One of the topics surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense that has seemed to be getting a decent amount of attention over the course of the past few days is concerning the tight end position and how each of the top two players at the position will be used this season, both separately and together.
Fourth-year tight end Jesse James addressed some of that and other topics yesterday while speaking to reporters during the second week of OTAs. He acknowledged that he and Vance McDonald bring “a little different skill set” to the table compared to one another, and that is reflected in how they have been used not just last season, but also during practice this year so far.
“They like to use him out wide a little bit, try to keep me interior most of the time”, James said. McDonald is regarded as the more athletic player between the two, but he also saw a higher percentage of his snaps working in hurry-up situations, which could have influenced his usage further from the interior.
For the sake of comparison, James logged 923 snaps last season, 212 of which came lined up in the slot or out wide. McDonald saw 109 snaps in the slot or out wide on 339 snaps. 34 of those snaps from the slot or out wide for McDonald came in the Steelers’ postseason loss.
One of the things James has been excited for so far has been the seemingly quick installation of new concepts for the tight ends by first-year offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, who is taking over that post from Todd Haley after six seasons. Fichtner had of course previously been the team’s quarterbacks coach, and retains that role in addition to the new one.
“We have some cool, unique sets that we’ll be running”, James told reporters regarding the tight ends. “I feel like we’ve been getting to them a little bit early, here, so to even get to that point this early in the offseason is awesome. Randy’s taken a couple steps ahead of where you’d think we’d be at this point”.
One would have to think that the decision to move on from Haley had a lot to do with their knowledge of Fichtner’s preparedness to take over this role, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise if he is eager to break out some of his plans during the spring and get them installed.
This is also the Steelers’ first offseason with McDonald, who only came in late in the preseason via trade, so they have never before actually had the opportunity to spend a lot of time creating an offense that actively featured his talents. He had only been on the roster for a week or two before the regular season started.
What will be interesting to see is the extent to which the team uses two-tight end sets this year, now that they have two that they are comfortable with in the offense, which is not something they’ve had in a while. Particularly two tight ends that they are willing to throw the ball to.