Miami Dolphins Name Dan Henning Offensive Coordinator
While this choice may not have excited Miami's fans, Henning's track record indicates that he'll bring stability—if not electricity—to the team's offense.
Probably the best indicator of what the Dolphins can expect from Henning is the results of his most recent NFL coaching job, as offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers from 2002-2006.
During those years, the Panthers went 11-5 twice and made it all the way to Super Bowl XXXVIII before losing to New England 32-29.
After a 1-15 2001 campaign, a season in which the Panthers scored just 253 points, Henning and the Carolina offense had nowhere to go but up. Unfortunately, there weren't significant improvements in his first season, as the team scored just 258 points and its total offensive yardage output increased by only 26 yards (from 4,254 in '01 to 4,280 in '02).
But the Panthers turned the corner in 2003, in large part by adding quarterback Jake Delhomme as well as running backs Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster. The offense scored 325 points and amassed 5,141 yards on its way to the Super Bowl.
The question is: How much of that was attributable to Henning's offense?
In all honesty, some. Obviously, adding playmakers like Delhomme, Davis and Foster made a dramatic difference, but Henning's schemes put those players in position to make plays.
To start turning things around in Carolina, Henning got back to basics. After a 2001 season in which the team threw the ball more than 60 percent of the time, Henning emphasized execution in a run-first offense that would set up the passing game. This led to more balanced offenses in 2002 and beyond.
Like Carolina in its 15-loss season, the Dolphins passed nearly 60 percent of the time in 2007. Obviously, this was thanks in large measure to having to play catchup in virtually every game. To turn things around, Henning will adamantly—often stubbornly—stick with the running game, even when trailing. Dolphins fans can expect this type of determination to establish the run early in the season, with limited three-step, ball-control passing to get the ball into the hands of Miami's few playmakers.
Of course, the addition of Delhomme in 2003 represented a dramatic upgrade from Rodney Peete in 2002 (who himself was a dramatic upgrade from Chris Weinke in 2001). The biggest question for the Dolphins' offense will be whether quarterbacks coach David Lee can bring John Beck along fast enough for Beck to take the reins in 2008 (if ever). If not, look for Henning to find a placeholder quarterback (as he did with Peete in '02 at Carolina) while he puts his overall offensive scheme in place.
Henning will probably rely on a tandem of running backs to carry the load in Miami, as he did with Davis and Foster in Carolina. Assuming a healthy (and sober) Ricky Williams along with a healthy Ronnie Brown, the Dolphins should have plenty of legs to carry the offensive load in the early going.
Obviously there's a lot of work to do on the offensive line, but most of that work will fall to Jeff Ireland and the personnel department to resolve rather than on Henning's schemes.
The bad news for Dolphins fans in 2008 is that Henning's offense won't be confused with those of the 2007 New England Patriots or the 2001 St. Louis Rams. The good news is that it also won't be confused with St. Thomas Aquinas junior varsity, either. It's going to take Henning time to install the scheme, get NFL-caliber players in place, and focus on execution. Like Henning, the Dolphins' offense won't be exciting to begin 2008, but it will be significantly upgraded from the 2007 version.
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