While the Pittsburgh Steelers’ tight end group this offseason has largely consisted of the walking wounded, there has at least been one man left standing, and generally taller than all the rest, aside from that one guy who played rugby of course.
That would be Jesse James, the Penn State alum heading into his fourth NFL season. While he was never ticketed to be a starter, he has spent the majority of the past two seasons in that role due to injuries to the players the Steelers have brought in to take that top spot.
The Outlaw has made slow but steady progress in each of his professional seasons to date and according to reports has had the best training camp he has had so far. While he still has quite a ways to go to every be considers an above average starter, his teammates always have greatly appreciated what he brings to the table, which is something that Ben Roethlisberger talked about yesterday.
“He has grown in knowledge of the game, knowledge of the offense, and then just in understanding what to do in what I hope and expect him to do”, he said. The two have been able to find some success in red-zone work during training camp. He has six touchdowns over the past two years.
Roethlisberger also talked about the general value of the tight end position in the Steelers’ offense and how he believes the Steelers take it a bit more seriously.
“The tight end position’s an important one on this team. Always has been”, the veteran quarterback told reporters. “I always tell the young guys that that’s probably the group on the field that has to know the second-most after the quarterback. They have to know the passing game, the running game—sometimes even more than the quarterback”.
I don’t think there’s any doubt that Roethlisberger’s appreciation of what James brings to the table has a lot to do with the mental side of the game. James is somebody who you can count on not just to always be on the field, thanks to his durability, but also that he is always going to know what he’s supposed to be doing.
The results of knowing what he’s supposed to be doing don’t always turn out the way they were drawn up when James is involved, but he has still proven to be a serviceable player and an incredibly valuable piece over the past two years in relation to injury.
This is a big year for the fourth-year player even while the Steelers seem intend to move Vance McDonald full-time in to the starting role. He is in a contract year, heading into free agency in 2019, and he still has a lot to say about his potential value, either to Pittsburgh or perhaps to another city.