FIFTEEN HUNDREDmiles north of Miami a Hall of Fame quarterback joined a strange new team, andas a result the most accurate passer in NFL history swept into Dolphins camp.Action and reaction in the personnel game.
On the night ofAug. 6, Brett Favre became a Jet. The next day the incumbent New York QB, ChadPennington, 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 Penningtonhad a skin on the wall himself. No one with 1,500 or more pass attempts—roughlythree seasons' worth—has had a higher completion percentage (65.6). Fortalent-thin Miami, for which every mistake will be magnified, this is not to besneezed at.
Bill Parcells,the Dolphins' new executive vice president of football operations, draftedPennington eight years ago. Dan Henning, one of the shrewdest developers ofquarterbacks, was the Jets' offensive coordinator then. Now they're all backtogether. 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 ofMichigan, might be the future, but the Dolphins, who were 1--15 last year, needimmediate stability.
Pennington peakedin 2002 when he led the NFL in percentage (68.9) and passer rating (104.2),completing 275 passes while throwing only six interceptions. That wasPennington at his best, a guy who refused to make mistakes. After that hesuffered a pair of right shoulder injuries, and then two torn ligaments in hisright 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 threeweeks," Pennington says. "I came back after a week. I rushed it. I wastaking three different painkillers, at first once a day, then twice. I kept itto myself.... I didn't want to be a distraction.
"There weretimes when I would lose my bearings out there. I'd be free-spirited, kind ofspacey. It took me two months, February and March, just to rebalance myself.Everything had shifted to my left side. My whole right side had shutdown."
Pennington hasalways been an exceptional team guy, and Miami needs leadership. Zach Thomasand Jason Taylor, the perennial All-Pros who led the defense, filled that rolefor many years, but they're gone now.
Pennington isjust Parcells's latest move in shaping the Dolphins. Two weeks after he got theMiami job, he brought in Jeff Ireland, the scouting director from his Dallasdays, as his G.M. He hired Tony Sparano, his line coach with the Cowboys, ashis head coach and Henning to run the offense. Jason Ferguson, much underratedas a nosetackle with the Jets, followed Parcells to Dallas, and now toMiami.
The draftphilosophy also reflects Parcells's taste: Take big guys, meat-and-potatoespeople; build from the ground up. Jake Long of Michigan, who'll be the startingleft tackle, was the No. 1 pick. The rest of the draft brought six offensiveand defensive linemen, two runners in the 220- to 230-pound range and Henne, abig guy himself at 6'2" and 230.
It will be slowwork, pumping life into last year's sluggish team, and people are wondering howhands-off the old coach will be. "I'll watch every practice, but I'll bestaying out of the coaching part of it," Parcells says. "When I was atDallas, Bill Walsh came down one day and we had a long talk about this. Hesaid, '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? Wouldyou look at this film and confirm something for me?'
"You askyourself, 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."
PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP WITH 2007 STATISTICS COACH TONY SPARANO (0--0 in NFL), firstseason with Dolphins
Ted GINN JR.
Donald THOMAS (R)-- New ACQUISITION
Chad PENNINGTON-- New ACQUISITION
Boomer GRIGSBY --New ACQUISITION
Justin SMILEY --New ACQUISITION
Jake LONG (R) --New ACQUISITION
Dan CARPENTER (R)-- New ACQUISITION
Anthony FASANO --New ACQUISITION
SACKS 5 1/2
Kendall LANGFORD(R) -- New ACQUISITION
Chris CROCKER --New ACQUISITION
Jason FERGUSON --New ACQUISITION
Akin AYODELE --New ACQUISITION
New ACQUISITION(R) Rookie (college statistics)
2007 RECORD 1--15NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 23/24/28 DEFENSE 32/4/23
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
NFL Rank: 23
Opponents' 2007 winning percentage: .465
Games against playoff teams: 4
SI.com's NFL personnel expert Michael Lombardievaluates the Dolphins' units.
Consistent Pennington suitable role model for rookie Chad Henne.
Very good if Williams is the Ricky of old and Brown is healthy.
Not much speed or playmaking; Ginn is too inconsistent.
Addition of Fasano creates a very nice combination.
This line will get better; Long will determine how much.
Added young players to go along with quality veterans.
Very physical; need another outside LB opposite Porter.
Mix-and-match unit lacks a pure cover man.
Solid units will help kick-start the rebuilding.
Selected by Bill Parcells with the Jets' last pick inthe 1997 draft, Ferguson followed Parcells to Dallas and Miami. He's coming offa torn biceps that cost him the 2007 season but seems to have regained hisquickness. "This system is right for me," he says. "Anything comingthrough, knock it the other way."
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EXCERPTED FROM SI
August 8, 1966
NOW, FOR only slightly more than you can afford, youcan be burned a fetching salmon, catch a sailfish, be wowed by Sammy Davis Jr.and get a good seat at a Dolphin game all in the same package. Miami is workingon the possibility of having a real dolphin in a pool at the south end of theOrange Bowl. It would retrieve extra-point kicks and leap out of the water witha flip every time the Dolphins score.
-- Tom C. Brody
Free access to all DOLPHINS stories and photographs from the SI archives, plusvideo clips.
SAFETY FIRST Pennington avoids mistakes—essential if the Fins are to stay in games.
NEIL LEIFER (COVER)