Senquez Golson’s Lisfranc Injury = 1 Moment a Blogger Begs to Be Wrong

There are times when bloggers want to blast to the world: “I was right.” Then there are times when bloggers beg to have been wrong. Senquez Golson’s Lisfranc injury falls into the latter category.

senquez golson's lisfranc injury, senquez golson, lisfranc injury, steelers training camp, secondary, cornerback

Senquez Golson throws his helmet in frustration after his Lisfranc injury; Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The Pittsburgh Steelers set a daunting challenge for themselves during 2016 training camp: Rebuild the secondary on the backs of 4 young and untested in the form of first round pick Artie Burns, second round pick Sean Davis, 2015’s 4th round pick Doran Grant, and 2015’s 2nd round pick Senquez Golson.

As noted when the Steelers signed Artie Burns, Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler and Carnell Lake have gone all in on the youth movement at secondary, trading Antwon Blake, Brandon Boykin and Cortez Allen’s cumulative 82 game appearances, 42 starting performances and 17 interceptions for a grand total of 1 snap of NFL experience.

  • Colbert and Tomlin gambled boldly, but the duo rarely makes personnel decisions based in fear

Fair enough, but four days into training camp Senquez Golson’s Lisfrac injury shows just how thin the Steelers margin of error is. With William Gay and Ross Cockrell, the Steelers should be set at their number 1 and number 2 cornerback positions. The slot remains a mystery. The Steelers had been hoping Golson would emerge as the slot cornerback, which would have given the team greater flexibility manning their Dime defense.

Many outsiders have pegged Davis as the member of the Steelers 2016 draft class most likely to contribute in 2016, giving him an outside chance of unseating incumbent starter Robert Golden. While Davis chances of unseating Golden just took at hit, the probability of him seeing playing time in September just increased exponentially.

Senquez Golson’s Lisfranc Injury Latest Unlucky Twist

The Steelers turned a lot of heads when they picked Golson in the 2nd round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Golson put a lot to like on tape while at Ole Miss, but at his 5’9” frame does not exactly qualify him as a prototypical NFL cornerback.

  • At this point in the young corner’s career, Golson’s same frame suggest fragility.

As Sean Spence showed in 2014, two consecutive injuries hardly spell doom for a promising young player. Spence missed 2012 and then 2013, only to add depth and stability in 2014 and helped author one of the biggest one year-swings in depth chart quality in Steelers history.

Along those lines, a Lisfranc injuries rarely end seasons, as Matt Spaeth and Le’Veon Bell suffered Lisfranc injuries during training camp in 2013 and both returned to post strong season.

  • In other words, fans foaming at the mouth to label Senquez Golson a bust should cool their jets.

Still, a torn rotator cuff ended Senquez Golson’s rookie year, a “mysterious” MRI during Steelers OTA’s, four practices and now a Lisfranc injury will sideline him for at least 12 weeks define Senquez Golson’s NFL resume. Clearly Senquez Golson suffers from an uncanny string of bad luck. And that’s a shame for the Steelers secondary.

Even before his MRI or the the Lisfranc injury, Steel Curtain Rising wondered aloud if Senquez Golson might be this generation’s Kris Farris. Senquez Golson’s lisfranc injury moves that prophecy a notch closer to fulfillment – and Steel Curtain Rising sorely hopes it will move no closer.

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Did the Steelers Underutilize Matt Spaeth’s Pass Catching Skills? – No That’s Not a Trick Question Steelers Nation

If news of the Steelers releasing tight end Matt Spaeth surprised, the articles themselves were predictable: Each and every article, at some point, defined Matt Spaeth as a “blocking tight end.”

  • And the tape tells no lies: Matt Spaeth primarily played as a blocking tight end

But is it also fair to ask: Were Matt Spaeth’s pass catching skills underutilized? No Steelers Nation, that’s not a rhetorical question, but rather a serious one.

