When the offense is on the field, Tagovailoa hovers behind coach Brian Flores listening to offensive coordinator Chan Gailey's playcalls in his helmet and looking down at his play wristband before every snap. When the offense comes off, Tagovailoa sticks to starter Ryan Fitzpatrick's side eagerly awaiting information about what the veteran saw on the field.
It's all a part of Tagovailoa's sideline education. The calls for the rookie to be elevated to starter are only getting louder. But Flores is adamant he won't be pressured into playing Tagovailoa, who will continue to learn behind Fitzpatrick until his time comes.
"As far as [Tagovailoa] being a starter, we just don't feel like he's ready there just yet," Flores said. "Right now, we feel like Fitz gives us the best chance to win."
Tagovailoa is expected to be the long-term answer to a two-decade Dolphins quarterback question, so the amount of time he plays in 2020 largely won't affect the team's viewpoint. How Tagovailoa is developing as a quarterback, albeit on the sidelines at this point, is time well spent.
Coaches and teammates say Tagovailoa is always asking questions. Despite being the most efficient quarterback in college football history while at Alabama, Tagovailoa doesn't come off as a know-it-all and the veteran journeyman says he's easy to teach.
"I probably talk more on the bench than I normally would in-between series," Fitzpatrick said. "I want him to kind of understand what I'm seeing and to be able to ask questions even if it is in a game-like setting. ... It seemed like he saw the game pretty decent from the sidelines in terms of the stuff that we were talking about and the questions he was asking. 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."
Fitzpatrick and Gailey have worked together for years, and have a combined 37 years of NFL experience, so they speak football in a more advanced language. Dolphins quarterbacks coach Robby Brown, who spends a lot of time with the rookie during practices, has tried to figure out how to best reach Tagovailoa.
"My job is to kind of try to figure out what is working that [Tagovailoa's] learning, try to be a translator so to speak," Brown said. "He sits in every single meeting that Fitz does. You try to get him mental reps because you don't get a ton of reps during practice, and then narrow the game plan each and every day like, 'Hey, OK let's learn this part, this part, this part.'"
Establishing comfort in the Dolphins' game plan is a big thing. The offense is geared toward Fitzpatrick's skill set, so the eventual transition to the rookie would mean changes. In the meantime, Tagovailoa has recognized and pointed out to coaches plays that are similar to what he ran at Alabama, and Gailey and Brown have targeted other plays for Tagovailoa in preparation for whenever he is called into action.
No preseason games and a shortened offseason has affected Tagovailoa's progression. He hasn't played a NFL snap yet, and Flores doesn't like backup QBs being used in subpackages, so barring a Fitzpatrick injury, it's likely his first action will come in his first NFL snap. Couple that with Tagovailoa's recovery from a significant hip injury on Nov. 16, 2019, which means he still hasn't been hit or tackled.
Depending on Fitzpatrick's play and/or his health, Tagovailoa's time could come sooner than later.
"He's one play away from having to play. I feel like he'll go in and play well," Gailey said. "He hadn't been in a game at all so it'll be a new experience for him. He'll have to go in there with eyes wide open; but I think knowing the person that he is and knowing the type of preparation that he puts in, I think he's going to be ready when his time is called."
Tagovailoa has been in-tune with the Dolphins weekly game plans, and maybe his biggest area of growth so far has been understanding the speed of the game through mental reps and looking at the tablet after a series to see how a particular play worked.
Brown says in-week responsibilities for Fitzpatrick and Tagovailoa are "very similar" with the rookie going through the same checklist of defensive personnel and situational football. The biggest difference, of course, is that Fitzpatrick gets far more on-field reps in practice while Tagovailoa has to maximize his growth primarily in walk-throughs, 7-on-7s and individual drills.
Tagovailoa being deemed not ready yet shouldn't be viewed as a damning criticism. With Fitzpatrick having a big head start and Tagovailoa's past injury and truncated offseason all in a season in which the Dolphins aren't truly championship contenders, there simply is no rush to play the rookie.
Tua Time will come, and when it does his sideline education will play a key role in how he performs on the field.