Will the spread work in the NFL? Tony Sparano might have the answer.
A shoulder injury to Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington is expected to keep him sidelined for the remainder of the 2009 season. With Pennington out, Chad Henne is the likely starter.
But that would be a mistake. Instead, the Dolphins should start Pat White.
Chad Henne is the safer choice, no doubt. He’s been on the team for two years. He’s a pro-style QB. In short, he’s a lesser Chad Pennington.
But what are the chances Miami makes the playoffs with Chad Henne? Not good. Already facing a 0-3 hole to start the season, it would be tough enough with Chad Pennington, much less with Chad Henne.
So why not scrap the conservative option and put Pat White to the test?
After all, this is exactly what head coach Tony Sparano did last season. Following a 1-15 season in 2007, Sparano took over as coach for Miami in 2008 and led the Dolphins to one of the most impressive turnarounds in NFL history. Miami finished 11-5, won the AFC East and made the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
One of the keys to their success was Sparano’s willingness to try out new ideas. He used Ronnie Brown in a single-wing formation. From that formation, he ran multiple different options. Brown ran the ball on a draw. Brown handed off to a receiver in motion. Sparano even let Brown chunk the ball down the field a time or two.
In short, the Dolphins had nothing to lose. No one expected them to win a lot of games, so they were free to take chances with players, play calls, and overall schemes.
Now, they have a chance to take it even a step further. In college, Pat White proved himself to be one of the most successful quarterbacks in NCAA history at running the spread.
So who better to test it out in the NFL than him?
Line up White in the backfield with Ronnie Brown. Put Teddy Ginn, Jr. in motion. See what happens. If it all falls flat, would Miami have lost that much? Probably not.
To make the playoffs, the Dolphins would probably need to go 10-6. That means Henne would need to finish the year 10-3. But the schedule still includes games against New Orleans, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, and two games against both New England and the New York Jets.
Chad Henne can’t be expected to pull off such a feat. He simply isn’t going to be the difference in whether the Dolphins make the playoffs this year or not.
Of course, Pat White probably wouldn’t be the difference, either. But Miami would learn a lot more with White. At worst, Sparano would learn the limits of the spread offense. At best, he’d find himself at the forefront of a new era in the NFL.