You could call the Steelers' tight ends meetings last season a gathering of the walking wounded.
Limping wounded would have been more appropriate.
Heath Miller and David Johnson were both coming off torn ACLs in 2012. Matt Spaeth had a Lisfranc injury and was on IR-Recall. The team signed Michael Palmer off the street and were trying to pass off second-year move-TE David Paulson as an in-line blocker.
It wasn't working.
Miller was working his way back to health, and while he was relatively productive, he wasn't the same player.
That was expected. Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said, after ex-Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall's torn ACL tear at the end of the 2011 season, he wouldn't be 100 percent again until a year or so after the surgery.
To make up for that, the Steelers signed Spaeth, who, at that point, had been released by the Chicago Bears, the only other team he played for in his seven-year NFL career.
The focus on tight ends today is on their receiving ability, which doesn't appear to be Spaeth's strong point. They signed him because they were going to be losing their playside edge blocker - a key position in an outside zone running scheme. Miller wasn't going to be 100 percent so the Steelers brought Spaeth in to shoulder the load.
His shoulder was never the issue. His foot slunk his load-bearing shoulder, and with it, went the Steelers' hopes at effectively running the ball. The loss of Maurkice Pouncey certainly didn't help things, but the addition of Fernando Velasco at least brought the position to something of replacement level.
Paulson did not.
Spaeth's foot is healthy now, ready to help balance the load that will be placed on his shoulders in the running game. Miller is healthy now, and the pair, combined with the addition of seventh-round pick Rob Blanchflower (an athletic steal in the late rounds who probably would have been drafted higher if not for an injury his senior year at Massachusetts), Paulson and Palmer may be on the outside looking in.
Spaeth and Miller will be on the outside looking out on the edge of the Steelers' zone-based rushing attack. And if they both remain healthy, they could serve as the key contributors to a huge upswing in rushing success in Pittsburgh in 2014.