The Pittsburgh Steelers were near full participation in practice yesterday, the first on-field work of the regular season. The lone exception appeared to be sixth-year tight end Vance McDonald, who is set to embark upon his second season with the team after they acquired him via trade not much more than 12 months ago.
The former second-round draft choice of the San Francisco 49ers has experienced a career plagued by minor injuries, and his first season with the Steelers in 2017 was no exception. He ultimately missed six full games, and large chunks of a few others, as a result of no fewer than four separate injuries ranging from a back to an ankle.
The talented tight end suffered a foot injury early in training camp this year, and has yet to get back on the field, but he remains hopeful that he will get the opportunity to get back on the football field when the Steelers line up against the Cleveland Browns for the regular season opener on Sunday.
Speaking to reporters yesterday about his status, McDonald said that he was “doing everything [he] can to get back” on the field. Asked if he planned to be in the lineup on Sunday, he said, “I’m trying to, for sure”.
He admitted that it has been “frustrating” not being able to get out on the field. That is surely especially so because he missed out on training camp, which would have been his first with the team. While he got to observe from the sidelines, he was not on the field practicing.
At this point, even if McDonald does begin practicing on Wednesday, which would be the team’s first full practice, there figures to be a very good chance that the coaching staff is going to give him a light workload in his first game back.
His workload was limited extensively virtually all of last season, and while a lot of that had to do with him simply learning the offense and being behind after not having the opportunity to have an offseason with the team, mere health was also a factor.
That was not one game during the entire regular season in which McDonald saw the field for even 40 snaps. He only played 30 or more snaps in half of the games that he played during the regular season, and played fewer than 20 snaps three times.
But he logged 68 snaps in the Steelers’ playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and that is what keeps the Steelers excited about what he can offer. Not the snap count itself, of course, but the 10 receptions for 112 yards. It was one of 26 playoff games in team history in which a player had a 100-yard receiving game. And the only one by a tight end.