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Tight end Xavier Grimble flashed playmaking skills as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers' practice squad

Is it time to draft Heath Miller's replacement? Or would the Steelers be better served with The X Man? Jim Wexell delves into the world of Xavier Grimble.

Even into the offseason, the cry for "H-e-e-e-a-a-a-t-h" rings throughout the fan base.

Only, it's not the happy cheer Pittsburgh Steelers fans have heard over the years whenever Heath Miller catches a pass.

Miller caught 60 of them last season to become the first Steelers tight end to ever catch 60 or more passes in back-to-back seasons.

In fact, only two others -- Eric Green and Elbie Nickel -- caught 60 passes or more once in their respective Steelers careers. Miller has averaged 54 per each of his 11 seasons, yet the cry rings out, and not for any good reason if you are Miller or his family and friends.

Fans -- at least some of those who call talk shows and interact on social media -- want a new "H-e-e-e-a-a-a-t-h." His name is Hunter Henry and he's been the toast of draftnik mocks recently.

Henry's a 6-5, 253-pounder who's coming out of Arkansas following his junior season. He can block, and probably better than Miller could at the time he was the 30th pick of the 2005 draft and helped the Steelers win a Super Bowl as a rookie starter.

Henry can also catch, and, judging by the only video I've watched of him, he can get down the field.

Fine. Miller's entering the final year of his contract and turns 34 in October. The Steelers could draft Henry and have Miller mentor him throughout his final season. Or, hey, just cut Heath and save $4 million, which can be used to help buy a defensive back, because defensive backs are what the Steelers really could use.

Or, just defense.

Anyone on defense. At any position.

Personally, I won't allow the last seven games of the season, in which five back-ups and an over-the-hill veteran quarterbacked against the Steelers in their final seven games.

I want more, and in my opinion the Steelers can certainly find a defensive player to help them more than a rookie tight end, particularly when that rookie tight end would be vying for Ben Roethlisberger's attention with four talented wide receivers and a returning pass-catching running back named Le'Veon Bell.

Are there enough footballs to go around as is?

From that perspective, the aging and slowing Miller just might be worth keeping around for another, say, 52-catch season.

But there's also the X-factor, and I'm not talking about last year's fifth-round pick, Jesse James.

In Xavier Grimble, the Steelers have a player on their futures roster who showed throughout this past practice season that he could become the playmaking tight end this team would appreciate as a complement to Miller.

At least Grimble has that potential.

Of course, no one knows for sure. Grimble wasn't with the team last preseason. He signed with the Steelers' practice squad on Sept. 7 after being cut by the San Francisco 49ers. He has also been on practice squads with New England and the New York Giants since coming out of Southern Cal in 2014 following his junior season.

Grimble measured 6-4 1/4, 257 at his Combine, where he struggled with a calf injury and put up below-average test numbers there and at his pro day. This after an injury-plagued 2013 season.

He was considered an underachiever and wasn't drafted. But for all the world -- the practice/flag-football watching Pittsburgh media world -- Grimble has looked like a playmaking seam-stretcher.

I caught up with Grimble about six weeks into his Pittsburgh experience and have been holding on to this Q-&-A since then.

Q: Can I call you X Man?

XG: "Yeah."

Q: What's life like on the practice squad?

XG: " I just look at it as an opportunity to get better and an opportunity to be around some good guys. I was with the 49ers behind Vernon Davis and here behind Heath Miller. I was with the Patriots a couple days behind Gronk. I just try to learn as much as I can. This is a next-man-up game, so the more I can do to get myself ready the better off I'll be."

Q: I see you catching and running so smoothly and athletically. Why haven't you made a team?

XG: "I just haven't caught a break. I came out undrafted and tore my hamstring the first training camp, second day. I missed the whole training camp and got picked up by the Niners. Obviously I missed all of training camp and learned the offense with them. I think what I've missed is starting in training camp, going through a whole training camp and getting to Game One and getting the gist of the whole offense. A lot of times I'm starting behind the eight ball."

Q: Like here?

XG: "Like here. I got here late, in the season. We're already game-planning so now I'm not only trying to stay with the game plan but catch up with the basic offense and all the knowledge. Really, I think it's just the knowledge because I always seem to get here late."

Q: How are you catching up?

XG: "I'm catching up, doing the best I can, trying to learn as fast as I can. I have good guys in front of me like Matt Spaeth and Heath trying to help me out. So I'm learning as best I can."

Q: I remember you at USC. I was surprised you weren't drafted.

XG: "Yeah. Super unexpected. I was top three at my position. I was projected third through fifth round and just dropped all the way out."

Q: USC has turned out a few players. Troy used to remind us that. Did you know Troy?

XG: "Yeah, I met Troy a couple of times through my time at SC. He's a great dude. Always been an incredible leader, always came back and shared some stories, always a good dude."

Q: Were you on Matt Barkley's team?

XG: "Yes."

Q: Is this a place you can call home?

XG: "Definitely trying to, man. I see nothing but great opportunity -- great opportunity, great coaches, great tradition, great history. Also this is my family's team. Ever since I was little. My uncles always coached me in football and growing up all I knew was 'Steelers. Steelers this. Steelers that.' They used to go to all the games. Now I'm here."

Q: You've also been other places in the NFL with great tradition. In fact, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and New England might be the Holy 3 when it comes to Super Bowl tradition.

XG: "Exactly, all three of them. Like I said I'm just trying to gain knowledge from each place, keep progressing and getting better, so when opportunity comes I'll be ready. This is what I want to do, so I ain't giving up."

The Steelers drafting a first-round tight end this spring would be just another bad break for a guy like Grimble. But, it just might make more sense to give him a shot in the preseason to see if he can catch on behind Miller, James and any of the other Steelers veteran tight ends, because defense HAS to be the concern for a team that doesn't have enough footballs to go around for its offense anyway.


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