NESN: It seems like Chad Henne has taken a step back this season. Do you expect the Dolphins to look at other candidates as their starting quarterback for next season?
Jeff Darlington: Absolutely. No matter whether you advocate Henne’s potential as a starter or not, I don’t think there are many Dolphins fans that don’t also agree it’s in the organization’s best interest to provide Henne with some competition this offseason. The team’s front office likely agrees, especially given their decision midway through the season to replace Henne with Chad Pennington. The bigger mystery remains where the team looks. Do they draft somebody with a first-day pick? Or do they try to acquire a quarterback through free agency? Good quarterbacks aren’t easy to find, so this resolution isn’t going to be a simple one, even if it ultimately ends with Henne as the starter in 2011.
NESN: Ideally, what is the one position the Dolphins would be able to address with their first-round pick in April?
J.D.: If the Dolphins don’t draft a quarterback with that top pick, as I suggested as a possibility in the previous question, the next matter of priority will be at running back. Of course, this also depends on whether the team reaches a deal with running backs Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams, two players who will be free agents this offseason. Brown, who has said he wants to return, is the priority right now. Should the team reach a deal with Brown, it likely would not need to address the position with the first pick. But if Williams is the only one of the two to return, his age makes him a considerable liability. So basically, watch for the Dolphins to go after a running back if Brown signs elsewhere.
NESN: The Wildcat doesn’t seem to be getting as much attention anymore. Has that fad passed in Miami?
J.D.: When the Dolphins initially unleashed the Wildcat on the Patriots in 2008, it was intended to create space for Ronnie Brown given the lack of a dynamic threat in the passing game. Well, here’s the problem: Even after the team added wide receiver Brandon Marshall, opponents continued to anticipate the Wildcat. They planned for it. They expected it. And ultimately, they halted it. I’m not saying the Wildcat is gone forever. But unless the Dolphins get themselves together in other areas on offense, they’re never going to be able to get the same type of production out of this package, either.
NESN: Is there any one reason why the Dolphins’ season went south, or did they just not have the talent to compete with the Patriots and Jets in 2010?
J.D.: Well, I’m not going to say the Dolphins lack the talent to compete with the Jets. Miami split its series with New York after sweeping the series last year. The season in general, however, is a different story. The Dolphins have all of the tools to compete in the AFC East, but they’ve got to grow less conservative on offense. There’s going to be a change at offensive coordinator this offseason when Dan Henning heads into retirement. At that point, it’s time for coach Tony Sparano (if he keeps his job) to inject some energy into a tired system. The Dolphins’ defense might actually be the best in the AFC East. Not until they step it up on offense, though, will they really be able to come close to competing with a team like the Patriots.
NESN: With two straight home losses to a pair of poor teams, how likely is it that the Dolphins even show up Sunday at a cold Gillette Stadium?
J.D.: At this point, the Dolphins need to play for their coach. Barring an embarrassment on Sunday, it seems realistic that coach Tony Sparano will be able to save his job. But Miami can’t mail this one in — regardless of who is on the field for the Patriots. Unless the players want to be reporting to a different boss next season, this is a surprisingly important game for this organization.
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