The Pittsburgh Steelers may have only acquired him two days prior, but they did not hesitate to get a solid look at their latest offensive weapon, tight end Vance McDonald, for whom they traded with the 49ers, swapping their fourth-round pick for San Francisco’s fifth-round pick, in addition of course to taking on his salary.
While he did see a handful of snaps during the game, however, he did not see a target as a receiver, despite the fact that he seemed to be used liberally as a route runner on the passing snaps on which he played, upon my initial inspection. In fact, I’m not sure if he pass blocked at all, a fact I will have to verify.
But he did get to show off some of his chops as a run blocker, something of a welcome sight after watching the disappointing preseason campaign of would-be starter Jesse James. In fact, with McDonald able to get up and running so quickly, I do wonder if he will be able to start the season opener rather than being forced to slowly integrate into the role.
I would have to wait until I can provide a deeper inspection, but it would seem that the bulk of his quality work came on the third drive of the game when Joshua Dobbs checked in at quarterback. The Steelers features heavy tight end usage on this drive, including using three tight ends together.
That drive started out with a delay of game, but the running game behind Terrell Watson got things going. On first down, he blocked off the right, strong side of the play with David Johnson. All three were on the left side on the next play, McDonald the nearest inside, responsible for nudging the end out of the running lane, though he did slip off the block.
All told, I think that the fifth-year tight end acquitted himself well in his first game of work this his new team after such short notice. While he likely knew it was always possible that he would be shopped—the selling of his services began around draft time—to suddenly adapt is impressive.
McDonald is a big tight end, and he showed that he has the capacity to play up to that size. He had some power behind his run-blocking when he gets every part working together in unison, including his mind, so I would consider that an encouraging way forward. There were a couple of times where he got pushed back.
It is unfortunate that we cannot get a bigger taste of what he will have to offer before the regular season, but I wasn’t expecting to get even this, assuming that he would not play in the preseason finale. And I have no initial complaints about what I saw.