Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa returned to practice Wednesday as he progresses through the NFL’s concussion protocol but won’t play against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, coach Mike McDaniel said.
The team is planning to have rookie Skylar Thompson make his first NFL start, McDaniel said, as backup Teddy Bridgewater also makes his way through the concussion protocol but cannot return to practice until Thursday. Bridgewater was on the practice field but working with a trainer during the portion open to the media.
The development signifies Tagovailoa has entered Phase 3 of the five-step process to clear players who have sustained a concussion. Phase 3 allows players to conduct “supervised cardiovascular exercises that are increased and may mimic sport-specific activities, and supervised strength training is introduced.”
During the open portion of practice, Tagovailoa threw passes to his fellow quarterbacks, as well as to pass-catchers in individual drills.
“That’s exciting for everybody just because we miss his personality,” McDaniel said of Tagovailoa’s return. “He’s a guy that we rely on, not to mention all his play and all that stuff.”
McDaniel said there is a scenario in which Tagovailoa would be cleared in time for the Vikings game, but he would not play with limited practice reps. McDaniel didn’t answer a question on whether the plan was for Tagovailoa to return in Week 7, a home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on “Sunday Night Football.”
“He hasn’t done a thing on the football field for literally two weeks,” McDaniel said. “That wouldn’t be fair to the player. That wouldn’t be fair to the team. I think that’s something that I don’t feel comfortable putting him in that situation.”
Tagovailoa’s practice was his first since sustaining a concussion in the team’s Week 4 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 29. Tagovailoa was carted off the field on a stretcher just four days after he hit his head and stumbled in a game against the Buffalo Bills, sparking questions about why he was allowed to return to the Bills game and then play against the Bengals.
The NFL and NFL Players Association conducted a review of Tagovailoa’s Sept. 25 concussion check and found that the Dolphins’ team doctor and the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant followed protocols. The two sides, however, adjusted the concussion protocol, adding a new no-go symptom that bars a player suspected of a head injury from returning to a game.
According to an NFL Network report, Tagovailoa has received consultation from four independent specialists, including a sports concussion neurologist and neuropsychologist.
Tagovailoa was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league during the Dolphins’ 3-0 start before sustaining a concussion. He has completed 69.6 percent of his passes — third-highest among qualified passers — for 1,035 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Dolphins have lost two consecutive games, a 27-15 defeat to the Bengals and a 40-17 loss to the New York Jets.
Bridgewater’s availability for Sunday is uncertain after he was placed in concussion protocol amid the team’s loss to the Jets. An independent certified athletic trainer (ATC) Booth Spotter said Bridgewater stumbled after he was hit on the first offensive play and showed signs of ataxia, the league’s new no-go symptom in its updated protocols. Ataxia is defined as an abnormality of balance/stability, motor coordination or dysfunctional speech.
McDaniel said Bridgewater can’t return to practice in a limited, non-contact capacity until Thursday. If Bridgewater is cleared in time for Sunday’s game, he will back up Thompson, McDaniel said.
If Bridgewater is unable to return for the game, the Dolphins will have to elevate Reid Sinnett from the practice squad to have a second quarterback available on game day.
Filling in for Bridgewater, Thompson completed 19 of 33 passes for 166 yards and one interception. It was a rather uneven outing for the seventh-round pick in his regular-season debut, but he said he was “really encouraged about where we’re at.” [Wednesday].
“It’s exciting. It’s a dream come true,” he said of preparing for his first NFL start. “It’s something I’ve worked for my whole life. There is a ton that goes into that and I didn’t get here by myself. … I’m very grateful for this opportunity and I’m super excited to go to work [Wednesday] and have this opportunity in front of me.”
This story was originally published October 12, 2022 9:28 AM.