Pittsburgh Steelers fans have always loved a big running back, and few could come bigger than The Bus, Jerome Bettis. He didn’t start his career with the team, but he certainly ended it in Pittsburgh, helping to bring home the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in 25 years.
The reason that the fans loved a big running back—at least, in my opinion, the biggest reason—is because he was a guy who could go the distance. He might get the three yards and a cloud of dust for most of the game, but what he’s doing on those snaps is putting a beating on the defense with his body.
That takes its toll over the course of the game, and Bettis, as with other big backs, was said to have gotten stronger as the game would go on, and his energy level would be above that of his opponents.
I bring this up because I see the similarities in a current Steeler, though at a different position: tight end Vance McDonald. I don’t think there’s a doubt in the mind of anybody who actually watched the team in 2018 that he is a player who eagerly embraces the physical components of the game, and of his position.
Whether it was Chris Conte, Vontaze Burfict, Tony Jefferson, or perhaps a number of other defenders, it wasn’t difficult to find a highlight in McDonald’s 2018 tape that featured him simply physically overpowering somebody else to further a play. He would not only escape the first contact, he would put on the yards after the catch, and he did that as much with his power as he did with his athleticism.
“The physical element of football brings so much energy to me”, the veteran tight end told Teresa Varley for the team’s website earlier in this offseason. “It’s a challenge I embrace whenever I become the focal point simply because I am carrying the football. That I am going to be delivering the blow. That I am going to be looking you up to eliminate you”.
That kinds of sounds more like the defensive player than the one with the ball in his hands, doesn’t it? But when you have the mindset of striking the first blow and the ability to make sure it counts, then it starts to make more sense about how and why McDonald plays his game the way he does.
But of course his physical abilities are not tested only after the catch. It’s even more significant in the blocking component of his job, which is also a strong asset for him. The fact that he is capable of doing anything at the position, and at a high level, is probably going to see him hardly leave the field in 2019, provided that he can stay healthy the way he did last year after getting back from his training camp foot injury.