Wit the Pittsburgh Steelers trading away their best wide receiver in Antonio Brown earlier this offseason, it goes without saying that they need their other wide receivers to step up and fill the void. Right? Right. But it’s not so streamlined. The team is going to need bigger contributions elsewhere as well. And there may be no deeper well from which to draw attentional resources than tight end Vance McDonald.
Acquired via trade in August of 2017, McDonald spent a lot of his first year with the team dealing with injuries. He only missed the season opener in 2018, but that also meant that he was injured prior to that, so he missed a lot of—pretty much all of—training camp.
This is his second full offseason, and the first with a significant workload under his belt, operating as the team’s top tight end. There is more to grow, more that the team can get out of them. That is the expectation and the understanding on both sides of the aisle.
“It’s required, it’s definitely being asked, and I will embrace it”, he told Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette during yesterday’s OTA session about the expectations from the organization, from his teammates, coaches, and himself, rising this year.
Although he did not necessarily put up what is now considered ‘Pro Bowl numbers’ for a tight end as a pass catcher, McDonald did have a productive season for the Steelers last year, catching 50 passes for 610 yards and four touchdowns. He was limited to just 14 receptions for 188 yards and one touchdown in his first season with the team.
There’s no reason to believe that those numbers can’t continue to grow as the coaching staff gets a better feel for where and how they can use him. And that is where training camp really comes in. he was acquired too late for that in 2017, and missed 2018 due to injury. They will get to really work with him in Latrobe this year and see what works best. And they will have to find something to help replace Brown’s production, which included averaging over 10 touchdowns per season over the past six years.
“The things A.B. is capable of doing … he’s a freak, he’s so good”, the tight end told the paper, but he said that there are a lot of other players on the team capable of making plays as well. “Great players are great players, but at the end of the day, it’s 11 guys doing their job…We might not have guys with Brown or Bell on the back of their jerseys, but man, if you can play the position and make plays, then we can get it done”.
McDonald showed last year that he can play the position and make the plays. Now he figures to get more opportunities to make them than he ever has before, with an extra 160-plus targets to toss around the yard.