Dolphins tight ends must improve fast

MIAMI – There was a collective gasp among Miami Dolphins fans when starting tight end Dustin Keller was lost for the season with a major knee injury. There is nothing but youth and inexperience left at the position, and Miami needs one of its remaining tight ends to come of age quickly.

Miami’s 17-16 preseason loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the first opportunity for the Dolphins’ tight ends to showcase their skills. The initial results were not impressive.

Miami’s tight ends combined for three receptions for 34 yards Saturday. New starter Charles Clay had just one catch for five yards -- though he was targeted six times by starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Rookie backup Dion Sims had one reception for 18 yards, and Kyle Miller had one reception for 11 yards. Second-year tight end Michael Egnew did not catch a pass.

Minus Keller, Miami’s tight-end group remains a major work in progress -- and the regular season is right around the corner. This group needs to come of age -- fast.

“Obviously Dustin was a huge part of our offense, but we have to adjust,” Clay said after the game Saturday. “If my number is called, I have to go in and make a play. We can’t hang our head over what happened in the past. We just have to come in, step in and get the job done.”

Clay had issues getting open against Tampa Bay. Tannehill even forced a few throws into good coverage in an attempt to get Clay involved.

Keller and Tannehill had a strong rapport in their limited playing time together. Keller was projected to be a major upgrade over last season's starting tight end, Anthony Fasano.

It's only one game so far without Keller, and Tannehill remains optimistic.

“I think I have good chemistry between Clay and I; tonight we just weren’t on,” Tannehill said. “But if you look up last year and in training camp, I think we have a good connection. He’s going to step up and play well for us this year.”

If the Dolphins continue to try to fix this issue in-house, young tight ends like Clay, Sims or Michael Engew must emerge sooner than later. It will be a big two weeks of preparation for this group before their Sept. 8 regular-season opener against the Cleveland Browns.