The last pre-season game has been played.
The final roster cuts have been made.
The practice squad has been formed and the starting lineup has
Which means that the pre-season is now officially over and
there's only one thing left to do before the regular season starts....
... write an issue of "On Porpoise".
Hey! Quit laughing! It isn't that surprising, is it? Sure,
it's been over a year since I put fingers to keyboard for "On
Porpoise", but for some strange reason, people keep emailing me to ask
me for another one.
So, here it is.
But what should this premier 2000 issue of "On Porpoise" be
about, do you think? The retirement of Dan Marino? The new coaching
regime of Dave Wannestedt? The (re-)naming of Joe Robbie Stadium?
The signing of Thurman Thomas?
All of these are valid topics and all deserve some attention.
But the topic that is most on the lips of Dolphins' fans worldwide
....the quarterback situation, of course!
And while I wouldn't want to be a band-wagoneer, I will let
myself be swept along in the tide of public enthusiasm, just this
Now, far be it from me to gloat over being right, (*ahem*) but
those of you who have been reading what I've written over the summer
know that I predicted back in April that Jay Fiedler would eventually
become the starting quarterback for the Dolphins.
I just didn't think it would happen quite this soon -
especially after Fiedler had his hip surgery this summer.
But let's face it - the Dolphins didn't sign Fiedler to be a
backup. They signed him to at least compete for - and hopefully win -
the starting job.
Actually, that's not quite true. They signed him because they
hoped he'd have the talent and smarts to come in and lead the team.
They hoped he'd turn out to be a genuine leader with a legitimate NFL
arm who could take charge and lead the offense to a level of success
they haven't known in several years.
And because the coaches believe that Damon Huard - while a
great competitor - does not have the arm to be an NFL starter in this
age of the big strike offense.
Now, don't get me wrong - I like Damon Huard a lot. I am a
believer in Damon Huard. I have been ever since the first game he
played as quarterback last year against the Patriots.
There are only a handful of starting quarterbacks in the NFL
who could do what Huard did in that game - who could throw an
interception that was returned for a touchdown on their first pass and
not suffer a meltdown. Who could take 9 sacks throughout the game and
still lead their team to a victory in the final minute while
overcoming a 2 touchdown deficit.
Now, if you multiply those difficulties by the fact that Huard
had never played a full regular season NFL game in his life, his
accomplishment is stunning.
I firmly believe that Damon Huard will be an effective
quarterback in the NFL - in the Earl Morrall, Frank Reich and Don
In other words, as a permanent backup.
Having said that, let me say this - I want him on the team.
He is a proven winner. His guts, intelligence, tenacity and cool head
under pressure are invaluable. And since almost every team in the NFL
will have their backup quarterback start at least one game for them
this year, a good backup quarterback has become a necessity.
And Damon Huard is definitely a good backup quarterback.
Unfortunately, what Damon Huard doesn't have is a genuine
starting quality arm. His delivery of the ball is too slow and a
little too erratic to make him an effective starting passer in the
If you add to that his tentative decision making, the result
is a quarterback who won't lose you any games, but who also can't give
the team that extra spark they may need now and then to win.
Now, the coaches and experience can probably improve his
decision making. But they can't give Damon the arm, the timing and
the instincts to deliver the ball quickly and on target.
And because they can't give him these qualities, the coaches
can't turn Damon Huard into a starting NFL quarterback. At least, not
for a championship team.
Over the course of this year, the coaches have given Damon
Huard every chance to demonstrate that he has those qualities
somewhere in him. Unfortunately, all he's done this pre-season is to
prove that he doesn't have the passing ability to be an NFL starter.
He's got everything else a starting quarterback needs. But if
he can't throw the ball well, he won't ever be a starter and there is
very little that anyone can do about it.
Which brings us back to Jay Fiedler.
Now, it is yet to be proven that Fiedler also has the
qualities necessary to lead a team to the promised land, which just
happens to be in Tampa, Florida this year. But from our brief look at
him, he does seem to have most of the qualities necessary to be an
First, he's got brains and he knows how to use them. A degree
from Dartmouth - while not as impressive as a degree from... oh let's
say MIT... is nothing to sneer at.
