This really hasn’t been Vance McDonald’s year. He has gotten injured on three separate occasions, and this last one, which on the face of it appeared to be the most minor, has proven to be the most significant, and should see him miss his third game in a row, the fifth overall, during his first season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The fifth-year tight end, acquired in August, suffered an ankle injury midway through the team’s first game on this side of their bye week when he was rolled up on from behind while performing as a blocker on the kick return unit, which I believe occurred early in the second quarter.
But McDonald returned to the game after initially leaving, and even ended up recording his first touchdown pass with the Steelers, ultimately finishing the game, so it seemed as though he might be fine. Generally, when you are able to continue to play through an injury, you are often unlikely to miss further time.
But this is proving to be like Ben Roethlisberger’s injury a year ago against the Dolphins. While he was able to return in the second half after leaving the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury, he proceeded to miss the following game, followed by a bye week after that, and frankly he probably should have sat for one more game after that as well.
While McDonald came to the Steelers with the reputation of being ‘injury-prone’, however, it is hard to fault him for this one. He was actually doing his job, trying to open a seam down the field for JuJu Smith-Schuster’s return, when a diving tackle attempt to his right took out James Conner, who then rolled up on his leg from behind.
There’s nothing injury-prone about that. There’s no way to avoid that. It was a freak thing, and an unfortunate thing, and it all-around kind of sucks. My guess at this point is that it must be a high ankle sprain of some degree to have missed this much time without even practicing.
The Steelers need his blocking ability, to be blunt. They have already used three different offensive linemen as extra tight ends to try to fill the void. Jesse James is already insufficient as a primary blocker, and Xavier Grimble is less so. Again, I still wish they would give David Johnson a ring.
It also appeared as though the team was transitioning him into the starting lineup, utilizing him as the tight end option when they went to the hurry-up or no-huddle, and getting the bulk of the playing time while he was healthy.
The Steelers have an important decision about whether or not to keep him next year based on the structure of his contract, and frankly, it’s going to be hard to determine whether or not he is worth the value standing on the sideline. In that event, they have to decided if it’s worth giving him another year to prove his worth.