Following the Pittsburgh Steelers’ acquisition of tight end Vance McDonald, it almost seems pointless to highlight the performance of Xavier Grimble in the team’s last preseason game, in large part because I expect that it will be the second-year tight end who gets the short end of the stick when it comes time to assemble the 53-man roster.
But he had arguably the best game of his entire career against the Colts on Saturday—albeit against backups during the second half—so I think it would only be fair to highlight his work, and the progress that it indicates, as he furthers his NFL career. A career that is now fairly likely to continue in another city.
Grimble was a presence early and often on the Steelers’ first drive of the second half, both as a blocker and as a receiver. On the first play of the drive, he led James Conner on their staple counter trap, getting to the edge and nudging two defenders to win the sideline. He pushed the second defender into a third defender, knocking both down.
On the next play, Grimble was assigned pass-protection duties—something he hasn’t been asked to do much in his time in Pittsburgh so far—and he held up fine, mirroring the edge rusher well, countering a rip move and only beginning to lose leverage late in the rep after the pass was thrown.
Several plays into the drive, it was his turn to contribute in the form of yards, and he picked up his first reception of the game—I think of the preseason in fact—running a simple route up the middle, running away from the linebacker late and making the concentration catch with soft hands between two defenders.
Just a play later, the second-year tight end demonstrated his improved strength, blocking the linebacker on a perimeter block along the play side. He showed power versus power at the point of contact and did well to prevent the defender from being able to move laterally toward the runner until he was clear.
Grimble capped off the drive two plays later with perhaps the highlight of his career to date, had it been a game that actually counted for something. Coming out of a receiving stance from the slot, he made a fantastic grab over the defender, but not before first selling the block inside five yards of the line of scrimmage. Credit to the quarterback as well for the well-placed ball.
He continued to play through late in the game, but one highlight block from later in the third quarter came blocking on the tight side for Terrell Watson. His build-up of power at the point of contact and explosion was impressive, jarring the linebacker and getting him on his heels. He continued to drive him back and outside the running lane.
The problem with all this above is the basic fact that this is not who Grimble has been throughout his career. This is Grimble in the best-case scenario, and it’s worth highlighting that this was against reserves. His training camp and preseason up to this point were far more lackluster, and his career inconsistency can see him off the roster again.