DAVIE, Fla. -- Rocking a new offseason beard and a much louder line-of-scrimmage cadence, Tua Tagovailoa looked and sounded like a different quarterback leading the Miami Dolphins' offense during Wednesday's organized team activities. He also showed up without many of the constraints that followed him a year ago.
Tagovailoa said his surgically repaired hip feels "10 times" better than it did a year ago. The addition of wide receivers Will Fuller (free-agent signing) and Jaylen Waddle (first-round pick) gives him much-needed speed to open up the offense. Maybe most important, he is finally comfortable -- a buzzword at Dolphins headquarters this offseason surrounding the young quarterback -- with his game and the team's offensive playbook for the first time as a pro.
In his first interview with South Florida media since the Dolphins' 2020 season ended, Tagovailoa opened up about the factors behind his up-and-down rookie season while detailing why improved confidence and comfort will help him be a better quarterback in Year 2.
"Last year, for me, I wasn't as comfortable just in general. I wasn't comfortable calling plays," Tagovailoa said. "The guys that were here last year were phenomenal. I just didn't have the comfortability of checking plays, alerting plays. I just rode with the play, even if I knew it wasn't going to work. I was going to try to make it work.
"I didn't actually know the playbook, necessarily, really, really good, and that's no one else's fault but my fault. Our playcalls were simple when I was in. I didn't have alerts and checks. Where now, I feel comfortable and I can maneuver my way through these things."
Tagovailoa went 6-3 after taking over the starter role from Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 7, completing 64% of his passes with 14 total touchdowns to five interceptions. But he wasn't often aggressive throwing downfield, and coach Brian Flores replaced him twice in the fourth quarter of close games in favor of Fitzpatrick. Anyone who watched the 2020 Dolphins could tell that the offense looked different when led by Tagovailoa.
Expect that to change in 2021, with Dolphins co-offensive coordinators George Godsey and Eric Studesville putting together an offense that will better suit Tagovailoa's skill set as they replace Chan Gailey, who abruptly resigned as offensive coordinator days after the 2020 season.
Tagovailoa, who is the unquestioned starter heading into the 2021 season, already has a decent grasp of some of what Miami wants to run, and a fully healthy offseason has helped him focus on improvement rather than just hip rehab.
"Coming into this year, throwing isn't as much arm this year as it was last year," Tagovailoa said. "It's using everything, using my legs, using my core and my arms just following. Very similar to golf."
Flores agreed that Tagovailoa is "definitely more comfortable" this offseason.
Tagovailoa is clearly stronger and bigger in his upper body, something that can be attributed to his work at the Per4orm training facility in South Florida, where he remained to work out this offseason instead of returning to his home state of Hawaii. Several Dolphins receivers joined him to run routes and train as Tagovailoa hopes to become an improved leader.
"I didn't actually know the playbook, necessarily, really, really good, and that's no one else's fault but my fault. Our playcalls were simple when I was in. I didn't have alerts and checks. Where now, I feel comfortable and I can maneuver my way through these things now."Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa
The quarterback said the hard work and body changes this offseason were a direct response to some of his rookie struggles. Other priorities he noted included better cadence, faster pre-snap and post-snap reads, and voicing his opinion to players in the huddle and individually.
But some teammates said the Tagovailoa disrespect got out of hand this offseason.
Tight end Mike Gesicki delivered an impassioned defense of Tagovailoa on Wednesday, questioning the criticism of the young quarterback and trade rumors specifically involving Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
"He's dealt with people saying stupid, uneducated stuff about him that they're not right about," Gesicki said. "So he's dealing with that, and he's continuing to work and continuing to come in here each and every day, and I'm happy that he's our quarterback.
"The problem with the criticism is there's nothing behind it. The kid came in here, and people were already calling for him. He played nine games, and he did a lot of really good things for us, stepped up in big situations, made plays and I think got better each and every week, and now everybody's talking about his confidence and how he looks this year. Obviously, we've had a couple of walk-throughs and all kind of stuff. It still looks good. He's been working hard and investing a lot of time into this season, so I'm excited for his future."
Gesicki isn't the only one. The Dolphins passed on taking a quarterback in the 2021 draft and didn't trade for a veteran, instead using their resources to put weapons around Tagovailoa.
So headed into Year 2, Tagovailoa is more comfortable and confident. There's reason for early optimism in Miami. But ultimately, how far the 2021 Dolphins go will be up to Tagovailoa's growth.