No one waited for Nick Vannett’s arrival at the airport, there was no parade, no fireworks, probably not even a ‘Welcome to Pittsburgh’ sign in the crowd but do not be fooled, Vannett had an eventful and important debut for the Steelers on Monday night.
While Vannett had just two catches for 28-yards, his receptions could not have come at a better time. Both catches came on plays where Mason Rudolph was scrambling in the pocket, desperately looking for help and both times the newly acquired tight end was able to bail out his quarterback.
Vannett’s second reception was easily his most impression. Facing a 2nd and 15, Rudolph was able to avoid the Cincinnati Bengals’ pass rush and find Vannett for a 17-yard reception. Not only was the Steelers’ tight end able to read the linebacker, choosing to run upfield instead of dragging to the sideline but he also re-adjusted nicely to the throw by coming back towards the football. That catch was key because two plays later, the Steelers were in the endzone, all thanks to a clutch catch by their newest acquisition.
It was a similar story for Vannett’s first reception when he gained 11-yards for the offense as they faced a 1st and 20. That reception led to a first down conversion on the very next play and it is very likely that the Steelers would have walked off the field with their heads down had Vannett not been able to come through when it mattered most.
The announcers joked that Rudolph did his best Ben Roethlisberger impersonation and while it was a joke, there was a lot of truth behind it. For both of Vannett’s receptions, it felt as if those in attendance were looking into a time capsule, watching Roethlisberger buy time like he always does before somehow finding Heath Miller for a first down. While no one is calling Vannett the next Heath Miller, his chemistry with Rudolph will be one to monitor going forward.
Tight ends are supposed to be their quarterback’s best friend and it looks like Rudolph has a new best friend in Vannett. The tight end revealed this week that the two had worked out together this offseason and it was easy to see their natural chemistry and trust in one another during Monday night’s victory.
With Vance McDonald still recovering from a shoulder injury, Vannett’s play is going to be crucial for this offense. Rudolph has seemed to take a liking to his tight ends in times of need as his first game also saw him throw two touchdown passes to McDonald. When McDonald went down last week against the San Francisco 49ers, Rudolph looked bewildered, overwhelmed and out of answers for a defense that was closing in fast.
Vannett proved tonight that when options A, B and C do not seem to be working, Rudolph can always rely on answering back with his TE. And depending on how fast McDonald recovers from his injury, Rudolph will have two capable answers at the tight end position, a commodity that the Steelers have lacked since losing Jesse James in free agency last offseason.