The 2018 NFL season will be a very important one for Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James as the team’s former fifth-round draft pick out of Penn State in 2015 is now in the final year of his rookie contract. James, who will turn all of 24 years of age next Monday, talked Tuesday morning on Steelers Nation Radio about one aspect of his game he hopes to improve in 2018 and that’s his ability to get more yards after the catch.
“You just got to keep working after the catch. You get so worried about securing the catch sometimes that you’re too worried about the getting moving up field,” James said following the team’s fourth OTA practice of 2018. “So, that’s an aspect that I’m trying to work on going into this season, too. I feel like it could help me take my step next and become a better player for us.”
Last season James caught 43 passes for 372 yards and 3 touchdowns and according to Pro Football Focus, 183 of those receiving yards came after the catch. While James’ 4.3 yards after the catch average in 2017 was the best of his young career, there’s still obviously some room for improvement and he admitted that sort of thing is accomplished with good practice habits.
“It’s definitely a feel thing,” James said. “To get more work on it you just got to focus on what you’re doing while your at practice. You’re not just catching the ball and letting guys tag off, you got to work on work on your craft a little bit.”
James, by the way, has registered just four catches that resulted in gains of 20 yards or more in his first three seasons in the NFL.
“If I can just keep improving, it’s gonna help my game tremendously and help turn the 10-yard catches into 20-yard catches and it’s going to help the team a lot,” James said Tuesday.
In addition to working on improving his ability to gain more yards after the catch this offseason, James also talked Tuesday about the different ways that he catches the football.
“I try to be a hand catcher, but obviously, the traffic catches sometimes your body comes in,” James said. “You see guys, A.B. [Antonio Brown], the best receivers in the league, are catching balls in their body whenever they have to. So, it’s good to be diverse and don’t just limit yourself to one way to catch the ball.”
With fellow Steelers tight end Vance McDonald now in his second year in Pittsburgh, it will be interesting to see how both he and James are used offensively and how they are asked to play of each other’s skill sets in 2018 with Randy Fichtner now in charge of the play-calling.
“We obviously have a little bit different skill set,” said James of the differences between himself and McDonald, who caught all of 14 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown last season with the Steelers. “They like to use him out wide a little bit, try to keep me interior most of the time. So, we have some cool, unique sets that we’ll be running. 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.”
James also said Tuesday that while Steelers tight ends coach James Daniel still likes to show old tape of former Steelers tight end Heath Miller in the position group room quite a bit as a teaching tool, that tape of other current top tight ends around the league is being watched as well.
“We’re watching Gronk [Rob Gronkowski], seeing some of the subtle things he does, and [Travis] Kelce, some of the better receiving guys,” James said. “Just trying to see where we could add some of their game to ours and how we can translate.”
As you would probably expect with any NFL player, James also said on Tuesday during his interview that he’s continuing to work on getting stronger.
“Keep lifting long enough, you’ll keep getting bigger, stronger, a little faster, hopefully,” James said.