MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP)Bryce Young has been watching Tua Tagovailoa for a long time.
The 2021 Heisman Trophy winner saw Tagovailoa excel at Alabama and help transform the Crimson Tide’s run-first offense into a pro-style scheme that pushed the ball down the field. That, in turn, influenced Young’s decision to go to Tuscaloosa.
“It was a big transition from when he was there,” the Carolina Panthers’ rookie quarterback said, “just what the offense looked like and what Alabama moved to offensively. It’s flourished since then, and I was a recruit when all that was happening, so that was a really big reason for me being there.”
Tagovailoa said he didn’t know he had that impact on Young, who became Alabama’s starter a year after Tagovailoa was drafted by the Dolphins, but he remembers being a part of Alabama’s offensive evolution.
“It’s one of those things that, ‘Yeah, Alabama is not just a ground-and-pound team,’” Tagovailoa said. “’They do throw the ball, and they throw it a lot.’ I would say with the supporting cast that I had, we definitely had some say in, I think, recruiting.”
Young and Tagovailoa will meet on the field for the first time as professionals when the Panthers visit the Dolphins on Sunday.
Miami (4-1) boasts one of the NFL’s best offenses, but Tagovailoa has been in a similar situation to Young and the winless Panthers (0-5).
The Dolphins lost five straight games last year, a stretch that jeopardized their chances of making the playoffs. The year before, Tagovailoa fielded questions about Miami’s long-term commitment and confidence in him as the team lost seven consecutive games.
“That is something that we have direct recall on, just very recent,” coach Mike McDaniel said, “and you know how powerful that is. The bottom line is that this is the National Football League, so I know one thing: The Carolina Panthers have everything to gain.”
The Panthers have lost to Atlanta, New Orleans, Seattle, Minnesota and Detroit. Miami will be their toughest test. The Dolphins are beating opponents by an average of 18 1/2 points.
McDaniel believes the Panthers’ losing streak makes them a dangerous opponent.
“Maybe teams like to look at win, loss or whatever. We just look at the bottom line,” he said. “The tape shows a team that’s going to come, not only compete, but they’re going to do it in a physical fashion. They are sick of having that feeling. They’re going to want to change it. So that’s the force that we’re facing this week.”
Chuba Hubbard could be the Panthers’ primary running back if Miles Sanders is unable to play. Sanders was battling a groin injury last week before sustaining a shoulder injury on Sunday in a 42-24 loss to the Detroit Lions. Hubbard has seen his workload increase with 23 carries over the past two weeks compared to 20 for Sanders.
It didn’t help that Sanders fumbled for the second time this season on Sunday, leading to a Lions touchdown.
The Panthers are also working in wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. at running back. He’s viewed as a power back.
The Panthers are getting a little help in the secondary. Cornerback Donte Jackson said he plans to play this week after missing last week with a shoulder injury.
Jackson was one of three starting defensive backs to miss last week’s game, along with cornerback Jaycee Horn and safety Xavier Woods, who remain out with hamstring injuries. Horn and Woods are expected to miss this week’s game as well.
Carolina’s pass defense allowed Detroit’s Jared Goff to throw for three touchdowns last week.
The Panthers have tried simplifying their offense for Young, honing in on the plays he feels most comfortable with while also streamlining the play-calling process.
The No. 1 overall draft pick is off to a rough start. Young, who has started four of the team’s five games, ranks 25th in the league in QB rating (82.1). He has thrown five touchdown passes and has turned the ball over six times.
UP TO SPEED
Miami wide receiver Chase Claypool was a healthy scratch in last Sunday’s win over the Giants, having been acquired from the Chicago Bears just days prior. Since then, the Dolphins have been working to get Claypool up to speed on their offense.
Claypool said he doesn’t believe it will take too long to grasp Miami’s playbook. He practiced with the team for the first time Wednesday.
“There’s a lot of motion, shifts, two motions before the ball is snapped,” he said. “I’ve been doing a lot of studying, and I don’t think it’ll be too long. It is a complex playbook, but I feel pretty good.”
AP Sports Writer Steve Reed contributed to this report.
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