The Pittsburgh Steelers gave veteran tight end Michael Palmer the opportunity to start last night against the Carolina Panthers, and it almost seems as though everybody lost sight of him once he threw a strong lead block on the end around to Markus Wheaton for 15 yards that they ran to open the game.
It was his best play of the night. He followed that play up with a block away from the play, and then David Paulson accomplished the same feat on the Steelers’ third play of the drive.
Palmer ended the team’s opening series by missing the block on fourth and two that forced a turnover on downs.
On that play, lined up outside of Chris Hubbard serving as tackle-eligible, Palmer allowed the rushing linebacker to get his hands inside, punching and driving him backward, ripping and releasing to make the tackle on LeGarrette Blount.
A play like that outweighs a glancing block on an end around. Outside of a one-yard reception on a rollout pass from Landry Jones, those were the two defining moments of his night.
And the truth of the matter is that, at least as far as the fourth preseason game is concerned, Paulson’s blocking was fairly adequate.
Even if Palmer has been listed as the third tight end on the depth chart ahead of Paulson for the majority of the time, the presumptive reality has seemingly been that the job is Paulson’s to lose, and that would basically take displaying complete incompetence as a blocker.
He may have had his struggles in that area, particularly in the second preseason game, but he showed enough last night, in the minds of the decision makers at least, I believe, that he can perform well enough to serve as a third tight end.
The reality is that Matt Spaeth is the blocking tight end on this team, anyway, and will draw the toughest blocking assignments when he is on the field.
Paulson will largely be restricted to blocking on the outside when he is on the field. And I don’t know that the Steelers will run as much three tight end sets as they have.
You may be wondering about rookie Rob Blanchflower. After all, Paulson, like Blanchflower, was a seventh-round draft pick a few years ago who made the roster as a rookie without showing much more than Blanchflower has.
And Blanchflower had that nice scooping catch of a pass off the ground last night. But he also showed that he can certainly use a year of seasoning on the practice squad, where he should be safe. In the long term, he could be a promising third tight end, better than Paulson or Palmer, but he is not there yet. Paulson hasn’t done enough to lose; the question, however, is whether it was his job to lose, or to win.