It wasn’t until about his third season or so that former Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Matt Spaeth really started to come into his own in terms of who he was going to be as a player, which was, by the end of his career, a top-flight blocking tight end.
And he was actually a tight end. He was even an award-winner at the position in college. Third-year Zach Gentry, who is finally getting the chance to be a significant contributor this season, had to learn the position after transitioning from quarterback. But the Steelers are rather pleased with his development.
“His progression, how hard he’s worked, I’m really happy for him with the way he’s gotten involved in our offense, blocking and pass-catching”, offensive coordinator Matt Canada told reporters yesterday, via transcript. “We think he’s a viable threat in the pass game and, obviously, we have a Hall of Fame quarterback who’s gonna throw it to the guy that’s open. So, if they don’t cover him, to your point, then he’s gonna get the ball. But he’s done a very good job”.
Coming out of college, it was his pass-catching skills that got him drafted, and former Steelers tight ends coach James Daniel wasn’t the slightest bit shy in making it very clear he was a pass-catcher at that point and would have to learn blocking.
Spaeth was, believe it or not, something of a pass-catcher in college as well, putting up over 1200 yards on 109 receptions and 12 touchdowns during his career at Minnesota and winning the John Mackey Award as a senior as the number one tight end in the country.
Like Spaeth, though, right now he is the Steelers’ blocking tight end, having developed over the past three offseasons. It helps to have a 6’8” frame on which plenty of muscle could be added, and he’s even looking more like Spaeth these days, to whom quarterback Ben Roethlisberger compared him earlier in the week.
But we could see him funneled into the passing game more as the season progresses. He caught three passes for 39 yards on Sunday, including a 24-yarder open down the middle of the field. He now has six receptions on the season for 60 yards—which is actually more than Spaeth had in all but two of his seasons, though of course he played during a more run-oriented era.
With JuJu Smith-Schuster gone, however, and Eric Ebron falling to a more reduced role—and currently battling injury—there is more time for him to contribute. He played 45 snaps on Sunday, by far a career high, and is now up to 142 on the season. He’s not going to play that much every week, but he should get at least a couple dozen snaps a week.