Charles Clay: 2013 Year In Review

Posted Jan 20, 2014

Versatile tight end more than made up for loss of Keller.

There were glimpses of what tight end Charles Clay was capable of during his first two seasons with the Miami Dolphins, but nobody was really sure exactly what the team had in him until he was thrust into a starting role in 2013.

Miami had brought in accomplished veteran tight end Dustin Keller, formerly of the New York Jets, to be one of quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s primary targets in his second season. He already was a known seam threat and created mismatches with linebackers and safeties, but a devastating knee injury suffered in the preseason put an end to Keller’s season before it even started.

Media speculation had the Dolphins looking around for another veteran tight end to bring in, but that was never the line of thinking for Head Coach Joe Philbin and his staff. Tight ends coach Dan Campbell said the answer, “was here all along,” in Clay and all he did coming out of the gate in the regular season was catch 10 passes for 163 yards and score his first career rushing touchdown in back-to-back wins at Cleveland and Indianapolis.

It was Clay’s five-catch, 109-yard performance at the Colts in a 24-20 victory that garnered the first bit of praise nationally, highlighted by a 67-yard reception. He stayed consistent, taking his game-breaking status to another level in a 20-16 home win over the San Diego Chargers in Week 11 with six catches for 90 yards and a touchdown.

Clay turned a short Tannehill pass in the right flat into a 39-yard touchdown, bowling over Chargers defensive back Marcus Gilchrist in a fashion reminiscent of Hall-of-Fame running back Larry Csonka. That play came in at No. 9 on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 highlights and then two weeks later he tied a season-high with seven receptions for 97 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-28 win in the snow at the Pittsburgh Steelers. That came a week after catching seven passes for 80 yards in a 23-3 road victory over the New York Jets.

Even though the New England Patriots managed to take him out of the game entirely in Week 15 by holding him to one catch for six yards, that one catch was the turning point of the game. It was a 4th-and-5 late in the game with Miami trailing 20-17 and Clay had to come back for the swing pass from Tannehill because a rusher was in the quarterback’s face. He secured the catch, broke one tackle and juked another defender on his way to converting the crucial first down. That set up what proved to be the game-winning touchdown in a 24-20 win.

There is no doubt that new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor will try to get Clay even more involved in the offense in 2014.

Signature Moment

Three times in the second half of the season Clay did something on the field in a crucial situation that was highlight-reel worthy, and all three times his unique skill set as a receiver and a runner was on display. But it was the one in the snow at the Pittsburgh Steelers that stood out just a bit above the rest.

Miami was trailing by four points in the fourth quarter and running back Daniel Thomas had just energized the offense with a nifty 55-yard run down to the Steelers’ 16. A four-yard run by Marcus Thigpen set up a 2nd-and-6 from the 12 with the home crowd getting loud – until Clay silenced them with a touchdown that would be played back again and again in the game highlights.

First, his crisp route running put Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen in a bad spot right away as Clay got position in the flat. Then he showed off his sure hands in the cold and wet conditions by snatching the pass out of the air and turned into a running back. Clay wrestled free from Allen’s grasp, shook off a hit from safety Troy Polamalu and kept his balance long enough to regain his footing and coast into the end zone for the 31-28 lead. The Dolphins held on to win, 34-28.

Of Note

Clay had one of the best seasons in franchise history for a tight end, ranking among the top five in all three statistical categories. His 69 catches were the second most behind Randy McMichael’s 73 in 2004 and his 759 receiving yards also were the second most behind McMichael’s 791 that same year, while his six touchdown receptions were tied for third behind Anthony Fasano’s seven in 2008 and Keith Jackson’s seven in 1994.

Coaching Perspective

“This kid, he is special. You name me another tight end in this league that’s like him, that can do everything that he can do. You’re going to be hard pressed to find one. There may be some imitators in this league as to that type of player. Charles Clay is a unique player and he’s embraced that. God gave him the skill set but he’s using it. … He’s hard on himself and he wants to be good. He wants to be great and he works at it each and every day. He doesn’t accept anything less than being the best and that’s why he’s continuing to grow. He’s not topped out yet. He can be so much better and he knows that.” – Dolphins tight ends coach Dan Campbell

Teammate Perspective

“He’s always a great player. He’s fun to be around; a guy who wants to be good. He wants to do all the little things right. He listens. I talked through a few adjustments with him. He’s right there listening and he executes it well. He’s a heck of an athlete that makes small plays and big plays.” – Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehil