Everyone wants Tua to 'prove it,' which is fine, but what does that entail? | Schad
According to football analysts on Get Up!, NFL Live, Sportscenter, Good Morning Football, Undisputed and Pro Football Talk, this is a "prove it" season for Tua.
And, yes, The Palm Beach Post, too.
They can't all be wrong, can they?
No, they can't and no, they're not.
This storyline is fatiguing, for sure, largely because it's being discussed so often, and we'll be discussing it for the next five months and longer, too.
The concept of proving it is largely vague, but yes, to some extent we'll know if Tua Tagovailoa has "proven" what everyone hopes he will — if and when they see it.
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One can watch Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson, Joe Burrow, Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford, Justin Herbert and Lamar Jackson and without looking at box scores or cumulative statistics, know what they are.
Those quarterbacks have proven to be franchise quarterbacks. Those quarterback have proven to be elite talents. Those quarterbacks are proven cornerstones.
That the Dolphins explored Watson, and to at least some extent, Brady, does tell you that the Dolphins aren't sure.
To the credit of Miami general manager Chris Grier, he did not fib or embellish when asked this offseason if Tua can be elite.
"I mean I can’t say he can’t be," Grier said, with candor.
Grier added that Tua has won games, and that it's been a small sample size and that he's incredibly accurate, even though some question his downfield passing.
It would be surprising if Tua does not show improvement as a player and also flash improved statistics under new head coach Mike McDaniel. It's harder to say with certainty if he'll look like the fifth pick in an NFL Draft.
Some in NFL circles wonder how high Tua's ceiling is. But he's just turned 24 years old. It's too soon to definitely conclude that there isn't more to give.
McDaniel is smart and brings a smart scheme and he's smart enough to know that building Tua's confidence is essential to assisting Tua and the entire franchise.
The last coach compressed Tua, squeezing him to be a stronger leader and a stronger player and in the end the last coach did not think he was or would be good enough.
We'll all learn if the last coach was right.
It's very easy to say what so many national analysts have said. That Tua must be better in his third season. That Tua is further removed from a serious hip injury. That Tua has Tyreek Hill and Terron Armstead — star talents! — and that there are now no excuses.
So everyone agrees. And, honestly, Tua likely agrees, too.
Tua is scheduled to talk with local reporters Wednesday. He's likely to say something or other about how he holds himself to a certain level of expectations and that he will continue to work to become his best self.
"Good is never good enough," Tua said last fall, referencing how his father, Galu, has always been his biggest critic.
It's possible Galu and Tua may have found a few national analysts worthy of competing for the title of harshest critic.
Which brings us to this. How can Tua meet expectations? How can Tua end 2022 with the conclusion that, yes, he proved it? What is make it, not break it?
Well, how about this:
• Lead the Dolphins to the playoffs. The AFC is loaded and most place the Dolphins on the outside, looking in. Playing all or almost all of Miami's games, and leading Miami into the playoffs, would make a big statement.
• Emerge a strong leader. Tagovailoa was not a team captain in 2021. Expect that he will be in 2022. It doesn't matter so much if Tua did or did not want to be a captain last season. If he didn't, is that good? Or if he did, but wasn't voted captain, is that good?
• Top 12 in passer rating. This is not a be-all, end-all, but a reasonable goal. The Dolphins' backup quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, was 12th in the league in passer rating last year. This is the target. Tua finished 19th last season.
• Top 12 in yards per attempt. Tua was tied for 23rd last season. He's got an improved offensive line and at least four new key weapons, including Hill. Jimmy Garoppolo was second in the NFL last season, operating the 49ers offense.
If Tagovailoa can hit on all four of these goals (three of them will be proven or disproven without dispute or discussion) he will have a very good chance to return in 2023.
Now, there are some quarterbacks who perform quite well statistically (Garoppolo, Kirk Cousins, Ryan Tannehill, Jared Goff, Derek Carr come to mind in recent seasons) and yet continue to be a lightning rod of continued discussion.
Can they be elite? Are they actually elite? Can they win a Super Bowl?
Well, it is true that Garoppolo led the 49ers to a Super Bowl and he's about to be replaced, after his successor was drafted last year.
And it's true that Goff led the Rams to a Super Bowl and he was replaced by a quarterback, Stafford, who put the franchise over the top.
And so, like so many things in life, this is not and can never really be black-and-white. One reality is that Tua is so popular among fans that it's possible most might suggest their quarterback proved enough in 2022, even if the organization disagrees.
Tagovailoa can't spend this entire season worried about if Miami will end up using its two first-round picks in 2023 to draft his successor. And he likely won't.
Tua has a healthy mindset and approach to football and life. Yes, he'll be motivated to perform well in 2023 but it won't really be because of things people say or write.
In about five months, the true assessment will begin. And in about nine months, we'll probably know. Did Tua make it or break it? Did Tua prove it?
Be available. Lead the team to wins. Make smart decisions, but also make more downfield plays. And make some big plays outside the structure of the offense.
Make big plays in big games. Put the Dolphins in position to be playing in big games, perhaps more than the experts expect.
If he lifts his teammates up, he'll lift the franchise up.
We'll know it if we see it.
Then the topic bars and talking points on ESPN and NFL Network and elsewhere will change forever.