Whether they like it or not, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had to lean heavily on their rookie draft class this year just to field some semblance of a competent starting lineup, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, where they have each of their top four draft picks starting.
There’s the two starting along the offensive line, of course, in third-round center Kendrick Green and fourth-round tackle Dan Moore Jr. Obviously, you have the first-round draft pick, running back Najee Harris, with four touchdowns and averaging more than 100 yards from scrimmage per game.
And then there is the man they call MUUUTTTHHH, Pat Freiermuth, the second-round tight end out of Penn State. He was named a co-starter along with Eric Ebron at the beginning of the regular season, and has largely taken over the role as the coaches increasingly see him develop under new tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts.
“Fredo’s done a great job with him. You look at him being a rookie and all the things we’re asking him to do, and I think he gets better every week”, offensive coordinator Matt Canada told reporters of Freiermuth yesterday, via transcript. “That’s gonna continue to grow”.
That’s in both the blocking and the receiving department, though of course the pass-catching component of the position tends to be the more noticeable. And he does have 18 receptions on the season, on just 20 targets, with a touchdown. That’s a product of his growing relationship with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“The rapport with Ben is big and important and nothing but time and reps gets that done”, Canada said. “We can all talk about this and that. Until you’re out there playing, it doesn’t happen. I think he’s doing a great job and we have to continue to try and put him in a position to make plays”.
Really, there hasn’t seemed to have been a time all year in which that hasn’t been strong. They were connecting in training camp. In just three drives in the preseason, Roethlisberger hit Freiermuth for two touchdowns. Roethlisberger hasn’t had a tight end with this sort of innate understanding and talent since Heath Miller
Canada praised the rookie’s “knowledge of the speed of the game”, calling him “a great student of the game. He cares. He wants to win. He wants to be where he’s supposed to be, do what he’s supposed to do”.
He received career highs in Sunday’s game with seven catches on seven targets for 58 yards, but everybody in the building recognizes that there is still plenty of meat on that bone for Freiermuth to grow into a more complete, and more impactful, tight end, in every phase of the game. Not just because of his abilities, not just because of his intelligence, but because of his desire and willingness to dedicate himself to the work.