Second, he seems to have good field presence and leadership.
This is, of course, much harder to define than smarts, but if he
didn't have those qualities, he wouldn't have veterans like Bert
Emmanuel and Tony Martin gushing about him publicly in the papers - as
they did this week.
And he wouldn't have Tom Coughlin of the Jacksonville Jaguars
picking him to back up Mark Brunell last year. Coughlin would have
found someone else if he didn't think Fiedler could lead the team.
But the deciding factor in Fiedler's selection as a starter is
that he seems to have the instincts and passing ability that Damon
Huard lacks. On Friday night against the Saints, he completed over
70% of his passes, most of which were well thrown and right on target.
With only one day of practice to work on his reads and timing, I
thought that part of his game was pretty good.
Which is not to say that I have forgotten that he threw 3 or 4
interceptions, depending on how you count them. In fact, if you look
at his stats, he completed 13 of his 14 passes - it was just that 3 of
his passes were to the Saints.
OK, ok - that's not trivial. But most of the passes he threw
were crisp, well aimed and traveled well down the field. And it was
only when he had to play with the second team that his decisions began
to suffer badly.
In other words, when he's had a week to work with the first
team and it's just the first team on the field with him, his
performance should be better, especially in the interception
And once he gets comfortable, I think that Fiedler will be a
very good NFL quarterback.
So, yes - I do think that Dave Wannestedt made the right
choice by naming Fiedler as the starter and Huard as the backup. And
the reason I think that is that Fiedler has a better arm and better
passing instincts than Damon Huard, while being at least as smart.
Now that I've said that I think Wannestedt made the right
decision, there is one area in which Damon Huard is better than Jay
Fiedler as a quarterback - when forced to scramble. Huard does a
better job of avoiding the pass rushers, getting clear and making a
play when things get tough in the backfield.
In other words, when the pass protection breaks down, Huard is
a better man to have in there.
But if your pass protection is breaking down enough that you
need to have a scrambling quarterback to salvage your offense, you
have more problems than just keeping your quarterback from getting
sacked. And Huard is not enough of a scrambler to cause opposing
defenses problems with his running ability, like a Steve Young or a
On a related topic, I'm afraid that I don't hold with the
modern theory that you need a supremely athletic, scrambling
quarterback to win in the NFL. In fact, I believe that if your
quarterback is running too much, that's a bad sign for your team. It
means that protection in the pocket is breaking down or your receivers
aren't getting open.
And that's bad.
I think that the most important quality a quarterback needs to
possess these days is an accurate arm, coupled with good instincts as
to where and when to throw the ball. And in that area, it looks to me
as if Jay Fiedler is clearly better than Damon Huard.
And it also seems clear to me that Jay can be a quality NFL
starter for the Dolphins - with a little bit of luck.
Of course, the last may be too much to hope for. But if the
offense continues to be able to control the football and move down the
field, Fiedler won't have to be Dan Marino to get the team into the
He'll just have to be capable of converting the occasional 2nd
and 31 or third and 11 play. And I think he can do that.
Well, folks, that's about it for the first "On Porpoise" of
the season. Every year, about this time, I vow to myself to get
better at publishing my work to the fans who seem to appreciate it.
And not being one to break tradition, I am re-dedicating
myself to producing one issue of "On Porpoise" per week this season,
God willing and the creek don't rise....
... actually, to get the proper southern flavor for that
particular saying, the correct pronunciation of the word "creek" is
"crik", the "g" should be dropped off the word "willing" and the word
"don't" should be pronounced without the "t" at the end.
In other words, it should sound more like this: "God willin'
and the crik doun rise."
But since I don't have a crik near my house, that shouldn't be
So please - look forward to (or cringe at) more issues of my
personal editorial writings, one per week - as long as you don't hold
me rigorously to that schedule. Because, you see, if I have to miss a
week or two, I won't be doing it....
... On Porpoise.