Nick Saban was prescient. It was 10 days before the Miami Dolphins drafted Tua Tagovailoa, and ESPN had Saban on to talk about his star quarterback.
Tagovailoa (and his major reconstructive hip surgery) was the No. 1 story of the pre-draft process, and Saban was asked about the perception that Tua — who also had two ankle surgeries during his three years at Alabama — was injury-prone.
Saban responded with a bit of advice for Tua:
“He does not give up on a play, and it’s because he’s a great competitor. You certainly don’t want to inhibit that spirit in any way, shape, or form, but there’s also a time to be smart. Both ankle injuries and the hip injury that he got this year were all because he tried to make a play when the play had broken down.”
Can Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa Play It Safe?
Flash-forward 30 months and Tua’s current coach — Mike McDaniel — said the same thing after another significant Tagovailoa injury that dominated the national discourse:
“There’s risks in this game, and you’ve got to be able to control the controllables,” McDaniel said Monday. “One thing for him is you love his competitive nature, but there is a time in a play where you have to kind of concede, and that’s where he’s kind of been focusing on because it’s something that’s not natural to him.
“He wants to break every tackle, and he doesn’t like when plays don’t work. Well, sometimes they won’t. So that’s something that he’s mindful of.
“I think that that’s a consistency of all the really great quarterbacks that you think of, the guys that you look up to, the guys that kind of set forth the example of how to play the position, they do find ways to be available. And part of that is that concession, but that is — all things considered, that’s probably a good problem to have in terms of a competitor. You just need to be able to understand your importance to the team and how sometimes the best play you can make is a throwaway.”
Certainly, Tua wishes he had back his last snap of the Bengals game when he held onto the ball for six seconds before Bengals defensive tackle Josh Tupou slung him to the ground. The force caused the back of his head to bounce off the ground, triggering a scary concussion that resulted in Tagovailoa’s hospitalization.
Tua hasn’t played since. But that’s expected to change this Sunday. Tagovailoa has cleared the concussion protocol and is preparing as if he’ll be the starter in Week 7.
But unless he modifies his behavior, the odds are very high he will get hurt again. Since being named the Dolphins’ starter in Week 8 of the 2020 season, Tagovailoa has missed seven games due to a variety of injuries.
And while not all were preventable — the hit by A.J. Epenesa that broke his ribs last fall came no more than two seconds after the ball was snapped — some were.
That’s why McDaniel has stressed that Tua needs to be OK with surviving to fight another play when things go sideways.
“He’s a captain,” McDaniel said. “He’s a captain for a reason, and as I’ve told you guys from the onset, I think he’s a very, very good player at that position. So very good players, they definitely give people a boost — not because of what other people aren’t but more just because he is who he is. So he’s a strong fabric of this team, and that’s exciting when you get to go play with one of your brothers, which is why the team will be excited, and it will be exciting.”