Tua Tagovailoa ruled out again; Dolphins to start Skylar Thompson

MIAMI -- Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will not play Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, coach Mike McDaniel said Wednesday, but he returned to the practice field for football activities for the first time in nearly two weeks.

Rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson will make his first career start Sunday with both Tagovailoa and Teddy Bridgewater in concussion protocol. The Dolphins' only other healthy quarterback is practice squad quarterback Reid Sinnett; McDaniel said it is too early to tell whether they'll have to elevate him for Sunday's game.

Tagovailoa was cleared by multiple independent neurologists to resume limited football activities, McDaniel said, which would put him in Phase 3 of the NFL's return to participation protocol. It will be Tagovailoa's first practice since suffering a concussion in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 29.

"In these situations, you are relying on all medical advice and what people can do and what we've been told is he can go out and throw and do some individual work this week," McDaniel said. "So that's exciting for everybody just because, you know, really we just miss his personality. He's a guy that we rely on that, not to mention all of his play and all that stuff.

"Now, when talking about this week and playing, I don't see a scenario -- I don't see him being active. I do not plan to have him play at all."

There is a "definite scenario" in which Tagovailoa clears concussion protocol this week, but McDaniel said it would be a disservice to both Tagovailoa and the team if he were to play him Sunday.

"He hasn't done a thing on the football field for literally two weeks," McDaniel said. "So, I don't think that that would be fair to the player. That wouldn't be fair to the team ... I don't feel comfortable putting him in that situation."

Tagovailoa was briefly hospitalized after hitting his head on the turf during the Bengals game, which occurred four days after hitting his head in similar fashion and stumbling on his way back to the huddle against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 25. He was evaluated for a concussion during halftime of the Bills game but returned to the game after it was determined a previously reported back injury caused the stumble.

The NFL Players Association triggered a review of the league's concussion protocol following Tagovailoa's quick return to the game and ultimately exercised its right to fire the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant (UNC) who performed his initial concussion evaluation. The NFLPA deemed the UNC made "several mistakes" during the process, multiple sources told ESPN, including not examining his back during the initial concussion examination.

The NFL and NFLPA agreed on an amended concussion protocol this past weekend that included ataxia as a "no-go" symptom -- which would require any player who displays ataxia, defined as "abnormality of balance/stability, motor coordination or dysfunctional speech caused by a neurological issue," to be removed from a game and prohibited from returning.

The Dolphins were the first team to experience the amended protocol last Sunday in a 40-17 loss to the New York Jets when Bridgewater, starting in place of Tagovailoa, was removed from the game after a hard hit on Miami's first offensive play. A booth ATC spotter believed he saw Bridgewater display ataxia after the hit and he was immediately placed in concussion protocol. He was not diagnosed with a concussion and did not show any symptoms during his initial or follow-up examinations.

Bridgewater has not yet resumed football activities as of Wednesday, McDaniel said, but will do so during Thursday's practice. Even if he clears concussion protocol by Sunday's game, however, the Dolphins are moving forward with Thompson as their starter.

The 2022 seventh-round pick completed 16 of 33 passes for 166 yards and an interception in relief of Bridgewater against the Jets. He also lost a critical fumble in the fourth quarter that set up the Jets' game-sealing touchdown.

McDaniel said he's confident in the rookie's ability to improve after getting a starter's workload at practice throughout the week. At minimum, he said Thompson should feel more comfortable just having another quarterback on the sideline with him, unlike his debut last week.

"It's huge because in a game experience for a quarterback, you get coached, there's a lot of stuff going on and you're taking in information from one, two, three voices," McDaniel said. "But then when you have a peer that has gone through it and has seen it, that translation -- it might be one word, it might be a pat on the back. All that teammate support is a very immensely huge thing for a player like that ... Having that support from his brother on the sidelines this week. Because it was a lonely sideline last week.

"All Skylar had to talk to was [Dolphins quarterbacks coach Darrell] Bevel and myself, and we're great guys, but not that great of conversations."