Bringing back a series I had a lot of fun exploring last offseason. Every player wants to improve, to elevate his game in all areas from one season to the next. Understanding that, we’re going to isolate just one area, one faction of a player’s game. The biggest area for improvement.
Jesse James – Make Contested Catches
As we’ve written about throughout the offseason, James certainly improved last season. Mostly as a blocker but as a receiver too. The latter is where he look to his growth for this season, even recognizing that he still has to grow everywhere. Still a baby on the team.
Dave and I talked about it on the podcast Monday. Something I’m sure everyone realizes. He’s not Ladarius Green. Won’t stretch the field the same way. So he’s going to play the role of a traditional tight end in this offense. The steady, tough presence who won’t let Ben Roethlisberger down. It’s what made Heath Miller a perfect fit. Dude never dropped a pass and when he did, the world seemed to stop. That’s how James needs to be.
And where he struggled last year. It’s not to say he can’t make contested catches, his Yakety Sax grab against Miami was a treat, but there were other moments where he failed to make a tough but makeable play. Went through every incompletion of his from last year and pulled together more examples than he’d like to remember.
One of the most common route concepts a Steelers’ tight end will run is a Hank route. A five yard curl over the middle, settling over the center. Sit down, show your numbers, make the grab. James has the chance here in Week 5 against the New York Jets but the ball is knocked loose on contact.
Or here again on 3rd and 6 the following week. I don’t think he would’ve gotten the sticks but 3rd down and close? In the red zone? Gotta finish the play. Who knows what happens.
And one more look for you. Different route. Bang 8, lined up to the backside of the formation. Beats the DB inside but can’t finish the play. This is one Xavier Grimble hauled in for a touchdown in Week 2. James can’t even make the catch here. Have to come up with this one.
Consistency is a good way to paint it with a broad brush. I just didn’t want to lead off with something vague and too cliche. Most young guys need to be consistent across the board. But when the Steelers evaluate a tight end, they want someone who can make plays in traffic and come up big in the red zone. That’s where James has to take that big next step. If he does that, in this offense, with the weapons around him, he’ll have the skillset to be a #1 tight end.