One of the most curious things about Black Monday at Dolphins camp, in my humble opinion, was the reticence regarding Chad Henne and his future as the Dolphins starting quarterback.
For perspective I remind you that one year ago when Miami's season ended, I asked coach Tony Sparano if Chad Pennington was his quarterback for the 2009 season. The question was pertinent because Henne had a season under his belt and because Pennington was coming off a four-interception performance against Baltimore in a playoff loss.
Sparano wasted zero time in responding by anointing Pennington the starter for 2009.
On Monday, someone asked the coach if he thinks he's found a future starter in Henne following a season in which the second-year player started 13 games. And this was the coach's reply:
"I haven't really discussed it yet," Sparano said. "I haven’t really looked at the whole body of work, as I told you. I have to sit back now and look at the entire body of work now and see what Chad did really well and what Chad didn’t do really well. But I am really pleased with what Chad did, I really am.
"I just think the guy did some outstanding things. Yesterday, whatever he was before he got hurt, 16 of 20 or something like that, I think [he] was in a really good rhythm yesterday in that game. More importantly, I thought he had his team prepared. Going out there yesterday, good week of practice, really upbeat they came out offensively and got in a pretty good rhythm. I think that says a lot about him. This guy he is a pretty curious guy. He likes to get better at the things he is not good at. I think they are all good qualities to have. I really like what I have seen in Chad right now."
Sparano likes what he's seen. But he doesn't like it so much as to give Henne his blessing as the 2010 starter.
What's going on here?
First, what is it exactly the Dolphins have to decipher about Henne, anyway? He's young. He's got much improving to do. He needs to improve his touch-passing. He needs to manage defenses with his eyes better. He's got to get quicker in reading the defense pre-snap.
But all those things have to come with playing time. And those things don't normally show up in a young quarterback's game until he's had 28-32 starts in the league. So Henne needs more playing time before we know if he will become a franchise quarterback or not.
But it's not like the Dolphins have many better options.
Pat White, the presumptive No. 2, looks like he can't lead a college team, much less an NFL one. Third-stringer Tyler Thigpen wasn't given much of an opportunity to unseat White so next year he suddenly becomes good enough to vault over Henne? And Pennington is still rehabilitating from his third shoulder surgery and is unsigned.
So do the Dolphins have to see if that secret cloning project of a 28-year-old Dan Marino is working before they name Henne the man?
Let's face it, the team is likely to draft a quarterback. That is simply wise business because Ron Wolf, the former Green Bay personnel savant and a Bill Parcells confidant, taught NFL teams long ago that backup QBs have a way of becoming golden insurance policies that can be exchanged for draft picks later on, so it it wise to draft one almost every year.
But what rookie is likely to beat out Henne in his first training camp?
So again, Henne is Miami's best choice for 2010. And furthermore, he deserves the opportunity.
He is a hard worker. You read from Sparano that he works at improving the deficiencies in his game. One expects improvement from him, particularly if the Dolphins surround him with better weapons. So I think the guy deserves to be the starter for 2010.
And Henne, bright as anyone in the locker room, agrees with me.
"Yeah," he told me. "I mean, I would say overall we started off well, getting off to a 7-3 start. Obviously the last three games wasn't the way we wanted to end it but hopefully I showed the coaches I have the capability of leading the team to wins and more in the future."
Two tests in judging QBs that Henne passed this year came in that led what was a less-than-mediocre team to a 7-6 record in his 13 starts. And I wouldn't say Henne was mostly at fault for those three season-ending losses. Not at all. So he passes the test that measures whether he can win or not.
He also passed another test on Dec. 6 against New England. Henne threw for over 335 yards with two touchdowns and one interception that day and outplayed Tom Brady in the process. The game, viewed in a vacuum, was a good moment for Henne. But viewed in the perspective that Henne had suffered a three-interception meltdown against Buffalo the week before, the comeback performance spoke of the kid's resilient nature and fighter's spirit.
Playing QB in the NFL is about talent, sure. But it's also about having brass, um, well, intestinal fortitude. Henne's recovery from the Buffalo loss showed me he's got the guts for the job.
Even if the Dolphins aren't ready to say so yet.