The Pittsburgh Steelers tight ends block. That's what they do. It is what is expected, and for as long as most fans can remember, those tight ends have delivered. To say the Steelers fans were a bit nervous at the prospect of facing a season without Heath Miller is an understatement. If that wasn't enough, Matt Spaeth was released in July after failing his physical. While Spaeth didn't offer much as a receiver, he was the best blocking tight end on the team in recent years. Lastly, Will Johnson, who had filled the H-back role, left via free agency.
In their place in 2016 are Jesse James (in his second year), David Johnson (perhaps best remembered for his missed block in Super Bowl XLV), and Xavier Grimble (who's spot on the roster was far from secure as the final cuts loomed). Let's see how they looked in their first test of the season.
The first play we're going to reaview is a split zone run. In split zone, the offensive lineman zone block. The TE, or H-back comes across the formation to seal off any backside pursuit. David Johnson is lined up on the right wing (H-back) here:
We see DJ does an excellent job of sealing Ryan Kerrigan (#91) off the edge. The offensive line gets a good push, and Deangelo cuts back to the open space.
The next play sees David Johnson aligned as an H-back/fullback. His job here is to get to the LB on an inside run:
Of note here is DJ's execution on the down block. Johnson is generally more suited to the H-back/fullback role. His relative lack of height is a disadvantage as an in-line tight end. Although DJ is not quite an in-line position here, his hand use in locking out and washing down the linebacker is excellent. James admittedly doesn't have to make a difficult block. He does a good job of feeling DeAngelo behind him, and not holding the safety as he pulled away.
The Steelers really got their ground game cranked up as the game wore on. They ran the split zone 6 times for 49 yards in total. 4 of those carries came in the 4th quarter and netted 39 yards. Deangelo Williams ran for 78 of his 143 yards in the game's final 15 minutes. In short, the Steelers imposed their will on the Redskins, and the TE's played their part in it.
Are the TE's all world? Certainly not. Another look at the 3rd GIF will show Grimble whiffing on is block. There is room for improvement. James had his struggles in pass protection. He was solid all game, however, as a run blocker. As for Johnson, he looks worlds better than he did in his first time around with the Steelers.
The "post-Heath" era has begun. After watching the film, I'd say it's off on the right foot.