MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Tua Tagovailoa right now might be the most dependable part of the Miami Dolphins’ offense.
In his 2022 debut Saturday — which came against the Las Vegas Raiders in a wholly forgettable preseason game — Tagovailoa was the guy we’ve seen in practice for the past three weeks. Playing without Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, Tua didn’t take any real risks, but was accurate and careful with the football. He connected on 75% of his attempts but didn’t have a completion longer than 17 yards.
Miami Dolphins offense not yet ready for prime time
Certainly, the Dolphins will need Tagovailoa to take more chances when the games start counting. But under new coach Mike McDaniel, Tua will be more point guard than long-range shooter. For that formula to work, however, a couple of things need to happen that flopped in a big way Saturday:
He’ll need a productive ground attack. And he’ll need Mike Gesicki to play like Mike Gesicki.
In that regard, the Dolphins went 0 for 2 in Saturday’s 15-13 loss.
For the second straight week, the Dolphins’ run game was more like a crawl game. Miami averaged 2.1 yards per carry — and even that number was rosier than reality.
Had Salvon Ahmed not broken loose for a 12-yard gain late in regulation, the Dolphins would have averaged basically one yard per attempt.
It was the second time in eight days the offensive line struggled to control the point of attack — which is a bit alarming, considering that four-fifths of Miami’s starting lineup was on the field Saturday (only Terron Armstead got the night off).
“Our players were caught off guard with something that they hadn’t really seen on tape,” McDaniel explained. “And in the NFL, you have to be able to do that. I’m happy that there’s no false sense of comfort level. It does raise the urgency for the offensive line, tight ends, and receivers blocking.”
McDaniel added: “It’s cause for your attention, but at the same time, there’s no panic button. Can we learn from it? If the same thing happens next week, that will be more concerning for me. I think the guys have a lot of pride. We emphasize the run game a lot. We obviously want more production and that’s what we expect from ourselves moving forward.”
While scheme and game-planning certainly played a role in the sluggish night, Liam Eichenberg, the Dolphins’ starting left guard, suggested the offensive line’s issue was far more basic.
“I would say for me, and probably for all of us, is fundamentals,” Eichenberg added. “Coming off the ball hard, getting our hands inside, and then just aiming points. They gave us a lot of movement in the beginning, so just kind of got to see it from that standpoint and communicate correctly.”
You can be sure that Bill Belichick and the Patriots — who visit Miami in Week 1 — will throw a lot of the same looks at the Dolphins and keep doing so until they prove they can handle it.
Mike Gesicki is a bit lost right now
It certainly doesn’t help that the Dolphins’ third-highest paid offensive player is, right now, a liability. No Dolphins player has been asked to change more since the coaching change than Gesicki.
He has played by far the most snaps of any Dolphins starting skill position player this preseason, working deep into the second quarter Saturday after his fellow first-stringers had been pulled.
“I need it,” Gesicki said in the locker room after the game. “I need all the reps I can get. I played receiver last year, I’ve played receiver the last three, four years. I’m playing tight end now. Any reps I can get live out there, blocking, putting my hands on another guy, going out there and working hard, blocking, honestly just working on my footwork, hand placement. Any reps I can get at that, I can use it.”
Gesicki, who is playing under the $10.9 million franchise tag in 2022, was always an imperfect fit in McDaniel’s offense. He was never a strong blocker, but past coaches found ways to hide those limitations by making Gesicki a glorified slot receiver. McDaniel has other plans for the fifth-year tight end, however, and it’s been a rough transition.
Gesicki on Saturday dropped a pass that hit him between the numbers and then later whiffed on a block that ultimately led to a safety. He also had a catchable pass jarred loose by a Raiders defender.
“It’s why he stayed in the game,” McDaniel said. “He was frustrated as a competitor. He knew he could make the plays that he didn’t.
“… We all appreciate the fact that he’s a competitor and he’s not satisfied with touching the ball and not coming down with it,” McDaniel added. “But as long as he approaches it like the player that he is, where he’s very accountable, he’ll be fine and we’ll be fine, and we’ll all be better for it.”
Added Tagovailoa: “Mike knows his abilities. He isn’t one to kind of ponder on it. Just think on it. Obviously, Mike’s a competitor. … I think for the most part, Mike did a great job. We’re going to be able to put it all together, and I know Mike knows that.”
But with just one week of training camp left, Gesicki, the offensive line, and the Dolphins’ offense are quickly running out of chances to do just that.