A look at the tight ends heading to camp

If you want an idea of what the Steelers' offense is going to concentrate on in 2004, just take a look at the team's stable of tight ends.

There's not a player considered a good blocker among the group of Jerame Tuman, Jay Riemersma, Matt Cushing, Matt Kranchick or Bobby Blizzard.

Because of that, you can expect to see the Steelers doing less running between the tackles and more attacking the defense on the perimeter, a less physical style of play.

At one point in his career, Mark Bruener was considered one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL, but injuries robbed him of that last season and he was released. That leaves Tuman as the team's best all-around tight end.

The 6-3, 255-pound Tuman doesn't do anything particularly well, but he's just good enough a receiver and blocker to be the best tight end on this roster - which is a little like being the prettiest fat girl in the third grade.

Tuman will enter training camp as the team's starter and will be expected to produce more than his 12 receptions for 113 yards and no touchdowns of last season.

Riemersma entered last season as the team's starter after being signed in June. He was supposed to be the down-the-seam threat the team was missing that would keep opponents from bringing the safety up to the line of scrimmage to stop the running game.

And for one game, it looked like something that was going to work perfectly as Riemersma was great in the opener, catching a touchdown pass over the middle. Unfortunately, that was as good as things got, as Riemersma was injured more than he was healthy and the touchdown catch proved to be his only one of 2003.

Though he's 6-5 and 255 pounds, Riemersma couldn't block a toilet. That's what made his 2003 season so disappointing. If he's only going to catch 10 passes for 138 yards as he did last year, he doesn't serve much of a purpose.

Riemersma will want to put 2003 behind him and the bet here is that he has one last hurrah left in him as the team's No. 2 tight end.

Matt Cushing has had an on-again, off-again relationship with the Steelers the past few seasons, but spent all of 2003 on the team's roster, also serving as the team's backup fullback.

If the team decides J.T. Wall can serve as Dan Kreider's backup in 2004, Cushing's days could be numbered. Cushing dressed just four times last season and he'll probably have a tough time making this team.

Kranchick was a surprise draft pick as the team took him in the sixth round despite the fact he didn't start last season at Penn State.

But the 6-7, 255-pound Kranchick seems to be a clone of Riemersma. A former wide receiver, he showed good hands during the team's offseason workouts and creates a matchup problem for whoever tries to cover him.

But he'll have to learn the nuances of blocking if he's going to earn a spot on the active roster.

Blizzard is a long shot to make the team in any capacity, but displayed some receiving skills during the offseason workouts. His problem is that he lacks speed and like Kranchick is a former college wide receiver.

Kranchick's size and speed make him special. Blizzard is a plodder who isn't much of a blocker, not a good combination if you're going to make it in the NFL.

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