2018 was a career season for Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald as the former second-round-round draft pick out of the San Francisco 49ers out of Rice registered 50 receptions for 610 yards and 4 touchdowns in the 15 games that he suited up for. With that career season now in his rear-view mirror and combined with the Steelers trading away wide receiver Antonio Brown back in March, McDonald is now preparing for what could potentially be an even better 2019 season in Pittsburgh.
During his Wednesday talk with the media ahead of the Steelers afternoon training camp practice, McDonald made it clear that he knows it’s possible that his workload might increase even more in 2019.
“If you look at it number-wise, like you take away the amount of targets that AB [Antonio Brown] had, they have to go somewhere,” McDonald said Wednesday, according to 93.7 The Fan. “It just really depends on how Randy’s (Fichtner) gonna want to call the game. I think naturally, like yeah, some of them will probably end up landing on our plates, and so we’ll make the most of those opportunities going forward.”
McDonald, however, isn’t the only member of the Steelers organization who thinks he might have an even better 2019 season as general manager Kevin Colbert is expecting such an occurrence as well. Colbert said as much during a Tuesday interview on ‘Fantasy Alarm’ on Sirius Radio.
“Yeah, I think Vance, you know, did take that step last year,” Colbert said when asked if he thinks McDonald is ready to take that next step as the Steelers top tight end.” You know his first year he had some health issues and you know, the contribution weren’t as significant as we thought they would be. Then as he continued in his offseason and last year, he was a big part and I know that Ben and he have a good connection. So, I think Vance does have another level left and I think, you know, again, somebody’s catching those balls. It won’t just be the receivers, it will be somebody and I think Vance is very capable and I do think he has another level left that we may get to see this year.”
Because the Steelers traded for McDonald just prior to the start of the 2017 regular season, the tight end had to learn the team’s offense on the fly as he was not afforded the opportunity of participating in the team’s training camp that year. Last year, McDonald did get to make his first trip to Steelers training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. However, an early-camp foot injury resulted in him missing a good part of it. This year, McDonald’s practiced in the team’s first five training camp practices and with it being his second trip to Latrobe, he feels a lot more comfortable.
“Even last year, I think about having to deal with the fact that I didn’t have any idea what would happen in a Steelers training camp, and where I was supposed to go,” McDonald said, according to Shelby Cassesse. “It’s so nice to be able to come into this year and know what to expect, and so I can focus completely on developing and building on last year.”
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin also talked some on Wednesday after practice about McDonald when asked to comment on how the team’s starting tight end has progressed within the offense since he was traded for and how he seems to be carving out an even bigger role in it this year.
“Yeah, I guess the big thing was he got on a moving train the year that we acquired him,” Tomlin said. “We acquired him right at the very beginning of the season and so he lacked the offseason and the summer and things of that nature. And he’s a professional, but it’s really good to have him throughout the calendar year to be a part of the team development. His role is growing because of that. He’s just a solid professional and quality player.”
McDonald also shared his thoughts on Wednesday about the great season he had last year and how he’s looking forward to improving on it this season.
“It was exciting, it’s something I definitely want to build on going into this year,” McDonald said. “Just being available was the best thing for me so I want to be even more available next season.”
So, will McDonald be able to register 70 or more catch season in 2019 that results in 800 or more receiving yards being gained? We’ll see. If he can remain healthy, it’s a good bet that he will. The last time the Steelers had a tight end catch 70 or more passes in a season was in 2012 when Heath Miller caught 71 for 816 yards and 8 touchdowns. Should McDonald come close or even better that 2012 stat line of Miller’s in 2019, him doing so would certainly take a lot of pressure off the team’s very young group of wide receivers to cover the 100-plus receptions that needs to be accounted for as a result of Brown being jettisoned during the offseason.