In Saturday's 24-17 preseason loss to the Houston Texans, the Miami Dolphins were dealt a big blow in the second quarter as tight end Dustin Keller took a shot in the knee from Houston safety D.J. Swearinger. Keller suffered three torn ligaments and is out for the season.
|Dustin Keller is done for 2013. (Photo: BleacherReport)|
Keller is just two years removed from a career-year with the New York Jets in 2011, a season in which he caught 65 passes for 815 yards and five touchdowns. Keller is also a tough cover for opposing linebackers and a smooth route runner and would have fit in very well with second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill and a new-look Dolphins' offense. While Keller's season is over, all hope is not lost at the tight end position, but replacing Keller won't be a one-man job.
Unless the Dolphins go out a sign a free agent tight end like Chris Cooley, Kevin Boss or perhaps even former Dolphin Randy McMichael, the biggest added responsibility looks to be on H-back Charles Clay.
Clay certainly has versatility and he has had to. In college, Clay was a fullback in a spread offense at Tulsa, but in the NFL, has taken the bulk of his snaps at the tight end position. In two NFL seasons, Clay has spent most of his time as the second tight end behind Anthony Fasano and has recorded 34 receptions for 445 yards with five catches going for touchdowns.
This preseason however, Clay has taken the bulk of his snaps from the backfield and performed pretty well. But with Keller out, Clay looks to be their best option right now which means that Clay will either split time between fullback and tight end which is essentially what a H-back does or he will take the bulk of the snaps at tight end which will put Jorvorskie Lane as the team's primary fullback.
While Clay likely won't be able to replace Keller's production, Clay can have a career-year. Recording 30 receptions for 350 yards is a realistic and reasonable goal for Clay. That should also take much of the pressure off a pair of younger tight ends that the Dolphins will need to step up.
Clay will need help from either or both second-year tight end Michael Egnew and/or rookie from Michigan State, Dion Sims. Egnew went without a reception last season as a rookie after a stellar career as a pass-catcher in college at Missouri. Egnew is more of a receiving tight end and has a lot of improving to do as a blocker. Sims on the other hand, is more of a complete tight end and looks to have an edge right now for playing time over Egnew.
If Clay can have the career-year that was mentioned, Egnew and Sims would only have to combine for about 20 catches and 225 yards to reach Keller's career averages which would also give Miami more production than it got last season from Fasano and Clay. It is worth mentioning however that Fasano and Clay combined for seven of Miami's 13 receiving touchdowns a season ago.
Second-year tight end Kyle Miller is also on the roster, but like Egnew, Miller went without a reception as a rookie. Miller appeared in just one game for the Indianapolis Colts in 2012.
While Keller could have been a real game-changer in the passing game, the Dolphins have the bodies on the roster to make up for his absence. Miami will miss his big-play ability, veteran presence and the depth that came with being able to use Charles Clay at fullback.
Clay should still be able to have a career-year for the Dolphins and Miami should be able to retain the production it had from the tight end position last year. This of course, is all possible even without mentioning the upgrades made to the Miami receiving corps. Few will argue that Keller won't be missed, but the Dolphins certainly have the bodies to replace his production. It however, won't be a one-man gig.
Mike Ferguson is a staff writer at Dolphin Shout and the founder and editor of Outside the Redzone. Like Outside the Redzone on Facebook!