Draft Series: Tight Ends

The Steelers made Jay Riemersma their top free-agent signing last year because of the threat he posed down the middle of the field.<p>Tall and fast,Riemersma, a tight end with 53 catches in 2001,would split the deep middle of the cover-2 defenses that had begun popping up as a defense against Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward.<p>The plan worked brilliantly - for one game.<p>As the draft approaches, the Steelers must decide whether Riemersma's injury-plagued season was a sign of decline or bad luck.

Riemersma made only 10 catches last season, and two of those occurred in the opener. One was a 20-yard touchdown reception, which set up a 28-yard touchdown pass to Ward on the next series. The Steelers rolled past the Baltimore Ravens 35-14 and the offensive coaches were ecstatic about the form the offense was taking.

But then Riemersma, who'll turn 31 in May, was saddled with a series of injuries. He didn't score another touchdown and finished with his lowest production since his rookie season. He has two years left on his contract and is due $1.15 million in salary this season.

The Steelers' second tight end, Jerame Tuman, 28, also caught only 10 passes last season. He also has two years left on a contract and is due $920,000 this year.

The third tight end, Matt Cushing, recently signed a one-year, minimum-wage contract. Obviously, the Steelers would like a tight end to do for their offense what Riemersma did in last season's opener. If they can find one without straining, they will. Otherwise they'll give Riemersma another season to prove he's not in physical decline.

Fourth round - Kris Wilson (6-1 7/8, 248) of Pitt could be - with the exception of potential first pick Kellen Winslow - the best offensive weapon of all prospective tight ends. So why target him this late in the draft? Because of his size and the perception he can't block better than the typical H-back. However, ask Nathan Adibi of Virginia Tech whether Wilson can block. Or ask Miami's defensive ends, or Jonathan Vilma, or anyone on Virginia's defense. Better yet, ask Larry Fitzgerald.

Another potential first pick, Fitzgerald was shut down by Miami not because of anyone's coverage ability, but because deep threat Wilson was needed to block so Rod Rutherford could leave the game with his parts intact. For the same reason Riemersma helped Ward in the opener, Wilson was a key factor behind Fitzerald's success last season.

The Pitt tight end was the quickest of those timed at the combine. He ran anywhere from 4.55 to 4.61, depending on the watch. He's a legitimate offensive threat and, despite his lack of height and bulk, can certainly become at least as good of a blocker as Riemersma.

Wilson will be some team's second-day steal, and he may as well be the Steelers'. A two-time member of the All-Academic Big East team, Wilson has the intelligence, character, durability and ability the Steelers seek in a prospect.

Fifth round - Tim Euhus (6-4½, 260) of Oregon State is a former basketball player and team captain who's started every game the last three years. He also ran a 4.9 at the combine and benched 225 pounds 25 times. Those are all traits the Steelers like, and they can't ignore his production. Last season Euhus (pronounced YOU-us) caught 49 passes for 645 yards and seven touchdowns with an average of 13.2 yards per catch. His most outstanding physical asset is a pair of big, soft hands. He's also considered a fine blocker with upside due to a rather high 16 percent body fat that can be melted away. Other stats of note are his 34 Wonderlic test score and his 3.7 GPA in engineering.

Jason Peters (6-4½, 336) is a massive tight end who ran a 4.9 40 at the combine. Scouts feel he can play right tackle and will be drafted in the second round. Some believe he's the tonic for what ails the Steelers, but they should know this about Peters: His Wonderlic test score of 9 underscores a series of poor decisions he's made at Arkansas.

In the wee hours of a Friday morning before a game in 2002, Peters was cited for urinating in a parking lot outside a Fayetteville bar. He was also cited for disorderly conduct and suspended for the game against Mississippi State. Less than five months later, Peters was a passenger in a car that was pulled over in the wee hours of a Sunday morning. The cop ran a check on Peters and arrested him on an outstanding warrant for failing to appear in court because of a speeding ticket. He was suspended for the remainder of spring practice before it was also learned that since June 14, 2001, Peters had been cited for driving without insurance five times, for no driver's license three times, no vehicle registration two times, driving once on a suspended license and had piled up eight failure-to-appear warrants for missing four court dates.

Kellen Winslow, 20, is considered the best tight end prospect since his father played for the San Diego Chargers. Some think junior's a better prospect.

Said one unnamed scout to the Houston Chronicle: "I hated him at the start of the year, but let me tell you he's the best competitor I've ever seen on tape. Then I went down there expecting to downgrade him on something, anything, maybe blocking, but he has power, explosion, finish. He grinds people into the ground."

An unnamed personnel director was also quoted by the paper. "I've never given a higher competitive grade," he said. "If you watch practice, he embarrasses his teammates because of his tenacity. They look like they are standing still. He's at a new level."

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