Friday, August 19, 2011

Henne and making the leap in Miami

In a single jam-packed offseason in which trades and free agent signings were triggered faster than a nervy prom night consummation, Chad Henne is suddenly a bust and Kyle Orton is John Elway. This proves once and for all that NFL lockouts are good for nobody.

Henne is the current Miami Dolphins starting quarterback, but not without having to endure criticism from fans and media, which has included boos, "sickening chants" and doubts about his leadership. Sure, Miami's No.7 hasn't performed up to expectations, has thrown some loose passes in training camp and has been possibly too honest with reporters. These things create doubt whether you're an NFL quarterback or the president. But that doesn't mean it's warranted.

Henne, like any young QB, needs time to ripen. If fans in other parts of the country are willing to offer average performers like Mark Sanchez and Kevin Kolb an opportunity after all, then surely Fins fans can see the silver lining in Project Henne. Making the leap, as they say, is a process not an instance.

To this end, there are three reasons why I think the Miami faithful should chant for Chad Henne, not Kyle Orton. Firstly, perception is overrated. There are some members of the media who love quarterback controversies, and in fact, spend most of their time drumming them up. You may recall the Sun-Sentinel's Dave Hyde announcing the "end to the Henne era" last year following his 16 for 32, three interception performance against the Browns. Clearly that assessment was incorrect, but it was the sort of stirring headline that has contributed to the perception among fans that Henne isn't fit for the job in Miami.

That's the problem with being a highly drafted backup QB in the NFL, isn't it? Everybody loves your shiny new packaging. Once you throw a costly pick, however, you're damaged goods. Even if your only interceptions are during midweek scrimmages when simply testing the arm, chances are there's a reporter or blogger in the stands whose agenda is to rewrite the perception around you. It's the same powerful mechanism that allows so-called experts to elevate a player like Kyle Orton, a second-string game manager who currently looks like a swan amongst ducks.

When Henne was a rookie backup, everyone was enamored with his potential. Playing understudy to Chad Pennington—who by comparison has a pistol to Henne's bazooka—only served to enhance the Michigan man's reputation. So by the time he earned the starting spot, everyone expected Dan Marino Version 2. (I guess the Microsoft era has burdened us with the notion of always "updgrading.") While Henne has a similarly powerful arm, he hasn't yet shown Marino-like vision. But shouldn't we give him a little more time to do so? Acquiring Marino or even Pennington-like vision will take time.

Secondly, Henne can make plays. His top-line stats from last season paint an ugly picture: 12 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. We get it. But there have been moments among the poor passes that defy the numbers, moments where the quarterback squeezed a mini-rocket into the hands of tight end Anthony Fasano, or lobbed a rainbow over the shoulder of back Patrick Cobbs. You can't teach these passes, they're instinctive. There have also been plays that were superbly extended when Henne, despite lumbering size, moved out of the pocket with agility and poise. He's rolled to the right and side-armed lasers; other times he's hopped forward behind the defense to steal first downs. That's solid quarterbacking.

Before we jump to the next online forum to chastise Henne, think about Marino's first few years as a pro. In only his second year, No.13 threw 17 picks. In his next season, in 1985, he gave away 21 interceptions. Now Marino certainly threw a lot more touchdowns, but he also had some elite receivers like Mark Clayton and Mark Duper, not to mention the fastest release of any QB in memory.

Henne isn't far off. He just needs more time and patience from the very pundits who called for his number when he was riding the pine.

Finally, Henne has more upside than Orton. I'll admit, the prospect of adding a quarterback who could instantly convert seemed attractive.Yes, Kyle Orton, for a moment, felt like a good idea. But then I stopped throwing back the Kool-Aid and asked myself, "Are we talking about the same Kyle Orton who barely held down the starting gig in Chicago? Are we talking about the same Kyle Orton who in 2005 threw just nine touchdowns, 13 interceptions and fumbled six times? Are we talking about the same Kyle Orton who completed just 58 percent of his passes against Henne's 61 percent in 2010?"

Indeed we are.

Over the past few weeks, we've all been led to believe that Kyle Orton is closer to John Elway than Gary Kubiak. But the reality is that Orton won just three games last year. Henne won seven and his ceiling isn't yet in view. Orton's ceiling looks more like the one Charlie and Grandpa Joe flew up to inside the chocolate factory: it's suddenly there, slippery and somewhat dangerous, with seemingly nowhere to go but back down.

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