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Cards Clay Remolding the TE Position

NFL: Arizona Cardinals-Minicamp Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Cardinals newly acquired TE Charles Clay is no stranger to the spread offense.

In 2010, Clay, then a senior FB in Todd Graham’s spread offense at Tulsa University, helped to lead the Golden Hurricanes to a 10-3 record.

Clay’s 2010 Tulsa team won its last 7 games with their three most impressive wins all coming of the road at Notre Dame (28-27), at Houston (28-25) and at #24 Hawaii (62-35) in the Hawaii Bowl (a game in which Clay finished his career with 4 rushes for 62 yards, 15.5 ypc., and 2 receptions for 38 yards, 19.0 ypr.).

During Clay’s 5/31/6.2 rushing 6/44/7.3 receiving performance versus Houston, he caught the attention and imagination of Houston’s co-offensive coordinator, Kliff Kingsbury. Thus, this past February, when Charles Clay was released by the Bills, Kingsbury rushed down the hall to Steve Keim’s office.

At the NFL Combine, Kingsbury said, “Clay is such a versatile player. I was at the University of Houston and we played against him in Tulsa and I’ve always been enamored with the different ways he can be used, whether it’s in the backfield blocking or you can hand him the ball. He can be a matchup at wide receiver. He can just do a lot of things.”

Kingsbury went on to say that Clay will have “a prominent role” in the K-Raid offense with the intention to “move him around a lot” in order to “do different things.”

Clay was drafted in the 6th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Dolphins. And by year three, Clay was ready to establish himself as one of the league’s most consistently productive TEs. In fact, over the course of 5 seasons from 2013-2017, Clay surpassed 500 yards in receiving in all of those years, averaging 600 yards a season (3,002 yards) while scoring 18 TDs.

Despite the fact that Clay had a down year in Buffalo last year which led to his release, the Cardinals hope and believe that the multi-purpose TE/HB can experience a Renaissance in his return to the spread offense.

While Kliff Kingsbury has been purposely vague about how he will use Charles Clay, one can reasonably assume that Clay will wear the following hats: motioning H-Back, flexed slot WR, iso WR depending on the coverage matchup, lead blocking FB in the running game, slot TE chipper on DEs, shotgun FB pass protector and occasional FB ball carrier.

In this 1 minute NFL video, Clay is used by the Dolphins as an iso WR to the right of the formation. Look at how Clay fights and slips by two tacklers, one being Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu, for a late 4th quarter go-ahead TD:

And here is a 2-3 minute video of how the Bills used Clay in 2016 out of their shotgun formations with Tyrod Taylor at QB. This could give us a small taste of what Kilff Kingsbury and the Cardinals have in mind:

With as often as the Cardinals are going to face zone defenses, Charles Clay can have a big year in the spread offense. And when the Cardinals face man-to-man defenses, they can put Clay in motion and use him in a variety of quick throw, drags, digs, seam, wheel and misdirection routes.

When you watched Clay on tape---he’s got a little Anquan Boldin in him. He’s a fighter. And this is what the Cardinals’ offense needs in order to be successful---versatile tough guys.