Sparano saw signs of progress from Henne

NEW ORLEANS -- Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano defended Chad Henne from criticism the quarterback didn't improve last year.

"There's other players that are pretty good quarterbacks in this league, that if I remember correctly, like their first year in the league, were 3-13," Sparano said, referring to Indianapolis Colts star Peyton Manning.

"So when you come in and you're trying to get this thing done, all you have to do is you have to go back through the 900-and-something snaps that this guy has played, and say 'Did he show progress? Did he get better in different areas?' And, yes, he did.'"

The numbers hardly back Sparano.

Henne took over the starting job in 2009 when Chad Pennington went down with yet another major shoulder injury in Week 3. Henne was decent, considering he was a sophomore who'd taken second-team reps for two training camps. He threw 12 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and had a 75.2 passer rating.

But in his third NFL season, and with the addition of prolific receiver Brandon Marshall, the numbers didn't spike.

Henne's passer rating barely moved, up 0.2 points. His completion percentage rose 0.6 points. He threw three more touchdown passes and five more interceptions.

"He completed a higher percentage of intermediate passes, which doesn’t make the fans happy and doesn’t make evidently a lot of people happy, but it should because it's a sign of progress," Sparano said Tuesday morning during a coaches' media breakfast at the NFL owners meeting.

On passes that traveled 11 to 20 yards in the air, ESPN Stats & information charted Henne with 57 completions on 110 attempts (58.2 percent) for 995 yards and one touchdown with interceptions -- a 75.0 passer rating.

In 2009, Henne completed 57 of 110 attempts (51.8 percent) for 962 yards, zero touchdowns and five interceptions -- a 59.0 passer rating.

"Other areas I thought he improved on was his ability to move in the pocket and create space," Sparano said. "When you look at the number of sacks we had and the number of sacks avoided, the throwaways, those were the areas that he improved on."

The chief problem might have been Henne's inability to use his big arm to stretch the field. Henne completed 9 of 36 passes that traveled more than 20 yards. One was a touchdown, three were intercepted. By comparison, New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez completed 16 of 55 such passes for six touchdowns with four interceptions.

"Some of that is on us for the number of opportunities," Sparano said. "There's just a lot of factors, but when you get the green light, you’ve got to make the play, and Chad would tell you that."