Paulson Emerges In Nick Of Time

Last year's seventh-round draft pick is catching everything the Steelers throw at him. And with the injuries at tight end, his timing is impeccable.

LATROBE -- Photographers at Wednesday's practice stood on one side of the field, while on the other side stood the shot of the day:

Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth and David Johnson, all out with injuries.

It was a glum amalgamation of the Steelers' tight end position, which, because of injuries to the aforementioned trio, now falls onto the shoulders of the quiet and unassuming David Paulson.

Paulson was a mere seventh-round pick last year, but this year he's the guy for whom Ben Roethlisberger's been looking in red-zone drills, and the guy about whom Mike Tomlin's talking on third downs.

"It's time for 81," Tomlin tells the ballboys as he watches the offense break the huddle. And Tomlin's been right more often than not.

Like in the goal-line drill, when Bruce Gradkowski found Paulson wide open in the back of the end zone off play-action.

The last two red-zone sessions have featured a red-hot Roethlisberger throwing 7 touchdown passes in 11 attempts. Paulson and Antonio Brown each caught three of them.

What the quarterbacks have learned is that if they throw it anywhere close to the 6-3 1/4, 246-pound Paulson, he'll catch it.

"He catches everything," said inside linebacker Larry Foote. "Even when he's covered, he's still going to catch it."

Foote isn't surprised. "He was doing it last year," Foote said. "When he came here he caught everything."

Last year Paulson started 5 games; once for the injured Miller, once as part of a three-TE set, and three times as part of a two-TE set. He caught 7 passes, or about what he averages per practice day here at St. Vincent College with the first team offense.

Did someone say first-team tight end David Paulson?

"Yep, he could possibly be the starter," said tight ends coach James Daniel, who knows Miller and Johnson might not be ready by the opener, and who watched Spaeth hurt his foot yesterday.

Daniel liked Paulson's hands and route-running skills as a flex tight end at the University of Oregon.

Paulson caught 31 passes his senior season, ran a 4.93 40 at his combine, and a 4.66 at his pro day. The Steelers drafted him in the seventh round for the same reasons they drafted current players Brett Keisel, David Johnson, Baron Batch and Kelvin Beachum in the seventh and final round.

"When we pick a guy in the seventh round," Daniel said, "that means we probably had him rated high, and somebody else didn't pick him, and we got a chance to take him where we took him.

"We put together a highlight tape of him, thought he was a good football player, and we had him on the board and we wondered if we would be able to draft him. Things fell into place and we're happy about it."

As a rookie, Paulson might have been the quietest player in the Steelers' locker room. And what most media and fans remember about his rookie season is the embarrassing lateral-pass to Antonio Brown that first bounced off Paulson's rear end and into the end zone. It was recovered by San Diego for the game-clinching touchdown.

"I didn't see that as bad as how everybody else saw it," said Paulson. "It was kind of a bad situation, bad timing, bad front that I ended up (blocking) against. I'd say Dallas was more of a low point. I let the D-end get inside of me a couple of times. That comes to mind as a time I wished I could've done better."

Blocking is one area in which Paulson has improved over the year. So has his understanding of the offense. He also exudes more confidence, and in turn Roethlisberger has more confidence in him.

"I'm a quiet guy, so that's not going to change," said Paulson, who, like Miller, was a quarterback in high school.

Paulson moved to the position as a senior at Riverside High, in the Seattle suburb of Auburn, and led the school to its second winning season.

Paulson's parents, his brother, and his fiance's parents have made the cross-country trek to St. Vincent to watch him practice. They've no doubt been as impressed with his progress as everyone else.

"It's remarkable to see how far this guy has come," said running backs coach Kirby Wilson. "If you remember where he was until now, it's like he's a new guy."

Because of the aforementioned injuries, Paulson has to become a new guy, perhaps even a go-to guy in the middle of the field.

Can the quiet kid from the Great Northwest handle it?

"Just throw it to him," said Foote. "Even when he's covered, throw it to him."

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