Vance McDonald, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ newest offensive component who was acquired via trade during the preseason, has some lofty ambitions for himself and his tight end group. Ideally, those ambitions begin with them getting back out on the field and healthy, because both he and Jesse James have already been nicked up.
During the course of the week, the former 49ers tight end—whose former team as of last night is the first team in the league to reach three losses—spoke to reporters about what he told James after he was brought in a few weeks back.
“We’ve talked about being the best two-tight-end tandem in the league”, he told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. “Not many teams use the tight ends like we do here”. He pointed to the fact that pass-catching is only one of many components that the Steelers as their tight ends to do, citing the need for stout run-blocking and the ability to identify protections.
James said that he took the trade for McDonald personally because he viewed it as something of an indictment of his own performance. Through two games, he has responded with 10 receptions for 68 yards and two touchdowns. 6.8 yards per reception is actually abysmal, though that does include two short touchdowns, and he has been working on a bum ankle for half of his playing time.
As for McDonald, he is still working his way from a back injury that forced him to sit out the game on Sunday, which prompted the Steelers to use Xavier Grimble a fair bit, with a splash of Chris Hubbard as a tackle-eligible early in the game before he had to play at both tackle positions in the second half.
He drew a holding penalty on his first play, and he failed to hold on to his lone target to date after he was hit by a defender, but the former second-round pick, it should be pointed out, should be given time to adjust to his new settings after spending five years in San Francisco.
After playing with average-or-worse talent at the quarterback position, however, McDonald said that “it’s crazy how much it changes the game” to be playing with a quarterback at Ben Roethlisberger’s level, who is by virtually any standard regarded as a top five quarterback.
“Not necessarily the control he has and the game and offensive playcalling”,he said, “but just kind of how he’s done things so many times, and knows how he wants things run. Being able to get those reps with him, detailing a route, a release. It’s pretty cool”.
While he has his sights set on a goal that I don’t think they are likely to achieve, it is at least something to shoot for. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be driven toward something better, and there isn’t much debate that the tight end group could use improvement.