Fasano Blossoming Into A Complete Tight End

Posted Nov 16, 2011

Tight ends are asked to do more than just about any other position on the field, which is why it’s not so easy to evaluate them. Numbers are only one part of the process.

Anthony Fasano has put up the numbers over the last two weeks and they have been magnified by the fact that the Miami Dolphins won both of those games. His five catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns all came at critical times and begged the question why he had been so quiet since the season opener against New England.

But a more detailed breakdown of game film reveals that Fasano hasn’t been so quiet in the offense, it’s just that he was making his noise in the other area he is responsible for – blocking. Whether it’s sealing off the edge on a sweep for running back Reggie Bush or taking on the opponent’s best pass rusher on third down, Fasano answered the call.

Head Coach Tony Sparano has been with Fasano since his rookie year in 2006 with the Dallas Cowboys and remembers the vision Dallas had for the Notre Dame tight end taken in the second round. That original vision was different from the one New England had for Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and Fasano had no trouble embracing it.

“I’ve always said about Anthony that he didn’t come into this league with the mindset of being that kind of guy, the hybrid guy,” Sparano said. “He always came into this league from the time that I’ve known him of being a complete player at the position, meaning, ‘I’m going to block, I’m going to protect, I’m going to do all the dirty work and I’m going to do the things in the passing game that you need me to do.’ He had some opportunities (against Washington last Sunday).”

What Fasano showed in the 20-9 home win over the Redskins and the week before at Kansas City in a 31-3 rout of the Chiefs was what he showed his first season in Miami back in 2008. He is more than capable of being the kind of pass-catching threat down the field that Gronkowski and Hernandez are and relishes those opportunities.

His seven touchdown catches in 2008 tied the franchise record set by Keith Jackson in 1994, and his two touchdown receptions at Kansas City matched his career-high set against those same Chiefs in 2008. Of his five catches in the last two games three have been for more than 20 yards and both his 21-yarder and 28-yarder last week were down the middle and acrobatic receptions.

“He knows he’s got a great feel for the zone or how his cover man is covering him. He gets open,” said quarterback Matt Moore, who took over as the starter in Week 4 after Chad Henne suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. “He’s one of those guys where even if it’s tight you can stick it on him. I got a lot of faith, a lot of confidence that you can put it anywhere and he’s going to make a play.”

Miami’s last scoring drive immediately following Karlos Dansby’s interception of Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman perfectly illustrated how complete of a tight end Fasano is. Moore led the offense 81 yards on 10 plays, with Bush capping it off with an 18-yard touchdown run.

Early in the drive, with the Dolphins facing a third-and-8, Fasano sat down in the middle of the zone and caught an 11-yard pass for a first down. Two plays later he reeled in a 21-yard pass down the middle with one hand at the Washington 34.

“It’s something that our offense needed, which is someone to make a play,” Fasano said. “We stalled in the middle of the game and that was an important drive for us to keep the ball moving. Matt threw a great touch pass up there in the middle of the field and I was one-on-one with the linebacker, so I was happy to make the play.”

Sparano sounded happier with the next play Fasano made on Bush’s touchdown run. As Bush was following rookie running back Daniel Thomas around the right edge on an end around, Fasano locked up with active Redskins rookie defensive end Ryan Kerrigan. He prevented him from filling the hole Bush cut back into with a textbook block.

In breaking down the run, Sparano described Fasano’s play as “a hell of a block,” and the catches that he made as “tremendous.” He has tried to explain week after week how Fasano is used differently depending on the opponent and on the play of Bush, Brandon Marshall and rookie H-back Charles Clay. If the game plan calls for him to be used more as a blocking tight end, the number of passes thrown in his direction diminish, but that wasn’t the case last week.

“We didn’t really use him in protection in the ballgame as much as we have in the past,” Sparano said. “We got him involved a little bit more. Of course he made some really big plays. All three of his catches (Sunday) were critical plays in the game.”

The key to Fasano’s success has been his patience and his willingness to accept whatever role he has been asked to take on week to week. After catching five passes for 82 yards in the 38-24 shootout loss to the Patriots in Week 1, Fasano caught a total of five passes for 60 yards and one touchdown in the next six games. Twice he went without a catch (against Houston in Week 2 and at the New York Giants in Week 8).

Now Fasano has 15 receptions for 250 yards and three touchdowns and is averaging 16.7 yards per catch. That’s more than three yards higher than his career-high from last season (13.5). But he’s not about individual accolades.

“I think we all knew that we had talent in here,” Fasano said when asked why he thinks the team didn’t quit after starting out 0-7. “We have a good team but we just weren’t clicking and I think getting on a roll starts with leadership. It starts with Tony. It starts with our captains, our veterans and then it trickles down. I thing we are starting to get a sight of that.”

Opposing defenses are starting to catch sight of Fasano as the dual threat he has become.
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