How Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa Learned to Fall — And May Have Prolonged His Career

Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa made national news this week when he disclosed that he considered retiring after suffering two diagnosed concussions during the 2022 NFL season.

Tagovailoa ultimately decided to return, but not after lengthy talks with neurological specialists and his family. But during the process, Tua realized how he was playing the game was unsustainable, and has taken steps this offseason to protect his health.

The most notable step? Enrolling in jiu-jitsu training to teach him how to fall so the back of his head will not keep smacking off the turf following relatively routine hits.

Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa Talks Jiu-Jitsu

“I learned how to fall,” Tagovailoa, still a white belt, said Wednesday. “You think it’s easy, just don’t fall and hit your head. But I mean, there’s a lot more to it.”

So what more is involved?

“We used like crash pads to land on first with trying to fall,” Tagovailoa continued. “Obviously tucking your chin, that was one of the deals. But it went a lot more into the technique of how to disperse your energy when you fall, kind of like the posture you want to be in, and if you’re not presented that posture, what are other things that you can do to help you disperse the energy when you fall. So it’s a lot of those things.

“And it’s actually a lot cooler than you think when you hear of learning how to fall.”

Tagovailoa added that he’s “been falling a lot this offseason,” and like any skill, he has improved with repetition. Basically, the only reps he’s had before this year have been in games — the opposite of a controlled environment.

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Most of all of his major injuries in his career (dating back to college) could have been prevented with either better technique or simply by Tagovailoa knowing when to give up on a failed play.

“With jiu-jitsu, I’ve been thrown airborne, I’ve been put in many uncomfortable positions for me to learn how to fall and try to react throughout those positions that I’m getting thrown around in,” he said.

You can be forgiven if that answer rings a few alarm bells. What NFL team wants its franchise quarterback — who’s owed some $32 million fully guaranteed over the next two years — being thrown around at all, but particularly by someone outside of the organization?

But the Dolphins presumably did their due diligence before Tua enrolled in martial arts classes. Their coach, Mike McDaniel, has been supportive and encouraging of Tua’s efforts since the season ended.

“We were willing to go to any length,” McDaniel said at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. “However, with him getting invested in it and really talking to him and hearing how the trainer is invested in him and how he was really into it and getting good residuals from it, we feel very comfortable in terms of this being best preparing him for things that he hasn’t otherwise been able to prepare for.

“It’s something, like a follow-through throwing motion, it’s something that we’re trying to train and he’s 100 percent all in, attacking it with vigor and exuberance.”

Tua Tagovailoa’s Concussion Prevention Plan

Jiu-jitsu is just one way Tagovailoa has spent an offseason dedicated not just to getting healthy but staying healthy.

“Obviously, strength work has been really big throughout this offseason for me with getting my legs under me, kind of building my upper body, building around my neck, my core,” Tagovailoa said. “All of that has been taken into consideration. And I’ve been doing a lot more to try to help myself sustain the season.”

He then shared some specifics.

“We have like this neck device that we use where you clip it onto like one of the pulleys. So I’m able to do a four-way directional head deal. And then also you have manuals where someone is resisting or trying to hold your head down. And then, within the four ways, going side to side, and then back and forth, you have manuals. That’s really what we’ve been doing to help build that up.”

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