Tua on Track ... And All That Entails

Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was back at practice Wednesday for the first since suffering a rib injury
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Tua Tagovailoa was back at practice for the Miami Dolphins on Wednesday, and all signs continue to point to him making his return to the lineup against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London on Sunday.

Tagovailoa, who the Dolphins officially designated for return Tuesday, still has to go through the week of practice without any complications related to the rib injury that landed him on injured reserve after the game against the Buffalo Bills in Week 2.

“Yeah, if you ask him, he’s 100 percent, he’s fine," head coach Brian Flores said before practice Wednesday. "So he’s not going to tell anybody any different. He’s made a lot of progress but we know he’s dealing with something. He’s going to tough it out. That’s just the type of kid he is. But we’ve just got to see how it goes through practice, get back into the swing of things and we’re hopeful that he’ll do well in practice today and be available this weekend.”

This should mark the second consecutive week the Dolphins get a player back from IR, following defensive tackle Raekwon Davis. The Dolphins activated Davis on Saturday, which tends to be the norm, but there's a different element at play this week that could change things.

Because this is an international game, the team's starting quarterback will conduct his weekly media session in London on Friday instead of the customary Wednesday.

So if Tua is the Dolphins quarterback doing a press conference Friday, that certainly would be the signal he's ready to go.

That's secondary to the bigger issue, which of course is: What does Tua's return mean for the Dolphins?

From this vantage point, it allows the team to continue its evaluation of Tua as a potential franchise quarterback and gives him another chance to show over the rest of the 2021 season he should be THE guy for the Dolphins.

There's no doubt a segment of Dolphins fans who think Tua's return could jump-start the offense, and that obviously would be the best-case scenario, but let's not pretend like there aren't other issues that need to be solved.

And it's not like Jacoby Brissett was a flop during Tagovailoa's IR stint. No, it didn't always look pretty, but the bottom line is that in his three starts Brissett completed almost 67 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and one interception.

So it might be unrealistic to expect Tua to return and for the offense to instantly become explosive.

Likewise, Tua's return certainly isn't guaranteed to turn around the Dolphins' season because there are many issues that need to get fixed for that to happen.

At the very least, his return brings a renewed sense of optimism and a sense of anticipation as to exactly how much of a step forward he could wind up making in 2021 after the start of his second season was interrupted by that rib injury.

It's certainly going to help that the schedule lightens up over the next two weeks, with the Jaguars game followed by a matchup against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 7 and then another home against the Houston Texans in Week 9.

Whether Tua's return can propel the Dolphins on a run that puts them in playoff contention at some point certainly is debatable, but as we've said before that's not even the most important issue at this point.

Like it or not, from this end the biggest goal for the 2021 season always was to see signs that Tua could become that franchise-type quarterback the team has been seeking for so long. Finding that franchise quarterback always was priority number 1 in terms of the Dolphins' rebuilding project that began in 2019.

Mind you, it's not necessary for Tua to become Justin Herbert in the next several weeks, but the Dolphins need to have more answers about his true NFL potential before this season is over.

When it comes to Tua's expected return to the lineup, that's what matter most.