I don't know about my fellow Steelers brethren, but I sure do find it refreshing every time I see footage of Ben Roethlisberger throwing the ball around the yard to a few of his talented teammates. It is exciting and encouraging knowing he is healthy enough to confidently pull the trigger and “let 'er rip.”
In the short video, he is working with a familiar cast of characters. Although I am pleased to see him knocking off the rust and reestablishing the chemistry with some of his returning skill position players, I admit there was a particular scenario I wanted to see play out. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of newly-acquired Steelers TE Eric Ebron.
Ben Roethlisberger has been blessed to play with a plethora of outstanding skill position players throughout his Hall of Fame caliber career, especially at the wide receiver position. However, at the tight end position, not so much.
Don't get me wrong, former Steelers standout Heath Miller was a well rounded player and exemplary teammate. He was spectacularly solid, and caught everything that came his way, but he was in no way explosive. He was no threat to work the seam or create a instant mismatch for Ben to exploit.
Think back, if you will, to a situation many of us would just as soon forget. GM Kevin Colbert, in an attempt to acquire Big Ben a tight end capable of working the seams and to replace the recently retired Miller, signed former Chargers TE Ladarius Green as a free agent prior to the start of the 2016 season. After a lengthy stay on the injured list to start his Steelers tenure, Green started to click with Ben and enjoyed some success almost immediately prior to being injured yet again before the Steelers realized they were dealing with damaged goods. The end results were disappointing, but the potential impact was obvious.
Now Colbert has decided to roll the dice yet again, taking the calculated risk to acquire Ben an explosive weapon of a tight end— one that just so happens to come with some reported off-the-field baggage and injury concerns. I know what you are thinking, here we go again. But those concerns are a big reason why the Steelers were able to sign Ebron in spite of their limited cap space.
Eric Ebron is a prime example of the modern-day tight end. Merely an adequate blocker, he makes his living feasting on the mismatches his presence creates in coverage. The QB/TE dynamic is similar to the relationship between a point guard and his post player on the basketball court. It takes trust and timing to work efficiently in the middle of all that traffic and congestion. Things happen fast, and both players have to be on the same page to be successful. Good thing Ben played some point guard in high school.
Hopefully Ben and Ebron develop an almost instantaneous rapport right out of the gate, at least on a level similar to the Ben to Green connection mentioned earlier. Ebron's ability to line up inline or out wide, coupled with the Steelers impressive wide receivers group, should adequately stretch opposing defenses and open up running lanes for the Steelers talented stable of running backs.
Ben may very well struggle in the early stages of the season as he adjusts to his new throwing arm and new faces in the huddle. A strong running game and a security blanket of a tight end could be just what the doctor ordered to help Ben work through any initial difficulties.
Nobody knows what the future holds, especially with both men coming back from injury-shortened seasons, but the potential is definitely there for the makings of a beautiful friendship.