FOXBORO -- A particular Dolphin will be working toward a franchise record for receptions and passing yards against the Patriots this weekend.
Who would have thought, even less than a year ago, that player would be Charles Clay?
Clay had 34 catches for 445 yards and five touchdowns as an H-back in the last two seasons. Struggles with blocking seemed to prevent him from reaching his full potential, and Clay was inconsistent at best.
That's not who the Patriots will see Sunday. Clay caught 60 passes for 678 yards and a team-best seven touchdowns this season for Miami.
"Probably the one thing that’s impressed me the most about Clay -- we know he has a lot of playmaking ability, he’s fast, he’s very good with the ball in his hands after the catch -- I’d say the thing that’s impressed me the most about him is his blocking," Bill Belichick said Wednesday. "He really competes hard as a blocker. He’s been matched up against defensive ends numerous times in the running game, guys like Charles Johnson from Carolina and guys like that, and he blocks them. He competes well with them.
"He’s definitely not afraid to stick his nose in there and be tough and competitive. I think he’s really a lot more than a receiving tight end. He’s a guy that’s a playmaker that helps them in the running game too."
Clay's emergence as a blocker has helped in the passing game. The fact he's more versatile means Miami can put him on the field more often. Consequently, the 24-year old needs just 14 more receptions for 113 yards to become the most productive tight end in Dolphins history.
"He does an excellent job of working leverage and understanding coverage and how teams are playing against him and being able to find open spaces at the top of his routes. He is really, really good and he can line up at multiple positions," Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia noted this week.
Miami even lined Clay up in the wildcat against New England on October 27 and had him run it. The overall damage he did in Foxboro that day was relatively minimal -- five catches on eight targets for 37 yards -- but he helped the Dolphins build drives from different angles.
Something the Patriots have to respect.
"That’s what really makes it difficult -- he can be in the backfield, be attached to the line of scrimmage, be off the line of scrimmage or even spread out," Patricia explained. "They’ll do a lot of good things with him moving around, detaching him from the formation. He does a good job of going up and getting the ball – he has great hands. Really, when you have a player like that who is reliable and dependable in possession type situations and is multiple, then you can do a lot of creative things with him."