The countdown to Latrobe is now just 3 weeks and we will now continue our Steelers training camp preview by looking at the tight end/h-back position for Pittsburgh as the head into camp in 2010.
Training Camp Preview – Defensive Line |Training Camp Preview – Safeties |Training Camp Preview – Linebackers | Training Camp Preview – Offensive Line | Training Camp Preview – Tight Ends | Training Camp Preview – Wide Receivers | Training Camp Preview – Running Backs | Training Camp Preview – Quarterbacks
Overview: The Steelers look to return to more of a run first offense in 2010 and it will go a long way in determining the who and what the Steelers need from the position this year. If the onus is put more on a true fullback type player, it could signal the Steelers need to only keep 2 tight ends on the 53 man roster. The tight end, fullback and h-back looks in the pre-season will indeed be fun to watch as it will help shed more light on what the Steelers will try to do more offensively, especially early on in the season with the absence of Ben Roethlisberger.
Heath Miller: If ever there were a Rodney Dangerfield nickname on the Steelers, it would likely be given to tight end Heath Miller. Miller just does not get the respect as a top tight end around the league as he should. Since being drafted by the Steelers with their first round draft pick in 2005, the former Virginia Cavalier has not disappointed. In 2009 he posted career highs in receiving yards (789), and receptions (76) and his six touchdown catches matched his second highest total set back during his rookie season. All these numbers came after he was rewarded with an extension last offseason. While he excels in the pass game, he also has become an accomplished blocker and might see his numbers dip a tad in 2010 as the Steelers return to a more run first offense. On the flip side, he could get more targets with the absence of Santonio Holmes. Miller for the most part is the picture of good health and a complete team player. While not respected league wide, he does not lack anonymity amongst Steeler Nation. He is truly a joy to watch play and should be headed to Hawaii again at seasons end and hopefully celebrating another World Championship as well.
Matt Spaeth: Matt Spaeth entered the offseason as a restricted free agent and the Steelers decided to tender him a one year deal at the minimum amount possible. Since being drafted in the third round of the 2007 draft, Spaeth hasn\’t quite developed as the Steelers had hoped. He by no means is on Heath Miller\’s level as a blocker and struggles at times in the passing game as well. He will enter training camp as the backup to Miller, but is not a lock to make the roster, especially if any of the other tight ends or H-backs on the roster can prove their worth in the passing game as nearly all are better blockers. He does contribute some on special teams, but should not be considered a roster lock. His replacement might not even be on the roster right now as the Steelers will certainly watch the final cut-downs prior to the season to improve the number 2 spot should none of the other ends excel in camp or pre-season.
Sean McHugh: If ever there was a threat to Spaeth, it comes from the likes of Sean McHugh. McHugh spent 2009 on injured reserve, after needing arthroscopic knee surgery for a training camp injury. He is a much more accomplished blocker than Spaeth is and has shown he has hands as well. He may be better suited as a true H-back once again as the Steelers look to return more to the running game in 2010. He could solve depth issues at, tight end and fullback, as well as being a special teams player. Everything depends on how he looks early on in camp health wise. If indeed back to his pre-injury self, McHugh will be a hard body to cut. Watch him closely in pre-season and especially where he lines up at.
David Johnson: DJ struggled as a rookie in 2009 and most of his highlights came on special teams. According to reports, he has not had a great Spring and Summer during mini-camps and OTA sessions thus far in 2010. He is a blocking tight end/H-back/fullback type player and likely made the 2009 roster because of the knee injury suffered by McHugh. He will need to make himself un-cutable by improving immensely this upcoming camp as he sites squarely ion the bubble with 3 weeks to go until training camp.
Eugene Bright: Bright was signed to the Steelers practice squad on November 2, 2009 and ended the season there. He is a converted defensive end and mostly regarded as a blocking tight end. He will be hard pressed to be considered anything more than a camp body at this point and likely will be an early cut after week 2 of pre-season.
Likely Training Camp Depth Chart:
TE1 Heath Miller
TE2 Matt Spaeth
TE3 Sean McHugh
TE4 David Johnson
TE5 Eugene Bright
Summation: Outside of the Pro Bowler Miller, the tight end position from a pass catching point of view has zero depth. If indeed Miller were to miss anytime, the Steelers would likely try to scavenge the available free agents in hopes a pass catcher were available. From a blocking standpoint, it is average with once again Miller leading the way. Depending on how Bruce Arians uses a fullback this year, will go a long way to determining who stays and who goes. McHugh has had the best success is seasons past lining up in the fullback position, but will never be confused with former Steeler fullback Dan Krieder. All that said, I like McHugh’s chances of sticking if he is healthy. Even without an injury to Miller, the Steelers will indeed be watching the final cut-downs around the league prior to week 1 in hopes of finding an upgrade. No player on the tight end depth chart behind Miller should be considered a roster lock at this point and time.