This isn’t the first game for which Nick Vannett has been on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster and Vance McDonald has been inactive. But it will be the first for which he has had the chance to catch his breath. The Steelers acquired the fourth-year tight end from the Seattle Seahawks leading into Week Four, and McDonald missed that next game.
Ruled out yesterday with a concussion, the veteran tight end will now miss his second game of the season, so the spotlight is on Vannett to see what he can do with the starter’s workload. Not that the tight end position has been very dynamic or impactful for this offense in 2019.
“It’s a great opportunity for me”, Vannett told Kevin Gorman of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review after practice yesterday. “I’m looking forward to it, to prove to my teammates that they can trust me and prove to everybody in this organization that they can rely on me to get the job done”.
Since arriving 11 games ago, he has logged over 300 snaps, averaging pretty close to 30 snaps per game. He has been targeted a total of 10 times since arriving, making seven catches for 70 yards. McDonald has 33 catches for 245 yards and three touchdowns on the season.
Of course, it should be noted that the injuries and instability at the quarterback position have been damaging to the entire passing game, with everybody’s numbers suffering. They don’t even have one single player with 600 receiving yards or five touchdowns, something that as recently as Week Two would have sounded absolutely absurd at this time of the year.
“I do it in practice all the time, so I think they know what I’m capable of”, Vannett said about his understanding of the team’s impression about his ability to catch the ball as a receiving threat. “You don’t always see it in games”, he added. “I’m excited for this opportunity to prove what I can do, what I have been doing in practice onto the field in a game”.
A tight end is often perceived as a young quarterback’s best friend, but they have been relying upon the running back position instead, with Jaylen Samuels and James Conner both being among the team leaders in receiving categories despite both missing meaningful time.
Devlin Hodges, though, is a rookie who is growing tremendously with each week that passes by, and it’s hard to predict what sort of developments he might display on a weekly basis. Will he develop an affinity for throwing to the tight end? Probably not, but a guy heading into free agency next year can dream…