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MIAMI — Seeing Miami Dolphins fans wearing his jersey take over Hard Rock Stadium never gets old for Dan Marino. Even 21 years after retirement, the Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback is still the man in Miami.

“I was able to play here so long and to see the fans still care after all this time. It’s special and I love it,” Marino told ESPN. “It’s important to me. I’m happy they still do it.”

But Marino also knows the pressure of replacing him has magnified as the Dolphins have failed time and time again during the past two decades to find their franchise quarterback. Miami has had 22 starting QBs since Marino retired in 2000, and the current one — Tua Tagovailoa — has the potential to finally be the answer.

Tagovailoa has the star power — finishing in the top five of all players in jersey sales as a rookie. He’s already a folk hero in Hawaii and Alabama, where he was born and played college football, respectively. But after an up-and-down rookie season (14 touchdowns to 5 interceptions with 6-3 record, but an average of 181.4 passing yards per game and hesitancy throwing the deep ball), questions remain about whether he will be the right guy to lead the Dolphins to an elite level.

The Dolphins are counting on a big Year 2 jump. If Tagovailoa shows he can lead this team to championship contention, fans might be as all-in on the Tagovailoa-led future as they are on the Marino-led past.

“I hope he does,” Marino said. “It would be awesome for everybody, wouldn’t it? The most important thing is to be yourself, be who you are and work your butt off. It’ll work out.”

The focus around Tagovailoa this offseason has been about his confidence. He admitted recently that last season he “wasn’t comfortable calling plays, checking plays, alerting plays” and he “didn’t know the playbook really, really good.”

Both comments led to widespread criticism from multiple media outlets, but Dolphins coach Brian Flores said it was overblown: “Honestly, I just think he’s comparing last year to where he is right now, and I get it. I understand that. I remember being a first-year position coach and coming out of that year, going into the spring, going into the next season and saying, ‘I could’ve been better last year. I should have been better. I’m better now.'”

Early Tagovailoa reviews are positive as the Dolphins head into mandatory minicamp this week. Wide receiver DeVante Parker said Tagovailoa’s “mechanics and footwork look different,” plus the “ball comes out faster.” Tagovailoa, listed as 6 feet, 217 pounds as a rookie, also looks stronger and bigger. He says he’s more comfortable with this playbook and scheme under co-offensive coordinators George Godsey and Eric Studesville. Tagovailoa also says his hip feels “10 times better” than it did this time last year coming off his career-threatening dislocation and wall fracture at Alabama in November 2019.

During a wide-ranging conversation with ESPN, Marino discussed what he has seen from Tagovailoa, his view of how being an NFL quarterback has changed since his playing days (1983-1999) and his roller-coaster health journey, which includes two recent knee surgeries and a return to a diet plan to help him lose weight.

Tagovailoa ‘has all the talent in the world’

Marino, who has worked for the Dolphins as a special adviser since 2014, knows a lot about Year 2 jumps given his second season — 1984 — is considered one of the best QB seasons of all time. He also gets an up-close view of Tagovailoa and the offense by attending practices and meetings throughout the year.

“He’s been great. He’s been awesome. He has all the talent in the world. Now it’s just about him developing the relationship with the other players,” Marino said of Tagovailoa. “It’s been tough because he didn’t have OTAs last year, a lot of the summer camp or the chance to play in exhibition games. All those things delay you somewhat. I’ll tell you, he works his butt off. I’m really excited about him, his future and our future as a team.”

The quarterback made clear he’s not “Coach Marino,” just “someone who can help at times with my view of certain things.”

Over the past year, Tagovailoa said he valued Marino’s occasional insight added during quarterback meetings. Count Marino among those who believe Tagovailoa will be much improved.

“As time goes on you, you get a better handle [of things]. You know your people. That’s what OTAs is about, getting your timing down,” Marino said. “He played a lot last year and when he played, we won games. We almost got in the playoffs. All that is a positive. You try to build from the positives.

“He wants to be really good. And in time, he’s going to get there because that’s what type of kid he is.”

‘I would guarantee you 6,000 [yards]’

Marino smiles when you mention 1984.

He doesn’t say it directly, but it’s an easy guess it was his favorite season as a pro — winning MVP, reaching Super Bowl XIX, breaking the passing-touchdown record (48) and becoming the first NFL QB to eclipse 5,000 passing yards (he finished the 1984 season with 5,084). Peyton Manning eventually broke both records and remains the record holder after his historic 2013 season (55 touchdowns, 5,477 yards) with the Denver Broncos.

