Grading The Players - Tight Ends

Following is a series grading the players and strength of position for the 2003-04 Pittsburgh Steelers.<br><br> <b>Today: Tight ends</b>

Tight ends, the Steelers cannot seem to have enough of them. In fact, they spent the off-season collecting them, which is somewhat surprising for a team that has made a habit of ignoring that position.

First, the Steelers re-signed Jerame Tuman to a three-year, $3.3-million contract that had most people thinking he was their future starter. In fact, head coach Bill Cowher said several times during the off-season that he considered Tuman a starter. And why not? Tuman had finished each of the past two seasons as the team's starter after injuries to Mark Bruener.

Tuman is a willing blocker, something at which he is improving at. However, he is still just average at best. At 6-4, 270 pounds, he is the Steelers' biggest receiver and he was drafted as a receiving tight end. Nevertheless, he has never really blossomed in that role, in part because he lacks real good speed. He also seems to have a knack for drawing penalties at bad times. Giving Tuman a million dollar per season contract may be the team's most questionable move of the off-season. Grade C-

The team also kept another of its free agent tight ends, Matt Cushing, perhaps just saving him from another two months of teaching. Cushing has had an on-again, off-again relationship with the Steelers, being cut in training camp only to be called back later when someone is injured. He is a good blocker and can play some fullback. However, Cushing is not much more than an effort guy, not that there is anything wrong with that. Grade D-

Not content at having signed those two players, head coach Bill Cowher just had to have Jay Riemersma after he was released by Buffalo. A pure receiving tight end, Riemersma might be considered an extravagance for the Steelers, who have not thrown to the tight end since Eric Green was puking up his guts in the desert. Riemersma will give the Steelers someone to open things up down the middle and still has a little left in the tank. However, he is not what he once was. Grade C+

Mark Bruener has finished the past two seasons on injured reserve and took a pay cut to stay with the team this season. He's still an extremely effective blocker and the Steelers will need that facet of his game to help out if Oliver Ross or Marvel Smith struggle at all at the tackle positions. As good as he is as a blocker, Bruener is just as lacking as a receiver, perhaps in part from inactivity. What speed he once had is now gone. Grade C+

Final analysis: The Steelers now have something for all facets of the game at the tight end position. They have their blocker in Bruener, receiver in Riemersma and dual threat in Tuman. They are not outstanding, but they are solid. Grade C+

Dale Lolley

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