When one player goes down, it can have a domino effect in other areas. That is what we have seen of late at the tight end position for the Pittsburgh Steelers, resulting in a new manifestation during Sunday’s game, given the appearance of a first-time face being utilized in the tackle-eligible role.
When Vance McDonald missed the second game of the season with a back injury, the Steelers dusted off their tackle-eligible look that they used a lot down the stretch last year, Chris Hubbard serving in that role. But right tackle Marcus Gilbert suffered a hamstring injury at the end of that game.
Which meant that Hubbard had to start last week against the Bears, though with McDonald returning, it was not as significant. Still, they did work in preparing B.J. Finney for that role, but when Ramon Foster went down in the second quarter in Chicago, the third-year lineman had to be plugged into the offensive line.
Gilbert was still out for Sunday’s game, meaning that Hubbard had to make another start, but Foster was able to make his return. This time, Finney was able to see time in that tackle-eligible role—and in fact he even started the game against the Ravens in that capacity.
All told, he played 16 snaps in the tackle-eligible role, many of them coming on the Steelers’ final, game-clinching possession that featured runs on all but one play and came predominantly out of run-heavy packages in involving fullbacks and multiple tight ends.
Removing a penalty snap, the Steelers did average six yards per snap with Finney on the field, and that included their two explosive runs on the day for 23 and 21 yards. They also successfully converted on third and four with a six-yard run with him on the field.
The team ran the ball 13 times with Finney as a tackle-eligible tight end, and they recorded eight successful runs for their efforts, with a couple of other carries—four-yard runs on first and 10—coming close.
At one point, they even had him running a route, which was evidently the product of the Steelers not having the appropriate personnel on the field for the play that was called, and Ben Roethlisberger jokingly—perhaps?—lamented the fact that he did not target the former undrafted free agent.
This will not, in all likelihood, be a recurring role for Finney, however, as the coaching staff liked Hubbard in that spot. When Gilbert is able to return to the lineup, perhaps for this upcoming game hosting the Jaguars, the versatile reserve will likely resume those duties, though they now know that Finney is an option as well. Perhaps they may even use both at the same time.