There is little doubt that when the Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to terms on a two-year contract with tight end Eric Ebron this offseason, they had in mind the notion of making use of two-tight end sets within their offense. After all, they were still paying Vance McDonald, so it would probably be wise to use them.
According to tight ends coach James Daniel, that is the plan…sort of. If they can get a feel for it over the course of the next few weeks. He told reporters yesterday that it’s “a good possibility” we will see the offense employ more traditional two-tight end sets, “but with what we’re going through with this offseason, we’re really in-person for the first time, and we’ve got to evaluate things and try to see what’s going to fit”.
Still, he doubled down in saying it’s a good possibility, and added, “it’s an advantage for us if we can get to a situation where we have two tight ends on the field, but the main thing is, Pittsburgh Steelers winning. We’ll just evaluate the talent that we’ve got and see what gives us the best chance to win on Sundays”.
Of course, the key to employing a strong two-tight end set is having a pair of tight ends who can at least be respected as a two-way player, for both their blocking and their pass-catching ability. That’s one of the things they are working on now.
“If you’re thinking you’re going to two tight ends and you’re just going to be a passing team, then the defense can just get ready for that”, Daniel said. “If you’re going two tight ends and you’re just going to be a running team, then they can get ready for that”.
“But the ability to have the defense off-balance is the effect of you having two guys that are capable and can be good in both areas, hopefully”, he continued in discussing the important of balance within the two-tight end set.
“If you put two guys out there and they decide that they’re gonna put extra coverage out there for them, you should be effective running the ball. If they decide that they’re gonna have all their guys out there to stop you from running the ball, now you should be more effective in the passing game. So having the balance and having two guys that are capable really gives you an advantage in that situation”.
Both Ebron and McDonald are capable pass-catchers, the former more so. McDonald is a capable blocker when healthy, but 2019 was something of a down year. Ebron, on the other hand, has work to do as a blocker, and Daniel admitted yesterday that his blocking is something he is hoping that is “fixable”.
With the talent at wide receiver that the Steelers have, of course, don’t expect McDonald and Ebron to be on the field together for 500-plus snaps this year. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, and even Chase Claypool need to get their playing time. But having a strong two-tight end set gives the offense flexibility and depth that they haven’t had previously, and that is a key development.