The Pittsburgh Steelers have long been a team that appreciates the value of a good tight end, which is why they tried so hard to find a new number one in the years after Heath Miller retired. With the former first-round pick in tow, it wasn’t something that they had to worry about for a decade, but when he announced his retirement, they had no next man up.
The front office was hoping that Ladarius Green would be that next guy. More of a receiving threat, the former Chargers tight end unfortunately proved to be a bad signing, arguably their worst signing in free agency, due to health issues, his career seemingly ending due to concussions. He was successful when he was on the field, but that lasted just six games. His final play was a key third-down conversion to secure a big win late in the year, but he was concussed at the end of the catch.
Obviously the Steelers were hoping to have Green back the following year, which never happened, to they released him, and they eventually acquired San Francisco 49ers tight end Vance McDonald via trade in late August. Though would relatively meager production, they saw the talent and potential in him.
He had a hard time displaying it his first year here in part due to injury and in part due to simply not knowing his teammates and the offense, a relationship that had to grow and evolve over the course of the season. He talked about how much of a difference the offseason made this year.
“The offense itself went from being something that I studied and did everything that I could to memorize and take into a game hoping to retain it to [having] an input”, he said in describing how much different his relationship had become in a year’s time with the offense. “So it was a huge difference just in that”.
“Secondly, just, again, it’s a thing that I don’t think you can measure as a team or as an outsider or a statistician, but just that whole chemistry as an offense, the relationships with players, the whole team”.
“You know, I got here I think nine days before the first game of the season”, a year ago, he reminded, “so it was so hard, and you wanted to just fast forward things and expedite the process in building relationships”.
I think it’s fair to say that both his health and his increased intimacy with the ins and outs of the offense helped him produce easily the best season of his career. He caught 50 passes for 610 yards and four touchdowns, all of which are career highs.
And I think it’s safe to say he and the Steelers know there’s still room for him to have an even bigger role. He would definitely have an opportunity to share a larger load in 2019 if the team ends up moving on from Antonio Brown.