With as much fun as it was to watch running back Le'Veon Bell break out and wide receiver Antonio Brown rise to epic levels in 2014, we are all forgiven for somewhat failing to pay attention to the tight ends. They were there, they were a big part of the offense. They just weren't...exciting.
While that is likely to continue to be the case -- the position will never be a Spinal Tap-like "11" on the thrill factor -- it's possible 2015 could see them bump up to a six. Maybe even a seven.
Returning are Heath Miller who, despite seemingly not quite returning to his pre-injury levels of production, was still a good, all-around option in 2014. In fact, it was basically his second-best season from a statistical standpoint, and his blocking helped return the team's running game to respectability. Additionally, Matt Spaeth is back for another season. He'll never set the world on fire with his receiving -- his 53 career catches are 16 fewer than Miller had in 2014 alone -- he is as dependable of a blocker as you will find in the league.
Steelers Training Camp Preview: Wide Receivers
With eleven potential receivers on the off-season roster, the Steelers enter camp with a lot of options. Unfortunately, with four spots all but locked, it's likely there are seven dogs competing for one bone.
After spending 2014 on the practice squad, Rob Blanchflower will have another shot at making the team. Unfortunately, he has a lot playing against him. Specifically, his own inability to stay healthy, a three-year veteran and two very interesting rookies.
Michael Egnew has spent time with three other teams in his three-year career, most recently with Jacksonville. He has done little in those three years, with his seven career catches all coming in 2013 with the Dolphins. He has decent size, but that's about the most that can be said for a guy drafted in the third round who has bounced between four teams by the start of his fourth season.
Jesse James, formerly of Penn State, has the inside track on the third tight end spot. As a fifth-round pick for the Steelers in May, and with solid college production, he is probably already penciled in to the number-three spot. He is also a solid blocker and has excellent size, with a frame that could carry even more weight if needed.
But don't get out that pen, just yet. Cameron Clear, who fell out of the draft entirely because of character concerns, has as much talent as James. Maybe even more, from a blocking perspective. His numbers are pretty dismal, I admit. But he is a large guy who has flashed natural ability as a blocker. "Flashed" is the operative word, though; he has looked good against top-tier talent, but has also looked lost at times. Which of those two sides shows up at camp will determine whether he makes the roster, the practice squad or the waiver wire.
Oh, there is a wild card here: fullback/H-back Will Johnson. His role has diminished as a lead blocker, much the same way Dan Kreider's did what seems like eons ago now. But he is a sure-handed receiver and a stout blocker. It's possible the third spot could be used solely as a hybrid, opening up another roster spot. Not entirely likely, but possible.
The position may be getting "sexier" around the league. But in Pittsburgh, the tight-ends will likely continue to spend more time in the trenches than in the secondary. But that doesn't mean it won't be an interesting camp battle.
My Absurdly Early Prediction: This isn't exactly a huge leap. Miller and Spaeth stay put -- that's a guarantee, barring injury -- and Jesse James winds up as the third tight end. Will Johnson stays on for another year as a fullback, instead.