MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Tua Tagovailoa took up golf about three months ago, and his father, Galu, gave him some advice.
“Keep your head down,” Tua remembers his father telling him. “And I’ll watch the ball.”
Tagovailoa is a self-confessed lover of analogies, and this one has resonance for this particular moment, as he begins his second season for the Miami Dolphins — and first as a full-time starter.
“It relates to what’s going on in my life right now, too,” Tagovailoa said in an interview as he drove home from work seven hours after practice ended last weekend. “For me, when I’m golfing, my job is to focus on the ball and make sure I’m hitting the ball. Don’t look at it. Go through your technique and your fundamentals and he’ll watch it. When you’re playing quarterback, you obviously have got to watch the ball. But the analogy is keeping my focus on what I have ahead of me, what play we have. That ‘next play’ mentality.”
In a 15-minute interview, Tagovailoa described — multiple times — what sounds like a defining characteristic of his life during his second training camp: tunnel vision. That’s certainly an advisable approach.
Tagovailoa’s rookie year, the follow-up to the “Tanking for Tua” sensation that made him an NFL headliner long before he was drafted fifth overall by the Dolphins in 2020, was a blur of recovery from a hip injury, a COVID-obliterated offseason, sitting behind Ryan Fitzpatrick, a curiously-timed promotion to the starting job, a benching, another promotion, another benching and finally, a season-ending loss to Buffalo that kept the Dolphins out of the playoffs and spurred an offseason of speculation that the Dolphins were already tiring of Tagovailoa.
In a place where fans who attend practice exit the highway at a street named for Dan Marino while wearing their fading aqua No. 13 jerseys, Tagovailoa’s undulating trajectory has made him the object of adulation, curiosity, nervousness and relentless evaluation. At Saturday’s practice, the football team from nearby Norland High School sat in the bleachers, the teenagers from the perennial powerhouse breaking down almost every snap. In one case, they noted that a Tagovailoa pass should have been thrown more to the outside to give the receiver a better chance to catch it.