Commentary

Dolphins' Pennington relishes his role

Originally Published: August 23, 2009
By Chris Mortensen | ESPN

Chad PenningtonAP Photo/Alan DiazChad Pennington passed for 3,653 yards and had a 97.4 quarterback rating last season.

MIAMI -- Anybody who is familiar with Chad Pennington's story will understand his perspective.

He doesn't really mind that the Dolphins used second-round picks in each of the past two NFL drafts on quarterbacks, Chad Henne and Pat White.

He isn't thinking about undergoing two shoulder surgeries, being benched as a starter and ultimately being released by the team (Jets) that originally drafted him in the first round 10 years ago.

He isn't basking in his victory resurrection in 2008, when he led the Dolphins, who had finished with a 1-15 record in 2007, to an 11-5 season and an AFC East title.

He isn't about to complain that a running back often breaks huddle lining up in the shotgun behind the center while the quarterback splits out wide in some scheme called the Wildcat.

"Every snap I get I really try to stay in the moment and relish it because it can be taken away from you," Pennington said. "I've been on the brink of not being able to play again, and it's not very fun. And I've been fired, too, and that's not fun."

Pennington laughed heartily in the postgame locker room Saturday night, unaware that Henne, his backup, was scurrying around with two of the veteran's three young sons.

Earlier, Pennington had led the Dolphins to a 27-17 preseason win over Carolina at Land Shark Stadium. Sure enough, in five of his 20 offensive plays, Pennington was split wide while Ronnie Brown took the snaps in the Wildcat. On one, he took a lateral on an end around and threw a 35-yard completion.

Pat White
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesMiami could have more to unveil in the Wildcat with former West Virginia star Pat White.

"People ask if we're giving away secrets [in preseason], but really, everything we do we did last year, so it's on film," Pennington said. "We just look at it as part of what we do. The more we can do as an offense and as players, the better off we'll be, and the more versatile we'll be."

As for forecasts by analysts that quarterbacks splitting wide in the Wildcat this season will be the target of more aggressive defenses, Pennington smiled about the prospect.

"That's why we ask the coaches to line up 5 yards off the line of scrimmage," he said with a hearty laugh.

Then again, one senses that the Dolphins are waiting to get in closed practices before they unleash the next part of the Wildcat with White, a rookie and former West Virgnia standout. White's work has been exclusively at quarterback since he was drafted under the speculation that his skills would be the next extension of the Wildcat.

"That's part of the suspense of this year, isn't it?" Pennington said.

Here's what else I learned while with the Dolphins, the final stop on my training camp bus tour:

  • Although Brown and Ricky Williams appear to be the lead backs, the Dolphins are taking a good look at former Montana RB Lex Hilliard, one of their three sixth-round draft picks in '08. Hilliard, a fairly quick 5-foot-11, 240-pounder, spent last season on the practice squad. The Dolphins' staff also loves Patrick Cobbs, a fourth-year player from North Texas.

  • Ted Ginn Jr. is the only receiver you can write into the starting lineup. He has a big defender and mentor in former Dolphins receiver Nat Moore, who told The Miami Herald recently: "Everyone wants him to be macho man, and that's just not fair. Hell, [former Miami receiver Mark] Duper stepped out of bounds [to avoid a hit]. I stepped out of bounds. There are certain times when you sacrifice your body and certain times when you don't."

  • The Dolphins' strength is their deep defensive line. The budding star is left defensive end Kendall Langford, a 6-6, 290-pounder who was a third-round choice from Hampton College in 2008.

  • The offensive line, big and strong, is fairly settled. The only battle for a starter's spot is at right guard between Shawn Murphy and Donald Thomas. Murphy is the son of former baseball great Dale Murphy.

  • Vontae Davis, the team's first-round pick from Illinois, has lived up to his billing; the Dolphins just want the cornerback/special-teamer to tone down a tendency to be overly aggressive. And, of course, there's always a steal. This year, it might be safety Chris Clemons, a sixth-rounder from Clemson. Pennington also had high praise for fourth-round pick Brian Hartline, a wide receiver from Ohio State.

    Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.