You may not be a fan of Jesse James. That he’s a maxed out player, too slow, not a good enough blocker, the the refs screwing him out of a touchdown last season isn’t enough to get him on your good side. The Pittsburgh Steelers are in a different camp, high on him, and having no problem running him out as the #1 tight end when need be.
So what’s the disconnect?
Availability. Reliability. And a toughness that few players on this roster have shown.
Through just seven practices, we’ve seen the team shuffle the deck at tight end. Vance McDonald down with a foot. Ryan Malleck waived after an injury. In the past, there’s been Ladarius Green, whose talent never prevailed over health. All in ugly contrast to Heath Miller, the pinnacle of reliability, a guy you could count on every week, missing only eight games over 11 years.
James is no Heath, don’t get me wrong, but when it comes to being on the field? There’s an undeniable similarity. He’s yet to miss a game in his three year career, not counting ones in his rookie year where he was a healthy scratch. Just as impressive is how rare it is for him to miss a practice.
Looking back at my training camp notes since he came into the league in 2015, James has missed only one practice. That’s 53 out of 54, a feat I’m nearly positive no current Steeler can say. William Gay might have been able to make a similar claim before becoming a Giant.
The only James bowed out? Practice #13 of his rookie year. Not to worry. He returned for the following practice.
He might not be a great athlete, or even have a special trait anywhere, but you’re going to see #81 on the field. Every rep, every practice, every week. And there’s value in that, much more to the team than you or I, and it’s the reason why they hold him in high regard.
Trust me. It’s not like James hasn’t dealt with injuries. While we still don’t know specifics, James played through the pain last year. Todd Haley implied he battled something serious last season.
“A lot of guys may never have even played”, Haley said, “and he didn’t miss a practice.”
I know it sounds like coach speak fluff that doesn’t matter to you or I. But trust is only built by guys who consistently go out there and get the job done. That doesn’t happen from the cold tub.
53 of 54? In this day and age, at that position? Absurd.
You know the old saying. The best ability is availability. James has that in spades.