Xavier Grimble / LeCLAIRE / USA TODAY Sports Images

Steelers Notebook: X, Javon, Bryant ...

End-of-week Steelers spring notebook includes items on Xavier Grimble, Javon Hargrave, Martavis Bryant and much more.

PITTSBURGH -- Jesse James has looked every bit the part of the high draft pick among the Pittsburgh Steelers' tight end group this spring.

Of course, James was only a fifth-rounder.

That might say something about the group, but then again, the other guy, the undrafted guy expected to replace Ladarius Green as the playmaker of the group, looks better than at any point during HIS stay with the team.

"X is looking really good," Ryan Shazier said of the Steelers' X-factor this season, Xavier Grimble, who on Wednesday was making plays as if he was born to make them. 

Short, deep, inside, outside, Grimble seemed to be everywhere on a day that was obviously intended as a showcase -- maybe even a test -- for the tight ends. 

Grimble beat Tyler Matakevich short to score an early touchdown, and then beat Bud Dupree and Vince Williams on an intermediate pass that turned into a long touchdown run. It was an impressive performance, even by spring standards.

"Yeah, I had a better day than yesterday," Grimble said with his typical humility. 

Not that he had made any mental mistakes on Tuesday. That was his red line. But he said he "left some plays out there." So he went home, curled up with his playbook and went to bed early.

"I got my rest and got ready to come back out here with a better frame of mind," he said.

Maybe he just cleared his head, because when it was mentioned that it didn't appear Grimble was thinking on the field, he was quick to smile.

"Yep, just playing," he said as if the weight of a thousand previous practices had fallen from his shoulders. 

"It's what you hope for, to play just for pure fun, when you're not thinking about nothing but making the play."

Grimble has shown those glimpses since the 6-4, 261-pounder played at USC. He wasn't drafted, but spent time on a pair of practice squads before landing with the Steelers. He spent 2015 on the practice squad before making the active roster last season. 

In 11 games he caught 11 passes for 118 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and has suddenly been thrust into the role of playmaking TE upon the release of Green. 

Behind Grimble and James this season are H-back/fullback David Johnson and a pair of undrafted rookies: Scott Orndoff -- the better blocker and all-around tight end -- and the tantalizingly athletic 6-foot-8 Phazahn Odom

The two rookies can follow Grimble's path, which he discussed after doing post-practice sprints on the far field. He was the last man off the field on this day.

"Coming from where I've been, it's hard to let that pressure of being an outsider go," Grimble said. "Everywhere I've been it's always been that way. Part of me wants to carry that with me everywhere I go, just so I keep that same work ethic. But, yeah, I finally can let a little bit of that pressure go -- a tiny bit."

Grimble said the release of Green came as a surprise to all.

"He had told me earlier in that week that he was coming in on Thursday and he told me to save his seat and everything," Grimble said. 

Green was cut after failing his physical on Thursday, May 18.

"Definitely sad about it," Grimble said. "He was a good guy, a guy I watched his whole career. I was glad to have him here so I could work with him. It was tough to see him go but it's a tough business. I wish nothing but the best for him."

Noble sentiments from the next man up.


Javon Hargrave left the field Thursday in obvious discomfort after taking a blow in the chest. 

The Steelers don't release spring injury information, so the seriousness of the apparent injury won't be known until next Tuesday's practice. But Cameron Heyward, who was standing with Hargrave as he was being checked by the training staff on the sideline, doesn't believe it's a serious injury, such as a torn pec.

"No, no," Heyward said. "We don't really know what it is yet. I don't think it's that serious. I think it's a contusion of his chest."

Heyward sat out of Thursday's practice as he recovers from his own torn pec, but said he's fine and coming along at the proper pace. He and opposite end Stephon Tuitt (hand surgery) have missed most of the spring scrimmages, and with Hargrave out the first-team DL was comprised of L.T. Walton, Daniel McCullers and Johnny Maxey.

Veteran free-agent acquisition Tyson Alualu has missed all scrimmage time with a calf injury, but undergoes conditioning on another field.


Rookie fourth-round quarterback Josh Dobbs received extra reps Thursday without Ben Roethlisberger in attendance, and the aeronautical engineer from the University of Tennessee was asked about the learning environment here on the South Side.

"It's different," Dobbs said. "It's a different environment than I've been in. (It's) an environment where you're just around football each and every day. I'm really enjoying it and I'm learning a lot from it. Just becoming a professional, you wake up and all you do is football. It's a little different than splitting your days half and half with school and football, especially with all the studying. I'm enjoying the process and learning a lot each day."

Dobbs was known to stay up until 3:30 a.m. on game days to finish difficult school projects. But that's in the past -- for the time being.

"Everyone on the team is embracing you no matter what the position is," Dobbs said. "They've been able to give me different tips and different nuggets, whether it's before or after practice in the film room, on the field in the middle of practice, even when I'm not with them and I go and watch football by myself I can add to my game. It's been a great learning experience."


Martavis Bryant added 10 pounds while spending the winter and spring undergoing a serious workout regimen for, he admitted, the first time in his life. 

Bryant did sit out one practice the first week, so he was asked if his new muscled-up body might be prone to nagging pulls. 

"I'm not worried about injuries," Bryant said. "Injuries come and go. As long as I feel great with my body and how big I am, I'm happy. It's working great."

Bryant said he "worked on my legs, my upper body, conditioning," while under suspension. 

"Everything you do in training, I did it," he said. "I took care of my body."

Does Bryant need to wait until training camp to appreciate his added strength?

"No, I know that I'm strong," he said. "I'm not worried about that stuff. When the pads come on, I'll be ready for that. Plus, I get to go back home and train for another month and I'm going to work out and do things to get me ready for camp."


Mike Mitchell talked to reporters after Thursday's practice while wearing his Ohio Bobcats ballcap. 

Mitchell is one of eight Bobcats drafted by the NFL in the last 10 years, and as a second-rounder in 2009 was drafted in an earlier round than any Bobcat since first-rounder Art Lewis in 1939.

"I love to wear it out here as a reminder to the guys," Mitchell said. "I'm a small-school guy who's out here balling. It's also a reminder to myself that this is where I came from, so I always want to come out there with the right mindset that I want to work and get better. Nothing's ever been given to me. I've earned everything I got."


Third-team slot cornerback Mike Hilton -- a 5-9 first-year player out of Ole Miss -- made back-to-back diving pass breakups Wednesday and was rewarded the next day as the first-team slot replacement for the absent Will Gay. ... An offensive line that didn't have a starting player miss any spring practices last year worked Thursday without Marcus Gilbert, Maurkice Pouncey and Ramon Foster. All three were on the sidelines watching replacements Jerald Hawkins, B.J. Finney and Chris Hubbard. ... Back-to-back plays by the starting cornerbacks put smiles on the defensive coaches Thursday. A play after Artie Burns dove to break up a pass to Antonio Brown, Ross Cockrell stepped in front of a pass to Sammie Coates and took it the other way for a touchdown.

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