Say what you will about Jesse James—and most do, both positively and negatively—but the Pittsburgh Steelers’ tight end is, at the very least, a diligent and hard worker. He puts in the time and effort to maximize his capabilities, even while many question how far those capabilities can take him.
One area that he might want to work on is in being a more engaging interview subject, but then again, he’s not paid for his charisma, and frankly I likely would fair no better in a sit-down interview setting. But he did sit down with Missi Matthews recently for the team’s website, reflecting on this past season.
As we talked about yesterday, his season was mired by an injury that was not widely publicized, though we did see him leave multiple games, or be limited. I’m working off memory, but I believe it was a shoulder injury, and he simply continued to play through it.
That was not the only type of adversity he has had to endure, however, as the Steelers have repeatedly tried to ‘upgrade’ at his position, attempting to push him to a secondary role. In 2016, they signed Ladarius Green in free agency to a four-year, $20 million contract. He ended up seeing $6 million of that deal, released after one season marred by injury and concussions.
This past season, during the late stages of the preseason process, they acquired Vance McDonald via trade, and head coach Mike Tomlin specifically cited as the cause for the uncharacteristic move a general level of dissatisfaction with the quality of play from the tight end group.
Even as the team has brought in players to replace him, however, James has taken it all in stride and has worked well with Green, McDonald, and the rest of the group. Matthews asked him about working in a room with a lot of changeover.
“A lot of guys, learning new faces, new personalities”, he said. Vance is a good guy, Ladarius was awesome, so it’s been productive. We’ve had good guys in the room so it’s not too hard to adjust”. On McDonald, he called him “just another one of the guys”, saying that “he’s a fun guy to be around”, and “a good family man”.
The Steelers probably never drafted James envisioning him as their primary tight end, but that is the role that he has served over the past two years, albeit largely due to the injuries that Green and McDonald have dealt with in that span.
But it has also been due to James’ consistent contributions on the practice field and, frankly, his pain tolerance that have kept him available to his coaches, and that has kept his coaches putting him on the field.
As a local product and alumnus of Penn State, the opportunity to play for Pittsburgh has also meant a great deal to him. While he rightfully has high aspirations for himself on the field, I have no doubt that he is a true team player that will continue to do whatever is asked of him (without falling asleep in meetings).