Matt Spaeth, pass catch, touchdown, steelers vs. packers, lambeau field

Matt Spaeth catches a touchdown @ Lambeau Field in 2014. (Photo Credit: Steelers.com)

When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Matt Spaeth in the 3rd round of the 2007 NFL Draft, the 6’7” 260 pound tight end promised to offer Ben Roethlisberger a tantalizingly tall target. And early on it looked like he would do just that. In his first four career games, Matt Spaeth caught four passes, and three of them were for touchdowns.

  • Despite his strong start, Spaeth’s role as a pass catcher never evolved, as the 6’7” tight end’s pass catching production peaked in 2008 at 17 catches on 26 targets.

Still, when Matt Spaeth was heading towards free agency in 2015, an analysis of his passing stats suggested the Steelers should call his number more:

matt spaeth, career receiving stats, spaeth pass catching, touchdown catches

Do numbers lie? Matt Spaeth caught most of the balls thrown his way.

  • Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley never got the memo.

During 2015, Steelers quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick and Landry Jones only targeted Matt Spaeth three times. For the record, Spaeth caught 2 out of three of those passes for 10 yards, but honestly that doesn’t tell us much. Nor, honestly speaking, does his career target-to-catch ratio of 63.2% suggest much because the sample is so small.

Still, using analysis done to document Heath Miller’s dependability in the passing game, you can see how Matt Spaeth compares to other Steelers pass catchers since 2005:

heath miller, career, reviving stats, targets to catches

Spaeth’s dependability as a pass catcher is on par with Antwaan Randle El and just below Hines Ward, while better than Jerricho Cotchery, Mike Wallace, Markus Wheaton, Emmanuel Sanders, Santonio Holmes, Martavis Bryant and Nate Washington.

Matt Spaeth “Just catches Touchdowns….”

While Spaeth’s pass catching production might fail to reach statistical relevance, it does tell us reveal something else:

  • Matt Spaeth excelled at catching touchdowns.

Matt Speath’s catch-to-touchdown ratio is 18.2%. In otherwords, almost one of ever five passes Matth Spaeth caught went for a touchdown. Only Martavis Bryant has been better and only three others have numbers in double digits. Yes, the small sample size perhaps distorts things a bit, but it does prove that when the ball got near Matt Spaeth when things were most important, he generally made a catch.

  • All of this begs the question: Why didn’t the Steelers target Matt Spaeth more in the passing game?

The easiest, and most likely correct answer, is that Spaeth dropped a lot of passes in practice. That idea is supported by the fact that Spaeth’s most prolific pass catching spell came during 2010, when he started several games for after Heath Miller suffered a devastating concussion vs. the Ravens. During that season, Speath only caught 9 of the 18 balls thrown his way, and didn’t score any touchdowns.

  • Still, if that is the case, why would the Steelers call Spaeth’s number so frequently in the Red Zone?

Steelers Nation will never know the answer for sure. But the numbers certainly suggest that Matt Spaeth’s pass catching skills were underutilized during his time with the Steelers. Even if that is true, that fact would fail to alter one fundamental fact: Matt Spaeth blocked incredibly well.

Although Le’Veon Bell dazzled as a rookie, his performance as pure rusher remained in consistent, and deep into December, Bell had still failed to break the 100 yard rushing mark. That change just before Christmas at Lambeau Field when Bell romped for 124 yards, which was also Matt Spaeth’s 3rd game back from injured reserve.

That’s no coincidence, although if you’re wondering, that Green Bay game also saw Matt Spaeth’s 2nd and final target of the season – which he caught for a touchdown….

…Steel Curtain Rising thanks Matt Speath for his service in Pittsburgh, and wishes him well on his next NFL stop and/or retirement.

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Steelers Release Tight End Matt Spaeth

As per several news outlets, the Steelers on Thursday released veteran tight end Matt Spaeth after he failed a physical.

  • Spaeth, who had offseason knee surgery, evidently didn’t recover in time for the Steelers’ satisfaction.

Here is a quote from team general manager Kevin Colbert, courtesy of NFL.com:

Matt never fully recovered from knee surgery this past offseason, and he will not be ready to return to football activities at this  time,” said Colbert. “Matt played an integral role in our Super Bowl XLIII Championship run, and we wish him the best in his future endeavors.

