MIAMI LAKES, Fla. -- Chad Pennington's latest comeback is under way, even though he's not sure he'll play again.
The Miami Dolphins quarterback has completed the first phase of rehabilitation from season-ending shoulder surgery, and he'll fly Wednesday to Birmingham, Ala., to consult with Dr. James Andrews, who performed the operation Oct. 2. They'll map out a program for the next six weeks, and Pennington said he may wait until March to decide whether to play in 2010.
"I can't make the decision until I get to the point where I see how I feel and how it responds," Pennington said at a Dolphins luncheon. "Then I can say I've given it everything I can give it to make the right decision for me and my family.
"I'm going full steam ahead for the next five months. My goal is by March 1 to be ready to work out for any team, including this team, and be able to make a decision where I can go into an offseason program full steam ahead not considered an injured athlete."
The operation was the third on Pennington's throwing shoulder. Twice he has returned from injuries to win NFL Comeback Player of the Year, including in 2009, when he led the Dolphins to their first playoff berth in eight years.
Pennington's replacement, second-year pro Chad Henne, has staked a strong claim to the No. 1 job by going 4-2 as a starter. Pennington's contract expires after this season, and he said he has not talked with the Dolphins about returning next year.
"Chad Pennington is an outstanding pro," coach Tony Sparano said after practice Tuesday. "There will be a time and place for us to have that discussion at some point down the road, but I think everyone knows my feelings on Chad."
Pennington, 33, said he would consider remaining in Miami as Henne's backup rather than taking a No. 1 job elsewhere.
"Part of me believes I'm here for a reason," Pennington said. "I'm a loyal guy and I believe in this organization, and I enjoy this organization and this area. The other part is that I'm a competitor, and I lead and I win games. That's what I do as a quarterback. So there's a part of me that if there's an opportunity [to start], it's going to be a very difficult decision. And I have no idea what I'm going to do. ...
"I'm speaking as if there are going to be opportunities. There may not be opportunities."
Pennington dislocated his shoulder in the third game of the season at San Diego. There was no muscle damage, and the repair wasn't as extensive as with his other operations. Pennington said he was told by Andrews he should be able to play next year if he chooses, and he hopes to start throwing in mid-January.
Pennington is around the team during the week and helps with game plans, but he watches the games at home on TV with his three young sons.
"They've got their Dolphin helmets on and they're throwing the football," he said with a chuckle. "It gets pretty rowdy and loud."
Pennington watched Sunday as Henne threw an ill-advised interception that cost Miami the lead, then regrouped to direct a 77-yard drive for the winning field goal in the final 1:10 against Tampa Bay.
"Chad does a great job of preparation, and that has allowed him to have some success and play with confidence," Pennington said. "The telltale sign is for a guy who makes a mistake at the end of the game and then able to bounce back and lead the team to victory. That says a lot. There are not a lot of young quarterbacks who can bounce back from a situation like that."