With the success of the joker tight end across the NFL in the last years for teams like Green Bay (Jermichael Finley), New England (Rob Gronkowski / Aaron Hernandez), and New Orleans (Jimmy Graham), we are likely to see increased usage of these type of players across the league this season. Not many people are talking about him, but one of the next players we may see emerge in this type of role is tight end Charles Clay of the Dolphins.
Clay already has experience playing multiple positions throughout his college career at Tulsa. Given this experience and his unique size and speed combination, the Dolphins new coaching regime started moving Clay from fullback to wide receiver to tight end throughout their off-season activities over the past few months – that led to several positive reports over that period.
If anyone is going to take advantage of Clay’s versatility and use him to create mismatches, it’s the Dolphins new head coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. These two are widely known as two of the most creative offensive minds.
We recently spent some time with Charles to talk about his versatility, Kevin Burnett’s 2011 praise, his role in the new offensive scheme, and the 2012 Dolphins (including the wide receiver and quarterback training camp battles).
The below includes certain excerpts from our 20 minute interview with Charles Clay. Listen to the full audio interview for all questions and answers covered including his perspective on the quarterback competition.
Steve Wyremski (SW): So, how’s everything going? How’s the off-season been treating you?
Charles Clay (CC): Everything’s good. I’m kind of anxious – anxious to get started. I’ve had a lot of free time. I’m ready to get back going now.
SW: It seems like there were glowing reviews coming out of OTAs. Reports out there were calling you a “dangerous weapon” and noted that you were lining up at various positions on the field with a little bit of receiver, running back, and tight end. What’s going on with you?
CC: Yeah, the offensive coordinator is trying a lot of different things, so he’s been moving me around a lot. Sometimes I’m lined up in the backfield [and] sometimes on the line. Basically, they’ve been moving me around a whole lot and trying to use the things that I do well. Not only me, though, a lot of other players as well.
SW: With you lining up at the various positions, things may be headed in the direction where you’ll be doing this more in 2012 than you did in your rookie season under Coach Sparano. Is that an accurate statement?
CC: The way it’s looking. With Sparano, I started out playing a lot of fullback. When I came in, he told me it was something I had to know how to do. He thought that along with being able to run routes, you had to be able to block as well. I believe that had a lot to do with me working a lot of fullback last year. [It was time to] kind of mold me into not just doing one thing and being so predictable. You know, [I needed to] be able to block well and run routes. This year, they’re doing the same thing working me at fullback, but they’d like to play mismatches so they’re lining me up all over the field.
SW: That’s similar to what you had at Tulsa right? How has your time at Tulsa in the hybrid role benefited you going through these initial practices lining up at various spots in the new offense?
CC: It’s big. My coaches at Tulsa could have easily kept me where I was at after my freshman year when I had 1,000 yards receiving. They could have had me run routes and take me out on run plays, but they wanted me to be that complete player. My sophomore year, I played a little more fullback [and] my senior year I played a lot more tight end. I remember, I went to the Senior Bowl and a coach told me, “the more you can do in this league, the better chance you have of making it.” In the long run, that helps me to line up at more spots.
SW: Coach Philbin and Mike Sherman [offensive coordinator] are both creative offensive minds. Like you said, they’re going to use your versatility and create mismatches. What are you hearing from the coaching staff on your involvement in the offense this season?
CC: Well, you don’t hear much from the coaching staff. They do a good job of keeping things under wraps, but I get a sense that they want to get a bunch of players in this offense isolated, whether it’s me or Anthony Fasano on a linebacker. Like I said, they do a good job of keeping things under wraps – they don’t want you getting too comfortable.
SW: Coach Philbin used Jermichael Finley similar to how it sounds you’re going to be used in 2012 – to create mismatches up the seam against the linebackers. With the emergence of the hybrid players (Aaron Hernandez), do you feel like you’re going to be used in that way?
CC: I hope so. I feel like that’s one of the things I do best [when I’m] lined up against the linebacker and running routes up the seam. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski – you can’t help but know the other guys across the league – but I see those guys and I think that’s something I can do pretty well. Time will tell. I’m focused on going in to camp and making myself better.
SW: Let’s go back to last year in November. Your teammate, linebacker Kevin Burnett said that you were a raw player and “once he learns the game and once he figures out how to use all of his tools, he’ll go from being a good player to a great player. Right now, he’s just dangerous because he doesn’t know how good he can be.” That’s quite a compliment coming from an NFL vet of seven years. How do you feel about that?
CC: I mean… that’s big. You’re talking about one of the better cover linebackers in the league. He helps me out a lot. In practice, I would just run if they told me to run a route. I would just run it not knowing how to stem a route or [how to use] head fakes or all kinds of things. I learned stuff like that from Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett who tell me [how to do those things]. That’s big. Ultimately, he’s a guy that I respect a whole lot. He’s a guy that comes every day, works hard, and is one of the best at what he does.
SW: What do you think your biggest hurdle is to becoming “dangerous” like Kevin Burnett said?
CC: Being able to become unpredictable. There are still times when I’m on the line when I play against guys like Cameron Wake and Dansby every single day [in practice] and they look at my stance sometimes and [can] tell whether I’m running a route or run blocking. It’s attention to details, basically. Once I pick up the small things, that’s going to make me a lot better.
SW: You got a glimpse in to the Hard Knocks cameras over the last month or so – I couldn’t talk to you without bringing up Hard Knocks – how do you feel about being the subject of the show going in to camp?
CC: It doesn’t bother me at all. You kind of get used to it. At first, when the cameras were around it was a little awkward, but after a while it’s second nature. Last time I checked, we play on Sundays in front of a lot of cameras, so you can’t let something like that bother you. It’ll shed some new light on this Miami Dolphins organization, which I feel like has a negative rep over the last few years. I feel like it’s a good thing to do. It’ll be fun.
SW: Charles, when I sit back and look at your rookie season, your scouting report, and the role it seems you’ll play in 2012, I find myself comparing you to a guy like Larry Centers. How do you feel about that comparison?
CC: I see the fit. I’m hoping one day when a back’s coming in, they’ll be like, “you remind me of a Charles Clay.” I just want to put my name out there in its own light. I feel like [the Centers’ comparison] fits. Any guy who comes in and has the success that Larry Centers had, and a big guy at that, I feel like it’s a good comparison.
Charles Clay possesses all the traits of a potential playmaker and a valuable offensive weapon in the Dolphins new offensive scheme under Coach Philbin. NFL teams are increasing the ways they use their tight ends to create mismatches and that’s exactly what Clay provides. He fits the profile of a joker tight end perfectly. Not only that, but the Dolphins are begging for a playmaker to emerge in 2012 with the departure of Brandon Marshall.
Clay still has to work on some aspects of his game to be a significant contributor to the Dolphins offense, but with the team hungry to identify their playmaker, the young tight end finds himself in a perfect situation. He has the experience, talent, and offensive scheme that make him a breakout candidate for 2012.
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