Mike Tomlin On New TE Vance McDonald: ‘He’s An NFL-Capable Tight End’

The Pittsburgh Steelers acquired tight end Vance McDonald via a trade with the San Francisco 49ers Tuesday morning and not long after that deal was made, head coach Mike Tomlin talked about his newest player during his weekly press conference.

“He’s an NFL-capable tight end and another guy to add to that mix,” Tomlin said of McDonald. “Some competition there [at the position]. We’ll quickly get him up to speed as soon as we get him here and proceed with the process of acclimating him not only to what to do, but how we go about our business here. We have some familiarity with him. We studied him when he came out in the draft so where excited about that addition.”

Tomlin was asked if he remembers evaluating McDonald when he came out of Rice several years ago and if he thinks he has become the player he thought he would.

“I don’t necessarily remember an evaluation grade,” Tomlin said. “I remember those that I like and I liked him. Had some insight regarding him. One of his coaches at Rice would come up here [Pittsburgh] in the spring and spend time with us during OTAs and exchange some football knowledge. So, felt like we had some insight in terms of who he was when he was coming out of school.”

Tomlin was asked if there are some specific traits that McDonald possesses that will translate well to the Steelers offense.

“I don’t want to have any preconceived notions, to be quite honest with you,” Tomlin replied. “We evaluated him in a certain way coming out in the draft. I’m sure he’s evolved in a lot of ways. I’m also hesitant to draw conclusions about what someone’s capable of being in our environment based on what they were in another environment.

“I’m excited about giving him an opportunity to show his skill set and maybe learn some new ones here. We’re always presently surprised when we go in with that mentality.”

Tomlin also was asked later what he feels the tight end group is currently missing that led to the team ultimately deciding to trade for McDonald.

“The guys hadn’t been consistently varsity enough for our comfort,” Tomlin said. “It’s as black and white as that. They’ve had some moments positively and have some moments negatively. So, we were in the market for a guy that was NFL-capable and McDonald is that. We’re not going to anoint him in any way.

“We’re going to put him in uniform like the rest of them and just continue to allow them to sort themselves out. It’s reasonable to expect the guys that are here to respond positively in the right way to his presence and elevate their play. The end result is that we’re going to get better play and more competitive play at the position and that’s what we desire.”

  • alevin16

    Hindsight is 20/20 but wouldn’t it have been a better deal if we drafted TE Kittles instead of QB Dobbs?

  • Steve Johnson

    lol. I agree, some of the moves Kevin Colbert has recently made really makes you wanna say HMMM!

  • I hope he can contribute sooner rather than later. Considering what we gave up to get him (a few spots in the draft) for a player that can come in a compete for a starting role on this squad. If it doesn’t work out, his remaining salary can be dumped with little to no dead cash.

    I only have two worries about this kid; one is he ended 2 of his 4 pro years on IR, (back and foot). The other is he just signed a 5 year 35 million dollar deal less than a year ago, why all of a sudden ship this guy out of town for next to nothing?

  • lonnie

    Nothing against the guy but I would much rather see them trade for an NFL ready corner.

  • StillersInThe6

    Tomlin can frustrate the h*** out of me at times, as I’m sure any coach not named Belichek does to their fan base, but I’ll never tire of hearing the man talk.

  • Jon Crissinger

    “consistently varsity enough” that’s a pretty good one.

  • NickSteelerFan

    And if Ben had decided to retire our options would have been Landry Jones, Bart Houston and someone else.

  • Nick Sabatella

    Seriously…. would have loved to nab kittle

  • nutty32

    sounds like ISIS a few years back.

  • nutty32

    Complete change in 49er regime.

  • Steelers12

    Belichek does as well. I work with pats fans

  • Dave D

    He was the last FO signing. Perhaps this is a way of cleaning house of the “bad” deals formerly committed. Of course, Kittles development in pre-season doesn’t hurt in pushing him out the door either. Again, considering the “cost” to get him was next to nothing vs his potential upside — this seems an easy trigger to pull to me.

  • RickM

    The chances of Dobbs making it any better are slim. My bet is that QB is definitely on our needs list next draft.

  • Joey

    Tomlin is so subtly throwing shade… lol

  • Joey

    I mean, Jones did not do such a horrible job, the one interception notwithstanding!

  • george

    Whose left?

  • george

    Code for “they all suck!”

  • John Noh

    Hmm, didn’t Coach T describe Deshaun Phillips in the same way? Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

  • barry foster

    Still maybe in the making.

  • Bill

    It’s one thing to pick these guys up but quite another to give up draft picks for them. Nothing in this guys record says any better than what they have. NFL capable indeed; most likely another Boykin or Gilbert.

