The wait is finally over. The most anticipated first start by a Dolphins quarterback since a kid named Marino bolted on to the scene some 37 seasons ago will unfold this Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
About 13,000 fans will be in attendance. Twenty years from now, I’m guessing about 100,000 will claim they were there.
What will we see Sunday against the Rams? Will Tua Tagovailoa pick up right where he left off at Alabama before that hip injury, throwing darts all over the field, leading with a poise that belies his age, completing passes with uncanny accuracy?
In other words, will he be as special and as extra-ordinary on the professional level as he was in college? And will it happen right away?
My guess is that it will. My guess is that we will see clear, undeniable signs against the Rams of what Tua is capable of doing, just a much larger sample size than what we saw in that late series against the Jets.
Will he be flawless? Hardly. Marino threw two picks in his first start. But he’ll be good enough to let our imagination run wild and certainly good enough to justify moving him into the starting lineup.
I used to tell people that with Marino, every Sunday was special because you always had a real chance to see something you’ve never seen before. I feel the same way about Tua. Look at it this way: the ceiling for Ryan Fitzpatrick only went so high. The ceiling for Tua is somewhere in the clouds.
Certainly, he’s going to need plenty of help. Since Tua is a lefty, it will be up to rookie right tackle Robert Hunt to protect his blind side. Keeping Tua upright is a huge part of this equation and Hunt has already shown he has the tools to own up to that task. We just have to hope that there are no close-up introductions, or at least very few, to all-pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
The Dolphins find themselves in an interesting position They are 3-3 after winning their last two games. The defense is playing well, the team in general doesn’t commit many costly penalties and the kicker is dealing with perfection. The offense doesn’t have the arsenal of firepower you are looking for, but there are enough quality playmakers to give Tua some enticing options.
If Tua is as good from the outset that I expect him to be, this team has a chance to grow up far quicker than many had thought possible. The talent is clearly in place to make a playoff run. Tua becomes the X-factor. If he plays as well, this season has a chance to get a whole lot more interesting.
But let’s not take things too far too quickly. Every journey begins with the first step and that, in so many ways, is what Sunday is about for Tua Tagovailoa.
Marino lost that first start 38-35 to the Buffalo Bills, but his performance was good enough to put a smile on Don Shula’s face, even after a gut-wrenching overtime defeat.
Wonder if Bryan Flores will be smiling just like Shula come late Sunday afternoon. Got a feeling he will be. The question then is: How big will that smile be?