Spaeth was part of Mike Tomlin’s first draft class in 2007 and came to the Steelers as a third round pick out of Minnesota. He was Heath Miller’s backup and the team’s number two tight end for four years, catching 36 passes for 275 yards and five touchdowns.

Matt Spaeth, Steelers tight end, matt spaeth catch vs. Bengals 2014

Matt Spaeth catches as pass for the Steelers vs. the Bengals in December 2014. (Photo Credit: Michael Conroy, AP)

After his rookie deal expired following the 2010 Super Bowl XLV season, Spaeth signed a deal with the Bears who, according to Spaeth’s Wikipedia Page, then traded future Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen to the Panthers.

After two seasons in Chicago, Spaeth was released and subsequently re-signed with the Steelers prior to the 2013 regular season as insurance for Miller, who suffered a devastating knee injury in Week 16 of the 2012 season.

However, Spaeth was injured himself, at the beginning of the year and never made much of an impact outside of blocking during his last three campaigns in Pittsburgh.

For the 6’7″, 270 Spaeth, 32, it remains to be seen if he’s going to continue to play football, or if he’ll decide to call it a career.

To take Spaeth’s place on the roster, the Steelers signed free agent tight end Mandel Dixon.

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5 Takeaways from Steelers 2016 Mini Camp

Steelers 2016 Mini Camp has come to an end signaling the beginning of SteelersNation’s “true” off season. Because barring a relapse of the Steelers June curse, “real” Steelers news will be scant between now and July 29th, when the team convenes training camp at St. Vincents in Latrobe.

Steelers Mini camp is really just an extension of OTA’s aka “football in shorts,” and the truth is there isn’t much in the way of meaningful insights that can be gleamed from the time there. Case in point, take the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s story about Robert Golden planning to fight to keep his staring job.

Nonetheless here are 5 take aways from Steelers 2016 Mini Camp:

1. Le’Veon Bell Looking Good But….

Le’Veon Bell ran at the beginning of OTA’s and then was held out of activities until Mini Camp. Bell confirmed that he indeed suffered a MCL and PCL tears in the Steelers loss to the Bengals, but Bell claims to be on the road to a full recovery, and was running routes during mini-camp training camp.

However, Dale Lolley reports that Todd Haley and James Saxon will look for ways to split the rushing load between Bell and DeAngelo Williams. While this might seem like a no-brainer given how good Williams looked last year with Bell out, this is the first time Steelers coaches have indicated that they will try to actively spell Bell.

They never got the chance, and it may simply not be possible to extend a starting running back’s shelf life by splitting carries, but it is wise to try.

2. Coates is Catching On

The Steelers will need someone to pick up the slack with Martavis Bryant suspended for the 2016 season. In the Steelers playoff loss to Denver, Sammie Coates flashed ability to be that player.

While its unwise to draw too many conclusions, if any, based on spring workouts, reports of Sammie Coates making impressive catches of balls thrown by Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones provide welcome news.

3. A Leaner and Meaner David Johnson Returns to Pittsburgh

The only Steelers roster move following the 2016 NFL Draft, save for cutting and replenishing roster bottom feeders, was to resign David Johnson two years after allowing their 2009 7th round pick to depart as a free agent.

  • With Ladarius Green, Matt Spaeth, Jesse James and Xavier Gimble heading up the Steelers tight end depth cart, the move was a minor surprise.

Per Jim Wexell’s report on Steel City Insider, David Johnson has lost 15 pounds since last season, and 20 since he last darkened doors on the South Side and Johnson himself claims that he’s faster on his feet. Given that the Steelers let Will Johnson depart to New York but opted to sign David Johnson for slightly less, the later Johnson isn’t even assured a roster spot.

But this should be one of the more interesting, under the radar stories to follow.

4. Sean Davis Means Business

Jim Wexell has reported that 2nd round pick Sean Davis has been working extensively in the slot, but was cautioned by Keith Butler and Carnell Lake not to assume the Steelers are planning to play him at corner, explaining that safeties carry similar responsibilities as slot corners.

  • But if much has been seen by of Sean Davis at OTA’s little or nothing has been heard.

