Tua Tagovailoa's aggressive mindset, not mistakes, matter most for Dolphins

DAVIE, Fla. -- The critique of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa came down as heavy as the rain during his five-interception minicamp practice on June 15.

For those who doubt Tagovailoa, the eye-popping headline provided confirmation that he isn't and will never be good enough to be the franchise QB. For those who support Tagovailoa, the tweets and stories that followed the performance led to fear that their hope to see a Year 2 jump was just wishful thinking.

The truth is it's an overreaction to one bad -- and yes, that practice was bad -- minicamp session that was focused on emphasizing aggression and pushing the ball down the field.

"Obviously you want to be smart; but if there is a time to make mistakes, now is the time to make mistakes," Tagovailoa said. "We're trying to see what we can fit in the hole, what we can throw within coverages, come into the film room and then learn from it."

Five interceptions is five interceptions. But in a headline- and talk-show driven sports world, context is often the aspect that is missing, so let's add some from first-hand knowledge.

So as the Dolphins head into their summer break, my biggest takeaway from Tagovailoa's spring isn't the camp interceptions or his admission that he didn't know the 2020 playbook well. My conclusion is that Tagovailoa has turned introspective, embracing his Year 1 struggles and spending these months trying to correct them -- most notably, his downfield aggression.

"I don't think Tua is going into a shell," Flores said. "I tell him to continue being aggressive. It's using this time to practice pushing the ball down field, then we'll make the adjustments and the corrections."

This isn't about making excuses for Tagovailoa. He has to be better. Better than 2020, better than last Tuesday. Making excuses for quarterbacks is a straight road to mediocrity. No matter what Flores says about it being a team-wide pursuit, the brunt of the pressure is on Tagovailoa to lead the Dolphins to the next level.

If he frequently performs this season like he did in last Tuesday's practice, there's a good chance he won't finish the year as the Dolphins' starter and Miami will be on the hunt for a new quarterback next offseason. No quarterback has more pressure on him than Tagovailoa this season, and more scrutiny is sure to come, but June minicamp practice interceptions have zero role in that.

Headed into his second season in 2018, Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes threw seven interceptions in six training camp practices. He was the NFL MVP that season. Twice in his career, San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo threw five interceptions in one practice -- once in 2015 with the New England Patriots and once in 2019 with the 49ers, when he threw five consecutive interceptions. So it's rare and never good, but big-interception days happen during camp. It's about not making them a trend.

So once the shock of the June 15 practice wore off, I had a prevailing thought on Tagovailoa: prioritizing aggression in minicamp sessions should be more important than camp interceptions.

Tagovailoa might be the NFL's most polarizing young quarterback -- his overwhelming popularity and profile before taking a NFL snap gained him a large number of critics as well as supporters. But if we're being honest, Tagovailoa did a good job taking care of the ball as a rookie (14 touchdowns to seven turnovers). His biggest on-field problems as a rookie were his hesitancy and ineffectiveness on deep throws.

Among quarterbacks who started at least half the season, Tagovailoa had the second-lowest QBR on passes of 25-plus yards downfield (7.8), second-lowest passing yards per game (181.4) and third-lowest yards per attempt average (6.3). Simply put, Tagovailoa was too conservative and didn't maximize his deep opportunities when he did take them. Dropped passes, lack of separation and him being an awkward fit for the scheme certainly played a role, but Tagovailoa has and should take notable responsibility here.

He doesn't have the strongest arm, but throwing the deep ball was a strength of his in college. His career numbers rank among the best in college football history in passing efficiency (199.4, No. 1), passing yards per attempt (10.9, No. 2) and total yards per play (9.8, No. 1).

Too often as a rookie, Flores went to Ryan Fitzpatrick late in games because the veteran was more willing to make that big throw down the field. Tagovailoa has proven he can do it. He just has to prioritize aggression. If we see something closer to college Tagovailoa headed into Year 2, the Dolphins will be in great shape.

Interceptions are never a good sign, but Dolphins fans should want Tagovailoa to use practice to take chances downfield and figure out when to fit the ball into a hole. An aggressive Tagovailoa is a better Tagovailoa.