View Full Version : Talkin' TEs: Steelers Boast Versatility and Depth

Hawaii 5-0
05-14-2012, 02:13 PM
Talkin' Tight Ends: Steelers Boast Versatility and Depth

by Neal Coolong on May 14, 2012


Even with the four-game suspension doled out to TE Weslye Saunders for failure of the league's substance abuse policy, the Pittsburgh Steelers boast one of the league's deeper and more versatile tight ends group.

The question is how will all of them meld together, and which roles might they be playing?

Outside of TE Heath Miller, how is this all going to work?
Miller is one of the game's best all-around tight ends, a characteristic that seems to be dropping in value, in the eyes of many, due to the influx of receivers being moved in-line. Saints TE Jimmy Graham is among the worst blockers at his position, but his gawdy receiving numbers landed him in the Pro Bowl in 2011. Don't expect those kinds of numbers from Miller, or any Steelers tight end, but they certainly can improve on their 67 combined receptions (Miller 51, David Johnson 12, Saunders 4).

Under offensive coordinator Todd Haley, the Steelers will still likely utilize 2-TE formations, but oftentimes that extra tight end will come in the form of an H-back - a combination of a tight end and a fullback. The H-back is frequently in motion, and can be used as a lead blocker, a short-route receiver and an edge protector. Johnson was utilized in this capacity fairly often last year, and he will likely man that spot again.

Free agent signee Leonard Pope has played this role for Haley in both Arizona and Kansas City. While his pricetag is amenable, he may end up serving essentially as a body to help the other tight ends, and the rest of the offense, learn Haley's structure, and to play in spot duty while Saunders serves his suspension.

What is Saunders' situation?
While under suspension, he is technically exempt from the roster. The Steelers haven't released him and he's free to participate with the team during training camp and preseason. When the regular season starts, Saunders can have no access to the team or its facilities. Upon his return, the Steelers will need to clear room on the 53-man roster if they wish to keep him.

Given the amount of snaps he was taking toward the end of the season, it's likely they'll keep him around after his suspension. While it wouldn't be unheard of for them to keep a fourth tight end, it seems more likely either Johnson (playing out his 1-year restricted free agency deal) or Pope (also a 1-year deal) will get the ax.

Saunders showed enough in his route running to suggest he could be an effective receiving weapon, although his blocking, not unexpectedly, could still use some work. Entering his second season, and previously undrafted, Saunders has already repaid the team's initial investment, and as soon as he gets out of the doghouse because of his suspension (speculation suggested it was a positive test for ADHD medication for which he had a prescription, but failed to disclose it to the league), he'll likely continue his upward swing in the depth chart.

Will we see the tight end utilized more in the red zone?
Seeing any position used more effectively in the red zone would be a welcome change, after finishing just south of the middle of the pack at 50.91 percent of red zone trips resulting in touchdowns in 2011. Of the team's 21 touchdown receptions, four of them came from tight ends. The theory is taller, bigger bodies moving off play-action within the red zone can be a quarterback's favorite throw. To do that, a team must run the ball consistently to show the threat of the run before it can sell a play-action pass. Pittsburgh simply didn't run consistently (in frequency and quality) in 2011.

If they are to employ the tight end more in receiving, they'll have to earn it off the speed of the running backs. Incidentally, though, Haley's Chiefs finished dead last in the NFL in red zone scoring at 33.33 percent. They were 8th in the NFL in 2010 though (59.62 percent).

Does Wes Lyons have any better of a chance of making the team as a tight end than he did a wide receiver?
I don't think he really does. While it would be fun to brag out the Steelers' NBA front court of tight ends (Pope is 6-foot-9, Lyons is 6-foot-8, Miller is 6-foot-5), Lyons' best bet is to make the practice squad, and continue to learn the position. What he represents, though, is a breath of fresh air and offensive ingenuity, two things Haley brings to the franchise that's been led offensively by Bruce Arians since 2007. Finding more creative ways to create mis-matches is Haley's trademark, and the possible development of Lyons is, if nothing else, at least a sign he's willing to think outside the box.

That and a buck fifty will get you a cup of coffee and a Snickers, but the mentality could spring out other places this upcoming year.


Galax Steeler
05-14-2012, 02:28 PM
I really like Miller if we had a line that could block for Ben and let Miller get out in the flat he would have some great numbers in his career. He has had to stay in and try to help keep Ben upright alot that is why his numbers are not so flashy.

Hawaii 5-0
05-14-2012, 04:56 PM
Post Draft State Of The Steelers Tight Ends & Fullbacks

Monday, May 14th, 2012 by Dave Bryan

We continue on with our post draft look at the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers by looking at the depth chart of the tight end and fullback positions. This is the fifth positional breakdown of the roster we have done after already looking at the offensive line, defensive line, running backs and wide receivers thus far.

