You know there’s a problem when the team-produced promotion video meant to hype up the Miami Dolphins fan base, hopefully creating some buzz for the upcoming season, leads to infighting, and mockery from rival AFC teams.
That was the predicament the Miami Dolphins found themselves in when the team’s social media accounts posted a video of Tua Tagovailoa throwing an undefended deep pass to Tyreek Hill from the back of the end zone on Tuesday.
The video was slowed down for unknown reasons one can only speculate, and create conspiracy theories about. But the punchline the Bills and Jets fans have feasted on was the fact Hill, a six-time Pro Bowler who has a reputation for being one of the NFL’s biggest big play producers, had to stop and turn around to catch a 40-or-so yard deep ball that was clearly under-thrown from his new quarterback.
And this was a highlight of an offseason practice!
“Is this the best the Dolphins could show?” @Nebraskaman9694 said about the video, which has 4.1 million views as of Wednesday evening. “In an actual game, this would likely be a bad thing.”
“The Bills own the east,” Gscool89 wrote in his reply to the video.
The video re-opened old wounds. It hints that Tagovailoa’s arm strength — his velocity on throws — remains a concern despite a feverish effort to improve in that area during his offseason training.
Nevermind that the former Alabama standout Miami selected fifth overall in the 2020 NFL draft has led the Dolphins to a 13-8 record as a starter in two seasons where his offensive line has been atrocious, his running game inconsistent, the team’s receiver unit decimated by injuries, and his relationship with his former head coach was toxic.
Everything has been stacked against Tagovailoa the past two seasons, the start of his professional career, but it’s the absence of a cannon that everyone can’t get past?
The video re-enforces that Tagovailoa’s career arc will likely be determined by whether or not he can improve the velocity on his throws, put a little zip on those 15-yard outs.
It didn’t help that his passing game coordinator/quarterback coach didn’t sidestep the arm strength concerns when questioned about it, pointing out that he needed to see the throws for himself, in person.
“I think it’s important for me to be able to see the ball come out of his hands in person,” passing game coordinator Darren Bevell said back in February.
Bevell wasn’t around when the media spoke to position coaches on Wednesday, so he couldn’t provide his assessment after watching a handful of practices. But based on what offensive coordinator Frank Smith has seen in phase two of the Dolphins’ offseason program, there are no complaints about Tagovailoa’s arm.
“I wouldn’t say we are limiting ourselves with anything,” Smith said when asked about Tagovailoa’s arm strength, and if it curtails the offensive game planning.
“He’s actually done a good job,” Smith said. “Everything we’ve done so far is extremely optimistic.”
But if it wasn’t, would Smith admit it?
Smith openly praised Tagovailoa’s anticipation and accuracy multiple times, which happens to be the traits that made him one of college football’s elites at Alabama.
Those traits have carried over to the NFL, but there’s concern that Tagovailoa’s arm won’t allow him to throw a full route tree, and might prevent him from connecting on deep passes to Hill, and Miami’s other weapons.
“This time of year we’re working the whole route tree, all different concepts,” Smith said. “The one thing [that’s impressive] is his ability to on the field process and deliver the football where we need it to go. From a fundamental, skill sets [standpoint] it’s been awesome.”
Let me be transparent about Tagovailoa, whom I spent two years lobbying for, serving as a driver in the Tank for Tua train before, and after he suffered his season-ending hip injury in his final season with the Crimson Tide.
Upon seeing his first practice with the Dolphins I left with the opinion that he didn’t have the arm I anticipated. I said to myself, maybe it would get better as the week progressed. But it didn’t.
Then I thought, maybe it would improve as the season progressed. But it didn’t.
And now I’m hoping maybe it improves as the hip injury he suffered in 2019 continues to heal.
That’s the hope, but it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t.
Chad Pennington and Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t have the best arms, and I’d put both on my Mt. Rushmore for the best Dolphins quarterbacks I’ve covered during my 15-year tenure covering this franchise.
That’s not a high bar, but it’s proof arm strength isn’t the the only quarterback trait that equates to winning.
However, Tagovailoa’s velocity issues could be the determining factor on whether he’s a placeholder, or a franchise quarterback. And the problem is only time, and starts will provide that answer.