Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald began experiencing symptoms of what would turn out to be Covid-19 roughly three weeks ago. Even though he would play in the first game after the onset of symptoms, he would test positive on the day of that game, which results showed a day later.
He would find himself shelved for the next two games, only activated from the Reserve/Covid-19 List on Tuesday. Presumably, he is prepared to make his return when the Steelers host the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday afternoon, a game that was previously scheduled to be played tonight.
Even if his role has been diminished this season, or at least his responsibilities in the passing game have, McDonald remains a very valued member of both the offense and the locker room, arguably something that you might not really be able to see unless you listen to the other players talk to him.
Knowing that free agent signing Eric Ebron would take over the primary receiving role from the tight end position, the veteran put on some extra pounds this offseason in order to emphasize his role as a blocker, something that he not only embraced, but said that he prefers.
It’s that sort of team-first attitude that is one of the many reasons that teammates like quarterback Ben Roethlisberger were eager to welcome him back after being out of the locker room for the past couple weeks—and their lockers just happen to be next to each other.
McDonald “epitomizes what it is to be a selfless football player”, Roethlisberger told reporters earlier this week. “It’s good to have him back. That locker next to me has been vacant for quite a while. To see him in there today and have him on the practice field, he has more energy than the rest of us right now, which is good to see”.
“We are excited to get everybody back”, he continued, “anybody that’s been out for a while whether it’s through injury or this. To get them back on the field as a brother and as a guy we can use, we are excited for him”.
The Steelers do still have one player who is required to stay away. That would be rookie offensive lineman Kevin Dotson, who has made a couple of starts this year. He was placed on the Reserve/Covid-19 List late last week, and at this point, it’s abundantly clear that he ultimately tested positive and wasn’t simply a close contact.
But getting McDonald back is big in multiple ways. It makes them more diverse in the run game, and reopens their two-tight end possibilities, which frankly they never really got off the ground, but which could conceivably become more prominent as the weather gets colder.
Perhaps more importantly, he’s a well-respected and beloved member of the locker room. They get their brother back. They’ve seen him over Zoom during meetings, but to be back on the field is a different story.