“I look back at it sometimes and I feel like we were doing something very special back then as a group, as a team, as an offense, as individuals that no one did for 30 years [afterward],” Marino said. “Now guys are throwing for 5,000 yards all the time, so it’s going to happen on a more consistent basis. But to me, it’s still a special deal from 37 years ago.”

With the NFL shifting to 17 games, records will be broken. There have been 12 5,000-yard seasons, with 10 of them coming within the past decade, and Marino believes a 6,000-yard season will happen. Then he pauses and his competitive QB spirit comes out.

“If I was still younger with [Mark] Duper and [Mark] Clayton, I would guarantee you 6,000,” Marino said. “But I don’t have to do it now. I don’t have to prove it.”

Marino says the game has evolved quite a bit since his playing days. He lists the advanced access to doctors, health information, training techniques and food options, all of which have created the widespread perception of bigger, stronger faster players. But in terms of quarterback play, he sees only one significant difference.

“How to deal with protections at the line of scrimmage — defenses have changed some with multiple blitzes and different personnel — we did some of that stuff, but it’s a lot more complicated now than it was in the early ’80s,” Marino said. “As far as throwing it and reading the coverage, that hasn’t changed. It’s still 11 guys on 11 guys.”

Marino then turns it back to these current Dolphins. Coming off a 10-6 season in which they narrowly missed the playoffs, there’s another reason for Marino’s Dolphins optimism: Flores. Marino played for arguably the greatest coach of all time in Don Shula, so his perspective on Flores is valuable.

“Coach Flores has been incredible,” Marino said.

“As far as discipline and guys playing hard for him, that’s all there. I don’t think that’s going to change. He’s been a great addition for us. Guys, they want to follow him.”

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Chris Canty explains how Tua Tagovailoa can improve in his second year as the Dolphins’ QB.

‘Trying to impact the game any way I can’

Marino walks a lot better these days with two new knees. He had spent more than a decade fighting it off but finally gave in, getting knee replacement surgery last November and again in March when the pain worsened.

“It was from playing football since a little kid. All the operations, plus playing on the real turf that was like concrete. I did all the scopes, there was no cartilage left. It was getting pretty bad,” Marino said.

“But I feel better now. Maybe I’ll play again. I’m 59 years old. I can still throw a fade route.”

Today, Marino says he’s in a better place. His Achilles, which he tore in October 1993 against the Cleveland Browns, wasn’t repaired properly and still bothers him. But he got his knees done so that he could move around well with his grandkids. He’s 20 to 25 pounds heavier than his playing weight and the Nutrisystem spokesman has a summer goal of eating better to lose some pounds.

Transitioning away from football can be a challenge, Marino admits. He was able to have a smooth lane to a broadcast career for CBS and HBO, and then landed the adviser role with the Dolphins, but he believes the most difficult part for players is maintaining their physical and mental health outside of a team structure.

“It’s about enjoying your life every day,” Marino said. “We all have family situations. I’m going through stuff with my one sister now where it’s not easy and it’s not going to be good. You just have to do the best you can, be as open as you can, the whole talking about life is so important.”

Marino admits former players all talk about those scary three letters — CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. He says it certainly “hits your mind,” but he is blessed it “hasn’t impacted me at all, but it does impact players. It’s part of our life — we choose to play the game of football.”

In the nearly 45-minute chat, Marino’s competitive nature pokes through a few times. When his 1983 QB draft class that included Broncos great John Elway and Buffalo Bills legend Jim Kelly is brought up, Marino notes they don’t compete anymore at their ages (Kelly is 61 and Elway is 60). Then he pauses, tries to resist the zinger, but decides to let it loose.

“When we’re together, we always have a good time,” Marino says. “John is still a pretty good golfer. I’m not sure I can beat him in golf. But I know I can beat up on Jim Kelly for sure.”

As far as football, he gets his joy watching Tagovailoa and these Dolphins. His adviser role doesn’t put too much stress on him, but it also makes him a part of an ascending Dolphins team that seems poised for a playoff appearance in the near future.

“Sitting in a meeting here or there, being around the coaches, being around practice, trying to impact the game any way I can. I love football. I’m blessed at my age to still be a part of the whole thing,” Marino said. “Try to see our Dolphins be better, make the playoffs and win the Super Bowl someday. If I can be a small part of that, it would mean the world to me.”



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Can Colts stem the tide if Carson Wentz, Quenton Nelson miss games? – Indianapolis Colts Blog

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WESTFIELD, Ind. – One of the Indianapolis Colts’ strongest attributes on either side of the ball is their offensive line, which is supposed to be a factor in helping quarterback Carson Wentz rebound from a disappointing 2020 season and help Indianapolis get back to the playoffs for the second straight season.

