The Missing Pieces: Rejuvenating the QB/TE Connection

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By: Jonathan Clark
SteelerNation.com

 

Throughout his career, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger has always had a “comfort blanket” at the tight end position. It helped that the so-called “comfort blanket” also went by the name of Heath Miller. Anyone who has watched Steeler football for the past 10 years knows Miller as a household name and rightfully so. Being a first-round draft pick in 2005 with high expectations, he and Roethlisberger built an incredible connection that lasted a good part of Miller’s 11 seasons in the NFL. He played in 168 games, caught 592 balls for 6,569 yards and 45 touchdowns, and has 2 Super Bowl rings to show for it. It was clear that in a time of need, Roethlisberger was going to look Miller’s way, and as you can see, the results turned out pretty good.

 

 

Since Miller’s retirement in 2016, the Steelers and Roethlisberger have yet to find that comfort blanket to trust in a time of need, but not without trying of course. 

Immediately following Miller’s retirement announcement, the Steelers were on the market for a new TE to replace a legend in black and gold. Pretty hard shoes to fill, am I right? Well, Pittsburgh thought they had the perfect guy for it — Ladarius Green. He was 6’6, 238 pounds and just came off his best season yet behind NFL legend Antonio Gates with the then San Diego Chargers. There was a lot of upside about him in free agency and there was good reason behind the signing. Green was given a four-year, $20 million dollar contract with the hopes that he and Roethlisberger could build that same connection that was built one before. Well as we all know, that did not exactly play out in our favor. Green played in six games, only starting in two of them for reasons no other than injuries. He caught 18 passes for 304 yards in 2017, scoring one touchdown in his most notable game as a Steeler against the New York Giants. Green had suffered from many head injuries throughout his career that kept him out of most action during that 2017 season and resulted in many more complications throughout the off-season which eventually led to his release following that year.

 

 

The Steelers found themselves again looking for their future tight end following Green’s unfortunate release. Pittsburgh ending up trading their 4th round 2018 draft pick to the San Francisco 49ers for TE Vance McDonald. Now for me, this move has been a success. It’s clear that Roethlisberger and McDonald have a great relationship off the field. That for the most part has transitioned into a good relationship on the field. McDonald has made some big plays in some key moments in his short career in Pittsburgh and who’s to say that more success isn’t to come? But the Steelers got themselves a new weapon at the TE position this off-season, and a good one at that. Enter Eric Ebron

This move made me instantly think of the connection Roethlisberger had with Miller and how that offense ran so smoothly because the TE position was such a key part of that team’s success. Ebron is that guy to make this offense just that much better.

Just think about it. There are only so many defensive backs and linebackers in the NFL that have the speed that allows them to guard these offensive weapons that the Steelers have. Pairing Ebron with the likes of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington and rookie Chase Claypool is what keeps defensive coordinators awake at night. That aspect of the game, plus having to worry about a Pro Bowl RB in James Conner coming out of the backfield. Teams are going to have a very hard time stopping this offense. Ebron brings  Pro Bowl caliber play at the TE position each and every week with the opportunity for explosive plays each time he lines up. Ebron has a rare natural speed that we don’t see many tight ends have today. He is a former first round pick back in 2015, so naturally the words “first round talent” will surround him for his whole career, but Ebron has backed it up.

 

 

After struggling to live up to the hype his first three seasons with the Detroit Lions, Ebron signed with the Indianapolis Colts in 2018, where he truly came into form. In two seasons with them, he caught 97 passes for 1,125 yards and 16 touchdowns with a Pro Bowl appearance in 2019 to back that up. Many can say that Ebron is just entering his prime years in the league, and if that is the case, then us Steeler fans have a lot to look forward to for these next couple of seasons. He is a playmaker that has proven to do great things when the ball is in his hands, and a guy that Roethlisberger will be able to trust in key moments. The Steelers are adding two Pro Bowl caliber players at their positions on offense in 2019 — a rejuvenated “Big Ben” Roethlisberger, who has been rumored to be throwing “even better” than before the surgery, ready for his comeback tour, PLUS adding Ebron who just two years ago put up a Pro Bowl season. It’s scary to think of the success that this team can have in 2020, all by adding just a few missing pieces. 

 

Do you think Eric Ebron will have success in black and gold? Comment below!

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