Wexell reported that he attempted several times early during OTA’s to get an interview with Davis, only to have Davis decline to put in extra reps after practice. Doing extra work following practice is path well worn by former Steelers greats Mike Webster, Merril HogeHines Ward and Antonio Brown.

That’s a welcome sign from the new comer.

5. It’s Not Time to Worry about Senquez Golson… Yet

Senquez Golson perhaps represents the Steelers biggest question mark heading into training camp. The Steelers 2015 2nd round pick lost his rookie year to a shoulder injury, and word that Golson had to undergo an MRI raised eyebrows.

  • The MRI was not related to his shoulder, but a “soft tissue” injury on his lower body.

Word is that Golson will travel to Florida to train for the next six weeks with William Gay, who works out at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex with Tom Shaw, who also oversaw Ike Taylor and James Farrior’s off season workouts – three players known for their durability.

That’s a good sign, but the fact that Golson sat out an entire year and isn’t quite ready to fully participate in spring workouts is not….

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Steelers Sign David Johnson, Is Matt Spaeth’s Roster Spot in Jeopardy?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have signed tight end and fullback David Johnson, who returns to the team following his departure as a free agent in 2014.

Few if any outside of the South Side are privileged to hear Kevin Colbert’s conversations with outgoing free agents, but one can only imagine that Colbert’s parting words include some variant of “We’ll leave the light on for you.”

  • In contrast to his predecessor, Tom Donahoe, Kevin Colbert has readily welcomed back departed free agents.

The Steelers drafted David Johnson in the 7th round of the 2009 NFL Draft, and Johnson worked in as a tight end/fullback. Todd Haley wanted to convert David Johnson into a full time to fullback, but Johnson unfortunately tore his ACL during the 2012 preseason. ACL Tear. In 2013 Johnson recovered, but injuries to Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, along with the emergence of Will Johnson at fullback, forced Johnson to take the starting tight end role.

Johnson performed well enough, but alas was injured in early in the season.

The Steelers allowed Johnson to depart, and he landed in San Diego, where, per Pro Football Reference, he appeared in 30 games and started 6. Johnson’s projected role in his return with the Steelers has not been formally clarified, but expectations are that he will play in a tight end and/or H-Back role.

  • Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell has pointed out that since 2011, the Steelers have opened every season with 4 tight ends.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Chris Adamanski adds that the Steelers only use a fullback on 1/10 of their offensive plays, and appear to be more or less set at the position with Roosevelt Nix.

Matt Spaeth’s Roster Spot in Jeopardy?

As of know the Steelers depth chart at tight end looks like this: Ladarius Green is number one, followed by veteran Matt Spaeth, “rising sophomore” Jesse James holds down the third spot, while 2015 practice squad alumni Xavier Grimble is penciled in as the number 4 man. Undrafted rookie free agent Jay Rome also has a roster spot.

  • The player most threatened by David Johnson’s return is Matt Spaeth.

While Matt Spaeth’s unheralded return has most certainly played a role in the rushing success and pass protection enjoyed by Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams and Ben Roethlisberger, Spaeth is 33 years old has a 1 million dollar base salary with just over 100,000 dollars in signing bonus money allocated to him. Assuming David Johnson signed for the veteran minimum, the Steelers could get younger while saving on the salary savings by cutting Spaeth in favor of Johnson.

  • But for that to happen, Johnson would clearly need to beat out Spaeth.

Spaeth’s role as a blocker up front might go largely unnoticed by fans and even the press, but rest assured that Mike Tomlin, Mike Munchak and Todd Haley appreciate it. That, combined with Johnson’s own injury history will place the burden on Johnson.

Competition tends to bring out the best, and the Steelers have given themselves a low-risk option to bolster their depth at tight end. Welcome back to Steelers Nation David Johnson!

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Steelers Sign Tight End Ladarius Green

The Pittsburgh Steelers aggressive approach to free agency quick turned its efforts outside of the organization in a move that saw the Steelers sign tight end Ladarius Green to a four year contract, per reports by Neal Coolong of USA Today’s The Steelers Wire, and the Houston Chronicle’s Aaron Wilson.

