By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers waited until the last minute to do it, but they have finally activated tight end Matt Spaeth from the short-term injured reserve list, just in time for the fourth quarter of the regular season.
And just in time for Mike Adams, perhaps.
Adams, of course, is set to make his first start at tackle since the Week Four debacle when he allowed the Minnesota Vikings to get the best of him on multiple occasions. As I wrote yesterday, Adams still, unfortunately, has a way to go when it comes to cleaning up his footwork and technique in pass protection, which is what got him benched in the first place.
The long-awaited return of Spaeth may have come at the perfect time. But that obviously makes the assumption that the Steelers intend to immediately plug him in as the second tight end and utilize him heavily right away.
Granted, they more or less did that with Heath Miller and Le’Veon Bell earlier this year, but they are both starters, and at least in Bell’s case, his injury didn’t keep him out for so long. Miller, of course, had been out since the end of last season with a torn ACL.
For most of the season, Adams has more or less been the second tight end. Before that, it was Kelvin Beachum, who is obviously missing this game.
So with the former in the starting lineup again and the latter out, it does seem to paint the perfect picture for Spaeth to come in right away and be that second tight end. David Paulson and Michael Palmer will certainly not be obstacles.
Of course, the Steelers will likely want to limit his playing time some, as he has already been out for about four months, and it’s not easy to just step in against players who’ve already been going at it for 12 games.
Still, anything he can add to the pass protection on the left side will be a great bonus, as even though Spaeth is better known for his work in the running game than as a pass protector, though he is capable of both.
One area in which you’d think Spaeth’s return would have a big impact is the ability to get Miller more reps as a receiver—but you’d be wrong. In fact, Miller has not stayed in to protect on passing downs any more than usual.
This season, Miller has only been a pass protector on less than thirteen percent of his passing snaps. In 2012, the Steelers asked him to stay in over 22 percent of the time. It was over 15 percent in 2011, and almost 19 percent in 2010. It’s pretty obvious when your second tight end is a lineman which one will be staying in to block. In fact, after Beachum left the last game, the Steelers routinely asked Miller to chip, resulting in a season-high 13 pass protection snaps.