PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers walked away from last season with an affinity for Jesse James but unsure if that relationship would graduate to love. The signing of tight end Ladarius Green to a four-year deal confirmed that status.
Now that Green will start the season on the physically unable to perform list, the Steelers need the love to flow through the Three Rivers.
It is officially Jesse James time. And he's ready.
"I feel really good. I feel confident," said James, who recorded four catches for 25 yards and a touchdown against New Orleans last week. "I want to be a primary option for us."
Who knows if James will be a primary option, but he sure is an intriguing one. At 6-foot-6, James is a huge red-zone target with sure hands. He's an adequate blocker, maybe not elite, but he works at it and wants to be great. He's not a burner, but James warns, "I can outrun some guys."
On paper, he sounds a little bit like Heath Miller, but Miller's intangibles set him apart.
James knows he won't win the hearts of Steelers fans overnight. He's a fifth-round pick. He doesn't have the cachet of Miller, a former first-rounder, or Green, who signed a four-year, $20-million deal in March.
James calls the fans' concerns about tight end "understandable."
"When you go from having a guy for 10 years...I could see the fans' view of that," James said. "But here we're not worried about it. We want to get back to work."
The Steelers originally envisioned playing James and Green together some, with Green as a vertical threat to help replace the suspended Martavis Bryant and James serving as a classic inline tight end. James himself says he "can't wait" to play with Green but doesn't know when that will happen.
But one way James can fill in smoothly is with the Steelers' no-huddle offense that Ben Roethlisberger loves. The Steelers opened the Saints game on a 15-play touchdown drive, and James was heavily involved with three catches. He was in the wrong spot on Roethlisberger's first pass attempt, but the two found a rhythm after that, including a 5-yard touchdown off a Roethlisberger scramble play.
James wants to produce in the no-huddle.
"We feel we're some of the most highly-conditioned athletes on display," James said. "We get the defense moving, scrambling around."
Yes, the Steelers' tight end position is a bit of a mess. But James has enough ability to quell at least some concerns.