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Replacing Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth AND Ladarius Green becoming problematic

Still optimistic about young replacements, QB Ben Roethlisberger discusses potential options for troubled position

LATROBE -- Ben Roethlisberger has reminded his young tight ends several times that they shouldn't feel the need to be Heath Miller right here, right now.

Obviously, the tight ends are listening to the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback because no one in this group has shown they are close.

With all due respect to youth and inexperience, the position is becoming a bigger problem with each passing day that Ladarius Green jogs on the far field as a member of the PUP list.

But even when the team's main free-agent acquisition does return from his post-season ankle surgery, the Steelers will still lack a quality in-line blocker.

At least that's what's been shown on the field thus far, and Green carries a reputation as a pass-catcher only.

However, Roethlisberger reminds those of us seeking answers that Miller was indeed a special breed of player.

"We've been very blessed here," Roethlisberger said. "And you know, everyone talks about Heath Miller, but you look at a guy like Matt Spaeth. Matt Spaeth was a HECK of a blocker and did so many things in the pass game and run game that his shoes are hard to fill in that aspect as well."

With Green out longer than the Steelers' brass will admit to have been expecting, the Steelers are using last year's fifth-round pick, Jesse James, and last year's practice-squad tight end, Xavier Grimble, along with retread David Johnson, as their three main tight ends.

* James is the best combination of pass-catcher and blocker but isn't anywhere near Spaeth as a blocker, nor, obviously, Miller as a receiver.

* Grimble is the best athlete but for every great catch he makes he seems to follow it with a drop.

* Johnson is the best overall blocker, but he's a move TE and backup fullback.

Could the resolution be more four-receiver sets? More Le'Veon Bell in the slot?

"I think it's still early for that," Roethlisberger said. "I don't want to jump to that conclusion yet. The good thing is if we do need to do some stuff, where it's four wide receivers or you keep two tight ends in and get Le'Veon out and don't ask him to block in the pass game, we have options. But we'll wait to make any crazy decisions on that until we get a little further on, and then each week may dictate some different groupings, some different scheme, things like that."

One solution in the past was the use of an extra tackle at tight end. The Steelers used a young Kelvin Beachum, and even Mike Adams, to replace an injured Spaeth in 2013. Last year they had Alejandro Villanueva prepared for work as an extra tight end until Beachum was injured and Villanueva had to play tackle full-time.

Anyone else? Perhaps rookie tackle Jerald Hawkins?

"I think that's another definite possibility," Roethlisberger said. "Do you keep an extra tackle for that purpose? Do you bring him in for some pass-game stuff? You have to count on a guy. (Chris) Hubbard's another guy who could be that extra tight end-slash-extra tackle type guy. Once again, not going to rule it out."

Roethlisberger and the Steelers won't rule it in, of course, until the situation enters the critical stage. And it's not there yet.

"I don't want to jump to any conclusions yet because I see flashes from all of them at times," Roethlisberger said. "You see really great stuff, and then you see stuff that's 'Man, come on. There's got to be more.'

"Remember," he added, "those are big shoes they're trying to fill. We count on and ask the tight end to do a lot in this offense: blocking in the run/pass game, doing a lot of catching. I think right now they're trying too hard, putting a lot of pressure on themselves. That's my message to them: just relax, just play football, you guys are all very capable guys, just play the game."


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