South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

Hyde: Game big for Tua’s developmen­t

- Dave Hyde

Erik Spoelstra, whoknows all about winning championsh­ips, said something apropos to the Miami Dolphins’ big picture thisweek.

The MiamiHeat coachwasn’t talking about the Dolphins at all. Hewas talking about his own team, its developmen­t and direction this upcoming season. He talked about adding size to aHeat roster that needed more against theLos Angeles Lakers in theNBAFina­ls when he struck on a larger theme for all sports.

“Whenyouwan­t to win at the highest level and get that final win, you have to have pretty mucheveryt­hing,’’ he said. “You have to check a lot of different boxes. You have to be tested, but you have to have an incredible versatilit­y.

“You have to be able to have a lot of different kinds of things for different circumstan­ces. And opponents at that level, the elite of the elite, pose answers for every kind of question. So you have to be able to bring a lot of different things.”

The Dolphins have made significan­t strides, especially defensivel­y, toward checking boxes thisyear. Butdon’tgo crazy about a playoffstr­etch thatwould be a good accomplish­ment. They’re still not there. They still have significan­t boxes to check.

That’s neither breaking news nor a criticism at this point in their developmen­t. It does

explain the importance of playingTua­Tagovailoa, though, and that gets into the importance of him playing Sunday against the sad-sack Cincinnati Bengals.

Look at this Ben gals defense:

30thin sacks, 26thin in yards against, 21st in passing yards. Those numbersonl­y start to sayw hyit matters who plays at quarter back for theDolphin­s, Tagovailoa­or RyanFitzpa­trick. Someoneisg­oing tohaveagoo­dday— orshould anyway.

Look at the last four average-togood quarterbac­ks to play against Cincinnati. Throwoutth­e last two weeks of the struggling offenses behind the New York Giants’ Daniel Jones and Washington’ s AlexSmith.

Gowiththes­tretch of the four beforethat: Indianapol­is’ Phillip Rivers, Cleveland’ s Baker May field, Tennessee’ s Ryan Tan ne hill and Pittsburgh’ s Ben Roe th li sb erg er.

Average-to-goodquarte­rbacks, right? Not elite, nottopfive. There’s

not atop-10-rated quarter back in the bunch other than Tan ne hill.

These quarter backs burned Cincinnati foracombin­ed14 touch downs against three inter

ceptions and a 110.3 rating. They weresacked­atotal oftwotimes in fourgames. Theiroffen­sesall

scoredmore­than31 points against theBengals.

Doyouseeho­wthat translates toSunday— andto the Dolphins’ situation?

The Dolphins don’ t have a quarter back controvers­y by exact definition. It’sTagovailo­a’s job— if he’s healthy. It’s Fitzpatric­k’s role to playmentor— justas itshouldbe.

Everyone agrees on that, but everyone also should understand whoever comes out of this game should showenough sparkle for people to say, “That’s the guy for the rest of the year.” And not just people. The players, especially.

It’s one thing for coach Brian Flores to say, “This isTua’s team.” It’s another for him to perform thatway. He did so against Arizona. He needs to get back to that. This is a day that presents that kind of opportunit­y.

If you look at the big picture, the one Spoelstraw­as talking about in developing his team, that’swhy you needTagova­iloa to develop, to get these reps and get in line to check that most important box in football.

Flores playedit cute Fridayin lettingeve­ryoneknowh­e’ddecide onthe starter just after talking to themedia. That’s his call. It’s also alittle odd. What’s the point of notannounc­ingit? Acompetiti­ve advantage? Doyoueverh­eargood teamsdotha­t— orneedto?

The Dolphins’ record is ahead of its developmen­t. That’s a good testament to the coaching and playersmax­imizing their chances. Making the playoffs would be an accomplish­ment.

But making it withTagova­iloa would be the accomplish­ment this franchise needsmovin­g forward. The Dolphins made the playoffs in 2008 and 2016 in nice seasons thatwent nowhere.

Tua hasn’t played since being benched in Denver. If that defense presented problems, this bad Cincinnati defense provides opportunit­ies. It gives up points, doesn’t rush the quarterbac­k and, thanks to an offense without rookie JoeBurrow, should be kept on the field too long.

It’s a perfect opportunit­y forTagovai­loa to get his sea legs under him again and the Dolphins’ developmen­t to continue in good form. Making the playoffs? Nice. Butmaking them in theway where Spoelstra’s boxes are getting checked is what matters most.

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 ?? JACKDEMPSE­Y/AP ?? Dolphins quarterbac­kTua Tagovailoa needs to play this season to develop with the rest of the young teamto get it ready to contend.
JACKDEMPSE­Y/AP Dolphins quarterbac­kTua Tagovailoa needs to play this season to develop with the rest of the young teamto get it ready to contend.

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