Entering the 2013 regular season, the tight end position was a legitimate concern. Instead of having veteran receiving weapon Dustin Keller at the offense's disposal, the Dolphins had inconsistent third year player Charles Clay, sophomore bust Michael Egnew, and rookie Dion Sims, who was basically a third offensive tackle for Michigan State. When the dust settled, Charles Clay stepped up to have one of the best seasons a tight end has ever had for the Dolphins. He amassed 69 receptions, 759 yards, and led the team with 7 TDs (six receiving, one rushing). He became a reliable weapon for Tannehill and a player opposing defenses had to account for in their gameplan.
Thanks to his breakout season, Clay became the undisputed starter in 2014. But injuries in training camp slowed him down and his production has suffered. He has 39 receptions on the season, 346 yards, and 2 TDs. He missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, forcing Dion Sims and undrafted rookie Gator Hoskins into more playing time. Clay is in his contract year and the Dolphins will have a tough decision on whether or not to retain him. His drop in production is one factor, but there is another factor in the equation.
Dion Sims was forced into a starting role the past two games and has delivered. He hasn't been an All World player by any means, but he has provided a reliable target for Tannehill, making some key receptions. He was Tannehill's go-to guy on the game winning drive against the Jets. He had two receptions of 18 and 17 yards, with the latter being on a critical 3rd and 7. He has stepped up his blocking as well. Sims was known as more of a blocking tight end in college, but lost in that analysis is that Michigan State asked him to play around 285-290 pounds, which is a light offensive tackle weight in college. Sims dropped his weight to the 260-265 range so he'd show better at the NFL Combine and that's closer to his current playing weight. Naturally his blocking was going to suffer a bit due to the drop in weight. He's picking that back up now and proving to be a capable blocker at the position.
The development of Dion Sims has made some question if Clay is now expendable after the season. The more immediate issue however is how the Dolphins can put Clay back in the lineup AND get Sims snaps to continue that development. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has been very creative with some of the offensive packages, so why not add a new wrinkle?
Charles Clay was a Swiss Army Knife at the University of Tulsa. In addition to being a productive pass catcher (188 receptions, 2544 yards, 13.5 YPC, 28 TDs), he was also a fairly productive rusher in limited attempts gaining 911 yards on 179 carries (5.1 YPC) and 10 TDs. Clearly, Clay was not the feature back at Tulsa, but he was effective when he did carry the ball. Last season, the Dolphins used Clay as a rusher, mostly in short yardage situations. He gained 15 yards on 7 carries (2.1 YPC) and the aforementioned TD. The YPC average is low, but that would be expected in short yardage situations, not to mention the offensive line from last season was terrible in run blocking.
I bring this up to highlight a new way that Charles Clay could be used for the Dolphins: as a tailback. To be clear, he's not going to start over Miller or replace any of the tailbacks on the roster. This is not a permanent roster move by any means. This would simply be a new look in order to get both Clay and Sims on the field at the same time with the other receivers. Clay could be used in certain rushing situations like last season, or as a big bruising runner when the Dolphins are trying to eat up clock. His size and ability to create yards after contact could give something Miami lacks in its running back group. However, in my opinion, how well he rushes is less relevant than the fact that he does rush at all. Using Clay as a rusher a time or two a game would be a ploy to keep defenses honest from the real benefit of Clay in the backfield - the passing game.
On the blocking side, Clay as a pass protector in the backfield cannot be worse than any other option Miami could offer. However, using Clay as a pass protector would be wasting his ability as a receiver. Lamar Miller is producing well rushing the ball, but the receiving aspect of his game isn't all that spectacular. Daniel Thomas has shown some proficiency as a receiving back, but is nothing special. Damien Williams has made some plays in the passing game, but doesn't see the field much, if any. Clay has proven to be a more reliable pass catcher than any other backfield option. More importantly, he has shown that he is a dangerous weapon in the open field. He can run away from defenders or through them. That's something all the running backs lack and Clay could provide. Lining up Clay in the backfield would immediately give him space in which to work on wheel routes, routes to the flat, checkdowns across the middle, and even screens. He would have more open space than he would in the traditional in-line tight end spot or lined up out wide. Defenses already respect Clay's receiving ability and this alignment would open up other receivers like Sims and Landry if defenses focus too much on Clay.
In closing, using Clay from the tailback position would allow Miami to put its best receiving unit on the field and theoretically still be effective running the ball. If you recall, the New England Patriots utilized former tight end Aaron Hernandez in this way and did so effectively. I don't see why Miami couldn't do the same thing effectively a few plays per game. It allows the top receiving tight end Clay a chance to make some plays and create mismatches in a creative way. It also allows Miami to play a more traditional tight end in Sims and will continue his development. Giving Ryan Tannehill more ways to use the weapons in his arsenal isn't a bad thing and could be critical in Miami's playoff push.