You would think that the path to locking up a roster spot would have been made easier for third-year tight end David Paulson with so many of his fellow competitors for the spot sitting out to the side with various ailments.
You would think that, and you would be wrong.
As much as the coaching staff of the Pittsburgh Steelers may seem to have a soft spot for the former Oregon tight end, particularly for his receiving ability, it seems by virtually all accounts that he hasn’t been making any notable progress in his areas of weakness so far in training camp.
With the exception of rookie seventh-round draft selection Rob Blanchflower, however, his competitors are progressing, at least in terms of getting back on the field.
Veteran tight end Michael Palmer, in his second season with the Steelers, sat out one practice before returning to action yesterday. Undrafted rookie free agent Eric Waters also missed a day with some sort of back injury before making it back out on the field on Saturday.
A year ago, Palmer slowly but surely gained ground on Paulson after initially being signed as a camp body to combat the litany of injuries at the position.
He first proved his worth on special teams and penciled his way on to the roster, but by the end of the season, he was seeing some third tight end snaps ahead of Paulson.
Meanwhile, the rookie Waters has been turning some heads and making a name for himself so far in training camp, particularly with his strong blocking in backs on backers drills.
His hands had been on display since rookie minicamp, but he didn’t have much opportunity to show off his blocking much until the pads came on.
With Blanchflower currently sidelined with a high ankle, it would seem that his chances are beginning to slip, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make a recovery. It’s still early in camp, with four preseason games to go, and he could easily get himself back into the race before too long.
The Steelers carried four tight ends into the regular season last year in large part because of injuries, although they wouldn’t have done so without their special teams contributions.
That almost certainly won’t be the case this year with Will Johnson expected to take on many more tight end assignments.
Of course, I projected that Paulson would make the 53-man roster as training camp began because I expected that we would begin to see some growth and development in him in terms of becoming a complete tight end and working on his blocking.
But no amount of praise from Tomlin for taking on a blocking sled will be a substitute for the type of damage that Waters is doing to oncoming rushers, and Blanchflower has a similar reputation for being a blocker. Palmer is nothing special, but does everything adequately.
It will be interesting to see how the reps are divided once we get into the preseason games. Paulson will certainly have to work harder for his place on the roster than he had to in his first two years, unless of course an injury makes that decision for the team first.