|Yes, Steelers saying it again: They will throw to tight ends|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 23 August 2007 12:19|
Almost always, it's a ruse. The Steelers, as usual, will pound the ball with their running game, throw to their wide receivers on third down - and use their tight ends mostly as blockers.
Heath Miller, for example, was supposed to be the exception when the Steelers used a first-round draft pick on him in 2005.
So far, he's caught it an average of two times per game, hardly the kind of payoff expected from a first-rounder. While he was a valuable receiver during Pittsburgh's Super Bowl run at the end of the 2005 season, making seven catches in four games, he's done what most Steelers tight ends do.
Block, then block some more. Something Steelers tight ends learn to do in a hurry.
``It's one of the things I had to learn pretty early - you got to get low (to block),'' Miller said Thursday. ``I have a ton of respect for the guys who play fullback. We're asked to do some of their responsibilities from time to time, but to do it on a consistent basis like they do is a challenging job.''
A lot more challenging, it seems, is catching passes as a tight end in the Steelers' offense.
After making 39 catches as a rookie, six for touchdowns, Miller's production dropped a season ago, even though the Steelers threw the ball a lot more times in 2006 (523) than they did in 2005 (379). The rest of the offense was tied up mostly with Willie Parker's 337 carries.
Miller ended with 39 catches and five touchdowns, with the highlight of his season coming when he made an 87-yard TD catch against Miami in the season opener.
During this training camp, it's been more of the same for Miller and fellow tight ends Jerame Tuman and rookie Matt Spaeth. They keep hearing they're going to get the ball more - new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians all but promised it - but, so far, they're not.
Throughout training camp, Arians showed off alignments with three tight ends, a running back, one receiver and no fullback. Whether it's just a cover for something else remains to be seen.
Even after the Steelers used a third-round pick on Spaeth, a surprise given how little they traditionally use the tight end as a receiver, their tight ends have two receptions in three exhibition games.
``We don't really get concerned with that, it's the preseason and we stick to kind of basic stuff,'' Miller said. ``It's kind of the same thing every year. We're not really worried about it.''
This isn't a recent trend, either. The Steelers' reluctance to throw to their tight ends, except immediately after they drafted Eric Green in 1990, has been a standing joke in their locker room since Chuck Noll's days as coach.
``We'll have our fair share of opportunities,'' an undeterred Miller said. ``I think we've had our fair share our first couple of years here. I think as a group we just prepare ourselves that when we get an opportunity, we want to make the most of it.''
Arians is remaking the Steelers' offense by giving more freedom to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at the line of scrimmage. Whether that results in the tight ends being more than very-tall replacements for fullback and ace blocker Dan Kreider is uncertain.
``I like having three tight ends on the field a lot,'' Arians said.
With the 6-7 Spaeth and the 6-5 Miller, the Steelers would seemingly have two very distinctive end zone targets when they get around the goal line.
``I think Matt's a good receiver and he's proven he's got good hands and he's obviously a big guy,'' Miller said. ``He's coming along really well and we'll see how that shakes out.''
Notes: Roethlisberger's hometown of Findlay, Ohio, was flooded this week, but the QB said his parents' home was not damaged other than getting some water in the basement. ... After using second-year RT Willie Colon all week with the starters, coach Mike Tomlin unexpectedly put Max Starks back with the starters on Thursday. Starks started the last two seasons With the season opener a little more than two weeks away, Tomlin has yet to name a starting offensive line.