Snapshot: Matt Spaeth

Mitch Browning was the offensive coordinator at Minnesota from 2000 to 2006, and before that had been the school's tight ends coach. He delighted in discussing one of his favorite players -- tight end Matt Spaeth.

Q&A: MITCH BROWNING

What can you tell me about Matt Spaeth?

Tremendous kid. He's extremely motivated. I think he's one of those guys you can't coach hard enough. He's got tremendous toughness -- physically, mentally, emotionally. He played through an extremely bad shoulder injury this season and put off his professional career, I guess you could say, and put off his best interests to make the ultimate sacrifice for the team by coming back and playing after reinjuring it. He helped get us bowl eligible. He never complains. He's very unselfish, the ultimate team player.

The kind of guy you really like, I'm sure.

The kind of guy you love. You'd like to have about 105 of him. I'll tell you what, he would do whatever you ask him to do on any given play. He never had an issue off the field, as far as academics or doing something he wasn't supposed to do. He never had a problem with the law. I can't say enough about him. Comes from a tremendous family.

Did you recruit him?

We recruited him. I didn't recruit him personally. We recruited him as a linebacker. He played linebacker and defensive end his freshman year and tight end. Prior to us going to a bowl game his freshman year, we moved him to tight end and it didn't take long to see that he was going to be a natural at that position. We had a guy there named Ben Utecht, who's the No. 2 guy with the Colts. But this guy really, he's without a question a great kid and tremendous player for us. I think the Steelers will love him. I think he'll be a tremendous player for them as well.

There are mixed reports on his blocking. What's your opinion?

He was a dominant blocker for us. I've seen all these tight ends -- the guy at Arizona State, the guy at Miami; this guy blocked. This guy was a dominant blocker. He was a physical player. He played just about every snap for us in a tight end-oriented offense and he did exactly what we asked him to do and did it exceptionally well. You know, I'd like to know what they want the guy to do if they don't think he blocked in our offense. I mean, he was a threat in the passing game, because in the passing game he did exactly what we asked and did it well. What we asked him to do in the running game, he did it and did it well. So, I don't know what the hell the expectations are anymore for a tight end, but the reason he won the Mackey Award is because he blocked and he caught the ball when asked to catch the ball. He's a nice, big target. Whatever the Steelers ask him to do he will do and he'll do exceptionally well, I would think, based on what he did for us.

Was he a key blocker for your great line of running backs?

Yeah, there's no question. It was (Marion) Barber and (Laurence) Maroney, Barber and Maroney, Maroney and (Gary) Russell – three years in a row. We're the only school in NCAA history to have the same two running backs rush for 1,000 yards two consecutive years. No school has ever had two running backs three consecutive years – three pairs -- get 1,000 yards each. Yeah, Matt Spaeth played an integral part of that. Without question he had a major contribution in us accomplishing that feat.

The Steelers think the injury caused his stock to fall and that they got a steal. Could Matt have been a higher draft pick had he been healthy as a senior?

I don't think there's any question about it. He was injured in fall camp, maybe second, third or fourth day. He came back after our medical people said there's no way no way he could play. He played in our first few ball games of the year, reinjured it versus North Dakota State, did not play against Ohio State, came back and played the last three games against Michigan State, Indiana and Iowa and played well in the run game and the pass game. I tend to agree with them. Here's a guy that, considering he was injured, played exceptionally well. He won the John Mackey Award. That says something. That's the kind of competitor he is. Nobody put a gun to his head to play. He played. He'll play through pain and he'll play injured. I guarantee you that's unheard of in this day and age.

Finally, what was your favorite moment with Matt?

The thing that sticks out in most people's minds about Matt Spaeth is when we lined him up at wide receiver and brought him in motion to crack defensive ends, and those defensive ends – Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin – he'd flat KO them. And you'd see they would stand up and start looking for him the next time around, or in the next game they'd game-plan for that specific formation when they knew he was out there. We actually called it "Spaeth motion" when defensive ends would actually stand up and start looking for him in that particular formation. Guys on the sideline would just be laughing because, man, they knew what he was capable of doing. He'd wipe them out. This year, I mean, he was devastating.

Okay, Mitch, thanks for your time. The Steelers think they got a steal and it sounds like you're thinking the same way.

There's no question. You know what? They talk about him as a player but he's a tremendous kid. He will do whatever it takes to be successful. He's a tremendous kid. He's a tremendous kid to be around, a tremendous kid to coach, a tremendous kid to have in your organization.


