The cliché is that the best ability is availability, and that may be true for Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James, but the fourth-year veteran suffered a back injury last night after elevating for a high pass that he hauled in before being clipped by a defender, leading him to land hard.
He was a bit slow to get up but did not remain down. He did leave the game, which is big given the fact that the Steelers’ two other veteran tight ends, Vance McDonald and Xavier Grimble, are also sidelined with injuries. At the moment, the team has no tight ends who are healthy who has ever been on a 53-man roster before.
Down to three healthy tight ends, those would be rookie undrafted free agent Pharoah McKever, camp signing first-year Bucky Hodges, and international rugby player Christian Scotland-Williamson, for whom the Steelers were given a roster exemption. That means that he does not count against their 90-man roster and would not count against their practice squad either.
Expect to see a lot of numbers 87, 82, and 49 in the Steelers’ preseason finale, as those are the numbers, respectively, of the tight ends named above, and they’re the only ones that are going to be able to play unless the team signs one or two (or even makes a trade) in between now and then.
They did make a trade for a tight end at this time last season. That is when they acquired McDonald from the San Francisco 49ers and a fifth-round pick in exchange for a fourth round pick. He was added shortly before the finale preseason game, but did participate in it.
But the sixth-year veteran has been sidelined since early in training camp with a foot injury, missing all four preseason games and just about everything else as well. The team is optimistic that he will be able to play by the season opener, but there is no guarantee of that happening.
Grimble, entering his third year, recently had surgery to repair a thumb injury of some sort and has not participated in the last two preseason games, nor will he be back for the finale, but again, there is optimism that he will be able to return by the time the regular season begins.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin did not have enough information about James’ situation to give any sort of prognosis, but while it did not look serious, it’s a virtual certainty that you can count him out from participation until the regular season begins, especially given the state of the position.
Tight end is one of the most physically demanding positions in football, and they regularly take a beating, which is why you so frequently see even star tight ends miss a lot of times with injuries. It helps you appreciate James’ durability up to this point in his career, and sit back in awe of Heath Miller, who was routinely asked to stick his nose into defensive linemen.