NFL DRAFT: Tight ends and the Steelers myth

Being in the business of myth-breaking, it's my exquisite pleasure to shatter a few for you today, specifically those concerning the Steelers' offense.

Myth No. 1 – The Steelers don't throw to their tight end.

Shattered Myth No. 1 – Kordell Stewart didn't throw to the tight end. It's been debated whether the team's former quarterback ignored the tight end of his own volition or whether the coaching staff didn't want Stewart throwing over the middle where it's easier to turn the ball over. Either way, the lack of production at tight end was a product of that particular quarterback.

The argument, though, follows that even with Tommy Maddox as the primary quarterback last season, tight end Mark Bruener caught only 13 passes, four below his career average, and Jerame Tuman caught only four passes, three below his career high. But both have lost a step or two over the last few years, requiring the signing of free agent tight end Jay Riemersma, and thus ...

Myth No. 2 – The Steelers are changing their offensive philosophy.

Shattered Myth No. 2 – A potential career-threatening injury to Bruener forced the signing of Riemersma, who so happens to be more receiver than blocker. And who can blame Coach Bill Cowher for adding the type of weapon that's plagued his own defense? Also, the decline of Jerome Bettis is the reason the Steelers are set to use scatback-type Amos Zereoue at tailback. It's personnel, not a change of philosophy. If the Steelers didn't have problems in their secondary, power back Larry Johnson would be a slam-dunk choice in the first round and the talk of a philosophy shift would, well, shift.

As for the upcoming draft, the signing of Riemersma filled a glaring need but the Steelers could use a developmental tight end, even if veteran Matt Cushing makes the team. The Steelers kept four on their roster last season.


Fourth Round – Robert Johnson (6-5 5/8, 278, 4.93) of Auburn will be a solid mid-round find in a draft dominated by the likes of Dallas Clark, Jason Witten, Ben Joppru and L.J. Smith. "Tough kid and he seems to be hungry, too, two things that stand out," a scout told Perhaps Mr. Johnson went down to the crossroads for a body that's being compared to another former Auburn star, baseball great Frank Thomas. Johnson obviously has the size, and the athletic ability as his basketball offers out of high school would indicate. His question mark -- in spite of what films of his solid blocking skills reveal – is strength. He benched 225 pounds only 18 times. Perhaps a year away, but with the Steelers he'd have that year.

Fifth Round – Visanthe Shiancoe (6-4 3/8, 251, 4.62) of Morgan State could be the school's first pro tight end since Ray Chester played for the Oakland Raiders. This Division I-AA prospect ran the fastest 40, had the most reps (28) and jumped the highest (39½) of the combine's 21 tight ends. He caught 31 passes for 518 yards last season and, according to the late Joel Buchsbaum, "makes tough catches and wants the ball," but is "very raw."

Sixth Round – George Wrighster (6-2 1/8, 255, 4.75) of Oregon can catch and block. He also came out a year early, has big, soft hands and decent speed. He caught 41 passes last season. "He might have the best hands of any of the guys at the position," said one scout. "He is a willing blocker ... and he'll get better."

Sixth Round – Zach Hilton (6-7¾, 262, 4.81) of North Carolina was the tallest tight end at the combine. His 3-cone time of 7.25 proved that the big man is agile enough and worth a shot.

Free Agent – Aaron Golliday (6-3¾, 285, 5.05 estimated) of Nebraska is perhaps the best blocking tight end coming out. He's so good, in fact, that scouts feel he could play left tackle.

Free Agent – Corey Jackson (6-6, 268, 4.85) of Nevada-Reno was fifth in the nation in rebounding before playing both tight end and defensive end on the football team for the first time in 2002. His pure athletic ability intrigues scouts.


Sean Berton was barely 200 pounds when he confounded my alma mater (Norwin) as a tight end and power forward at Greensburg's Hempfield Area High School. But Berton has grown into a 6-4 3/8, 279-pounder to weigh-in as the heaviest tight end prospect at the combine. Berton began his college career at West Virginia but transferred to North Carolina State upon the arrival of new coach Rich Rodriguez, who had little use for tight ends in his spread offense. As a senior at N.C. State, Berton caught 20 passes and was named first-team All-ACC. He was also used at fullback and H-back and often lined up wide. His 60-yard shuttle time of 11.71 was the best of his group at the combine. He's considered one of the better blocking tight ends in the draft, and a Nov. 25 ankle injury that required the insertion of screws didn't stop him from catching five passes for 40 yards and a touchdown against Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl. He's considered a late-round prospect.

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By Jim Wexell
Steel City

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