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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Henne ends Dolphins' decade-long quarterback search

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DAVIE, Fla. -- The revolving door, the one that led to a pair of shoes that were nearly impossible to fill, can stop now for the Miami Dolphins.

Fourteen men have gone through that door trying to succeed Dan Marino, arguably the greatest passer -- and quarterback -- of all time.

'I want the pressure on my shoulder,' Chad Henne says. (US Presswire)  
'I want the pressure on my shoulder,' Chad Henne says. (US Presswire)  
Most failed miserably.

The current one will not.

Chad Henne is the big-armed, third-year player who seems to have the "it" you need from a quarterback. Some might say two years and one season as a starter isn't enough of a body of work to make that claim, but I will anyway.

There will be no more parading journeymen like Jay Fiedler, Cleo Lemon and A.J. Feeley into the Dolphins huddle.

Henne is a keeper. He also loves the idea of playing the same position as Marino. Some might shun that pressure and wilt under it -- many have -- but Henne isn't one of those softies.

"I love it," Henne said. "The guy was a role model, a guy who I look up to and now I get to try to chase what he's done here. You have to thrive on that."

The Dolphins have seemingly struggled to throw the football ever since Marino left the game 11 years ago. The Dolphins' current identity is that of a running team.

Hey, they birthed the Wildcat in the NFL. Doesn't that say something about their passing game?

Henne might to do the Wildcat what DVDs did to VHS tapes.

This is a passing league now. Seven of the top 10 passing teams made the playoffs in 2009.

The Dolphins were 20th in passing yards in Henne's first season as a starter, while finishing fourth in rushing.

That has to even out if they are to be a playoff team in 2010. The Dolphins have to morph into a passing team. By inserting Henne as the starter in 2009 -- after Chad Pennington was knocked out for the season in Week 3 -- the Dolphins had to know there would be growing pains. There were, and they fell from 11-5 in 2008 to 7-9.

The idea of running the ball to set up the pass has to change. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning has made his bones playing that style, but it isn't the 1980s anymore.

I asked Dolphins coach Tony Sparano if Henne's expected progress would mean the end of the Wildcat -- which I, for one, would love to see.

After all, the definition of the Wildcat is this: Team has no quarterback.

Henne changes that thinking, but Sparano said the Wildcat would stay.

"I wouldn't say [Henne's growth] cuts down on the use of the Wildcat," Sparano said. "Depending on game plan, and depending on need, will determine how much we use it. The fact Chad is more comfortable getting the ball down the field might mean we don't have the same need to have a lot of people touching the football from center."

Sparano was reared on the old NFL mantra of run the ball and play good defense. But he is no dummy. He realizes the game is a passing game now and Miami has to change with it.

"Chunk yards and big yards in the passing game are necessary to win games and I feel like with our quarterback we're in a position to do that," Sparano said.

During a practice Saturday held at the team's indoor facility, Henne gave his teammates and the assembled media a taste of what he is capable of doing this season. He launched a perfectly thrown deep ball to Davone Bess for a huge play down the field.

"When it comes down to it, you're going to score points throwing the ball, not running the ball," Henne said.

It helps that he has a new toy. The Dolphins traded for Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall this offseason. Marshall isn't working now while he recovers from hip surgery, but he is expected to be ready for the season.

Henne did throw some to him after his arrival and before the surgery. He came away impressed, to say the least.

"He's smooth, fast and catches the ball well," Henne said. "He's going to help open up a lot of things for us."

The Dolphins struggled to throw it for much of last season. Henne had his moments but finished the season with 12 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions and showed some of the usual struggles that come for first-time starters.

His passer rating was a disappointing 75.1, down in the lower third of the league's starters. The inconsistency was there. But he had some games that showed the ability to be a really good one is there. In early December, he threw for 335 yards and two touchdowns as the Dolphins upset the Patriots 22-21.

He also threw for 349 yards two weeks later against Tennessee, but was picked off three times. It's the mistakes that drive Henne nuts as he watches himself on tape.

"I tend to focus more on the negative than the positive," he said. "It's tough to sit there and watch sometimes. But it's a lot different when it's happening on the field than when you're sitting there watching it in an air-conditioned room."

Henne's already a winner this year. He beat out Kareem McKenzie of the Giants and Carolina's Jon Beason in a cooking competition on the Rachel Ray Show during Super Bowl week.

He cooked steak, potatoes and asparagus, not exactly an exotic menu. But that's him: a steak-and-potatoes kind of quarterback. He's the blue-collar Michigan kid with a rocket arm and somewhat of a swagger.

"I'm confident, not cocky," Henne said. "I want the pressure on my shoulder. I want the bulls-eye on me. I want to come out there and make plays as a passer."

That has to be sweet music to Dolphins fans, who got spoiled by the aerial display from Marino's right arm only to suffer for years watching the many stiffs who tried to replace him.

To compare any passer to Marino is a sin of sorts. It's just not fair. But I say Henne will be much more like Marino than he will be Fiedler or Gus Frerotte or any other Dolphins quarterback in the post-Marino years.

Filling the shoes is a huge task. But at least now Miami has a passer who can legitimately try.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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