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Marshall predicts playoffs

Shift to Pennington may spark Dolphins

By Steven Wine
Associated Press / November 12, 2010

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DAVIE, Fla. — Brandon Marshall says the Miami Dolphins are going to the playoffs regardless of who plays quarterback.

Marshall offered effusive praise yesterday for benched QB Chad Henne, but said replacement Chad Pennington may provide a needed spark. Either way, Marshall guarantees a postseason berth.

“Absolutely,’’ the Pro Bowl receiver said. “Any minute now we’re going to put it together. I don’t know how many wins it’s going to take, but we’ll be there at the end.’’

Heading into Sunday’s game against Tennessee (5-3), the Dolphins (4-4) trail the Jets and Patriots by two games in the AFC East. Miami ranks last in the conference in points, behind even winless Buffalo, prompting coach Tony Sparano to change quarterbacks this week.

Pennington, 34, will take his first snap since a right shoulder injury ended his 2009 season in Game 3. Marshall said he was “maybe a little surprised’’ by the switch.

“You don’t expect things like that,’’ he said. “We all know by now Pennington is more than capable. He led this team a couple of years ago to the playoffs, so there’s definitely no dropoff there. I think he’ll give our offense a little spark. But Chad Henne is a quarterback who can be an All-Pro.

“Henne is one of the most gifted quarterbacks I’ve been around, and one of the most gifted quarterbacks in the NFL. Pennington has been in the league forever. He has seen a lot of football. We may need that right now.’’

Marshall said Henne has one of the best arms in the NFL, while Pennington “throws a pretty spiral.’’ But Henne was unable to take full advantage of Marshall, who is on pace for his fourth consecutive 100-catch season but has only one touchdown in his first year with the Dolphins.

A sputtering ground game and dearth of takeaways by the defense have contributed to Miami’s modest point total. Those things weren’t the quarterback’s fault, as offensive coordinator Dan Henning noted.

“Chad Henne didn’t miss any tackles. He didn’t drop any balls. He didn’t miss any blocks,’’ Henning said. “You can’t change the whole team. Tony had to make a hard decision, and he made it.’’

Sparano is counting on Pennington’s superior experience, leadership, and accuracy to give the offense a boost. The veteran’s impact has been apparent in practice this week, Sparano said.

“I always see a spark when Chad’s in there,’’ the coach said. “He has a lot of energy. He has done a tremendous job this year — and it wasn’t easy for him, because he wasn’t playing — to bring that kind of energy to practice. What is most interesting is to see people respond to that even though he wasn’t the starting quarterback.’’

Pennington was a first-round draft pick (18th overall) by the Jets in 2000 after spending four seasons as the starter at Marshall. One of Pennington’s Thundering Herd teammates in 1997 was Randy Moss, who will playing his first game this weekend for the Titans.

“We played ball together, we bled together, we cried together,’’ Pennington said. “We did a lot of things together in college.’’

Moss’s stormy reunion with the Vikings lasted only four games after they acquired him in a trade with New England, and the Titans claimed him off waivers during their bye week. The saga raised anew questions about Moss’s character, and Pennington watched from afar feeling badly for his friend.

“I hate that it happened. I’m sure he hates that it happened,’’ Pennington said. “I just hope he’s able to turn things around these last eight games and play really well — except for Sunday.’’

Pennington says he speaks with Moss infrequently, but they’ve taken part together in offseason foundation events — they were inducted in Marshall’s Hall of Fame back in April along with Byron Leftwich and John Wade — and a bond remains.

Pennington likes to tell stories about his ex-teammate’s athletic ability, such as the time Moss won a race at a high school track meet wearing sandals.

As for Moss’s past admissions that he doesn’t always give a full effort, Pennington chuckled and said he could accept that.

“We threw 25 touchdowns together, so I could accept anything,’’ Pennington said. “I’m sure Randy is like all of us — we all have moments in our careers that we would like to take back. When he has been at places where they have given him the right support and he has been involved, he has been tremendous.’’

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