If Mike McDaniel can make Skylar Thompson look this good, imagine what he can do for Tua

Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel is a winner for the first time thanks to a strong night from seventh-round pick QB Skylar Thompson.

Miami Dolphins rookie Skylar Thompson has been in the NFL for roughly 20 minutes, never gets first-team reps in practice, and as the eighth quarterback taken in the 2022 NFL Draft, doesn’t exactly have an elite pedigree. So he could have thrown for 500 yards Saturday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and it would not have changed the fact that Mike McDaniel will start Tua Tagovailoa in Week 1 of the regular season.

Nonetheless, there he was Saturday night, carving up the Buccaneers in preseason Game 1 — which was the first time McDaniel was the head coach of a game at any level. And that performance said just as much about the coach as it did the player.

Mike McDaniel’s influence on the Miami Dolphins is already obvious

Thompson — the big-armed slinger from Kansas State who had to sit and sweat as 246 other names were called in April — was viewed as a project when he arrived in Miami three-plus months ago.

No longer. Not after an excellent two weeks of training camp. And certainly not after completing 20 of 28 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown in Miami’s 26-24 preseason-opening win over the Buccaneers.

“It’s funny, I have to check myself when certain things will happen during a game or practice,” McDaniel said postgame, “I’ll feel myself getting impatient with him because I’ve completely forgotten he’s a rookie. We rely upon him as a veteran.

“… He left some plays out there, but the biggest thing was we didn’t have any turnovers as an offense,” McDaniel said, before praising Thompson for.his “efficient, good quarterback play.”

Credit Thompson for making the most of what might be his only real opportunity of the year. With McDaniel electing to protect Tagovailoa and QB2 Teddy Bridgewater from injury in the preseason opener, Thompson had known since Friday that the entire game would be his.

That’s unlikely to happen again the rest of the year. Tagovailoa and Bridgewater need some game action before the season begins on Sept. 11, so expect to see one, if not both, of them when the Dolphins host the Raiders next weekend.

But Saturday’s steady, and at times truly impressive, play by Thompson can only mean good things for when Tagovailoa’s third regular season begins.

Tua must know that this is a make-or-break year for him. But that’s not McDaniel’s focus. Instead of loading that added pressure on his young quarterback’s psyche, he’s trying to make things fun — which was rarely the case during Tua’s two years with Brian Flores.

“He brings something different that I would say none of us in our experiences playing in the NFL have been accustomed to with his style, his swag, who he is as a person,” Tagovailoa said during the Dolphins’ broadcast Saturday. “Just the aura of what he brings to the building, it’s been different and new for us in a good way.”

Please don’t take any of this to mean McDaniel had a perfect night. Far from. The run game — which is his strength — was non-existent for much of the evening. Dolphins’ tailbacks managed a meager 24 yards on 13 carries.

The Buccaneers sold out early to stop it and succeeded. But instead of forcing the issue, McDaniel asked his young quarterback to make the necessary plays.

And after a ragged start that included some slow pre-snap work by Thompson, things started to open up.

“I took the opportunity to tell him you need to get the guys in and out of the huddle,” McDaniel said. “He was able to adjust to that, while still taking each play one play at a time. You don’t know it until it’s real. … He’s a stud and we’re happy to have him.”

As for how McDaniel handled the emotions of his dream coming true:

“In the moment, I feel such an obligation to the organization, the players, the coaches, it just felt like I was trying to fixate on what my job was at the time. There were some goosebumps in the national anthem, for sure. For me, there was a lot of it that felt like practice. … I was just focused on doing my job for all the players. It was cool to get that out of the way so we can continue to focus on getting better.”

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