You may have heard about Pittsburgh Steelers rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth a time or two over the course of the season so far. The second-round pick has certainly been involved in some key moments for the team through the first eight games of his career, and has four touchdowns to show for his work to date.
Over the past few weeks since wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster’s season-ending injury, Freiermuth has not only been playing more, but playing a larger role, and that includes getting targeted more and more from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, building a rapport that seems to be beyond their level of experience working together.
“The connection there, the trust there with both those guys of being where they need to be”, offensive coordinator Matt Canada said, has been key the last few weeks. The comments come via video provided by the team’s media department. “He makes big plays. Ben obviously looks to him at those big moments, and it continues to grow, so it’s exciting”.
The first-year offensive coordinator, though, was also quick to stress that their connection isn’t necessarily ‘natural’; rather, it’s the end result of quite a bit of hard work stretching throughout the offseason process, from both parties, including Roethlisberger working to test the rookie in practice settings with adverse situations.
“I think Ben does such a great job in practice of practicing putting balls in different spots for different guys, seeing what guys can do”, Canada said. “I think he speeds that up in the way that he practices. That’s just being a Hall of Fame quarterback. So I think that helps. But then Pat’s eagerness to get it done, to figure it out, what do you mean, where do you want me…it’s a combination of both, but I would certainly credit Ben for pushing it, leading it, which he does with everybody”.
On the season, the rookie has caught 27 passes on 33 targets for 245 yards and two touchdowns. He has caught three touchdown passes in just the past two games coming out of the bye week, and has 16 catches over the past three games.
“He’s doing a tremendous job”, Canada said of Freiermuth. “You look at what he’s done here coming in as a rookie and the plays he’s making, and the trust and the connection that he and Ben have got to so quickly, which takes time—both those guys have worked really hard to get that to happen, so I give both of them a lot of credit for that. But yeah, he’s made a lot of plays”.
And there are a lot more plays to come. This was a long-term investment in the future, the likes of which the Steelers have never made under head coach Mike Tomlin. The third round is the earliest he had ever drafted a tight end before, Matt Spaeth, back in his first season with the team in 2007.