MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Tua Tagovailoa began to let his guard down last season, when Mike McDaniel took over as Miami Dolphins head coach.
But this year?
“I can say this year that Tua has definitely come out of his shell,” seven-time Pro Bowl receiver Tyreek Hill told Yahoo Sports on Thursday after practice. “After his comments yesterday to Ryan Clark? I don't think we've ever seen that side right there. I don't think we’ve ever seen that.
“And that's the side I love right there. That fires me up right there.”
Hill was referencing his quarterback’s request that ESPN's Ryan Clark keep “my name out your mouth,” Tagovailoa’s rebuke ultimately prompting the analyst to apologize Thursday morning.
Clark, a 13-year former NFL defensive back, apologized in writing and in a recorded message.
“When I decided to do TV I had 2 main priorities,” Clark wrote in a tweet. “1. Respect all NFL players, coaches, executives and staff members. 2. Earn and keep the respect of those very same people.
“I do my best to be honest when executing my job as well as being honest when I fall short. I fell short on Monday and for that, I genuinely apologize.”
Clark said in a Monday segment on ESPN’s “NFL Live” studio show that Tagovailoa this offseason “wasn’t in the gym, I bet you that” and “was not at the dinner table eating what the nutritionist had advised.” He compared Tagovailoa, who bulked up 10 pounds this offseason in hopes of protecting himself from injuries that have plagued his career, to a stripper.
“I come from a Samoan family where respect is everything,” Tagovailoa said Wednesday. “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.
“I’d appreciate if you kept my name out your mouth.”
Hill said the comments weren’t just unkind — they were also untrue. The receiver praised the work ethic he witnessed up close in about four joint training sessions at Tagovailoa’s gym this offseason.
“The guy would actually put in work,” said Hill, who caught 70% of targets last season for a team-best 1,710 receiving yards. “He was outworking me. And I’m like one of them dudes who will stay in the gym all day.”
In his recorded video, Clark said that he intended his comments jokingly rather than in question of Tagovailoa’s work ethic and commitment. He reiterated his desire to operate with respect.
“Anything contrary to that, then I’ve got to check myself.”
When I decided to do TV I had 2 main priorities.
1. Respect all NFL players, coaches, executives and staff members.
2. Earn and keep the respect of those very same people.
Those priorities are important to me, and when I miss that mark, I have to hold myself accountable.… pic.twitter.com/YgZfcNPN8G
— Ryan Clark (@Realrclark25) August 24, 2023
Clark said initially his response to Tagovailoa’s comments about getting scrappy was “or what?”
“Man, I fed my family on violence,” Clark continued. “I ain’t tripping on that. But that’s the pride that doesn't enable me to see what this dude’s going through. The constant criticisms, constant scrutiny, constantly being questioned, feeling the stress of always having to prove yourself. ...
“It was, what I can consider now, a bad joke. But for me, it’s been a lesson. I’ll be better.”
McDaniel, speaking in a Thursday news conference before the team’s final practice of training camp, didn’t directly acknowledge Clark or Tagovailoa’s comments. But he gave a lengthy response detailing Tagovailoa’s “top-five” offseason among Dolphins players. McDaniel emphasized that he (unlike somebody else, it seemed) could speak “hard facts that I’ve seen with my own eyes.”
“You want to talk about someone who’s committed to doing what he’s doing for the right reasons?” McDaniel said. “You want to talk about every metric that [head strength and conditioning coach] Dave Puloka and his strength staff tracks, which is pretty much everything to the degree of blinks? Every metric of strength that is measured, [Tagovailoa has] shattered his previous highs. In some instances, he’s almost twice as strong with things. And that’s been a daily commitment that he hasn’t wavered from.”
McDaniel praised how his quarterback has “taken his nutrition to another level” and “really thought outside the box” on how to prepare his body. Tagovailoa said Wednesday he’d prefer to be lighter, but understands why this weight along with offseason falling practice in jiu-jitsu can help protect him following the career-threatening concussions he suffered last season.
“I couldn’t be happier with the work he’s put in and what I’ve factually viewed from my own eyes,” McDaniel said. “Basically you’re happy for guys as a coach when you can see in the present that down the road they’re going to have no regrets. You know that, without any shade of gray, you’ve put your best foot forward. And he really has.
“His teammates would agree: We are getting the absolute best version of Tua that’s existed.”