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INDIANAPOLIS — For now, all Tua Tagovailoa can do is wait. And so, too, must NFL teams.
The Alabama quarterback is still two weeks removed from from being able to showcase his skills on a football field again — and to prove that the hip dislocation he suffered in November was merely a setback and not a debilitating, career-altering injury.
Tagovailoa arrived at the NFL scouting combine fully aware that his football acumen and temperament would be his biggest selling points throughout the week. And he used his time at the podium Tuesday to show that he can adeptly handle controversy — real or imagined.
With a mix of reverence and a dose of reality, the 21-year-old extinguished the growing speculation that it’s Dallas Cowboys or bust heading into April’s NFL draft.
“All I said is, ‘I’m a big Cowboys fan,’ ” Tagovailoa said with a smile, dispelling the rumor that he wants to play only for his childhood team. “I grew up a Cowboys fan my entire life. I understand that a lot of people have changed my words around, saying that’s the only team I want to go to. That’s not true.”
The Cowboys were all he knew growing up.
“My dad’s, dad’s, dad’s, dad’s, dad was a Cowboys fan and it just trickled down the line,” he said.
And, like many disappointed Dallas fans, Tagovailoa has been waiting his entire life to witness America’s Team win it all.
“I’ve always wanted to see the Cowboys make the playoffs, win the playoffs and go to the Super Bowl.”
Just how deep is Tagovailoa’s love for Jerry Jones’ team?
“I have two dogs that are named ‘Dallas’ and ‘Star,’ ” he said. “That’s just to tell you guys how big of a Cowboys fan I was growing up. But I’d be grateful to be drafted by any team.”
Tagovailoa is the most intriguing outlier of the 2020 draft class — a shifty, dual-threat quarterback whose quickness and escapability made him one of the most exciting collegiate players to watch every Saturday. But the injury that derailed his junior season also put his NFL career in jeopardy.
“That was the lowest point,” he said.
Now, the once sure bet is a potentially dangerous unknown and in the coming months, a general manager is going to stake his reputation on Tagovailoa’s past tape and NFL potential without any guarantees of the future. And therein lies the conundrum facing NFL front offices — particularly the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions, the two teams who have most heavily been linked to the presumptive first-round pick.
The “Tank for Tua” slogan has long gained steam in Miami, where a struggling franchise is still searching for a franchise leader to deliver it to the promise land. But the medical results will go a long way in assuaging fears of the unknown.
“Once March 9 hits and we’re cleared to go, I’ll be able to do everything,” said Tagovailoa, who spent from 10 a.m. to almost 8 p.m. at the hospital on Monday going through medical exams.
Dolphins second-year general manager Chris Grier acknowledged the 6-foot, 217-pound quarterback isn’t the prototypical size, but “the game has changed a little bit.”
“You’re getting a lot of guys that are good football players now,” said Grier, whose team currently has three first-round picks (Nos. 5, 18 and 26) and two second-round picks in this year’s draft. “I think that’s what teams are just looking for — are they good football players? Especially at that position if they have all the intangibles.”
Tagovailoa was more than just a good college quarterback. But it’s anyone’s guess what his NFL trajectory will look like.
“Tua had a fantastic college career,” said Grier, who as of Tuesday hadn’t yet met Tagovailoa in person. “We’re going through the process of getting to know him. But he seems like a great kid and the medical will tell us what it is. But we’re excited to meet him as well as a bunch of other prospects.”
The Lions, who currently hold the third overall pick, have publicly affirmed their commitment to starting quarterback Matthew Stafford. While head coach Matt Patricia declined to give a detailed scouting report on Tagovailoa, he did rave about the former Bama star’s skills.
“He’s an extremely competitive guy, he plays hard, his teammates love to play for him,” Patricia said. “He can make a lot of great things happen on the field, like a lot of the guys in the draft this year. Certainly athletic, explosive, dynamic playmaking ability.”
The key attributes to good quarterback play are simple: Decision-making. Accuracy. Leadership.
And yet, drafting quarterbacks remains an inexact science.
Tagovailoa knows he’s a wild card. But that’s OK.
For now, all he can do is simply be himself.
And, of course, wait for his chance to show teams that he’s still the same player.
“If I’m not the person for the organization, then I’m not the person,” he said. “I just feel like if I’m just myself going into the interviews, the right team will find me.”
And that team doesn’t have to be America’s Team.
“Whatever team decides to pick me, I’d be grateful,” Tagovailoa said. “Whether it’s first or 32nd or 200th. I’d be grateful just to get picked.”
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