Thursday, January 29, 2009
January 27, 2009
by Matt Pawlikowski
It's no secret that Steelers offensive coordinator Brice Arians loves to utilize his tight ends. On Sunday, with the potential existing that Hines Ward will not be playing, they could become huge factors in the Super Bowl.
Arians infatuation with utilizing a two tight ends instead of the traditional I back is a reason that in 2007, the team surprised many when they drafted Matt Spaeth, who won the John Mackey award winner as the nation's top tight end that fall. The Steelers already had Heath Miller, but in adding Spaeth to the equation, it allowed Arians to diversify the Steelers offense even more.
"He is big, tall and fast. He can block; he is an outstanding, prototypical tight end," Arians said of Spaeth. " At 6'7", he can help stretch the field and he can also handle the point of attack. He gives us good flexibility to take Heath and move him around a lot more.
"I like having three tight ends on the field a lot of times. It gives us a good personnel group, with two tight ends that can stretch the field and all three guys can block the point of attack."
Asked if he was surprised when the Steelers called his name in the third round, Spaeth, who was selected behind Greg Oleson ( Chicago, #31) and Zach Miller ( Oakland, #38) said he wasn't sure what would happen.
"I didn't really know what to expect in the draft process, you have inclinations and I think that is the best way to go into it," Speath said. "But its been unbelievable here, especially when it comes to fan support. Coming from Minnesota, its not like this at all."
Although Spaeth has seen a lot of action since his rookie year, with Miller nursing a high ankle sprain against the Colts earlier this season, he emerged as a favorite target of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger catching six passes for 53 yards in the game.
"I'm just trying to do what I can in there," Spaeth said. "Heath is our go to guy, I was trying to step in and take advantage of the opportunity and leave us some underneath stuff. Every day, I've taken some extra time to study film and different things like that."
That he has become being a quick study of the game should come as no surprise. His father Ken played the same position at Nebraska, and was drafted by Buffalo. Being able to catch the ball also should not be unforseen.
Despite being 6-7, 270 pounds, he has 4.7 speed and at Minnesota his senior year, he had 47 receptions for 564 yards. In 2008 he had 17 grabs for 136 yards and last year, of the six passes he caught, four were for touchdowns.
"Everyone loves to catch the ball," Speath said with a smile. "Last year, It seemed that a lot of my stuff came in the red zone. If you're open, Ben will find you. If you're not, he's going to find the open guy."
But there is another reason Spaeth has become a viable part of the offensive scheme, his blocking ability. When he is in the lineup, the team not only has another lineman for protection, but an extra player to clear the paths for Melwelde Moore or Willie Parker.
"The NFL game is a lot more complex in the things you learn, and I'm still learning as everyday in practice there is something new that comes up," Spaeth said. "So its a constant learning process. My main focus ever since I was in college, was to have a great game blocking and whatever opportunities come and present themselves in the passing game, to go out and take full advantage of them."