Ladarius Green injury leaves Steelers light at tight end

LATROBE, Pa. -- As if the pressure wasn't already on Ben Roethlisberger with Le'Veon Bell's pending four-game suspension, the Pittsburgh Steelers' $20 million tight end is still on the mend.

Ladarius Green says his offseason ankle surgery to repair a damaged tendon included the insertion of two plates for stabilization. He's on the physically unable to perform list, and though he doesn't plan to be there for long, he must clear a few hurdles first -- mainly, cutting properly.

This isn't overly alarming yet, but Green expected to be back by now. He fully intends to be ready for Week 1. He's still an unknown.

For now, the top of the tight end depth chart has gone from 11 years of experience -- the retired Heath Miller -- to, essentially, one year with former fifth-round pick Jesse James.

Veteran Matt Spaeth was released earlier this month after failing a physical. The team signed former draft pick David Johnson to a one-year deal, but he is more of a blocker. Xavier Grimble has an intriguing pass-catching skill set but only has practice-squad experience.

James said he's really "the only guy that's back," but he's prepared for an extended role. "I think I can be a tight end, an all-around pro," said James, who caught eight passes for 56 yards and a touchdown last season.

Green is the new Ferrari that Roethlisberger will enjoy testing out. He was well on his way to a productive season in San Diego last year before the injury slowed him. He finished with 37 catches for 429 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games and 11 starts.

He doesn't want to make the offense wait much longer.

"I don't know who wouldn't be anxious to work with a guy [like Roethlisberger]," Green said. "He's just a leader. I'm ready to be a part of that."

Green isn't worried about following Miller, because Green realized while playing alongside Antonio Gates that replacing a legend isn't easy. You're better off trying to be yourself.

Roethlisberger couldn't agree more, especially with a group of young players. Roethlisberger loves using the tight end, especially in the red zone, and he basically has two power forwards up the middle. Green is 6-foot-6 and James is 6-7.

"They don't need to try to be Heath Miller," Roethlisberger said. "That’s not what we’re trying to do."

What they need to do, Roethlisberger says, is be the best Green or James they can be.

And the targets will come.