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'Guarded' Tua Tagovailoa thrives with positive coaching, new Dolphins WR Tyreek Hill

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'Guarded' Tua Tagovailoa thrives with positive coaching, new Dolphins WR Tyreek Hill
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was sharp during the team's mandatory minicamp practice Thursday in Miami Gardens, Fla. File Photo by Matthew Healey/UPI | License Photo

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla., June 3 (UPI) -- Tua Tagovailoa is enjoying Mike McDaniel's "extremely positive" approach to coaching, "letting his guard down" around teammates and displays improved confidence, the Miami Dolphins quarterback and first-year coach said.

Tagovailoa and McDaniel spoke about their progress at the final day of the Dolphins' two-day minicamp Thursday in Miami Gardens, Fla. The third-year quarterback also thrived at the mandatory session on passes to new wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who joined the team in an off-season trade from the Kansas City Chiefs.

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"I'm really excited about the reps that Tua is getting in this offense," McDaniel said. "I'm excited about where he's at."

Tagovailoa found Hill with several deep passes in 11-on-11 sessions. Hill, known for his ability to dash by defenders on vertical and horizontal runs, is expected to add explosion to an offense that totaled just 21 passing scores last season.

Tagovailoa completed 67.8% of his throws for 2,653 yards, 16 scores and 10 interceptions in 2021. The trade for Hill and the Dolphins' aggression in free agency displays the franchise's desire to surround the young gunslinger with capable playmakers, which should improve his statistics and already is boosting morale.

"I think his teammates have really noticed a difference in him," McDaniel said. "He's opening up. He's coming into his own in that regard and he's been unbelievably coachable.

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"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 and getting his game better, which is the ultimate goal for everyone."

Tagovailoa said he has had a "guarded" personality since he attended Saint Louis School in high school in Honolulu. He said McDaniel helped break down that guard with constant efforts to open up.

The 39-year-old coach frequently confronts the quarterback in the hallway and pops into meeting rooms and the weight room just to chat. Tagovailoa said that persistence quickly forged a good relationship.

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"I've got to really get to know you, really get to understand and feel comfortable," Tagovailoa said Thursday, when asked to describe his personality.

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McDaniel frequently breaks up tense situations with jokes for players during meetings and dry humor for reporters at news conferences. On Thursday, the first-year head coach wore a sweatshirt during a very humid South Florida summer afternoon so he could empathize with players who practiced in the heat.

"I've never been around a coach like this who's just extremely positive," Tagovailoa said. "Growing up, my dad's always been hard on me. My high school coach has been hard on me. Coach Nick Saban has been hard on me and all the coaches that I've had prior, they've all been hard on me.

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"He [McDaniel] is hard, but he takes another alleyway, if you will, on kind of teaching and helping."

Part of the Dolphins' dysfunction in 2021 related to a poor start to the season, a league-worst offensive line, a myriad offensive play callers and the eventual deterioration of relationships with coach Brian Flores.

The Dolphins fired Flores in January and replaced him with McDaniel, who is widely known as an offensive guru, a month later.

Disagreements about Tagovailoa's arm strength continue to be a polarizing topic on social media and between members of the media. He also often is compared to Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals and Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers, the other quarterbacks taken early in his draft class, who have been more productive than the Dolphins passer.

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The Dolphins quarterback also has had to overcome adversity on multiple fronts through his first two seasons, including the team's interest in other quarterbacks, multiple benchings by the past coaching regime and injuries.

Tagovailoa continues to say he doesn't pay attention to criticism on social media and on TV, but he is apprised of those trends through the team's public relations staff.

"For me, it's just zone that out," Tagovailoa said. "We come out to practice; everyone else -- Twitter warriors, 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 [pass] to Tyreek ... but that looked like money."

The No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft recently said that the Dolphins' lack of deep-ball play calls was partially responsible for limited long passing statistics.

The Dolphins posted just eight passing plays of 40 yards or longer last season. Tagovailoa ranked near the bottom half of the league in yards gained per attempt and completed air yards and was 30th in intended air yards per pass attempt.

This off-season, the team continues to post footage on its social media accounts showing off Tagovailoa's ability to get the ball down field, a hint of McDaniel's plans to unlock more of the quarterback's skillset.

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"Since we first got here, since April 4 started, I've noticed directly and then a lot of people have spoke on it: we are seeing a different side of him and he's coming into his own as a young man in terms of his personality," McDaniel said of Tagovalioa.

"I can't state it enough, I don't think people give that position its due for how hard it is. Yeah, there's a lot of acclaim. You get a lot of free dinners when you go out to eat and things like that, but everyone has an opinion and you're in charge of delivering the responsibility ... That's why I'm so pumped. I know he's gained all the new players on our offense -- that are new to Tua, like me. I know he's gained their respect. You can feel it."

The Dolphins will continue voluntary organized team activities through next week and are expected to return for training camp in late July.

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