Vince Passas is as surprised as anyone, and Ron Lee he understands what the Miami Dolphins could be thinking.
When ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Tuesday morning that Tua Tagovailoa will be Miami’s starting quarterback, the general response from football fans was one of surprise. Starter Ryan Fitzpatrick is 3-3 so far this season and the Dolphins are in the playoff chase.
“I was at a breakfast this morning, happened to look up at the television screen and he was named starting quarterback,” said Passas, the longtime quarterbacks coach at Saint Louis. “Gosh, I’m so happy for him. I’m just elated for him and his family. This is a huge moment for him. I’m so happy for him representing the 808, the Saint Louis brotherhood.”
Tagovailoa offers something that Fitzpatrick doesn’t. When the Los Angeles arrives in South Beach in 12 days for Tagovailoa’s debut, Aaron Donald will be a focal point. The All-Pro defensive tackle has 7.5 sacks already, but was neutralized by double teams in a loss to San Francisco on Sunday.
“The Rams have a good (pass) rush and Tua moves around. Fitzpatrick is doing pretty good, but he’s not a quarterback who can throw on the move,” said Lee, who was offensive coordinator at Saint Louis before stepping into the head coaching role this offseason. “Tua is a guy who can scramble and throw on the move. I think he gets more reps (in the next two weeks) and that’s going to be the key.”
Tagovailoa was superlative from his first opportunity as a Saint Louis sophomore, entering the starting lineup midway through the season. He finished that year with 33 touchdown passes and just three interceptions. He went on to lead Saint Louis to an Open Division state title in his senior year. In three seasons as a Crusader, the southpaw racked up 8,158 passing yards, 1,727 rushing yards and 111 total TDs.
He then rallied Alabama to a national championship one year later. He finished his career at Alabama with 7,442 passing yards, 87 TDs and just 11 picks with a passer rating of 199.4.
After suffering a serious hip injury one year ago, Tagovailoa rehabbed and was selected No. 5 by Miami in the 2020 NFL Draft. His life has been a whirlwind with a documentary and media attention. He got his first game action as a professional last week, going 2-for-2 for nine yards to close out Miami’s road win over the New York Jets.
“If they’re talking about Tua starting, that means he’s doing well at practice,” said Lee, who took over as head coach at Saint Louis in the offseason. “They’re not going to start him for the heck of it. He looks healthy. Tua is very explosive. Moving around, he’s looking downfield and can make those throws, which is a bigger threat than Fitz.”
Passas echoed the sentiment.
“Fitzpatrick has pretty good numbers. When Tua went in, Fitzpatrick was really happy, trying to get the crowd into it. He showed genuine leadership, knowing his role on the team to help nurture Tua,” Passas said. “Tua must’ve been progressing well in practice for them to even take a chance with him. I’m shocked they’re taking a chance. I thought they would treat him the way Kansas City did with (Patrick) Mahomes and Green Bay did with Aaron Rodgers.”
Tagovailoa was relatively unscathed by injuries during high school with the exception of a leg injury during junior year. His three seasons at Alabama included two ankle surgeries in addition to the hip injury in 2019.
“He’s got that special spiritual thing about him. He just heals pretty quick from his surgeries,” Passas noted. “He works really hard in rehab.”
Just like that, the Rams-Dolphins game becomes must-see-TV.
“If it’s on TV, I’m definitely watching the game. I hope it’s on TV,” Lee added. “The fact that Tua’s playing, he causes a lot of excitement.”