Mike Tomlin used to be one who would barely acknowledge the existence of a rookie during spring workouts, much less praise him. These days though, he’s taken a softer stance. After praising Najee Harris earlier this offseason, he showed some love for second round pick TE Pat Freiermuth during a Thursday post-practice Zoom call.
“I just see Pat out there working his tail off and making plays and having a good off season,” Tomlin said. “I’m excited about that.”
It’s not much to go off of but it’s something. Freiermuth hasn’t been the focal point of the spring. That’s been reserved for guys like Harris, Dwayne Haskins, and James Pierre.
But there’s been nothing to suggest the Steelers are getting a different player from the man they drafted. Freiermuth was regarded as being team-first, having a solid work ethic, and dependable hands. In some of the clips I saw of rookie minicamp, he made tough catches against the likes of fourth round pick Buddy Johnson. Freiermuth’s hands, blocking, and overall well-roundedness is his skillset. He arguably already has the best hands of any tight end on the roster. Ebron’s are clearly suspect and Kevin Rader has shown drop woes in training camp (he tied for the 2019 lead with five of them) and dropped his lone target last season.
In his Zoom interview, Ebron offered similar praise.
“Pat’s going to be good, man,” Ebron said Thursday. “Pat’s going to be pretty good. It’s hard to dictate what everyone looks like in shorts and helmets, because everybody looks good, but I’m excited to see him grow as a tight end.”
Provided the team doesn’t add to the position before Week One, Freiermuth is expected to open up as the Steelers’ #2 tight end behind Ebron. He could reasonably play 450-550 snaps this season and potentially even work ahead of Ebron in some run situations out of 11 personnel. Still, as we recently noted, it’s generally difficult for rookie tight ends to make a massive Year One impact. A 20 catch, 200 yard, two touchdown season would be considered solid for a guy in his position. An Eric Green/Heath Miller type of rookie year is difficult to imagine unless there’s a long-term injury to Ebron.
With Ebron set to become a free agent in the offseason, Freiermuth could become the full-time starter in 2022. That’s likely how the team envisions things going and the reason why they finally invested a high draft pick in the position, the first time they’ve done so since Matt Spaeth in 2007.