That’ll be tough to do when three of the five starting offensive linemen are out dealing with injuries, as is Wentz.

Wentz and guard Quenton Nelson joined center Ryan Kelly (elbow) and left tackle Eric Fisher (Achilles) out of action. Wentz and Nelson have basically the same foot injury that will keep them sidelined anywhere between five to 12 weeks.

There’s never a good time for injuries. And it’s really not a good time when four of the first five games are against teams that made the playoffs last season and with all five of those teams expected to push for a playoff spot this season.

Winning games over the Seahawks, Rams, Titans, Dolphins and Ravens would be tough with a healthy roster. It could end up being a brutal stretch for the Colts if those players aren’t back yet. And the reality is, there’s a chance they won’t be.

Kelly is out for a couple of weeks with his elbow injury, and there’s a chance Fisher will miss the start of the regular season while he continues to rehab from the torn Achilles he suffered last winter. The Colts, based off talks with medical officials, cast a broad net on the return timetable of Wentz and Nelson because all players recover differently.

“We were talking about it as a staff, we were talking about it individually — this is a great opportunity for our guys, for us to build depth on our team,” coach Frank Reich said. “We talk about it all the time, it’s the course of a season, so we have a good chance to evaluate all of those guys who can step in, and there is a handful of them. That’s what we’re in the process of doing, and we’ll be hopeful that [Nelson] will be back for Week 1. We don’t know, but that’s what our hope is.”

Per Caesars Sportsbook, the odds for the Colts to win the Super Bowl (25-1, 35-1), AFC (13-1, 16-1) and AFC South (-110, +170) all fell following the announcement of Wentz’s prognosis by Reich on Monday afternoon.

A lot can change over the next five weeks before the Colts host Seattle in Week 1. The Colts haven’t opened the season with a victory since 2013. But playing worst-case scenario, if Wentz, Nelson and Fisher are still out at the start of the season, the Colts potentially could struggle running the ball without their starting left guard and left tackle, and their quarterback to keep the defense honest with his arm.

The Colts’ defensive line has been having its way against the beat-up offensive line in recent days in training camp. Imagine what Seattle and Tennessee coaches Pete Carroll and Mike Vrabel can scheme to do against the Colts. Or the havoc Rams All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald is going to cause up the middle. And to make matters worse, three of the first five games are on the road for the Colts.

The Colts may need to lean more heavily on Matt Eberflus’ defense — which ranked eighth in yards allowed last season and second against the run — to keep them in games until those key players return.

Reich keeps a narrow thought process on what lies ahead. That’s why he had a long post-practice talk with his team, where he spoke with a lot of passion. The Colts started the 2018 season 1-5 and finished with a 10-6 record and a spot in the playoffs.

“I’ve been a part of some really great teams who lost great players, and it takes all of us and you to overcome it as a team, and I believe whatever card we’re dealt; however it plays out, we’ll be just fine,” Reich said.

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Philip Rivers says he’s ‘staying ready,’ won’t close door on possible NFL return

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Months after he announced his retirement from the NFL, former quarterback Philip Rivers says he isn’t ruling out a return.

Rivers, who retired in January after one season with the Indianapolis Colts following 16 with the San Diego and Los Angeles Chargers, told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday that he is staying in shape in case a situation presents itself for a late-season stint in the NFL.

“I’m not quite there,” Rivers, 39, told the LA Times. “I’m getting back there. I wouldn’t have made weight if I had to report last week, that’s for sure. But I am getting back into the lifting and running, and shoot, I occasionally throw a ball around out here in this heat. It’s not too hard to get a good lather going.

“I’m just going to stay ready. I want to make sure I’m very clear: I’m not predicting I will play in December or January, for that matter. One, you’ve got to have somebody who wants you, and two, it’s got to be right.

“But I have not completely ruled that out.”

Rivers, a five-time Pro Bowler who ranks fifth in NFL history with 63,440 passing yards, led the Colts to the playoffs last season, throwing for 4,169 yards and 24 touchdowns. Indianapolis lost to Buffalo in an AFC wild-card game.

The Colts announced Monday that quarterback Carson Wentz will have surgery on his injured left foot and be out five to 12 weeks.

Rivers currently is in his first year as head football coach of St. Michael Catholic High School in Alabama. According to maxpreps.com, the team’s final regular-season game is scheduled for Oct. 29, two days before the Colts’ Week 8 home game against the Tennessee Titans.

