The fight of his football life

By Brian Biggane
Updated: July 25, 2010

MIAMI — When the Dolphins last year drafted Pat White — a quarterback known more for his running than his passing — many critics thought Bill Parcells and Co. had wasted a second-round pick on a luxury item who would be valuable only in the Wildcat formation.

Skeptics felt vindicated as White seldom got on the field as a rookie and rarely made an impact.

When the Dolphins open training camp Friday, White won’t be one of the most important players on the field, but he will be one of the most closely watched by fans who are both intrigued by his potential and doubtful that he will prove his worth.

Fellow quarterback Chad Pennington said fans should prepare to be impressed.

“To see the transition he’s made over the last year is phenomenal,” Pennington said. “He’s made such big strides. You watch him compared to when he came in last year, he’s a totally different quarterback.”

Dolphins coaches have stressed that White will compete for a spot at quarterback and won’t be converted to a receiver or kick returner to take advantage of his speed.

That could make it tough for White to earn a roster spot.

Chad Henne is entering his first full season as the starter and Pennington is assured one of the other two QB spots, leaving White and Tyler Thigpen to battle for the third.

While Thigpen started 11 games for Kansas City in 2008 and looked sharp in last year’s finale against Pittsburgh, White was 0-for-5 passing in 2009 and had limited success running the Wildcat formation in his 13 appearances.

White did his best to make up ground during the off-season – running back Ricky Williams called him the team’s most improved player.

Coach Tony Sparano said White got back to work so quickly after the season that he had to be told to stay away from the Dolphins’ training facility when the Indianapolis Colts were using it to prepare for the Super Bowl in early February.

“The guy has really put some time in,” Sparano said at mini-camp. “He’s watched a lot of tape, done a lot of studying on his own and with (quarterbacks coach) David Lee.

“You can start to see some of that now. He’s going the right places with the ball and you’re starting to see him hit some things a bit quicker, get to some second and third progressions. I like his progress.”

White was a star in college at West Virginia, but he had to make a major transition as a senior, when coach Bill Stewart took over for Rich Rodriguez.

“Rodriquez’s system probably had a 90-10 run/pass ratio,” said Jeff Mullen, who became the Mountaineers’ quarterback coach and offensive coordinator when White was a senior. “Coach Stewart is more like 60-40, so we put a lot on him his senior year.

“It took him almost a full season to get comfortable in the first college system he had to run that included throws.”

Mullen said that after scrapping Rodriguez’s spread offense and force-feeding White more of a pro-style attack all year, the WVU coaching staff finally “took the handcuffs off” and allowed him to call all his own plays in his final college game, the 2008 Meineke Car Care Bowl against North Carolina.

White responded with the best passing performance of his career, throwing for 332 yards — including three touchdowns — as the Mountaineers edged the Tar Heels 31-30.

While White’s struggles last year after he was drafted 44th overall made him a lightning rod for fans’ criticisms, Pennington said White’s resume alone should earn him some patience.

“I don’t think you can forget he was a winner in college,” Pennington said. “You can’t coach that. A guy who won four bowl games, did all the things he did, that’s going to take him a long way.

“What he’s done in the last year, what he’s done in the off-season, is work extremely hard (Now) he seems very comfortable, he’s extremely smart. He has the look that he’s in control and knows what’s going on.”

Perhaps the most memorable play of White’s rookie season did not end well. Running off left end on an option play in the season finale against Pittsburgh, he was headed for the sideline when safety Ryan Clark nailed him with a helmet-to-helmet hit.

White — who is listed at 6 feet, 190 pounds but looks more slender than that — had to be taken off the field on a stretcher.

“My wife and I were watching that game,” Mullen said, “and the second it happened we dropped to our knees and starting praying. He could have been 200 or even 250 pounds and that would have been lights out. That’s why the NFL has rules to protect its quarterbacks.”

White, whose 81 yards rushing last season included a 33-yard run against New England, isn’t focusing on the rampant speculation that he’ll be looking for a job by the time the season begins.

“I’m just trying to focus on the little things I have to do to make myself better,” he said, “and we’ll see where it goes from there.”