It’s not necessarily every player’s immediate reaction to gravitate toward the new player at his position group, especially if that player could potentially pose a threat to his own job security, if not now, then somewhere on down the line.
In the early goings of training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers, however, Vance McDonald has really seemed to hit it off with newcomer Eric Ebron, whom the team signed as an unrestricted free agent back in March to bolster a group that was clearly lacking last season.
On Tuesday, he told reporters that he had said to Ebron that he believes him to be the missing piece of the offense that they needed. The former first-round pick can be a truly dynamic receiving threat in the Steelers offense, capably up posting 700-plus receiving yards and making an impact in the red zone.
“I love Eric. He’s been so fun to be around in the short time he’s been here”, McDonald said. “I love his playmaking ability at tight end. So it’ll be really awesome to see him fit in. Obviously, everyone is going to thrive with Eric on the field simply because of the threat that he is, and he is going to have the pull a certain amount of attention for the defense, so I think it’ll be fun seeing what he can do this year”.
His best season came in 2018 in his first year with the Indianapolis Colts, and the only time he had the opportunity to work with Andrew Luck before the former first-overall pick retired prior to the start of the 2019 season. That season, he set career highs across the board with 66 receptions for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns, being named to his first Pro Bowl.
Between Luck’s sudden and shocking retirement and a lingering ankle injury that he ultimately took it upon himself to address surgically with five games left to go in the 2019 season, Ebron’s past year was a shadow of his potential. He caught just 31 passes (he only received 52 targets on the year) for 375 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games played, in a total of 325 snaps.
McDonald, of course, was in not dissimilar circumstances a year ago after a career year in 2018 with 50 catches for 610 yards and four scores. In 2019, Ben Roethlisberger went down after a game and a half. A week later, he suffered a shoulder injury that would linger throughout the year, even if he would play in 14.
This year, if Roethlisberger and both tight ends are able to keep their health throughout the season, they could be a deadly combo that opens new doors for the offense in the two-tight end set. Especially if tight ends coach James Daniel can ‘fix’ Ebron’s blocking and make defenses respect it.