The Pittsburgh Steelers have certainly had pairs of tight ends in the past that they liked. Even just two years ago, they had Vance McDonald and Jesse James, who combined for over 1000 yards in the passing game with six touchdowns on the season. But none of them were like what the duo of McDonald and Eric Ebron can be.
Even still, entering his eighth season, the Steelers believe that McDonald possesses further untapped potential in the passing game. He did have a career year in 2018 with 50 receptions for 610 yards and four touchdowns, very solid numbers.
In a vacuum, he could produce even more than that. But with Ebron also paired with him, he won’t have to. Ebron is readily capable of putting up 500-700 yards by himself. He has been one of the most dangerous targets in the red zone over the past couple of years as well, even considering his ankle injury a year ago. They are listed as co-starters on the depth chart, and both should be made good use of this season.
“I’m excited about both guys. Vance and Ebron are two players that show a lot in the pass game, obviously, very good athletically, but also aren’t afraid to block”, their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, told reporters earlier today.
“I think they’re well-rounded tight ends that take pride in everything we ask them to do”, he added. “We’re hoping that they can create some matchup problems at times, and we hope we can get them down the field at times. I think there’s a lot of things that we can do, and I think we’re still scratching the surfaces with the two-tight end sets”.
The Steelers didn’t really use a ton of traditional two-tight end sets last season. A lot of work that they did put in those packages featured Zach Banner as a tackle-eligible. In fact, they only had two traditional tight ends active during the season at a time pretty much all year. Nick Vannett logged about 400 snaps for them on the season, but a lot of that came with McDonald off the field, frequently injured.
They didn’t run with two tight ends a lot because the talent didn’t really justify it. This year, they do. The dilemma is that they also have the talent at wide receiver to run regularly out of three and even four-receiver sets. They even have the talent in the backfield to run a lot with two on the field, including the fullback.
The Steelers have given themselves the room to be as versatile on offense as they have been in a long time, perhaps ever. But now it’s up to the coaching staff to put themselves in the position to capitalize on this variability to put points on the board.