Rams hope to make Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa’s first start a rough one – Press Enterprise

Rams hope to make Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa’s first start a rough one – Press Enterprise

On a November afternoon, in a Rams game against the Miami Dolphins, a rookie quarterback made his much-anticipated debut as an NFL starter.

For Jared Goff and the Rams, that damp day in 2016 began badly and ended worse. The Dolphins welcomed Goff to the league by tipping Goff’s first pass at the line and knocking him down on a third-down incompletion. Miami scored twice in the game’s last five minutes to spoil the No. 1 draft pick’s big moment and win 14-10 at the Coliseum.

“It would be probably pretty cringeworthy to watch it now,” Goff said this week.

Sunday, when the teams meet again in Miami, the Rams will try to return the favor by raining on another hotshot rookie’s parade.

The game between the Rams (5-2) and Dolphins (3-3) at Hard Rock Stadium will feature the first NFL start for Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the No. 5 draft pick who led Alabama to back-to-back national championships. The Rams have a ferocious pass rush and a nimble secondary. It looks like a rough way for a kid to break in.

“We know what we’re going up against,” Tagovailoa said in Miami. “It’s not just (cornerback) Jalen Ramsey. It’s not just (defensive tackle) Aaron Donald. You’ve got Leonard Floyd, (Michael) Brockers, (Kenny) Young. And then Troy Hill, guys on the back end.

“They’re very sound defensively. We’re really trying our best to prepare.”

Miami coach Brian Flores announced the quarterback switch from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Tagovailoa on Oct. 20, during the Dolphins’ bye week, saying the 22-year-old had shown in practice that it was time.

Speaking with L.A. reporters, Flores tried to soften the focus on Tua.

“Look, it’s a team game,” Flores said. “He’s a part of that, but there’s 11 guys on the field that we need to execute on a play-to-play basis to have success.”

That was one of the lessons from Goff’s experience as a rookie, when he struggled in a disorganized and 32nd-ranked offense on coach Jeff Fisher’s 4-12 team. A young quarterback, especially, needs help – from teammates and from a staff laying out a clear, sound plan.

Goff is better off now than he was four years ago. And Tagovailoa probably is better off than Goff was four years ago, with above-average protection and weapons in wide receiver DeVante Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki.

“It’s always different for everybody. I think my situation was a lot different than his,” Goff said, looking back. “For me, (there was) a lot of learning, a lot of figuring it out, a lot of, obviously, pains and going through some tough times.

“But I wish him the best,” Goff said of Tagovailoa. “I hope he comes out and plays well, but he’s young and going to learn a lot through his career.”

There’s more to this game than Tua.

The Rams will be trying to close out their season’s first half and go into their week off with a winning streak after beating the Chicago Bears on Monday night, their first victory over a team with a .500 or better record.

They will have a new kicker, journeyman Kai Forbath replacing Samuel Sloman after the rookie’s release Tuesday; could have defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson making his debut with the team after a long stay on the non-football-injury list; and hope to have tight end Tyler Higbee back from the left-hand bruise that cost him the Chicago game.

The matchup puts an emphasis on pass defense, with three of the NFL’s four highest-paid cornerbacks on the field in the Rams’ Jalen Ramsey and the Dolphins’ Byron Jones and Xavien Howard.

“Those guys are good, don’t get me wrong, but I’m in a different little league of my own,” Ramsey said with characteristic bravado. “They’re unique in their own ways and I’m unique in my own way. I’m sure they’ll go out there and try to show their value and their worth, and I’ll do the same.

“We didn’t get to where we were by not having that mindset, any of us.”

The game’s wild card is Tagovailoa. It’s his first start since the hip injury that ended his junior year. He’s a rare left-handed NFL quarterback, meaning he’ll tend to roll to the left more than the right.

The Rams say that won’t be a complication for their defense. But the lack of video of Tagovailoa at the NFL level could be. There were no preseason games because of COVID-19, and he took all of five snaps, completing both of his passes, when he relieved Fitzpatrick in a blowout win over the Jets on Sunday.

Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley said he saw enough of Tagovailoa at Alabama to have “a lot of respect.”

“You know, it’s difficult to become a leader at a place like that, full of future NFL players,” Staley said. “A lot will be made of his first opportunity, but they (the Dolphins) wouldn’t be putting him out there if they didn’t feel like he was ready.”

Staley said Tagovailoa’s mobility presents the biggest challenge.

“He really plays the game like a point guard. He can keep his eyes down the field and throw the ball accurately,” Staley said. “So our edges will have to be secure within the pocket and make sure our rush plan is secure and sound and that we stay connected in coverage, because you’re going to have some downs where you have to defend longer in the down with him.”