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Miami Dolphins name Tua Tagovailoa starting quarterback

It’s officially Tua time in Miami.

The Miami Dolphins will name rookie Tua Tagovailoa as their starting quarterback, league sources confirmed to the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Tuesday.

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The news comes as a bit of a surprise — especially to some Dolphins players — following Tagovailoa’s brief debut last Sunday, especially with 16-year veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick playing relatively well in the first six games of the season.

But the Dolphins intend to usher in a new age in the franchise’s history with Tagovailoa, their No. 5 pick in the 2020 NFL draft in April, as their starter in Week 8.

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The Dolphins (3-3) have a bye this week, but will return to action against the Los Angeles Rams at Hard Rock Stadium on Nov. 1.

“He is dying — I’m telling you — He is dying to get in and play,” Tagovailoa’s father, Galu, told the Sun Sentinel of his son before word got out he would be starting.

“He doesn’t want anyone to think about his health. His health is good. He doesn’t want anyone to think about or worry about his hip. He’s all good. He just wants to play. He is dying, wanting to play. Believe me.”

Many Dolphins players first learned of the change at quarterback after the news was first reported by ESPN, with some having apprehension about the move, according to a league source.

Fitzpatrick has been a catalyst for the team with his veteran leadership and moxie, and the Dolphins believe they’re meshing at the right time with a second-place standing in the AFC East and eyes set to a potential playoff run in the final 10 games of the season after their bye.

Dolphins management, which includes coach Brian Flores and general manager Chris Grier, made the decision Tuesday that now is the time to go with Tagovailoa. Fitzpatrick was then informed of the decision.

“This isn’t about Tua. It’s about the team,” a league source told the Sun Sentinel.

Tagovailoa, who will have two weeks to prepare for his first NFL start, will become the 22nd quarterback to start for the Dolphins since Hall of Famer Dan Marino retired in 2000.

Marino and Dolphins owner Steve Ross were on the sidelines as Tagovailoa made his NFL debut against the New York Jets, playing the final five plays of the Dolphins' 24-0 win last Sunday. The 10,776 fans in Hard Rock Stadium gave him a loud ovation when he entered the game.

Tagovailoa completed two passes for 9 yards in his debut, including a 7-yard strike to receiver Jakeem Grant for Miami’s lone third-down conversion of the day in the final two minutes of the game.

Tagovailoa’s first pass, a 2-yard completion caught by running back Patrick Laird, saw the former Alabama standout take the snap, fake a handoff in play action, and take several steps toward his left side to make the completion near the left sideline.

“I feel healthy,” Tagovailoa said after the game, nearly 11 months after he suffered a hip dislocation and posterior wall fracture in his final college game at Alabama in November 2019.

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Added Dolphins offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, of Tagovailoa’s debut, on Tuesday: “He got under duress and made an accurate throw. He sat in the pocket on third down and made a throw for a first down. Those are positives. Those are real positives. For a guy that hasn’t played a snap, those are real positives.”

If Flores was planning to make the transition from Fitzpatrick to Tagovailoa during the bye week, that plan may have become accelerated based on widespread changes to the Dolphins schedule earlier this month.

The Dolphins were initially scheduled to have their bye in Week 11 (mid November), but positive COVID-19 tests elsewhere forced the NFL to reconfigure much of the schedule, moving Miami’s bye to this week. The Dolphins played the Jets last Sunday as a result of the changes and had games against the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers moved into November.

The two-week leadup to Tagovailoa’s eventual debut against the Rams will give him time to prepare for one of the NFL’s most-talented defenses with standout defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey awaiting on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage.

Flores has shown he is not afraid to promote or demote quarterbacks, as when he reinserted Fitzpatrick into the lineup after giving former backup Josh Rosen three starts early last season.

Fitzpatrick — the Dolphins' starting quarterback for 19 of the past 22 games — will now be Tagovailoa’s backup, a role he knew would eventually come when Tagovailoa was drafted.

“I think last year was last year, and that was definitely a much different situation in who was in the room and who is in the room this year,” Fitzpatrick said earlier this month when asked how he would feel if/when he would be demoted for Tagovailoa.

“I’ll just stick with my line, which is I’m going to do my best for this week and hopefully continue to lead this team and whenever that day comes, we’ll cross that bridge.”

Fitzpatrick, who has the seventh-best quarterback rating among all NFL starters at 79.6, led Miami to three wins this season and eight wins total since becoming Miami’s starter in 2019.

Fitzpatrick has completed 70 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns despite seven interceptions in six games this season, including his performance against the Jets, where he led three touchdown drives and had two interceptions in Miami’s shutout victory.

Fitzpatrick has acknowledged on several occasions he is the “placeholder” for Tagovailoa, while the rookie has been thankful for the mentorship the longtime NFL veteran has provided.

“You have a 16-year vet like Fitz who has no animosity towards it, as well, who’s just been supportive the entire time. … I’m very fortunate to have a mentor like him who is just very encouraging on the field,” Tagovailoa said recently.

When the Dolphins return from their bye next week, the next step in their rebuilding process will start, and a new age for the franchise will begin with Tagovailoa as Miami’s starting quarterback.

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