QB contest takes center stage as 'Fins open camp

MIAMI -- During this era of perennial instability for the Miami Dolphins, there's been one constant: questions at quarterback.

They've persisted through four coaching changes since 2004, and the position remains problematic as Camp Parcells opens Saturday.

The Dolphins have a new boss in Bill Parcells, a new coach in Tony Sparano and plenty of new players, while the longtime faces of the franchise, Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas, have departed for the NFC East.

But amid all the change, quarterback remains the same old story. The Dolphins have started 12 players at the position since Dan Marino retired eight years ago, and they're still looking for a keeper. It's perhaps the biggest reason they've missed the playoffs the past six seasons, a franchise record.

Beck, Henne & McCown is not a law firm, but this year's contenders for the starting job.

"We all feel like we're the starter and we're going to step up and be the starter," Josh McCown said.

McCown, who started nine games last year for Oakland, signed a $6.25 million, two-year contract with Miami in February. John Beck, a second-round draft pick in 2007, started four games as a rookie.

Chad Henne, a four-year starter at Michigan, was taken in the second round of this year's draft. He remained unsigned Friday, and if he misses much of camp, the Dolphins may let him spend his rookie year on the bench.

Sparano, a former Dallas Cowboys assistant, faces plenty of challenges as a rookie head coach taking over a team that went 1-15 last season.

He must revamp the defensive front seven following the departures of Taylor and Thomas. He must mold the offensive line, another chronic problem area for Miami. He must upgrade special teams that were woeful in 2007.

But his most scrutinized decision will be at quarterback. And with so many other positions unsettled, choosing a QB may take awhile.

"In a perfect situation, you would like your quarterback to be in the first huddle as soon as you can possibly get that done in the preseason," Sparano said. "But I don't think you can say, 'Aug. 3 is going to be the date we're going to make this quarterback deal.' I am not sure you get all your questions answered at that point, because there are a lot of questions that have to be answered when you are making a decision on a quarterback."

McCown is the favorite to start the season opener, simply because he has the most experience, with 31 starts in six NFL seasons. He's on his fourth team and long accustomed to losing environments, but he said he can help get Miami headed in the right direction.

"You bring the experience knowing you have to approach everything with a sense of urgency," McCown said. "You can't approach it with the 'we'll be better next year' feeling, or, 'Oh, that'll be OK a couple of weeks from now.' Everything has to be fixed right now.

"For me that is pretty much everywhere I have been in my career -- trying to turn it around."

Beck went 0-4 as a starter last season and endured plenty of miserable moments, fumbling seven times and throwing three interceptions.

"It was a rough year," he said. "But there were a lot of things that happened negative for us that I took as a positive into this year because I could learn from them."

Henne is unlikely to win the job out of camp, but it's possible he'll start at some point this season. While he's a rookie, McCown and Beck are also learning a new playbook.

"It's a great thing for Chad in that this is a new system coming in for the other quarterbacks," Sparano said. "Everybody's competing. The two veteran players knew that when we drafted Henne, we'd be competing. We're going to take a look whatever the possibilities are."

Last season the Dolphins started the season with Trent Green at quarterback, but there were doubts about his durability, and he was sidelined for the season by a concussion in the fifth game. Then they tried Cleo Lemon before turning to Beck.

Two years ago, Daunte Culpepper was touted as a worthy successor to Marino, but there were doubts about his health, and he lasted only four games.

Green, Lemon and Culpepper are all elsewhere now, and the "Help Wanted" sign is out again.

The current candidates for the job have been through minicamp together, and the competition has been friendly.

"It's comfortable in a sense that we have to help each other out, because it only benefits our team," McCown said. "We help each other as much as we can."

They'll be taking turns with the first unit in practice when camp begins, and Sparano's decision will hinge mostly on how the quarterbacks perform in the exhibition games. The first of four is Aug. 9 against Tampa Bay.

"All we want to do is see in competitive situations what happens," Sparano said. "We really want to see them when we get the pads on in games."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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