With the Pittsburgh Steelers having completed the first portion of their season, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this year and give out some midseason player evaluations.
The team has had a rocky but ultimately successful season to date, coming out of the first six games with a winning record despite being 1-2-1 just two weeks ago. Coming off of consecutive strong victories with improve play from both sides of the ball, things are looking up.
The offense has done its part for the most part, but has taken some long vacations. Their disappearing acts in the second half was perplexing, but that has improved. Defensively, the secondary is seemingly becoming a bit more stable after being nothing short of terrible previously, but there are absolutely some real concerns remaining.
Player: Vance McDonald, TE
It took about three games into his second season with the team before the Steelers really began to see just what sort of asset tight end Vance McDonald could actually be for their offense. It’s something that they envisioned when they acquired him via trade about 13 months prior to that—they were interested him coming out of the draft—but injuries and unfamiliarity delayed its appearance.
The sixth-year player, in fact, dealt with yet another injury this summer, a foot injury of undisclosed nature and severity. It occurred early in training camp and prevented him from participating in the preseason. He was even held out of the first game of the regular season before being worked in with a relatively light load in the second.
Then he broke free for a 75-yard touchdown in Week Three and hasn’t really stopped running since. He has picked up 20 receptions for 274 yards and a touchdown over the five games in which he has played and figures to have become Ben Roethlisberger’s third-favorite target behind his number one and number two wide receivers.
Not only has he been an asset to Roethlisberger in the passing game, he has also picked up where he left off last season with his stout work as a run blocker. He has fared well in everything asked of him to date, except, curiously, in holding onto the football after a reception. He has already fumbled twice following catches, when typically his problem has been securing the ball to make the catch in the first place.
McDonald has been pretty evenly sharing time at tight end with Jesse James. Following the bye week, it will be interesting to see if they don’t start to favor him a bit more. It is a reasonable possibility, given the amount of time that he missed in August, now that they have had a week to reset themselves.