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New Steelers TE Green knows he has big shoes to fill to replace Miller

| Thursday, March 10, 2016, 4:27 p.m.

Ladarius Green was sold on the Steelers even before coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert met with the free-agent tight end in Pensacola, Fla., on Wednesday.

Green was more than sold afterward.

Still, that didn't prevent Tomlin from whipping out his cell phone and calling franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, just in case.

“I was already going, but that was a cherry on top of it,” Green said of his brief conversation with Roethlisberger. “When he said my name, I was like, ‘He knows who I am.' So I must have done something right the four years I've played. I am pretty pumped up about that.”

The Steelers made it official on Thursday when they signed Green to a four-year, $20 million contract with a $4.75 million bonus to be their starting tight end. Green agreed in principle to a deal on Wednesday night, making him the first free agent in the Kevin Colbert era (2000-present) to commit to the Steelers on the first of free agency.

“I had some (offers), but everybody knows the Steelers and the history behind the team,” Green said. “Everybody has seen their offense as well, so it wasn't too hard of a choice.”

The Steelers were in need of a play-making tight end since veteran Heath Miller retired last month, leaving little depth and experience at the position. Jesse James and Xavier Grimble have potential, and Matt Spaeth is the only tight end on the roster with significant NFL experience.

Green was a player the Steelers identified immediately as their target. They were interested in Green coming out of Louisiana-Lafayette in 2012, but the Chargers snagged him in the fourth round as the tight end to eventually replace Antonio Gates.

That never happened. Gates, who signed a two-year deal to stay with the Chargers on Wednesday, continues to play at a Hall of Fame level.

“Honestly, I didn't realize until this year,” Green said. “Playing behind him for four years, he's like a big brother to me. He always helped me out. It's going to be different, but it's something I'm ready for, and it's an opportunity that I'm ready for and excited for, to come here and play for the Steelers.”

Instead of trying to push aside a veteran tight end, Green will try to replace a popular predecessor.

“I didn't follow too much of Heath, but everybody knew who he was,” Green said. “When they came to play, all you could hear was “HEEEATH” in the background when he would catch a pass. I don't want to consider myself as trying to follow in his footsteps, because those are some pretty big feet and pretty big shoes to fill, as well as Gates.

“But I'm just trying to be the best person I can be and try to do at least half of what he did for this organization.”

Though Miller was the most decorated tight end in Steelers history, Green provides something unique to the Steelers at the position — size, speed and athleticism. They will attempt to leverage that combination in the red zone.

While Antonio Brown has been one of the most targeted receivers in the league over the past couple years inside the red zone, his size can sometimes limit options. Miller was solid in the red zone, but his abilities were limited.

With Green, the Steelers have the best of both worlds — a big guy who is athletic and can create matchup problems near the goal line.

“I hope it's a good strength of mine,” Green said. “I hope they think it's a good strength, because I would like to help them as much as I can. But even if it's not in the red zone, in the open field, just getting it down there. Whatever helps the team, I'm ready to do.”

However, Green has only six career red-zone receptions in 15 targets over four years with the Chargers, with only one coming from inside the 5-yard line.

That likely is a by-product of Gates' 56 targets over the same span.

Green, who will have to improve his blocking, said he weighs 250 pounds and could add five more. He wasn't asked to do much blocking with San Diego until last year, when the Chargers drafted running back Melvin Gordon and wanted to establish the ground game.

“I don't think it will be too much of a transition,” Green said. “I had to block in San Diego. So it's not going to be too much of a difference coming here.”

Notes: Green had offseason ankle surgery and said he will be ready for training camp. He missed two games last season with what was thought to be concussions, but was later diagnosed as a sinus problem. He said there are no more issues. … Green, who wore No. 89 with the Chargers, will wear No. 80.

Mark Kaboly is a Tribune-Review staff writer. He can be reached at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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