Chad Henne Suddenly in Familiar Spot
But with Pennington going under the knife this week -- the third time in his career he's had surgery on his throwing shoulder -- the Dolphins will turn to Henne, both now and for the foreseeable future, even after a trade for Tyler Thigpen.
It's a difficult spot. Henne steps into the starting lineup before anyone thought he would, and he inherits a team that, despite an 0-3 start, had huge hopes coming into 2009. And while Henne may not save Miami this season, don't be surprised if he plays above his years and surprises some people.
After all, he's been in this situation before.
The Michigan Wolverines entered the 2004 college football season with a top-10 ranking and BCS aspirations. Then, the week of their opener against Miami, Ohio, starting quarterback Matt Gutierrez started feeling soreness in his throwing shoulder. Eventually, Gutierrez had surgery to repair a torn labrum.
Michigan found itself scrambling -- finally, two days before the first week of the season, the Wolverines named true freshman Chad Henne the starter. And, despite having less than 48 hours to prepare for his collegiate debut, Henne guided Michigan to a 43-10 win in that first game, throwing for 142 yards and two touchdowns.
"Chad took it to a new level with his poise," Michigan senior superstar wide receiver Braylon Edwards told me afterward.
"For your first start, there will always be those nerves going on," Henne said. "I think I handled it well."
That and everything else. Henne started for all four seasons in Ann Arbor -- and had his best statistical year that first one, throwing for 2,743 yards and 25 touchdowns. He proved himself time and again for Michigan. Now he has to do it again with the Dolphins.
"He can control the huddle. He has great presence in the huddle," Miami coach Tony Sparano said. "He's very clear; he takes charge of things, and really doesn't like a lot of horsing around in it. So, I've been really impressed with what's happened with him out there."
Henne has some big shoes to fill, something he's no doubt aware of. Pennington's never been a spectacular NFL quarterback, and his lack of arm strength leaves something to be desired -- but he also led Miami to a shocking AFC East title last year.
"[Pennington] is a man of detail, preparation, leadership," Henne said Wednesday. "He is a great person and great quarterback to use as a role model. That is all I am asking for -- to try to be the same for our guys."
If nothing else, the Dolphins' coaching staff believes in Henne. A year ago, offensive coordinator Dan Henning stated that Henne could be just as good as Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan, and he reiterated that thought to The Miami Herald this week: "Well, mark it down because I say the same thing today," Henning said. "That's the way I feel about Chad Henne."
No one's confusing Buffalo, the Dolphins Week 4 opponent, with Miami, Ohio. Things may not come as easily as they appeared to for Henne in college. Still, the Dolphins are turning their offense over to a guy with a cannon for an arm, good on-field smarts, and perhaps most importantly, the ability to command respect from his teammates.
"Everything's going through your mind, you have the nerves, you have the excitement ... you have to prepare to be the starting quarterback, you are the starting quarterback," said Henne of his mindset this week. "You've got to take the team over, give them confidence in yourself, show them during the week of practice that you can get it done."
Don't be surprised if Henne shows them he can get it done in the games, too. He's done it before.