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Upgrade at tight end is likely priority for Miami Dolphins

For five years, Anthony Fasano has proved generally dependable, his 2012 work highlighted by the brilliant one-handed touchdown catch against the 49ers and a season-high six receptions last Sunday.

But that also doesn’t change this reality: After years of searching, the Dolphins remain unable to find an every-down stretch-the-field tight end.

General manager Jeff Ireland must decide whether to stick with his current group: impending free agent Fasano, Charles Clay and unproven rookie Michael Egnew or instead do whatever it takes to upgrade, perhaps by drafting Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert in the first round if he chooses to turn pro, or signing a free agent such as Martellus Bennett or Jermichael Finley, if he’s cut.

The Dolphins are expected to seriously explore upgrading, but that wouldn’t necessarily preclude them from also re-signing Fasano, who has been given no indication if he is wanted back.

“It’s good to go out there with Fasano because he is a cagy veteran, knows exactly what to do and how to do it, and has a very good skill level,” offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said.

But Fasano doesn’t fit the mold of the new-age field-stretching tight ends. Consider:

• Fasano’s yards-per-catch average (8.0) is seventh-lowest among 58 tight ends who 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 who has played nearly as much — 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 with a knee injury.

Egnew hasn’t been active for a game all season but might be Sunday because of Clay’s injury. He recently said his problem is that while he makes “a lot of good plays in practice, I mess one up now and then.”

The Dolphins know they need a seam threat they can consistently count on.

“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. “That’s a vulnerable area.”

Look around the AFC. The top seven teams in the conference have tight ends producing big numbers in the passing game, including New England’s Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, Houston’s Owen Daniels and Pittsburgh’s Heath Miller.

What’s frustrating about the Dolphins is how they have passed on so many tight ends who blossomed elsewhere.

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

They took Derek Hagan instead of Daniels with the 82nd pick in 2006. They considered taking Jared Cook with the 87th pick in 2009 but chose receiver Patrick Turner instead. Cook went 89th to Tennessee and has 44 catches for 523 yards in 13 games.

This past offseason, Miami declined to pursue Cowboys free agent Martellus Bennett, who signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Giants and has 50 catches for 584 yards.

Kaeding signs

The Dolphins placed kicker Dan Carpenter on injured reserve with a groin injury sustained in practice and signed Nate Kaeding, the most accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history (87 percent).

Kaeding was 7 for 7 on field goals this season but missed time with a groin injury. When San Diego opted to stick with Nick Novak, Kaeding asked for his release. Kaeding, 30, said Miami has made no commitment to him beyond 2012.

• Receiver Davone Bess (back) and linebacker Koa Misi (ankle) were ruled out for Sunday’s game against Buffalo. Receiver Brian Hartline (back) is listed as questionable but said he expects to play.

Defensive tackle Randy Starks missed all three practices this week because of the death of his mother last weekend, teammate Paul Soliai said. Starks is also listed as questionable, but Soliai said he expects Starks will play.

Cornerback Nolan Carroll (knee) and tight end Jeron Mastrud (hamstring) were also listed as questionable.

Karlos Dansby, Chris Clemons, Jimmy Wilson, Derrick Shelby and Armon Binns are probable.

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