While the Pittsburgh Steelers have certainly been pleased to finally get tight end Ladarius Green on the field over the course of the past six games, and to see the big-play ability that he has been able to add to the offense as a result—he has seven explosive plays already—the team, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, have never been down on the rest of their group of tight ends.
After all, they had already played the entire first half of the season without Green, going most of that way with second-year man Jesse James as their starter and nearly every-down player. As the season progressed, they began to use Xavier Grimble more and more, who in some ways seems like a poor man’s Ladarius Green.
Of course, the return of former Steelers tight end David Johnson has also been notable, as the eighth-year veteran has played his roles well when he has been called upon. He is probably the team’s best blocking tight end, both at the line of scrimmage and on the move, and he has even contributed seven receptions on the year for 80 yards, both of which are the second-highest marks in his career—not to mention a catch for a two-point conversion.
The trio of James, Grimble, and Johnson will more likely than not be called upon once again to step in and take command of the tight end position in today’s pivotal game against the Ravens, the first time they will have been asked to play extensively in several games.
When it comes to Grimble, he is only just getting back into the groove after missing several games. He was inactive for a couple of games due to an injury, but still did not play against the Bills. He did play on Sunday against the Bengals, logging eight snaps, only one of which came after Green’s injury.
In fact, his first seven snaps, as I noted in my charting notes column yesterday, all took place with Green also on the field, indicating that the Steelers see something intriguing about using Green and Grimble together. After all, they are arguably their two most dynamic pass-catchers from the tight end position with the best potential to make a big play, though Green still lacks for chemistry and Grimble has inconsistent hands.
Grimble, too, has made plays, however, catching 10 passes on the season for 98 yards and a touchdown, while James has had his moments as well, though his targets and playing time have steeply declined since Green has been playing, understandably.
James should get the start, but I would expect to see the Steelers use a lot of sets with multiple tight ends that mix and match all three tight ends, plus Chris Hubbard, who I think played a very solid game as a tackle-eligible against the Bengals’ long defensive ends.
While I hope that it will be just the one game that the Steelers have to go without Green in the lineup as he deals with a concussion, I do think they have more than enough at the position to get by, and run their game plan, especially in the blocking department, as Green was never going to separate himself in that category anyway.