How the Steelers Can Use Paulson in Heath’s Absence

David PaulsonWith the Pittsburgh Steelers’ tight end situation in a precarious one at best with Heath Miller’s return unknown from knee surgery, Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley can do something about it. While neither Matt Spaeth nor David Paulson will be flying to Hawaii for Pro Bowls anytime soon, there are some things Haley can do to use Pauslon in Miller’s absence.

I realize in writing this that Head Coach Mike Tomlin loves Matt Spaeth. Why? I have no idea. Perhaps he brings the best donuts to the morning meetings but I really don’t have a clue. For me, Spaeth does very little. He’s an average blocker and a below-average pass catcher but I’m pretty certain that right now, he’ll get the starting nod over Paulson when the season kicks off at home against Tennessee. I’ve been wrong before though and wouldn’t mind being wrong on that.

Assuming this is the situation and that Haley of course sticks with his two tight end sets he loves so much,  there are ways to get Pauslon involved to the point of being an effective receiver.

First we must take into account what we are dealing with in terms of NFL tight end talent with David Paulson. He’s a nice blocker, but will not dominate anyone at the point of attack and he is not going to blow by anyone with his very average speed, but there are things he can do well. Haley should go back and look at his tape from his final year at Oregon for starters.

In Haley’s quick-throw system, Paulson fits the bill perfectly if he can get off the line of scrimmage and that of course is a big ‘if.’ Paulson runs his look routes very well. This is basically where he runs directly to the outside gaining moderate depth as he goes. The idea is to get him the ball before the LB or DB can close.

I don’t think any tight end runs the choice route as well as Heath Miller, but Paulson can be effective especially against zone coverage. What Paulson will struggle to do is get deep. He just doesn’t have the speed or elusiveness to do so on a regular basis. Can he from time to time? Certainly, but we have to be real as well.

Granted, Paulson played in the Pac-12 where defenses don’t exactly rule the day. He was rarely challenged coming off the line of scrimmage but even so, former Ducks’ Head Coach Brian Kelly used him  extremely well by motioning him and even slipping him out of the backfield at times.

Most of the routes run by Paulson were seam routes or skinny posts or quick hitters in the flats. It’s this area where I feel he can be effective in the NFL. Because Paulson isn’t going to get great separation from linebackers and safeties in the NFL, Haley must create opportunities for him especially in short yardage situations.

Spaeth may be a slightly better blocker than Paulson but Paulson is a superior pass catcher and with Heath Miller absent, you still have to have a tight end that can catch the ball if Haley is going to continue deploying the multiple tight end sets that drive me crazy.

Paulson is not and never will be “Heath Miller-like.” That isn’t what this is about. It’s about accepting that Todd Haley likes the two TE system whether I do or not and finding ways to use Paulson rather than just having him on the field as ‘just another body.’

Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns Follow him on Twitter @steeldad and follow the website at @SCBlitz. He can be heard Mondays on Trib-Live Radio at 4pm ET talking Steelers.



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6 comments on “How the Steelers Can Use Paulson in Heath’s Absence

    • No lynch mob here Austin. I welcome all opinions… BTSC is one of the few Steelers blogs I respect as truly thoughtful, well-written and well-researched. I have no doubt their info on Spaeth is correct. My point in the article is that “if” Heath isn’t available, then I believe Haley has to find ways to get Paulson involved when using those two TE sets. For all I know, Paulson won’t make the final roster if Tomlin chooses to keep both Johnson’s. I doubt that, but its possible.

      Paulson is a much better receiver than Spaeth but nowhere near the blocker. Now if you’re arguing Spaeth should be ahead of Miller because he blocks better then I would have to strongly disagree but I don’t think this is what you mean. As always, thanks for reading.

      • I was simply making the point that Spaeth is a very good blocker. After this comment I felt it needed to be addressed. “I realize in writing this that Head Coach Mike Tomlin loves Matt Spaeth. Why? I have no idea. Perhaps he brings the best donuts to the morning meetings but I really don’t have a clue. For me, Spaeth does very little. He’s an average blocker and a below-average pass catcher but I’m pretty certain that right now.” Spaeth is an average receiver in the limited time he was used in that capacity, but he should be a force in the blocking aspect. Paulson hopefully will show something in the receiving game, the problem is he is not that big of a target and not that fast. Hopefully he turns into the Hines Ward of TEs and really works on his route running and finding the openings in the coverage and has some reliable hands, some down field blocks wouldn’t hurt. We can use someone who can get to the outside to throw a block on DBs to spring some large gains on screen passes.

        • Spaeth is a really good blocker but there are probably some offensive tackles who have caught more passes than him last year. My biggest concern at TE is will Heath Miller who has been great, will he
          be able to get back to the level he played at last year. If not can Paulson or Spaeth fill
          the void. I don’t think they can so I have to assume that the offense will focus more on utilizing
          running backs in the passing game and focusing on being more of a mauling running
          attack. Actually I prefer that style because teams aren’t going to want to play a team
          like that in this pass happy league, and it will protect the Defense and Ben. If this is the
          approach I would expect to see 2000 to 2300 yards on the ground which would be tremendous.

          • That’s my concern with Spaeth as well Mike. Good guy and all but not what I think of when I think of ‘pass catching tight end.’

            I agree that a bruising running game could be very positive considering the way the league is today. My personal feeling is that this can still be accomplished through a strong passing game and wide sets as well. Defenses are so darn fast these days. Have to spread them out.

          • I’d be happy if we can simply utilize Spaeth in the endzone, he doesn’t have to worry about running routes or getting open, he simply just needs to be bigger, jump and catch the ball. I too would like to see the running game utilized more, as well as the short passing game that was featured last year. Get our TEs and athletic down field blocking and get the ball to Brown and Sanders and make something happen, simply to move the chains and keep Ben from getting banged up. Would also like to see Bell featured in the passing game, he is more than capable of catching the ball and either making people miss or running them over, I’d like to see Will Johnson utilized the same way out of the backfield.

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