Five games. 18 practices. That’s the allotted time the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers will have to prove themselves before playing in a meaningful game. The preseason is unique in the sense that it’s the only time when the scoreboard doesn’t matter. 0-5, 5-0, it really isn’t going to matter. It’s the time for self-evaluation, seeing how players progress. And that’s what we’ll do here. For each player on the 90 man roster, we’ll give a short overview of what we’re looking for from them entering camp. Today, we’ll onto the tight ends.
Heath Miller: There isn’t anything the 11 year veteran hasn’t shown or needs to prove. His ability to separate and generally be a weapon in the passing game is declining but that isn’t reversible. I just hope his blocking maintains a serviceable level, it noticeably started to slip in 2014. In this offense with the demand placed on tight ends to block, that is a bigger concern.
Catch a couple passes in practices, see how long of a “HEEEEEEEEATH” cheer you can draw from the St. Vincent crowd, and get your body right for Week 1.
Matt Spaeth: Ditto with Miller, there’s not much this lineman masquerading as a tight end can prove. Want to make sure he is healthy, a bit of a concern. He missed part of OTAs, presumably still recovering from offseason elbow surgery, and I want to see him make it through camp without issue.
Jesse James: Now there’s some unknowns here. A lot, obviously, with a fifth round rookie. James has a big frame but he failed to be a consistent blocker. Down blocking wasn’t an issue for him, and it shouldn’t be a struggle in the NFL. Want to see him bring his lower half more often in base blocks and if he can stick.
As a receiver, is he just going to be a guy who uses his frame to win or can he separate from linebackers? That’s my most pressing question.
Rob Blanchflower: I want to see him in every practice, every game. He can’t afford to lose reps or if he continues to miss time, the trust of coaches. We really need to see everything from Blanchflower, it’s almost like starting over. Has he gained weight? Has he improved as a blocker? Can he produce splash plays as a receiver? Is he comfortable playing all over the formation, in-line, off-line, pulling, blocking backside on split zone runs, etc. I’ve been critical of his chances but I’ll give him his fair shake. He just needs to make a big difference.
Cameron Clear: At his size, he should flash as a blocker. Especially in the preseason against undersized rookies who are a step slow, heads spinning from their first taste in the NFL. I’m interested in that part of his game, but not as much as others.
Clear saw little usage in college. Few snaps, fewer targets. At Texas A&M, he was an off the line tight end, consistently lining up in a two-point stance. In the NFL, especially when regarded as a blocker-first, he’ll be seeing most of his time in-line in a three-point stance. Want to see his explosion, both as a blocker and route runner, out of it. I bet Tomlin, who lives to watch over them, will chew him out once when they hit the sleds.
I’d like to see him prove to some people his ability as a receiver. He’ll get some chances and needs to take advantage.
Michael Egnew: We talk about pretty much every player on this site. But Egnew has barely gotten a mention. We’re far removed from his third round pick with the Miami Dolphins. Now, he’s a JAG that was brought in on a futures contract. On days where everyone is healthy, Egnew is the #6 tight end. For comparions sake, Bryce Davis was the #5 TE in camp last year. He saw three targets the entire camp. I’m not sure when or how Egnew will see reps and he could easily be cut the moment there’s an injury.