PITTSBURGH – It’s been a step-by-step process for Steelers rookie tight end Weslye Saunders this season.
Step 1: Get hit in the facemask by a pass in Indianapolis.
Step 2: Drop a touchdown pass in Cincinnati.
Step 3: Learn from Step 1 and get head turned in time to make the catch and help the team put Cincinnati away on the final possession.
Step 4: Learn from Step 2 and catch touchdown pass in Kansas City.
It was the only touchdown of last Sunday night’s game. And getting seven instead of three at that point gave the Steelers their four-point margin of victory.
“Each week I like to think I’m growing off the previous outing,” said Saunders. “So hopefully I can do something else this week to solidify my place in this offense.”
And what exactly would make his coaches happy in that regard?
“Coach T [Mike Tomlin] would probably want me to do well on special teams,” Saunders said. “Coach JD [tight ends coach James Daniel], he’d probably want me to put some guy’s face in the dirt a few times on a few running plays.”
Is it forthcoming?
“I hope so,” Saunders said. “I hope so.”
As Saunders continues to work on his blocking, he’s showing the Steelers he can catch – and he’s showing off some pretty nifty footwork as well.
His sidestep after catching a late pass in Cincinnati gave the Steelers a critical first down. And his two-step tap-dance in the back of the end zone gave him his first career touchdown Sunday night in Kansas City. How did the 6-foot-5, 270-pounder develop those nifty feet?
“That’s what happens when you get a little too big to play football with the kids your age growing up,” he said. “At the time I didn’t like it but I got accustomed to being in gymnastics and soccer growing up. I was in gymnastics for six years and seven years in soccer.”
Gymnastics? Is that tough enough for a boy growing up in Gary, Indiana?
“Yeah, it’s definitely for tough guys,” he said. “It’s very dangerous, very dangerous. I have a lot of respect for the females who do it. Not many males do it but it’s very rigorous on the body. You have to have nimble feet. You have to be in great shape to do gymnastics, and I was glad I was able to do that at a young age because it’s helped me over the years with basketball and football.”
Saunders started gymnastics at the age of six. He excelled in the floor routine but couldn’t afford to travel to the competitions. So he just practiced, and sometimes it hurt.
“I got hurt trying to do a couple double back tucks and landed straight on my back with my head hitting the ground,” he said. “No broken bones during that time, but I had a lot of scares, definitely.”
It wouldn’t be the last time Saunders received a scare. He got one when he was thrown off the South Carolina football team prior to his senior season, and he got one when one of the first pro passes that came his way bounced off his facemask because he didn’t turn around in time.
“I took a lot of heat for that, especially from Ben [Roethlisberger] and the coaches,” Saunders said. “They told me I had to get my head around faster and I vowed never to make that mistake again. And if you recall in the Cincinnati game a couple weeks ago, when I caught that pass at the end of the game, it was a similar situation. The play was supposed to go a little deeper than that but because of the blitz it didn’t go how we planned it in practice. I had to look a little quicker.
“If what happened to me against the Colts hadn’t happened, I don’t know if I would’ve looked that quick. Everything happens for a reason.”