Tight End Versatility Key Part Of Dolphins Offense

Posted Oct 11, 2012

Fasano is the unquestioned leader of this group.

Tight ends have one of the toughest jobs on the field in normal offenses because of how often their responsibilities shift from blocking to receiving, but in the fast-paced system run by the Miami Dolphins, the difficulty only increases.

Veteran tight end Anthony Fasano understands that challenge better than anyone, which is why he has become a de facto coach to Charles Clay, Jeron Mastrud and Michael Egnew. Fasano, who is Miami’s third leading receiver with 18 catches for 143 yards and a touchdown through five games, is rather humble when it comes to extolling the virtues of his position, but what he has to say is revealing.

“Next to the quarterback I think the tight end needs to know most of the positions on the field, where everyone’s going to be and the adjustments that might come up within that play,” said Fasano, now in his seventh NFL season and fifth with the Dolphins. “It’s demanding physically and mentally but it’s kind of what all tight ends have to do and it’s what we all signed up for.”

In addition to Clay, Mastrud and Egnew, one person who truly appreciates everything that Fasano brings to the practice field, playing field and meeting room is tight ends coach Dan Campbell. The Clifton, Texas native played collegiately at Texas A&M, the alma mater of rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and spent 11 seasons in the National Football League with four different teams.

Campbell knew he was going to lean on Fasano more this year because of the new offense being installed by Head Coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. As much no-huddle as Sherman calls for Tannehill to run, there is little time for the tight end to reset his feet and mind from being a blocker to being a receiver, and that’s where Fasano’s veteran experience comes into play.

“Anthony’s like my coach on the field and that’s what I want,” Campbell said. “That’s what I want because I know as a player you learn Xs and Os from your coach, but you learn how to work inside of those Xs and Os and how to do your job from the guy that’s ahead of you and the guy that understands how to use technique. That’s why I encourage Anthony to speak up, to talk to those guys and talk to Charles about his footwork and hand placement, all of those things. He makes my job a lot easier when he does that.”

Sherman brought a lot of his offensive philosophies from Texas A&M with him and has tried to meld them with what Philbin brought with him from the Green Bay Packers. During training camp and the preseason, Fasano, Clay, Mastrud and Egnew looked at film of both programs to get a better grasp on what was going to be expected out of them with the Dolphins.

Packers tight end Jermichael Finley was an integral part of that offense last year with 55 catches for 767 yards and eight touchdowns. That was his second 55-catch season in three years and he also made key blocks in the run game and in pass protection for Aaron Rodgers. Clay, who was used as a hybrid fullback/tight end last year with the Dolphins, still lines up in the backfield at times, as does Fasano and Mastrud, but the second-year player out of Tulsa sees his potential in this system.

“I love this offense to death,” said Clay, who has gotten off to a bit of a slow start with just four catches for 37 yards but whose 24-yard reception last week in Cincinnati set up a touchdown. “It’s not just me because I’m not just a ‘me’ guy. You can feel it with everybody because everybody likes the way they’re being used. It’s fun and exciting to get the tempo up and see the defense on their sideline gassed with oxygen on and all confused. It requires a lot of studying but it’s fun.

“Anthony and Coach Campbell have been critical to my development because coming out of college, where I didn’t do too much at tight end, I needed the instruction. There’s certain footwork that’s vital and to have guys like them who have been in the heat of battle, and to see Anthony do it as well as he does and then turn and help me, it’s been instrumental. They’ve both been very helpful.”

Watching Fasano line up next to either Jake Long on the left side or rookie Jonathan Martin on the right side as an extra run blocker is something opposing defensive coordinators aren’t thrilled about. Their frustrations only heighten when on the very next play with no huddle Fasano is running open down the seam catching a 20-yard pass.

Having played the position, primarily as a blocking tight end, Campbell truly can appreciate the athleticism on display in those situations and more importantly, the thought process taking place. He caught 91 passes for 934 yards and 11 touchdowns in 114 career games (75 starts) and enjoys teaching the fans what precisely goes into that transition.

“You’re talking about just from a mental aspect to have to know the front, to who am I blocking to what are the safeties doing to who am I working in tandem with?” Campbell said. “What’s the footwork I’m going to use, where’s my hand placement and then I’ve got to really become tense and tight. Then the next play you have to be just as mentally sharp in the pass game and understand what is the coverage, what is this D-line doing, is it about to be a blitz, do I need to be looking for the ball early or do I not?

“And then at the same time once you do release you have to be loose and you have to be agile. It’s a completely different thought process in your head because you go from a rhino to a cheetah just like that. You have to because if you’re in rhino mode and you’re running a route you’re going to be too stiff and it’s going to be like hitting a brick wall when it hits your hands. It’ll bounce right off of them, so you have to know what mode you’re in order to do your job. Those are the difficulties of this position, but repetition makes it second nature.”

Less than half way through the 2012 season, Campbell and Fasano realize the more comfortable the tight ends get in this offense the more effective they’re going to be. And that only opens up more avenues for Tannehill to have big success through the air.

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