Steel City Insider Top Stories

\r\n\r\n\r\nQ&A: MITCH BROWNING\r\n\r\n

What can you tell me about Matt Spaeth?

\r\n\r\nTremendous kid. He's extremely motivated. I think he's one of those guys you can't coach hard enough. He's got tremendous toughness -- physically, mentally, emotionally. He played through an extremely bad shoulder injury this season and put off his professional career, I guess you could say, and put off his best interests to make the ultimate sacrifice for the team by coming back and playing after reinjuring it. He helped get us bowl eligible. He never complains. He's very unselfish, the ultimate team player. \r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n

The kind of guy you really like, I'm sure.

\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nThe kind of guy you love. You'd like to have about 105 of him. I'll tell you what, he would do whatever you ask him to do on any given play. He never had an issue off the field, as far as academics or doing something he wasn't supposed to do. He never had a problem with the law. I can't say enough about him. Comes from a tremendous family. \r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n

Did you recruit him?

\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nWe recruited him. I didn't recruit him personally. We recruited him as a linebacker. He played linebacker and defensive end his freshman year and tight end. Prior to us going to a bowl game his freshman year, we moved him to tight end and it didn't take long to see that he was going to be a natural at that position. We had a guy there named Ben Utecht, who's the No. 2 guy with the Colts. But this guy really, he's without a question a great kid and tremendous player for us. I think the Steelers will love him. I think he'll be a tremendous player for them as well. \r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n

There are mixed reports on his blocking. What's your opinion?

\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nHe was a dominant blocker for us. I've seen all these tight ends -- the guy at Arizona State, the guy at Miami; this guy blocked. This guy was a dominant blocker. He was a physical player. He played just about every snap for us in a tight end-oriented offense and he did exactly what we asked him to do and did it exceptionally well. \r\n\r\nYou know, I'd like to know what they want the guy to do if they don't think he blocked in our offense. I mean, he was a threat in the passing game, because in the passing game he did exactly what we asked and did it well. What we asked him to do in the running game, he did it and did it well. So, I don't know what the hell the expectations are anymore for a tight end, but the reason he won the Mackey Award is because he blocked and he caught the ball when asked to catch the ball. He's a nice, big target. Whatever the Steelers ask him to do he will do and he'll do exceptionally well, I would think, based on what he did for us. \r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n

Was he a key blocker for your great line of running backs?

\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nYeah, there's no question. It was (Marion) Barber and (Laurence) Maroney, Barber and Maroney, Maroney and (Gary) Russell – three years in a row. We're the only school in NCAA history to have the same two running backs rush for 1,000 yards two consecutive years. No school has ever had two running backs three consecutive years – three pairs -- get 1,000 yards each. Yeah, Matt Spaeth played an integral part of that. Without question he had a major contribution in us accomplishing that feat. \r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n

The Steelers think the injury caused his stock to fall and that they got a steal. Could Matt have been a higher draft pick had he been healthy as a senior?

\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nI don't think there's any question about it. He was injured in fall camp, maybe second, third or fourth day. He came back after our medical people said there's no way no way he could play. He played in our first few ball games of the year, reinjured it versus North Dakota State, did not play against Ohio State, came back and played the last three games against Michigan State, Indiana and Iowa and played well in the run game and the pass game. I tend to agree with them. Here's a guy that, considering he was injured, played exceptionally well. He won the John Mackey Award. That says something. That's the kind of competitor he is. Nobody put a gun to his head to play. He played. He'll play through pain and he'll play injured. I guarantee you that's unheard of in this day and age. \r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n

Finally, what was your favorite moment with Matt?

\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nThe thing that sticks out in most people's minds about Matt Spaeth is when we lined him up at wide receiver and brought him in motion to crack defensive ends, and those defensive ends – Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin – he'd flat KO them. And you'd see they would stand up and start looking for him the next time around, or in the next game they'd game-plan for that specific formation when they knew he was out there. We actually called it \"Spaeth motion\" when defensive ends would actually stand up and start looking for him in that particular formation. Guys on the sideline would just be laughing because, man, they knew what he was capable of doing. He'd wipe them out. This year, I mean, he was devastating. \r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n

Okay, Mitch, thanks for your time. The Steelers think they got a steal and it sounds like you're thinking the same way.

\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nThere's no question. You know what? They talk about him as a player but he's a tremendous kid. He will do whatever it takes to be successful. He's a tremendous kid. 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