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Minnesota Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf is concerned over players’ vaccine hesitancy; three QBs on the COVID-19 reserve list

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EAGAN, Minn. — While the Minnesota Vikings continue navigating a recent COVID-19 interruption within the quarterback room, team co-owner Mark Wilf expressed concern over vaccine hesitancy among players.

“We’re very concerned,” Wilf said. “I think it’s safe to say that our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of our players, our coaches, our staff and, ultimately, the entire community. From that standpoint, we really are encouraging people to take the vaccines, to get vaccinated.

“We’re proud of the fact that we’ve partnered with the State of Minnesota to have our facility here used as a vaccination center in the offseason. We just want everybody to follow the protocols. We’re trying to educate everyone in the organization, the team, to make sure and get the vaccinations. Of course with the delta variant and other new permutations going on, we just want to make sure to preserve the health and safety. That’s the standpoint that we come from as ownership and as an organization.”

The Vikings are without quarterbacks Kellen Mond, who tested positive for COVID-19 last weekend, Kirk Cousins and Nate Stanley — the latter two were deemed high-risk close contacts and required to self-isolate for a minimum of five days. All three QBs and wide receiver Myron Mitchell were placed on the COVID-19/reserve list.

According to the NFL/NFLPA protocols, a player with the “high-risk close contact” classification designates that they are not vaccinated. Coach Mike Zimmer has been outspoken about his frustration with players who are refusing to get vaccinated and foreshadowed the stark reality the Vikings are “going to have guys miss some games, and we have to be prepared for it.”

“I talked to the team and, like I said before, there are quite a few guys that are just against it,” Zimmer said on Monday. “I’m not going to be able to change their mind, so, it’s like half the country, I guess.”

The Vikings’ vaccine hesitancy is reflected in vaccination efforts leaguewide. According to a report from The Washington Post, the Vikings have the lowest vaccination rate in the NFL, with 64.5% of players fully vaccinated and 70% in process (with at least one shot). The Washington Football Team has dealt with similar interruptions during training camp, with six players currently on the COVID-19/reserve list, but saw its vaccination rate escalate 24% in one week from 60% to 84% of its players being at least partially vaccinated, according to the report.

The NFL announced Tuesday that 90% of players across the league are either fully vaccinated or have had at least one shot. Nine teams are above 95%, and 27 teams have reached the 85% threshold.

The competitive advantage that teams with higher vaccination rates could have this season is not lost on Vikings players, coaches and ownership. On his All Things Covered podcast, cornerback Patrick Peterson noted the importance of getting vaccinated so he doesn’t put himself at risk of missing games thanks to COVID-19 protocols.

“I feel like I’m too important to this team not to get vaccinated, not miss an important game and now we possibly lose that game, and that could be the game that we needed to get into the playoffs,” Peterson said.

Wilf noted the potential for low vaccination rates to lead to a competitive disadvantage and praised Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman for the way they’ve approached the situation in Minnesota.

“The competitive side is of course concerning but, again, our focus is on health and safety,” Wilf said. “We care about the players and the team and, from that standpoint, they happen to be aligned. But the fact is, we’re encouraging vaccinations. We’re talking about a serious health pandemic, and it’s something we want to make sure that our players, our staff, our coaches, that they’re fully informed of what’s involved here. From that standpoint, I think the way Coach Zimmer and Rick Spielman and the entire football team has handled this is the right way — in terms of making sure we provide the resources, as ownership, that everyone is educated and has the opportunity to understand all the facts.”

The Vikings signed quarterbacks Case Cookus and Danny Etling on Monday after Jake Browning was Minnesota’s only quarterback available following the COVID-19 interruption. Browning is vaccinated.

Zimmer said Monday that he did not know when Mond, Cousins or Stanley would be available to return. Because Mond tested positive, his return is subject to different protocols.

According to NFL/NFLPA guidelines, a player on the COVID-19/reserve list who tests positive and is asymptomatic can return to practice 10 days after showing symptoms, or five days after initially testing positive, with two consecutive negative tests separated by 24 hours within a five-day period. Symptomatic players can return 10 days after first testing positive and at least 72 hours after their last symptoms occurred.

“It is a tough circumstance for [Mond],” offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak said. “We’ll make the best of it, keep challenging him in our virtual meetings. He’s done a great job with that, staying prepared. Mainly, I just want to make sure he’s OK. He’s got COVID — he’s sick. We’ve got to get him healthy first. But when he gets back, we’ll get him back physically. In the meantime, we can stress him mentally and make it hard for him so that it’s just all physical when he gets back.”

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