Vance McDonald Played Starter Role Before Knee Injury Sunday

During last week’s game against the Chiefs in Kansas City, the Pittsburgh Steelers were finally able to get tight end Vance McDonald a football that he could catch, and he hauled it in for a big gain. After that contest, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said that they wanted to see him get more involved in the offense.

A former second-round pick, McDonald was brought into Pittsburgh via an August trade with the 49ers. He was brought in very late in the process, so it should not be much of a surprise that he may have taken a while to get going.

But based on Sunday’s showing, it’s clear that the Steelers were getting McDonald involved. In fact, if not for a sudden change of plans in the second half after he suffered a minor knee injury, chance are that he would have led all tight ends in snaps in the game.

So, did the team just quietly make him the starter? I think the biggest tell in that regard is the fact that, when the Steelers entered their two-minute offense at the end of the first half, it was McDonald, and not Jesse James who was on the field and running the up-tempo offense.

He did technically start—both he and James—because the Steelers opened in a 12 personnel set. But James came off the field on the next play, while McDonald remained. James missed the next four snaps, in fact, with even Xavier Grimble getting a snap in between, while the new kid on the block played the first seven snaps of the game.

He played all but eight snaps in the first half, actually, totaling 28 before the teams parted ways into their respective locker rooms. James, in comparison, played 17, while Grimble played two, both of which also included McDonald. They did not use any 13 personnel sets.

Unfortunately, his playing time ended just four snaps into the second half, on which he saw action for three plays. In contrast, James stayed on the field for the entirety of the second half, since, really, there wasn’t anything left for them to do. He had to be used.

They did liberally use Grimble from that point forward, seeing 24 snaps of action in the second half, excluding the victory formation, out of 32 total offensive snaps run. So that tells you have invested they were in using two-tight-end sets that even after McDonald went down, they just plugged in their third option.

It is somewhat surprising that they did not at all turn to B.J. Finney as a tackle-eligible, which they had done a bit earlier in the season when Chris Hubbard has been in the starting lineup.

Either way, assuming that McDonald is okay to go against the Lions, it will be interesting to see what happens. Is he starting now? We don’t really know at the moment. But it does seem clear that he will play more frequently, regardless.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I noticed this. When the brodcast was announcing the starters on offense, I saw 89 out there right when Jesse James came up. I didn’t know they were both on the field tho.

  • Steelerman24752

    So far not impressed, too many drops. And to leap frog the “Outlaw” is not cool. Jesse had a good start to the year and then they just forgot about him. We shall see what the future holds I guess.

  • 太阳三联

    James is even less impressive. Does he even have a 20+ yard reception his entire career? McDonald has like 2 already. Deceptive speed and his hands are coming around.

  • steeltown

    I like it. I still like James, good all-around TE and still relatively young in comparison, but McDonald brings an extra bit of athleticism to the position. Shaky hands sometimes, but he could break one open soon.


    Hey ST…been a while.

    Agreed…just need to keep feeding McD. JJ, I think he’s playing near his ceiling now…would like to see them go to him more as well…add in Grimble, there’s no reason this OFC should get 6-8 TDs (collectively) from the TE group for the season.

  • falconsaftey43

    And he’s been great blocking, much better than James (although James has done a good job the last two weeks, but nothing like the impact McDonald is having).

  • Jerry Lynch

    He needs to learn to catch the ball.


    McDonald is the best TE on the roster…at this point he should be starting…I think he and Ben will improve as a tandem. This is still a position of need in the draft, but for now…we roll with with these 3 guys.

  • Mrs Bighead

    He’s gonna break a big one soon

  • John

    Anyone know if McD is healthy and will play this week?

  • nutty32

    I’m gonna guess Grimble steps up big……..all that dude needs is to be properly motivated. Hope his butt is burning now from sitting on that bench.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Jesse James was never supposed to be a starter in the first place. His best role is as a number two. You can’t have your starting tight end unable to average even nine yards per reception and be both a mediocre and inconsistent blocker.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I don’t see him getting better at it at this point, unfortunately.

  • Matthew Marczi

    He did not practice today. Hopefully he’s at least limited tomorrow.

  • Patricia McClary Harris

    I have aid all all along that we should give X some are rep’s. The guy has some upside, he is more athletic than our fans give him credit for. Haley needs to figure out how to turn the 3 TE’ s into a option going forward. Worry about more viable option ext year.

  • Patricia McClary Harris

    He will with added reps.

  • Patricia McClary Harris

    Great comment!