Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Spotlight on Matt Spaeth

TE Miller To Lose Reps To Rookie Spaeth?

July 24, 2007
By Paul Eide

With news circulating of Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians plan to use multiple receiver sets in 2007, and with the team investing a third round pick on a tight end, speculation has arisen about third year player Heath Miller's role in the offense. Miller was largely a forgotten man in 2006 and failed to reach expectations in his second year.

After opening the NFL's inaugural game of the 2006 season with 101 yards and a touchdown versus the Dolphins, Miller had only 292 yards over the next 15 games. To further emphasize how statistically underwhelming Miller was consider this: aside from his opening day game performance he failed to total more than 35 receiving yards in any other game. This is especially troubling considering quarterback Ben Roethlisberger set career highs in attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns in 2007.

Matt Spaeth (6-7, 270), out of Minnesota, was selected by the Steelers in the third round of this year's NFL Draft. He is the all-time career leader for the Gophers in receiving yards (1,291) and receptions (109) by a tight end breaking the records set by current Colts tight end Ben Utect. As a senior, he won the John Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end after finishing with 47 receptions for 564 yards (12.0 avg.) and four touchdowns.

A two-time All-Big Ten first-team honoree, Spaeth finished his career with 12 receiving touchdowns. For all the accolades he received thanks to his work as a target in the passing game, Spaeth established a reputation as one of the best blocking tight ends in the country.

Nicknamed "Big Money" for his ability to gain first downs and touchdowns, Heath Miller was a three-year starter at tight end for the University of Virginia. He led ACC tight ends in receiving every year of his college career and he was the 2004 recipient of the John Mackey Award. He finished his career holding ACC records for most career receptions (144), yards (1703) and touchdowns (20) by a tight end.

After a promising rookie season that culminated with the Steelers winning the Super Bowl, many felt Miller took a step backward last season. Miller was called upon to block more last year than in his rookie season but that alone does not account for his lack of production. Miller's statistics declined across the board and he accumulated less catches, yards and touchdowns than in 2005.

Regardless of who gets the most work, the Steelers have solidified the tight end position with two players who contribute to an offense in multiple ways, something head coach Mike Tomlin is willing to utilize.

"I am a three tight end guy. We value the tight end without a doubt," said Tomlin. "You can get in a two-tight end set or multiple tight-end sets, it creates problems because of the number of gaps along the line of scrimmage that you have to defend. Matt's a big guy. He's got very good hands, and good route savvy. When it came time to pick Matt specifically, he was clearly the highest rated guy on our board. We really think that Matt can come in and give us another dimension at tight end."

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