TE Clay gives Dolphins much-needed punch

In his many roles with the Miami Dolphins, Charles Clay recalls

one assignment as especially daunting: He attempted to block

325-pound defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, a mismatch that made a

lasting impact.

”He clubbed me across my head,” Clay recalled with a chuckle

Tuesday.

That was two years ago during Clay’s rookie season. Lately he

has been the one to leave opponents sprawling, and his emergence as

a hybrid tight end with a big-play knack has given the Dolphins’

offense some much-needed punch.

”He has broken about 35 tackles in the last three games, taking

them on three at a time,” teammate Mike Wallace said. ”Guys don’t

even really need to block for Clay anymore. He’s like a

bulldozer.”

Clay’s actual statistics are only slightly less impressive than

Wallace’s exaggerated numbers.

In the past four games he has 24 receptions for 294 yards and

three scores, increasing his season totals to 60 catches for 678

yards. He has scored a team-high seven touchdowns.

With three regular-season games to go, including Sunday against

New England, Clay’s yardage total is already the second-highest by

a Dolphins tight end, according to STATS. He could surpass Randy

McMichael, who had 791 yards on 73 catches in 2004.

A sixth-round draft pick in 2011, Clay spent his first two

seasons backing up Anthony Fasano and totaled 34 receptions for 445

yards and five scores.

”The thing you’re seeing in him is just an evolution of a

younger player gaining confidence in himself, in feeling that we

have confidence in him and the quarterback has confidence in him,”

offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. ”It’s just a belief

system that has risen within himself that he could do certain

things that he didn’t know he could do before.”

Clay’s multiple talents were on display in Sunday’s win at

Pittsburgh.

Twice he broke tackles by Troy Polamalu, and the second time he

kept running to the end zone for the fourth-quarter touchdown that

put Miami ahead to stay. He also scored on a reception in the first

half, and his block sprung quarterback Ryan Tannehill on a keeper

for a 48-yard gain.

”He’s a heck of an athlete that makes small plays and big

plays,” Tannehill said.

Unreliable blocking limited the 255-pound Clay’s playing time in

his first two seasons.

Doubts were such that the Dolphins signed free agent Dustin

Keller to start at tight end this season, but he suffered a

season-ending knee injury in August.

With experience, Clay has become a more physical player.

”Before I got here I heard them say he wasn’t a good blocker,

but I haven’t seen that,” said Wallace, who is in his first season

with Miami. ”I’ve seen him drive guys off the ball.”

Clay’s pass-catching ability has given the Dolphins a threat in

the middle of the field, making it more difficult for opponents to

double-team Wallace or Brian Hartline, and his speed is such that

Miami often splits him out wide.

Against Pittsburgh, he had seven catches for 97 yards to help

Miami score a season-high 34 points.

”As a secondary we talked about Clay often,” Steelers

cornerback Ike Taylor said. ”He’s another dimension to their

offense. Outside or inside, it doesn’t even matter, he showed what

he could do.”

At Tulsa, Clay played tailback, fullback, linebacker, defensive

end, wide receiver and wildcat quarterback, as well as tight end,

and he’s proud of his ability to wear ”multiple hats” with the

Dolphins, as he describes it.

But with versatility comes obscurity. Clay said he rarely gets

recognized while out shopping or dining, and while his smile

suggested he’s not complaining, he wants to be known as more than

just a utility-man.

”When you start playing when you’re little, you have a dream of

being one of those great players,” he said. ”That’s what

everybody works for. That’s what I want to happen.”

AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this

report.

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