View Full Version : Steelers' backup TEs Spaeth, McHugh get chance to step up

11-08-2008, 04:16 AM
Steelers' backup TEs Spaeth, McHugh get chance to step up
Saturday, November 08, 2008
By Robert Dvorchak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

.Injuries have forced the Steelers to make adjustments to the starting lineup nearly every week. Now it's time for the tight ends' turn.

Heath Miller, the durable and productive starter, suffered a high ankle sprain against the Washington Redskins and is out for the game tomorrow against the Indianapolis Colts. His loss was put in perspective recently when safety Troy Polamalu and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians each praised Miller as the best tight end in the AFC, even if his statistics aren't as gaudy as other tight ends.

But it has been coach Mike Tomlin's mantra that the expectations remain the same when a starter goes down.

This week, Matt Spaeth and Sean McHugh will step up a notch while Trai Essex will serve as the third tight end in goal-line situations, a job that used to be held by Max Starks until injuries on the offensive line made him the starter at left tackle.

The key is being ready.

"I've always prepared for the worst," Spaeth said. "Obviously, I know going into the week what plays and what things I'm in on. But I always prepare in case something did happen. You don't want something like [the injury to Miller], but you have to prepare for it. I always want to be ready, just in case."

In that sense, the workload hasn't changed appreciably. But the mental outlook is more certain knowing that Miller won't be available.

"I try to prepare like I'm going to do it all anyway," Spaeth said following practice. "But I have done even more preparation than I'm accustomed to. Every day, I've been trying to take just a little extra time, studying film and different things like that, just to make sure everything runs smoothly. Heath's great. He's our go-to guy. Now it's a chance for me to step in and try to take advantage of this opportunity."

A third-round draft choice in 2007, Spaeth has seen considerable action in two-tight end formations. He started his rookie season last year by catching four passes in his first four games, three of which went for touchdowns. But he only caught one pass in his final 10 games before hauling in one against Jacksonville in the playoffs.

"Every week, a lot of my stuff came in the red zone or on the goal line. I'm always involved in the game plan, and we run a lot of the same stuff," Spaeth said. "It's just kind of what the defenses give us. You just have to run your route, and, if you're open, Ben [Roethlisberger is] going to find you. If you're not, he's going to find the open guy."

McHugh, a four-year letterman at Penn State, came to the Steelers via a different route. After playing for the Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, he was signed in September by the Steelers, who loved his versatility as a tight end and fullback, the position he played his final two years at Penn State.

His week hasn't been all that different, either, except he knows he'll have additional responsibilities tomorrow.

"I still try to prepare each week like someone could go down or someone could need a blow here or there. I always try to be ready for both positions," he said.

"There's no question I'll be asked to do more. I think the key is -- the coach probably says it to the media and he says it to us all the time -- the expectations don't change when someone goes down. There's going to be times when the guys out on the field are going to count on me to do my job. I'm not going to go out there and try to be Heath. I'm going to try to fill in and play to the best of my ability and give a winning effort," McHugh said.

The Steelers have had their share of injuries -- almost no position has been immune, and among the starters out for the game against the Colts are running back Willie Parker, offensive left tackle Marvel Smith and cornerback Bryant McFadden -- but the mindset is to perform when called upon.

"I think that's the difference between good teams and bad teams. Every team is going to face injuries," McHugh said. "At the end of the day, guys are going to have to fill in and step up. That's what separates an average team from a great team. When someone does go down, someone else fills in without missing a beat."

11-08-2008, 12:08 PM
It will be nice to see what Spaeth can do when he gets the roll of not just a blocker, but a receiver TE as well. I liked his play last season, but has done nothing but block so far and letting him get out there and lets see what he can do.

11-08-2008, 01:03 PM
Damn, Miller's hurt. I guess I might need to look at a possible TE pickup for my fantasy league. Good Luck to Spaeth and McHugh. I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do.

11-08-2008, 02:39 PM
How long is Big Money out for???

We need him if we want to go places this year

11-08-2008, 02:49 PM
well high ankle sprains can linger for weeks.. depending on how bad it was and how much pain there is.. miller has to set his own time table for coming back