In order to stem the tide of injuries that engulfed the tight end position during the early portions of the 2013 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers resolved to use their reserve offensive linemen as tackle-eligible ends last year.
During the first four games of the season, that role went to Kelvin Beachum, though his tight end days were brief and sporadic. In the first game, he was forced to take over at center after just eight snaps, and in Week Four, instead of playing on the end, he rotated at both tackle positions.
By Week Five, however, Beachum was the starting left tackle, so it was Mike Adams’ turn to make up the difference thanks to the injuries at tight end. Following David Johnson’s season-ending injury in Week Six, Adams spent most of the rest of the season as Heath Miller’s wing man.
From Week Seven to Week 13, Adams played 156 snaps, averaging better than 22 per game, or about a third of the Steelers’ total offensive snaps. But things changed pretty drastically after that, and may be an indication of how things will take shape in 2014.
Adams was forced back into the starting lineup at left tackle in Week 14 due to an injury to Beachum, but that also happened to coincide with the return of Matt Spaeth from injury, who missed the first 12 games of the season.
Adams played just 10 snaps in the last three games: six the week after, four the following week, and then zero in the season finale.
With their one-two tight end punch restored, the tackle-eligible was all but ignored down the stretch when it once appeared to be an integral part of the Steelers’ offensive strategy by midseason. Or at least it certainly appeared that way as Adams was pancaking a defender into the end zone in front of Le’Veon Bell for a score.
Is this the plan going forward, to resume the two tight end dynamic that has long been a part of the Steelers’ offense? Was the tackle-eligible just a harmless experiment birthed out of desperation? After all, as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and the Steelers needed tight ends in a bad way last year.
After all, it would seem to make sense to maximize the number of people on the field capable of catching a football, especially when you have a legitimate franchise quarterback at your disposal such as Ben Roethlisberger.
Spaeth may not be Rob Gronkowski, but he’s capable of being a receiving threat. He didn’t get to show it much last season thanks to his injury, but at least his one catch came down the seam in the end zone on a play in which he was able to use his massive 6’7” frame to box out the defender.
I don’t think I want to see Adams or Beachum trying that one, let alone Guy Whimper, who actually has a touchdown or two in his time with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The problem, however, is that the Steelers firmly believe that they are at least six-deep along the offensive line, and they have too high a level investment in Adams for him to be rotting away on the bench, so they surely want to keep him active and get him snaps.
Short of winning a starting job, instituting a tackle rotation would be an atrocious idea, so the next best thing would be to at least line him up for a couple of running plays a game.
But if he wins the right tackle job? What to do with Marcus Gilbert? Could he play the tackle-eligible role? Or is the tackle-eligible doomed to go the way of the dodo in the Steelers’ offense?