Tua Tagovailoa, in new helmet, says ‘muscle memory' with falling could take years

MIAMI GARDENS — Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has come to expect questions about his ability to stay on the field because the issue is constantly on his mind, too.

“Everything that I did this offseason entailed what would keep me on the field for the entirety of the season,” Tagovailoa said Tuesday.

That’s why he started his much-talked-about jiu-jitsu training, to learn how to fall, and why he also plans to start the season with a new helmet. The helmet is only marginally better than the one he wore last year, but to Tagovailoa, even the slimmest margin cannot be ignored.

Still, Tagovailoa cautioned against thinking he has falling safely down pat:

“It’s not to where it’s something that’s muscle memory yet for me and I don’t think that’ll be something that becomes muscle memory unless I do it for like a year or two years,” he said.

Tagovailoa suffered at least two concussions last season, one involving his head hitting the turf hard in Cincinnati in late September and the other prematurely ending his season following the Christmas Day game vs. Green Bay.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) participates in training camp at Baptist Health Training Complex, Wednesday, July 26, 2023 in Miami Gardens.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) participates in training camp at Baptist Health Training Complex, Wednesday, July 26, 2023 in Miami Gardens.

It’s also a factor in the Dolphins are taking a wait-and-see approach before locking up Tagovailoa with a long-term deal.

The NFL approved a new, quarterback-specific helmet for the 2023 season designed to offer greater protection. Because of the G-forces involved with hits, there isn’t — and can never be — a helmet that will eliminate the risk of concussions. Tagovailoa investigated the new helmet, found it to be comfortable and plans to begin the season wearing it.

“It was like a percentage better than the helmet that I had,” he said. “So, you know, everything matters and so I’m going to play the percentage. So if you look at last year, it wasn’t really hitting my head. It was really just the ground.”

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While trying to describe his quarterback’s athleticism Monday, coach Mike McDaniel referred to Tagovailoa doing a “backwards summersault” in the spring. Tagovailoa downplayed it.

“Let me give you context,” he said. “I did not backflip. I got hit from someone in front of me. I have no idea who it was, but I sort of hit a little summersault going backwards and I flipped backwards. No backflips here, though.”

Tagovailoa has missed a total of nine games over the past two seasons but obviously is hoping to play all 17 regular-season games this year.

“Freaky things can happen,” he said. “You know, it’s football. It’s a physical sport. Not everything that you prepare for is what you’re going to get. So I did the best that I could to get myself ready and prepped for this season as far as injuries go.”

In pure football terms, it’s no surprise at this early stage that the Dolphins’ defense is ahead of the offense. It is newsworthy, however, what Tagovailoa said about lining up against Miami’s defense. New coordinator Vic Fangio is renowned for disguising coverages to confuse quarterbacks before the snap. Tagovailoa can vouch for it.

“It’s hard to distinguish what’s going to happen, pre-snap and post-snap,” Tagovailoa said. “I think Vic does a good job with his defense in aligning guys where they need to align and making everything look the same.”

Still, there are positive signs for Tagovailoa. Receiver Tyreek Hill had a strong day in practice Tuesday. And left tackle Terron Armstead is being eased into action after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

Armstead had been working on conditioning drills during the first week of practice. They included boxing drills, which led to this joking exchange with reporters Tuesday:

Reporter: Who would win with you boxing vs. Tagovailoa doing jiu-jitsu?

Armstead: “I’d whip Tua.”

Tagovailoa, knowing who his best bodyguard is, wasn’t about to dispute that.

“I give respect to him,” Tagovailoa said. “I give respect to the O.G.”

Dolphins reporter Hal Habib can be reached at and followed on Twitter  @gunnerhal.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Dolphins' Tua Tagovailoa says ‘muscle memory' with falling may take years