Nobody is more aware of just how big a role injuries have played in Vance McDonald’s story through his first five seasons in the NFL than the man himself. A former second-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers, he is entering his second with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018 having never completed a 16-game season to date, and after playing just 10 games last year.
McDonald did play 15 games during his rookie season, but did not have much of a role at the time playing behind Pro Bowler Vernon Davis. They also had Garrett Celek and Derek Carrier to split time with in different roles.
His first real taste of injuries came in year two, when he missed eight games. He ended up being placed on injured reserve in early December with a back injury, finishing with just two catches. He has missed 11 games in the past two years.
With the Steelers in 2017, he was injured on several different occasions. He dealt with a back injury heading into the second game of the season and added a number of lower body injuries as well. While he missed six games, he also missed long stretches of several games in which he did play as a result of the injuries.
Dealing with injuries in and of itself is one thing, but doing so after having been traded to a new team that just took on your contract, surrounded by new teammates and new coaches in a new city, can really be an alienating experience. Fortunately, he said that he got “a lot of support” from the organization during his issues.
“As NFL players a big part of your baggage is being a super critical of yourself. When you have an injury, it’s a downward spiral”, McDonald admitted in responding to a questionnaire for the team’s website. “It can easily turn dark and lonely. Just having family, friends and teammates come along and tell you don’t let it hold you back, you will bounce back. If you didn’t have that, it would be twice as hard”.
The Steelers have displayed a greater amount of willingness to back their injured players than most organizations do, at least from my perspective. Names like Sean Spence, Jordan Zumwalt, Eli Rogers, and others spring to mind. Their support of Ryan Shazier is another indication of that level of organizational support.
Of course it’s not entirely altruistic. Pittsburgh expects a lot out of McDonald this season. That’s why they traded for him. it’s in their best interests to back him and to put him in the best situation to succeed. We should find out if they will reap the rewards for their investments in 2018 with the talented tight end.