Sunday Should Provide Better Feel For State Of Tight End Group

When it comes to the tight end position, the Pittsburgh Steelers were at a major disadvantage on Sunday with respect to being able to have all hands on deck. Obviously, their newest tight end, Vance McDonald, missed the game entirely while recovering from a back injury, to get the ball rolling.

But their starter, Jesse James, literally suffered an injury on the first play of the game—after the kickoff—getting rolled up on from behind and suffering an ankle injury. In spite of that, I think he ended up playing something like all but three snaps, but it was clear that he was limited.

In other words, the third-year pro was asked to soldier through, and he did, which in and of itself is commendable. I’m also assuming that that is what Alejandro Villanueva—a literal soldier, naturally—was asked to do at the end of the game when Marcus Gilbert suffered an injury.

The good news is that neither of them were even on the injury report at the end of the week, so both of them are expected to play tomorrow in Chicago against the Bears. Xavier Grimble, who logged about a dozen and a half snaps or so in the last game, will also be available.

I am frankly curious and eager to see what this tight end group is capable of doing at full capacity, and I don’t think that we have been given the opportunity to see them at their full capacity yet, with Sunday hopefully representing the nearest approximation.

While we are generally familiar by now with James’ body of work even if he is still an ascending player, we really have seen very little of McDonald, and what we did see was a guy who is undergoing a pretty significant change in life circumstances after he was traded to the Steelers late in the preseason.

In about 20 or so snaps in the season opener, the former second-round pick managed to record an offensive holding penalty and failed to hold on to a pass on third down that many really want to label a drop, but which I have declined to do because he was hit by a defender immediately after attempting to make the initial catch.

I would like to hope that he is going to be in a bit more stable of a place mentally when he takes the field tomorrow, and I am looking forward to seeing him get a couple of targets, especially since it will help clear the taste out of everybody’s mouths over his one target to date in a Steelers uniform.

According to Jim Wexell, with Chris Hubbard expected to be in the starting lineup this week, we might even see a new body at tight end: B.J. Finney. This would certainly be interesting, since he had not done if before, and I don’t consider him particularly mobile. I will be on the lookout for this without a doubt.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Guillermo Garcia-Gomez

    James is solid enough for underneath routes and as a safety valve. He has actually played better this year after supposedly having a bad camp. However, I think we need McDonald or Grimble to show they can stretch the seam if we really want the offense to reach its full potential.

  • John Pennington

    Like to see Vance put time in on the jig machine to sure up his hands catching passes.He has to put in the extra work will need him this year.

  • Chuck Anderson

    Finney not mobile? At least he’s certainly looked a lot more so, pulling in run blocking, than The Big Ragu. I guess that’s a pretty low bar.

    Looking forward to seeing McDonald make some plays. He should certainly get some opportunities in this offense, once the rust is gone and defenses find themselves shorthanded in trying to account for the big guns. Also want to see him confirm the reports of his blocking prowess.

  • Jaybird

    Finney looked GREAT pulling against the Bills last year. Then he looked like a statue when asked to play center against the Browns .

  • Dshoff

    If James was injured, then he should never have been asked to block that great defensive lineman one on one. Twice he let the guy just go right by him. I am hoping that this happened because of James’s injury, but he could have gotten Ben killed.

  • Dshoff

    I’m actually excited to see Finney in there as an extra blocker. He showed that he’s MORE mobile than Foster last year. And he handled a very tough very strong DL guy against the Bills.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Foster has been pulling quite a bit so far this year and the team has been effective when he has. It’s something that I’ve begun tracking starting with this season. As for Finney’s success pulling last season, it’s true that he did, but I need to see more before I believe it wasn’t an aberration. His three-year body of preseason work has shown him to be barely average in terms of mobility. Definitely more of a phone booth guy. So much so that I was kind of dumbfounded by how he looked pulling during the regular season, because he didn’t even look that way pulling during the preseason.