One of the most important weapons in an offense’s arsenal is the element of unpredictability. Arguably the most flexible personnel package is the ‘12’ grouping, which features one running back, two tight ends, and two wide receivers, though the key is to have tight ends who are capable of both blocking and being a threat in the passing game.
With the second-round selection of Pat Freiermuth out of Penn State in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping to have enriched their capability of employing this personnel package in the upcoming season, and potentially adding a greater air of unpredictability in their schemes.
While they will remain a base ‘11’ offense that features JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, and Diontae Johnson at wide receiver, the ability to incorporate Freiermuth and veteran Eric Ebron, a receiving threat at tight end, into the mix is an idea that at least those on the field are excited about.
“Ebron, he’s an awesome guy”, Freiermuth told reporters yesterday following the opening day of rookie minicamp about the tight end group and how they can make use of it this year. “He’s a hell of a football player, so I’m excited to learn from him and see what is tasked for us in 12 personnel as to what we do, what we’re asked to do. I’m excited to see that stuff”.
The Steelers did have Vance McDonald as a second tight end to work with Ebron last season, but they did not extensively employ 12 personnel groupings a year ago. That could be for a number of reasons, from McDonald’s late-career limitations as a receiver and Ebron’s limitations as a blocker…as well as the creative limitations of former offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner.
Matt Canada is running the show starting in 2021, and he has a reputation of being a more diverse play-caller, though his prior experience comes from various posts at the college level, including Pitt. This will be his first opportunity to orchestrate a pro offense, even if he has been involved in ‘pro-style’ college systems.
After serving one season as quarterbacks coach last season with the Steelers, Canada is now the man in charge, but there is still so much we have yet to learn about how he will work the show. Freiermuth says that he is excited to see what comes of the 12 personnel, but the reality is that we don’t know.
“Selfishly, I like to have 13 personnel”, new tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts said during his post-selection press conference during the draft after the Steelers selected Freiermuth, “but the receiver group here is so, so talented, we’re gonna be fighting for playtime. It’s gonna be fun to have those meeting to game plan. When you have some of the targets that we’ve drafted, a fantastic runner, and the guys that are already on this roster, it’s gonna be fun to game plan and get ready each week”.