The Dolphins thought they were upgrading at tight end when they let Anthony Fasano sign with Kansas City.
But with newly signed Dustin Keller out for the year with torn knee ligaments, Miami’s offensive versatility took a hit.
“It’s a significant loss,” former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon, now an analyst with CBS, said Monday. “Keller can move around … He can play the slot, he can play out wide. They didn’t have that type of player at that position a year ago.”
Rookie fourth-round pick Dion Sims could become the starter with second-year player Michael Egnew and fullback/tight end Charles Clay behind him.
While the Dolphins might look for help from outside the current roster, there isn’t an attractive tight end on the market, and a new player would need time to learn Miami’s complex schemes.
Gannon noted, however, that the team’s abundance of talented defensive linemen could make Miami an attractive trade partner for a team with an extra tight end.
Gannon said a pass-catching tight end who can get down the middle makes a big difference to a young quarterback such as Ryan Tannehill.
“A quarterback’s best friend is that tight end,” Gannon said. “He can really get you out of some jams.”
Coach Joe Philbin understands that. When he was Green Bay offensive coordinator, he made sure that tight end Jermichael Finley was a frequent target.
In a January 2010 playoff loss to Arizona, Finley caught six passes for 159 yards. It was the third-highest yardage total by a tight end in postseason history.
Despite the Dolphins’ youth and inexperience at the position, former Dolphins tight end Troy Drayton said the team has options. He is optimistic about Sims (6-foot-4, 262 pounds), who caught 36 passes last season at Michigan State.
“Sims, he’s going to be that guy who’s that every-down player,” Drayton said. “He can control the line of scrimmage but he can also catch the ball in open space. He has the size and athletic ability to beat safeties.”
Keller would have served as a fourth wideout on passing downs. Drayton believes Clay (6-foot-3, 250 pounds) could fill that role. In two seasons he has 34 catches with five touchdowns.
“You’re talking about somebody who can go up the middle and do the dirty work, and I think Charles Clay kind of fits that bill,” Drayton said. “You’re talking about a guy who’s big and people are going to underestimate his speed.”
The team, which returns to practice Tuesday, has not been available for comment since Keller was hurt Saturday night in a preseason loss at Houston. In an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday, Clay said he had expected to play more this season as the H-back along with Keller. Clay said he is ready for any role.
“My biggest asset would be versatility — just being able to maneuver around the field and try to create different mismatch problems for a defense,” Clay said. “Lining up at fullback is a thing I’ve been working on a lot.”
Receivers Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline will start on the outside and Brandon Gibson will be the slot receiver. After that, nine wide receivers are competing for two spots. With the loss of Keller, Drayton said it’s even more important for Miami to find the right receivers.
Among the newcomers, Drayton said he’s impressed by undrafted rookies Chad Bumphis and Keenan Davis.