Film Room: Vance McDonald Bobbles First Impression


Considering the short notice with which new Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald was brought in, neither we nor the team get the opportunity to get a good look at him during the preseason, let alone a proper evaluation of what he could bring to the table.

While there is optimism about the part he has to play for the team going forward, it was obvious on Sunday that he was not yet on the top of the depth chart, as Jesse James saw the vast majority of snaps, the newcomer seeing just two snaps on which he was the lone tight end of 17, and on two of them, he lined up as a receiver.

His first bit of action came on the third offensive play of the game, on which the Steelers were attempting to run a screen for Martavis Bryant on second and 15. Working out of the slot, McDonald still had a tough assignment attempting to get out into the flat to throw a block, and as a result he ended up being flagged for a hold—though it was almost more of a tackle.

On the next play, they tried to run a similar play to the opposite side of the field, only this time the tight end was up against the line. On his second try, he actually did get out into the flat in time to pick off the cornerback, but Bryant dropped the ball.


Early in the second quarter, he saw his first target as a Steeler, Ben Roethlisberger looking for him on a third and 12 play from the Steelers’ 42-yard line. Working out of the near left slot, he ran s quick-hitting inside slant, but he was unable to hold onto the ball through contact.

I did not rule this a drop, but it is a ball that should still be caught. He is going to have to make plays like these, and in fact this is one of the big areas in which the tight ends disappointed, prompting the trade in the first place.

Early in the second half, the Steelers asked him to pass protect, which is something that he did not do a lot of with the 49ers. While the end of the play here looks ugly, he really just slipped, and previously on the rep actually did a nice job of mirroring the rusher.

In all, it was not the most auspicious of beginnings for McDonald in Pittsburgh, and James certainly did nothing to dissuade the coaching staff from continuing to trot him out there, but we should continue to see improvements over the course of the next few weeks.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • NinjaMountie

    I’m happy you didn’t rule that a drop. I agree it would have been nice if he’d have held onto the ball, but sometimes NFL defenders make plays too.

  • Bob Loblaw

    I’d even argue the defender is there a little too early. He’s already got him wrapped up when the ball arrives.

  • Defenders can make plays too? This is a new concept to me. Our guys are supposed to win every battle, every play, no question, no exception!

  • steelburg

    Most will say James impressed but I thought he was already a really good Red zone target and I questioned last year why he wasn’t used more in that area. He has strong hands and he does make catches in traffic. So I thought he played well in an area I already know he was good at it just took Haley a year to figure it out. But I think McDonald will end up being the field stretcher for us James was not able to take advantage of the safety dropping 25 to 30 yards deep. The middle of the field was open for the TE to do some damage and James just doesn’t have that skill set. McDonald with a little more time will make those safeties guard the middle of the field so we are able to attack deep in the future.

  • francesco

    I thought we were fine with what we had at TE position. It was up to Ben and Grimble/JJ to keep practicing together and getting reps in.

  • I’m sure there are some guys chomping at the bit to put James out of his misery. After his performance last week, they’ll just have to wait another week at least.

    The Viking are pretty good a defending the middle against TEs, so we’ll see I guess.

  • NinjaMountie

    I know, right! How dare they even think they can defend a Steeler!

  • Iulo

    exactly… I don’t like James but never denied his capabilities at catching the ball… he has really good hands and as you said, better use him in redzone, where he just don’t need to move a lot to get into the goal line because he is simple not good at it…

  • Blasphemy!!!

  • Eric C. Brown

    When Ryan Clark first signed with us, I wasn’t sure what to think — until I saw Redskins fans were disappointed telling us we got a great player. They were right. With the Vance McDonald deal, I wasn’t sure what to think — but Niners fans have been laughing telling us we got a dude with hands of stone and they were thrilled to be rid of him. Nice guy, can’t catch has been the general consensus from their fan base on social media. So far (and it’s only one game and one target, but) they’re right.

  • MattHat121

    Yeah, I see the same thing. Vance is being brought down while the ball is still in the air.

  • Guest12

    One of the perks for having to go up against a guy like Kyle Rudolph everyday in practice.

  • Guest12

    They threw him the ball 1 time…….1 time!

  • Locorogue

    right, give the guy time to adjust to playing with a real QB. he’s made some amazing plays with the 9ers, great blocker, etc, just needs time to clear his mind of the Kaep curse. i like to reference Crabtree, brilliant 9er fans were crucifying Crab, then he went to Raiders, the rest is history

  • Living in the SF Bay Area surrounded by Niner fans I’ve watched him his whole career. I thought he’d be special when he first came out… I was wrong. While he has made improvements over the years at catching the ball he has never been consistent in that area. Great potential; not so great production. Hoping we can coach him up better than the Niners did. We also have a way better QB throwing him the ball so maybe that helps. If so he’ll be a nice addition… but I have my doubts.

  • falconsaftey43

    Last year Ben threw the ball to Jesse 60 times. He got 338 yards and 3 TDs.
    Last year Kaepernick/Gabbert threw the ball to McDonald 45 times. He got 391 yards and 4 TDs.

    Let’s give him a little more time to get acclimated. James and McDonald are different guys, James more of the check down redzone threat, McDonald more inconsistent but bigger play guy.

  • Hopper

    He was also well short of the first down regardless of whether he caught it. Dude had no chance either way. Poor decision by Ben on 3rd down.

    That said, he’s not helping his rep for bad hands.

  • Eric C. Brown

    Ha. I never proclaimed the guy a bust after one game (and only one target). I’m just saying, the negative hype about his ‘stone hands’ was out there and he dropped the one ball thrown his way. I’m not writing him off. I simply made the observation that “so far, they’re (his critics) right.” That’s indisputable. He’s a lot more athletic than Outlaw so maybe he can bring us some different skill sets.

  • nutty32

    2 negative plays, 1 positive play – seems he played “below the line” based on these 3 reps. Hope he steps it up v. the Vikings.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Nah, he definitely touched the ball first, but I admit it’s difficult to tell that from a small gif from end zone view. Here’s a stil taken just before the cover photo that makes it more clear.

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/ogr2mvl2c5jks64/Screenshot%202017-09-13%2016.34.50.png?dl=0

  • Matthew Marczi

    It wasn’t a drop, he was hit by a defender that jarred the ball loose.

  • Michael Putman

    Even if he caught it, he only went 10 yards before hitting the ground. 10 yards on 3rd and 12 is almost as bad as dropping the ball…

  • PA2AK_

    Lol Marczi mic drop

  • PA2AK_

    or the d just made the LT look a fool and Ben had to get it out quick. The d made a stop. Move on to the next one. We’ll see how he looks when he has more than 2 weeks and 1 target with the team right?

  • Bob Loblaw

    enhance