Earlier today, Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald gave a very forthright and honest interview. That wasn’t the surprising part, of course, as that has been his personality since day one. He has always been a humble and thoughtful speaker. The surprise was when he admitted that he would rather block all game than catch a single pass.
He was very direct in saying that he understands the acquisition of Eric Ebron earlier this offseason signaled a change in his role, with Ebron now the receiving threat at tight end. Earlier today, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was effusive in his praise of McDonald, whom he noted came into this season putting on an extra 10-plus pounds with the understanding that his role would shift more to being a blocker.
“I’m so proud of Vance”, Fichtner said, via a transcript provided by the team’s media department. “It’s unbelievable. He came back maybe 10, 11, 12 pounds heavier. I think he understood we have two receiving-type tight ends because I would consider Vance in that category. I think that Vance is more than capable of holding his own in the run game”.
Originally acquired via trade in 2017 shortly before the regular season, McDonald is now in his fourth year with the Steelers. He had a breakout year in 2018 as a receiving threat, catching 50 passes for 610 yards and four touchdowns, but for a variety of reasons, he was not able to expand upon that last season.
Now with Ebron in the picture, who already has nine receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown, and whose role in the passing game will only continue to expand, McDonald understands where his value lies within the broader scheme.
“Vance has been the professional he has been from the standpoint of taking care of his body”, Fichtner said, an acknowledgement of his past injury history. “Those nicks and bumps and bruises, he is playing more plays. It is exciting for him”.
“Vance, he has been outstanding, and he has a challenge this week”, referring to the Philadelphia Eagles’ stout front four on defense. “Any time you play four-down linemen teams, that is a big defensive end sometimes that matchup with tight ends, and that is a full-grown man’s job”.
McDonald is their full-grown man at the tight end position, and the Steelers have not been shy about asking their top blocking tight end to carry out one-on-one assignments against defensive ends before. It’s so important to have players like him who are willing to embrace what is asked of him for the greater good of the team.