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Steelers training camp positional battles: Tight ends

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The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t truly have a tight end controversy brewing heading into training camp because Heath Miller is healthy and still has what it takes to get the job done. What training camp will show is that who else may spend time on the final 53-man roster. In a revamped offense, the Steelers tight ends will factor in, most likely in a big way.

Matt Spaeth is expected to be the Steelers’ number two tight end. While Miller has proven to be more adept in the passing game, giving quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a quote “security blanket”, Spaeth is more of a blocking offensive end. In 2013, the Steelers were able to use the duo to average a little over 115 yards rushing in the four games the tandem played together. That number could definitely be headed up this season.

The Steelers picked up Robert Blanchflower in the 2014 NFL Draft, a kid who was compared to Rob Gronkowski while he played at the University of Massachusetts. He is big and shows both the ability to block but also to get off the block to get open.

Blanchflower will battle in camp with David Paulson and Michael Palmer as well as Eric Waters. Paulson has spent the past two season after being drafted in 2012, but has primarily been brought in when Miller was hurt or the Steelers offense needed blocking assistance. Paulson has only made 13 catches for 153 yards in that time. Palmer has spent four seasons in the NFL with nearly as little to show outside of blocking potential.

While Will Johnson is rumored to be going to be utilized more at the tight end position, he is the only fullback on the roster and may be more effective in that task. His ability to create lead blocks in short-yardage situations and within the red zone may be more critical than his ability to rush at this point.

A dark horse in the tight end competition during training camp may be Waters. An undrafted rookie free agent, Waters split time between tight end, halfback and fullback at Missouri. At 6’3″, 244 pounds, Waters had a decent pro day showing with a low 40 time of 4.68. His 39.5 vertical jump during Missouri’s pro day got the most attention.

While Paulson and Palmer attempt to retain a roster spot, Waters may exceed both due to his ability to play multiple roles. Things could get interesting fast as Blanchflower makes a case for being drafted this year and Waters shows more than just blocking ability.

Fans have wondered who would replace Miller and Spaeth once their age caught up to them, and the Steelers just might have the answers right there in Latrobe.

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