PITTSBURGH -- In the NFL, it's hard to hide for long. With success comes attention and with attention comes a more difficult job. Second-year Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth emerged as a key red zone threat during the team's late-season push to the playoffs. He caught eight touchdowns in all, six coming in his last 10 games, of which his team won six. What he's capable of is now on film and Freiermuth will have to get better to maintain and exceed the production of his rookie season.
As organized team activities begin in earnest and the pieces of a reconstructed, post-Ben Rothelisberger offense start trying to figure out how they fit together, Freiermuth said he aims to become a more complete player. He wants to be more than just a big body to target inside of the 20-yard line.
"I showed some good things last year, but I think I just want to take my game to the next level and be more consistent in the run game, obviously, and pass protection. Coach [Mike Tomlin] threw a challenge my way."
To that end, Freiermuth said he spent the offseason at home, with his trainer trying to slim down and work on his blocking technique in anticipation of more varied positioning.
"My trainer back home, me and him got after it this offseason," Friermuth said on Wednesday. "I'm actually lighter than I was last year. ... We'll see what happens, but I think I'm going to move around in the offensive formations a lot."
Freiermuth's increased role coincides with a growing youth movement taking over the Steeler's offense. Roethlisberger retired. Then Pittsburgh drafted Pickett in the first round and imposing Georgia receiver George Pickens in the second. Last year, they used the 24th overall pick on Najee Harris. Most of the presumed starters are younger than 26 and receiver Diontae Johnson is the only player on an expiring contract.
All of a sudden, Freiermuth is one of the more seasoned players on the roster with just 17 NFL games under his belt. Freiermuth said that he and Harris, who accounted for more than 1600 all-purpose yards and 10 total touchdowns, have had to take on leadership roles with all of the new faces surrounding them.
"I definitely think we're going to have to," Freiermuth said. "We're a really young offense and with leadership comes the responsibility to play well on the field. As long as we do that, we can be pretty good vocal leaders on this offense."
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