As a rookie, Pittsburgh Steelers second-year tight end David Paulson, thanks in part to his slight build and boyish face, looked more like a high school tight end than he did a player who caught 67 passes for 1,041 yards and 10 touchdowns during his time at Oregon. Now, with one year of pro football experience under his belt and noticeable offseason work in the weight room, Paulson now at least looks the part of an NFL tight end.
With veteran tight end Heath Miller likely be sidelined on the PUP list for all the preseason and possibly longer, Paulson and fellow tight end Matt Spaeth are receiving quite a few reps during training camp. Spaeth of course is an accomplished blocking tight end, but not a big threat in the passing game. Paulson, at least during his rookie season, was the exact opposite. In 2013, each will have to improve in the areas that they are weakest if the offense doesn\'t want to be predictable until Miller is fully healthy.
Despite Paulson\'s inability to establish himself as a good inline blocker as a rookie, something he really wasn\'t forced to do while at Oregon, Steelers tight ends coach James Daniels still has confidence in the 2012 seventh-round draft pick.
"He won some battles for us at the line of scrimmage last year and he didn\'t win some," Daniels told Will Graves of the Associated Press. "Hopefully the wins outnumber the losses. I don\'t think there\'s any question that if we call on him for it, he\'ll win more times than he gets beat."
In 2012, Paulson, who wasted no time in overtaking the ineffective Leonard Pope on the depth chart, played 316 snaps on offense. While he was on the field, however, the Steelers offense only averaged 3.3 yards per carry as opposed to 3.81 yards when he was on the sideline. While Paulson wasn\'t the primary cause of the running game being even more infective than it already was while he was on the field, he had his share of ineffectiveness.
One of the big things that we will be looking for during the upcoming preseason games is whether or not the year of experience and the extra work in the weight room has paid off in the blocking department for Paulson, who according to Graves has problems putting weight on. If he isn\'t able to show some marked improvement in that area, and if Miller\'s recovery extends into the regular season, it could be bumpy start to the season for the Steelers running game.
Paulson, who really doesn\'t appear to be a big talker, did give Graves an idea of where his head\'s at now that his second training camp is underway.
"I\'m a little more comfortable and I know what to expect out of training camp," Paulson said. "I know the offense. I\'m more comfortable with the people here."
Hopefully Paulson\'s also more comfortable turning defensive ends and outside linebackers out of the running lanes as the Steelers really need him to block more like an NFL tight end this year than the high school tight end that he looked like last year.