Freiermuth meets the challenge

Meeting the challenge: Tight end Pat Freiermuth was on a mission following the 2021 season.

After finishing up his rookie year, he set his sights on a few goals.

And one of those goals was adding more muscle mass to help him in the blocking aspect of his game more than anything.

All of you have to do is take one look at Freiermuth during the team's OTAs and you realize he reached that goal.

"My trainer back home, him and I got after it this offseason," said Freiermuth following Wednesday's OTA session. "I worked hard this offseason to put some muscle on my upper body. That was my biggest thing last year, something I definitely wanted to work on."

Freiermuth admitted that following his first season he was a little 'beat up,' prompting the desire to add the muscle. And that is all he added – muscle.

"I'm actually lighter than I was last year. I am bigger, but lighter," said Freiermuth. "I was definitely beat up at the end of last season."

Freiermuth said Coach Mike Tomlin gave him a little bit of a challenge at the end of the season that also prompted him to work his tail off and come back the way Tomlin expected him to.

"I showed some good things last year, but I think just taking my game to the next level and be more consistent in the run game and pass pro. In the offseason I really went after it. Coach T threw a challenge my way and I went after it."

Taking care of your body, understanding the importance of adding muscle, is something many players pick up on during their first season. Freiermuth said both he and Najee Harris became well aware of that last season and took action.

"We learned throughout the season that it's a long season," said Freiermuth. "The benefit of putting on more muscle weight, it's going to last throughout the season and we're not going to feel as beat up later in the season. That is one of the things I learned from the vets, about how serious they take their bodies in the season and offseason, keeping the muscle on."

Now the hope is, it all shows on the field. Freiermuth is hoping to be more of a downfield threat this year. Last year he had 60 receptions for 497 yards, an 8.28-yard per catch average.

In his mind, that number is not acceptable.

"I think my yards per average was atrocious. In my opinion, 8.2 yards, that is pretty bad on my end," said Freiermuth. "I think if I have 60 catches, I should be more in the range of 800-900 yards. I think I definitely need to get that higher and maybe we push the ball downfield more this year."

-- Teresa Varley

New coach, new approach: New offensive line coach Pat Meyer is preaching and teaching a more aggressive approach to pass blocking, one that new guard/center James Daniels appreciates.

"The way Coach Meyer teaches it, he teaches us, the inside guys to set aggressively, so set on the ball instead of backing up," Daniels explained. "When you set aggressively on the ball that gives the QB a lot more time to step up in the pocket. It can really help make things clear for the QB.

"Sometimes quarterbacks, if there's pressure in their face, they drift away, drop back too far, and that can mess up the timing with the routes and receivers. Setting aggressively will help more with helping our quarterbacks step up in the pocket."

The potential downside is an interior offensive lineman being beaten quickly and cleanly off the ball. But in certain situations that would still be something the Steelers could work around.

"If you're short-setting and a guy takes your edge and the quarterbacks at 10 yards that's a lot different than if he takes your edge and the quarterbacks at 5 yards," Daniels continued. "Because if he's at 5 yards you have the ability to run him by. At 10 yards he's right in the face of the QB.

"It really just depends on the play, who you're playing and the scheme, if you want to set super-aggressive or set a little off the ball."

The opportunity to set aggressively appealed to Daniels when he was shopping for a new NFL home as an unrestricted free agent after spending his first four seasons with the Bears.

"Coach Meyer has done this for a long time," Daniels said. "When I first met with him on my first visit, he was telling me how this has worked for him in the past (Meyer previously coached offensive lines for the Bears, Chargers and Panthers). He showed me clips, I'm a believer."

Improved communication is also on the offensive line's agenda. The better the line communicates, the more effective it will be, theoretically, against defenses that shift in response to pre-snap motion.

"When there's moving parts, when there's people in motion or there's shifts, the offensive line needs to be on the same page because the box is changing, safeties are coming in, linebackers are coming in, going out," Daniels maintained. "We just really need to be on the same page communication-wise to be able to find out where we're identifying, who's the 'Mike' (linebacker), so we're all going to the right person."

-- Mike Prisuta