With Pittsburgh Steelers backup tight end Matt Spaeth out this past Sunday for the team’s game against the Oakland Raiders, rookie fifth-round draft pick Jesse James was allowed to dress for the first time this season. The Penn State product filled in admirably for Spaeth and on Tuesday, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about the similarities and differences between the two players.
“He’s a different guy,” said Tomlin of James. “Obviously, he brings a different skillset. He probably does some things in the passing game better than Matt [Spaeth]. Matt probably does some things better in the run game, but it’s not about comparing him to Matt. It’s about him developing the type of detail in his work, where we can consistently count on him. He did a nice job in his first outing on Sunday and we’ll see where it goes.”
The Steelers will likely have to count on James some again in Week 10 as Spaeth has already been ruled out for the home game against the Cleveland Browns because of inflammation in his knee. Against the Raiders, James caught two passes for 13 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut and he also provided a key block on the touchdown that wide receiver Martavis Bryant scored on the possession prior to his own score. You can see that block below and it would certainly make Spaeth proud.
“This place looks at blocking in a big way, especially in the tight end room,” said James. “James Daniel puts emphasis on the fact that you can’t play here unless you are a great blocker and you finish every play.”
In case you’re curious, the Steelers offense averaged 9.53 yards per carry when James was on the field against the Raiders. While the success on those running plays obviously weren’t all directly related to his play, it’s worth noting nonetheless.
The Steelers certainly hope that James can develop into a well-rounded tight end and so far it looks like his position coach James Daniel has done a great job with him. The young tight end even admitted after Sunday’s game that he was glad his first 8 weeks of the season were spent on the sideline so that he could learn how Spaeth and the incomparable Heath Miller go about their business.
Miller and Spaeth are both under contract for the 2016 season and so far there’s no reason to think that either won’t be allowed to play out their final years based on the salaries both are scheduled to make. With that said, it would be great to see James seriously push Spaeth for the No. 2 job next year during training with his main goal being to take over Miller’s job in 2017.