The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the optimist’s take on the following question.
Question: How much will newly-signed tight end Ladarius Green’s blocking ability by a factor in this offense?
When the Pittsburgh Steelers endured the retirement of Heath Miller earlier this offseason, then went out into free agency to bring in another tight end, agreeing to terms with Chargers tight end Ladarius Green to a four-year, $20 million contract, which he officially signed on the second day of free agency.
Not that Miller and Green are exactly the same sort of tight end. In fact, the Steelers have never really had a tight end like Green before, a ‘move’ tight end who lines up as a wide receiver with regularity and is more than capable of winning vertically with speed.
But this is still the Steelers we are discussing, and that means that their tight ends are going to block—or try to anyway. And Green comes to Pittsburgh with the reputation of not being all that much of a blocker, even if that reputation might not be entirely fair.
Sure, he will not be a Heath Miller in his prime, who was arguably the best two-way tight end of his time in an era in which the position has become increasingly divided between those who block (who are becoming scarce) and those who catch passes (continuing to be more and more prominent).
Green will be blocking plenty in Pittsburgh, to be sure, but I would also expect that the Steelers will utilize him primarily in ways that compliment his strengths as a receiver. Instead of staying inside in pass protection as often as Miller did, he will run more routes and serve as a release valve.
In the running game, he will certainly get his fair share of work, but I could see the team utilizing more 12 and 21 personnel than they did last season in obvious running situations instead. While he may be a bit late in his career to show much improvement, I do believe James Daniel can get a bit more out of him.
Most intriguing, I think, is how he might impact the Steelers’ screen game, because unlike their other tight ends of years past, he actually has the speed to get out to the perimeter and throw blocks, which is one area in which he did pretty well with the Chargers. We could see that be more of a factor in the offense this season.