DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — In his many roles with the Miami Dolphins, Charles Clay recalls one assignment as especially daunting: He attempted to block 325-pound defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, a mismatch that made a lasting impact.
"He clubbed me across my head," Clay recalled with a chuckle Tuesday.
That was two years ago during Clay's rookie season. Lately he has been the one to leave opponents sprawling, and his emergence as a hybrid tight end with a big-play knack has given the Dolphins' offense some much-needed punch.
"He has broken about 35 tackles in the last three games, taking them on three at a time," teammate Mike Wallace said. "Guys don't even really need to block for Clay anymore. He's like a bulldozer."
Clay's actual statistics are only slightly less impressive than Wallace's exaggerated numbers.
In the past four games he has 24 receptions for 294 yards and three scores, increasing his season totals to 60 catches for 678 yards. He has scored a team-high seven touchdowns.
With three regular-season games to go, including Sunday against New England, Clay's yardage total is already the second-highest by a Dolphins tight end, according to STATS. He could surpass Randy McMichael, who had 791 yards on 73 catches in 2004.
A sixth-round draft pick in 2011, Clay spent his first two seasons backing up Anthony Fasano and totaled 34 receptions for 445 yards and five scores.
"The thing you're seeing in him is just an evolution of a younger player gaining confidence in himself, in feeling that we have confidence in him and the quarterback has confidence in him," offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. "It's just a belief system that has risen within himself that he could do certain things that he didn't know he could do before."
Clay's multiple talents were on display in Sunday's win at Pittsburgh.
Twice he broke tackles by Troy Polamalu, and the second time he kept running to the end zone for the fourth-quarter touchdown that put Miami ahead to stay. He also scored on a reception in the first half, and his block sprung quarterback Ryan Tannehill on a keeper for a 48-yard gain.