With spring drills officially over, I think we all understand that we’re all in for a long haul, six weeks in total, between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp. You know the drill. There’s little new information coming out during this period, so it serves as the perfect time both to look back, and to look ahead.
We’re going to be focusing mostly on the latter as we prepare—ever so patiently, of course—for training camp. The Pittsburgh Steelers right now have a fairly young roster with inexperienced players that they are hoping to take on a bigger role. The problem is that in many cases, they are still waiting on those players to show them something, and that is the focus of that series—as well as the occasional veteran with lingering questions.
Show me something, Jesse James.
The Steelers are certainly in a transitional phase when it comes to their tight end position, with longtime starter Heath Miller retiring after over a decade and Matt Spaeth, entering his tenth season, nearing the end—in reality, his roster spot may well be in contention during training camp, in fact.
That’s why the front office went out and spent in free agency to bring in Ladarius Green to start, a player somewhat unlike the previous occupants of the Steelers’ tight end position. Green has phenomenal speed and athleticism for the position that makes him almost a glorified wide receiver.
That is part of the reason that makes it all the more imperative that Jesse James, the team’s second-year tight end that they drafted in the fifth round in 2015, shows significant and continued improvement from his rookie season, during which he began to contribute after spending the first half of the year on the inactive list.
James is expected to vie for the majority of the second tight end snaps this season, a glimpse of which we might have seen on occasion last year, though of Spaeth makes the roster, he will likely cause a more even distribution in snaps.
Declaring as an underclassman, James came into the league with still a good bit of necessary development left undone, which he must show is in the process of being addressed. He has already noted that he has added more muscle over the course of the offseason, which would have been an obvious priority for the 22-year-old.
While he had his fair share of bright spots during his playing time as both a blocker and a receiver, he needs to show that he can become a consistently reliable passing threat in the manner that defending players will actually be forced to respect, which is something that Spaeth never achieved.
He also has a way to go in terms of perfecting his technique, particularly when it comes to anything that is designed to put him on the move, which he seemed to have greater struggles with than base blocks. The positive side of things is that there is no reason to believe that he won’t develop or at least improve upon all of these traits this offseason, and, in fact, I expect that he will, but he will then have to show it all on the field.