INDIANAPOLIS — “Tank for Tua.”
It wasn’t all that long ago that it was the rallying cry for Dolphins fans, who were left with little to hope for other than to be in position to draft Alabama’s star quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, in April.
With the Dolphins clearly entering a rebuilding phase by trading away quarterback Ryan Tannehill, wide receiver Kenny Stills, left tackle Laremy Tunsil and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, it was all about building from the ground up. Starting with the quarterback of the future.
The idea was that the Dolphins would be so bad under first-year coach Brian Flores that they’d end up with the first overall draft pick and be in position to take Tagovailoa.
Well, the Dolphins still may end up with Tagovailoa, albeit through a series of unforeseen circumstances.
For starters, they didn’t tank, rallying from an 0-7 start to go 5-11 and earn the fifth overall draft slot. And Tagovailoa, who had performed so brilliantly during and after the Crimson Tide’s 2017 national championship season, suffered a season-ending hip injury last season, putting his draft status in question.
Throw in Joe Burrow’s spectacular run at LSU last season, a performance that has earned him presumptive status as the first overall pick by the Bengals, and Tagovailoa’s future whereabouts aren’t as definite as previously expected.
The good news for Tagovailoa: He should be physically ready to go in the very near future.
“Up to this point,” Tagovailoa said Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine, “I’ve been rehabbing my butt off. After March 9, when I get the clearance from my doctors, then it’s full go up until my Pro Day [on April 9].”
The NFL Draft begins April 23.
The 6-1, 218-pound quarterback was brilliant in his time as Alabama’s starter, throwing 87 touchdown passes and just 11 interceptions in 33 games. But he suffered a hip injury against Mississippi State on Nov. 16. The injury — diagnosed as a dislocated hip and posterior wall fracture — is more commonly associated with automobile crashes than football games, and Tagovailoa required surgery to repair the damage.
The surgery went well. Very well, in fact — to the point where Tagovailoa should have no lingering effects. At least physically. Whether NFL teams now view him with a note of caution, wondering if he may be injury prone, that shouldn’t stop him from being among the first picks in the draft. And while the Bengals are widely expected to make Burrow the first overall pick, there could be a team willing to trade up, possibly for Burrow, or possibly for Tagovailoa.
Whatever the case, he can’t wait to play football again.
“Mentally, it’s been a grind, the rehab process has been a grind,” he said.
It’s something he’s grown accustomed to, something that is also of concern to any team ready to draft him.
“It’s not something that’s new to me,” he said. “I’ve dealt with my hand injury, my left ankle and my right ankle. I sort of know what to expect going through this process, but it’s definitely been a grind.”
His injury history is surely a red flag to some teams, but his talent is simply too much to resist. Great arm strength. Great field vision. Excellent mobility. And off-the-chart leadership qualities. There’s not much more you could ask — except for a guarantee that he won’t be dealing with injuries when he goes up against NFL opponents.
And as we’ve all seen so often over the years, they don’t sell insurance for this kind of thing. At least not the kind of insurance that will keep Tagovailoa on the field. He knows there’s nothing he can say to alleviate teams’ concerns.
“I just feel I’ve got to be myself,” Tagovailoa said when asked how he’d address teams who are troubled by his injuries. “If I’m not the person for the organization, then I’m not the person. I just feel like if I’m just being myself going into the interviews, the right team will find me.”
As long as the fit is good, that’s all that really matters — no matter where he’s picked.
“For me, I’d be grateful whether it’s the first or the 32nd or the 200th,” he said. “I’d be grateful just to get picked.”
Rest assured, Tagovailoa won’t have to wait long on draft night April 23 in Las Vegas. It would be a shock if he goes any lower than No. 5 to Miami. The Lions at No. 3 and the Chargers at No. 6 may also be in the market for a quarterback. Let the trade rumors swirl. Tagovailoa doesn’t care.
“I don’t pay much attention to any of that, to be honest,” he said. “I’m probably not even going to see this interview [on television].”
If you want to get a fix on what kind of quarterback Tagovailoa will be in the NFL, think of the passers he aspires to become. On and off the field.
“I try to emulate my game after guys like Russell Wilson [of the Seahawks] and Drew Brees [of the Saints],” he said. “I text with them here and there. For me, it’s not so much what those guys do on the field that strikes me. Everyone knows how good they are. But it’s who they are as a person off the field and what they do off the field and how they go about their business that way.”
If Tagovailoa turns into another Wilson or Brees, then some team is about to be lucky. And if it’s the Dolphins, then they’ll have found their quarterback after all — minus having to tank for him.