  • S.T.

    Chill out. They’re essentially dropping back several picks from the late 4th to the early 5th next year.

  • Steelerfan4lifeinAZ

    I had high hopes for Jesse coming out of Penn State.. but he plays way to soft to be a 6’7 Tight End. He has no sure catching ability like Heath was ( boy do i miss him ) Doesnt play aggressive enough and has no YAC after catching the ball. He runs unsure in my eyes.. quick to fall down. I understand the move and respect it. Let’s just hope we can patch up the TE position before the season starts

  • JT

    Something simply had to be done. Couldn’t be more disappointed in Jesse so far this season. Just wish Vance could’ve got some more work with Ben before the season. But I think he’ll catch on quick.

  • Ryan Alderman

    Lol, after reading this article on Tomlin’s take on picking up the new tight end I just can’t help but wonder if the Rooneys, in hopes of saving a few headaches after Cowher resigned, simply co-authored their version of the T-800 to coach the Steelers for the next few decades…

  • JT

    You’re not going to move back a few spots in the 4th to get a good CB. I’d rather pickup a veteran at cutdowns, than give up a lot in a trade.

  • They are only sliding back 8 to 13 slots in the draft. Sending a late 4th rounder to SF for a quality TE and an early 5th rounder in return. In addition to being able to cut him with no dead money next year make this deal a no brainer.

  • nutty32

    How can you say this. MT was as direct and forthright as any coach gets today. He also said he has no idea about Golson, because he’s never seen him play or practice. How much more do you want?

  • Steeler Nation!

    There’s a better than average chance that Dobbs never rises to the #2 spot on the depth chart. He has a long, long road ahead of him to ever be considered as the backup QB. I didn’t like the pick then and still don’t. Hopefully this helps the TE position after all is said and done.
    So who’s gone? Grimble?

  • srdan

    And they found a good cheap alternative.

  • srdan

    I don’t think it’s code for anything. I think he hit the nail on the head. If Xavier played all the time as well as he did last week, there would be no need for this trade. If Jesse could block well all the time there would be no need. But go look at the clip that Martavis thougth was a dirty hit last week. James is running around like my 2 year old does in an ice cream shop. Couldn’t make his mind up.

  • falconsaftey43

    Let’s look at some per Target stats shall we. Keep in mind that James played with Ben, McDonald with Gabbert/Kaepernick.

    James gained 5.63 yards/target, McDonald 8.69 (win McDonald)
    James scored a TD once every 20 targets, McDonald every 11.2 (win McDonald)
    James had an explosive play every 30 targets, McDonald every 7.5 (win McDonald)
    James gained a 1st down every 3.0 targets, McDonald 3.5 (win James)

    So James gained a first down at a slightly higher rate. But McDonald had better average yards, TD rate and explosive play rate and none of them were close.

  • One stat you are missing there is total targets. It’s pretty important to go along with all your other stats. If James had a lot more targets, it skews the stats you gave us.

  • francesco

    This will be another addition where Tomlin plays mind games with a player getting on the field…see Boykin and Gilbert.

  • falconsaftey43

    James was targeted 60 times, McDonald 45. Not a large difference, both have a large enough sample to take an average based on number of targets.

  • Craig M


  • I got a buddy who is a die hard 9ers fan. His assessment of McDonald is he’s good but not great. Better than average run blocker, decent route runner with ok hands. He will drop easy balls now and then. I await the McDonald film study and analysis that I’m sure Alex is working on at this very moment.

  • Craig M

    Still have faith in James future development.

  • stan

    “The guys hadn’t been consistently varsity enough for our comfort”. What a great Tomlin quote.

  • Rotten Sircus

    Means Bye Bye Xavier Grimble. I like this trade we didn’t lose much at all now let’s hope Vance catches on faster than Ladarious Green did !!!

  • Alan Tman

    Jesse has no idea when to use his size or power. He’s young so he has time to learn. (Like when he caught the ball near the end zone against NE in the playoffs. He didn’t try to run the DB over. )

  • Jacob

    My translation of Tomlin coach speak: We really expected James and Grimble to take a step forward this year, but they have not been consistent enough for our comfort. We wanted to bring someone to push them out of their comfort zone as they don’t seem motivated enough without it. I don’t want to guarantee this new guy will be what we need but we’ll see.

  • Dorian James

    I don’t know how to feel about this move, confused would be a pretty good word to start with. I guess I can lie to myself and say” all we did was trade out of the fourth round to pick up an additional 5th rounder, and a tight end”

  • CP72

    Falcon you’re a great stay guy. You really do your homework!!

