Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Steelers Looking To Keep Running Game Humming With Matt Spaeth Back

By Matthew Marczi

March 10, 2015

Just before the official start of the free agency period, the Pittsburgh Steelers tended house, re-signing two of their own pending free agents, among them veteran tight end Matt Spaeth. He has spent six of his eight years in the league with the Steelers, and was the first offensive player drafted by head coach Mike Tomlin.

Spaeth, 31, was drafted in the third round of the 2007 draft and slowly improved as a run-blocking tight end through his first four seasons in Pittsburgh. After that, he signed a contract with the Chicago Bears, where he continued to develop, but he was released after two seasons when the team signed Martellus Bennett.

The Steelers were quick to bring Spaeth back for the 2013 season, signing him to a two-year contract. They have brought him back a second time with yet another two-year contract, which just so happens to be the same amount of years left on Heath Miller’s deal.

When he was first here, Spaeth was an undervalued commodity, perhaps in part because he was never much of a receiving threat. This proved to be true with the front office as well, however, as they did let him walk without an offer on the table.

But if there was one thing that they learned during the two intervening years, it was that they never managed to be able to replace what Spaeth gave them on the field, and their product suffered because of it.

Thus, when the opportunity arose to replace Spaeth’s replacements with Spaeth himself, they seized upon it, and his first season back was a fine indicator of just how valuable he actually is to what the Steelers look to do on the ground.

As you’ll recall, Spaeth suffered a foot injury during training camp, which caused him to miss a full three quarters of the 2013 season. The Steelers struggled to be productive on the ground working with marginal talents and failed offensive tackles at the tight end position.

The running game spiked upward during the month of December, however, when Spaeth finally returned to the lineup, with Le’Veon Bell finally achieving the elusive feat of his first 100-yard rushing game in Week 16.

In his sophomore year, Bell rushed for over 1300 yards to lead the AFC and broke the franchise record for all-purpose yards, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Spaeth was featured prominently in some of Bell’s best ground performances on the season, coincidentally.

Re-signing a reserve tight end may not be the most exciting move happening around the league right now, but locking up Spaeth has a big impact on what the Steelers are able to do on offense, which, if I may remind you, was more productive than all but one offense last year in team history.

Spaeth’s size, strength, and versatility makes him a great asset. He can block defensive ends or get out on the move to pull block on a safety on the perimeter.
Not to mention, it helps free up Miller from doing much of the grunt work on his own, keeping him fresher as a receiving option.

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