While there’s no debate about what the biggest news story was for the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday, the biggest story today will hopefully be about a certain veteran tight end feeling good after practicing for the first time in about a month.
It’s not often I find myself particularly interested in how another man is feeling when he gets out of bed in the morning, but I’m really quite hopeful that Vance McDonald puts both his feet on the floor as he rolls over, stands up, and thinks to himself, ‘alright, this feels good’.
The veteran tight end suffered a foot injury of unclear description early on in training camp and missed the entirety of the preseason. He did not participate in practice again at any point until yesterday, not even during Monday’s bonus practice session.
The good news, globally speaking, is that McDonald was the only player listed on the team’s injury report, with everybody else—including T.J. Watt, Ramon Foster, and James Washington—having been full participants with no restrictions.
McDonald worked on a limited basis, but if his foot responds well to that stress, then he should be able to ramp it up to full participation by the end of the work week, which would be on Friday as their last practice before heading over to Cleveland to face the Browns in their regular season opener.
The Steelers banked on the health of their tight ends even though all of them suffered injuries—all of them meaning the three who were on the roster last year, and are again this year—two of them missing all or most of the preseason.
It would be a major boon if McDonald is capable of resuming work and is able to participate in the Steelers’ first game of the season, though if he requires further rest, that would certainly be the wise route to take in order to avoid suffering a setback.
Pittsburgh believes that he can be a high-quality starting tight end. He is an above-average blocker, particularly in the running game, though when it comes to putting the ball in the air, the offense values his potential for making big plays more than keeping an extra pass protector home.
The team believes so much in him, in fact, that they were willing to restructure his contract—albeit a minor tinkering—which created some more cap space for the 2018 season but pushed more money into the future. You would typically do that only with players you anticipate will be around for a while.
The Steelers brought in McDonald via trade in late August a year ago. He had an injury-plagued first season with the team, missing six games and parts of several others, finishing the year with 14 catches for 188 yards and one touchdown. They expect him to produce far more than that this year.