Omar Kelly: Tua Tagovailoa not being named a Dolphins team captain doesn’t mean he’s not a leader
Tua Tagovailoa spent the entire spring coordinating offsite route-running sessions with the Miami Dolphins receivers and tailbacks.
The young quarterback has stepped forward and taken command of the Dolphins offense — the plays, and the unit — occasionally challenging offensive linemen, and playmakers when he sees something he doesn’t like.
The second-year starter is the conductor of this orchestra, the face of the Dolphins’ franchise, the unquestioned ambassador of South Florida’s NFL franchise heading into the 2021 season.
Tagovailoa exerted his leadership consistently this summer, so why wasn’t he chosen as a captain by his peers when the players selected their leaders, which were announced on Wednesday by coach Brian Flores?
There isn’t clear-cut answer. (And to be honest, I’ve never trusted the vote tally coaches have when it comes to selecting captains.)
But let’s not waste our time dissecting why Tagovailoa wasn’t named one of the offensive captains, and receiver Mack Hollins and veteran offensive lineman Jesse Davis were.
It’s not necessary. In fact, it’s downright disrespectful to the players — Hollins and Davis on offense, linebacker Elandon Roberts and safety Jason McCourty on defense, and safety Clayton Fejedelem on special teams — who were.
Davis is one of the Dolphins’ most respected offensive linemen, a player who labored to work his way up from Miami’s practice squad to a starting spot he’s held for most of the past four seasons.
And Hollins is a 2019 waiver wire find who has gained his teammates’ respect for his toughness, worth ethic, and special teams dominance.
“He plays in a variety of roles and positions. He plays in the kicking game. I think he does a lot of good things for our team,” Flores said of Hollins, who might be the team’s top special teamer, but is likely its fifth or sixth best receiver. “[Hollins'] teammates elected him captain and I think they did that for a reason.”
Giving both Hollins and Davis the recognition they deserve isn’t an indictment on who Tagovailoa is, or how he leads.
It’s also not a statement that Dolphins players don’t believe in the former Alabama standout Miami selected with the fifth pick in the 2020 NFL draft.
I’ve covered plenty of Dolphins teams that didn’t believe in their quarterbacks, Chad Henne and Ryan Tannehill, who were selected captains, and were supposed to be team leaders. But both lacked in that department. And both survived failed coups as their receivers tried and failed at getting them replaced.
This isn’t that. Tagovailoa’s teammates have sung his praises since the offseason.
So it’s not a big deal that he won’t have a “C” stitched onto his jersey.
Former Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn’t voted a captain in 2019, and we all know who led that team to their five victories. Fitzpatrick was voted a captain in 2020, and subsequently got benched for Tagovailoa, an unproven rookie six games into that season, despite leading Miami to a 3-3 start.
Fitzpatrick ended 2020 winning the team’s top leadership honor — from the bench.
That’s why we shouldn’t over-analyze what kept Tagovailoa’s teammates from voting for him. We don’t know what Hollins, who was at practice on his day off yesterday, and Davis, who has been a mentor to all the youngsters on the offensive line, do behind the scenes.
Or what each player’s voting criteria is.
Cornerback Xavien Howard, who has clearly been the Dolphins best player for a couple of seasons, has never been selected as a team captain. So performance isn’t always part of the criteria.
Why doesn’t Howard’s lack of a captain’s “C” not matter, but Tagovailoa supposedly getting a snub does?
What I do know is not being named a captain doesn’t prevent Tagovailoa from exerting himself as a leader, or being vocal inside the huddle or locker room.
You don’t need a “C” on your jersey to command respect, and Tagovailoa seemingly has that from his teammates.