Clay Rebounding From Slow Start To Season

Posted Nov 7, 2012

Second-year tight end looks to be turning a corner.

Charles Clay received some unflattering camera time over the summer on HBO, as his struggles grasping Miami’s new offense were highlighted. Those cameras are long gone, so the progress he has made at tight end since then has flown quietly under the radar.

The second-year tight end out of Tulsa can put that “Hard Knocks” experience behind him for now after making the highlight reel at Indianapolis last week against the Colts. Clay’s 31-yard touchdown catch early in the second quarter of a 23-20 loss was a confidence builder and one part of what his coaches deemed a solid afternoon. He caught the pass from Ryan Tannehill in stride, headed toward the right sideline and then with an athletic move eluded the defender as he angled for the pylon in the end zone.

“We talked to him on the sideline about that corner route that he ran in for a touchdown. He did a great job of catching it, and I never thought he would be able to negotiate that turn and get into the end zone,” Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. “That’s tight quarters right there. But he has really come along, and as Coach (Philbin) already referenced, his run game was much improved this game. I think with all that we’re putting on top of him he is finally processing everything and understands what we’re asking him to do. So I’m pleased. He’s somebody that we have to have step forward, and I think he did this ball game.”

Clay has just six catches for 76 yards through Miami’s first eight games after hauling in 16 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie last season. He had shown a knack for getting open down the seam in 2011, but as much he is being asked to move around under Sherman’s scheme from the backfield to the line of scrimmage to sometimes out wide, he is dealing with a new learning curve.

Sherman has an old school coaching style that was unveiled to a national television audience on “Hard Knocks,” so he didn’t pull any punches with his criticism of Clay among others. The soft-spoken Clay responded positively and put his nose to the grindstone in an effort to get Sherman off his back. So the smile he flashed in the end zone and the celebratory jump he did with wide receiver Davone Bess seemed appropriate in light of his journey.

“It did feel good and it’s always big to be able to contribute in a good way to your team,” said Clay, who played six different positions in college, including linebacker and defensive end. “Hopefully, that continues on into the season and I continue to just get better week in and week out. Ultimately, you want to get that win but it’s always big to be able to contribute in a good way.”

In typical Clay fashion, he stayed humble regarding the move he made after the catch and gave more credit to Tannehill and the placement he had on the throw than to himself, acknowledging that it’s a play they do work on in practice. Of course Clay’s teammates know what he went through in training camp and the early part of the season, so they are all about giving him the accolades.

Veteran tight end Anthony Fasano is the leader of that position group and has seen the effort being put in by Clay up close in the meeting room and in practice. He also realizes how much he can benefit from Clay’s development in the passing game.

“That helps the offense out a ton and the tight end position,” Fasano said. “Him being out there and being able to be a threat both in the run and the pass game makes it tough for opposing defenses to defend. He’s growing up. He’s getting better every week and he took a big step in the right direction this week. I’m proud of him, I’m happy for him and I know he’ll continue to get better.”

Sherman revealed that he felt Clay had a good week of practice leading up to the Colts game and that he hadn’t been given a lot of opportunities in recent games because of circumstances. But his versatility allows Sherman and Head Coach Joe Philbin to switch up the looks in the backfield and either go with an empty set, one-back or two-back.

With one half of the season behind him, Clay can look forward to more days like last Sunday if he continues to prepare in practice like he has in recent weeks. Sherman, Philbin and tight ends coach Dan Campbell are gaining more confidence in Clay as a blocker in the run game and as a receiver and so is Tannehill, which he is well aware of.

“I feel a lot more comfortable and those guys have invested in me so it’s my job to go out there and do what I do,” Clay said. “It’s a lot easier when I have guys like Anthony Fasano and Coach Campbell and Coach Sherman, guys who believe in me and have high expectations. That just speaks volumes about those guys”

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