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.