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Dolphins coach observed key to QB Tua Tagovailoa development at luau

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Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel was hired in February after the franchise fired Brian Flores. File Photo by Steve Nesius/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/b4049121c730e1f1f4abb96576772124/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel was hired in February after the franchise fired Brian Flores. File Photo by Steve Nesius/UPI | License Photo

MIAMI, Aug. 19 (UPI) -- Mike McDaniel observed what a key component of his job would be when he made an observation about quarterback Tua Tagovailoa at an off-season luau charity event, the Miami Dolphins coach said.

McDaniel spoke about the observation during an appearance Thursday on The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz. The first-year head coach, who was hired in February, attended the Luau with Tua on April 9 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Calif.

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"There was one moment, in particular, when he had the [Tua] Foundation event," McDaniel said. "I went and attended that. It was the [oddest] thing, this guy that was quiet. ... You could tell he was trying to please, but just feeling out how you wanted him to act."

Tagovailoa, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, appeared in just 23 of a possible 33 games over his first two seasons. He sat behind Ryan Fitzpatrick on the team's depth chart as a rookie, battled injuries and was benched several times during that span.

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The team went on to fire former coach Brian Flores, make heavy financial investments in its offense and hire McDaniel, who is known for his keen offensive mind.

McDaniel said Tagovailoa was "guarded" and had mental "scars" when he first met the quarterback. The coach also said he recognized Tagovailoa as an "insanely accurate quarterback" and he didn't think he was previously "put in the best position, necessarily."

"He jumps on stage [at the luau] with some bongos in the background and is dancing with this glow, his chest out, like confidence and bravado," McDaniel said. "It was like magnetic. I was like that's it."

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McDaniel said what he observed was "the spirit of the athlete."

"If we can bring it out on that field, that's how you can play the quarterback position the best way," McDaniel said.

Tagovailoa admitted earlier this off-season that he had a "guarded" personality. McDaniel and Tagovailoa's teammates said earlier this year that the quarterback is starting to "let his guard down" and keeping his confidence high.

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McDaniel worked on getting that guard to lower by frequently confronting the quarterback in the hallway and popping into meetings and the weight room just to talk.

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"I've got to really get to know you, really get to understand and feel comfortable," Tagovailoa said in June.

The quarterback said he has "never been around a coach" like McDaniel, whom he said is "extremely positive." He also said "teaching and helping" are key characteristics of McDaniel's coaching style. McDaniel told UPI last month that he uses his "vulnerability" and shares past lessons he learned through personal adversity to communicate with Dolphins players.

Based on his latest revelation, he also leans heavily on observations.

"I saw that [from Tagovailoa at the luau] and that was my immediate job: to get him like he was on stage," McDaniel said Thursday. "Just with his aura, because his skill set is crazy."

But McDaniel, who says Tagovailoa throws the "most accurate, catchable ball" he has ever seen, won't "force" his efforts to help the Ewa Beach, Hawaii, native channel his on-stage confidence to Sundays.

"His personality is coming out on the football field the way it should, in an authentic way," McDaniel said. "It's not forced."

The Dolphins will host the Las Vegas Raiders in a preseason game at 7 p.m. EDT Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. Tagovailoa did not play in the team's first preseason game, a 26-24 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday in Tampa, Fla.

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McDaniel did not say earlier this week if Tagovailoa and other starters would play this Saturday, but the quarterback said he wants to take the field against the Raiders.

"I wanted to play last week too, at least a couple of snaps," Tagovailoa told reporters Wednesday. "But Mike decided that then wasn't the time.

"Hopefully he gives the first offense an opportunity to go out there. ... We just figure out things on our own when we're out there playing."

Buccaneers, Dolphins practice together

The Miami Dolphins' Braylon Sanders (L) hauls in a pass under pressure from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Zyon McCollum during a joint practice at the Buccaneer's training center in Tampa, Fla., on August 10, 2022. Photo by Steve Nesius/UPI | License Photo

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