This is part 4 in our position-by-position review of the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers. If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:
Today we review the tight ends.
In my opinion, the Steelers are in pretty good shape at tight end. This is primarily due to…
I readily admit that Heath Miller is one of my favorite players on the Steelers. I love his business-like approach to the game. He never whines. He never complains. He just goes out and does his job.
If Heath is asked to block, that’s what he’s going to do. And he’s pretty good at it too. In fact, he’s one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL. Although that doesn’t seem to count for much these days, since tight ends are often used as primary receivers (see New England’s Rob Gronkowski). But Heath doesn’t let that bother him. He seems to get as much joy out of blocking as he does from catching passes.
And when it comes to catching passes, Heath is as good as any tight end in the business. He has great hands, and he’s hard to bring down after the catch. One of my favorite things is watching Heath run over a cornerback, or drag a safety.
If Heath got as many opportunities as some of the more visible tight ends in the league, he could definitely be a Pro Bowl caliber player. But he doesn’t get those opportunities, and I’ve always viewed that as a problem.
One of the reasons that Heath doesn’t get the pass catching opportunities that some others get is that he is often asked to stay back and block. That’s been one of the problems with the Steelers’ weak offensive line. Miller is often used to cover up other players’ weaknesses.
Hopefully, Todd Haley will quickly realize what a dangerous weapon he has in Heath Miller. More importantly, I hope that he’ll use Heath early and often in his offense.
Former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians believed in using an H-back in his offense. An H-back is essentially a tight end who plays the role of a fullback. David Johnson has been the Steelers H-back for the past 2 years, and he’s done a decent (but not great) job at it.
Johnson is a powerful blocker who often seemed to be in the wrong place to make his blocks. So we typically don’t get to see the punishing blocks that he’s capable of making.
Johnson was almost never used in the passing game. He has a total of 18 regular season catches in the 3 years that he’s been with the Steelers. That’s only 6 per season. Rob Gronkowski catches that many passes in a quarter.
There are definitely tight ends out there who would be an upgrade to Johnson. But first the Steelers will have to see how Todd Haley plans to use his tight ends.
I really liked the little bit that I got to see of Weslye Saunders. But that little bit may prove to be the last that we see of him.
Saunders was suspended for the first 4 games of the 2012 NFL season for violating the league’s banned substance policy. That’s not a good thing when you’re a Pittsburgh Steeler. The Steelers dont’ tend to look favorably upon such things. Does anyone remember what happened to Santonio Holmes when he received such a suspension? He was traded before the suspension ever got implemented.
Saunders has been a troubled player since college. He was viewed as a potential 1st or 2nd round draft pick while he was in college. But Saunders started getting in trouble, and his draft stock plummeted. First, he was suspended by Steve Spurrier for “violating team rules”. Saunders was later investigated by the NCAA, and ended up being declared ineligible for the 2011 NFL Draft.
Saunders came to the Steelers as an undrafted free agent, and looked to be on the cusp of making a name for himself with the team. But this suspension now brings his future into question.
Based on the uncertainty with Johnson and Saunders, I won’t be surprised if the Steelers bring at least one new tight end into training camp this summer.