Over the course of the past couple of days, I have taken the time to do some film studying on the blocking of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ top two tight ends right now on the depth chart, namely second-year current starter Jesse James and the returning veteran, David Johnson, whose position flexibility makes him an asset.
James has done a good job through the first two games of the season of being a target in the passing game, and in particular has impressed with his ability to make and hold on to tough catches through significant contact. He showed the ability to high-point passes a couple of times on Sunday against the Bengals as well, which produced a touchdown.
But he has also had his fair share of problems in the blocking department over the course of the first two games, and I think that while this obviously has a lot to do with technique issues, a large contributing factor is the fact that he is drawing every-down-starter assignments that he was not supposed to be ticketed for, at least not at this stage in his career.
He was particularly uncomfortable, or so it seemed, when he was asked to block in space and on the move, which is a concern, given that it is a key component of one of the Steelers’ staple running plays, a variation of the counter trey.
Due to a variety of circumstances over the course of the offseason that have left James as the last man standing on the top of the depth chart, the Steelers have seemed to feel the need to leave the young man out there on the field for every snap of the first two games.
But I would like to think that they have had reason to grow more confident in Johnson and in first-year tight end Xavier Grimble over the course of the past two games. They have utilized Johnson in several different roles, and he has performed in all of them, while Grimble has been able to make some plays as well.
All of this leads me to ponder whether or not the Steelers are considering opening up the tight end rotation this week or in the near future and allowing Johnson and/or Grimble to work on the field while James gets a breather, because I don’t think he needs to or warrants playing every snap on offense during the game.
Johnson has clearly been the more effective blocker through two games, and that holds especially true for plays that call for a move tight end. It would make sense to designate him for more of these assignments in the future.
It has also been evident that when James and Grimble are on the field together, the coaching staff has preferred to use Grimble as the in-line blocker. This has been a frequent enough occurrence that coincidence seems improbable. While I’m certainly not looking to impede James’ progress, at the same time, overexposure would not be a good thing for his development either, especially when he is placed in positions in which he is likely to fail where his game is not fully developed.