Chad Pennington to start for Miami

DAVIE, Fla. -- A text message Chad Pennington received at home provided the first hint of a promotion.

"Can you stop by please," read the message from Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano.

"That 'please' kind of threw me," Pennington said later.

Starting quarterbacks enjoy deferential treatment, and Pennington is again No. 1. Sparano announced the change Wednesday, pulling the plug on the Chad Henne experiment in favor of a 34-year-old coming off the latest operation on his right shoulder.

"They both have strengths, and certainly weaknesses," Sparano said. "At this particular time, my decision is Chad Pennington's strengths might be suited a little bit more for where we need to be."

The Dolphins (4-4) play host to Tennessee on Sunday, when Pennington will make his first start since his season-ending shoulder injury in Week 3 last year. He contemplated retirement but re-signed with Miami, where he has won praise as Henne's mentor.

The two are good friends, and they met for an hour Tuesday after being informed of the lineup change.

"We got teary-eyed, because we have a really good relationship," Pennington said. "The good thing about this situation is he's on the front end of his career, and I'm on the back end of mine. So we're not two dogs fighting over the same piece of meat."

Henne agreed that his bond with Pennington remains strong.

"I'm going to stick by him and help him out as much as I can, and we're in it together," Henne said. "We're in it to win a championship."

The Dolphins began the season believing they were set for years to come with Henne. He became the starter in his second NFL season last year and threw for 2,878 yards, and he was on pace for 3,800 this year.

But the offense has scored only 11 touchdowns, which ties for second-worst in the NFL.

"The quarterbacks a lot of times are the ones put on the cross if things aren't going well," running back Ronnie Brown said. "They get the brunt of the backlash. But we're all responsible for what we're supposed to do."

In 21 career starts, Henne has topped 300 yards five times, which is more than any passer in the Dolphins' 45-year history except Dan Marino. But Henne threw 23 interceptions and only 20 touchdown passes while leading Miami to a record of 11-10.

"There are obviously things that I can want back," Henne said. "Turnovers glare at you, and some of the decision-making."

The offseason addition of Brandon Marshall gave Henne a Pro Bowl target, but they hooked up for only one score. Henne has 10 interceptions this year, including three in Sunday's loss at Baltimore, and only eight scoring passes.

The switch caught Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher by surprise. Henne threw for 349 yards but also had three interceptions in an overtime loss against Tennessee last year.

"We'll have to shift gears a little bit," Fisher said. "I personally didn't feel like Chad Henne was playing that bad. I've always been a Henne fan."

If Miami's productivity fails to improve under Pennington, Henne might be back in the lineup soon. Asked if the quarterback situation is now a week-to-week decision, Sparano said: "Chad Pennington is the quarterback right now."

The coach made the change mindful of the need for a surge in the standings. The Dolphins trail New England and the New York Jets by two games in the AFC East and lost to both teams at home, but their schedule eases in the second half of the season.

"It is time to move," Sparano said. "If you don't move during this month, you're going to be in the also-rans."

He said he remains optimistic about the young quarterback's future.

"This is not an indictment on Chad Henne at all," Sparano said. "It's not an indictment on his future. This player has gotten an awful lot better. But at this particular time, it's something I believe I need to do for our team."

Pennington, an 11th year pro, came to the Dolphins in 2008 and won the league's comeback player of the year award for the second time. He earned the affectionate nickname "Coach Pennington" from teammates because of his take-charge personality, and threw for 3,653 yards to help transform the Dolphins into AFC East champions one year after a 1-15 season.

Arm strength has never been Pennington's forte, and he has said his right shoulder probably won't be 100 percent this season. He has dealt with soreness at times, but Wednesday's practice left him encouraged.

"Things went really smooth," he said. "I felt really good throwing the ball. I felt like today was my best day throwing since I've been here."