Todd Haley Credits Jesse James For Playing Through Injury

I think it’s pretty much common knowledge around here that I have been among the harshest critics of Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James. Not having anything to do with who he is as a player—certainly not as a person—but rather with the role that he has been thrust into.

I have, shall we say, shared my reservations in the past regarding whether or not he possesses an adequate level of skill to legitimately be a starting tight end over the long term for a quality offense. Even after this week’s gritty receiving performance, I would still lean toward a no, personally.

But the Steelers have been working around him, giving him, for example, fewer blocking assignments, with which he has been inconsistent, at best, and to his credit, he has stepped up his game in terms of coming up with tough catches, and making himself available to make them in the first place.

Most impressive, however, has to be simply his dependability, the fact that he is always there. Especially considering some of the hits that he has taken this season at the tail end of some receptions—including a couple of them from Sunday night—he has done a good job of taking care of himself and staying on the field.

That is a quality that has not gone unnoticed by his coaches. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley yesterday said to Jeremy Fowler of his third-year tight end that James has dealt with a lot of injury issues during the midpoint of this season.

A lot of guys may never have even played”, he said, “and he didn’t miss a practice”. While I doubt that was any direct comment on Vance McDonald, who has missed five games this year due to three separate injuries and is lined up to miss a sixth, I’m sure it will be readily interpreted as such.

And you know what, being available is a pretty crucial aspect of any sport—or really any aspect of life. For as many stellar attributes Antonio Brown might have, his consistent availability is about as high up on the list as any. That includes a combination of both durability and preservation.

While the Steelers clearly favor having other options for blocking duties—they like to use a package involving McDonald and a tackle-eligible in two-tight-end sets, for example, with James on the sideline—the young tight end is beginning to develop into a reliable possession target.

And even as it somehow makes me laugh a bit, he has even demonstrated some semblance of elusiveness lately—or at least as elusive as a lanky body with limited athleticism and speed can demonstrate.

Suffice it to say, at the end of the day, the Steelers need Jesse James, because they have no other options available to them at the position that offer consistency. He is the best that they have, all factors considered, and while they could certainly do better, they could also do much worse. Just keep pulling in those tough catches, young man.

About the Author

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

    Go Jesse!!

  • Kevin artis

    Just catch the ball. That’s what we need.

  • Conserv_58

    Jessie just needs to be a chain mover.

  • NinjaMountie

    I’ll just keep saying it……….
    If he could just learn to block much better.

  • pittfan

    Outlaw has been, and will continue to be clutch

  • capehouse

    Haha must be tough for you to swallow James’ success, Marczi, after beating him down in articles for 2 years. As someone who’s argued with you in those articles over the last 2 years, I’m just here to say I told you so. You’re even bashing him in an article that’s meant to praise him lol. That last paragraph is just a slap in the face. He’s a possession receiver. Always has been. When he’s used in that format he’s a really good player. He made Pro Bowl LB C.J. Mosley look silly a few times last week. I think my favorite play from last week though was the simple 4 yard gain when he sidestepped Maurice Canady and then put his shoulder down into Marlon Humphrey who was coming full speed looking for a knockout blow and James just stopped him in his tracks and casually walked out of bounds.

  • Jim Foles

    What is the problem with McGee?? James and McGee would be better then James and a maybe next week McDonald…

  • ThePointe

    McDonald needs to be cut after this season. We simply can’t afford to have TE after TE sitting on the sidelines year in and year out.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Good write-up, Matt. I think Jesse certainly deserves some pub after last week’s game.

    You and I are in agreement on the overall assessment of Outlaw. And I think he’d make a fine number 2, assuming your number 1 was capable of doing all of the usual aspects of the TE job. If your number 1 was an Evan Engram type “Mover,” I’m hesitant to say that leaving James as the more “Blocker TE” would be a wise move at all. That said, assuming we come out of the draft next year with a very good all-around TE, I like the idea of having Jesse James as our number 2. And I think he’s gotten better and better at tracking and catching the ball cleanly enough, that he can actually jump-start his motor and get lumbering down the field quicker.

    That concept of making the catch in a way that allows you to accelerate, is very underrated. Some people, especially body-catchers, drive me a bit nuts with how long it takes them to catch, secure, and then proceed to get moving, especially at the TE position.

  • Darth Blount 47


    He certainly made some tough, helpful, clutch, and surprising catches last week. It felt really good to see Ben have a TE he could go back to play after play and each one seemed to be caught well and then turned into a bit more. It really brought me back. I can’t stress enough how much Ben LOVES to have a reliable weapon at TE.