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NFL Beat Week 8: Jeff Darlington

Front Row continues a weekly series with ESPN NFL reporters who take you inside their upcoming game assignments. Jeff Darlington is covering Rams-Dolphins

“If you’d have asked me two weeks ago what game I’d be covering this week, I would’ve probably correctly guessed Rams-Dolphins,” ESPN NFL reporter Jeff Darlington told Front Row.

“But I would’ve assumed it was the result of the Rams’ 5-2 record – and the intrigue at the top of the NFC West. And yes, that’s a storyline. But this is all about Tua [Tagovailoa, the Dolphins’ rookie starting quarterback] now.”

In the Q&A below, the University of Florida graduate and former Miami Dolphins beat reporter shares top storylines for Sunday’s game, insight for fantasy football players, a cherished memory with Hall of Fame coach Don Shula and more.

If you were able to travel to the game with any player or coach, who would it be and why?
There’s a good rule to follow when it comes to reporting on big games: Don’t overthink it. For the Dolphins and Rams, there’s no question I want to be riding shotgun with Tua. He’s getting his first start, and from a storytelling standpoint, there’s something wonderful about capturing the emotions of a young player on such a monumental day in his life and career. What kind of music will he listen to? Upbeat or chill? Will he be nervous? Talkative? Loose? Retrospective? Focused? If it wasn’t for the pandemic, this actually would make for a damn good story. Nice idea! Ha!

What is the first thing you’ll do when you get to the stadium?
I mean, that’s obvious. Put on my makeup. Duh. I definitely never anticipated my career creating such an unexpected set of priorities, but yes, the first 20 minutes of every Sunday at a stadium generally entail a pretty twisted agenda: Find a random, small bathroom in the underbelly of an empty stadium and get “TV ready.” That’s how we roll out in the field. None of those fancy studio gigs like [ESPN NFL analysts] Ryan Clark or Dan Orlovsky have. We don’t have green rooms. We don’t have makeup artists. We don’t have air conditioners or heaters. That’s right. We’re tough out in the field – especially when applying a nice, gentle concealer.

My producer, camera person and audio technician are so incredibly important to everything we accomplish in our game coverage. They are the first to arrive and the last to leave. There’s nothing I hate more in the TV industry than being referred to in the field as the ‘talent’ because it completely undermines the ‘talent’ of each member of the crew. They make it happen. They are essential. – Jeff Darlington

What are the essential items you have on hand?
When I hear the word “essential” as it pertains to my job in the field, I don’t really think of an item. I think of my crew. My producer, camera person, and audio technician are so incredibly important to everything we accomplish in our game coverage. They are the first to arrive and the last to leave. There’s nothing I hate more in the TV industry than being referred to in the field as the “talent” because it completely undermines the “talent” of each member of the crew. They make it happen. They are essential.

WEEK 8 NFL REPORTER ASSIGNMENTS

On Sunday morning, Darlington and ESPN’s NFL reporters will provide pre-game updates and analysis on Sunday NFL Countdown (10 a.m. ET, ESPN) and Fantasy Football Now (10 a.m. ET, ESPN2).
Dianna Russini: Pittsburgh at Baltimore
Jeff Darlington: LA Rams at Miami
Kimberley A. Martin: Las Vegas at Cleveland
Dan Graziano: New England at Buffalo
Ed Werder: San Francisco at Seattle
Additionally, Sal Paolantonio will cover Dallas at Philadelphia, providing updates on SportsCenter.

What are the top three storylines you’ll be reporting?

  • What led the Dolphins to feel like it was time to start Tua?
  • What has Tua showed to his teammates this week to suggest he’s ready?
  • How much does someone like [Rams defensive lineman] Aaron Donald get amped up to play against a highly hyped rookie?

What should fantasy football players consider?
Dolphins wide receiver Preston Williams hasn’t been perfect this season, but he has found the endzone in three of his last four games. Considering [Rams defensive back] Jalen Ramsey will be likely covering [Dolphins receiver] Devante Parker, which might make a rookie like Tua a bit shy to throw his way, I could see Williams becoming an important safety outlet.

What is your favorite memory or the proudest moment covering the Dolphins?
I’ll never forget when [legendary former Dolphins head coach] Don Shula invited me to his house on the day before his 80th birthday. I was a young reporter for the Miami Herald, and Shula and I had taken a liking to each other. He was always so kind to me. So when I got to his house, he walked me out to this beautiful lanai overlooking Biscayne Bay. We sat down and talked for a solid hour. He just told me story after story after story – and at times, I felt more like his grandson than a sports reporter. He was such an amazing man, and I know I speak for many in South Florida when I say we miss him already. But he lived a great life, and I feel fortunate that I got to spend a small part of it with him.

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