While it is certainly nice and all that the Pittsburgh Steelers were very proactive in improving their roster deep into the preseason process, including trading for two players and adding a third as a street free agent, the downside is that those players get very little playing time before they have to do the real thing.
And as observers, we don’t get much of an opportunity to see them beforehand, either. I would have liked to have been able to see more from new tight end Vance McDonald, although I am grateful that he even played at all in the preseason finale, and he ended up with somewhere around 15-20 snaps.
While he was not targeted in the passing game—likely the biggest reason that the Steelers signed him—and he was not asked to pass protect at all, the majority of his snaps came in the running game, so we did get a good look into that area.
One of his first snaps of the game—in fact, many of his snaps—came out of the 13 personnel formation, meaning that there were three tight ends on the field. In this case, he was the near in-line blocker on the right, play side of a six-yard Terrell Watson carry in the first quarter.
McDonald and David Johnson did a nice job of initially double-teaming the left defensive end, but Johnson ended up working to the second level as the new tight end turned the defender out of the hole and held him firm.
A few minutes later in the game, McDonald flipped to the left side of the line, again the near in-line blocker, the role that he predominantly served throughout the night. This time he teamed with the left tackle in turning and sealing the right defensive end out of the hole for a five-yard gain from Watson.
One play later and back on the right side, this time in a formation they are running with increasing frequency, the near tight end set off the line of scrimmage, the far at the line. On this play, McDonald was one-on-one with the strong-side linebacker and was able to turn him wide to seal him out of the hole for Watson to pick up seven yards and a first down. A tip of the hat also to Justin Hunter here.
Late in the first half, the Steeler aligned all three tight ends to one side of the formation, with two in a three-point stance. McDonald the innermost, this was one of the snaps on which he lost his individual battle, getting rocked off the snap by the left defensive end and driven back. While he initially countered and leveraged the defender outside, he was then quickly shed as his opponent chipped in on the tackle. He was also blown back on the previous snap, though to less direct ill effect.
As is evidenced by the plays above, it seems readily apparent that McDonald is going to fit into this tight end group, although it may take him some time to adjust to his new settings, including new teammates, in a new city, running a new offense. I think James Daniel will be of benefit to him.