Even though he’s already played one season in the NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James is still one of the youngest players on the team’s 90-man roster at 21 years of age. James, who was drafted last year by the Steelers in the fifth-round out of Penn State, talked on Wednesday about his rookie 2015 season and how he felt he progressed throughout the year as a very young player.
“It’s hard to explain in a short time how much I grew from a playbook understanding to just earning everyone’s trust on the team through my conditioning, my practice effort and it was a good season, ups and downs, and ended on a high note,” said James in an interview on steelers.com.
As he heads into his second season, James detailed what the Steelers said they expected of him over the course of the offseason.
“Stay where I was weight-wise just add muscle,” said James. “Work faster, work to play at a higher level coming into this year and just [take] another step from where I was at the end of last season.”
James was mostly used as a second tight end during his rookie season and the 181 total regular season offensive snaps that he played was more than likely a result of fellow tight end Matt Spaeth missing three games with injuries. In his limited playing time, however, James still managed to catch 8 passes for 56 yards and a touchdown in addition to providing a few key blocks along the way.
After veteran tight end Heath Miller decided to retire earlier in the offseason the Steelers quickly replaced him on their roster by signing unrestricted free agent tight Ladarius Green to a four-year, $20 million contract on the first day of the new league year. Even though Green will be expected to be the team’s primary pass-catching tight end moving forward, James knows that more playing time will still be available for him in his second season now that Miller has decided to move on to the next phase of his life.
“For us as a tight end unit, there are snaps for the first time in 11 years,” said James. “He [Miller] has had every snap in every game. We are all competing and working hard, and for me I am trying to get as many snaps as I can.”
In order to earn more snaps in 2016, James undoubtedly will need to beat out Spaeth this year during training camp and that figures to be a tough battle being as the latter has a long history of being one of the better run blocking tight ends in the league. With that said, Spaeth’s game did decline some last season and that’s not too terribly surprising being as he’s now 33.
With the Steelers second week of OTA practices coming to close on Thursday, James admitted that he still isn’t sure what his role with the Steelers in 2016 will ultimately be even though he can probably expect to play quite a bit on special teams.
“That’s Coach [Todd] Haley, he does a great job making sure we get the best players on the field,” said James. “He is going to utilize whatever your best abilities are. He is going to try and maximize those and make you the best player you can be.”
For now, James will have plenty of time to hone is craft ahead of training camp getting underway as Green isn’t expected to be ready to practice until the team arrives at Latrobe later on in the summer as he continues to rehab from offseason surgery on his ankle.
“He is a great player,” said James of Green. “He played great at San Diego. I am excited to see what he can do. He has been a great addition to the room, a great guy to work with.”