There are two stages to every roster move – react and reassess. The Pittsburgh Steelers release of tight end Ladarius Green certainly brought an abundance of reaction, as the move should, considering that he was still only one year or six games into his highly lucrative four-year contract. But now that we have started to move past the initial reactions from Green’s release, the Steelers and many in the fanbase are left wondering how will the team reassess their offense without Green?
Many potential solutions have been brought up and examined; ranging from the continuing emergence of tight end Jesse James to the dependence on four wide receiver sets by utilizing the blocking abilities of rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Another intriguing name to throw in the hat for replacing Green’s role in the offense is tight end Xavier Grimble.
With Green’s departure, there is no bigger window of opportunity for an athletic play-making tight end to step up than the one that awaits Grimble.
Though Grimble’s numbers only showed 11 receptions for 118 yards and 2 touchdowns last season, the big bodied tight end showed glimpses of potential throughout his initial season with the Steelers in areas that the stat sheet would not be able to pick up on.
Exhibit A) Grimble 20-Yard Touchdown Reception from Roethlisberger
Grimble’s last reception of the 2016 season is a fitting setting to start as it could very well be an extension of how he may be utilized this upcoming season. The Steelers have both their tight ends out wide, with James set wide left with Grimble to his right. The Baltimore Ravens are in a one-deep safety look with Eric Weddle deep and man coverage underneath. Tasking with the duty of covering Grimble is Ravens linebacker Albert McClellan but he is beaten quickly off the line by the Steelers tight end, leading to a Steelers touchdown.
The biggest advantage of the new era tight end position is the mismatch they bring in the passing game. Grimble’s touchdown reception against the Ravens last season gives a glimpse of the tight end’s ability to create favourable mismatches down the seam for the offense this season.
Exhibit B) Roethlisberger Pass Incomplete Deep Intended for Grimble
Grimble was not finished making a mockery of linebackers yet, as backpedaling to the Steelers-Dolphins matchup earlier in the season offers another important example of the tight end in space.
The Steelers come out in 13 personnel and motion Grimble from the right side of the offense to the left side. With a Dolphins defensive back following, the assumption could be made that the Dolphins are in man coverage but at the snap of the ball, the defensive back blitzes, leaving Grimble one on one with Dolphins linebacker Neville Hewitt.
It is a shame that Grimble does not have another touchdown on his record because the play above is executed almost perfectly. Grimble’s bursts off the line quickly and turns to the sideline leaving Hewitt helpless in pursuit coverage. All Hewitt can hope for is a misplaced throw from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and luckily, he gets his wish.
Exhibit C) Grimble 9-Yard Reception from Jones
While the potential to stretch the field and work the seam is big must for tight ends on the Steelers’ roster, the team also values the importance of keeping it simple. By this I mean being able to catch the football and extend the chains, which Grimble does on the play above.
Facing a third and two against the New England Patriots, Grimble comes off the line and simply sits in a cushion between three defenders. Quarterback Landry Jones sees Grimble and quickly hits him in order to move the chains. Here’s a better look in which you can see Grimble find the hole in the zone, catch the football and make a move upfield. Nothing eye-popping but a basic necessity that has been the bread and butter of the tight end position in the Steelers’ offense.
While it would be extremely unlikely to expect Grimble to be the sole answer to the headache surrounding the Steelers’ tight end position, it would be reasonable to believe that he is a part of the solution. Grimble’s 2016 campaign may just serve as a trailer of what is to come in the following season.