Dunlap: Jesse James Headed In Right Direction

PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – It was one game.

I know, I know, I know.

But just like you will probably go ahead and use that as your ammunition — and rightly so — against going wild and crazy and shouting from the mountaintops, I will spin it another way.

Steelers tight end Jesse James has only had one game in the post-Heath Miller era to take command of that position and provide an adequate target for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger while providing a more-than-pivotal piece to this potent offense.

And he did precisely as much in Monday night’s one-sided victory against Washington.

James has had exactly one chance without Miller at his side and he performed splendidly, catching five passes for 31 yards. Three of those grabs resulted in first downs for the kid from Glassport who is obviously still getting accustomed to the pro game.

Jesse James is no Heath Miller — but that’s not a knock.

Few are.

Heath Miller was the greatest tight end in franchise history and there is a possibility — no matter how long this glorious franchise continues to exist — another tight end will never be as good as Miller.

That said, Jesse James being Jesse James — at least the incarnation we saw on Monday night — is something that the Steelers will take every game.

James did his best, for one night at least, to soothe the gap left behind by Miller’s retirement.

James was there in a check-down role for Big Ben.

James was getting his face in there and trying to bulldog people in run block situations.

James was trying in earnest in pass protection circumstances, working in concert with the other linemen to keep Roethlisberger clean.

And from what I saw of James, he is someone who appears to be the least of the Steelers’ worries, even as a month ago no one had an idea as to how big his role would be.

You see, we all knew long ago there would be no more Heath Miller in a Steelers jersey.

We didn’t know the guy who was supposed to be Miller’s replacement would come into Pittsburgh as damaged goods, unable to get on the field for what seems to be a layer of mysteries.

That’s why, for me at least, Jesse James did something even bigger — he answered a real, pressing question Steeler Nation should have.

Not the whole “Can he fill Heath Miller’s shoes?” questions because we have been through that.

No one can.

Instead, James went a long way toward answering the “What if Ladarius Green is out for the season?” question. Or, more pointed, “What if Ladarius Green never plays a down for the Steelers?” question.

Granted, again, it was just one game, but the confidence has to be building in the South Allegheny and Penn State product where you feel comfortable in him being the full-on starter. After Monday night, there has to be a skyrocketing level of assurance that the offense can function at optimum levels with James in there at tight end.

The truest test for me on Monday night was very simple. Not one time did I say to myself, “Wow, this offense really could use Ladarius Green.”

It never happened.

Not even for a split second.

Instead, I just watched Jesse James go out there and play — and while no one will ever make you forget about Heath Miller, James did make me forget about Green.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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