Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa pushes back on arm strength criticism

MIAMI -- Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is starting to let his guard down, head coach Mike McDaniel told reporters after the team's second day of mandatory minicamp Thursday.

Tagovailoa completed a pair of deep passes to wide receiver Tyreek Hill -- for 45 and 55 yards -- and made clear how he felt about the skepticism regarding his perceived arm strength.

"Yeah, if you've seen the third-to-the-last play we had -- I don't know if I could throw the ball downfield still, but by my account, I think that might have been a touchdown to Tyreek," he said after practice. "If not, then we scored two plays after that to Tyreek. So you know, however you want to write down any of that to social media or whatever outlets you guys are with."

One of the primary criticisms levied against Tagovailoa since he entered the league in 2020 is his perceived ability to push the ball downfield; since his rookie season, he ranks 30th among qualified passers in average air yards per attempt at 7.13 yards.

However, Tagovailoa led the NFL in completion percentage on passes at least 25 yards downfield, completing 50% of them -- but he attempted only 18 such passes, the second fewest in the league.

In an interview with Muscle & Fitness magazine this week, he claimed his lack of downfield passing was more of a result of playcalling than natural ability.

"I have seen some improvements on being able to push the ball down the field once again," he said. "I honestly think it's just practice. I wasn't really able to push the ball down the field last year because we didn't have plays specifically to push the ball down the field. A lot of plays that were called last year were meant for one person. Either this person is open or the play might be dead.

"It's a little different now. My second year was different than my rookie year and this year will be different than last year with how we go about doing things. I definitely feel a lot more confident being able to push the ball down the field. It's going to be exciting."

In that same interview, Tagovailoa said he spent a majority of his offseason developing his foundation and improving his arm strength and mobility.

The former No. 5 overall pick said he's aware of what people say about his arm strength, mostly because the Dolphins' communications department tells him to prepare him for what local media might ask him about.

In the past, he had declined to comment in depth about how those critiques make him feel; that was not the case Thursday.

"You know, for me, it's just zone that out," Tagovailoa said. "I mean, we come out to practice. Everyone else -- Twitter warriors, you know, keyboard warriors, whatever you want to call them -- they're not out here practicing with us, working hard.

"I don't know if you guys recorded that last one to Tyreek. I don't know about you but that looked like money."

Tagovailoa said this is the most open he's been with the media since arriving in Miami and his comfort level stems from McDaniel's efforts over the past few months to get him to open up.

Whether it's in the hallway, meeting room or weight room, Tagovailoa said McDaniel likes to pop in to chat, even if it's a brief conversation. He also said he's "never been around a coach" like McDaniel who is "extremely positive."

"I think his teammates have really noticed a difference in him; he's opening up," McDaniel said. "He's kind of coming in his own in that regard. And he's been unbelievably coachable. He's let his guard down. And we've been able to keep his confidence high, which it should be right now for sure, while correcting him and getting this game better, which is the ultimate goal for everyone."