Steelers Training Camp Recap: Tight End

Now that the 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers training camp has concluded, we’re recapping everything that went down over these past 16 practices. We’ll break down each play, position-by-position, with final winners and losers at the end. Next up, tight end.

Tight End

Jesse James: It wasn’t a terrible camp for The Outlaw. Let’s be clear about that. But a bit underwhelming. I didn’t care nor expect James to make a ton of plays vertically. Which is good because he didn’t. But I did expect him to show great hands and the ability to make tough catches in traffic. Moments like that existed but they were fleeting. Things got off to a rough start with Ben Roethlisberger having trouble connecting with him in the end zone. He didn’t have a touchdown his first four practices and dropped the ball twice.

Things got better throughout camp but there were still ugly moments. A perfectly thrown corner route that slipped through his hands. And a should’ve-been touchdown in seven shots in one of the last practices when Ross Cockrell somehow poked the ball out last second.

His run blocking against the New York Giants was underratedly good. And he will keep growing/developing. It just wasn’t the camp I was hoping for.

Camp Grade: C+

David Johnson: Gotta hand it to David Johnson. If you look at things in a vacuum, and only took this year’s camp into consideration, Johnson was the best tight end on the roster. His hands were above average and he almost always catches away from his frame. He was able to make some tough throws in coverage and while a lot of this came in one-on-ones, he showed nuance in his route running to separate and make up for the lack of speed he’s clearly never had. He can pull off double-moves and burst away at the top.

Blocking has never been a question. Always his strength. He is what he is, a glorified linemen, but if you throw the ball his way, he’ll make it count.

Camp Grade: B

Xavier Grimble: Similar story to James. Not a terrible camp but a sense of frustration. He ducked out of an early practice with heat-related problems, an all-too common issue with him, and a surprising ailment who certainly looks in tremendous shape and worked hard during the offseason.

I’m trying to think of a highlight, “wow” play from him all of camp. Nothing is coming immediately to mind. That shouldn’t happen for an above average athlete like Grimble, who made a couple catches in seven shots (5 TDs by last count, most of the TEs), but never stretched the field. Most of those vertical shots fell incomplete, including one drop on a perfectly placed throw down the seam.

I think his roster spot is probably safe. And his blocking got better, looking much better with his technique on the sleds from this year to last. But we leave hoping for more.

Camp Grade: C

Phazahn Odom: A good story, small school tryout kid who made the Steelers’ roster. But we told you before camp not to buy those Odom jerseys (someone didn’t get the message). His blocking? Yeesh, it’s hard to be much worse. His first couple times through the sleds were abysmal, unable to snap his hips on contact and finish driving with his lower half. While that got better throughout, he regressed terribly in game action against the Giants.

While Odom showed he can be quick to the tuck as a receiver and obviously has a large catch radius, too many passes were let into his body, causing double-catches and drops. His 6’7 height worked against him getting off the line of scrimmage, too tall to dip under jamming linebackers, to the point where the QB couldn’t even throw the ball on several one-on-one matchups.

He got destroyed in backs on ‘backers, going 0-7. T.J. Watt manhandled him all camp.

I’ll say this to his credit. Didn’t miss a practice, didn’t miss a rep, put in extra work before practice. For a rookie from Fordham, we’ve seen so many rookies tripped up by minor injury, he was available and soaking up as many reps as he could. That’s big.

There’s still upside here and you have to understand how unfinished of a product he was/is. Not saying he can’t get better, just as Grimble has done in his career. But there’s a long way to go.

Camp Grade: D+

Jake McGee: Brought in mid-way through camp after Scott Orndoff tweaked his hamstring and was waived/injured, he has been something of a pleasant surprise. His athleticism is woefully limited, on par with David Johnson, but he has good hands who can make tough catches in traffic, a trait the Steelers hold in high regard. You’re probably aware of his blocking too, given special mention by Mike Tomlin post-game, and something he did well throughout camp. Got reps at fullback late in camp, a good sign for his chances to stick around. More hats you can wear, the better. He also perked up on the coverage unit, too.

Choosing between McGee and Odom comes down to the traits you value and your philosophy on the practice squad’s purpose. They couldn’t be more different. If the Steelers choose to keep him, it’s well-deserved.

Camp Grade: B

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • Craig M

    Phazahn just didn’t make the Shazam, transformation I was hoping for. But he is young and full of perseverance so, hopefully, there will be development down the line. Maybe Harrison can muscle him up and eventually he’ll turn into “Super T”. 🙂

  • nutty32

    He certainly did look like a lost 16 yr old J.V. player just standing around & looking around when he got into the Giant game. Maybe he has better luck v. the Falcons and he gets some passes thrown his way to highlight his strengths(?)

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Great assessments.

