The biggest knock against Vance McDonald throughout his career, preceding his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers, has been his struggles to stay healthy. A former third-round pick, he never managed a full-time starting role at tight end with the San Francisco 49ers by the time he was traded, but that was partly because of his health.
Since being acquired by the Steelers in 2017, he has missed nine games, and significant time in others, due to injuries. He missed six due to a variety of ailments that first year. The following season, a lingering training camp foot injury kept him out of the opener, but he went on to have a career year.
As far as last season goes, he produced poorly, churning out just 273 yards despite catching 38 passes, no doubt affected by a shoulder injury suffered in Week Three that lingered. He missed only one game from that, however, and another due to a concussion.
Tight ends coach James Daniel was asked about McDonald’s injury history yesterday and whether or not it was a concern. “The most pleasant thing to us has been that his snaps are going up each year”, he said, which is true, seeing a career-high 684 snaps last year. “We’re working towards being full-time, but where he plays, and what the record is that he plays, there’s going to be some of that sometimes, but he’s a full-speed, good player every time that we have him on the field”.
“I know that it’s his intention to be available for us every game that he can possibly play, so you can’t get frustrated because that’s the game of football”, he went on. “You can’t determine whether you’re well or not. All you can determine is the attitude and the speed that you play the game with, and I like the speed and the violence that he plays the game with”.
Even though he is one of the most mild-mannered players on the team off the field, McDonald has spoken earlier this offseason about how he is a different person on the field—the Vanimal. And it’s a transition, a switch that gets flipped, that is not hard for him.
We have seen the violence with which he is capable of playing. That one former Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety from early in the 2018 season certainly knows. We didn’t see as much of that violence last year, as evidenced by his just one broken tackle versus 10 the year before, but I think a lot of that has had to do with his health.
McDonald was as disappointed in his performance last year as anybody, something that can be said for most of the players on offense. All of them have come back hungry and ready to prove themselves in 2020, which should serve the Steelers well in their quest for a title.