Monday, September 15, 2008

Reader Question: When Will Henne Start?

It's time to look in the mailbag once again today, as I've received a few questions pertaining to that disgusting excuse for football that the Dolphins just played in Arizona.

Before I get to the questions, I'd just like to remind everyone that you can email me any questions, comments or ideas you may have. They're always appreciated.

These questions come from Herb. He writes:

I didn't get to see the second half of the game. I was surprised to hear that Henne was playing. How did he do? In the first two regular season games it doesn't look like Pennington has been able to light the fire for the offense. Do you think Henne will be the starter later this season? As for the Pats game next Sunday with Brady gone for the season do you think the Dolphins have a good chance of beating them? It doesn't seem like the Pats are the same high powered offense without Brady. In years past the Phins have matched up well against them.
Good questions, all.

Let's start with an assessment of what Henne showed us in his limited time against the Cardinals.

Not much.

Sure, his numbers look good enough. He was 7 for 12 for 67 yards, and led the team on its lone touchdown-scoring drive which lasted 18 plays and over 7 minutes. But all that was was garbage-time production against a defense playing loose prevent coverage and giving up all the underneath passes without a fight. It is imperative not to read too much into that one drive. John Beck played well in garbage time in Week 17 last season against the Bengals, but that didn't turn into much did it?

Taking what little you can out of this mop-up performance is that Henne looked comfortable and his arm looked strong. That's about all that can be learned about him from this game, and those are things we already knew. But it's nice to get confirmation in an actual NFL game.

Still, this is Chad Pennington's team...for now. And deservedly so. I've tried to stress all offseason long that this season isn't really about this season, per se, it's about 2009 and 2010. Pennington very likely won't be this team's starting QB by the time it's ready to contend. After all, that's why this regime invested in Chad Henne. But Pennington does serve an important role for the future of this team, as he is the bridge between now and then.

Henne doesn't need to start playing right now. I would argue that it's very much in his best interests not to be starting this early in his career. I'm of the belief that most rookie QBs are well served with a season of learning from the sidelines. We all saw what happened when John Beck was unceremoniously cast to the wolves last season with little to no preparation and a laughable supporting cast. Those games seemed to really stun Beck and set him back in his development. That's not something that this team can risk with Henne.

I wouldn't be averse to seeing Henne get a few starts at the very end of the season if (who am I kidding? "once") this team is eliminated from playoff contention. Those would be lower pressure environments where making mistakes wouldn't hurt him so bad.

Pennington needs to be starting right now not only to protect Henne's development, but also to keep this young offense together with some leadership. Not only does this team need to develop its young QB, it also needs to develop its young receivers, and Pennington, for the most part (with one notable exception) is able to do that. The WRs are not going to be able to develop unless they have a consistent and reliable QB throwing them the ball. Henne may have the physical tools, but at this point, he still lacks consistency. Throwing him in the games now would hurt the progression of his pass-catchers. Pennington may have a lot of shortcomings, but at least he's consistent and accurate. The young WRs should benefit some from that.

Of course, that one exception I mentioned is a potentially big one and it's a situation that scares me a little. I'm talking about the progression of Ted Ginn. Ginn's biggest asset is his electrifying speed. He is most dangerous running deep routes and stretching the field. Pennington simply cannot throw those routes with any consistency or effectiveness. So now Ginn is essentially handcuffed into running the short routes that he is not best suited to. It's a tough situation. While I think keeping Pennington as the starter ultimately benefits most of the receivers the most, I can see it hamstringing Ginn's development a bit. Having Henne's arm strength behind center would open things up a bit more for Ginn, and the entire offense for that matter.

As for the Pats game, Miami doesn't stand much of a chance, even sans Brady. Brady may have been the ultimate catalyst for that offense, but he wasn't the only cog making that machine run. The Pats are a very good team even with Matt Cassell under center. The offense doesn't need to be high-powered for them to win - just look at the last two weeks. Their defense and short passing game are efficient enough to do the job. Of course, I never lose all hope when Miami plays the Pats. Cassell is prone to game-changing mistakes if Miami's defense can force him into some pressure situations.

The Dolphins have a shot to beat the Pats - just like they have a shot to beat every team they play, but they'll need to be lightyears better than they were against the Cardinals. I see this team going into its bye-week at a nausea-inducing 0-3.

And I thought 2007 was in the rearview mirror...

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