  • PaeperCup

    Man, I wish we drafted a TE

  • Zhan 使美国再次伟大

    That will come next year, I guess, certainly no later than the third round.

    Big hole right now, though…

  • Steelers12

    Put odom on PS squad n let him develop. We need to closely monitor the TE trade market and free agent TEs when cuts are made

  • Brian Miller

    Agreed! Vance McDonald anyone?!?

  • Michael Mosgrove

    i’m going against doctors orders and going to the game tomorrow. one day out of town shouldnt be too bad.

  • As far as ‘star players’ on the offense are concerned, we have one at QB, RB and WR, but we are lacking needed talent at the TE position. I know we can’t expect another Heath Miller-type player to just spring-up out of no where, but we need to focus on getting a high quality TE through the next draft or at least look for one through free agency next year and try to get that one last piece of the puzzle that would make our offense complete. When it comes to TE in the NFL, adequate just isn’t good enough.

  • WreckIess

    We haven’t even sniffed this season yet, but I think it’s safe to say that as of right now a TE is the top need for this team.

  • Rocksolid20

    No TE is going to look good , when we were spoiled watching Heath line up and play
    every week for so many years .

  • Denny

    I am going to guess we won’t see a lot of 2 TE sets with the WR talent we have.

  • SilverSteel

    I would also like to see Odom get a PS opportunity. With DJ as a consistent performer, maybe he should get more game reps. He is pretty good at everything.

  • Steelers12

    Yeah I agree we know what Johnson can do, let odom and Grimble play until the wheels fall of same with Dobbs

  • Jaybird

    Kittle in the 4th???

  • Craig M

    Hopefully just a couple nice grabs and a speedy getaway for some nice yardage too build his confidence and give the FO something to consider for the future- I hope.

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    Kittle or Butt in the 4th. Either guy would have been a huge addition to this roster i think.

  • John Pennington

    Like to see Jake stick around and catch some passes from Ben.

  • Marcus Miceli

    I really am glad a TE was not drafted. There is so much talent especially at WR that I don’t think a ‘playmaker’ TE is needed. Heath was not used too much vertically either, the Steelers need to save cap space somewhere and I think this is a good place for it.

  • Brenton deed

    Weakest position sure but not necessarily to need.

  • WreckIess

    I don’t see a position we need more than a starting caliber TE.

  • Jeff Burton

    I mocked Jake McGee to the Steelers a couple years ago. He’s got a lot of the traits the team likes in TE’s. He a better pass catcher than David Johnson and I’m guessing that’s why they’re looking hard at his blocking. He could be a real upgrade as the 3rd TE/HB/ST. I hope he makes the team.

  • Jeff Burton

    If the Steelers thought that, they had a ton of TEs to chose from in 2016 Draft. Regardless of ‘camp grades’ Jesse James is ready for a breakout season as a receiver. His blocking that is often maligned is already above average. He executes the blocks as designed for the play and rarely gets overpowered or out of position. And he’s improving that area of his game on a weekly basis. He is one of Ben’s favorite safety valve targets and he proved last season that he could rip it up the seam and catch passes over his shoulder. With all the weapons the Steelers have his numbers aren’t going to be out of this world but barring injury, I’m predicting 50+ catches with somewhere around 10 touchdowns. With Grimble, Johnson and possibly Jake McGee as TE/HB/ST hybrid the Steelers are in great shape at the position. I would say another every down Running Back is a much greater need and the RB position in general is very low quality once you get past Bell and (maybe) Conners. We’ll get a real good idea in a few hours if Conners game translates to the NFL. Fingers crossed.

  • WreckIess

    Not really. They still needed to get an OLB, some corners, a guy to spell Bell, a wideout that could be depended on, and they wanted to “sharpen their sword” when it came to drafting a QB. The TE position took a backseat to all of that during the draft, but that doesn’t mean that at the moment it’s not the biggest need. Not to mention they still had Ladarius Green on the roster.

    Also, Ben’s favorite safety valves were Bell and AB. If Jesse James is high on that list then that’s only because there was somewhat of a revolving door at that 2nd WR spot and no one ever took control at that position.

  • Brenton deed

    Another shut down corner so we can shut down both X and Z receivers (assuming Artie continues as he’s going)?

  • Brenton deed

    Say they keep all of the “big three” and they all pan out: MB, Coates and Hunter are too fast for LBs not named Shazier and what team has three fast, 6’4″ ,competent CBs? If this pans out they don’t need a top calibre receiving TE…. I know IF.

  • WreckIess

    Saying we need to draft a shutdown corner is like saying we need to draft an elite Quarterback, or a premier pass rusher, or a 10-year left tackle. Out of the 64 starting outside corners there are probably only about 4 or 5 that are actual “shutdown” corners.

  • I already said we can’t expect another Heath Miller. Everything I wrote pertaining to the TE position was correct.