It looks like the Anthony Fasano replacement plan just hit a snag.
Unless someone steps up, the Dolphins are up a creek without a tight end.
Dion Sims, Charles Clay and Michael Egnew comprise the Dolphins' contingency plan behind Keller.
The Dolphins' official website lists the tight end pecking order as Clay-Egnew-Sims, but reports from Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald indicate Sims is the one getting the most playing time in practice:
Rookie tight end Dion Sims continues to impress the coaching staff and has received a lot of work in two tight end sets with starter Dustin Keller.
"I like him a lot," [Dolphins head coach Joe] Philbin said. "He's doing a lot of good things. He has a chance to be a very good blocker in this league. He’s got soft hands. He's had a very good camp. He’s going to be a good player."
The rookie recorded 36 receptions for 475 yards and two touchdowns in 2012 for Michigan State, so while he's capable of catching passes, he's likely to be used more as a blocker, which aligns with how he's been used in practice.
Sims isn't the only tight end that could be called upon.
In fact, Philbin mentioned that Egnew has "improved an awful lot" in his second offseason with the team, adding "He's a guy we're excited about."
We may find out just how excited Philbin really is when the Dolphins take the field on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET for their preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If Egnew sees considerable playing time, they may be gearing him up for an increased workload in the regular season.
Let's be frank, though—it's not going to be difficult for Egnew to have a bigger role than he had last year. In fact, Clay was the tight end getting most of the snaps when Anthony Fasano wasn't on the field. He was lined up more often as an H-back than as a true tight end, but the fact remains that the coaching staff saw more value in Clay than in Egnew on the field last season.
Clay finished the 2012 season with 18 receptions for 212 yards and two touchdowns, while Egnew failed to record a single stat.
It's fair to wonder how often quarterback Ryan Tannehill will throw the ball down the middle of the field this year. He was impressive throwing the ball outside the numbers and proved he didn't need to rely completely on tight ends, as some rookie quarterbacks are wont to do.
Dolphins quarterbacks targeted their tight end 102 times in 2012, which equates to roughly 20.2 percent of the total targets among all pass-catchers. That's a sizable amount of offense that is being left in the hands of several unproven pass-catchers, and that number might have even increased with Keller at tight end—Fasano is a reliable route-runner and possession receiver, but he's not nearly as quick as Keller.
As if the spotlight didn't already shine brightly enough on the Dolphins' receivers, Tannehill may have to look to Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson even more than previously planned.
Interestingly enough, though, none of those three receivers have a great deal of experience running routes from the slot. According to ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required), Wallace ran 12.2 percent of his routes from the slot in 2012, while Gibson's slot percentage was 8.2 and Hartline's number was 5.4.
Wallace and Hartline are the receivers with the best skill sets for the slot, but without a solid threat over the middle, the Dolphins could have a hard time moving the chains in 2013.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or via team news releases.