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Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa spoke with the South Florida media yesterday and, by the time his fifteen minutes with the press had come to a close, the second-year quarterback and provided a great deal of insight as to why his rookie season was, at times, such a struggle. Tagovailoa still had his bright moments thanks to a masterful late-game performance against the Arizona Cardinals, an efficient effort against the Los Angeles Chargers, a 4th-quarter comeback over the New England Patriots and a frantic push to nearly catch the Kansas City Chiefs from behind. But the Los Angeles Rams game was a modest debut and AFC West foes from Denver and Las Vegas gave Tagovailoa fits; so much so that Brian Flores pulled his rookie quarterback from the game.

Tagovailoa stated early on during his press availability that he came up short of his own expectations in just about every way before offering the crack that was needed to dive further into the root of why that was the case.

“I’d say in every aspect – getting to the line of scrimmage, getting that order of operation down, my cadence, pre-snap reads, my post-snap reads. Just the whole shebang with that. I felt I wasn’t comfortable during my rookie year. So I’m just working on a lot of those things in Year 2 to be better,” said Tagovailoa.

I felt I wasn’t comfortable during my rookie year.

That is saying a lot with only a few words. There were plenty of theories floating around as to why the 2020 No. 5 overall pick’s play was erratic in stretches — many of which seemed to place the blame, fairly or not, at the feet of former offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. And, as Tagovailoa would go on to describe, the dynamics of the offense were certainly a limiting factor.

“I wasn’t comfortable calling plays. I think the guys (the skill players) that we had last year were phenomenal. I just didn’t have the comfortability of kind of checking plays, alerting plays and doing that. I just rode with the play even if I knew in a way that it wasn’t going to work. I was going to try to make it work still.”

Mystery solved, right? Tagovailoa didn’t have comfort with plays and did not appear to have the tools at the line of scrimmage to get the offense into the right play, even if it meant running into a loaded box. Surely, this is a damnation of Gailey, as so many Dolphins fans have long assumed. Right?

Not so fast. Because when asked to follow up, Tagovailoa pulled the curtain back even more.

“Actually what I’m saying is that I didn’t actually know the playbook necessarily really, really good; and that’s no one else’s fault but my fault. Our play calls were simple when I was in. I didn’t have alerts and checks whereas now, feeling more comfortable, I can kind of maneuver my way through these things now.”

A ha. There it is.

The Dolphins’ staff, once Tagovailoa was inserted into the lineup, gave Tagovailoa the portions of the playbook they felt he was most comfortable with in hopes that it would allow him to play fast. Many of the pre-snap adjustments, according to Tagovailoa were pared down or cut away all together, simply to avoid inundating Tagovailoa with too much information. Such is standard practice for young quarterbacks who are struggling to keep their heads above water with the influx in information that an NFL offense — particularly one that had pre-snap adjustments based on safety alignment, front shades and box counts.

So for all of the Dolphins fans who struggled with what felt like a vanilla offense when Tagovailoa was in the game versus Ryan Fitzpatrick, you’re right. For those who presumed that Chan Gailey didn’t trust Tagovailoa with the “good plays” that Ryan Fitzpatrick ran, you’re also right. But the root of that issue was, as stated by Tagovailoa himself, a workable knowledge of the playbook. You simply can’t ask a quarterback to run plays he doesn’t know. That’s how he, or someone else, gets hurt.

This is the risk that was run when the Dolphins committed to make a change at quarterback. They danced an unenviable dance for 10 weeks around trying to win each week and make the postseason with not drowning their quarterback with information and, subsequently, overloading him and forcing him to play slow. At times, it worked. At other times, it didn’t.

Granted, Gailey and the Dolphins offense staff could have explored alternatives (and perhaps they did and made behind the scenes adjustments) to get a second play into Tagovailoa in the event that the play was dead on arrival upon lining up for the snap. College offenses often implement signals from the sideline for adjustments — such is a very basic approach and one that isn’t sustainable week over week and year over year, but it could have provided Tagovailoa with the bandaid he needed to work around his issues with playbook mastery.

But the good news is that this issue, going forward, is an easy fix.

Master the playbook. And it seems as though Tagovailoa has been doing all the right things to progress towards that goal. The closer he comes to succeeding in that task, along with the marriage of George Godsey and Eric Studesville coming together to craft a playbook more tailored to Tagovailoa’s strengths, not Fitzpatrick’s, the better the Dolphins’ odds are of establishing themselves as legitimate contenders in the AFC.