Monday, May 5, 2008

Henne's work ethic may help him solve Dolphins' QB woes

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Each day at 7 a.m. sharp, 14-year-old Chad Henne showed up ready to make himself into a better quarterback.

For 45 minutes, while classmates scrambled to finish their homework, Henne fine-tuned his footwork and throwing mechanics. While older teammates roamed the halls in their letter jackets, the freshman, who would lead them on the field, finished up wind sprints.

"I joke with him once in awhile - I might not have been his favorite person some days," said Jim Cantafio, Henne's coach at Wilson Senior High School in West Lawn, Pa. "But the great ones are special and they will make a special commitment to be good."

It didn't take long for people to realize Henne was special.

But Henne, who took every snap during four record-setting high school seasons, was never satisfied.

Even when he had established himself as the best quarterback in a state that had produced Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly, Henne didn't skip his Monday-Thursday morning sessions with Cantafio.

Henne's deep-rooted passion for football made him an easy choice for Bill Parcells when it was time for the Dolphins to make the No. 57 selection in last weekend's NFL Draft.

If Parcells, the team's head of football operations, was going to use his first Dolphins' draft to solve the franchise's long-standing quarterback woes, Henne fit the profile.

"He's perfect for Bill Parcells," Cantafio said. "He's a no BS guy. He's a tough guy who'll work his buns off.

"Once he gets there, he'll have his nose in the playbook."

Henne, a 6-foot-2, 225-pounder who also started for four seasons at Michigan, will begin studying the Dolphins' system today with the opening of a weekend rookie mini-camp.

Henne, 22, is expected to compete with second-year pro John Beck and journeyman Josh McCown for the starting job.

General Manager Jeff Ireland said last weekend the quarterback job is wide-open and Henne's place in the pecking order "is up to him."

Given Henne's history, Beck, 26, and McCown, 28, had better be ready. Henne isn't easily intimidated.

In 2004, Henne became the first true freshman to start at quarterback for the Wolverines since Rick Leach in 1975. By the end of the season, he had tied the school record with 25 touchdown passes.

"We talked about how this kid is going to have to line up in front of 110,000 people, with millions watching at home," recalled Terry Malone, the Wolverines' offensive coordinator during Henne's first two seasons. "The way he practiced and went about his work, I made the comment either he's not bright enough to understand what he's about to get into or he's as tough a guy as we've had here.

"After that season, we decided he was tough enough to be a great quarterback."

Before he worked with Henne, Malone coached Brian Griese, Drew Henson and Tom Brady at Michigan.

Henne has as much talent and as many intangibles as any of them, Malone said.

Unlike a lot of quarterbacks entering the NFL, Henne also has been groomed for this moment. While many college quarterbacks are playing in the spread offense, Henne learned a pro-style passing offense at Michigan.

"I've always thought Chad would make a better pro quarterback than he was a college quarterback," said Malone, now the tight ends coach with the New Orleans Saints. "Chad is really trained to be a thrower."

But Henne, who is second in Big Ten history with 87 touchdown passes, still has a lot to prove.

His senior season was supposed to include a national championship run and a Heisman race, but ended with only 17 touchdown passes and a career-low 58.3 completion percentage.

Henne's injuries made for a tough year.

He hurt his knee and ankle in Week 2 during a 39-7 loss to Oregon. He needed a painkiller injection in his throwing shoulder to even play against Ohio State - a 14-3 loss that dropped Henne's record to 0-4 against the Buckeyes.

"He had to deal with a lot of injuries, but he stayed positive, he never gave up, he never quit," said Michigan lineman Adam Kraus, who signed a free-agent contract with the Baltimore Ravens.

Henne eventually redeemed himself with three touchdown passes to earn MVP honors in Michigan's 42-35 win in the Capital One Bowl against defending national champion Florida.

"He's all the things you look for in a passer," said Gators coach Urban Meyer, who coached '07 Heisman winner Tim Tebow. "He gets the ball out quickly and he's accurate."

Two more touchdown passes and a strong week of practice at the Senior Bowl strengthened Henne's case for a high draft pick. But Henne had to sweat it out on draft day, with ESPN cameras checking in throughout the day as he continued to slip in the order until late in the second round.

While Henne suffered, ESPN's draft analysts reviewed his shortcomings, including a long windup delivery and limited mobility.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, like Henne's size, strong arm and competitiveness, including his nine fourth-quarter wins at Michigan.

"In the NFL, you study someone so much that sooner or later you're going to say, 'What's wrong with him?''" said longtime college coach Gerry DiNardo, who's now an analyst for the Big Ten Network. "In college, he had all the tools that gave him a chance to be a winning quarterback. He also did all the things you want a leader to do.

"That's why I think things are going to work out with the Dolphins. It's the round peg in the round hole."