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As tight ends in the Steel City go, nobody will dispute that Heath Miller is as solid as they come. In Pittsburgh, Miller is heralded for his ability to make the huge catch, but he is even more celebrated for his humble willingness to forego a mountainous role in the passing game. Instead, he fulfills the blocking role of more traditional tight ends while being a viable threat in the passing game with hands as soft as the game’s best pass-catchers at the position.
For that very reason, Miller is quite underrated nationally, where fantasy numbers and bulk statistics are the litmus test for perceived modern greatness.
Locally, however, a pair of tight ends with important roles may also not receive quite the accolades that they could warrant in 2012.
The first is Weslye Saunders, who is suspended early in the season due to a positive drug test. While his productivity in the passing game is easily not confused with No. 83, he did show off soft hands on an amazing touchdown reception against the Chiefs last season. Certainly, Todd Haley noticed from the other sideline, particularly considering that Saunders also boasts sound blocking ability.
However, Weslye may have an uphill battle to reclaim his backup tight end spot upon his return considering the team’s acquisition of Leonard Pope.
As the new offense is concerned, Pope falls in line with the goals of the system beautifully. First and foremost, his familiarity with Todd Haley’s offensive system in both Arizona and Kansas City, speaks volumes in two ways.
1. He should be able to help teammates learn the particulars of the offense while easily blending into the system himself.
2. Todd Haley and the Steelers' acquisition of Pope speaks well of his ability and his relationship with the coach. Sharing the field in three straight cities is not a coincidence.
In nine seasons, Pope has started approximately half of his career games, catching 102 passes for nearly 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns. Making a reception on two-thirds of his targets, Pope’s 6’8” frame is clearly hard to defend.
In the congested part of the field that is the red zone, speed is often easier to negate. On an offense that put so much focus on its receivers’ speed, often at the cost of forgetting other viable weapons deep in opposing territory, this is a reasonable explanation for the low touchdown conversion percentage.
Make no mistake that Pope, along with the other tight ends on Pittsburgh’s roster, will be called upon to score points for a team that is extremely focused on improving in tightly defensed red zone area. A big-bodied, sure-handed and TALL tight end will come in quite handy