    Let’s also not forget McDonald has Kaepernik and Gabbert James has had Roethlisberger for the most part. Big difference.

  • Dorian James

    Nice job, Rosetta Stone couldn’t have done better

  • Alan Tman

    Remember that QBS have a lot to do with these stats.

  • falconsaftey43

    Thanks CP72. I love stats, but try not to let them dictate everything to me. I haven’t seen this guy play much, but I’m encouraged.

  • CP72

    Ask yourself this question….

    Are we a better team with McDonald starting vs. Jesse James?

    To me the obvious answer is yes.

  • Putter

    “NFL capable player”

  • Alan Tman

    We should have traded down from 62 and got 73 149, and 156. We could have taken care of everything. Lol

  • The first time McDonald drops an easy ball some will question his acquisition. His run blocking will hopefully more than make up for it.

  • Dorian James

    Honestly, I’ve never seen the guy play. But trading a second-round tight end for a future fourth and fifth round pick makes me wonder about his talent. I’m not making any argument not to have me this trade I’m just a little surprised

  • Dshoff

    Yeah, if Ben had retired, I’m sure we’d all be saying, “thank God we drafted Dobbs.” 🙂

  • Dshoff

    I watched that play quite a bit, and if Ju Ju didn’t stop his pattern it would have been a TD. I am NOT a Landry Jones fan but that one was on Ju ju

  • We just drafted a guy with our 4th rd pick next year. His name is Vance McDonald 👍🏻. I like the move, TE’s have looked like no one wants to be THE guy.

  • srdan

    Yes, but keep in mind that if they don’t have to send Hubbard out 10 times a game because Vance is a good blocker, on those downs (usually in the RZ) defenses will have to play us honest.

  • Dshoff

    You had better be wrong.

  • Jason

    Like who?

  • I agree completely.

  • Dshoff

    I like McDonalds transition to running after the catch. I thought James could be good, but he’s terrible at that.

  • Michael Conrad

    Funny he said that about Phillips the CB. Tomlin is the new Belichick. Lighting fires and sending messages and maybe burning down a few coasters on the team.

  • razaard2

    I think that’s competition for James, he is not done. Tomlin definitely sounds like they are looking for competition in the position group.
    Agree James looks soft and slow sometimes, but he has athleticism there somewhere. he even leaps over defenders sometimes lol

  • hoptown

    Good use of available cap space. And no money committed beyond this season!

  • Dan

    I love that “NFL capable” line. Really sets the bar high for those other TEs, eh?

  • NickSteelerFan

    True, I think we would have a lot more to talk about it that had happened haha

  • Kevin Gobleck

    BREAKING: steelers trade for new mascot
    Mike T: He’s and NFL capable mascot

  • lonnie

    Browns Just Put Haden On The Block. Seriously Anyone Would Be An Upgrade Over Cockrell.

  • lonnie

    Think your right, looked like he didn’t finish his route but hey thats a rookie mistake, no biggie

  • lonnie

    Hope so, some vet’s might get cut ,we could get one i hope.

  • Ryan Alderman

    Just what popped into my head when reading his comments I suppose. You didn’t even ask me if I like the movie…or Tomlin for that matter.

  • nutty32

    Well, everyone likes the Terminator. That’s a no brainer.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    that’s how I look at it they traded their 4th to get a 2nd And 5th

  • Rob

    “Not varsity enough” lol ouch

    I like McDonald (also McDonalds), and I think he fills the gap in talent we were missing from that group. He’s not going to turn into Travis kelce, but he will give us what we need.

    Also, getting a 5th with him is robbery.

  • Jason

    Of course he’d be an upgrade but we aren’t playing Madden with the salary cap and trade override turned off. Can’t afford Haden and we aren’t going to give up what the browns will ask for.

  • Ryan Alderman

    Yes, agreed.

  • MC

    Didn’t he say the exact same thing about the CB we picked up from WAS? of course they’re nfl calibre players, hence why they’re in the league.

  • Taylor Williams

    Lol we don’t have the cap for an NFL ready corner. This is what we have.

  • lonnie

    Than I guess you better tell Pouncy because he’s already lobbying for him.

  • lonnie

    The browns don’t want anything for him, they cut him

  • lonnie

    Adam schefter just said steelers are front runners to sign him.

  • lonnie

    Still Laughing At Me?

  • Bill

    Actually, you don’t know where the 49ers will draft; therefore you don’t know how many slots they gave up. You say this TE is quality but I don’t call an 11% drop rate quality.

  • Bill

    Over the past two years James rate of drops is 5.63%; that of McDonald is 11% (win James)