Tua Tagovailoa’s challenge against Bill Belichick in Week 1 just got a little bigger

Adam Shaheen and Austin Jackson have landed themselves on the COVID-19 list. How does this impact Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins' offense?

The Miami Dolphins began Patriots Week with a thud. Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins’ offense had a difficult enough task going to Foxborough in Week 1. Things got a little more challenging.

Two significant offensive contributors — starting left tackle Austin Jackson and rotational tight end Adam Shaheen — have been placed on the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list.

Adam Shaheen, Austin Jackson to miss time on COVID-19 list

It was not immediately clear if Jackson tested positive. But Shaheen, who has declined to get vaccinated, did, per NFL Network — meaning he’s like out a minimum of 10 days. Dolphins coach Brian Flores did say “it’s possible” both are available Sunday, but given NFL protocols, it’s difficult to see how.

It’s Shaheen’s second stint on the virus list since the start of training camp — proving yet again that those players who refuse to get the shot are at heightened risk of missing games on a week-to-week basis.

“For me, it’s a personal choice and it’s bigger than just COVID,” Shaheen said last month. “I’m not going to elaborate further on that. There is – the NFL has been trying to push it. It is no secret that they’ve been trying to push it on unvaccinated guys. I’m going to continue to go through the protocols of the unvaccinated that they make me do. I’m not going to get fined.

“But they are not going to strong-arm me into doing something for more freedom when this is such a changing atmosphere and they are already taking away freedoms of unvaccinated guys,” he added. “This is just a changing environment and I’m going to take my hands off and follow the rules that they put in place for me. But they’re not going to strong-arm myself into getting it, so no.”

How long will Jackson be out?

Jackson, meanwhile, has not been asked about his vaccination status. If he is vaccinated and tested positive for COVID-19, he simply needs to be asymptomatic and test negative twice to return to action. But if he is unvaccinated, Jackson will be out a minimum of 10 days.

That would keep him out of the Dolphins’ season opener at Gillette Stadium. Miami has won there just once since 2008. At the very least, however, he will miss practice time with his team this week.

Jackson, the former first-round pick, was poised to take a step forward in Year 2 after an up-and-down rookie season. Even after Jackson’s rocky preseason debut in 2021, the organization has been privately encouraged by his development.

Who will protect Tua Tagovailoa’s left side if Jackson is out Sunday?

If he is unavailable to play, veteran Greg Little would presumably be in line to start. Nonetheless, don’t discount this scenario: Jesse Davis moves from right tackle to left and Robert Hunt goes from guard to tackle.

The Dolphins acquired Little from the Carolina Panthers during training camp for a seventh-round draft pick. Little has appeared in 14 games, starting six, since Carolina took him in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. The market suggests he’s a backup.

But the Dolphins’ offense — whose 3.9 YPC average ranked 29th last year — will be diminished even if he plays. Shaheen was probably the team’s No. 2 tight end target behind Mike Gesicki. The Dolphins were so pleased with Shaheen’s performance in 2020 that they extended his contract by two years.

Expect to see more out of veteran Durham Smythe and perhaps even rookie Hunter Long, a third-round pick out of Boston College.

When the Dolphins placed Jackson and Shaheen on the reserve/virus list, they also elevated cornerback Jamal Perry as a COVID-19 replacement.

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