Gene Collier: New Steelers tight end Ladarius Green can't wait to be in black and gold
March 11, 2016 12:00 AM
Ed Zurga/Associated Press
Ladarius Green is leaving sunny San Diego for Pittsburgh — and of course, Steeler Nation.
By Gene Collier / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When the new tight end walked into the media room at Steelers hindquarters Thursday, there was a common reaction that quickly crystallized just about like this (at least for me):
“Where’s the rest of him?”
We’re grown accustomed to the Steelers tight end being thick of chest and every visage ounce of 256 pounds or more, a strapping life form that poured almost perfectly into the mold of a Heath Miller or a Mark Bruener or a Jerame Tuman, but there stood smiling and modest and earnest Ladarius Green, who was, for all his evident promise, not that hefty.
You’ll see him listed variously at 237, 238 or 240, but Green said that’s all metabolic history.
“I’m 250,” he said.
Must be 250 Celsius.
Green also admitted that 255 is about as far as he could go, even if he wanted to.
Well, I’m sorry. Heath Miller was 256, but thanks for coming by.
Oh wait. You’re 6 feet 6?
Hmm. Heath was only 6-5, so you know what? Welcome to Pittsburgh.
“You can’t replace a guy like [Heath],” Green said on the first day at his new workplace, the place from which he figures to extract some $20 million over the next four years. “You can’t replace Antonio [Gates, the gifted tight end he understudied with the San Diego Chargers]. Heath had been doing it for so long and been here the whole time doing it — you can’t replace him, you just have to pick up where he’s leaving it. If I can do half of what he did for this organization, that’s pretty good.”
It’s pretty doubtful anyone will be disappointed with what Green will bring to the offense in the post-Miller era because his football story reads like a classical narrative ready to peak.
Born in Germany to military parents in 1990, Green moved to Florida when he was just 3. He growth-spurted out of his “Pee Wee” nickname at Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola and matriculated at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, or as no one can resist calling it, “Ooh-La-La.”
Ok, formally, U-La-La.
Green thus isn’t the first fourth-round pick out of Ooh-La-La with a chance to make a lasting impression in Pittsburgh. Fella named Ike Taylor did it, and unlike Ike, Green actually can catch the football.
Various attempts at getting him to brag on his hands Thursday failed miserably as Green was just too humble, but when Gates, his mentor in San Diego, missed the first four games last season for a performance-enhancing drug suspension, the Chargers weathered that turbulence in no small part because they had Green.
He wound up starting 11 times for the 2015 Chargers, with whom he put up career highs in catches, yards and touchdowns. Seems his most vivid memories had to do with the Monday night when the Steelers visited in early October.
“I think everybody noticed the number of Steelers fans out there,” Green said with a laugh. “When we saw the [Terrible] towels in the air, it was bad for us because we had to go to a silent count. But you know they’re there. You know the fan base they have and you know the fans love them, the team loves the fans and you want to be around that kind of stuff. People get behind you, and they root for you, which was a big part of me coming here.”
Probably not nearly as big as the retirement of Miller, the club’s all-time leader in catches, yards and touchdowns by a tight end, but when Green met this week with coach Mike Tomlin, general manager Kevin Colbert, and Thursday with tight ends coach James Daniel, he got the feeling they are as excited as he with the various offensive potentialities now in play.
Though it’s established church law in these parts that the Steelers might never have another tight end like Miller, and while Green’s hands might not be as reliable as his predecessor’s, the fact is that Green’s young legs and redoubtable athleticism can enable him to get to balls Heath no longer could, in areas of the field Heath no longer visited.
“The most important thing [Gates] taught me was to be myself,” Green said. “I had to learn way back then to not try to be him and not to try to follow in his footsteps. So he taught me to be myself, and that’s what I’m going to apply here as well, as far as not trying to be Heath.
“Because Heath is Heath.”
So yeah, Green was here maybe a couple of hours, and already he sounded like Tomlin.
One more positive aspect of this bold Steelers move in free agency is that Steeler Nation does not have to work on ways to distinguish its Ladarius from its Martavius.
That’s because Mr. Bryant, the spectacular wideout, is named Martavis, not Martavius. For the 400th time.
A few minutes after his media availability broke up, I was able to witness firsthand the reason Green, of all his potential destinations, wound up in Pittsburgh. He walked out the front doors at 3400 Water Street, hopped in a big black Chevy Suburban and set out for the airport in a relentless rain.
It had to feel good to be getting away from that awful San Diego weather.
Gene Collier: email@example.com and Twitter @genecollier.
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