Tampa Bay Sports Day

So Far, Henne Making The Most Of His Opportunity

A starting quarterback, a former first-round draft pick of an AFC East team, goes down with an early-season injury, and a young kid from The University of Michigan steps in and unexpectedly starts winning big games.

Sound familiar?

Certainly, after a mere two NFL starts, no in his or her right football mind would equate Chad Henne and his potential ceiling as an NFL starting quarterback with the accomplishments of New England Patriots’ legend Tom Brady.

However, there are already some similarities between the backgrounds of Brady and Henne, how each got their chances to shine, and how Henne, like Brady early on, has already made the most of that opportunity.

And, Henne’s also accomplished something that the two-time Super Bowl MVP Brady couldn’t do so far: play well enough to beat the New York Jets and their Rex Ryan-led defense this season.

There are some differences in how each quarterback got to the NFL. Brady had to prove himself, not getting a real shot at Michigan until his junior season, and not being drafted until the sixth round, as the 199th overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft. Henne meanwhile, guided the Wolverines from the time he was a freshman and was taken a lot higher (in the second round) by the Miami Dolphins in the 2008 draft.

But, both quarterbacks set passing records by the time they graduated from Michigan, and both took over an AFC East team surprisingly well after being thrust into a starting role by necessity, with very little expected of them.

Brady got his shot after first-round draft pick Drew Bledsoe was injured. He of course, turned used that opportunity into three Super Bowl victories, a league MVP, and four Pro Bowls on the way to what will someday conclude as a Hall of Fame career.

What he does with his own opportunity from here remains to be seen, but Henne similarly got his chance after Miami was reeling at 0-3. The Dolphins were looking like a bad team headed nowhere in 2009, after coming off the biggest turnaround in NFL history, from 1-15 in 2007, to 11-5 and an AFC East title last season under the direction of former firs-round draft pick Chad Pennington –- whose season ended in Week 3 this year, with a shoulder injury, opening the door for Henne. And, at least so far, the other former Michigan star has busted through.

Sure, it’s only been two starts, but Henne has helped saved the Dolphins season while going 2-0 as a starter.

Henne wasn’t great, but efficient, going 14-22 for 115 yards, throwing his first career touchdown pass and no interceptions in his first start two weeks ago, a 38-10 Dolphins’ victory over Buffalo.

But, on Monday night, Henne was brilliant, carving up a Jets’ defense that Brady had a lot of trouble with, in a 16-9 loss, earlier this season.

There are two ways to look at that: a skeptic would say that Henne had the advantage of a very effective wildcat running game to help set up his throws, a benefit which Brady lacked against the Jets.

Conversely, a pro-Henne advocate would declare that much to his credit, Henne, in only his second start, in a big divisional game before a Monday Night Football national television audience, was able to stay remarkably poised and in rhythm despite being shuffled in and out of the lineup on an inconsistent basis due to the wildcat’s unconventional offensive sets which often don’t employ the use of a quarterback on the field.

Either way, Henne was terrific, going 20 of 26 for 241 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions for a 130.4 passer rating. And, Henne’s performance went far beyond those statistics. The truly impressive part was leading three fourth quarter drives, each with his team down, and each time, getting the Dolphins in the end zone, and coming away with his second win in as many starts in the NFL. Still, it wasn’t even THAT.

No, it was the throws that Henne made and the tools he displayed at the most crucial moments: Henne sold a play-action fake perfectly on a beautifully thrown 53-yard touchdown bomb to wide receiver Ted Ginn, who beat the Jets’ entire secondary, for a 24-20 fourth-quarter lead. Including that score, Henne, who was used to running some play action at Michigan, was a perfect 7-for-7 for 140 yards and two touchdowns when faking a handoff against the Jets on Monday.

Later, leading the game-winning drive, Henne, with the coolness of a seasoned veteran like Brady, converted consecutive third downs in the final two minutes. First, with an all-out blitz and defenders in his face, Henne lofted a great pass over the shoulder of Greg Camarillo for a 14-yard gain and a huge first down to keep the drive going. Then, faced with a 3rd-and-10 with 1:06 left in the game, Henne, again facing a Jets’ blitz, rolled right and fired an absolute bullet low and straight, again to Camarillo, who went to his knees to coral the ball for another big first down at the Jets’ 4-yard line. That play set up the eventual game-winning touchdown by running back Ronnie Brown.

Suddenly, the Dolphins season isn’t in shambles after losing their original starting quarterback.

During the post-game press conference, Ryan (maybe overdoing it), compared Henne’s performance to that of many turned in by former Dolphin and all-time NFL great Dan Marino.

Was that one game a coming of age for Henne the way Brady’s first season as a starter was?

Well, Henne will have to have a lot more games, even seasons, like he did against the Jets before he can remain the starting quarterback throughout the rest of this season, and into 2010 and beyond, let alone even contemplate approaching some of the many things which Brady has accomplished in the NFL.

But, after just two starts, Dolphin fans are already hoping Henne is the quarterback to lead their team into a successful future.