Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano stopped short of giving QB Chad Henne a full endorsement as the starter for next season in his comments directly following a 2009 season that ended with a disappointing loss to the Steelers.
It's likely that Henne, a second-round pick in '08, will return as the starter after taking the reins from Chad Pennington three weeks into this season, but Sparano left himself some wiggle room, and sources said it's too early to entirely dismiss the notion of another quarterback beating Henne out for the job next season.
Henne completed 60.8 percent of his passes for 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 13 starts in 2009 and all seven of Miami's wins came in games he started. Of course, the 24-year-old benefited from playing behind a stout offensive line and having the fourth-ranked rushing attack in the league, but he didn't have a reliable deep threat or a go-to tight end. There was much to be pleased about from Henne, and Sparano indicated he agreed with that sentiment, despite the non-endorsement.
It's likely that Sparano wants to see Henne improve this offseason, and he might have given him some extra motivation.
The Dolphins have three other quarterbacks under contract at the moment, but Pennington will become an unrestricted free agent in March. Pat White is coming off his rookie year and isn't accurate enough to compete for a starting job at this point of his career.
Tyler Thigpen, who was acquired from the Chiefs in October, is someone who could potentially give Henne a run for the job in training camp if Sparano keeps the job open. Thigpen threw two picks, but he also completed four passes for 83 yards and a TD in relief of an injured Henne in Week 17. In 17 career games, Thigpen has a TD-INT ratio of 19-15.
A source said there's even a very slim chance Pennington, who will turn 34 in June and is coming off the third shoulder surgery of his career, could be back if he doesn't find an opportunity to start elsewhere.
It would be an upset if Henne was unseated as the starter before the 2010 opener, but the Dolphins have other options and Sparano appears willing to seriously consider them.
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