2016 South Side Questions: Can Jesse James Be The In-Line Blocker?

Training camp has ended, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have reverted back to taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While training camp might have seen a lot of work put into the team and the roster, there is plenty left to be done.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well, since training camp is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is really one that lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the preseason looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they head into a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Question: Can second-year tight end Jesse James be the Steelers’ in-line blocking tight end?

For anybody who has been paying attention, it should be obvious that questions abound when it comes to the Steelers and their tight end situation. Not only have they heavily turned over the tight end room in terms of sheer personnel—by way of retirement and release due to health—they are also dealing with a top free agent signing continuing to ail on the sidelines with what one can only hope is the lingering effects of offseason ankle surgery.

Even if the aforementioned free agent prize, Ladarius Green, does return any time soon and is active in the Steelers’ lineup, on opening day or otherwise, the fact remains that he was never regarded as a traditional in-line blocking tight end, a role that must be filled by somebody.

According to Pro Football Focus’ snap tracking, Green lined up as a wide receiver on nearly two thirds of his snaps in the passing game. One might expect that he did not, comparatively, see a great deal of time in the running game, as the other two tight ends on the roster outside of the starting lineup combined for nearly 500 snaps themselves—including David Johnson, a former and once again Steeler.

The point is, however, if Green is not going to be their reliable in-line blocker, then the duties would next have to fall to James, and while we have seen some moments of promise here and there both during his rookie season and during the preseason thus far, we have also seen a number of things to be concerned about. His missed block in the second quarter led to a quarterback hit and interception.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said that James needed a lot of snaps during the preseason, but it seems they are giving just as many to Xavier Grimble. Perhaps James needs even more work over the course of the last two games as they figure out what sort of commodity they have in him with respect to traditional tight end blocking.

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