With the Pittsburgh Steelers coming off their bye week and there soon being little to talk about in the interim outside of returning players, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this season and give out some mid-year player evaluations.
The team has had a rocky but ultimately successful season to date, coming out of the first eight games with a 6-2 record, tied for the best in the AFC along with the Patriots and the Chiefs, the latter of whom they have already beaten.
The offense has not lived up to its billing for the most part this year, though the running game has had its moments. Defensively, the sacks have come, and the secondary has improved, but there will always be things to work on.
Player: Jesse James, TE
Until he isn’t, third-year tight end Jesse James is the Steelers’ starter at the position. It’s already been that way for a season and a half. I’m not sure how much longer it could remain that way. It could be another few years for all we know. Or it could already be over.
The team was so disappointed with the performance of their tight end trouble during the offseason that they pulled the trigger on a trade to take on 49ers tight end Vance McDonald and his bulky contract. It has taken some time and some growing pains, but he has been finally worked into the offense.
Unfortunately, minor injuries have already caused him to miss about two and a half games. That included Sunday’s game against the Lions, and most of the second half of the previous game, up to which point McDonald was actually seeing more playing time, and a bigger role, than James.
In the previous two games leading into Sunday, James had not even caught a pass, or been officially targeted on a play that counted. McDonald caught three passes, two of which were for receptions of at least 25 yards.
James had a big play of his own on Sunday, a short pass on which he was thrown into space, able to catch and run for over 30 yards, which was, I believe, the longest play of his career. It was a better showing as a receiver, though he was still inconsistent as a blocker.
McDonald had slowly but surely been taking over many of James’ blocking responsibilities in the offense, and I can’t help but assume that that transition will continue to take place in the second half of the season, provided that he is healthy.
One would assume that he will also lose ground in receiving roles. In the previous game, it was McDonald running with the two-minute offense. James has always been better suited to a complementary role as the number two tight end, even if he has come short of being a disaster as a starter.