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Steelers

Steelers tight end James knows he can boost stock in Green's absence

| Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016, 9:06 p.m.
Steelers tight end Jesse James (right) is the only active tight end on the Steelers roster who took regular-season snaps with the team last season.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers tight end Jesse James (right) is the only active tight end on the Steelers roster who took regular-season snaps with the team last season.

Even though the Steelers were forced inside the Carey Center gymnasium at St. Vincent College for Sunday's practice because of inclement weather for the first time in more than a decade, the scene was all too familiar.

Tight end Ladarius Green wore his No. 80 jersey with a team-logo floppy hat dangling from his neck. He took part in an occasional drill.

There still is no word about his long-term health and no mention of Green's headaches from anybody.

Meanwhile, Jesse James continued his tireless work.

“I am not sure exactly what is going on,” James said when asked about Green's health. “I have no idea. I am just waiting to see. Hopefully, he is back sooner rather than later. I don't talk to trainers about him or his health or anything like that.”

James has other things to worry about, like leaving no doubt he can be the team's No. 1 tight end without any hint of drop-off from Green — or even Heath Miller.

“Ever since Heath retired, it has been a role that I have expected to be able to handle and take,” James said of being the team's top tight end. “Nothing changed when Ladarius was signed. I had the same mentality coming in. I wanted to show that I could compete with him and show that I was ready to take on a bigger role. Nothing has changed for me the past couple months and even into camp.”

The Steelers might have no choice than to go with James, a South Allegheny graduate who played three years at Penn State.

Green remains on the physically unable to perform list, and the team insisted he's still not fully healed from January ankle surgery.

However, a NFL.com report Thursday stated that Green's surgically repaired ankle was fine, and he has yet to be removed from the PUP list because of recurring headaches.

Green reportedly suffered multiple concussions last year. But during his introductory news conference in March after signing a four-year, $20 million deal, he said he was misdiagnosed.

“It came out as a concussion, but I just had sinus problems, so it wasn't a concussion,” Green said then. “It was the same thing: the sinuses. They didn't know about it. It's fine now. It wasn't anything that held me back.”

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin denied the report after a 30-17 preseason loss to the Lions on Friday. Tomlin said Green remains on the PUP list because of his ankle.

“We stated that,” Tomlin said Friday. “He's rehabbing nice. He's gotten better in that area, but he's not ready to go.”

James is ready and willing. He just turned 22 and played fewer than 200 snaps as a rookie. He believes that he's ready to not only take over the starting job in Green's absence, but to contribute in a pass-happy offense led by Ben Roethlisberger.

“Absolutely. No question I can do it,” James said. “I feel really good about it. The coaches feel pretty good about it, I believe. I am trying to get better every day and be ready come September. I am going to put my head down, go to work and try to make the most of it.”

The Steelers have limited options at tight end. Miller retired. Green is injured. Veteran Matt Spaeth was released a few days before camp. That leaves James as the most-tenured Steelers tight end.

The Steelers have four other tight ends, but none of them played a snap with the team last year. David Johnson returned to the Steelers after two years with the Chargers, but he has only 23 receptions in six seasons.

James, the Steelers' fifth-round pick last year, played in the final 10 games, including the playoffs, and started against the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts. He had eight receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown.

James, who said he lost about 20 pounds since last season, has been working on his blocking skills in camp.

“I've improved every day,” James said. “I just want to keep improving. First, it was getting my technique down to midseason form. Now I am hoping to get more aggressive. I always knew that I was going to have a prominent role here one way or another.”

Mark Kaboly is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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