Now that veteran Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller has decided to retire, the team has big shoes to fill at that particular position and they’re obvious hopeful Jesse James can help in filling that void. On Tuesday, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was interviewed by Trib Live Radio while in Indianapolis getting ready for this year’s scouting combine and he was asked about James and whether or not he views the Penn State product as being close enough to being capable to start.
“Jesse made strides last year,” said Colbert. “Jesse was a young player having come out as a junior and we always say it, when you get a junior you always get them for their senior year as a rookie. So he grew as the year went on and he gained our coaching staff’s confidence, his teammate’s confidence and we think that growth will continue. And where he is come the end of August none of us know at this point. so, we’ll see where that goes.”
James, who played over 180 snaps during his first year in the league, caught 8 passes for 56 yards and a touchdown during his limited use on offense. He talked earlier this week in an interview on Trib Live Radio about his rookie season and transition to the NFL.
“I don’t think it was any one part of the game that was the toughest for me,” James said. “It was just putting it all together and becoming the player the Steelers saw me being. Coming in and getting in better shape and being able to run all day and finish plays blocking in the run game — it was a combination of a lot of things. The thing that I improved the most in was my conditioning and making sure that I am consistent.”
While James was only able to play one season with Miller, he made it known that he learned quite a bit from the Steelers longtime tight end.
“I followed his lead in a lot of ways,” James said. “Even through college I wasn’t a big interview guy and ended up being very similar in the way we handle ourselves. I tried to model myself after him the best that I could, and really, there isn’t a better guy you can model yourself after.”
Even if the Steelers feel confident in James’ ability moving forward as a potential starter, the loss of Miller, combined with the fact that veteran backup tight end Matt Spaeth is entering the final year of his contract could result in the team selecting yet another young player at the position in the 2016 NFL Draft. With that said, several view Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry as that position group’s top prospect and a possible first-round selection. Colbert was asked about Henry on Tuesday as it relates to him possibly being the best tight end in the draft this year but the Steelers general manager wouldn’t budge when it comes to talking about any one specific player.
“We never answer any questions about a specific player in the draft and like I said, this week we’re learning about all 330 of them because it certainly is a big group,” said Colbert. “We know some stuff about them, but we don’t know everything and that’s what this week is for.”