It won’t be long now before the Pittsburgh Steelers begin rolling into Latrobe, PA to make Saint Vincent College their home away from home for several weeks as the summer winds down. That is when we know that training camp has begun, and with it the first breaths of the 2018 NFL season.
Everything that we have experienced up until now, from the re-signings, releases, and restructures to the draft and all the way through OTAs and minicamp, has been but a preview, the setup, for what is to come next.
And so we too continue to preview what comes next in a series in which we will highlight several of the battles for roster spots and roles that we expect to see during our time observing in training camp and throughout the preseason.
Position: Tight End
Up for Grabs: Starting Role
In the Mix: Vance McDonald, Jesse James
This is not a battle that the Steelers would like to see actually happen, but if it does, it should be because Vance McDonald is unable to stay on the field. That has been a common theme throughout his career and has certainly played a role in his inability to win and maintain a starting job as he enters his sixth season.
During his first year in Pittsburgh alone, McDonald suffered at least four separate injuries that limited him to only 10 games, and he missed parts of three or four of those due to the injuries he suffered. In many cases, it was a half or even the majority of the game.
That it why it wasn’t even until the playoffs that he actually seemed to be playing as the starter, the player who sees almost all the reps. While he had long stretches of activity in some games in the second half of the season, it was only in that final game of the year that he played significantly more than did Jesse James.
And James has done nothing to earn a demotion, though of course it was never a job that was meant to be his in the first place. He has possessed it for the past two years precisely because of injuries to the players that the team has brought in to start ahead of him, and it doesn’t seem wise to rule out that possibility now.
McDonald is currently missing time in training camp after suffering a foot injury. We know that he missed Monday’s practice, but we don’t know (at least as of the time of this writing) whether or not he will practice today. if he does not, it does suggest a more serious, though still minor issue.