Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa presents large problem for Chargers

The seven-on-seven camps occurred virtually each weekend, Hawaiian children converging on a soccer area to push each other.

As a budding lineman, Breiden Fehoko recollects doing one-on-one drills earlier than going over to observe the skill-position gamers battle.

“I remember a younger, shorter kid throwing to high schoolers,” Fehoko mentioned. “Come to find out, it was Tua. It was pretty cool really. You knew the kid was going to be good one day.”

Sooner or later has arrived for Tua Tagovailoa. The NFL’s highest-rated passer will lead the Miami Dolphins into SoFi Stadium on Sunday to face Fehoko and a Chargers’ protection that figures to be shorthanded for a tall process.

With security Derwin James Jr. (quadriceps) and slot cornerback Bryce Callahan (core muscle) uncertain, the Chargers’ secondary nonetheless should include Tagovailoa and speedy wideouts Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.

Miami leads the league in yards per passing try (8.11) and is second in passing yards per sport (290.5). Solely Kansas Metropolis has averaged extra yards per play.

The Chargers, with a largely wholesome James and Callahan by means of the primary 12 video games, ranked thirty first in opposition yards per play, a proven fact that strongly suggests Sunday might be irritating for the house workforce.

The numbers additionally imply the Chargers’ offense and quarterback Justin Herbert possible will probably be compelled to spice up the manufacturing. Heart Corey Linsley (concussion) and receiver Mike Williams (ankle) are set to return, which is able to assist.

The promising matchup of Herbert versus Tagovailoa prompted the NFL and NBC to maneuver this sport to Sunday evening. Herbert was the No. 6 choose within the 2020 draft, taken one spot after Tagovailoa.

The 2 will probably be perpetually linked due to their draft place, the connection rising stronger this season with Tagovailoa’s improved play now difficult the issues Herbert has achieved in the course of the quick begin to his professional profession.

“I’m going to state the obvious,” Fehoko mentioned, “but, you know, two young prime-time quarterbacks, taken high in the same draft, what more could you ask for, right?”

Rising up in Hawaii, Fehoko performed towards Tagovailoa in highschool in addition to youth soccer. Later, they’d meet in school, Fehoko at LSU and Tagovailoa at Alabama.

As children, they each had been a part of program that Fehoko mentioned was known as “The Big Boys League.”

“It was,” he defined, “pretty much, if you were over weight for Pop Warner, you had to play there.”

Tagovailoa was a “Big Boy” as a result of, whereas rising up, he sometimes performed towards older, bigger children. The age and dimension distinction mattered little, Fehoko mentioned, as soon as the ball was snapped.

“Tua’s dad was always adamant about him competing with guys older than him,” Fehoko mentioned. “He was always trying to strive for more. That’s how I’ll remember Tua, a kid trying to stick his nose in with the older guys.

“He was always one of those young prodigies in Hawaii — a young, middle school kid going to high school camps. It was kind of the ‘it’ thing in Hawaii. That’s how he started making his name.”

Although his manufacturing hadn’t matched Herbert’s by means of their first two NFL seasons, Tagovailoa’s groups have had extra success. Miami is 8-2 in video games he has began this season and 14-3 going again to November of final yr.

Tagovailoa is 21-10 as a starter, in comparison with 21-23 for Herbert. Of their solely earlier assembly, the Dolphins beat the Chargers in Miami 29-21 in November 2020.

Because the starting of that season, the one quarterbacks with higher data than Tagovailoa are Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers.

His passer score this season — 112 — is on tempo to interrupt Dan Marino’s franchise single-season document. Tagovailoa additionally leads the league in passer score within the fourth quarter, the crimson zone and on third down.

How impactful has he been in 2022? Till this week, a Dolphins workforce by no means had been flexed right into a Sunday evening sport for the reason that NFL launched the idea in 2006.

“He’s playing fast,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley mentioned of Tagovailoa. “I think you’re seeing quick decision-making. They’ve really surrounded him with a lot of weapons. They’ve really crafted an offense that plays to his strengths.”

The Dolphins (8-4) received 5 in a row earlier than dropping final weekend at San Francisco. The Chargers (6-6) have misplaced three of 4 and sit one sport behind the New York Jets for the AFC’s ultimate playoff spot.

Staying alive for them possible means successful at the least 4 of their ultimate 5 video games. And successful Sunday possible means Herbert outdueling Tagovailoa in a prime-time showcase set as much as decide who’s the larger of the massive boys.

“You get both of them on this stage and they’re both playing well,” Fehoko mentioned, “90% of America might tune in to this game just because of those two. I’m excited to watch them.”