This is the year that Chad Henne blossoms into a franchise quarterback.
At least that's what Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano hopes as he heads into a make-or-break season with Henne penciled in as his starting signal-caller.
There were high expectations for Henne after he was taken in the second round of the 2008 draft, but the Dolphins offense has sputtered under his direction. In two seasons as a starter, he's compiled a 13-14 record and has thrown more interceptions (33) than touchdowns (27).
That will change under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who will coach Henne to a breakout season and get the offense back on track.
On the surface, that statement would appear idiotic based on Daboll's struggles as the Cleveland Browns' play-caller for two seasons. Daboll directed a unit that averaged 16.1 points per game, a number that portrays an offense that struggled in all areas.
However, it was the surprising play of rookie quarterback Colt McCoy in 2010 that should encourage Dolphins fans. McCoy's success can be attributed to Daboll tailoring his system to fit his quarterback's game.
In studying the game film, Henne is best described as a classic pocket passer with exceptional arm strength. He is capable of making all of the throws and has a tight spiral. His ball placement is on point when he passes in rhythm and he's very comfortable working off play-action. Henne is ideally suited to work in a system that features a vertical passing game.
Henne's flaws are mostly related to his decision-making and accuracy. He has a propensity to lock onto his primary receivers and will force balls into coverage. He also has struggled late in games, which leads to questions about his poise under pressure. His touchdown-to-interception ratio during the fourth quarter (three touchdowns and eight picks) was dismal as was his 55.6 passer rating.
Daboll has talked about installing a quarterback-friendly system in Miami that is built around the talent already on the roster. This system would grant Henne the freedom to make checks and adjustments at the line, while also featuring a variety of formations, shifts and personnel groupings designed to create mismatches.
With Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess, Brian Hartline and Anthony Fasano as Henne's primary targets, the scheme likely will feature a host of crossers and option routes to take advantage of the receiving group's quickness. Although the vertical aspect will need to be manufactured due to the lack of a speedster on the outside, the Dolphins can use deception and play-action to create big plays.
The Dolphins will attack the defense's biggest weakness each week, while maximizing the strengths of their personnel. Given Daboll's extensive knowledge of the AFC East from his time with the New York Jets and New England Patriots, he should have a clear idea of how to attack the Dolphins' division rivals.
The rejuvenation of the running game will also play a pivotal role in Henne's success.
Last season, the Dolphins ranked 21st in rushing and the lack of balance placed the burden of carrying the offense on Henne. He had 30-plus attempts in 11 games and the Dolphins went 4-7 in those contests.
Frequently playing from behind was part of the reason for the unbalanced attack, but previous coordinator Dan Henning didn't appear willing to adjust his system. The Dolphins averaged 27.8 rushing attempts to 34.8 passes a game last season, a ratio that is not a recipe for success when trying to protect a young quarterback.
Given Sparano and Daboll plan on restoring the toughness to the offense, you can rest assured establishing the running game will be a priority each week. That, in turn, should reduce the exotic coverages Henne will face and give him a better chance to succeed.
Sparano is staking his job on Henne's emergence, but Daboll's arrival should make the gamble well worth the risk in 2011.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.