MIAMI — Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa won’t play Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, coach Mike McDaniel said Wednesday, but he will return to the practice field for football activities for the first time in nearly two weeks.
Rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson will make his first career start on Sunday with Tagovailoa and Teddy Bridgewater in concussion protocol. The Dolphins’ only other healthy quarterback is practice squad quarterback Reid Sinnett; McDaniel said it’s too early to tell if they’ll have to raise him for Sunday’s game.
Tagovailoa has been cleared by multiple independent neurologists to return to limited football activities, McDaniel said, which would place him in Phase 3 of the NFL’s return-to-participation protocol. This will be Tagovailoa’s first practice since suffering a concussion in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 29.
“In those situations you rely on all the medical advice and what people can do and what we’ve been told is he can go out and throw and do some individual work this week,” said McDaniel. “So it’s exciting for everyone just because, you know, we really miss his personality. He’s a guy we rely on, not to mention his whole game and stuff.
“Now talking about this week and playing, I don’t see a script – I don’t see him being active. I don’t plan on playing him at all.”
There is a “definite scenario” in which Tagovailoa clears concussion protocol this week, but McDaniel said it would be doing both Tagovailoa and the team a disservice if he played him on Sunday.
“He hasn’t done anything on the football field for literally two weeks,” McDaniel said. “So I don’t think it would be fair to the player. It wouldn’t be fair to the team…I don’t feel comfortable putting him in that situation.”
Tagovailoa was briefly hospitalized after hitting his head on the turf during the Bengals game, which came four days after hitting his head the same way and tripping on his way back to the caucus against the Buffalo Bills on September 25. He was assessed for a concussion at halftime of the Bills game, but returned to action after determining that a previously reported back injury had caused the trip.
The NFL Players Association triggered a review of the league’s concussion protocol after Tagovailoa’s quick return to play and ultimately exercised its right to fire the unaffiliated (UNC) neurotrauma consultant who performed his initial concussion assessment . The NFLPA felt UNC made “several mistakes” in the process, multiple sources told ESPN, including failing to examine his back during the initial concussion examination.
Last weekend, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to a modified concussion protocol that included ataxia as a “prohibited” symptom – which would require any player with ataxia, defined as “an abnormality of the balance/stability, motor coordination or dysfunctional speech caused by a neurological problem”, to be removed from a game and prohibited from returning to it.
The Dolphins were the first team to experience the modified protocol last Sunday in a 40-17 loss to the New York Jets when Bridgewater, starting in place of Tagovailoa, was pulled from the game after a heavy blow in Miami’s first offensive play. An ATC observer from the cabin believed he saw Bridgewater displaying ataxia after the hit, and he was immediately placed in a concussion protocol. He was not diagnosed with a concussion and showed no symptoms during his initial or follow-up examinations.
Bridgewater has yet to return to football on Wednesday, McDaniel said, but will do so at practice Thursday. Even if he clears concussion protocol by Sunday’s game, however, the Dolphins move forward with Thompson as the starter.
The 2022 seventh-round pick completed 16 of 33 passes for 166 yards and one interception in relief for Bridgewater against the Jets. He also lost a critical fourth-quarter fumble that set up the Jets’ game-winning touchdown.
McDaniel said he was confident in the rookie’s ability to improve after receiving a rookie’s workload in training throughout the week. At a minimum, he said Thompson should feel more comfortable having another quarterback with him, unlike his debut last week.
“It’s huge because in a game experience for a quarterback, you get coached, a lot happens, and you get feedback from one, two, three voices,” McDaniel said. “But then when you have a peer who’s been through it and seen it, that translation – it can be a word, it can be a pat on the back. All that teammate support is an extremely huge thing for a player like that… Having that support from his brother on the sidelines this week, because it was a lonely sideline last week.
“All Skylar had to talk about was [Dolphins quarterbacks coach Darrell] Bevel and I, and we’re great guys, but not so great when it comes to conversations.”