The Pittsburgh Steelers have wrapped things up in minicamp and put an end to their spring practices, which means that we are officially into the dead zone, the slowest time of the year for football news and general activity, the time between the end of spring drills in mid-June to the opening of training camps in late July.
Before we get there, we are going to take a look at how the team’s roster has evolved since prior to the draft, the last time that we broke down the Steelers by position, and obviously a lot has changed since they have fleshed out their 90-man roster.
Position: Tight End
Total Positional Figure: 6
Ladarius Green: Ladarius Green was the Steelers’ prized free agent signing that because a minor necessity in the wake of Heath Miller’s retirement. Of course, they have yet to see their new toy yet as he continues to recover from offseason ankle surgery, which ended his 2014 season. He should be good to go for training camp, however, and that should be fun to watch.
Matt Spaeth: In his 10th season, Matt Spaeth could very well be at risk of losing his roster spot. But with the loss of Miller, I believe that his value as a blocker will be elevated more than it had been, unless one of the younger tight ends shows consistent reliability there in training camp and in the preseason.
Jesse James: One of those young tight ends is obviously Jesse James, the Steelers’ fifth-round draft pick in 2015. He only just turned 2, and still has an awful lot of untapped potential. He stayed on the bench for the first half of his rookie season, but he played a fair amount during the second half, and even in the playoffs, where he sometimes played ahead of Spaeth in two tight end sets. When Miller was out, he also assumed the veteran’s role as Spaeth stayed in his lane.
Xavier Grimble: A practice squad player last season, Xavier Grimble certainly offers a lot of intrigue and is fun to talk about his very much hypothetical future, but the bottom line is that nobody has seen in play in a Steelers uniform before. He also has yet to make a 53-man roster. Could he make the roster? that depends entirely on what he shows himself to be, and we don’t really know that yet.
David Johnson: The Steelers wanted to add some veteran bulk after Miller retired, bringing back former Steeler David Johnson. Part of the motivation for his re-signing was no doubt the free agent loss of Will Johnson, who also had a versatile skill set. His best bet of making the roster is the team carrying four tight ends.
Paul Lang: A rookie undrafted free agent, Paul Lang is a product of Michigan State, but a Pittsburgh native. He only signed recently, about two weeks ago, after another undrafted rookie free agent tight end suffered an injury.
Notes and Camp Outlook: Quick note, tight ends Jay Rome and David Reeves were both signed as rookie undrafted free agents. Reeves was released when the Steelers signed Johnson, and Rome was replaced by Lang after getting injured.
The position will inevitably be an interesting one to watch considering the changes taking place. With Miller gone, Green is a new breed of tight end. But Miller was the workhorse, and that will force the distribution of responsibilities to evolve.
How will the pecking order shape up? Will James emerge as the clear and consistent number two tight end, or can Spaeth hold on? Is Grimble as good as he has been advertised in practice clips? How much do they value Johnson and his versatility?