Steelers see big things in new TE Green's future
BOCA RATON, Fla. — Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has studied Ladarius Green.
Tomlin saw Green coming out of Louisiana-Lafayette and again leading up to last year's Week 5 game against the Chargers. He knows what the tight end does best.
Green can run. Green can catch. Green can be a matchup nightmare in the red zone.
But what Tomlin doesn't know about his newest offensive weapon is what excites him most: How does Green impact Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and others on an already-talented offense?
“We are waiting to see the ramifications of that or how his presence affects us,” Tomlin said Tuesday during the AFC coaches breakfast at the NFL's annual meetings. “Forget what he does. How does it change Antonio Brown's day? How does it change Ben's day? What is it going to do to the coverages that we see? We are excited about seeing all of those things develop.”
The Steelers plunked down $20 million over four years on the first day of free agency to secure Green. Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert stopped at Green's house in Pensacola, Fla., between attending college pro days to leave no doubt about securing their prime free agent target.
The Steelers were in dire need of a tight end after Heath Miller's retirement and decided to go big by pursuing something that they haven't had in some time: a game-changing tight end. For all of Miller's accomplishments, shifting balance on the field wasn't one of them.
“He is a talented guy, and I think we are going to discover ways to use him, and I look forward to that process of seeing how he fits and what dimensions he is going to add to us,” Tomlin said. “I am not going into it with any preconceived notions or to try to squeeze him into a box of any kind.”
Since the signing, Steelers coaches have contacted Chargers coach Mike McCoy about Green. It was mostly to get a feel for him, but also a way to understand how the Chargers deployed him.
The Chargers did plenty with a 6-foot-5, 250-pound, fast and athletic tight end.
“We moved him around a lot,” McCoy said. “His knowledge of the game, but the big thing is his play-making abilities. When you are playing behind somebody like Antonio Gates for a number of years, he might not have gotten as many balls.”
Green had 77 receptions in 47 games during four years with the Chargers. His best year was 2015, when he caught 37 passes — 14 of which came in the three games Gates was suspended.
The Chargers wanted Green back but ultimately chose the veteran Gates. The Chargers signed Gates to a two-year deal not long after Green signed with the Steelers.
“It was a very difficult decision, but a number of things go into those decisions,” McCoy said about choosing Gates over Green. “Ladarius had a great understanding of what we thought of him as a football player and he decided to explore some options. It wasn't like we weren't trying to get him back. We had talked to the agent, and he wanted to explore that.
“It is a business, and he has a bright future in Pittsburgh. He is a very talented player in the passing game.”
The Steelers will head into spring practices in May with an array of tight ends.
Green can catch and run, but he struggles blocking at times. Tomlin said Green is “much improved since the Lousiana-Lafayette tape and we are encouraged by that.”
Matt Spaeth can block, but he is 32 and has only 55 catches in nine seasons. Second-year player Jesse James has the potential to be a solid. Xavier Grimble, although he has Green-like measurables, spent last year on the practice squad.
With Martavis Bryant suspended next season, Green couldn't have arrived at a better time.
The Steelers hope he can give them the downfield threat they lost in Bryant's absence.
“You have to be able to attack the field vertically for a lot of reasons, for easy yards and points, to loosen the underneath defenses and so forth,” Tomlin said. “The bottom line is that somebody has to be doing that, whether it's the tight end or receiver or running back, for that matter.”