A few minutes after competing in a hot morning practice in mid-August, you can find Miami Dolphins quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tua Tagovailoa and Josh Rosen seeking more ways to challenge one another.
On Wednesday, the quarterbacks fired strikes at a tire set up some 35 to 40 yards away. After about 20 attempts, all three have hit the target at least once, but there is a clear winner … Rosen. He has hit his target at least three times, and he lifts his hands in the air in celebration.
Unfortunately for Rosen, winning the Dolphins’ starting quarterback position won’t be that simple.
The rookie Tagovailoa is the Dolphins’ star attraction, while Rosen is the intriguing big-name wild card. The overwhelming expectation is that Fitzpatrick will start during the early portion of the Dolphins’ 2020 season.
But this Dolphins’ training camp is just as much about development, growth and the future as it is the present. It is important to take notice of Tagovailoa’s mobility and Rosen’s improvement, even if the QB1 seems like a foregone conclusion.
“All three guys are really competing. It’s a new offense, so the terminology and cadences — I think they’re all picking it up quickly and making good decisions, for the most part,” Miami coach Brian Flores said.
“That’s something that we’ve kind of harped on constantly, making good decisions — smart decisions — whether it’s throwing the ball downfield or checking the ball down or picking up the yardage for a first down. When we get into our two-minute situations, getting us completions, getting us into field goal range rather than going for the big throw. At the same time, we won’t be a checkdown team the entire season, either.
“All three guys are coming along fairly well. Hopefully, we just continue on that trajectory.”
After three days of padded practices, here’s an early look at how each Dolphins quarterback is performing:
The rookie franchise QB
No, Tagovailoa hasn’t yet looked like the next Dan Marino. But he has looked healthy, and he appeared mobile in various drills.
Tagovailoa has been slowly eased into action; he hasn’t yet thrown a pass in 11-on-11 drills longer than 20 yards. Some of that is to be expected, as he is in his first padded football action since suffering a hip injury in November while at Alabama. Hopefully, the training wheels will come off in the coming weeks.
That being said, Tagovailoa did go 13-for-13 on pass attempts during 11-on-11 drills over three days. Most were short passes — primarily slants or screens, but the ball didn’t hit the ground in team drills. The biggest positives the media saw from Tagovailoa was his mobility, showing fluidness in his breaks out of play-action, rolling outside the pocket and throwing on the run.
Tagovailoa’s best throws were over-the-middle intermediate routes hitting Mack Hollins (Tuesday) and Kirk Merritt (Wednesday). He has had two botched snaps on Tuesday with Michael Deiter — a natural guard who is attempting to learn the center position — that have spoiled drives. Strong catches have salvaged a couple of his slightly off-target throws, too.
“Obviously, he’s coming off the hip [injury]. He’s looked good thus far, from that standpoint physically,” Flores said. “As far as how he’s looked the first few days, some good, some bad. Lots to improve upon. Some good throws, some good decisions, some throws that aren’t so good, some not-so-good decisions.”
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) August 18, 2020
The entertaining veteran
Rocking a beard as glorious as ever, Fitzpatrick has performed exactly as we have come to expect from him in Miami — exciting highlights, plenty of downfield action and a few head-scratching mistakes. It’s the FitzMagic experience.
A pair of contested deep dimes on Monday from Fitzpatrick to wide receivers Preston Williams and DeVante Parker and a nice sideline fade on Wednesday to tight end Mike Gesicki reminded us of how he played in the second half of the 2019 season. But Tuesday was a rocky day, with a bad interception thrown to safety Bobby McCain — the lone pick from all of the quarterbacks in team drills so far — and another poor decision that Noah Igbinoghene should have intercepted reminding us of how things can look for Fitzpatrick when it does go bad.
Fitzpatrick, 37, is expected to be the Dolphins’ starting quarterback Week 1 at the New England Patriots on Sept. 13. His comfort in offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s scheme, his 2019 success and overall NFL experience (16 years) give him a clear advantage over Tagovailoa and Rosen. But Fitzpatrick knows the competition continues, and a switch to start Tagovailoa should be considered possible, if not likely, as the season goes on.
Despite that, Fitzpatrick remains the Dolphins’ consummate teacher.
“Playing Fitz helps everybody, no matter your position,” Gesicki said. “With his experience and his knowledge of the game, you’d be stupid not to ask him questions and try to see it through his eyes and get his perspective, so this way you kind of get some of his experience, as well.”
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) August 17, 2020
The third-wheel gunslinger
It might be a pleasant change for Rosen to enter training camp with less buzz, expectations or eyeballs on him than at any time since he played middle school football. The former UCLA Bruin and 2018 first-round pick is sort of the forgotten man in the Dolphins’ quarterback room.
Rosen has been arguably the most consistent of all of three quarterbacks. Instead of moping around or demanding to be traded following the Dolphins’ decision to draft Tagovailoa, Rosen has put his head down and gone to work.
Rosen, 23, had Monday’s throw of the day: a deep sideline go, right on the money to wide receiver Jakeem Grant. Though also on Wednesday, Rosen twice got caught taking sacks after holding onto the ball too long, and he nearly threw an interception, but his play has been more good than bad.
“The vision for Josh is the same vision for every player — come in, it’s a new offense. There’s new teammates,” Flores said. “He needs to learn the playbook, get to know your teammates, work hard in practice, try to improve every day, take advantage of your opportunities, take advantage of your reps and let your play on the field — what you do on the field will [determine your role] at the end of the day — you’ll earn your reps on the field based on how you play in practice.”
Rosen’s long-term future in Miami is unclear — eventual trade bait or a developing backup — but he certainly is performing better than he did over the past two seasons so far.