As unfortunate and frustrating as it is, the Pittsburgh Steelers must use patience in working with sixth-year tight end Vance McDonald. While both the team and McDonald himself were hopeful that he might get the chance to return to the field tomorrow for the season opener, he was not ready from a health standpoint.
And so we continue to play the waiting game. Of concern is the fact that McDonald practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday, the first time that he took the field in any meaningful context since suffering a foot injury during training camp in July, and then was not able to practice the following do days.
You never want to go from practicing one day to not practicing on the next, to state the glaringly obvious. In this situation, it seems to clearly indicate that McDonald wasn’t ready to get back out on the practice field. Perhaps we might learn a bit more about his status going forward from Head Coach Mike Tomlin tomorrow.
Will it be a week from now? Two weeks? A month? At what point will the veteran tight end be able to participate on a full-time basis? It doesn’t matter. It will take as long as it takes, and it would be foolish to try to rush him back.
McDonald himself tried to rush his way back onto the field last year and re-aggravated his injury. Marcus Gilbert did the same thing during the 2017 season. Even if it takes him a month and a half to get right—and to be clear, I’m just throwing a random range out here—it’s better than the alternative of putting him out on the field and making him attempt to play through an injury that is going to hurt his effectiveness and increase the chances of a reinjury.
The Steelers have spent a lot of time over the course of the past two-plus years staring at their proverbial Ferraris as they lay up in the shop. They signed Ladarius Green, who was already recovering from an ankle injury, and spent the first half of the season on the PUP List.
McDonald was only acquired just before the season started so he was already behind to begin with, but he also missed six full games and parts of several others due to a string of at least four separate injuries ranging from the back to the ankle.
But the team still believes strongly in what he offers when he is on the field, and of his potential this season after having had the opportunity to insert himself into the offense. That is why they were willing to use his contract to create cap space this summer.
They are never going to get that from him, however, unless he is given the chance to get all the way back from this injury. While the fans are frustrated and tired of reading about his injuries, just remember that he is more tired about going through them.