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Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa downplays Week 7 matchup with ex-Alabama teammate Jalen Hurts

Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts will meet on an NFL field on Sunday night as opponents -- and as former teammates.

The Dolphins and Eagles quarterbacks' stories are forever intertwined. But judging by Tagovailoa's responses to questions regarding Hurts prior to their Week 7 showdown in Philadelphia -- which some see as a potential Super Bowl LVIII preview -- it's all business for the former Alabama stars.

"Yeah, I think in competition mode, it's one of those things where I know where he's at with his play, he knows where I'm at with my play," Tagovailoa said on Wednesday. "We'll probably see each other before the game to wish each other luck, but at the end of the day, we're both trying to help our teams win. And I know that he's doing all that he can to help his offense be successful against our defense and I'm doing the exact same, trying to work hard to do the exact same to their defense.

"I got a lot of respect for Jalen. He's been a great competitor since I got there to Alabama. He's been a special player since I've been there, and he's been a special player throughout his entire college career. So I know it'll be a good game and I don't think of it as a Super Bowl preview or anything like that. I just think that this is another team that we're preparing for and in order for us to get to where we want to go to, we've got to play this game."

Hurts was the star quarterback at Alabama when Tagovailoa arrived in 2017, with Tagovailoa spending the campaign behind his elder until Hurts struggled in the College Football Playoff National Championship, prompting coach Nick Saban to pull Hurts and replace him with Tagovailoa. The rest is history: Tagovailoa led a furious comeback that ended in an overtime touchdown pass to fellow Alabama true freshman and current Eagles receiver DeVonta Smith, propelling the Crimson Tide past the Georgia Bulldogs for the national title.

In an instant, Tagovailoa usurped Hurts, who stuck around in Tuscaloosa to compete for the starting job before eventually settling for a backup role behind Tagovailoa in 2018. Hurts would earn one last moment in the Alabama spotlight, replacing an injured Tagovailoa in the SEC title game and helping the Crimson Tide score another comeback victory over Georgia. That was it for Hurts' time in Alabama, though, as Tagovailoa returned and Hurts eventually transferred to Oklahoma.

Since then, plenty has happened. Hurts has ascended to star status with the Eagles, finishing second in NFL MVP voting in 2022 and helping Philadelphia reach Super Bowl LVII. Tagovailoa, meanwhile, has struggled to stay healthy for much of his career, but currently is conducting an offense that is lighting up the league in Miami through six weeks in 2023.

"Yeah, I mean, there's different ways to skin the cat, right? Many different ways," Tagovailoa said when asked about his and Hurts' unique paths to their current place in the NFL. "He went down a different road than I did to get to where I'm at. And he had to go down a different road to get to where he's at. But like I said, I got a lot of respect for him -- who he is as a person who he is as a player and wish him the best of luck as we play him."

The clash of former Alabama quarterbacks is a fun storyline for the weekly content mill, but what matters more is how Miami stacks up against an Eagles team that is coming off a narrow loss to the New York Jets. Both offenses rank in the top two in yards per game. Both have receiving duos that feature Alabama pass-catchers selected in the first round of the same draft. And they each have Super Bowl aspirations.

Consider it a litmus test for the two squads. There's no better way to measure yourself than by playing a fellow title contender. Tagovailoa will hope he gets the best of his former teammate, even if his bigger concern is with Philadelphia's pass rush, which ranks second in total pressures in the NFL this season.

"The front seven is tough. A really good front seven," Tagovailoa said of the Eagles. "And then with their back end a little banged up, when they do have all their guys, they're a really, really good team. A lot of a lot of communication on that back end and they play really good and really sound defense."

It will be billed as Hurts versus Tagovailoa, but this is about more than two quarterbacks meeting familiar faces turned foes. We'll see who emerges victorious Sunday -- and how that might affect the season-long story of the NFL.

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