Conservative Chad Henne is the right fit for the Miami Dolphins

November 03, 2010|By Omar Kelly, South Florida Sun Sentinel

DAVIE, Fla. — There's nothing flashy about Chad Henne.

Not his appearance: The Miami Dolphins quarterback has sported a military-style crew cut since grade school.

Not his statistics: He's completing 61.6 percent of his passes, throwing for 4,614 yards and 20 touchdowns in the 24 games he has played in 2 1/2 seasons. Some NFL quarterbacks produce those numbers in a single season.

And certainly not his mentality.

"It's my job to lose," Henne said earlier this season of being the quarterback this regime has built its entire three-year rebuilding project around. "I got to perform well and win some games."

Henne's reserved demeanor hints that handling him conservatively is the right approach for the Dolphins. His Michigan pedigree suggests he has at least as much upside as the Ravens' Joe Flacco, the NFL's new, freewheeling gunslinger.

It shouldn't be too surprising that Henne has taken a conservative approach to his reign as an NFL starter, considering the Dolphins selected him the same way.

In 2008, when Bill Parcells and his hires took over a 1-15 franchise, they passed on drafting a potential franchise quarterback and that draft's top pick to solidify the offensive line by selecting left tackle Jake Long, who is likely headed to his third consecutive Pro Bowl.

With their second pick in the second round of a decent quarterback draft, the Dolphins grabbed Henne, the strong armed four-year starter at Michigan who owns most of the school's records, but never led the Wolverines to great heights.

It's understandable to compare Henne to his peers -- Flacco and Atlanta's Matt Ryan, who were both first-round picks -- but Henne is being brought along at a much more cautious pace.

While Ryan and Flacco thrived as rookie starters, Henne spent his first season as Chad Pennington's understudy, watching and learning as Pennington led the Dolphins to the playoffs.

It was the same approach used to develop Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. Coincidentally, Rodgers' draft counterpart, Alex Smith, the first pick in the 2005 draft, fizzled as an immediate NFL starter.

When thrown into the starter's role in game four of his second year, Henne produced a 7-6 record in his 13 starts, which included three fourth-quarter comebacks. He's also 8-2 in games decided by five points or fewer.

This season he's kept the team afloat (4-3) while continuing to learn on the go. Each week, Henne has improved in some aspect of his game.

Throw with more touch and accuracy. Check. Read the field and defenses better. Check. Improve pocket presence, and take fewer sacks. Check.

Henne's season stats (1,669 pass yards, eight touchdowns) are very similar to Flacco's (1,651 passing yards, 10 touchdowns), despite the fact that Baltimore's quarterback has a full season's worth of experience on him and is surrounded by better offensive weapons.

But only time, and more starts, will tell how Henne really stacks up against his peers.

"We still have to understand that this position is not one that can be rushed," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said.

The Dolphins have little choice but to wait on Henne. After all, it's too late to turn back now, considering how much is already invested.

Omar Kelly can be reached at okelly@sunsentinel.com and read regularly on the Dolphins blog at sunsentinel.com/dolphins.

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