The Pittsburgh Steelers are now training camp, following the most unique offseason in the NFL since at least World War II. While it didn’t involve a player lockout, teams still did not have physical access to their players, though they were at least able to meet with them virtually.
Even training camp will look much different from the norm, and a big part of that will be the fact that there will be no games along the way to prepare for. There will be no preseason played in 2020, so the first time the Steelers take the field in 2020 will be for the season opener against the New York Giants.
Before we get there, however, there are a number of issues that are outstanding on this team, and this year’s edition of training camp will not provide the level of thoroughness that teams are normally used to in trying to answer those questions.
Questions like, what is the starting offensive line going to look like? Will it include Zach Banner or Chukwuma Okorafor? Who will be the primary nose tackle? How will Ben Roethlisberger look—and the other quarterbacks as well? Now, we even have questions about whether or not players will be in quarantine.
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Will Ben Roethlisberger favor Eric Ebron in the offense as a passing target?
It’s no secret that Ben Roethlisberger, like any quarterback, likes tall targets. He also, like any quarterback, likes tight ends who can catch the ball and who are athletic, who are able to win one-on-one matches down the field with their craft.
We saw in the brief period of time that he had to work with Ladarius Green several years ago, for example, that he chose to target the tight end at a high rate. Vance McDonald hasn’t had the same consistency in targets—health being a factor there—but Ebron could fit the bill.
During the 2018 season with the Indianapolis Colts, working with Andrew Luck, Ebron was targeted over 100 times, facing an average depth of target of 9.5 yards past the line of scrimmage. He averaged the same last year. In comparison, McDonald as averaged a depth of target 5.2 yards beyond the line of scrimmage over the past two seasons, roughly even in either year.
This is just one of the statistics that provide an indicator that Ebron is a different type of tight end than Roethlisberger has been exposed to throughout nearly his entire career. While he loved throwing to Heath Miller, he was more of a possession target, while Ebron can create mismatches down the field. Both parties seem very eager to exploit this matchup during the 2020 season.