It is probably safe to say that nobody had a worse day on the field yesterday—barring those who were injured, of course—than Pittsburgh Steelers rookie tight end Jesse James.
He single-handedly shredded the stat line for quarterback Landry Jones by dropping two easy passes, one that should have been an easy touchdown and the other which resulted in an interception that was entirely on the pass catcher.
While it goes without saying that this was a rough start for the 2015 fifth-round draft pick, who finished with two receptions for nine yards, however, I think this is a clear situation of needing to put a game behind you and moving on.
James, who was also flagged for a hold that negated a positive run of nine yards on first down and a false start on a Steelers punt, clearly and vividly had a night to forget, that much is certain. But it’s also a night that has passed, and it is incumbent upon him to get a fresh start and rebound from this point forward.
While he was not electrifying in training camp, the various reports about his play certainly present the picture of a player significantly more talented than the one that was on the field last night. I posed the question in the morning: which rookies would sink or swim under the lights?
James clearly sunk in his debut performance in an NFL stadium, but he has plenty of time to wash that taste out of his mouth with strong performances down the stretch during the preseason, with another four games left to be played.
James was particularly productive during practice scrimmages in securing touchdowns in the red zone. While some of his receptions were not the cleanest, he has shown the potential to make plays in the passing game, and the expectation is that he will do so in-game in the very near future.
The 21-year-old rookie isn’t really being pushed significantly in his quest for a roster spot, as the Steelers elected not to retain their third tight end from last season, nor did they add much in the way of compelling competition.
His greatest challenge is undrafted rookie Cameron Clear, who at 270 pounds was an intriguing size prospect for the scouting department. As much as the team may like him, however, it seems a bit of a stretch of the imagination at this point that he might take James’ spot on the roster.
Does he need to be challenged in training camp in order to force him to rise up and meet it? Would it behoove the Steelers to bring in a journeyman type to push him to meet their demands for him during his rookie season?
While I’m not sure I see that happening, I certainly expect that James will come back with a far better game next time around with the first game jitters and the snowball effect of mistakes that seemed to escalate over the course of the game.