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News developments from Friday Dolphins' locker-room; Dolphins annual tight end issue rears its ugly head

A quick Friday update inside the Dolphins' locker-room:

1) Three Miami players have been ruled out for Sunday against Buffalo: Davone Bess (back), Dan Carpenter (who went on injured reserve with a groin injury) and Koa Misi.

2) Brian Hartline, who had missed practice Thursday with a back injury, participated Friday (at least to an extent) and said he expects to play Sunday. But Hartline is listed as questionable on the injury report. Also listed as questionable: Nolan Carroll (knee), Jeron Mastrud (hamstring) and Randy Starks.

3) Starks, who is not injured, has missed all three days of practice this week because of the death of his mother, teammate Paul Soliai said. Soliai - who has been in touch with Starks to offer his condolences and support - said he expects Starks to play Sunday. Joe Philbin was non-committal.

4) Kicker Nate Kaeding, signed to replace Carpenter, said the Dolphins have given him no commitments beyond the final two games of the season. Carpenter suffered the injury in practice but declined to disclose the severity.

5) Karlos Dansby, Chris Clemons, Derrick Shelby, Jimmy Wilson and Armon Binns are listed as probable. 

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Talking Dolphins' tight ends today....

 

For five years, Anthony Fasano has proved generally serviceable and dependable, his 2012 work highlighted by the brilliant one-handed touchdown catch against the 49ers two weeks ago and a season-high output last Sunday (six catches, 56 yards).

But that also doesn’t change this reality: After years of looking, the Dolphins remain unable to find a stretch-the-field tight end that is deemed worthy of playing most downs and can consistently deliver high production. And frankly, it's pretty exasperating because of all the appealing options Miami has passed up.

General manager Jeff Ireland must decide whether to: A) re-sign impending free agent Fasano and again try to make do with a Fasano/Charles Clay tandem –- and hope Michael Egnew can eventually contribute -- or B) do whatever is necessary to upgrade the position, perhaps by drafting Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert in the first round (if he turns pro) or signing a free agent such as Martellus Bennett or, if he’s cut, Jermichael Finley.

The view here: Time to upgrade! Time to bring this offense into the 21st century.

The Dolphins are expected to seriously explore upgrading, but that wouldn’t necessarily preclude them from also re-signing Fasano, who said he has been given no idea if the team wants him back.

“Fasano is consistently giving you great effort,” offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. “Very seldom does he make a mental mistake. He has a lot of versatility and we’ve done a lot of things with him. It’s just good to go out there wit him because he is a cagy veteran, knows what exactly to do and how to do it, and has a very good skill level.”

That’s a very good endorsement, but this much is also true: Fasano doesn’t fit the mold of the new-age tight ends that can challenge defenses downfield. Consider:

### Fasano’s yards per catch average (8.0) is seventh-lowest among 58 tight ends that have played at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps. It’s also lowest among starters.

### His yards-after-catch average (2.1) is 57th of 58, ahead of only Dallas backup John Phillips.

### Fasano’s 289 yards (on 36 receptions) is higher than only one tight end that has played nearly as many snaps --- Chicago’s Kellen Davis.

Clay has flashed signs of being a seam tight end threat, but to project him as a starter at this point would be a reach. Clay (18 catches, 212 yards) will finish the season on injured reserve because of a knee injury.

Egnew hasn’t been able to get on the field, and will enter “bust” territory if he doesn’t make enough improvements to earn the coaching staff’s trust this offseason. He hopes to play Sunday in Clay's absence.

The Dolphins know they need a seam threat, whether that means developing Clay or Egnew or drafting one.

“The ability to attack the middle of the field in this modern era of the NFL and the defenses that you see is a critical element,” coach Joe Philbin said. “If you have those types of players that can do that and have success down the middle of the field, that’s a vulnerable area. You want to take advantage of that when the opportunity presents itself.”

Look around the AFC. The top seven teams in the conference have tight ends producing big numbers in the passing game. Rob Gronkowksi and Aaron Hernandez in New England. Owen Daniels in Houston. Heath Miller in Pittsburgh. Dennis Pitta in Baltimore.

Denver’s Jacob Tamme, who is clearly benefitting from his chemistry with Peyton Manning established over many years in Indianapolis. Rookies Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener in Indianapolis. And Jermaine Gresham in Cincinnati.

Egnew, who the Dolphins thought would be a stretch-the-field threat in the Gronkowski mold, said he is “absolutely” antsy to play but coaches “want me to be more consistent. I make a lot of good plays in practice but mess one up now and then.”

What’s frustrating about the Dolphins’ search for a tight end is how they have passed on so many players who blossomed elsewhere. Consider:

The Dolphins took Koa Misi instead of Gronkowski with the 40th pick in 2010, then selected John Jerry at No. 73 instead of Jimmy Graham (who went 95th) and traded their 110th pick to San Diego instead of taking Hernandez (113) or Pitta (114)…. They declined to match or top Carolina’s offer of a 2012 third-round pick to Chicago for Greg Olsen, who has 59 catches for 747 yards this season…

They took Derek Hagan instead of Daniels with the 82nd pick in 2006… They strongly considered taking Jared Cook in the 2009 draft but chose receiver Patrick Turner instead. Cook went 89th to Tennessee and has 44 catches for 523 in 13 games….

This past offseason, they declined to pursue Cowboys free agent Martellus Bennett, who signed a modest contract with the Giants (one year, $2.5 million) and has 50 catches for 584 yards.

Perhaps this is the offseason the Dolphins find that tight end that causes other defensive coordinators to genuinely worry. 

It really is about time, isn't it? 

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