If Wilson’s reporting is correct, Ladarius Green’s contract continued a $4.75 million dollar signing bonus along with base salaries in the 5 million dollar range, save for the first year. Per numbers on the site Over the Cap, Green’s 5 million dollar annual salary with the Steelers would put him at about 18th out of all 2015 tight end salaries. His 5 million in guaranteed money would rank him at 24th.

  • In lay terms, the Steelers are making a significant, yet relatively safe investment.

This may not amount to the type of “Splash” Steelers free agency move that some fans have longed for, but it does fit the franchise model of going out to the free agent market and paying a competitive salary to fill a need. They did it with Kevin Greene in the 1990’s, Jeff Hartings in 2001, Ryan Clark in 2006 and Mike Mitchell in 2014.

Ladarius Green has Gigantic Shoes to Fill

And the Steelers certainly do have a need to fill. Heath Miller is now enjoying we well deserved retirement, but when Heath Miller retired, Ben Roethlisberger lost his most reliable target – by a wide margin.

Now it will fall to Ladarius Green to become Ben Roethlisberger’s go to man in the middle of the field. During the time he was in Pittsburgh, Heath Miller caught 72% of the passes that were targeted to him, second only to Le’Veon Bell. For comparison’s sake, Ladarius Green’s career targets to catches ratio is 63%.

  • That doesn’t mean that Green is a bad pick up, but it proves just how big a set of shoes that he has to fill.

The San Diego Chargers drafted Ladarius Green in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He only caught four passes as a rookie, but installed himself as a starter from his second year on, and has caught 77 passes for 1087 yards and 7 touchdowns in his career.

He caught 5 of those passes against Pittsburgh in the Steelers Monday Night win against the Chargers. Ladarius Green stands at 6-6 and weighs 237 pounds and is known for what Mike Tomlin described as “Vertical speed.”

Welcome to Steelers Nation Ladarius Green.

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

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Is 2016 the Year the Steelers Make a Splash in Free Agency?

Is 2016 the year the Pittsburgh Steelers make a splash in free agency?

  • ….Probably not. The Steelers never make a significant splash in free-agency, but this doesn’t mean they can’t make some moves that fans will feel good about.

Two years ago, the signings of safety Mike Mitchell and reserve running back LeGarrette Blount were met with great enthusiasm, especially after a few off seasons of financial blood-lettings that included the departure of promising corner Keenan Lewis and the release of veteran linebacker James Harrison in 2013.

All those years of cap massaging finally left Pittsburgh with no space at all, and the 2013 offseason was certainly a depressing time, complete with the inevitability that the upcoming regular season was going to be a bit of a downer, which it was–at least the 2-6 first half.

Obviously, Mitchell, who was injured, didn’t do much in 2014 but draw the ire of fans for his underwhelming play; Blount ultimately drew the wrath of teammates, coaches and, of course, the fans for his actions that included smoking a joint with Le’Veon Bell the day before an exhibition game in August and walking off the field moments ahead of the rest of his team near the end of the Steelers Monday night win over the Tennessee Titans.

But while the moves didn’t do much to help the 2014 team, they were good in-theory, and Pittsburgh’s 2015 free-agent running back do-over that was the signing of long-time Panthers’ veteran (and good guy) DeAngelo Williams more than made up for the gamble on Blount.

Due to a suspension and season-ending knee injury, Bell wound up only playing in six regular season games. In his place, Williams, who responded to a challenge by head coach Mike Tomlin and came to training camp in the best shape in years, started 10 games and rushed for 907 yards (the third-highest total of his already accomplished career).

As for Mitchell’s 2015 regular season, it was significantly better and the kind of upgrade over the retired Ryan Clark that everyone initially envisioned when he came on board the year before.

According to to the website Over the Cap, the Steelers have approximately $11.3 million of cap space, heading into free-agency.

  • That’s a fair amount, but certainly not enough to go after one significant player. But that’s okay, because football is a team sport.

