The Pittsburgh Steelers are counting on getting big things out of Vance McDonald, the tight end for whom they traded a little over a year ago. While he battled through injuries in his first year with the team, they saw enough to shy away from the position this offseason, and expressed confidence in his future by using his salary to create cap space with a restructure.
He suffered a foot injury early in training camp, and had not practiced since then until the week leading up to the preseason opener. He was a limited participant on Wednesday last week, but was unable to practice again for the remainder and did not play in the game.
As of today, however, he has put together two consecutive days of full participation in practice and seems ready to make his 2018 debut.
Said McDonald of the injury, “it was just kind of one of those lingering things that you didn’t want to have a setback”. He pointed to the need to get the “timing back” as “kind of everything, really. But really just taking it day to day”.
To be sure, he still needs to be able to practice today in order to play Sunday, because it would mean that he had yet another setback. The Steelers chose to shut him down last week because they were concerned such a thing might occur.
On Sunday’ the Steelers used Jesse James as their primary tight end, as they so often have over the past three seasons due to injury. He ended up playing 70 of the Steelers’ 85 snaps during the game, in which he was primarily subbed out in running situations in which the team used a two-tight end set featuring Xavier Grimble and tackle Chukwuma Okorafor.
McDonald acknowledged that things “don’t go as to the way it was planned a lot of times, so it’s just adjusting”. The Steelers have had to do a lot of adjusting with the tight end so frequently being injured over the course of his first 17 regular season games with the team.
But they are hoping that the injury is behind him and that they can finally ‘adjust’ to the offense that they had always intended to field this year, including McDonald as their starting tight end, who can serve as a more dynamic receiving threat.
As I wrote last week, patience is not simply a virtue, but a necessity. While his injuries are very frustrating, his talent proves to be worth the wait when he is on the field. He showed that in the Steelers’ postseason game a year in which he caught 10 passes for over 100 yards.
Assuming that he is able to take the field on Sunday, it should be the first time in the regular season in which he is fully involved in the offense. His snap count may be monitored after overcoming a foot injury, but—hopefully—it’s the start of what we’ve been waiting for.