Tight end Spaeth putting his best foot forward with Steelers

| Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, 10:51 p.m.

Matt Spaeth is back. Sort of.

The run-blocking tight end specialist who could be a vital cog in getting the Steelers much-maligned running game untracked took his first step in returning to the lineup after undergoing Lisfranc foot surgery three months ago.

Spaeth was removed from the injured reserve/designated to return list Thursday. The Steelers will have 21 days before they have to make a decision to activate him to the 53-man roster or place him on season-ending injured reserve. They could make the decision sooner, but it will depend on how Spaeth fares in practice.

“I didn't do a lot, but I did a little bit of everything,” Spaeth said. “I think it is going to be interesting every day to see how it responds. The more I do, the more I have to pay attention to it. So far so good. I know this is Day 1 of the three-week window, so when that happens I have no idea but that is definitely the plan.”

The Steelers are looking to add Spaeth to a slim tight end unit barring any setbacks. Spaeth went through limited individual and team drills on his first day back in nearly 15 weeks. The original time frame for his return was 8-10 weeks.

“It is one of those things I guess you don't really know,” Spaeth said about the rehabilitation process. “You hear of guys that stay out a long time and some people who come back a little faster.”

Not long after the Steelers invested $2 million over two years to bring back their former third-round pick in 2007, Spaeth suffered the mid-foot injury during a training camp practice that required surgery.

“I was blocking a guy,” Spaeth said. “I didn't get landed on or stepped on. It was just one of those weird things.”

Spaeth, who played for the Bears the past two years, was one of only four free-agent signings by the Steelers during the offseason (William Gay, Bruce Gradkowski, LaRod Stephens-Howling). Only Gay has played significant snaps.

“It's been awful, it really has,” Spaeth said of getting injured. “I was super exited to be back here and to be able to put this uniform back on and play for the Steelers. It was really awesome to be back, then all of a sudden you get hurt. It seems like a long time coming to put this uniform on and go play on game day.”

The Steelers signed Spaeth in the offseason to help a thin tight end unit that lacked any dominant blocking. Heath Miller and David Johnson were coming off knee injuries, and David Paulson was still a work-in-progress.

Miller is playing at less than 100 percent, and Johnson was lost for the season with a wrist injury, which forced the Steelers to use Paulson, Michael Palmer and even tackle Mike Adams at tight end.

“He looks good as far as I can tell,” Miller said. “It is good to have him back out there. He is a good player and has been a good player for some time. It will be positive for us when he is back.”

Spaeth is known more for his blocking than his pass-catching abilities. The Steelers are 30th in the league in rushing averaging only 76.5 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry.

Spaeth has played in 91 games in seven seasons catching 49 passes and eight touchdowns.

“Hopefully, Matt will show up here pretty soon,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “That will be a big help.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib

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