Saturday afternoon will present another first for Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa: His first NFL preseason game, which will come against the Chicago Bears at 1 PM ET. This will be the world’s first real chance to evaluate how Tua’s surgically repaired hip has progressed since his rookie season ended with a blowout loss to the Buffalo Bills in January.
Tua Tagovailoa gets first game action following rocky rookie season
“I’m looking forward to it,” Tagovailoa said this week. “I think it’s cool. Last year was a little weird for everyone but competing with your guys and not being introduced to what a game-like scenario would feel like, and just kind of being into a game, that first year — although I didn’t play — was kind of different.”
Tua’s significant injury occurred on Nov. 16, 2019, when two Mississippi State defenders landed on top of him while he rolled to his left. Tua not only dislocated his hip — the same injury that wrecked Bo Jackson’s career — but he also suffered a posterior wall fracture and a bloody nose.
But Tagovailoa was fortunate to have immediate medical attention, including surgery. Jackson, meanwhile, was unaware of the severity of the injury at the time, and the medical staff’s failure to act promptly caused irreparable damage.
Upon completion of the procedure, Alabama orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lyle Cain stated, “Tua’s prognosis is excellent, and we expect him to make a full recovery.”
How Tua’s hip injury impacted his final season at Alabama
Tagovailoa’s college career ended with that hit, and his life immediately entered a new phase — a long rehab period that stretched through his rookie campaign. The injury likely negatively impacted Tagovailoa’s draft stock. The Cincinnati Bengals elected to take Joe Burrow over Tua with the No. 1 overall pick.
However, the Dolphins were confident in Tagovailoa’s long-term outlook and selected him fifth — over eventual Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert, who went sixth to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Because of the pandemic, Tua had no on-field work with the Dolphins until training camp in August. Still, the Dolphins believed he had healed sufficiently to serve as the backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick to start the season instead of beginning the year on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.
Tua’s Dolphins’ NFL debut came less than a year after surgery
Tagovailoa made his NFL debut late in the Dolphins’ blowout win over the New York Jets on Oct. 18 and was named the team’s starter before the next game.
Tagovailoa would go on to start nine games, completing 64.1% of his passes for 1,814 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. While he insisted that he was healthy, Tagovailoa later acknowledged that he did not have his full range of motion and strength back until the 2021 offseason. It impacted his performance.
“I wanted to get stronger with my upper body, my shoulders, triceps, biceps, my core,” Tagovailoa said in May. “Then I guess you could say the focus, if we had leg day, would really be the glutes to kind of help support the hip. I think my hip feels 10 times better than it did last year and the confidence level for myself, I feel really confident coming into this second year after that injury two years ago.”
Tagovailoa added, “You never know you’re ready until you actually go out there and kind of showcase that you’re ready. I don’t think the Dolphins organization would have let me go out there without the medical staff clearing me, without them thinking I would be someone that could be injured if I went out there. They wouldn’t let me go out there. Yeah, if you’re ready, you never know off of injuries. You just have to go in there, and you have to go and try to play fast.”
Adam Beasley is the NFL Insider for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Adam’s work here and give him a follow on Twitter @AdamHBeasley.