A year ago, Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Chad Henne was mired in an offensive that was more timid than threatening. Then offensive coordinator Dan Henning called the plays he wanted, and that's what the team ran. There was no room for creativity, nor was there room for Henne to adjust the plays Henning called.
The most leeway Henne had was on "check with me" plays, or times when the offense approached the line of scrimmage with two different plays called, and Henne selected which one they would run. But, outside of that, Henne was not allowed to audible. The team did not trust the third year quarterback to adjust plays based on the defense he read.
And, the results showed. Henne appeared to constantly lock on to his first option in the pass. He routinely appeared tentative and afraid of making a mistake. Even when a player was open deep, Henne preferred to check the ball down - never wanting to risk a turnover on the big play. And, in the end, it led to more turnovers, and more struggles, than Henne should have had.
But, this year, everything's changed. Henning "retired" at the end of the 2010 season. Miami brought in former Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to serve in the same capacity in South Beach. And, the reins were taken off the quarterback.
When asked about the new offense, Henne replied, "Oh, it's great. It's full reign.
"We're definitely out there to attack them. If they give us a coverage that we see, we change and audible the play. We're definitely on the attack in the game, and they're going to have to adjust to us."
During the offseason NFL lockout, Henne, along with offensive tackle Jake Long, organized team workouts, bringing the players together to replace the mini-camps the team missed during the work stoppage. During the first round of the NFL draft, there was a brief period when the lockout was lifted. Immediately, Henne reported to the Dolphins' facility and found Daboll. The two went over the new offense, with Henne studying the playbook. When the NFL won a court decision reinstating the lockout the next day, Henne already had what he needed.
Henne was able to bring the knowledge he had gained in that one meeting with Daboll to the payer organized workouts. More importantly, however, Henne was able to prove he is the leader the offense has been missing. Directing the workout and installing as much of the new offense as possible, Henne established in the spring, the trust in his leadership the team would need in August, and on into the 2011 season.
Now, as the team prepares for its final game of the preseason, it's Daboll's new offense that is solidifying Henne as the team's starting quarterback. "It's more about Daboll and this offense - how we've evolved," Henne said. "I think id we see a [defensive] look out there, Daboll said I have free reign to go ahead and get a new play. He wants us in the best plays, and it's my job to do that."
And, Henne takes that job seriously.
"I think last year was more audible protections," Henne explains, "meaning if we saw a blitz, we'd go into max protection by adding a blocker, rather than switching the routes. This is different. This is, if we have a run play, and we don't like it, let's go to a pass play. Or go from a pass play to a run play.
"I can get us in and out of plays, get us the right plays, and give us a shot out there on the field."
Although Henne hasn't performed within this offense in a meaningful game yet, the progression he is making can't go unnoticed. For the first time, Henne appears to have a confidence around him, an ability to make decisions, and a comfort with his wide receivers.
"I think this system is more procession stuff," Henne says. "It's one, two, three. You hit the first open guy. It's good because it's all in my hands. I'm in charge on the field at all times, so it allows me to read the defenses better."
With the game in his hands, and the freedom to change the plays as he needs, this is finally the time Henne can prove he has what it takes to lead the Miami Dolphins. Without the restraints of the Dan Henning offense, Henne can flourish. Hopefully the new attacking offense really does lead to the NFL having to adjust with a new problem - a winning Miami Dolphins franchise.