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Can Charles Clay Rebound This Season?

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After putting together a rookie campaign that hinted at a promising future, Miami Dolphins tight end Charles Clay had a 2012 season that epitomized the term 'sophomore slump'. Can Clay, after providing a poor first impression with his team's new coaching staff, bounce back and confirm the potential he showed as a rookie and carve himself a role in the Dolphins' re-tooled offense?

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After a 16-catch, 233-yard and three-touchdown rookie season, it looked as if Charles Clay was on his way to becoming a dangerously versatile tight end/fullback hybrid, commonly referred to as an H-back. He was a receiving threat from anywhere in a formation, with athleticism that made him a mismatch for most of the linebackers that would be tasked with covering him.

Those traits should have endeared him to the coaching staff that was brought in between Clay's first and second seasons; offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and head coach Joe Philbin stressed creating matchup issues in their offensive philosophy. Surely, Clay's athletic ability could satisfy that element of the new scheme.

That may have been, and still might be, true for the former sixth-round draft pick. But his performance in 2012, especially in the first half of the season, did just about everything to discredit his potential with the team.

I looked at all of his clear targets in 2012, and much of his disappointing year was rooted in his own failings and not any problems with his fit in the scheme the Dolphins used him in.

Here's a chart of each time he was thrown at, and the results:

Clay_targets_medium

The biggest thing anyone would notice is the horrendous start he had for the season. In Miami's first seven games, Clay recorded five catches for 45 yards and no touchdowns, with seven dropped passes. Seven. I characterized three of those as being difficult catches on the outside of his reach, or dropped due to a punishing hit, but in each case he got both hands on the ball and did not catch the pass.

No matter what, that's eight weeks (including bye) of disappointing production, with little to discuss in position and team meetings other than dropped passes. That's no way to impress the new regime, which is deciding which players are going to be in the team's future as the season progresses.

Another thing that will stand out is the solid second half to the season Clay put together, highlighted by a six reception, 84 yard performance in an impressive Dolphins' victory over the Seattle Seahawks, which included a game-tying 29-yard touchdown reception in the 4th quarter. That game alone represented 33% of his receptions and 40% of his receiving yards in 2012.

Clay certainly finished the season with some high notes, but 2013 will be a critical season for the Tulsa alum. He'll need to establish himself as a productive H-back, a valuable position in Sherman's offense, or find himself buried on the depth chart or worse, a roster casualty.

All player data is courtesy of Pro Football Focus and all contract info is courtesy of OverTheCap.com.

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