Chad Henne invokes memories of Marino
When the Miami Dolphins lost starting quarterback Chad Pennington to a season-ending shoulder injury in September, club officials made all the right noises about how it was a terrible shame and a huge blow.
And they were right, to some degree. It was a shame. Pennington is a fighter who has come back from career-threatening injuries and he is the perfect guy to have in your locker room. He is smart, dedicated and a good leader. So dealing with Pennington on a personal level, the Dolphins felt bad about his injury and the fact his career was, once again, hanging in the balance.
However, while they would never admit such a thing publicly, there must also have been some in the organisation who saw the situation as a blessing in disguise because it accelerated the move to get Chad Henne into the starting line-up.
Even as a rookie in 2008, the Dolphins liked Henne a great deal having drafted him in the second round out of the University of Michigan. But with Pennington playing well and leading Miami to the playoffs, they could not throw the youngster into much live action in his first year.
As the 2009 season kicked off, Pennington was still the number one quarterback but the general feeling in south Florida was that Henne was the long-term future of the position and should be given a run of games at some point this year.
That opportunity came after Pennington got hurt against the San Diego Chargers and Henne has won six out of nine games as a starter, guiding Miami back into the AFC playoff race after the Dolphins lost their first three games.
While he is far from the finished product, Henne has shown enough potential to have Dolphins fans, myself included, feeling he could finally be the answer the Dolphins have spent a decade looking for ever since Dan Marino retired after the 1999 season.
Dolphins coach Tony Sparano is enjoying working with Chad Henne
Henne is lucky number 13 in terms of quarterbacks who have started in Miami since Marino called time on his Hall of Fame career. With exception of Pennington in 2008, the other 12 could most certainly be called the Dirty Dozen. Here is the list, which does not make pretty reading:
Jay Fiedler, Ray Lucas, Brian Griese, A.J. Feeley, Sage Rosenfels, Gus Frerotte, Daunte Culpepper, Joey Harrington, Cleo Lemon, Trent Green, John Beck and Pennington.
Henne has shown a lively arm and some pretty decent accuracy at times. But what the Dolphins like most is his poise and the fact he has led Miami to wins late in games against the New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots.
Henne is far from the complete quarterback. He has a lot of growing to do but the signs are good when you consider he has just nine starts under his belt.
He threw a horrible interception that almost handed the Buccaneers victory last month but rebounded to complete some beautiful throws in leading Miami to a game-winning field goal.
He missed some passes against Carolina but came up big with a huge completion to Davone Bess that helped Miami win that game and against New England last weekend, he badly overthrew fullback Lousaka Polite yet rebounded with a deadly strike to Greg Camarillo on fourth down that set up the winning kick with just over a minute on the clock.
So every time he does something bad, as you have to expect him to do as a young player, Henne has shown he has the mental strength to bounce back and he has done so in fine fashion.
That is part of what has made Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano warm to his new signal-caller. Henne seems to relish being put in situations where the game is on the line, just like Marino.
It should be noted that Miami have leaned heavily on their running game during recent weeks with Ricky Williams rolling back the years in the absence of Ronnie Brown. That is not a bad thing.
That has allowed Henne to feel his way into the position and gain confidence without having the entire game rest on his shoulders. And when Miami has needed to throw at the end of games, Henne has generally come up big, even though the Dolphins are primarily a running team.
That changed last weekend against the Patriots. The Dolphins thought they would not be able to run the ball very effectively so attacked through the air. And Henne responded with a career day, throwing for 335 yards and two touchdowns.
It was another sign of growth for Henne and showed he can win games on his own when required. And it should be pointed out he is not working with an elite group of receivers. Marino had the legendary Marks Brothers, Duper and Clayton, during his prime. Henne is working with a group of distinctly average wideouts in Bess, Camarillo, Brian Hartline and Ted Ginn Jr.
As the season reaches its critical point, I find myself rooting for Henne and not just because he is a Miami Dolphin. He is one of the NFL's good guys and a fine role model and ambassador for the league.
I met Henne in the summer while filming for NFL UK's new fan recruitment and educational website. We spent about half an hour on the field together at the conclusion of a hard practice session in the middle of training camp. And I found him to be an intelligent, articulate and likeable character. It was easy to see why players on Miami's roster have warmed to him and rallied around him this season.
Whereas some players are keen to get into the locker room as quickly as possible, particularly on a steaming hot August afternoon, Henne gave us as much time as we needed. He explained the technicalities of his position wonderfully and gave a unique insight into life as an NFL quarterback. It was fascinating stuff.
And despite the best efforts of the Dolphins PR staff to wrap him in cotton wool, he was more than happy to throw some footballs and show us his passing skills.
With a tough run-in against Jacksonville, Tennessee, Houston and Pittsburgh, the playoffs might still prove a step too far for the Dolphins. But having found the long-term answer at quarterback in Henne, there are still positives to take from the 2009 campaign.
Game of the Week?
The vagaries of NFL radio broadcast contracts in the United States mean we have the Washington Redskins at the Oakland Raiders on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra from 9:00pm on Sunday.
Obviously, we would love to cover the San Diego Chargers' visit to the Dallas Cowboys but this game is not being aired at all from the United States. Two radio stations whose commentary we usually take have failed to reach a compromise this weekend.
But I think it will be fascinating to catch up with the Redskins and Raiders - two of the best-supported teams in the UK. They have suffered quite a fall from grace in recent years so I expect some lively texts and emails from their followers.
And we will be joined on air in the first half by NFL UK Managing Director Alistair Kirkwood, who is going to update us on the status of the bid to bring more regular season games to our shores in 2010.
It should be an interesting night.
Prediction: Oakland 24 Washington 17