Miami Dolphins rookie tight end Dion Sims started his first NFL game during Saturday night's 24-17 preseason loss to the Houston Texans, and it likely won’t be his last of 2013.
Considering the season-ending knee injury Dustin Keller suffered in that game, the Dolphins are actively searching for replacement options.
A league source confirmed the inevitable, acknowledging that Keller tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), and medial collateral ligament (MCL) when Texans safety D.J. Swearinger’s helmet hit his right knee during a passing play that ended with Keller dropping the ball.
The only ligament in his right knee Keller didn’t tear was the lateral collateral ligament (LCL), which connects the thigh bone to the fibula. There are also reports Keller dislocated his kneecap, which would make his injury similar to the one former Hurricanes standout Willis McGahee suffered in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl.
“This is football. He’s a great guy, great player, but things happen all the time,” Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace said. “Next man up. We’ve got to keep it going, keep fighting for him, keep pushing….We’ve just got to keep playing.”
Keller's injury will put the Dolphins coaching staff in discovery mode as they search for ways to fill the void the six-year veteran’s absence creates.
"I'm going to do what I have to do to help the team out," said Sims, who had worked his way up the depth chart during training camp to become Keller's backup. "You just have to step up and work. When it is my time to go I have to step up and do my job."
That is the message the Dolphins are sending to every tight end, H-back and fullback on the roster. Either they step up their contribution to compensate for Keller's absence, or Miami's coaches could be forced to add new tight ends, or drastically alter the offense.
The challenge is that every tight end presently on the roster has some shortcoming to their game that hints they are more suited to be specialists than an every down tight end.
Sims, a fourth-round pick, excelled as a blocker during his career with the Michigan State Spartans, and is polishing up his pass catching skills. He's caught two passes for 15 yards during the exhibition season.
Michael Egnew, a third-round pick in 2012, has the reputation of being a pass catching specialist. Egnew only played in two games last season because of his limitations as a blocker. During this exhibition season he's caught five passes for 66 yards, and has shown signs he’s improved as a blocker. Last week head coach Joe Philbin singled him out as one of the young players who have made the most improvement during camp.
Charles Clay has served as the Dolphins' H-back for the past two seasons, working as half tight end and half fullback. Sims’ emergence encouraged Miami's coaches to develop Clay more as a fullback the past few weeks.
Tight end Kyle Miller, who spent six weeks on Miami's 53-man roster last season, and fullbacks Jorvorskie Lane and Evan Rodriguez will also be called on to do more as a result of Keller's absence. Rodriguez, a waiver wire claim, started five games for the Bears during his rookie season last year.
"It is unfortunate," Clay said of Keller's knee injury. "We have to go back to the drawing board. You hate to see things like that happen, but unfortunately it is part of the game.
"I have been working real hard, not only at fullback, but also at tight end," said Clay, a former sixth-round pick who has caught 34 passes for 445 yards and five touchdowns in his two seasons. "We'll get back to practice this week and see where it goes from here.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun