So now that the ugly reality
of losing QB Chad Pennington has hit home, the keys to the Dolphin offense fall
into the hands of heir apparent Chad Henne. And unless Henne fails miserably,
he will be the starting quarterback for the Miami Dolphins for years to come.
In other words, the future has
Some say this day was
inevitable, just not as sudden as it played out. Pennington’s shoulder, ruined
for the season, could do in his career. It is yet another reminder that
football is a brutal sport, sometimes harshly unfair to those who deserve
success the most. And no one was deserving of success more than Chad
But you can bet that
Pennington will be the first person in line to help Henne out anyway he can.
That’s just the type of person that Pennington is. Whether it is helping with
film study or in-game advice, he will be an exceptionally valuable resource
that Henne can turn to.
You could say that
Pennington will be to Henne what Don Strock was to a young Dan Marino back in
his rookie season.
Pennington won’t be the only
one, however. Like Marino, Henne will have lots of help.
Start with Dan Henning and
David Lee, two coaches with a ton of experience that will play a vital role in
Both coaches would say that
they have complete confidence in Henne and believe he is capable of running
anything the playbook offers, short of the Wildcat. That being said, they will
be pragmatic in selecting the formations and plays that Henne handles best.
This will probably be somewhat different from the list that Pennington works
off of. They’ll also be more deliberate with Henne in pointing out pitfalls
that, to a veteran like Pennington, would be overly obvious.
I won’t predict how Henne’s
wristband will look relative to Pennington’s, other than to say that there are
throws Henning and Lee can ask of Henne that they would consider more
discretionary for Pennington. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the
passing game will become more aggressive. Rather, we should expect the coaches
to ask Henne to stay within his means as he gains experience. In other words,
they’ll continue to pick and choose their spots as the game situation and his
level of play warrants.
This brings us to the
players surrounding Henne. This is a critical factor to the success of any
young QB, just as it was for Marino.
Perhaps the single biggest
asset Henne has to work with is a solid offensive line. It’s not talked about a
lot, but one of the biggest advantages Marino had in learning the ropes as a
rookie was a solid veteran line that could protect him and generate a decent
running game. Guys like Dwight Stephenson, Jon Giesler, Bob Kuechenberg and Ed
Newman took a lot of pressure off Marino and allowed that precious added time that
all rookies need to make decisions.
Henne didn’t play very much
as a rookie, so he is roughly in the same state that Marino was when he took
over from David Woodley. This means that he too will be dependent on the
offensive line to keep him clean as he comes along the learning curve.
Fortunately, the Dolphins have a good offensive line that Henne can rely on. It
helps Henne’s confidence that he and left tackle Jake Long were teammates at Michigan.
Marino also had a talented
backfield to work with, led by Tony Nathan and fullback Woody Bennett. They
knew their jobs better than Marino did, and were very capable in pass
protection; this helped Marino focus more on his own responsibilities. Henne
will also benefit from a solid backfield, in many respects more talented than
the one Marino enjoyed.
receivers…guys like Nat Moore, Jimmy Cefalo, Mark Duper, and, later, Mark
Clayton were of immense value to Marino’s early development. They knew how to
run routes and read coverages as well as anyone in the league, and could be
depended on to be at the right place at the right time. In some cases, Marino
could count on a respected veteran like Moore
to correct a play call in the huddle if Marino got it wrong.
While Henne won’t have that
caliber of assistance, guys like Greg Camarillo and Anthony Fasano have many of
the same leadership qualities. Expect the Dolphins to rely more heavily on them
for stability and leadership support as Henne gets settled. Others, such as
Davone Bess and Ted Ginn, have got to step up their games. Little things, like
running a crisp route or knowing when to play defensive back on an errant pass,
could be the difference between winning and losing. These young receivers won’t
have a high caliber leader like Pennington to help them now, so they need to
step up. They need to grow up, and quickly.
Finally, there’s the
confidence that Tony Sparano, Jeff Ireland, and Bill Parcells have in Henne. And
it means a tremendous amount to Henne to have their trust. This will help to
free his mind of worry and help him to just focus on doing his best. Marino
enjoyed the same trust and confidence from Don Shula, to the point that Shula
even let Marino call his own plays as a rookie. To this day, Marino credits
this for helping his development along.
At the end of the day, Henne
has to be the one who makes the good decisions and provides the leadership the
offense needs to succeed. The Dolphins have done a decent job of creating the
proper conditions for him to realize that success. Now is the time for Henne to
reward that confidence with good play.
Now is the time for him to
deliver the goods.