MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Tua Tagovailoa began with measured sarcasm.
“I mean he probably knows more about me than I know about myself,” the Miami Dolphins starting quarterback said. “It’s a little weird when other people are talking about other people.”
Then, he turned more serious.
“I come from a Samoan family where respect is everything,” Tagovailoa said. “But it does get to a point where — hey, little easy on that, buddy. Because I think we’re pretty tough-minded people, and if we need to get scrappy, we can get scrappy, too.
Tagovailoa was responding to a question about ESPN analyst Ryan Clark’s recent comments.
Clark, who played defensive back in the NFL for 13 seasons, questioned whether Tagovailoa prioritized his health this offseason in light of the quarterback returning to camp bulkier. What was Tagovailoa doing this offseason?
“Let me tell you what he wasn’t doing — he wasn’t in the gym, I bet you that,” Clark said on ESPN’s “NFL Live” show this week. “He might have spent a lot of time in the tattoo parlor. He was not at the dinner table eating what the nutritionist had advised. He looks happy. He thick.
“He built like girls [working] at Onyx in Atlanta right now.”
Onyx is an Atlanta-based strip club.
The Dolphins list Tagovailoa at 227 pounds on their current training camp roster. That’s 10 pounds heavier than his listed weight in the team’s 2022 media guide.
Tagovailoa intentionally shifted his diet and lifted heavier weights for more reps in hopes a sturdier frame would help him stay on the field. Tagovailoa has battled injuries through his college and pro careers, most recently during a 2022 season in which he suffered two diagnosed concussions and a third collision of his head with the turf that the Dolphins called a back injury.
“Everything I did this offseason entailed what would keep me on the field for the entirety of the season,” Tagovailoa said. “I’ve just been trying to give myself the best opportunity to hopefully not get injured.”
Even when he doesn’t prefer the additions to his frame.
“You think I wanted to build all this muscle? Nah,” Tagovailoa said. “To some extent, I wanted to be a little lighter. There’s a mixture of things that people don’t understand, that people don’t know about that people talk about that go on behind the scenes.
“So I’d appreciate if you kept my name out your mouth, that’s what I’d say.”
How weight gain can help Tua
The Dolphins selected Tagovailoa in the first round, fifth overall, of the 2020 NFL Draft. He completed 64.1% of his passes as a rookie, throwing for 1,814 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. Tagovailoa completed 67.8% of attempts in his sophomore campaign, throwing for 2,653 yards, 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He missed four games that year due to fractured ribs.
The Dolphins hired head coach Mike McDaniel entering Tagovailoa’s third season, prompting his most productive and efficient — when healthy — year yet. In 13 games, Tagovailoa completed 64.8% of passes for 3,548 yards, 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Now playing with speedy receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, Tagovailoa improved his passer rating 15.4 points to 105.5, the best mark in the league.
No one threw touchdowns more often than his 6.3% rate, and no one nailed receivers for more than his average 8.9 yards per attempt, 9.2 yards per air attempt or 13.7 yards per completion.
The Dolphins expect Tagovailoa to settle even further into the offense in his second year of the system. But coaches and players alike know health is the No. 1 concern.
McDaniel, arguably the league’s best dead-panner, said earlier in camp that Tagovailoa’s new muscle should help him in “arm wrestling competitions. He’s less prone to defeat. There are unintended consequences.”
Then McDaniel praised how his quarterback’s intentional training is translating to the field.
“He has a little more short-area explosiveness, where you’re able to manipulate yourself in the pocket at a more explosive rate,” McDaniel said. “It appears by my layman’s eyes that he has more pitches in his arsenal, like he can layer stuff and drive it with even more command than he’s already pretty adept at, considering his accuracy. So I think it just overall helps him feel prepared and execute a lot of things. The residuals are apparent and obvious.
“He really took his training on his body seriously this offseason.”