Miami Dolphins training camp storylines: Can Tua Tagovailoa keep the good vibes going?

Miami Dolphins training camp will be a revealing month for third-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and first-time head coach Mike McDaniel.

Mike McDaniel’s first NFL training camp as Miami Dolphins head coach officially began Tuesday when the team’s 17 rookies reported. Unlike the last three years, Miami’s rookie class likely won’t be asked to do much heavy lifting in Year 1. Dolphins GM Chris Grier this offseason committed roughly $300 million in new contracts to veterans tasked with breaking the AFC’s longest playoff winless drought.

5 storylines for Miami Dolphins training camp

Fans will get an up-close (and free) chance to see those new faces — a group that includes elite talents Tyreek Hill and Terron Armstead — during the team’s eight open practices at Miami Gardens’ Baptist Health Training Complex beginning July 30.

But for all that’s new in Miami, the biggest story is a pretty old one at this point.

Tua Tagovailoa’s career at a crossroads

It’s hard to think of any player in football not named Deshaun Watson who has had more scrutiny over the last six months than third-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. And while the debate about his future can get a bit tired (particularly considering how much airtime cable sports networks have to fill in the offseason), it’s also warranted.

Tua is a former No. 5 overall pick who was the face of college football for a time. And if he doesn’t take a big leap forward after two relatively pedestrian NFL seasons, the Dolphins have more than enough assets to find his replacement in the 2023 NFL Draft (or perhaps via trade).

The good news? For much of the offseason program, he had the look of a player ready to thrive in McDaniel’s system. The last time McDaniel was asked a detailed question about Tagovailoa’s performance in spring ball, he predictably gave a detailed answer.

“I’m excited about where he’s at,” McDaniel said of this third-year quarterback.”I’ve just been waiting for those moments where you have a slight obstacle. Tua is very, very critical on his ball placement, and he’s a very accurate quarterback as a result.

“Yesterday, he had some throws that he demands better of himself. Like I told everybody else, today was the first day I got to really evaluate Tua because that is a professional quarterback in the National Football League. You’re going to have things that you don’t execute to perfection. You’re going to have people talking about how you’re not performing and guess what? No one cares. It’s about leading.”

“… I think his teammates have really noticed a difference in him. He’s opening up. He’s coming into his own in that regard, and he’s been unbelievably coachable. He’s let his guard down and we’ve been able to keep his confidence high, which it should be right now for sure, while correcting and getting his game better, which is the ultimate goal for everyone.”

How will Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle fit together?

Hill’s effort during his first offseason program was even more impressive than his fantastic ability (his 97 rating in the latest Madden trails only Davante Adams and Cooper Kupp).

Hill and Jaylen Waddle on the field at the same time will provide some big-time logistical challenges. They’re probably the fastest 1-2 receiver tandem in football.

But they also have some overlapping skill sets, so it’ll be interesting to see how McDaniel finds ways to use both. They’re both high-volume receivers — Hill was seventh in targets (159) in 2021, while Waddle was 11th (140) despite missing a game — who should be huge YAC weapons for Tagovailoa.

What will the new-look running back rotation look like?

No team committed more in free agency to the offensive backfield than the Dolphins, who added Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, Sony Michel, and Alec Ingold.

Two of those four — Mostert and Ingold — are coming off pretty significant injuries that could land them on the PUP to start camp. But if they’re able to practice at some point this summer, it’ll be a great preview of how the fall will look.

From a resource allocation standpoint alone, our guess is Edmonds is RB1, Mostert RB2, and Michel will compete with Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed for RB3. Barring injury, one of those last three will likely be cut.

How much does Melvin Ingram have left in the tank?

The Dolphins took a calculated risk at EDGE defender by signing Melvin Ingram to a one-year, $4 million contract in the spring. He didn’t participate in OTAs or minicamp but insisted he’ll be ready — and effective — in training camp.

“I’m 200 percent healthy,” Ingram said. “I feel amazing. I’m ready to rock and roll.”

Literally anything the Dolphins can get from Ingram will be an improvement over what the Chargers, Chiefs, and Steelers got out of him the last two seasons. He has just two sacks since the start of the 2020 season.

But if he has a career renaissance, Ingram and his 108 career sacks will provide yet another weapon for a Dolphins defense that has effective pass rushers in Jaelan Phillips, Emmanuel Ogbah, and Jerome Baker.

Will Terron Armstead be rusty after a long layoff?

We haven’t seen Armstead on a football field since Dec. 12, his last game of the 2021 season before the Saints shut him down with arm and knee injuries. The wildly talented but oft-injured left tackle underwent surgery for the latter, and the Dolphins accordingly kept him out of all of spring ball.

Armstead wouldn’t commit to being ready for the start of camp, but he did acknowledge in the spring he’s gotten a bit antsy to get on the field.

“I’m anxious to get into this offense, this scheme,” he said. “I think it fits my skill set pretty well, so I’m excited. I’m going to keep saying that word because I truly am. Just ready to get out there and show what I can do in that fit.”

A healthy Armstead is hugely important for Tagovailoa’s development. The Dolphins were last in pass-block win rate (47%) and 18th in sack rate (6.5%) in 2021.

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