The Pittsburgh Steelers focused heavily on upgrading their defense last season, with the additions of Devin Bush, Steven Nelson, Mark Barron, and Minkah Fitzpatrick topping the list. Those players helped transform the defense into one of the top units in football.
They didn’t have as many resources this offseason to bolster the offense, but the return of a healthy Ben Roethlisberger is bigger than anything they could have done through the market or trade. They still added Chase Claypool, as well as Derek Watt, and depth along the offensive line. But the key addition was tight end Eric Ebron to pair with Vance McDonald.
A former first-round pick, Ebron is knowns as a receiving-first tight end, and over the course of his career, he has compiled 283 receptions for 3195 yards and 27 touchdowns, being among the league leaders in red-zone receiving touchdowns over the past two seasons.
That is what the Steelers are hoping that he can bring to the team, but they’re not letting him off the hook in terms of their expectations of his being a complete tight end. General manager Kevin Colbert talked about that earlier today on 93.7 The Fan with Colin Dunlap and Chris Mack.
“Ebron, he’s a little different. He’s a very impressive receiving-capable tight end that really has answered some of the challenges that Coach Tomlin and Coach Daniel put to him about, hey, we need you to block, too”, he said. “In our scheme, the tight ends are called on to block”.
You’ve probably read about Mike Tomlin intently watching the tight ends throughout training camp as they work on the blocking sled, something that Ebron admitted last month that the Indianapolis Colts didn’t work on. He even intimated that what he did in Detroit wasn’t at the same level as what the Steelers ask of their tight ends, saying something to the effect that you think you leave that stuff behind in college.
Putting that work in and actually making him a functionally capable blocking tight end are two different things, of course, but McDonald would be their primary blocker at the position either way. His primary role will still be as a receiver.
“Having another guy like Eric available to Ben, it’s exciting”, Colbert admitted. “I don’t know how it will affect what goes on outside, but when you have a guy like that, with very capable receiving skills in the middle, that’s great, and when you have another big target in the red zone, that’s another very valuable commodity. We’re excited, and I’m pretty sure Ben’s excited to have another option in addition to Vance McDonald at that position”.
With his size and athleticism, Ebron is a player that the Steelers can move all around the formation in an effort to create mismatches. But the Steelers also hope he won’t be mismatched when they put him up at the end of the line and ask him to block a defensive end here and there.