Vance McDonald may only have been with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the past three seasons, but he is a veteran of seven years in all during his NFL tenure. Before the next seasons gets underway, he will be crossing the 30-year mark, joining a relative few, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, and particularly at the skill positions, to hit that mark.
His veteran status was something that dawned upon him gradually last season, especially in the wake of Ben Roethlisberger’s injury. As somebody who just turned 38, it was easy for everybody else on the roster to feel younger than they are in comparison.
But if you remove select starting offensive linemen, and perhaps a defender or two, McDonald is now one of the oldest players on the roster. He will be one of 11 players currently on the 90-man roster who on the first day of the regular season will be 30 years or older.
“Going back, looking back and analyzing it, without Ben I was the oldest skill player on offense”, he told Teresa Varley about this realization. “I didn’t even realize it until at some point in the year we were doing a walk through and we were going to break it down and Randy said the oldest one, yeah Vance, break it down. I started looking around and look at Ryan Switzer and guys and the next closest one was four or five years younger than me”.
“It’s really different to all of a sudden be in that position”, McDonald said. “You lose a big leader in Ben and my role had to shift a little bit. I don’t know if that was the pressure or what that was, of feeling like you are in a corner and you are pressed”.
Among the skill position players, Johnny Holton, 28, is the only one who is close in age to the veteran tight end, unless you throw in fullback Roosevelt Nix, 27. Ryan Switzer is the oldest of the skill position players who has spent time with the team, and he is only 25. James Conner and Mason Rudolph are both 24.
Then you have the three wide receivers, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Diontae Johnson, all of who are 23. Of course, if the team does re-sign Nick Vannett, who is 26, he would be the closest in age to McDonald among skill players.
I take it that he has never seen himself in a leadership position before, but within the structure of this offense, he may have to be. He certainly was tasked with that last season with Roethlisberger not on the field, and as he admitted, he had his shortcomings a year ago.