Chad Henne has always been at his best when he's been able to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage. (Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMI)
Even back at Michigan, Chad Henne's career was a roller coaster. He started his very first game as a true freshman and led the Wolverines to a 43-10 win. And when he graduated four years later, after a Big Ten title, two trips to the Rose Bowl and a Jan. 1 win over Tim Tebow and Florida, he held school records in completions, pass attempts, passing yards and passing touchdowns.
Henne also captured the school record for interceptions, finished 0-4 against Ohio State, 0-2 in those Rose Bowl visits and lost to Appalachian State.
Through it all, one thing held true: Henne was at his best when Michigan turned him loose.
It was true when Michigan erased a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Michigan State in 2004, when Henne lit up Texas in a Rose Bowl loss later that year, when the Wolverines simply outgunned Tebow at the 2008 Capital One Bowl, and a bunch of times in between. Though he made some mistakes, Henne was a capable quarterback in Michigan's pro-style offense. But he was almost unstoppable when he aired it out and locked it in.
Four years after drafting Henne, the Dolphins are still trying to get their QB to that elite level. The latest solution is to give him more freedom. Saturday night against the Bucs, Miami's coaching staff, for the first time since selecting Henne in 2008, gave him the freedom to call full audibles at the line.
The result? Henne went 10-of-13 for 175 yards and a long touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall.
“I can get us in and out of the plays, get us the right plays, and give us a shot out there on the field,” Henne said.
Henne's never lacked for confidence. The Miami faithful turning on him in camp with chants of "We Want Orton" no doubt hit home, but he's been there before too -- Michigan's fans called for Henne to be replaced during a 7-5 2005 season, then again after that Appalachian State shocker.
Henne just kept coming back. The results weren't always perfect, but the talent was always there.
It took Henne all of two plays to call an audible against Tampa. After sacking Henne on Miami's first snap, the Bucs showed blitz again with 10 defenders lined up within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
Henne audibled to a shotgun formation. Tampa counted with an audible of its own. And Henne still snapped a 22-yard completion off down the middle to tight end Anthony Fasano. On the next play, Henne and Marshall connected for a 60-yard TD.
The night wasn't perfect, of course -- Henne was sacked three times, one that nearly resulted in a turnover inside Miami's 10. The turnovers are still Henne's flaw. Last season, he tossed 19 interceptions and coughed up a pair of fumbles.
Some of that -- maybe even most of it -- can be attributed to a brutal Miami offensive line that looks like it could be even worse in 2011. Still, the Dolphins are putting way too much on Henne's shoulders, especially with the added pressure of handling the audibles, for him to give up possession that easily.
This is a big season for Henne and the Dolphins. He's in the final year of his rookie contract and, unless you count the erratic Matt Moore, doesn't have much competition for his job. Miami needs to find out right now whether or not Henne can be its quarterback of the present and future.