DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — These days, the Miami Dolphins are holding back Chad Pennington.
With good reason.
Dolphins coach Tony Sparano already knows Pennington’s strengths and doesn’t want to tax his throwing shoulder, which was operated on for the third time last season. With starter Chad Henne, plus young quarterbacks Pat White and Tyler Thigpen also on the Miami roster, Pennington is often a spectator in off season workouts, which continued Saturday, May 29, with more mini-camp sessions.
So forgive him for the occasional yawn while watching others in drills, because this is new territory for Pennington, a two-time NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Sparano wants to hold Pennington to between 40 and 55 throws in practices, which amounts to a relatively light workload.
Pennington isn’t com-plaining whatsoever, either.
“I’m actually really OK with that,” Pennington said Saturday. “No. 1, I know what we’re trying to get accomplished here as a team. And No. 2, I appreciate that perspective to where I don’t have to throw myself in the fire in May. Things really get heated up in August and that’s when I want to be at my best. It would be crazy for us to come out here and do something to jeopardize that.”
Pennington is entering his third season with the Dolphins. He won immediate praise by leading Miami to the AFC East title in 2008, one year after everything went wrong in a 1-15 campaign. Hopes were understandably high last season, which ended for Pennington when he dislocated his right shoulder against San Diego in Week 3.
Henne took over as the starter, going 7-6 the rest of the way, and is the unquestioned No. 1 on the 2010 depth chart. He’s confident, yet still doesn’t mind saying how much he enjoys having Pennington nearby.
“Chad's a smart guy who sees everything and he tells it how it is,” Henne said. “I mean, he’s seeing everything that I’m seeing and he’ll help me guide along, and you know, progress through my progressions.”
That role – volunteer assistant coach, if you will – isn’t a new one for Pennington.
After getting hurt last year, Pennington would still meet with the quarterbacks on Tuesdays, going over what he was seeing and offering both praise and criticisms when necessary. It’s been more of the same this off season, the quarterback with 17,804 career yards and an NFL-record 66.1 percent completion rate helping out the relative NFL newcomers who have 5,677 yards in their careers combined.
“I clearly want to evaluate these two young players, “Sparano said. “So I need a lot of reps for Chad Henne. I need to evaluate Thigpen and Pat White, thoroughly. … And I know an awful lot about Chad Pennington. Now, he’s going to need work. He’s going to need to be in the rotation at some point. But right now, that’s not necessary.”
Mentoring the young guys very well might be the start of Pennington's next career move.
His father was a high school coach for 30 years, and Pennington has thought about coaching at some level when his playing days end. If he had to choose now, he likely wouldn’t be working an NFL or college sideline, either.
“I’ve played on all three levels, and Friday night football, it doesn’t get better than that,” Pennington said.
“Wear your jersey to school, smell the popcorn popping, I mean, it just don’t get much better.”
For now, all those plans remain just that – plans.
Pennington is working as hard mentally this season to get ready as he ever has, and insists his competitive juices are still flowing, saying he wants desperately to be on the field, in the huddle and calling plays again. Dr. James Andrews, the renowned surgeon who repaired his shoulder last October, assured him that the damage was minimal and he should be ready for 2010 with no problems.
So for now, Pennington is waiting to see what comes next. There’s a chance he could play in all 16 games this season. There’s also a chance he could get cut before the NFL year kicks off for real in September.
He’s preparing for all possible options.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Pennington said. “That’s out of your control. That’s why you work as hard as you can to be the best teammate you can be and let the rest take care of itself.”
Photo: Chad Pennington