those games and managed a 6-3 record despite some lackluster offensive performances.

What was holding Tagovailoa back? The playbook.

“I wasn’t comfortable calling plays,” Tagovailoa said, per the Miami Herald. “I think the guys that were here last year were phenomenal. I just didn’t have the comfortability of checking plays, alerting plays and doing that. I just rode with the play, even if I knew it wasn’t going to work. I was going to try to make it work still.”

It wasn’t just about what Tagovailoa did at the line.

“I didn’t actually know the playbook necessarily really, really good,” he added. “And that’s no one else fault but my fault. Our play calls were simple when I was in. I didn’t have alerts and checks. Where now, I feel comfortable and I can maneuver my way through these things now.”

Tua Tagovailoa had trouble with the playbook in Year 1 with the Dolphins

Tagovailoa is hardly the first NFL quarterback who struggled to transition to the pro game. The vital question for the Dolphins is if his struggles were more about settling in or not being capable.

It hasn’t always been clear if Miami is fully sold on Tagovailoa, but Flores is putting his faith in him for the coming season.

That’s the tricky part of evaluating quarterbacks. Physical tools are essential, but true success is more often based on a passer’s ability to process the game. Tom Brady isn’t the GOAT because he has the most incredible arm the NFL has ever seen. The way he reads the field and understands how to exploit a defense’s weakness sets him apart.

What does that mean for Tagovailoa? You can’t judge a quarterback on what they did or didn’t grasp as a rookie. He needs to be given time to prove himself physically as well as mentally.

The 2021 season will be much more revealing. He’s no longer a rookie being plunged into the fire. And there’s no safety net this time for the Dolphins. Ryan Fitzpatrick left for Washington, while Jacoby Brissett is no threat to Tagovailoa’s starting place. It’s time to sink or swim.

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