It didn’t take long for Ben Roethlisberger to develop a bond with Vance McDonald, a sudden newcomer, a future starting tight end for the Pittsburgh Steelers, after he was acquired during an August trade in 2017.
At the time, the Steelers didn’t really have a starting tight end after their big signing from the previous offseason, Ladarius Green, was released with a failed physical designation. He suffered a concussion late in 2016 from which he never fully recovered, and hasn’t played since.
The team was projected at the time to enter the season with just Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, and David Johnson at tight end, essentially a group of number two and number three players. McDonald came in and Johnson was cut, but James still saw the most snaps that year, in part due to McDonald’s health.
But 2018 was a bit of a breakout year for him, both on and off the field, and he’s built a strong relationship with his quarterback as well. He has become a player that reporters turn to in the locker room in order to comment on global issues concerning the team.
So it’s not a surprise that he is one of the players that Jeremy Fowler spoke to for a lengthy piece that he published on ESPN yesterday in which he examined the journey Roethlisberger has undertaken this offseason in an effort to become a better teammate and leader, which is something that the locker room is acknowledging has occurred.
“When a guy wants to step up and say, ‘man, I don’t think I’ve been doing it right’ and wants to get back on track”, McDonald said, “it shows true leadership and true character, especially the fact he’s doing it now and in such a late part of his career”.
“I think that’s awesome and speaks to where he is as a player and a man”, he added.
This all comes off the heels of a contentious offseason that began with Roethlisberger losing the best player he has ever thrown to in his life, Antonio Brown, who has almost completely fallen off the rails at this point, (for) now a member of the New England Patriots via the Oakland Raiders.
It was Brown who slapped the “owner” title on Roethlisberger, and the media—including former teammates such as Joshua Harris—picked up on it. While he maintains that he’s not much of a media person, there’s no way the quarterback was immune to all that was said of him.
From taking his teammates out to his Georgia lake house to having meetings with team leaders to discuss how he can be more approachable, to the role that he played in the locker room after they suddenly lost Darryl Drake, the differences haven’t been subtle, but they have, presumably, been for the better. And it’s better late than never.