Over his first eight NFL seasons, Chad Pennington never took a snap for anybody other than the Jets. And now in a bit of dramatic irony, his first game as a Miami Dolphin will be against the Green & White.
"It's going to be very weird," said defensive end Shaun Ellis. "The only thing I know him to be is Green & White, so to face him on the opposing team is going to be challenging. Chad's a smart quarterback, he knows our system. You have to play a little bit like cat and mouse."
Ellis, also in his ninth pro season, was drafted along with Pennington in the first round of the 2000 draft. Bill Parcells, now the executive vice president of football operations for the Dolphins, was the top football man making the decisions in New York when the Jets had an unprecedented four first-round selections: Ellis (No. 12, Tennessee), DE John Abraham (No. 13, South Carolina), Pennington (No. 18, Marshall) and TE Anthony Becht (No. 27, West Virginia).
Only Ellis remains, as Pennington was officially released Aug. 7 following the Jets' acquisition of Brett Favre. Pennington recorded a 32-29 record as a starter with the Jets and ranks No. 1 all-time in NFL history with a 65.6 completion percentage (minimum 1,500 attempts). The AP's Comeback Player of the Year in 2006 also ranks fourth in team history in TDs (82) and passing yards (13,738).
"He's a winner," safety Kerry Rhodes said. "When he's in and when he's healthy, he's a productive quarterback in this league, so facing him is going to be tough. We know he can make all the reads, we know he's familiar with our system. He knows what we like to do and we know what he likes to do. It's going to be a chess match. It's going to be fun."
When Eric Mangini was asked about Pennington, the third-year head coach talked about how common return engagements have become in today's NFL. Mangini, a Patriots defensive assistant from 2000–05, will lead the Jets against New England next weekend.
"I think everybody is happy for Chad and excited for the opportunity that he has there," he said. "But when it comes to the game, it will be Jets vs. Dolphins, not Chad vs. the Jets or vice versa."
Since Dan Marino announced his retirement in 2000, the Dolphins have had 12 different starting quarterbacks. Head coach Tony Sparano, a Parcells protégé, hopes Penny is a lucky No. 13.
"We're a young team," Sparano said. "Chad brings management skills to the table. He can manage a game really well. He's a little bit calmer in there. He's seen more situations."
Wideout Jerricho Cotchery knows Pennington better than most. He's been in the huddle with him countless times, caught many of his passes and competed with him in postseason action.
"I think just by him getting a fresh new start — even if it wasn't us for the first game — he would want to win that much more because he's a very competitive player," J-Co said. "He always wants to win when he steps on the field and do his best to lead the team."
So you can forget about the Dolphins' 1-15 record of a year ago. The Jets know it's a new year and they have a healthy respect for the signalcaller who will don aqua and coral for the first time in regular-season action.
"Chad's a heck of a competitor and I know he's going to be bringing his 'A' game and we will as well," said C Nick Mangold. "But you're going against a fierce competitor and I think that it's going to be a battle for the 60 minutes."
An old rivalry has just received a fresh coat of paint. The Jets, who have won 16 of the past 20 in the series and who also swept the season series in '06 and '07, are about to confront Pennington for the first time.
"Just as well as he knows us," Ellis said, "we know him as well."