It may well be fair to say that, at least as the 2020 season is concerned, the biggest addition the Pittsburgh Steelers made over the course of the offseason was to sign tight end Eric Ebron to a two-year, $12 million contract.
While he is coming off a down year with the Indianapolis Colts last season, a year in which he played through injury and his starting quarterback suddenly retired, Ebron was a Pro Bowl talent the year before that and scored 13 touchdowns.
But one of the most significant facets of his signing is the fact that he may not necessarily be the uniform number one tight end. They still have Vance McDonald, who, when healthy, they like a lot and whom they believe can be a big contributor.
Needless to say, the inclusion of multiple tight ends of potential quality leads some to wonder what their plans are for using them. While the Steelers used a decent amount of two-tight end sets last year, tackle Zach Banner accounted for a lot of that. How much will Ebron and McDonald be on the field together?
“The personnel usage week to week has a lot to do with what we desire to be that week based on those available to us, but also some opponent-related things relative to the matchup”, Tomlin said in answering that very question during an appearance for Steelers Nation Radio yesterday.
“Sometimes, some weeks, if we have two tight ends available, or three tight ends available for that matter, and from a matchup standpoint it creates issues for our opponent, then you might see that personnel group rise that week. And then it might be two or three subsequent weeks where it’s not as big because the variables aren’t in play”, he added.
Tomlin talked about the desire to be able to create “unique personnel groups and matchup issues” for opponents, and he sees the tight end pairing as potentially capable of providing some of that for the Steelers’ offense in 2020.
“We’re excited about having Ebron in the mix, and we know that he and Vance McDonald are the type of duo that is capable of creating issues for people with their talent”, he said. “We’re excited about having those guys. We’ll sort out the usage of those guys week to week, but we know invariably those guys and others have a chance to really make us versatile and make us an issue for those we play against”.
Of course it’s always easier said than done, and both of these tight ends have a not insignificant injury history, so it may be difficult getting them both on the field at the same time very often. Meanwhile, they’re four-deep at both wide receiver and running back—and remember, they dabbled with the pony backfield even while Roethlisberger was still healthy a year ago.
Hopefully the long and short of it is that the Steelers now have an abundance of talent at the skill positions that allows them to be as multiple and adaptable as possible to the circumstances—if they can manage and utilize those resources appropriately.