| Pennington avoids mistakes -- essential if the Fins are to stay in games.
7 N.Y. JETS
14 at Arizona
21 at New England
5 SAN DIEGO
12 at Houston
2 at Denver
23 NEW ENGLAND
30 at St. Louis
7 at Buffalo
14 SAN FRANCISCO
21 at Kansas City
28 at N.Y. Jets
Jason Ferguson, Nosetackle: Selected by Bill Parcells with the Jets' last pick in the 1997 draft, Ferguson followed Parcells to Dallas and Miami. He's coming off a torn biceps that cost him the 2007 season but seems to have regained his quickness. "This system is right for me," he says. "Anything coming through, knock it the other way."
The Tuna has reeled in a starting QB and some sizable Fish up front. The verdict: bigger, and a bit better.
Fifteen hundred miles north of Miami a Hall of Fame quarterback joined a
strange new team, and as a result the most accurate passer in NFL history swept
into Dolphins camp. Action and reaction in the personnel game.
On the night of Aug. 6, Brett Favre became a Jet. The next day the
incumbent New York QB, Chad Pennington, became unemployed. But not for long. He
quickly signed a two-year, $11.5 million deal with the Dolphins, who face
the Jets in the season opener. Favre left the Packers as the most prolific
passer of all time, but Pennington had a skin on the wall himself. No one with
1,500 or more pass attempts -- roughly three seasons' worth -- has had a higher
completion percentage (65.6). For talent-thin Miami, for which every mistake
will be magnified, this is not to be sneezed at.
Bill Parcells, the Dolphins' new executive vice president of football
operations, drafted Pennington eight years ago. Dan Henning, one of the
shrewdest developers of quarterbacks, was the Jets' offensive coordinator then.
Now they're all back together. And for a team that didn't know where its next QB
was coming from, Pennington's arrival was a godsend. Chad Henne, a 2008
second-round pick out of Michigan, might be the future, but the Dolphins, who
were 1-15 last year, need immediate stability.
Pennington peaked in 2002 when he led the NFL in percentage (68.9) and passer
rating (104.2), completing 275 passes while throwing only six interceptions.
That was Pennington at his best, a guy who refused to make mistakes. After that
he suffered a pair of right shoulder injuries, and then two torn ligaments in his right ankle last
season. The shoulder problems took the velocity off his ball; the ankle
. . . well, it resulted in one of his most miserable seasons.
"Normally with a high ankle sprain like that, you come back after three weeks,"
Pennington says. "I came back after a week. I rushed it. I was taking three
different painkillers, at first once a day, then twice. I kept it to
myself. . . . I didn't want to be a distraction.
"There were times when I would lose my bearings out there. I'd be
free-spirited, kind of spacey. It took me two months, February and March, just
to rebalance myself. Everything had shifted to my left side. My whole right side
had shut down."
Pennington has always been an exceptional team guy, and Miami needs
leadership. Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor, the perennial All-Pros who led the
defense, filled that role for many years, but they're gone now.
Pennington is just Parcells's latest move in shaping the Dolphins. Two weeks
after he got the Miami job, he brought in Jeff Ireland, the scouting director
from his Dallas days, as his G.M. He hired Tony Sparano, his line coach with the
Cowboys, as his head coach and Henning to run the offense. Jason Ferguson, much
underrated as a nosetackle with the Jets, followed Parcells to Dallas, and now
The draft philosophy also reflects Parcells's taste: Take big guys,
meat-and-potatoes people; build from the ground up. Jake Long of Michigan,
who'll be the starting left tackle, was the No. 1 pick. The rest of the
draft brought six offensive and defensive linemen, two runners in the 220- to
230-pound range and Henne, a big guy himself at 6' 2" and 230.
It will be slow work, pumping life into last year's sluggish team, and people
are wondering how hands-off the old coach will be. "I'll watch every practice,
but I'll be staying out of the coaching part of it," Parcells says. "When I was
at Dallas, Bill Walsh came down one day and we had a long talk about this. He
said, 'There will be a time when you've got to be able to let that part go.'
Tony is in my office every day. He'll say, 'What do you think about this? Would
you look at this film and confirm something for me?'
"You ask yourself, What do you want your legacy to be? I'm content at this
point to say, Those who follow me. Romeo Crennel, Bill Belichick, Sean Payton,
to name a few. I think I've got a pretty good group, so far." -- Paul Zimmerman