The Pittsburgh Steelers now have two very experienced tight ends on their roster in Vance McDonald and Eric Ebron and as you can probably imagine, that has quarterback Ben Roethlisberger excited for various reasons. On Tuesday, Roethlisberger talked to the media for the first time in a very long time via a Zoom call and later in his interview, he was asked how he’s gone about trying to build a relationship with Ebron this offseason and what he thinks the newest tight end and a healthy McDonald will impact the offense in 2020.
Roethlisberger first talked about how McDonald and Ebron both can help the offense.
“I think having both those guys as playmakers on the field at the same time can create some matchup problems for a defense,” Roethlisberger said. “We did it a few years back when we had Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth on the field. You kind of can dictate what the defense does or gives you in terms of personnel. If they want to match up, then you can throw the ball. If they want to put smaller personnel to stop the pass, then you should be able to run the ball. So, having two kinds of dynamic weapons like that can still give you a lot in the run game.”
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said something very similar to what Roethlisberger said on Tuesday way back in May when asked about the team’s signing of Ebron and what the tight end brings to the offense.
“You want to be able to create unique personnel groups and matchups for those you compete against,” Tomlin said in May. “We are excited about having Ebron in the mix. We know that he and Vance McDonald are the type of duo that are capable of creating issues for people with their talent. We are excited about having those guys. We will sort out the usage of those guys week-to-week. We know invariably those guys and others have a chance to really make us versatile and make us an issue for those who we play against.”
While McDonald showed in his first season with the Steelers back in 2017 that he could run block, his last two seasons haven’t been as good in that phase of his game. As for Ebron, he enters his seventh NFL season being primarily known for his pass catching abilities and not so much his ability to run block. Regardless, Roethlisberger’s point about the offense possibly having the ability to be a lot more multiple in 2020 with two experienced tight ends on the field at that same time is a good one. While two tight end personnel groupings should be fine when it comes to the passing game, we’ll have to see if the unit is able to run effectively out of it and especially when one or both of McDonald and Ebron are attached to the line of scrimmage.
As for Roethlisberger building a relationship with Ebron this offseason and during the pandemic environment, the Steelers quarterback made it known that the two spent more time together than probably most people know and that they have worked some on their communication relationship since the tight end was signed in free agency.
“He stayed at my house earlier in the offseason when we were throwing and so we got to spend some time just sitting and talking and learning about each other,” Roethlisberger said of Ebron. “And He’s excited to be here and I’m excited to have him here and the other guys are excited to have him here, too.”
Can McDonald and Ebron ultimately be a better version of Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth? We’ll see, but in the meantime, Roethlisberger certainly believes his 2020 tandem of tight ends can help out in other areas other than the passing game.
“I think people sometimes get this perception that, okay, you’ve got two kind of skilled receivers, you’re going to use them just to pass,” Roethlisberger said Tuesday. “I know Vance, obviously, very well and spending time with Eric the last kind of few months, knowing from both of them that they don’t want to be lumped into the bubble of just being receiving tight ends. They want to do whatever it takes to block, to put their nose in the pile to run the ball. Things like that. And I think that’s encouraging because you know that they’ve got a skill set and that’s passing, especially Ebron catching passes, but he wants to help this team however he can. So, I think we can utilize those guys on multiple fronts in terms of helping this offense.”