It’s easy to praise a rookie while he’s doing well, but until he starts struggling, that seems to be all second-round tight end Pat Freiermuth is getting from his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates, now eight games into his career. While he is coming along as a blocker, he has been making an impact as a reliable pass-catcher, topped off by a two-touchdown showing on Monday night.
“It’s kind of one of those ones where they had a DB on him and so you knew, one, you had the matchup size-wise. And then the second thing was the defender had his back to me”, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said of his second touchdown pass to Freiermuth, speaking to reporters yesterday.
“We always say in the NFL, if a defender’s back is to the quarterback, that should be a win”, he continued. “I didn’t like where I threw the ball. It was okay. It wasn’t the best spot. But Pat was able to kind of muscle it and get over top. He just keeps proving that he can be trusted with pretty much anything”.
Named a co-starter along with Eric Ebron from the get-go, Freiermuth has now logged 310 snaps on offense for the Steelers, or 57 percent of the snaps, and he’s played about 75 percent in the two games played since the bye week.
During the last three-game stretch, following wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster’s injury, he has been targeted 20 times, recording 16 receptions for 145 yards and three touchdowns. Each week, he is also growing as a run-after-contact player after the catch as well, something that has been a focus for him.
Freiermuth already has the third-most touchdowns ever recorded by a Steelers rookie tight end in franchise history, and has three to go to tie the team record set by Eric Green in 1990 with seven. Heath Miller caught six touchdown passes during his rookie season in 2005.
His 27 receptions already ranks third as well, behind only Miller’s 39 in 2005 and Green’s 34 and 1990. In terms of receiving yards, at 245, he stands fifth in franchise history for rookie tight ends. Miller produced 459 yards in 2005, Green 387 in 1990. Dennis Hughes in 1970 recorded 332 yards, his only year producing as a pass-catcher, while John McMakin in 1972 gained 277 yards, which would be the most productive season of his career as a third-round draft pick.
One certainly gets the sense that Freiermuth isn’t going to be any one-year wonder, however, and that he is going to firmly establish himself as that sort of tight end who is his quarterback’s best friend. His reliable hands certainly make him a tempting target whenever he is open, and his adaptability to off-script plays is continuing to evolve each week, producing his first touchdown of Monday night’s game.