Injuries More Frustrating Than Drops When It Comes To Vance McDonald

I always find it somewhat dismaying when a player’s scouting report ends up matching the reality in a negative way. In Vance McDonald, the Pittsburgh Steelers acquired a talented tight end who has been marked for both dropped passes and frequent injury concerns, and we have certainly seen both of those traits present over the course of the 10 games played this year.

The former 49er has already missed three games this season for three separate injuries, and it is looking as though he is shaping up to miss his fourth game of the year, and second in a row, after suffering an ankle injury on the kick return unit against the Colts about two weeks ago.

That was after suffering a back injury early in the year that resulted in him sitting out a game, and then a knee injury that sidelined him for yet another game. It has been a cycle of taking two steps forward and one step back with McDonald.

And the problem is that the Steelers, and the offense, need him to step in and be that player that he is capable of being. He is a much better blocker than is Jesse James and is easily the more athletic and talented pass-catcher, even if his hands are less consistent. You can live with some drops if they are offset with some big plays, though, and he already has two on just five receptions.

McDonald has not practiced this week, so it is looking unlikely that he will play on Sunday. Based on the previous game, the Steelers are unlikely to turn to Xavier Grimble, their third tight end, to take on much of the load, as the second-year player hardly saw the field. Instead, they ran quite a bit out of the 11 personnel package, and James never came off the field.

The four-game suspension handed down to Marcus Gilbert at right tackle further complicates things, of course, since it makes it that much more difficult, and more risky, to use an extra offensive lineman as a tackle-eligible tight end, which I will talk about more a bit later today.

If JuJu Smith-Schuster also misses the game, then the team will arguably be without their two best blockers among the skill positions. It almost makes me wonder if we will see a role on the offense for Darrius Heyward-Bey, who in years past has seen time even in one-receiver packages for blocking purposes.

For somebody who was not even in training camp, the Steelers are in some ways finding it difficult to cope with the absence of McDonald, though it clearly has not prevented them from winning games, as they have done so five times in a row.

Still, as we continue to see him on the sidelines, I can’t help but think back to the decision to favor Grimble over David Johnson, who was their best blocker by far, and how much the struggles in run-blocking at the tight end position has impacted the ground game. He remains a free agent, by the way, just saying…

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • capehouse

    James had a real good game last week. He had one block the entire game that was poor. Your typical Jesse James block where he puts his head down and loses his target and misses the block, but his other 75 snaps were quality play and his best blocking performance of the year. Any struggles with the run game last week were not on James. Add in a couple clutch catches and it looked to me that James was back to his playoff form last year.

  • Steeler Nation!

    Keeping Grimble Over Johnson was puzzling then and it still is. It’s not like we’ve seen Grimble in there a lot proving everyone wrong. No doubt Johnson would’ve played a lot more than XG under these circumstances. And he was a consistent contributor.

  • Steve Johnson

    Colbert had to know what he was getting when he made the trade! This is two years in a row he has brought in a TE, both has been damaged goods. When will he learn? To make things even worse, I think it will be the opposing teams TE that ends the Steelers season (Gronk).

  • SfSteeler

    speaks to the need for all 22 to contribute…weak TE blocking, and the loss of MItchell on D and we have seen the consequences…the opposition will respond in kind…

  • Matthew Marczi

    I mean to be fair these situations are definitely different. Green had a history of concussions and there were reports that he never even got over them in the first place. For McDonald, his past two injuries have been legitimate in-game injuries, this last one when he got rolled up on from behind while blocking on a kick return. Unfortunately not much you can do about that. But they need him out there.

  • MC

    Should never have gone with Grimble over Johnson, called it the day they let Johnson go.

  • Rocksolid20

    Give McGee a shot , kid plays with a lot of heart

  • Michael Mosgrove

    injuries notwithstanding he has already shown more than green, jesse and grimble.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    more like keeping jesse over johnson was a mistake.

  • Steeler Nation!

    If the #1 ability is availability, then Jesse wins easily over McDonald and Grimble, who was shut down after first quarter of Ravens game last Christmas. I’m not saying JJ does anything particularly well, because he doesn’t. But he can be counted on to be on the field, and to compete. If I had to make a guess at this point, I’d say XG has almost no chance of being on the roster next year.