Steelers TE Matt Spaeth isn't filling anyone's cleats but his own

Jared Wickerham

The Steelers signed free agent TE Matt Spaeth to help increase their versatility and athleticism as part of their plan to run outside zone. Spaeth may not be Heath Miller, but he's also a much better player than he was when he left Pittsburgh in 2011.

Filling Heath Miller's cleats can't be easy.

Those cleats destroyed Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, and Jets DB Ellis Lankster. They held a guy who had 71 catches before they were last seen being helped off the field, Miller's torn up knee above them.

Exactly when those cleats will be worn again isn't clear right now. It won't be during OTAs, which the Steelers conduct today and Thursday before closing session 2 down.

It just means the cleats of Matt Spaeth, and not Heath Miller, need to find their own way.

Coming out of Minnesota in 2007, his massive wingspan and impressive athleticism gave him the look of a guy with a catch area the size of a garage door. If he even had average hands, he should be extremely difficult to defend. One reason or another, it didn't really work out that way. Spaeth never really became an outstanding receiver. He made a catch or two here and there, and filled in as well as he could for the uber-freak Miller.

Able to parlay that success into a free agency deal, Spaeth left the Steelers in 2011, a season after his second Super Bowl appearance with the Steelers. Chicago's offense, in particular its pass protection, was horrendous in the two seasons he was there. Despite an outstanding team start in 2011, they fizzled out at the end due largely to the injury of quarterback Jay Cutler.

Spaeth was a glimmer of quality in a sky full of murk. He used that B-2 like wingspan to reach defenders and control their direction more often than he snared high throws over the middle. He became balanced and agile - two key traits to successful blocking.

The guy who was projected to catch everything near him was moving defenders out of that same space. It just wasn't appreciated enough within an organization that made a surprising coaching change. Marc Trestmann was in, and Lovie Smith - and incidentally, Spaeth - was out.

The Steelers surprisingly signed Spaeth, two years after he left to find his calling as a long and sleek blocker.

He may not have Miller's athletic ability, but it wouldn't be surprised to see Spaeth running the same kind of seek-and-destroy missions the Steelers ran with Miller in 2012. Wide receiver Antonio Brown is one of the quicker receivers in the NFL in open space, and Spaeth has enough agility to release off the line and get in front of Brown as he's catching a short pass.

He can help double-team the end in outside zone runs, and he can climb to the second level to cut off the linebacker. He can be a very dangerous player, even if he isn't catching passes.

His cleats aren't Miller's. The Steelers aren't asking him to fill them. But his newfound skill set may be just as valuable within the Steelers offense.


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