By Matthew Marczi
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin spoke to the media Tuesday in preparation for the team’s Week 1 matchup against the Tennessee Titans. He was asked to address a myriad of topics, from anointing Isaac Redman the opening day starter at running back to confirming that the “chief reason” for the acquisition of interior lineman Cody Wallace was his ability to play center as the preference over John Malecki.
One other topic addressed was the tight end position, and how it will be shaped as the top end of the depth chart—Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, the latter of whom was just placed on the short-term Reserve/Injured List—works its way back from injury.
Asked who will start at tight end, Tomlin was hesitant to give an answer, which is not surprising given the fairly equal talent level, yet varied skill sets, of the three tight ends currently on the roster that are ready for game action. Here is what he said, in part:
“Much like we’ve done through the majority of the preseason, specifically the third preseason game, that’s going to be a committee-oriented group based on their skill sets. I think that’s an appropriate way to do it. We have Kelvin Beachum, who is an offensive tackle, that’s capable in that area.”
Considering the amount of two tight end sets that the Steelers like to employ, it is possible that the team will ‘start’ two tight ends on the first play of the game regularly, and those names could be interchangeable. That includes Beachum, who Jim Wexell reports is indeed receiving reps at tight end in practice.
The currently healthy tight ends on the roster are David Johnson, David Paulson, and Michael Palmer, although Tomlin did characterize Johnson as a player still working his way back despite technically topping the depth chart of healthy bodies.
Given the questionable status of fullback Will Johnson for opening day, who is nursing a hamstring, Johnson may very well be asked to start at fullback, as he is listed as the backup at the position, and played there before. However, he is also capable of blocking on the line—an area in which he has improved—and has limited receiving skills as well.
David Paulson is obviously known primarily as a receiving threat, and one should expect him to see the bulk of the targets at the tight end position until Miller is up and running. He has some capabilities as a blocker and is more apt to do so on the move, but as an in-line blocker in isolation, he can be physically overmatched.
Palmer is primarily an in-line blocker, a skill that the Steelers evidently coveted in the veteran tight end playing opposite Tony Gonzalez with the Atlanta Falcons prior to being released in training camp. The team was obviously fond of his work in the same area after being claimed off waivers, as he is still on the roster.
Palmer was able to enhance his repertoire as the preseason went on, catching four passes on six targets over the last two games for 52 yards, including a 25-yard reception on a third and 15. His special teams ability should keep him as a game day active at least until Miller is back.