We are less than a month away from the Pittsburgh Steelers reporting to Latrobe for training camp, so we will now continue to preview the training camp battles that will take place this year. Next up on our list is the battle for the third tight end/h-back spot. Make sure to chime in with your thoughts on this battle and vote in the poll in addition.
Training Camp Battle Setup: Heath Miller may or may not be ready for the start of the 2013 season after tearing up his knee late last year. With his status uncertain the Steelers decided to sign back Matt Spaeth after his two years away with the Chicago Bears, so you can go ahead and lock him into the roster right now. The Steelers are almost certain to carry three tight ends in total in 2013 along with fullback Will Johnson, who really proved his worth last season not only as a blocker, but as a receiving option in addition. That leaves us with second-year tight end David Paulson and former seventh-round draft pick David Johnson left to battle it out in training camp for one spot on the roster.
David Paulson - Paulson, one of four seventh-round draft picks in 2012, started last season as the third tight end on the depth chart behind Leonard Pope. By the fourth game of the season Paulson had passed up Pope and wound up playing 316 total snaps on offense over the course of the season. Paulson struggled at the start of the season with his inline blocking, but slowly made improvement as the season progressed, as nearly all of his snaps came in two or three tight end personnel groupings. Despite his slight improvement as a blocker, however, he still has a long way to go in that area of his game. Paulson must not only get stronger in his second season, but do a better job with his hand placement.
Paulson was not drafted for his blocking skills as he was predominantly used at Oregon in the slot and as a joker, which led to him catching 31 passes for 438 yards and six touchdowns in 2011. As a rookie with the Steelers, Paulson didn\'t get many chances to show off his hands, and it resulted in him catching only 7 out of 10 balls thrown his way for 51 yards. His ability to separate is certainly not that of Miller, but he seemed to have a good grasp of the offensive concepts just the same.
As far as his special teams play went in 2012, Paulson managed to register four total tackles with three of those being credited as solos.
With the return of Spaeth to Pittsburgh to serve as a second tight end behind Miller, Paulson figures to battle David Johnson for a spot on the 53 man roster in training camp. He is a far better route runner and pass catcher than Johnson is, but slightly inferior to him when it comes to the blocking department. If Paulson can show improvement in that one area of his game, he shouldn\'t have a problem making the roster as the third tight end/h-back.
David Johnson - David Johnson was in a heated training camp battle last year with Will Johnson for the starting fullback job, but a torn ACL in his right knee suffered early in the first preseason game ended his 2012 season before it even started.
Throughout the Steelers offseason practices there have been reports suggesting that David Johnson is still not moving around as fluidly as he did prior to suffering his injury last August and that certainly isn\'t good news if true. During his first three seasons in Pittsburgh, David\'s primary role was playing fullback and with Will Johnson expected to easily retain that job this season, David will need to show that he can also function effectively as an inline tight end.
David does not have the route running ability or the hands of either Will Johnson or David Paulson, so his path to the 53 will be a tough one. In his first three years in Pittsburgh, he only registered 18 catches for 146 yards and a touchdown.
As far as his special teams play, David Johnson is a liability more than he is an asset, which will make it even harder for him to win a job in training camp.
Prediction: This training camp battle will come down to which player is more versatile than the other, and this is where Paulson figures to be way ahead in the battle. David Johnson is more of a fullback than he is a tight end, so it might take an injury to Will Johnson in order for him to make the roster. Outside of that scenario, the only way that I see both combatants making the 53 man roster out of training camp is if Miller starts the regular season on the PUP list. I\'m going with Paulson as the winner.
Previous Training Camp Battle Previews:
Steelers 2013 Training Camp Battles: Alameda Ta’amu Versus Hebron Fangupo