Monday, October 19, 2009

The Emergence of Chad Henne

The instant that Chad Pennington crashed to the turf in week three of the regular season, re-injuring his shoulder in a season-ending incident, Chad Henne automatically took the reigns as leader of the Miami Dolphins. Just one moment shifted an entire franchise's direction coming off an AFC East Championship, 11-5 season.

In his second NFL start on Monday Night Football, Henne began to gain the confidence of his teammates and fans with a stellar performance against a fierce Jets defense.

It was more than just the 241 yards and 2 touchdowns in the box score that the sophomore Dolphins QB impressed with. The popular Jets QB, Mark Sanchez was gaining all the attention going into Monday and Henne stole the show with poise, accuracy and a canon arm. Sanchez threw for 69 yards less than Henne and only one TD.

It became clear that Henne was prepared to take on the challenges that come with being an NFL QB, even with the fate of his team on the line.

The player that was once referred to as "the other Chad" showcased skills that were a promising sight for a Dolphins organization that was staring at a complete collapse from their 2008 season. Standing tall in the pocket, Henne delivered in crucial moments throughout the game and, as Rex Ryan alluded to, brought back flashes of the Marino-era. Whether it was an all out blitz or a zone coverage that the Jets threw at him, Henne completed 20 of his 26 attempts and did not turnover the ball once. It was more than expected from a QB that had never faced such adversity at the NFL level.

But then again, he did face it at the college level while starting four consecutive seasons at the University of Michigan.

Valuable College Experience

From impressive victories in bowl games to gut-wrenching losses to rival teams, Chad faced some of the most immense pressure situations that a college QB could have ever been exposed to. Couple that with one year of tutelage under Chad Pennington's wing and you have yourself a well-prepared, fairly experienced professional entering as your QB. It even had local South Florida writers expecting him to perform well under the pressure.

While Henne was at Michigan (2004-2007) the football team went 36-14, which was below their expectations, but also during an unstable time in the program. He threw for 87 TDs and 9,740 yards combined in those four seasons.

Opening Up the Offense

In Miami, Henne has already executed a wide range of passes, opening up Miami's dynamic offense even further. Most importantly, he's delivered the deep ball with ease - something that Chad Pennington was not skilled at. Henne and Ginn may have sounded like a drink one can buy at a local bar, but it was the biggest connection of the night in a 53-yard missile that electrified the crowd at Land Shark Stadium.

Pennington was only able to deliver such a toss one time last season with an 80-yard pass that was mostly gained with yards after the catch. Beyond that, he threw for a maximum of 21 yards in a pass play during his short-lived 2009 season.

Credit Due to Offensive Line

And Henne's success could not go without giving credit to the offensive line. Miami invested a total of $155 million in contacts for their O-Line and it's beginning to pay off. There is no doubt that it is easier for a new QB to get comfortable with the offense when they have solid protection.

Jake Long, Justin Smiley, Jake Grove, Donald Thomas and Vernon Carey are working as a unit and progressively improving each week, which will only benefit Henne's cause.

Marino Comparisons?

We are a long time away before Henne can be included in the same level of performance as Dan Marino, but it's interesting to see the comparison between Henne and Marino in both of their first two NFL starts.

Marino started his first game against the Bills, such as Henne did, and threw for a whopping 322 yards and 3 TDs. His next game was against the Jets - strikingly similar to Henne's situation - and he passed for 255 yards and 3 TDs, completing 56.7% of his passes.

Henne was not as prolific in his game against Buffalo, but he did not throw any interceptions, whereas Marino threw two, and had a similar completion percentage of 63.6% (compared to Marino's 65.5%). Then in his second start, Henne virtually matched Marino in yards by posting 241 yards - throwing for 2 TDs and completing 76.9% of his passes.

While Henne may not be the next Marino, he may be the future of this Dolphins franchise if he continues down his progression as a worthy NFL QB.

3 comments:

c2bcool said...

Henne's 1st start was vs. Buffalo. The Monday night game vs. the Jets was his 2nd start.

c2bcool said...

Opps, I am mistaken. I reread what you wrote and you said it was his 1st Monday Night Football start, not his 1st start.

David J. Verjano said...

@ c2bcool - No worries. We have since corrected the confusing line by saying it was his second NFL start.

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