PITTSBURGH — Scott Orndoff really wanted to be drafted. He had the chance to be the first player from Greene County since the 1960’s be drafted into the league and the 10th tight end in Pitt’s history to be selected.
But more importantly, Orndoff wanted to become an NFL player, and when it came down to reaching that goal, the fit was more important than the pick. That’s why, when Orndoff went unselected in April’s draft, he quickly signed with his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I think once you get (to the NFL), it’s about finding the right fit more than anything at my kind of position,” Orndoff said at the time.
Fit is a short word but not a simple concept. Of course, most teams don’t keep more than three or four players at the position, so there has to be a path to a spot on the 53-man roster or practice squad.
But there’s also a paradigm fit at the tight end spot. Over the last decade, NFL tight ends have diverged into two separate subsets. There are athletic pass-catchers like Seattle’s Jimmy Graham and Green Bay’s Martellus Bennett. Then there are traditional, inline blockers like Carolina’s Greg Olsen.
Though Orndoff was used as a pass-catcher in high school and at Pitt, his value as an NFL player will be held up by his blocking prowess. His NFL.com prospect profile reads:
“Experience working down the field in Pitt’s pro-style passing attack. Works the seam and secures the catch despite imminent punishment from safety. Banger after the catch. Reliable in-line blocker. Secures and climbs smoothly in combo blocks. Adjusts blocking assignments quickly when initial block vacates. Has potential to handle himself on an island in pass protection from time to time. Can become a solid blocking “Y” tight end for a run-heavy team.”
The Steelers aren’t as run-heavy as they once were, but they finished in the top half of the league in rushing play percentage. It’s not just run blocking that’s important, either. Orndoff’s size and strength make his optimal use as a pass blocker than can hurt a defense if he’s left uncovered.
“There’s always a need for a guy like me (someone that can block) at that position,” he said. “Especially playing against 4-3 defenses, if you don’t have a tight end that can block people, you have to use extra linemen and then you kind of become predictable. … (I’m a good fit for) a team that really values the run game but also being able to keep a tight end in there all three downs instead of bringing in an extra lineman, which more and more teams are doing now.”
With the Steelers releasing veteran tight end Ladarius Green on Thursday, the fit has become even better. Green is one of the catch-only guys that have populate the league recently and while he was released due to a failed physical and not a conscious decision to alter the make up the roster, it’s clear by looking around the room that the Steelers value the kind of tight end Orndoff could be, with projected starter Jesse James and longtime backup David Johnson providing similar profiles.
“There’s two different types of tight ends,” Orndoff said. “Two completely different worlds of tight ends. I feel comfortable knowing that if I’m able to prove myself as a blocker, I’ll always have a spot on a team somewhere.”
It’s interesting to note that Ordnoff wasn’t always that kind of a player.
“Until my senior year (at Pitt), I was always kind of an off-the-ball guy,” he said. “I really didn’t put an emphasis on my inline blocking. When J.P. Holtz was ahead of me, he was always that guy. I was more of a situational player. When my junior year ended, I told myself, ‘I have to be able to do this now.’ I understood that I’m not just a receiver that plays tight end. For my senior year at Pitt and if wanted to make it to the NFL, I was going to have to learn how to block. That takes away a whole aspect of your game that coaches would like to use you for.
“Going into spring ball (in 2016), my whole mentality changed. Going into any kind of block, even if my fundamentals weren’t perfect, I was just going to go head-first into it. It’s a mentality. I think as the season went on, I think it really helped me a lot. What they’re looking for is a willingness to block. Some people don’t have it. They’re just not like that. My senior year, I honed in on that willingness. You just have to show them that you can do it and you’re not afraid to do it.”
The Sports Now network is growing! Check out our new site PittsburghHockeyNow.com for the best Pittsburgh Penguins news and opinion.