Less Is More For David Paulson And The Tight End Position

By Matthew Marczi

David Paulson sure has looked a lot better since Heath Miller returned to the lineup, hasn’t he? I hardly ever notice him slipping off blocks early, allowing a running back to be tackled behind the line of scrimmage any more.

Oh, that’s right, that’s because he’s effectively been benched.

During the first two weeks of the season, Paulson was essentially the starting tight end, and accordingly, he logged 106 of the team’s 111 snaps. The Steelers offense has logged 145 since then.

Paulson has logged 16.

13 of those snaps came a week earlier, when Miller was on a pitch count and monitored as he tested his surgically repaired knee in game action for the first time. As Miller and the team felt more comfortable with where he is in the past game, Paulson played just three snaps, despite the Steelers logging a season-high 79 snaps.

The return of Miller—and the fact that he has been able to come in and contribute positively right away, without much of a grace period to get back into form—has been huge for the Steelers, even though it has not been reflected in the wins column, at least not yet. Making Paulson and his snap count expendable has been a big part of that.

There is another factor, however, and it should not be dismissed. That is, of course, the return to health of David Johnson.

Despite the fact that Miller has eaten up a ton of snaps the last two weeks, they have not come at the expense of Johnson at all. In fact, he has logged more snaps the past two weeks than he had during the first two. That is because he is getting healthier, as Mike Tomlin noted the week before.

Johnson also tore his ACL last season—in the first game of the preseason, in fact—and many, including myself, essentially wrote that off as the end of his career with the Steelers, and maybe in the NFL. But he is back now, and he is the team’s second-string tight end, at least until Matt Spaeth returns.

In fact, this past game may have been the best—certainly one of the best—of his career, particularly as a tight end. His run blocking was much improved over past weeks as he’s gotten healthier and more comfortable; he was key on both of Le’Veon Bell’s touchdown runs, for instance.

What’s more, he has managed to become a contributor in the passing game as well. He already has four receptions on the year for 70 yards. In 2011, he finished the year with 12 receptions for 91 yards. With Miller back, Johnson playing his way into form, and Paulson playing less, the tight end position is looking a lot better now than it did in the season opener.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • steeltown

    Yep.. I think the Paulson experiment has been officially shut down.. and next season I would hope the depth chart consists of Miller, Spaeth and a draft pick (or D.Johnson) its nice to have a TE (Paulson) that can catch passes with ease, but if you cant in-block then you are nothing more than a big slow WR

  • Luke Shabro

    Agreed. I couldn’t stand the idea of DJ being in the lineup again this year but he’s done much better as a second TE than he did as FB. He’s still a fairly young guy too.

  • steeltown

    Yea he’s been a pleasant surprise.. although when you’re comparing to Paulson it doesn’t take much


    I said DJ still had upside and would make the 53 – his blocking was very good on Sunday. We shouldn’t be dressing 4 TE’s on gameday though, not at the expense of a redzone threat like Moye! grrr!

  • Jollyrob68

    Paulson needs to get stronger and work on his run blocking but I wouldm’t give up on him. Heath is no spring chicken.

  • Bell Cow

    Great article. Thank you for pointing out David Paulson and his flaws. I’d be very surprised if he’s brought back next year.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I thought DJ was done too like Matt but it is great to see this kid continue to fight and that someone had faith in him.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Remember this is only Paulson’s 2nd year. He was quite a project when we drafted him. It takes some players several years before it comes together for them.

  • steeltown

    The fact that he cost just over 500K a year is the only thing helping him, I’d rather have Michael Palmer on roster at this point

  • JohnnyV1

    Wondering how much longer we carry four TE’s. Now that Heath is back and David Johnson is #2, do we really need a #4? At 0-4, I think we could use some help at some other position, couldn’t we?

  • TJimmy

    It’s very tough to play in the NFL. Considering his skill set, I’m sure he worked hard and did his best. No need to insult him.

  • Kareem Daniels

    Maybe now they will stop dressing 4 TEs on game day and Moye can be active. They could have used him in the endzone on that last play

  • Steeler Wheeler

    Paulson needs to be cut, and David Johnson is better than Spaeth.

  • charles

    Yep, and what is distressing is that blocking technique is coachable. Good hands are not. Paulson, though, remains a study in frustration. He seems not to have the will to block. Kinda like a reciever who does not want to catch a pass across the middle.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Paulson does not need to dress most games. David Johnson is a great blocker. I have been talking about him since the spring if you recall. Want proof? Go back 2 years and watch all the big runs, almost exclusively by Mendenhall. You will see some decent blocking by others, but often DJ is blowing up a Linebacker creating huge holes. Now he is also in-line blocking and catching better.
    Excellent! Imagine a little better blocking by the line with 22 personnel, DJ, heath, Will all blocking. I see a potential good running game coming, with big play action gains occasionally.
    Steelers fan since 1970, and still trying to be optimistic. 1 or 2 teams each year start terribly, but turn it around a get on a massive roll. Hopefully it’s the Steelers this year.
    Another proviso. They have to start hammering people on defense without getting fined and suspended. Hopefully the league will allow them to play Steelers’ football in the future. Since the league used the Steelers as an example a few years, the defense started playing like they were scared to get penalties. How the hell can you play Steelers’ football if you’re scared?
    Now there’s a good article for you guys to consider!

  • Eric

    I would like to see DJ used at FB more often because he and Will Johnson can both catch the ball coming out of the backfield. I heard a lot during training camp that no one could cover Will Johnson over the middle. Since we have 2 FB’s that can run and catch, why don’t we use these FB’s as receivers at all? It seems we have a strength that is being ignored.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Palmer is mostly just a blocking TE where Paulson is a receiving TE they are 2 different players. We have DJ and Spaeth who are our blocking TE’s we need a Paulson IMO


    If Haley were creative…I think he could use a talent like Paulson in some RZ, 3 TE looks and get him in space on smaller players. He’s never going to be a heavy duty blocking guy, but coming from ORE, should we really have expected that?

    Else…I agree with the poster wanting his spot to go to Moye. Bigger players give you a little more room for error in the RZ

  • Christopher Wilkes

    LOL @ everyone that dissed DJ during the offseason and wrote him off of the 53 man roster.

  • HopalongCassidy

    Paulson is a waste of a roster spot, period.