While fans and the media like to fall all over themselves this time of year, after downtrodden organizations with a lot of room like the Buccaneers and Jaguars sign big names, the fact is, the smart moves can often make the biggest difference.

For the Steelers, maybe those smart moves will simply be re-signing guard Ramon Foster and/or cornerback William Gay. Maybe it’s going out and finding a dependable, veteran tight end who, if he doesn’t start in place of the young Jesse James, could be an upgrade over Matt Spaeth. How about finding a reserve defensive lineman that is an improvement over Cam Thomas?

None of these moves would get the Steelers added to any list of free-agent “winners,” but championships are won in January and February, not March and April.

A small ripple doesn’t have the same kind of initial impact as a big splash, but, in the long run, it can often be more effective.

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

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Steelers Fullbacks in Flux? Will Roosevelt Nix Cost Johnson His Roster Sport?

The Pittsburgh Steelers might have more difficult and more interesting free agent decisions to make in 2016, but none lends itself to such a catchy, if a bit corny, headline. All jesting aside, the “quandary” is real for Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin.

This time a year ago it looked like a major injury was all that separated fullback Will Johnson from a his first full-fledged second contract. The emergence of Roosevelt Nix however changes things. Or does it. Let’s find out….?

Capsule Profile of Will Johnson’s Career with the Steelers

In the spring of 2012 Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert took a road trip south to attend West Virginia University’s pro day. If memory serves, they were going to scout another player. But a hybrid tight end, running back, and wide out who’d played for four years for the Mountaineers for four years but sat out 2011 without as much as an invite to an NFL training camp caught their eyes.

  • The Steelers brought him to Pittsburgh as an undrafted rookie free agent to play fullback.

One of Todd Haley’s first moves as Steelers offensive coordinator was to officially restore the fullback to the Steelers offense, and he tapped David Johnson to make the transition to full time fullback. Johnson unfortunately go injured in preseason; fortunately Will Johnson had impressed the coaches, and started at fullback in his place.

As a fullback Johnson doesn’t have a very long stat sheet, although he’s generally been a reliable target on the few times that Ben Roethlisberger (or Charlie Batch, Michael Vick, or Landry Jones) has chosen to throw a pass his way. He’s also rushed 8 times for 14 yards. That’s not terribly impressive, but the sample size is quite small….

A year ago the Steelers offered Johnson a restricted free agent tender, and he was back with the team in 2015, working both at fullback and at tight end.

The Case for Steelers Keeping Will Johnson

Perhaps Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell said it the best when he declared:

An easy call for me. I bring Johnson back with a cheap two or three-year contract. Versatile, smart and plays a position that’s looking at age issues.

And that was before Heath Miller retired. The fullback position is getting harder and harder to staff, and Johnson’s experience at tight end is a definitive plus.

The Case Against Steelers Keeping Will Johnson

The argument for keeping Will Johnson can be summed up, as the headline implies, it two words: Roosevelt Nix.

Like Johnson, Nix joined the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent, and during the course of the season Nix showed himself to be a capable play maker on special teams, and he performed quite well as a fullback.

  • The argument flows accordingly: Fewer and fewer NFL teams carry one fullback, how can the Steelers justify carrying two?

Roosevelt Nix can do what Will Johnson can do, but at a far lower salary cap value, and the Steelers do not have salary cap space to spare.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Will Johnson

What’s implicit in Wexell’s argument is that Will Johnson return as a tight end. In that light, Heath Miller’s retirement could be a game changer. Matt Spaeth is aging and Jesse James showed flashes but has yet to prove consistency.

  • Will Johnson isn’t going to command a lot of attention or money on the free agent market either as a tight end or as a fullback.

If the Steelers can sign Will Johnson to a cost effective contract, he could provide valuable depth at tight end while Roosevelt Nix installs himself as a full time fullback.

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

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Steelers Tight End Heath Miller Retires – Pittsburgh Will Never See Another Like Him

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller retires in a move that comes as a total shock both inside and outside of the South Side. The Steelers drafted Heath Miller in the 1st round of the 2005 NFL Draft and, although he became and instant starter, he remained one of the most consistent yet underrated players at his position.

