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Bye Week Rethink: Jesse James Or Will Johnson

Today is Sunday, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are not playing. They are not playing tomorrow, either, nor did they already play on Thursday. The 6-4 franchise is entering its long awaited and much needed bye week after 10 straight games.

With not much else going on, it would figure to be a good time to reflect on what we have seen over the past three months. Specifically, I would like to explore a few topics this week that the team might want to use this time to reconsider.

One area of intrigue that could potentially be developing over the course of the next couple of weeks is the fate of the tight end position once Matt Spaeth returns. Head coach Mike Tomlin said that his is the only injury to be monitored this week, as he sat out the two games prior to the bye.

Since then, fifth-round rookie tight end Jesse James made his NFL debut, and he had a very encouraging first game, catching two passes, one for a touchdown, the other off a deflection, and showing well on a handful of blocking plays.

His second game was much less eventful, largely due to the game circumstances. With Ben Roethlisberger nursing an injury through the week and not practicing much at all, the game plan was formulated for Landry Jones. When he went down early, Roethlisberger turned to the no huddle to work things through.

The Steelers primarily run with three wide receivers in their no huddle package, and that is exactly what they did last Sunday, which limited the number of opportunities for extra tight ends to see the field. James only saw 15 snaps on offense.

Worthy of note is that Will Johnson did not see any snaps on offense. Johnson served as the primary second tight end earlier in the season when Spaeth was out, and was generally the third tight end prior, though the Steelers have preferred to use a fullback this season.

If Johnson failed to make it onto the field even when Spaeth was out this time around, could he be in line for a spot on the bench when he returns?

It is a difficult question to answer because the fourth-year player remains a valuable contributor on special teams. He logged eight snaps on special teams during the game, and has played 135 special teams snaps on the year, or nearly half.

Meanwhile, James has essentially filled the same role on special teams that is normally occupied by Spaeth, which means that both don’t need to be active in order to fulfill this special teams obligation. Perhaps the key for James to continue to dress is to show more diversity in his special teams capabilities.

With Roosevelt Nix essentially consuming Johnson’s role on offense, however, and also outpacing him in special teams snaps, it would seem that there is less and less of a need for him to dress, especially if James continues to develop. But that decision does not need to be made until Spaeth is able to return.

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