With 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 www.steelcityblitz.com. 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.