So, it's another post on Chad Henne and why you should believe in/hate him and we aren't/are totally screwed with him running the offense. But, at this particular time of the year, especially with no free agency going on, there really isn't that much to talk about. So I thought I'd add to the mountain of speculation on what to expect from Henne in '11, if we're lucky enough to have a season, anyway. Here goes:
As Matty pointed out in his most recent article, many people ended the '09 season with very high expectations for Chad Henne. I remember watching a postgame show toward the end of the season where Marino himself showed great signs of relief as he stated "the Miami Dolphins have a quarterback." Henne's fourth-quarter comebacks and high-yardage games showed all the makings of a future gunslinger whose team could count on him when the chips were down. However, 2010 seemed to undo all of this, quickly turning the Dolphins fanbase and much of the NFL world against Henne, labeling him as a "bust" and calling the Dolphins idiots for not spending a first-round pick on a quarterback to supplant him. But what exactly went wrong? Here's my take on the situation:
The coaching staff encouraged Henne to emulate Chad Pennington.
Watching Henne play in 2010, it seemed very apparent to me that he had spent the offseason attempting to become more like his mentor, Chad Pennington. Henne's deep ball had not been developed at all, and actually seemed to regress in accuracy and delivery from 2009. Remember the Jets game where Ted Ginn smoked Darelle Revis on a play-action and Henne dropped it right in the breadbasket for a beautiful touchdown? Where was that in 2010? I believe that Henne's regression with the deep ball is evidence that it was not a part of his game that he worked on in the 2010 offseason; in fact, I think it was a part of his game that was specifically deemphasized. What I take from this is that Sparano, Henning, and Lee attempted to force Henne into the mold of Pennington during the offseason. It's a stone-cold fact that the whole offensive coaching staff was in love with Pennington and needed a quarterback like him to run their ultra-conservative offense. That being the case, they attempted to deemphasize Henne's gunslinger mentality and supplant it with a high-percentage, short-yardage, checkdown mentality that they loved so much with Pennington.
The simple fact is, this was stupid. Not just stupid, but stupid. Henne and Pennington are nothing alike in terms of natural ability. Pennington's accuracy has always been rock-solid and his arm has always been a wet noodle. Henne's accuracy has always been somewhat inconsistent but he has the arm to throw the home run ball. Henne came from a Big Ten offense that was loaded with receivers and relied on its passing game. Pennington came from Marshall, where, despite having Randy Moss, it was more of a dink-and-dunk offense. The two simply have natural differences when it comes to quarterbacking. However, rather than change their offensive scheme to complement the new type of quarterback they had under center, they instead tried to change that quarterback into the kind their preferred scheme needed, someone who is timid about throwing into coverage and who would rather check down than take a chance with the deep ball. This was a complete failure. The coaching staff succeeded in downplaying Henne's natural abilities, ruining his confidence about throwing into tight windows, and instilling in him a check-down mentality. However, they did not succeed in improving his accuracy or his ability to throw a touch pass, and the result was a large number of dinky "high-percentage throws" that weren't even caught.
Dan Henning was running the offense (I promise, this section will actually be somewhat detailed. Not just "Dan Henning sucked".)
As we'd all soon like to forget, Dan "The Fossil" Henning was the man in charge of utilizing Henne in 2010. This, of course, meant that Henne was the leader of a stale and predictable offense that refused to change with the times, the opponent, the game clock, the blitzes, the score, or anything else for that matter. Every defensive coordinator in the league knew what Dan Henning was about to dial up, just like every Dolphin-fan on his couch or in a bar knew what Dan Henning was about to dial up. Garbage. But it was especially harmful garbage because of how Henne was utilized.
A large part of Henne's regression in 2010, I think, can be attributed to one awful, awful, awful word: Wildcat. We all remember. How couldn't we? About a month into the season, I was hoping I would never see that godawful formation again, but we know how that turned out. But the Wildcat's superb ability to lose yards and kill drives wasn't even the worst thing about it. I believe that Henning's strategically incomprehensible use of the Wildcat was a constant source of pressure and malignity for Henne. Every time Henne was pulled off the field, what Henning and Sparano were telling him was "we don't trust you to get us yards." Every time Henne was pulled off the field, he lost his rhythm with the offense. Every time Henne was pulled off the field, that was one less snap for him to gain rapport with his receivers, and one less snap for him to watch a play develop from under center and gain football experience. Every time Henne was pulled off the field, his concentration was snapped completely. Then, he would have to run back onto the field and be expected to convert the first down lest he be blamed for stalling the drive with an incomplete pass. Then, he would have to run back on the field and try to reestablish a groove with his receivers. Then, he would have to run back on the field and settle back into the pocket and try to get comfortable. Henne came on and off the field more times than a #2 tight end or a fullback should. How he was supposed to develop as a young quarterback while constantly hearing whispers of "we don't trust you" and constantly having his concentration and rhythm interrupted so that we could lose some yards for him to have to make up once he came back on the field is completely beyond me.
In short, I don't think Henne's regression was even close to completely his fault. I didn't even mention the inconsistencies with the offensive line or the complete collapse of the running game above, and I still think what I wrote takes a lot of the blame from Henne. Was it any of Henne's faullt? Well, of course. But I don't think his problems are inherent; that is, I don't think Henne's issues are anything that the right scheme and the right coaching can't shape up, which brings me to my final point:
Brian Daboll should instantly improve Chad Henne
I have a lot of optimism for our offense this year (or whenever we're privileged enough to get another NFL season). Many people have low expectations for Daboll, which is understandable seeing as how he helmed one of the two offenses that was more inept than the Dolphins' in 2010. However, Daboll was working with close to literal nothing in Cleveland. I follow the NFL very closely and I can't tell you who the #2 receiver was for Cleveland last year. It even took me a minute to remember who the #1 was (Ben Watson). In fact, I think Peyton Hillis might have been their #2 receiver in terms of yards. Maybe not. Anyway, the moral of the story is that Cleveland's offense was a sad collection of "talent". Yet, even with nothing to work with, I was still very impressed with what I saw from Colt McCoy last year, and made several comments about how I believe he could bloom into a bona fide starter eventually. This was the work of Brian Daboll. With virtually no receivers, Daboll still managed to design an offense capable of functioning with a rookie quarterback and an unknown running back. Dan Henning had Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, Lousaka Polite, and the combined talents of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams (who admittedly both had a down year last year, but even still, the two combined still totaled up to one badass running back in my opinion), and still couldn't do a damn thing. The reason, I believe, is a lot like the reason that Mike Nolan is, in my mind anyway, the best defensive coordinator in the league (at least top 3). It has to do with adapting to the personnel. Nolan is known for taking relatively unknown players and getting elite production from them, because he understands how to best utilize individual talent. I feel that Daboll can bring a similar feel to the offense, centered around the talents of Chad Henne. I think Daboll can bring back the Henne we saw in 09 by emphasizing his natural strengths, something that Henning and Lee were determined not to do. Henning tried to jam the players into his scheme; Brandon Marshall was getting thrown screen passes, Ronnie Brown was running right up the middle, etc. I think that Daboll will design an offense that will properly utilize the players we have, and, if so, he can resurrect Henne and bring this offense to life.
Long story short, I'm not giving up on Chad Henne, and I've actually got big expectations for this year. If he fails, then oh well. But this kid deserves our confidence and our support, because it's something he hasn't been getting from anyone.