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Charles Clay has never been to Atlantic City. But he knows they sell ice cream there on the boardwalk and he hears all the time how, one or two dropped passes, maybe a missed block, can turn him into that guy selling ice cream.
This is called a fear of failing and it is instilled deep into Clay’s mindset by his offensive coordinator, Mike Sherman.
“Coach Sherman tells me all the time,” said Clay, “that if I don’t run this play right, if I don’t do my job, I’ll be in Atlantic City selling ice cream. He says that to me all the time. I’m not really sure I know what he’s talking about, but I know I don’t want to sell ice cream in Atlantic City.”
There is no danger of that anytime soon.
Charles Clay may just be the most improved player on the Miami Dolphins. Could be the most valuable as well.
Through 14 games, Clay has caught 61 passes for 684 yards and six touchdowns. With a productive final two games, Clay has a chance to have the best season any tight end has had in the 47-year history of the Dolphins. That’s powerful stuff for a guy that was no more than a back-up heading into training camp, a former sixth-round pick who really didn’t do much to distinguish himself over his first two full seasons in the league.
But that has all changed. Not only has Clay emerged as one of the most important pieces of this offense, he has put together a highlight reel of memorable plays and broken tackles over the last month or so.
“The guy,” said teammate Daniel Thomas, “is simply a beast.”
Or, as Mike Wallace put it, “He’s a bulldozer.”
• In a mid-November game against San Diego, Clay caught the 39-yard game-winning touchdown pass and literally ran over safety Marcus Gilchrist and inside linebacker Donald Butler on his path to the end zone.
• Then, on a snowy day in Pittsburgh, Clay caught a little out pattern from Ryan Tannehill and proceeded to run over safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Cortez Allen on his way to another game-winning score.
• On Sunday against New England, Clay caught only one pass but it may have been the most important play of the game. It came on fourth-and-five late in the game. Anything less than a first down and the Dolphins undoubtedly lose. Clay made a tough catch on not the best of throws and then called upon his unique skill set to twist and turn for those final few yards.
“You start playing as a kid and you have dreams of what you can do as a football player,” Clay told me recently. “It’s everyone’s goal to be one of the best. That’s what I strive for. You don’t want to be just any other player; you always want to try to be special.”
And this is a young man who indeed has a chance to be very, very special. My take is that Clay’s emergence has more to do with desire and hunger than it does natural ability. Sure, he’s talented. He’s big enough, strong enough and fast enough. But it takes more than that to put together the type of resume Clay is compiling this season.
Put bluntly, I believe Clay just wants it more than the guy trying to tackle him.
“At the end of the day,” Clay said, “it comes down to having the will of not wanting to go down. I’ve always been able to break tackles. Recently it’s just happening a little bit more.”
The league seems to be noticing. Bill Belichick made a point to single out Clay in his pre-game press conferences. He then paid an enormous compliment to Clay by choosing to cover him for much of the game with the Patriots’ best defensive back, Aqib Talib. That type of respect is earned.
And just think, it was August when Dustin Keller went down with a knee injury and we had no clue if there was a tight end on the roster who could come close to replacing him. Now we know. Now we have a real feel for what Charles Clay is all about. Now we have seen what an important player he can be.
And that’s a far cry from selling ice cream in Atlantic City.
On Thursday, AC in the AM takes a look at the depth of this team and how it is making a huge difference in December.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
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