Going into the 2011 NFL season, the Miami Dolphins had high expectations. They returned nearly all of the players on a defense that played well the season before and brought in cover linebacker Kevin Burnett to spruce up the front seven. On offense, quarterback Chad Henne returned as the starting signal caller — Henne showed flashes the previous year, and he had more weapons to work with.

Fast forward nine weeks into the season: Miami sits at 1-7 with Henne on injured reserve and the defense struggling to stop the pass. However, the team has had a few bright spots during this tough season, and one of them is rookie Charles Clay.

Clay played fullback at the University of Tulsa for three seasons before going through the draft process, which saw him attend the NFL Scouting Combine. At the Combine, he measured in at slightly over six feet, two inches tall and 245 pounds. He ran a 4.69 40-yard dash, and looked much like a ‘tweener’, which is a term NFL scouts use to categorize players who have physical limitations at multiple positions. Clay was looked at as a tweener because he lacked the speed for the running back position and the bulk for the tight end position.

At Tulsa, Clay was not a traditional fullback, serving more as an H-Back as he lined up at several areas on the field. His ability to run the ball, catch the ball and block proved to be a problem for defenses that he faced, as he helped lead one of the best offenses in the country from 2007 to 2009.

In Miami, Clay has shown his versatility while he’s received more playing time after coming off a hamstring injury. He’s been used as a flex tight end as well as inline and in the backfield. He’s listed by the Dolphins as a fullback but is used more as an H-Back. Yesterday in Kansas City, running back Reggie Bush got the spotlight for his performance, but Clay’s versatility was a big help for the Dolphins’ struggling offense, as he proved to be an issue for the Chiefs in multiple ways.

On this first play, the Dolphins lined up in 12 personnel, which is one running back and two tight ends. Clay was lined up one yard off the ball and was initially the backside run blocker on this play. The Dolphins ran a toss, with Bush planning on running to the left.

At the snap of the ball, quarterback Matt Moore tossed the ball to Bush, but the play was quickly blown up by Chiefs defensive end Glenn Dorsey, forcing Bush to turn it backside where Clay was blocking. Clay’s responsibility on this play was to ‘kick-out’ the overhang defender, which is the Chiefs’ stand-up rusher, Andy Studebaker (96). On the ‘kick-out’ block, Clay is to attack the inside shoulder of the pass rusher and turn him away from the sideline.

When Clay turns the overhang defender away from the sideline, he seals the block and forces him back toward the line of scrimmage, eliminating any chance of him making a play on the ball carrier.

Later in the game, Clay had another big block to help create a running lane for Bush.

Bush, who ran for a 28-yard touchdown on a Jet Sweep called by offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, saw two big blocks in front of him en route to the end zone. As you can see below, Clay did a good job of getting his hands inside of the KC defensive back and putting his head on the sternum, allowing him to gain leverage and drive the defender back.

Clay continued his effort the entire way, leading Bush into the end zone.

Clay’s quality blocking continued throughout the game, as also he had success while pass blocking, which is key. The Dolphins have had issues in pass blocking this season, both from their offensive linemen and their running backs, so this was a welcome surprise. Clay did a good job of locking his elbows out on this block and playing with leverage. He didn’t sustain the block all the way through, as his strength is still not up to where it should be, but he ended up sliding his feet and sticking with the pass rusher.

Clay’s ability in space was also on display. When going up against the strong side linebacker, he did a good job of beating the jam, which is something that rookie tight ends (and receivers) often struggle with. On the play, the Dolphins came out in 22 personnel, which is two running backs and two tight ends, and it’s often viewed as a running formation. Clay once again lined up one yard off the ball, in an ‘Off’ set.

At the snap, he got off the line and was met by the strong safety, Donald Washington. Washington did a poor job of jamming Clay here, as he did not move his feet forward, instead attempting to get into the chest of Clay by reaching. This is something a press cover defender should never do. However, Clay initiates the contact and executes a swim move to get past Washington and into open field.

On back-to-back plays, Clay effectively attacked the middle of the field against the Chiefs and got two catches for more than 20 yards. On one of the plays, Clay came off the line and ran a Post route into the middle of the field after a diagonal stem outside to set up the inside breaking route.  The issue on this play for the Chiefs, who were in Quarters (Cover 4) coverage, was that the middle linebacker did not get enough depth in his drop down the middle. He was occupied by two underneath pass catchers, allowing Clay to get in behind him and in between the two safeties.

Clay’s performances over the last two weeks and especially against the Chiefs offers some hope for Dolphins fans as they look to younger players to end their losing ways in the near future. Clay must build on this performance and continue to take in the teachings of the Dolphins coaches, as it appears that he’s improved since coming out of the University of Tulsa.