The Miami Dolphins selected Tua Tagovailoa with the fifth pick in April’s NFL Draft without being able to put him through a thorough medical evaluation, or workout because of the nationwide shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
But now the organization can finally get directly involved with the quarterback’s rehabilitation from the hip injury he suffered in November. Tagovailoa, the former University of Alabama standout, relocated to South Florida over the weekend, and on Monday the 22 year old began training at the team’s Davie facility.
Team doctors and trainers now have access to Tagovailoa because of the loosened restrictions the NFL imposed on every team due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Executives and coaches have been allowed to return to team facilities, with capacity limited to half the staff. And team trainers and therapists have been rehabbing injured athletes for nearly a month now, according to team sources.
Today was Tagovailoa’s first session with the Dolphins, who had been anxiously anticipating getting him into the building to see how he’s progressed from the injury for themselves.
“He’s a little bit ahead as far as where we would like him,” said Kevin Wilk, a renown physical therapist in the sports world who had been working with Tagovailoa at the Champion Sports Medicine facility in Birmingham, Ala., told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “We’re constantly trying to slow him down just a little bit because an athlete like that is just chomping at the bit just begging to get back out there. He wants to do more and more so we have to hold him back. And really, that was from the beginning. He always wanted to do more.”
Wilk said Tagovailoa’s hip fracture healed well after the surgery, and there was no wear and tear on other areas of concern like the femoral head (the ball-shaped part of the thigh bone inserted into the hip) or the acetabulum (the hip socket) or the pelvis itself.
Tagovailoa’s blood supply in the hip area was also not compromised, an issue that former star running back Bo Jackson dealt with for his hip injury, leading to bone deterioration, ultimately threatening his football career.
The Dolphins have had to wait for the opportunity to examine Tagovailoa on their own, and now that they’ve had it, can create a plan of action for when the rookie quarterback will be cleared to practice and eventually allowed to participate in drills that feature contact. That’s the first step to him playing in a game, whether it be in the preseason or the regular season.
“Quite honestly, it’s hard not to have your hands on them. Specific to Tua, he’s working hard, he’s picking up the information. But you want to get your hands on them, quite honestly,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said earlier this month.
Tagovailoa’s accuracy, instincts, athleticism and feel in the pocket remind NFL evaluators of a young Steve Young, who was also left-handed. That’s why many talent evaluators feel he can become a rookie starter immediately if healthy.
But it seems as if the Dolphins’ decision-makers are more comfortable with having veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, last year’s leading passer and rusher, serve as the starter in 2020. That is unless he’s beaten out by Tagovailoa, or fellow quarterback Josh Rosen in training camp.
In the draft process a handful of teams took Tagovailoa off their board because of concerns he’d likely have a short NFL career if the hip injury is re-aggravated, and blood flow in the repaired hip becomes an issue. A hip replacement procedure would likely end his playing career.
The biggest knock on Tagovailoa’s talent comes from his former coach Nick Saban, who acknowledges he needs to learn how to throw the ball away to avoid injuries like the one that led to his hip being surgically repaired last November.
According to a team source, some inside the organization believe the best approach for the rookie quarterback is to have Tagovailoa not participate in any drills that involve contact for a full year, with the hopes that the extra time given to heal will help decrease the odds of hip issues returning. And allow him to have a long and healthy NFL career.
The Dolphins decision-makers will likely build their plan based on what team doctors and trainers report back to them this week, and in the coming weeks.