As Dolphins starter Ryan Fitzpatrick led only one scoring drive and threw three interceptions in Miami's season-opening loss to New England, rookie Tua Tagovailoa was on the Dolphins sideline observing and taking in as much as he could.
With his helmet fastened for most of the game, Tagovailoa listened intently to the play calls communicated to Fitzpatrick from offensive coordinator Chan Gailey in the booth, while standing not too far behind Dolphins coach Brian Flores and his assistants.
And when Fitzpatrick came off the field last Sunday, Tagovailoa sat next to him on the bench to watch replays on their tablets, gleaning from the feedback Fitzpatrick, Gailey and quarterbacks coach Robby Brown provided after each series.
Whether it was a change in a defensive front, a different formation in the secondary or a certain defender disrupting a play, Tagovailoa is grasping how quickly decisions must be made on an NFL field in preparation for his eventual debut.
"I've probably talked more on the bench than I normally would in between series, just talking to him, talking through what I was seeing, what they were doing," Fitzpatrick said of Tagovailoa on Wednesday.
"I thought we had a good back and forth, good rapport on the sidelines. He asked some really good questions, and it seemed like he saw the game pretty decent from the sideline in terms of some of the things we were talking about and some of the questions he was asking.
"So, it was good. It was a good start just to build on that communication now, just being another set of eyes for me to be able to trust. I thought he did a nice job."
On Monday Flores quickly stated after the opener that Fitzpatrick will remain as Miami's starting quarterback over Tagovailoa for the Dolphins' home opener against the Buffalo Bills at Hard Rock Stadium this Sunday.
But it's important to keep the proper perspective when discussing the start of Tagovailoa's career in Miami and when his debut could come.
It's been roughly two months since Tagovailoa and other Dolphins players were even allowed to visit the Dolphins' Davie facility and roughly a month since Miami began padded practices, where Tagovailoa began to take actual practice snaps.
His progression to becoming an NFL starter is still in its infancy despite his standout talent because of a lack of team offseason training activities, a typical, thorough training camp and a preseason not affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Miami's opener was a good start.
"I think it was very good for him. He was very in tune," Brown said of Tagovailoa this week.
"He knew the game plan well so he was in tune with what we were doing, and he knew what we were saying. It was never a time where he was like 'woah, what are we talking about?' But it is a learning process. ... We'll try to get better at that each and every week and see how much we can absorb and how much we can learn."
Added Gailey: "I think for the first time, he was able to learn a lot and get a grasp. Normally you have four preseason games to get that. He hasn't had any."
Tagovailoa, who was not made available to media for comment, finds himself in a beneficial situation to start his NFL career, learning behind a player like Fitzpatrick, a 16-year NFL veteran, and from a longtime assistant like Gailey, who has more than 40 years of coaching experience.
Tagovailoa can also benefit from working with Brown, who played quarterback at Georgia Tech in 2003-04 when Gailey was the head coach.
Brown says he finds himself often translating the offensive language Gailey and Fitzpatrick speak together as the two are reuniting with the Dolphins after five years together with the Bills and New York Jets.
Then, Brown focuses on figuring out how Tagovailoa best processes information, whether visually, conceptually or hands-on on the field. Despite an offseason of Zoom video calls, they just met in person about two months ago.
"I try to figure out what's working for him and go from there," Brown said of Tagovailoa. "But he sits in every single meeting that Fitz does. He goes through, you try to get him mental reps because he doesn't go through a ton of reps during practice but you try to get him the mental reps. And then narrow the game plan each and every day."
Overall, Flores, Gailey and Brown believed Tagovailoa's first NFL game was a positive experience.
"We talked about the game and from the sideline what he saw. I think he tried to play every play in his own mind so that experience was good," Flores said.
Added Brown: "He did a really good job last week. That was the first time. We'll try to improve upon it each and every time and get him more and more in tune with what we're trying to do. We'll try to get better each week and fine tune as we go."
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