  • It is a testament to Heath Miller’s greatness that even in the most hostile of environments, a catch by 83 resulted in chats of “Heath!”

It is ironic that he would garner such fan fair, because Miiller never sought the attention or the limelight for himself. Heath Miller is the classic defenition of a player who came to work, buckled his chin strap, and simply made plays.

  • As the Steelers 2016 off season began, there was speculation that Miller would become a cap casualty.

Some argued that Miller was losing a step, and no longer warranted his nearly 8 million dollar salary cap value. Such talk was little more than nonsense. It is true that Miller’s yard’s per catch were down in 2015, but that may have been due as much to Le’Veon Bell’s absence and the need for Miller to work closer to the line of scrimmage.

Heath Miller, a Model of Consistency

As Jim Wexell reports on Steel City Insider, Heath Miller started 167 of 168 regular season games and 15 of 15 post season contests. He has played the most games of any Steelers tight end. Heath Miller retires as the Steelers leading tight end in catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns.

  • But numbers cannot capture Heath Miller’s contribution to the Steelers in 2015 or any other year.

The 2015 Steelers regular season finale vs. Cleveland illustrates why. Miller’s stat line for the game was 3-18 for 1 touchdown. On the surface that looks pretty pedestrian. But the truth is that Miller out muscled defenders to get to the ball both on the touchdown, and on another key 11 yard pass.

Under both Bruce Arians and Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger has made no secret of his desire for a vertical, gun slinging style offense and that tendency has served both him and the Steelers well. But when whenever Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton or Martavis Bryant couldn’t get open downfield, Heath Miller was there in the middle.

  • Miller might have been the least vocal member of the Steelers offense, but he was very much a leader.

As Dale Lolley reported, it was Miller who quietly took Antonio Brown aside and dressed him down for not giving Landry Jones the proper respect he deserved. And as Lolley recounts, it was Brown who shared the story about Miller.

Heath Miller’s Retirement Leaves Gaping Hole in Steelers Offense

Looking towards the 2016 season the Steelers offense figured to be unstoppable. Now that equation changes. The Steelers knew Heath Miller was nearing the end, but had not attempted to groom a replacement. Heath Miller’s retirement leaves a gaping hold in the Steelers offense that the team will now struggle to fill.

The Steeler will now have to find a new tight end via the 2016 NFL Draft or free agency.
Expect the Steelers to make some sort of move. But don’t expect the Steelers to find a replacement for Heath Miller. They don’t make players like Heath Miller any more.

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Steelers Cut Rob Branchflower Sign Lavon Hooks and Matt Dooley

The Pittsburgh Steelers continue to prepare for free agency by making additional moves at the bottom of their roster the most significant of which saw the Steelers cut Rob Branchflower, a tight end from UMass who was their 7th round draft pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Branchflower did not make the Steelers final roster in 2014, but spent the entire 2014 season on their practice squad and figured to get a serious look during 2015’s training camp. However, he was injured during camp, and the Steelers placed him on the waived-injured list. When no other NFL team claimed him, he reverted back to the Pittsburgh Steelers as an exclusive rights free agent.

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers however are moving ahead without Branchflower.

This means that Jesse James and Matt Spaeth will provide depth behind Heath Miller, and also signals that the Steelers could look to tight end in the draft. The Steelers also waived offensive lineman Kelvin Palmer and Mitchell Van Dyk, both of whom were injured in training camp and who were exclusive rights free agents with the Steelers.

Steelers Add Bodies at Defensive Line and Long Snapper

The Steelers continued to build their training camp roster by signing defensive lineman Lavon Hooks and long snapper Matt Dooley.

The Steelers invited Lavon Hooks to their rookie mini-camp last spring, but opted not to bring him to St. Vincents. Hooks did catch on with the Green Bay Packers training camp, although he neither made the team nor the practice squad. Hooks played his college ball in the SEC, where he played his junior and senior years for Ole Miss, registering 3 sacks while appearing in 15 games.

Given that the Steelers just resigned veteran long snapper Greg Warren, Matt Dooley figures to be little more than a training camp body.

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