Heath Miller - Miller quietly put up his second best season as a pro in 2011 by catching 51 passes for 631 yards to go along with 2 touchdowns. He also continued to be one of the best blocking tight ends in the league as he played nearly 1050 offensive snaps last season. New offensive coordinator Todd Haley knows the importance of Miller in the offense and mentioned him by name during his introductory press conference. With the talent that the Steelers currently have at the wide receiver position, it should provide plenty of room for Miller in the seam of the field as well as some good mismatch opportunities against slower linebackers in addition in the passing game. The Steelers must try to find a few ways to spell Miller more than they have in the past in the coming seasons as to not wear him down so much, but that is easier said than done. Miller is perhaps the most underrated complete tight end in the NFL right now and another 50 catch season could very well be in his future in 2012.

Leonard Pope - Pope was signed as an unrestricted free agent just before the draft and has played for Haley when both were with the Arizona Cardinals and the Kansas City Chiefs. The contribution that Pope will make immediately to the team will be during the offseason as he his likely well versed in the offense that Haley will be implementing now with the Steelers and he can help teach it to other members of the offense. Despite his 6 foot, 8 inch size, Pope is not regarded as good run blocker, in fact he is pretty less than average in that category. He also is not a huge threat in the passing game either and he recorded just 24 receptions with the Chiefs last season, a career best for him. With Weslye Saunders slated to start the season on the suspended list for the first four games of the 2012 season, Pope could be regarded as insurance until he returns. Keep in mind that the base salary of Pope should be guaranteed if on the roster week 1 and this will make him hard to release after that point. The Steelers likely hope the younger talent on the roster can make him expendable after the preseason, but Pope will be hard to bump thanks to his presumed knowledge of the offense.

Weslye Saunders - Saunders was used predominantly as a blocker in three tight end sets his rookie season and he must miss the first four games of 2012 after testing positive for a banned substance as I stated above. Saunders was just thrown to 7 times in total last season and he caught just 4 passes. He only saw less than 250 snaps on offense and thus his potential value is still untapped heading into his second season. Some speculate that the positive test has him in hot water with the Steelers organization, but I do not see them cutting bait with him over his stupid mistake to take Aderall. The Steelers are very thin at the tight end spot and I guess they will at least carry Saunders on the suspended list for the first four games and decide their need for him at that point. A full offseason of OTA sessions and mini-camps should help his development as he missed that last year thanks to the lockout.

David Johnson - Johnson is listed as a tight end on the roster, but is one of two players attending the fullback meetings according to running back Jonathan Dwyer. Although he has played on the line as a tight end quite a bit since being drafted, he is better served as a lead blocker than he is as an inline tight end. He offers very little in the passing game and has shown to be pretty one dimensional since being drafted. His special teams contributions are also hard to find, so despite him signing a one-year tender this offseason, he is in no way considered a roster lock. His stiffest competition could likely come from free agent Will Johnson or Jamie McCoy, who ended the season on the Steelers practice squad.

David Paulson - Paulson was drafted in the seventh round out of Oregon and is a move type of tight end with good hands. Paulson is nowhere close to being considered an inline tight end as he is not accomplished in the blocking department. Paulson must prove that he can separate from linebackers at the next level and he must show he has some potential as a blocker in camp to claim a roster spot. He must also prove he is worthy of that spot by contributing on special teams first and foremost as a number three tight end on the Steelers is required to contribute in that capacity. Paulson is surrounded by equal talent on the roster and that will make it tough for him to win a roster spot. His worse case scenario could very well be that he earns a practice squad spot initially and work towards 2013 instead.

Will Johnson - The WVU product could be the dark horse to watch in camp. Like David Johnson, Will is attending the fullback meetings thus far this offseason according to Dwyer. While we only have his college tape to go on, the converted wide receiver certainly looks smooth out of the backfield as a receiver. The biggest question will be his ability to lead block if used as a fullback and how he handles the occasional use as an inline blocker. All we can do is speculate heading into the preseason, but this Johnson could very well steal the roster spot of the other Johnson. Watch him closely during preseason games as to how early he gets into the games and how he is used is well.

Jamie McCoy - McCoy showed a few bright spots last preseason as a lead blocker and impressed enough that the Steelers had him around as a member of the practice squad last season. McCoy will have plenty of competition again this year and he figures to be used as a tight end/h-back player much like Paulson this year in the preseason. McCoy will truly have his work cut out for him to win a roster spot.

Wes Lyons - Lyons certainly seems to have quite the fan club for a player that could not even do enough to make the practice squad as a tall wide receiver last season. Lyons has now bulked up and made the move to tight end, but that likely will not change the end result for him. Lyons is big for sure, but he was never known as a run blocker at WVU and he only had 42 receptions as a wide receiver there in addition. With a log jam ahead of him at the tight end position, Lyons must stick out above the competition like he does when standing in the huddle. It would be a pretty big surprise if he does enough to make the practice squad and it would be a minor miracle if he made the 53 man roster.

