LATROBE, Pa. – Tight end Nathan Overbay is considered to be a first-year NFL player, but his travel itinerary the past few years says otherwise.
Overbay originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Denver Broncos in 2010 after playing four seasons for Eastern Washington University. Denver released him before the season, but Overbay also spent time on the practice squads of the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions. The Bucs briefly activated him in 2010. The Lions released him in June 2013, and he signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers two months later.
“Yeah, I’ve already been to a lot of places in my NFL career, and I’m a long way from my home in Washington,” Overbay said. “But I hope this is my final destination. I hope to stick with the Steelers this year.”
Under normal circumstances, Overbay would be considered a long shot to make the final, 53-man roster, but these are hardly normal circumstances for the Steelers. At least as far as their tight end situation is concerned. The three players who would have composed the club’s tight ends corps are out for extended periods of time, so Overbay was brought in to pick up the slack.
Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley declined to comment on Overbay’s performance the past week, noting that he didn’t have enough information on the tight end to base his response. Steelers tight ends coach James Daniel was brief and general, but he commented nonetheless.
“They’re a little bit behind the curve, because they started late,” Daniel said about Overbay and others in the mix. “But they gave us the kind of work that we expected from them, and they’re progressing. So, we’re still in the process of evaluating those guys to see what they’re going to bring to the table.
“Overbay, he’s competing just like everybody else, and we’re going to get him as much work as possible to see what he can do. But he has good size, and as I’ve said he’s progressing just like the other guys. He’s done all right so far.”
Pro Bowl starter and 2012 team MVP Heath Miller had right knee surgery after being injured in the 15th regular-season game last year. So, he is less than eight months into his rehab and likely will miss the opening few games this season. And 2009 draft pick David Johnson, who missed last season after right knee surgery, had another procedure in late July and opened training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List with Miller.
The expected starter after those two, veteran Matt Spaeth – who returned to the Steelers this year after two seasons in Chicago – suffered a Lizfranc (mid-foot) injury last week and could be out 2-3 months. Next in line was first-year player Jamie McCoy, who was on the practice squad of the Steelers and San Diego Chargers last season and spent time with the St. Louis Rams in 2011. He injured his right wrist and had to miss the preseason opener last week.
That left second-year player David Paulson, a seventh-round draft pick, as the starter. The backups are all newcomers to the Steelers – Overbay, fourth-year player Michael Palmer and undrafted rookie free agent Peter Tuitupou.
“It’s a huge opportunity for me,” Overbay said. “They called me after all the injuries last week, and I’m going to give it all I can to try to make the team. It’s going pretty good so far.”
It’s been a whirlwind for Overbay since he left his wife and 7 1/2-month-old son back home and took a red-eye flight to Pittsburgh. He arrived Aug. 8 at the Steelers training camp at Saint Vincent College, about 40 miles from the city. Overbay had just two days to prepare for the game with the New York Giants. Two passes were thrown his way late in the game, but neither connected.