It seems that while I was away, the Pittsburgh Steelers elected to start chipping away at my namesakes on the 53-man roster, releasing longtime veteran tight end Matt Spaeth with a failed physical designation, citing his slow rehabilitation from offseason knee surgery that would have left him unprepared to contribute. He did not contribute during the spring at all.
That leaves just two long, long, longshots in my name in long snapper Matt Dooley and tackle Matt Feiler, neither of whom, frankly, have much hope of making the roster. Feiler may have an outside chance of making the practice squad, but even that seems unlikely.
So it goes without saying that the release of Spaeth hit me pretty hard. I kid, of course, though I do find myself disappointed in his release, an in particular the nature of his release, even if I knew all the while that he found himself in the most vulnerable position in terms of his roster spot in his career.
An original Mike Tomlin draft pick from the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft, he was one of three still on the roster from that initial Tomlin class, even while the roster bore no representation from the entirety of the 2008 and 2009 classes. The re-signing of David Johnson changed that in the case of the 2009 class, however.
The Johnson signing, in fact, likely had an awful lot to do with Spaeth’s health as well, in conjunction with the retirement of Heath Miller, because the Steelers found themselves awfully lacking in tight ends experienced in their system.
Johnson played for the Steelers from 2009 to 2013, but spent the past two seasons with the Chargers. He knows the current offense, however, and the tight end coach has been here for while a while, so he is stepping in and returning as a veteran, even if he has been gone for two years.
I thought that Spaeth’s position in the wake of Miller’s retirement was relatively secure because of the fact that without him, there was such a dearth of experience in the tight end room. To lose both Miller and Spaeth in one fell swoop in the hopes of Jesse James being ready to take the mantle so quickly seemed unlikely.
His health seems to have made that a moot point, however, and the Steelers will have to make do without him, which is not as simple as it might seem. Spaeth was the team’s best run blocker at the position, even better than Miller in his later years, and better than James, who is still finding his way.
The running game in particularly may take a hit without him this year, I believe, as James develops. I will be particularly interested to see how they use Johnson, and how the growth of Roosevelt Nix factors into their blocking strategies this season, with perhaps more two-back and fewer two-tight-end sets.