Snapshot: Jesse James

The Steelers' rookie tight end is conjuring up all kinds of comparisons, even at a young age.

He was named after an outlaw who was killed by one of his "teammates," but Jesse James isn't about to stir up even the hint of trouble with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Born in nearby McKeesport, James was named after the notorious ex-Confederate who was killed by a member of his own gang at the age of 34. James, the football player, kind of likes the historical context.

"Yes, I was named after the outlaw," he said.

His father, Rick James, obviously has a sense of humor, right?

"I guess you could say that," James said. "But I love my name. People remember it every time. It's a good name to have."

Another "good name to have" would be Mark Bavaro, who retired from football the year James was born. James doesn't remember the former New York Giants great, or that he was a fourth-round pick in the 1985 draft, but the two names were brought together around draft time this year because of their similar, bruising running styles after the catch.

"Sounds like a good quality," James said. "I feel good about my skills running with the ball in my hand. Don't go down easy. I try to stay on my feet as long as possible. Give me some space and I'll make a play."

James turned 21 a few days before this interview, and at 6-7, 261 still can add plenty of strength. But all James would say -- after celebrating his birthday by dining with his girlfriend and her family and getting up early to lift -- was that "I feel good about where I'm at. For my age I figure I can put on weight if the team wants me to put on weight. Or I could even trim down if they need me to. I can do whatever they want."

James is a serious athlete who also caught the attention of Matt Spaeth this past spring for his attention to detail in the meeting room.

Spaeth, of course, is the Steelers' veteran blocking tight end whose name had also been attached to James' by way of comparison this past draft season.

"He's doing great, really smart," said Spaeth, who was asked if James is comparable to him as a blocker.

"Yeah, he's pretty good," Spaeth said. "Hopefully some day they compare him to me AND Heath (Miller)."

That would, of course, mean that James has blossomed into an NFL pass-catching threat. James has put up decent numbers in the past. At South Allegheny High School, the three-time captain and two-time second-team All-State player caught 71 passes for 1,030 yards and 10 touchdowns. At Penn State, James broke Ted Kwalick's school record for career TD passes with 11, and he did so in only three seasons. At Penn State, James caught 76 passes for 995 yards.

A surprise entrant into this past draft, James ran a 4.83 40 at the Combine with 26 bench reps and a vertical jump of 37 1/2 inches. The Steelers drafted him in the fifth round and are hoping, like the Giants did in 1985, that they got a steal.

Already, James is working closely with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during red zone drills.

"Yeah, it's great to be out here with the guys," James said during OTAs. "Going through this before camp is awesome. You get to know the guys a little bit. You get to know how practice is going, what's expected of you every day. It's been great so far."

When asked for specifics, James added, "It's a fun offense, a fun group of guys to play with. At Penn State I went through two offensive systems and have had a chance to do a number of these same things, so there's really nothing that they can ask me to do that I haven't done something similar to already."

A quiet guy who's not looking for trouble, James is at home playing for the team he watched while growing up, but said he doesn't feel any more pressure because of it.

"I couldn't be happier to be here," he said. "It's a great organization. It's a great place to play. It's a great town to be in. I couldn't be more happy to be given the opportunity that they gave me on draft day. I feel really good about it. I don't feel any extra pressure. I put enough of that on myself to perform every day, so there's nothing that's any different from any other day."

Who was James' favorite player growing up?

"Um," he said with a pause, "it's hard to say because I'm teammates with him."

Heath?

"Yeah," James admitted. "He's awesome. He's been helpful in the meeting rooms. He's helpful on the field. He's just a great guy to play with, a great guy to learn from."

Let the learning begin.


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