There’s no question the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense is under the microscope, even if it’s still the better side of the ball. No Antonio Brown. No Le’Veon Bell. The storm they kicked up in leaving town. Right or wrong, that’s drawn the attention of everyone. National and local media and the fanbase, keying in on how the Steelers will respond to losing two of their best players.
Vance McDonald, though, isn’t too worried about it. Speaking to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler’s following Tuesday’s OTA practice, McDonald believes the Steelers have the right players and coaching to overcome those missing pieces.
“I think Ben is the best quarterback that will allow us to take that piece that AB was giving each game and allowing it to go through different players,” McDonald told Fowler. “Whether it’s the tight end position or the receivers.”
There’s no question the rest of the group must step up, McDonald included. But the X factor of the offense, perhaps of the entire team, is second year wideout James Washington. He struggled for most of his rookie year, though at least ended it better than how things began, and will have to become a consistently impactful part of the offense in 2019. That doesn’t mean he has to catch 80 balls. But he’ll have to prove what he was billed as coming out of Oklahoma State. A vertical threat who can win in contested situations.
McDonald’s role is likely to expand, too without Brown or Jesse James. Though he may not play a significantly increased number of snaps, keeping him fresh and healthy are vital, Ben Roethlisberger is going to look towards him more often. The offense will have to find ways to get McDonald more involved in the red zone as well. That’s something they did later in the year.
From Weeks 2 to 9, McDonald saw only a pair of red zone targets, catching just one for no yards. The rest of the season, he had eight such targets, tied second on the team with Brown, and scoring three times. Those touchdowns tied for the 4th most among all tight ends, trailing only Eric Ebron, Zach Ertz, and Travis Kelce.
Randy Fichtner will have to continue to be creative and really, even more imaginative, to keep the offense on the right track in 2019. At the least, the team’s historically strong red zone offense, #1 in football last year, can’t fall out of the top five.
“It’ll take some part too of the coaches,” McDonald said. “Obviously you’re calling plays specifically for AB sometimes in games. Obviously not doing that necessarily now. So whether that’s going to go to JuJu, to Moncrief, Eli, or Switz in the slot, to me, the tight end position. So it’ll be fun and interesting how we can be creative and allow that to happen.”
For McDonald, he’ll hopefully experience his first training camp as a member of the Steelers. It’s kinda crazy to frame it that way considering he’s been with the team since 2017. But he was traded from San Francisco after the team broke camp in ’17. Last year, a foot injury caused him to miss essentially the entire preseason, injured on the fourth day in Latrobe. If he can remain healthy, get through camp, and build up an even better rapport with Big Ben, he’ll become a focal point of the offense.
Vance McDonald expects the Steelers offense to get ‘creative’ in trying to replace Antonio Brown’s production. pic.twitter.com/VaqcNUnjk7
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) May 28, 2019