Training camp practices are set to begin on July 26, so now is a good time to start my annual practice of sorting through the personnel of each position to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of the team as it heads into camp. These positional previews will also give us an idea of which training camp battles will be the most heated when it comes time to decide who fills those last few roster spots.
Last year, I chose to start my previews on the defensive side of the ball because that unit was considered to be much more stable than the offense was at that point in time. Well, it's quite a stretch to consider either the offense or defense a stable unit heading into training camp this season, but I think the offense is a better place to start this time around.
The look at the offense will begin with the most important position on the field, the quarterbacks.
What to expect: No one has any idea how this will turn out. Expectations for this group are all over the place. The only thing we know for sure is that there is a heap of uncertainty surrounding all three of the guys competing for the starting job. I think the smartest route to take is that of giving John Beck every opportunity to prove himself before turning to Josh McCown, who has repeatedly proven that he is replacement material, at best. I think Henne should be developed on the bench this year, at least as long as possible. Miami's offense doesn't have nearly enough talent to help anyone who lines up behind center, so things could get ugly quickly and I would not be surprised if there are several QB switches during the year. The key is for the coaching staff to have patience with Beck when he does get a chance to play. This season isn't about winning now. The team needs to know what it has in Beck. If they feel he isn't the answer after the season, then they can concentrate on moving Henne up the depth chart.
Here's a closer look at the individual quarterbacks currently on the roster and what can be expected of them this coming season:
There can be no beating around the bush here. Beck's rookie season was a disaster. A significant bulk of his positive production came in Week 17 garbage time against the Bengals. There were hardly any starting QBs who played worse than Beck last season. He took too many sacks, was easily flustered in the pocket, and made too many careless decisions that led to turnovers. Of course, this isn't a purely one-sided story. After all, he was a rookie who should never have been playing to begin with. Cam Cameron's plan was to keep Beck on the bench for the whole season, and when he was inserted into the starting lineup, it was with almost no practice reps with the first team. Talk about a recipe for disaster. I was very happy with his mental toughness though. He never quit, even after taking a beating.
He is much older (27) than most second year players, so Miami doesn't have all the time in the world to wait with Beck. I think it's safe to say that his five game showing last year was not the height of what he can accomplish. On the other hand, we pretty much know the height of what McCown can accomplish, and it's not quite even average. So why should the team waste precious games on McCown, if they can give them to Beck and truly see how he adapts over an extended period of time as the sure starter. He's adjusted his throwing motion this offseason to try to prevent as many balls being batted down at the line, so hopefully we will see some dividends there. The most important thing for Beck's success this season, however, will be his pocket presence. He must calm down when he drops back or else his massive turnover problem will persist. Ultimately, I think Beck will win the starting job in training camp. After that, it's anyone's guess as to how long he'll hold on to it.
As I said, the Dolphins know what to expect from McCown, and that does not include him all of a sudden becoming a serviceable starting QB. For all the people who argue that McCown has simply been a victim of being on bad teams....what do you call the situation he is stepping into? This is probably the worst team McCown's ever been on, so don't expect the new supporting cast to suddenly raise his level of play. Also, for anyone who thought Beck had a fumbling problem last season, just take a look at McCown's career: 39 fumbles in 31 starts.
McCown's strengths are his athleticism and willingness to take risks. However, his skill set is hardly suited for a starting QB because opponents usually figure him out very quickly. He's never really had extended success as a starter because although he can surprise people in small amounts as a reliever off the bench, he can't change his game when the defense finally adjusts to him. That's why I think McCown would be best utilized as the backup QB who can come into the game if the starter is struggling. Most importantly is the fact that McCown's ceiling has been reached. Beck and Henne still have the potential to at least match, if not exceed, McCown's level of production. This season should be all about the future, and McCown is not the future.
Like Beck a year ago, Henne was a second-tier QB coming out the draft. As a four year starter at Michigan, Henne has as much starting experience as a rookie can have, but I still don't think he's ready to start at the NFL level. If Beck's experience can teach us anything, it's that Henne's development his first year should be protected on the bench. I wouldn't have a problem with getting him some starts once the team is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but until then, Beck should be taking most of the snaps. The problem with Henne is his consistency. All the scouting reports say that he can be spot on with his accuracy and then suddenly miss his targets by a mile. That's not a good sign. His college career completion percentage was under 60%, and his senior season was his worst one. His mobility is nonexistent so it's good that he's plenty tough and has solid pocket awareness. Henne was chosen by this regime as the young QB to be developed for the future, and I think that development process requires a significant time of simply learning from the bench. It's not his physical tools that need work, it's his decision making and consistency.
Here's my predicted depth chart:
1. John Beck
2. Josh McCown
3. Chad Henne
Training camp battle to watch: John Beck vs. Josh McCown for the starting job on opening day.