Brian Flores still has some concerns about putting Tua Tagaovailoa at physical risk at this point in the season — or else he wants the San Francisco 49ers to think he has those concerns.
Which is it?
Flores’ Monday afternoon news conference was less about the game that just happened (a 31-23 loss to the Seahawks) than about the game to come (Sunday at the 49ers).
More specifically: Who will be the Miami Dolphins’ quarterback in that game?
For the first time in weeks, Flores declined to commit to Ryan Fitzpatrick as his starter, saying instead — after a long pause and a bit of equivocating, added — “I would presume it’s going to be Fitzpatrick.”
When asked about his pause, and if that was a sign that Fitzpatrick’s performance against the Seahawks (he threw two interceptions and was bad in the red zone) put his job at risk, Flores replied:
“The pause was, we haven’t even gone through the corrections on the game. We’re actually in the middle of that right now. It wasn’t based off of anything in the game. I hope you guys don’t take that the wrong way. But, every week we come in Monday evening after we make all the corrections.
“Look, we’re a quarter of the way through the season right now. We’re obviously going to do an evaluation of our team from that standpoint, try to play the guys we feel are going to help us try to turn this thing around, play better in situations like red zone, in two minute, in the fourth quarter. That will be at all positions.”
And then Flores got to the crux of the matter: Are the Dolphins confident that Tagovailoa’s hip — now 11 months removed from major surgery — is ready for NFL football?
The Dolphins have already signaled it is by cutting Josh Rosen and making Tagovailoa active in each of the season’s first four weeks. Flores reiterated Monday that Tagovailoa has “checked all the boxes from a medical standpoint.”
Flores then added: “Look, the honest thing for me is if it was my kid, and he had a serious injury like that, I wouldn’t want his coach to throw him in there because of media pressure or anything like that. That’s kind of how I approach this situation and really all situations. With the players, they are my kids. So, no one is going to pressure me into doing anything. If we feel like he’s ready to go, we’ll put him in.”
Of the four quarterbacks drafted in the first round, only Tagovailoa and the Packers’ Jordan Love (who’s sitting behind future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers) have not appeared in an NFL game.
When it comes to playing Tagovailoa, Flores faces a decision with a number of complexities that go beyond the rookie’s health and grasp of the offense: The Dolphins’ record (1-3); the upcoming schedule (at San Francisco and Denver the next week); and locker room chemistry (Fitzpatrick is beloved, with long snapper Blake Ferguson writing on Twitter Sunday, “I would run through a wall for Fitz.”)
But the Dolphins could be in an unusual situation next April: A team with two top 10 draft picks (and potentially at least one in the top 5).
They own the Texans’ first-rounder, and Houston as of Monday was one of four winless teams. If the Dolphins are in a position to take one of the draft’s best quarterbacks in 2021, it would be good to have some sort of idea if Tagovailoa is the player they expect him to be.
For their part, the Dolphins players made available to reporters Monday wanted no part of any of this conversation.
Receiver DeVante Parker said Fitzpatrick has played “pretty well. He’s making adjustments, reading the defense. We adjust to things off of what he sees.”
When asked if Tagovailoa has looked ready to appear in games during practice, Parker replied: “Whatever the coaches feel who the starting QB needs to be, that’s who they’re going to put out there. I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do and doing what I can to help the team. That’s the coaches’ choice.”
▪ Parker, Shaq Lawson, Bobby McCain and Austin Jackson all left Sunday’s game to injury, only to return. When asked about their status for Week 5, Flores replied: “I’m hopeful we’ll get most everybody back for Wednesday.”
As for Byron Jones, who missed his second straight game with a groin injury despite practicing last week?
“We just felt like he wasn’t all the way ready to go last week. We’re hopeful that this week, we’ll see him a little more in practice. If he does well in practice, he’ll play this week.”