Considering the jumble that the Pittsburgh Steelers are experiencing tight end, and the way that the rest of the roster appears to be setting up, I have been giving a lot of consideration in recent weeks to what I think the Steelers could, or should do in the short term to address their issues at the position, which are plentiful.
With stalwart Heath Miller retired and Matt Spaeth having been released with a failed physical, it was incumbent upon free agent signing Ladarius Green to step up, but he remains on the Physically Unable to Perform List, not participating either due to his ankle, issues stemming from concussions, or both.
Even with Green healthy, though, I have been penciling in the Steelers carrying four tight ends in addition to Roosevelt Nix at fullback due to the youth, inexperience, and varying blocking abilities of those on the roster.
Though he still needs a lot of development, second-year tight end Jesse James is their best option as an in-line blocker, which says as much about himself as it does about the group as a whole. Green at his strength is only a competent blocker, while David Johnson is more of a move option, though he can do it if necessary.
The wildcard has always been Xavier Grimble and whether or not he flashes enough to merit a roster spot. If he remains inconsistent throughout the preseason, then he may only make the roster if Green remains on the PUP List.
Otherwise, I would give serious consideration to carrying 10 offensive linemen, with the final two spots going to Chris Hubbard and B.J. Finney, who currently appear to be battling for the ninth slot. But there is enough flexibility in the offensive line depth chart that this move may make sense.
Hubbard is not a fan favorite by any means, but his versatility could help the Steelers at tight end, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley has shown an affinity for using an extra lineman as a tackle-eligible. He did it with Kelvin Beachum before he took Mike Adams’ starting spot, and then he used Adams in that role. He used Alejandro Villanueva there for a couple of snaps.
But he used Hubbard as a tackle-eligible tight end a couple dozen times last season, and he could do that even more this year in a tight end group that lacks a clear blocking presence absent the likes of Miller and Spaeth.
Hubbard isn’t going to be catching any fade patterns, to be sure, but his in-game inclusion does not have to telegraph the play call. Of his 33 snaps played last season, 25 came at tight end. Of those, 16 were runs and nine were passes.
The Steelers averaged a net of 6.4 yards per play with Hubbard in at tight end, and those snaps account for five of the Steelers’ rushing touchdowns last season, four of them at the goal line. There’s no reason he can’t serve as a blocking tight end and one of 10 linemen rather than trying to carry four tight ends. You may be seeing more of this on Sundays: