FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. _ The Miami Dolphins have leaned heavily on the tight end position the past two months, where starter Anthony Fasano has caught four of his five touchdown passes, transforming his worst NFL season into what could potentially be his most productive.
Fasano is averaging a career-high 15.7 yards per reception on his 28 catches. He needs 89 receiving yards to establish a new career high. He has 440 receiving yards. Last year, he logged a career-high of 528.
But Fasano, who is rated the fourth most productive tight end by ProFootballFocus.com, suffered a mild concussion during practice this week and his status for Saturday's road game against the New England Patriots is in jeopardy.
"He does have a mild concussion," interim coach Todd Bowles said on Thursday, a day after Fasano was held out of practice with what the team declared as a head injury. "He had a low grade concussion. They're monitoring him right now. They're taking more tests."
If Fasano can't pass his baseline test on Friday, which is mandated by the NFL for returning to practice and games after suffering a concussion, it's doubtful he'll travel to New England.
That means the Dolphins would have to either lean on his backups _ Jeron Mastrud, or rookies Charles Clay and Will Yeatman _ to fill the void his absence creates, or play a lot of three or four receiver sets against the Patriots.
Considering the Dolphins intent to play a ball control game, trying to limit New England's offensive opportunities, opening up the passing game probably isn't the best strategy to beat the Patriots. That's why the absence of Fasano could handcuff the Dolphins.
Mastrud is primarily a blocker. He caught his only NFL pass (for 8-yards in week four against the Chargers) in his two NFL seasons.
Yeatman, whom the Dolphins claimed off waivers from the Patriots back in September, was active for the first time last week against the Bills, but he played sparingly on offense and hasn't caught a pass.
Clay, the team's sixth-round pick, has started nine games this season, catching 14 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown. He leads the Dolphins in yards per reception (16.5) this season. But this former Tulsa standout is more fullback than tight end, and needs to work on his in-line blocking.
"He's made big plays all year. Injuries seem to be bugging everyone in the league," Bowles said of Fasano, who is finishing his fourth season as the Dolphins starter. "Mastrud or Yeatman are just going to have to step it up if he doesn't play."
Dolphins involved in concussion suit
Former Miami Dolphins teammates Patrick Surtain and Oronde Gadsden are among 19 suing the league over severe and permanent brain damage they say is linked to concussions suffered on the job.
The complaint filed Thursday in Miami follows a similar one in Atlanta earlier this week. It is the latest in a series of recent lawsuits against the NFL by ex-players.
The suit accuses the NFL of deliberately omitting or concealing years of evidence linking concussions to long-term neurological problems. The NFL denies the charges and says player safety has long been a priority.
The players claim the NFL made misrepresentations about the seriousness of their injuries "with the intent of inducing NFL players, including Plaintiffs, to return to play as soon as physically possible after having suffered a football-related concussion and to promote an aggressive style of football that would attract viewers."