Post Draft Prediction 53 Man Roster Tight Ends & Fullbacks

Heath Miller
Leonard Pope
David Paulson
David Johnson
Weslye Saunders - Suspended


05-14-2012, 07:02 PM
I'll still say Will Johnson over David Johnson barring any kind of injury for WJ. That settles the H-back role

Now who would be the 2 TEs? (Based on Saunders being wanted by camp's end.)
Miller and...
if it's Pope you can't cut him without paying his entire 2012 salary to him.
If it's Paulson you can hope to release him when Saunders returns and sign him to Practice Squad.
If it's no one, you could go with just Miller and the H-back for the first 4 games until Saunders returns
or you could just add Saunders to who's there and keep 4 total TEs and release another player from another position. It would seem like overkill for the team to have Miller, Pope, and Saunders.

Hawaii 5-0
05-14-2012, 09:08 PM
if it's Pope you can't cut him without paying his entire 2012 salary to him.

Pope's 2012 salary will only be guaranteed if he is on the roster for week 1, so as long as we cut Pope before then we wouldn't have to pay him his entire 2012 salary.

Hawaii 5-0
05-14-2012, 10:53 PM
MONDAY, 14 MAY 2012


-- YOU: A few questions about Wesley Saunders. I realize there's not much point in getting worked up about a third-string TE with scant on-field experience, but he seemed to have a bit of potential. What options do the Steelers have with him? They would have to keep him on the active roster through the suspension, which means an open spot on the roster for a quarter of the season--correct? Could they release him at the end of training camp and re-sign him after four weeks (assuming nobody else grabs him)? Or would the suspension clock only start running while he was on the active roster?

Also, has he done anything, a la Mike Adams, to get back in good graces with the team? Or has he essentially chosen to let his chips fall where they may?

ME: They can cut him, but he has to be on a team to serve the suspension. If they want him, there’s really no need to cut him because he doesn’t count on the roster and they don’t have to pay him while he’s on suspension. However, he’s going to have a tough time unless he can knock Leonard Pope or David Johnson off the roster because they’re not going to keep four tight ends.


05-15-2012, 08:07 AM
david johnson has to go


El-Gonzo Jackson
05-15-2012, 09:23 AM
david johnson has to go


I think you may be correct, but I dont see any of them as an H back and if we think back to Haley's KC offense, there was always a FB/H-back on the roster.

05-15-2012, 11:37 AM
i dont know much about wes johnson or pauelson they seem more like receving threats then blockers am i correct in assuming that?

05-15-2012, 03:34 PM
i dont know much about wes johnson or pauelson they seem more like receving threats then blockers am i correct in assuming that?

Absolutely. Looking at Paulson's highlights he is almost at this point a pure pass catching TE. He does block but will need to get stronger and better to make this team if their looking for an all around TE. At close to 6'4" i think he is more a TE like Miller then an H-back like Johnson and Johnson.

The verdict is still out on Wes Lyons but if he can block well and catch he would be in the running for a spot, but at 6'9" he could never be a H-back.

05-15-2012, 03:39 PM
david johnson has to go


El Gonzo is correct in assuming the team will have a Full back / H-back on the roster. So if David Johnson has to go then there is two men that have to knock him the hell outta here and that is Will Johnson or Jamie McCoy. Good luck men. I'm pulling for Will Johnson.

So then the question at TE is do they keep 2 or 3. Saunders' suspension really is going to make things interesting as to what they do. See my post above for some possibilities.

05-15-2012, 07:44 PM
david johnson has to go

:applaudit: :applaudit: :applaudit: :applaudit: :applaudit:
It couldn't happen soon enough for me.
That waste has to go this year.
Can't catch and can't block.

Hawaii 5-0
05-16-2012, 02:13 AM
Top 10 Position Battles to Watch in Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp

By Nick DeWitt (Featured Columnist) on May 15, 2012


Backup Tight End Combatants

David Johnson, Weslye Saunders, Leonard Pope, David Paulson, Wes Lyons, Jamie McCoy


You can probably drop the last two. I love Wes Lyons, but I view him more as a big receiver than a tight end. I wouldn't be surprised if he butted into that final receiver competition once again. He did that last season and I thought he came close.

The talent in the first four is just too overpowering, however.

Johnson is valuable because he can play fullback and he has a Frank Wychek-esque skill set. Saunders flashed some great big play ability, particularly for his size, but he must sit out four games for a suspension. Pope was the team's lone free-agent signing and he's a good blocker. Paulson was a seventh-round pick, but he was a great athlete at Oregon.

This could go any number of ways, and this might be the battle that takes the longest to solve.


So we're talking about three spots, maybe two. Johnson is almost a lock because of his ability to play fullback, but Pope could push him on that. Pope will likely make it because he's familiar with Todd Haley's system.

I like Saunders and Paulson, but I get the feeling the team would've cut Saunders by now if they didn't want to deal with his baggage. I'll take him with Paulson spending a year on the practice squad.