The Dolphin Report

By Ron Poltorack

HENNE AND THIGPEN FAIL AUDITION FOR 2011 BACKUP QB JOB AS FINS LOSE TO PATS

After their second consecutive 7-9 finish thanks to a season-ending loss to the Patriots, Dolfans will have to wait to see if the off-season brings any hope that 2011 will be any better.   One position where the team needs significant improvement is QB.  On Sunday Chad Henne finished a rather disappointing season by getting benched during the first half in favor of Tyler Thigpen.  That benching was quite telling because it signified that Tony Sparano was opening up the competition for next year.  However, since neither Henne nor Thigpen have ever shown that they deserve the starting job, it appeared to be more of a competition for next year’s backup QB position.  With Henne again looking so poor (when the job was his to win) it seems as though the Fins will be in the market for a new starter for 2011.  The woeful performance of the offense in 2010 presents ample proof that without a real upgrade at QB, the Fins are destined to continue to disappoint. 

As the weeks of the 2010 season slipped by, there were more and more Dolfans (and sports writers) who joined the camp that Henne is not the Fins’ QB of the future.  Although it remains to be seen if Tony Sparano is ready to cut bait with Henne, that question may be moot as it also remains to be seen if the Fins are ready to cut bait with Tony Sparano.  His 1-7 home record and second consecutive 3-game losing streaks to end each of the last two seasons will not help his chances of returning for a 4th season.  Neither will the fact that the Fins started 2-0 and then finished up 5-9 the rest of the way.  A well coached team is supposed to get better as the season unfolds; these Dolphins just seemed to get worse. 

As for Henne, he was given every chance to show that he was the QB of the future this season, but he failed to take advantage of his opportunity.  At times it looked like he was afraid to take advantage of the opportunity.  All too often, he looked like he was flustered.  His pocket presence is, quite frankly, absent.  On Sunday, for example, he was sacked one time by a Patriots’ defender who had fallen down and then crawled several feet to wrap up Henne’s legs and bring him down for a loss.  If he had any awareness at all, if he had any pocket presence whatsoever, he would have taken two steps to the side, avoided the rush, found a receiver and made the Patriots pay in the process.  But instead he had no feel for the pocket and as a result he took yet another sack. 

If there is any hope remaining that Henne can get it together and become a top-tier NFL quarterback, something needs to drastically change and that something would appear to be the QB coach.  Under the tutelage of QB Coach David Lee, Henne seems to have regressed.  Thus, if you are still a Henne-believer, logic would dictate that David Lee must go.  If you are not a Henne-believer, then perhaps the answer is that Henne and Lee both must go. 

As for Thigpen, who was acquired from the Kansas City Chiefs after they traded with the Patriots for Matt Cassel (who had increased his stock by filling in so well for Tom Brady a couple of years ago when Brady was lost for the season), his play has justified why the Chiefs were wise to sign Cassel instead of elevating him to the starting job.  He has more mobility than Henne and he also seems to have an adeqaute arm, but he does not appear to be the kind of QB that can put his team on his shoulders and say “enjoy the ride.” 

Owner Stephen Ross has yet to show his cards regarding the future of Tony Sparano, although he has not given the traditional vote of confidence, which we all know is a coach’s sure death knell.   The late season swan dive by the 2009 and 2010 Fins would certainly justify a coaching change, and if a change is to be made, look for it to be made quickly, before other teams start to grab all the top candidates, most notably Bill Cower. 

The changes to come in the off-season likely will involve saying good-bye to several long-term Dolphins.  There has been speculation that Ronnie Brown and/or Ricky Williams played their last game in aqua and orange on Sunday.  That may yet prove to be the case as both were somewhat disappointing this year (and Ricky is getting older and Ronnie’s bouts of season-ending injuries may leave the Fins insecure about giving him a big contract).  Although Cameron Wake is not going anywhere, don’t be surprised if Channing Crowder finds himself on the outside looking in come next season.  The same fate may await Vernon Carey, depending upon how his knee responds this off-season and how bad of a cap hit (if there even is one given the labor uncertainty) the Fins will take should they jettison him and his big contract. 

The needs for the 2011 Fins are many.  Besides the obvious need at QB, the Fins still need a stretch the field receiver, new blood at running back, more depth on the offensive line, another pass rusher to complement Cameron Wake, an explosive kick/punt returner and some more depth in the defensive backfield.  These needs cannot realistically all be filled in the 7 rounds of the 2011 NFL draft, so look for the Fins to jump head first into free agency (which by the way may be pushed back to after the draft because of the NFL’s current deadlock with the NFL Players Association over the expiring labor agreement). 

The from office is also a question mark as the Fins head into the off-season, which of course is not an off-season at all for the front office which must be dealing with contract issues as well as getting ready for the draft and free agency.  GM Jeff Ireland’s job may not be any more secure than Tony Sparano’s.  Since Sparano and Ireland came in together, they may exit that way as well. 

The Fins’ future does not look too bright at this point.  The Fins are clearly behind the Patriots and the Jets.  And the Patriots, who have the top seed in the upcoming AFC playoffs and may be headed to yet another Super Bowl, can restock with the draft this year as they have stockpiled 7 picks in the first 4 rounds, including 3 of the draft’s first 33 selections.  The Pats not only keep winning, but they also keep putting themselves in position to maintain a distinct competitive edge.  And with their 38-7 defeat of the Fins on Sunday, that competitive edge has never been clearer.

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