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Cardinals, Dolphins Both Learned To Lean On Rookie QB

Tua Tagovailoa heads into his second start as Kyler Murray has already settled in

Both the Cardinals and Dolphins entrusted their futures to their first-round quarterbacks in their rookie seasons.
Both the Cardinals and Dolphins entrusted their futures to their first-round quarterbacks in their rookie seasons.

Corey Peters has been through it twice already, once with Josh Rosen, then with Kyler Murray.

The veteran defensive lineman knows what it's like to have a rookie quarterback as a starter, which is what the Cardinals did in both 2018 and 2019 and what they will see on the other side of the field Sunday when the Dolphins send out Tua Tagovailoa for his second career start.

"I'm a firm believer in the expression, 'if a dog will bite, he's going to bite as a puppy,' " Peters said. "That's true for quarterbacks. Obviously, they will struggle in certain instances, but as far meat and potatoes, I think when you put a quarterback out there, you'll see what he has."

The Cardinals quickly saw what Murray could do, although it didn't necessarily translate into victories during the 5-win 2019 – although that was still a two-game improvement over 2018.

The Dolphins looked to be an improving team with veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was playing well during a 3-3 Miami start. But Dolphins coach Brian Flores decided to make the switch during the bye, and while Miami did beat the Rams in Tagovailoa's first start, it wasn't as if the QB played a major role, with fewer than 100 yards passing.

To be a veteran on a team transitioning to a rookie QB, "it's challenging," said Cardinals right tackle Kelvin Beachum, who was with the Jets when Sam Darnold took over as a rookie. "At the same time, I see an opportunity. An opportunity to be part of something special, to be a part of the beginning stages of someone's career."

Long gone are the days where a first-round QB will sit, a Carson Palmer backing up Jon Kitna for an entire rookie season. That was once Denny Green's plan with Matt Leinart, but Kurt Warner struggled at the beginning of 2006, and suddenly Leinart was playing.

"They drafted Tua to play," Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "I think they probably had a plan all along to let him learn and get his feet wet a little along the way, and they were going to insert him in the lineup and roll with it. I respect that they had a plan, they've implemented it and obviously last week they had success with it."

That's essentially how it developed with Rosen and Sam Bradford in 2018, although under completely different circumstances. Murray's development was different. He was designated the starter from the time he stepped foot in Tempe.

"They can underestimate you (or) they can respect you," Murray said. "But at the end of the day, when you're a rookie quarterback, you've just got to prove yourself. And that was my thing going into every Sunday, go out there and get better, obviously put our team in a situation where we could win the game.

"I had to prove myself each and every week that I belong. I'm still doing that till this day. That was my whole focus. You've just got to try to gain that confidence, and once that confidence gets rolling, you feel more and more comfortable."

Even now, Murray – knowing Tagovailoa is about to make his second start – recalls in his second start against the Ravens and how poorly overall he had done in his first start against the Lions.

"I felt like that next week I had no choice but to go off," Murray said.

"I don't really know (Tua's) stats from last week, but I'm sure he's got a feeling of, 'OK, I got a taste of it, an example. Now I've seen it, and I've got a lot to work on.' "

Flores said his message to the Dolphins was that Tagovailoa's insertion to the lineup was necessary. The growing pains will be a given, but, Flores said, "nobody is playing football perfect football so there's ups and downs of every player."

Against the Rams, Tagovailoa only threw 22 passes, completing 12 for 93 yards and a touchdown. He only had 49 snaps as the defense and special teams built a big lead in the win.

Like any quarterback, Tagovailoa has embraced the chance to be on the field as the best way to actually improve. Watching film – or watching Fitzpatrick play – helps to an extent but to actually feel the game in real time, "I think those things go a long way in sticking in your head and knowing okay, if this comes up, I know what my answer is," Tagovailoa said.

The Cardinals hope Tagovailoa doesn't have the answers Sunday. And after 23 NFL starts, they feel confident Murray finally does.

"When you have a young quarterback, they can be rattled at times," Beachum said. "As a veteran, you have to find a way to bring them in, hug 'em up, love 'em up, and at the same time be able to push them. It's a delicate balance.

"You realize this is a franchise you are trying to protect."

Images from practice at the Dignity Health Training Center, presented by Hyundai.