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  Like Marino, Henne Will Have Help
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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So now that the ugly reality of losing QB Chad Pennington has hit home, the keys to the Dolphin offense fall into the hands of heir apparent Chad Henne. And unless Henne fails miserably, he will be the starting quarterback for the Miami Dolphins for years to come.


In other words, the future has arrived.


Some say this day was inevitable, just not as sudden as it played out. Pennington’s shoulder, ruined for the season, could do in his career. It is yet another reminder that football is a brutal sport, sometimes harshly unfair to those who deserve success the most. And no one was deserving of success more than Chad Pennington.


But you can bet that Pennington will be the first person in line to help Henne out anyway he can. That’s just the type of person that Pennington is. Whether it is helping with film study or in-game advice, he will be an exceptionally valuable resource that Henne can turn to.


You could say that Pennington will be to Henne what Don Strock was to a young Dan Marino back in his rookie season.


Pennington won’t be the only one, however. Like Marino, Henne will have lots of help.


Start with Dan Henning and David Lee, two coaches with a ton of experience that will play a vital role in Henne’s development.


Both coaches would say that they have complete confidence in Henne and believe he is capable of running anything the playbook offers, short of the Wildcat. That being said, they will be pragmatic in selecting the formations and plays that Henne handles best. This will probably be somewhat different from the list that Pennington works off of. They’ll also be more deliberate with Henne in pointing out pitfalls that, to a veteran like Pennington, would be overly obvious.


I won’t predict how Henne’s wristband will look relative to Pennington’s, other than to say that there are throws Henning and Lee can ask of Henne that they would consider more discretionary for Pennington. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the passing game will become more aggressive. Rather, we should expect the coaches to ask Henne to stay within his means as he gains experience. In other words, they’ll continue to pick and choose their spots as the game situation and his level of play warrants.


This brings us to the players surrounding Henne. This is a critical factor to the success of any young QB, just as it was for Marino.


Perhaps the single biggest asset Henne has to work with is a solid offensive line. It’s not talked about a lot, but one of the biggest advantages Marino had in learning the ropes as a rookie was a solid veteran line that could protect him and generate a decent running game. Guys like Dwight Stephenson, Jon Giesler, Bob Kuechenberg and Ed Newman took a lot of pressure off Marino and allowed that precious added time that all rookies need to make decisions.


Henne didn’t play very much as a rookie, so he is roughly in the same state that Marino was when he took over from David Woodley. This means that he too will be dependent on the offensive line to keep him clean as he comes along the learning curve. Fortunately, the Dolphins have a good offensive line that Henne can rely on. It helps Henne’s confidence that he and left tackle Jake Long were teammates at Michigan.


Marino also had a talented backfield to work with, led by Tony Nathan and fullback Woody Bennett. They knew their jobs better than Marino did, and were very capable in pass protection; this helped Marino focus more on his own responsibilities. Henne will also benefit from a solid backfield, in many respects more talented than the one Marino enjoyed.


Good, dependable receivers…guys like Nat Moore, Jimmy Cefalo, Mark Duper, and, later, Mark Clayton were of immense value to Marino’s early development. They knew how to run routes and read coverages as well as anyone in the league, and could be depended on to be at the right place at the right time. In some cases, Marino could count on a respected veteran like Moore to correct a play call in the huddle if Marino got it wrong.


While Henne won’t have that caliber of assistance, guys like Greg Camarillo and Anthony Fasano have many of the same leadership qualities. Expect the Dolphins to rely more heavily on them for stability and leadership support as Henne gets settled. Others, such as Davone Bess and Ted Ginn, have got to step up their games. Little things, like running a crisp route or knowing when to play defensive back on an errant pass, could be the difference between winning and losing. These young receivers won’t have a high caliber leader like Pennington to help them now, so they need to step up. They need to grow up, and quickly.


Finally, there’s the confidence that Tony Sparano, Jeff Ireland, and Bill Parcells have in Henne. And it means a tremendous amount to Henne to have their trust. This will help to free his mind of worry and help him to just focus on doing his best. Marino enjoyed the same trust and confidence from Don Shula, to the point that Shula even let Marino call his own plays as a rookie. To this day, Marino credits this for helping his development along.


At the end of the day, Henne has to be the one who makes the good decisions and provides the leadership the offense needs to succeed. The Dolphins have done a decent job of creating the proper conditions for him to realize that success. Now is the time for Henne to reward that confidence with good play.


Now is the time for him to deliver the goods.

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