Tagovailoa suffered a concussion on September 29 against the Cincinnati Bengals and missed the Dolphins’ next two games. McDaniel said the star quarterback is gearing up this week as a starter for Miami’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelersadding that Tagovailoa is eager to return.
“He’s focused on the laser. He’s in a normal mood, but he’s not losing his focus on the task at hand,” McDaniel said. “And that’s what I learned to love about this guy. That’s why he managed to be successful in a completely new language and system.”
Tagovailoa cleared concussion protocol last weekend but returned to the training ground for the first time on October 12. He was inactive for last Sunday’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings but was on the sidelines and had been present at the Dolphins team facility since his concussion.
McDaniel said Tagovailoa had “fully embraced” his leadership role over the past two weeks and was successful in allowing that role to replace his desire to play.
“He knows he has to be in the moment for the players playing and contribute however he can,” McDaniel said. “And so, he was very positive, but I can also say that he is thirsty for brotherhood, camaraderie, competition.
“It was just obvious to everyone around him that something he really loved was missing. And that’s a cool thing to find out in an unfavorable situation about a player you’re coaching.”
McDaniel was particularly impressed with how Tagovailoa stayed focused despite changing his normal routine.
“What you saw was that every practice game was telling the game,” McDaniel said. “After I say it, like he says in huddle, then watching concept timing, watching Skylar’s footwork, getting excited when perfect technique is executed – because he knows exactly what it looks like and then you go through a practice you’re used to being the starting quarterback which in the NFL season means you take every shot when the offense is in. So you get into a routine where it goes fast because you have all of this stuff going on.
“Well, seeing that focus last for the whole practice also shows that it’s not just about him, his selflessness, that’s why he has a unique aura of leadership that people gravitate towards because it is authentic, authentic and real.”
The Dolphins, mired in a three-game losing streak after starting the season with three straight wins, suffered a steep offensive decline without Tagovailoa on the court. In the first three weeks of the season, the Dolphins ranked first and second in the league in points per practice and expected offensive points added, respectively. They have since fallen to 28th in offensive EPA and 29th in points per player.
Bridgewater and Thompson started the matches in place of Tagovailoa, but both were forced off their only start due to concussion protocol and a thumb injury, respectively. Dolphins offensive lineman Robert Hunt said after Sunday’s game that injuries are “part of the business” of the NFL, and added Monday that while Tagovailoa’s return would be galvanizing, they have a job to do no matter who quarterbacks.
“Tua is Tua – Tua is our leader,” Hunt said. “He’s the guy who ran the show and we’d be happy to get him back. But exactly what you said – if not, and it’s someone else there, we still have to do our job and try to play a game and win a match.”