1 of 5 | Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (R) has increased his leadership ability this off-season. File Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo
MIAMI GARDENS, June 9 (UPI) -- Coach Mike McDaniel says the Miami Dolphins are more mature and playing with more intention this off-season, while players maintain quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has improved his abilities as a team leader.
The Dolphins met for their final day of mandatory mini-camp Thursday at the Baptist Health Training Complex in Miami Gardens, Fla. Tagovailoa will enter his fourth season on the heels of his best campaign, which also was marked by several concussion-related hiatuses.
The Dolphins started last season 8-3, but struggled down the stretch with six losses in their last seven games, including a first-round playoff defeat by the Buffalo Bills.
McDaniel, known as an offense guru, led the Dolphins to the fourth-most yards and points in the NFL in 2022-23, his first season as a head coach.
The Dolphins' defense ranked fourth against the run, but allowed the sixth-most passing yards and ninth-most points. It also forced the second-fewest turnovers and was among the most penalized teams in the NFL.
"Collectively, I see a more mature, more intentional, more focused group," McDaniel said. "And we had a fairly focused group last year.
"But in everything that we've done, every Phase 1 meeting, every Phase 2 thing on the field, every Phase 3 practice, I can honestly say that guys got something out of each day.
"That is hard pressed to do with all the different variables and it takes a cohesion of an organization because players have to trust the intent of the coaches, players have to trust the awesome, unbelievable training staff we have. They have to be the right type of human beings who are trying to be great and willing to do the work to be so."
McDaniel said that because of the NFL's "natural turnover," meaning free agency, trades, releases and other personnel changes, he's entering the new season with an open mind and doesn't want to make assumptions about the roster.
He mentioned reducing penalties and turnovers and improving pre-snap formations as areas in which the Dolphins need to improve.
Several veterans from last year remain on the depth chart, including cornerback Xavien Howard and linebacker Bradley Chubb, while off-season additions Jalen Ramsey, DeShon Elliott and others should improve the defense's overall ability and discipline.
McDaniel said he sees team showing "some glimpses" of improvement.
On the offensive side, Tyreek Hill, fellow wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and Tagovailoa are expected to produce another explosive season. But Hill said Tagovailoa's presence has extended beyond the offense as he morphs into an improved team leader.
"Tua has stepped up a lot in his leadership role," Hill said. "I know last year was my first year playing with him, but seeing him this year, he's more vocal with the offense and leading group chats and stuff like that.
"He is organizing workouts outside of the Miami Dolphins stadium. I told him when I first got here, 'Bro, you should be comfortable with telling a group of wideouts to just meet you somewhere.' We're going to pull up regardless, so he's been doing a great job."
Tagovailoa, who added more weight and muscle this off-season, says he is working on "everything," including being able to "push the ball a lot more downfield."
Sources told ESPN earlier this off-season that Tagovailoa recently stopped a practice that started sloppy. He then held teammates accountable by talking to them before the session resumed.
Tagovailoa led the NFL with a 105.5 quarterback rating last season. He completed 64.8% of his throws for 3,548 yards, 25 scores and eight interceptions in 13 starts. He also led the league with 8.9 yards per attempt and 13.7 yards per completion.
He is entering the fourth year of his rookie contract. In March, the Dolphins picked up his $23.4 million fifth-year option. Tagovailoa could significantly improve the value of his next contract with a stellar 2023-24 campaign.
"We're only going to go as far as our quarterback is going to take us," Hill said of Tagovailoa. "He's QB1, so that's the only thing I watch."
The Dolphins will host the Atlanta Falcons in their preseason opener Aug. 11 in Miami Gardens.