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Christian Wilkins appreciates seeing Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa's growth along career-best season

Christian Wilkins is wearing different colors now, but that doesn't preclude him from showering praise on a former prominent teammate.

If anyone got a good view of Tua Tagovailoa's maturation as an NFL quarterback, it was Wilkins, who joined Miami one year before Tagovailoa arrived. As the two blossomed in Miami -- with Wilkins improving enough to earn a four-year, $110 million deal with the Raiders in March -- the defensive tackle was there for every step of Tagovailoa's path from potential first-round bust to quarterback of the NFL's most explosive offense.

Though he's in a new city, Wilkins is proud of Tagovailoa's growth. And he'll gladly defend Tagovailoa against any critic.

"I really had a front-row seat to Tua and his growth and his development as a player, and just as a teammate, a leader, all that," Wilkins said during an appearance on Arik Armstead's Third and Long podcast. "It's been cool to watch. I feel like, in a way, we kinda had similar stories."

Wilkins arrived in Miami as a decorated star at Clemson, where he won two national titles with the Tigers and attracted nearly as much attention for his celebratory dance moves as he did his impact on the field. He didn't make the same impact in Miami until his final three seasons, in which he ramped up his sack totals to 4.5, 3.5 and 9.0 while accruing 252 tackles from 2021-2023.

That performance was enough to convince the Raiders they needed to pay to bring him to Las Vegas. Tagovailoa, meanwhile, finally shook off the injury-prone label in 2023 to throw for a career-high 4,624 yards, 29 touchdowns and a 101.1 passer rating, earning his first Pro Bowl nod and leading the Dolphins to a second straight playoff appearance.

Some might see Tagovailoa as little more than a product of Mike McDaniel's innovative offense. But the numbers speak for themselves, according to Wilkins.

"He went through his stuff, had his struggles early," Wilkins said. "But now, you know, Pro Bowl, MVP finalist and all that … I don't care what system, what scheme, or anything like that, you're still playing."

Football isn't as simple as rolling a ball out and telling robots to execute the plays as designed. Tagovailoa spent an entire offseason learning how to land in a safer fashion to avoid injury, then went out and put up a league-high total in passing yards, powering a Miami offense that most everyone feared throughout the majority of the 2023 season.

That doesn't happen by chance. And after watching his teammate's ascension, Wilkins isn't interested in giving Tagovailoa's detractors time to bring him down.

"So, definitely shout out to him, just the things he's been able to do and accomplish," Wilkins said. "It was just cool to have a front-row seat to watching his development as a player."

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