Former Penn State TE Pat Freiermuth already turning into reliable weapon for Steelers

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth (88) makes a touchdown catch in front of Detroit Lions linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (44) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)

Pat Freiermuth, who never dropped a pass in the red zone at Penn State, is at it again.

The Pittsburgh Steelers' second-round draft choice caught two touchdowns from Ben Roethlisberger in Saturday night's preseason victory against the Detroit Lions, each time making a twisting, over-the-shoulder catch over a defender. The catches were for 8 and 11 yards and almost in the identical spot in the end zone.

The catches did not come as a surprise to anybody who has watched Freiermuth throughout the spring and into training camp.

"I don't think he showed us anything different than he's shown us throughout every component of this process, even dating back to minicamp," coach Mike Tomlin said. "You know, he made a very similar play in red zone work in minicamp, so I don't think any of us are surprised by what he was able to do tonight."

The Steelers thought so highly of Freiermuth they skipped a more immediate need at center in the second round of the draft to take the 6-foot-5, 258-pound tight end, who caught 92 passes for 1,185 yards and 16 touchdowns (a school record for tight ends) at Penn State. And he shows why just about every day.

His teammates say they've never seem him drop a pass in practice, though Freiermuth claims he has dropped one or two — probably to take some of the pressure and attention away from the impressive streak. Even when Roethlisberger would deliberately throw awkward passes to him in the spring, Freiermuth usually found a way to catch any pass he could get to hit his hands.

"The first time in OTAs when he came, he was throwing it all over the place for me and I was just very confused, I was like, 'Am I doing something wrong?' All that kind of stuff," Freiermuth said. "And [ Eric Ebron] and Zach [Gentry] were like, 'He does this to see what your range is like.'

"So it helped me a lot in OTAs and training camp, stuff like that. He sees where I can make adjustments and stuff like that so it's awesome and, you know, it kind of showed on the field (Saturday)."

Freiermuth is not expected to be anointed a starter ahead of Eric Ebron, but he will play a lot, maybe even as much as Ebron, in the regular season — whether in two tight-end sets or alone as the in-line tight end. With rookie starters drafted ahead of him ( Najee Harris) and behind him ( Kendrick Green), the immediate impact of the top end of this draft class can be significant as any the Steelers have had in many years.

"With this rookie group we get better every day," said Harris, who continues to show why he was the top running back selected in the draft. "Coming in, a lot of us had a good opportunity to play as rookies. To get better every day as a rookie was really emphasized a lot this year because a lot of us would play early."