McDonald Likely to Return Sunday for Steelers

Tight end will see first action of year after foot injury

Josh Rowntree
September 13, 2018 - 3:58 pm
Steelers TE Vance McDonald at practice in 2018

Josh Rowntree - 93.7 The Fan

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Related: Elbow Issue Shelves Roethlisberger For 2nd Straight Practice

The Steelers passing game may be getting a big target back Sunday in the team’s home opener against Kansas City. 

Tight end Vance McDonald was able to fully participate in practice Wednesday and Thursday and appears able to play for the first time this season, including the preseason. 

“It was just kind of one of those lingering things that you don’t want to have a setback,” McDonald said of the foot injury. “Timing was kind of everything really. Just taking it day-by-day.”

“It was frustrating. Kind of a rush of emotions, but we are where we are now. So just looking forward to this weekend, just getting back in the game and getting ready to play. I was hoping to be back for the first game and it didn’t happen.”

McDonald has been burdened by injuries since the Steelers traded for him during the 2017 preseason. Shoulder, ankle, back and knee ailments derailed his first season in Pittsburgh. 

“Everything doesn’t go the way it was planned a lot of times,” he said. “It’s just adjusting. That’s adversity, that’s NFL. I’m just trying to be a professional in that area. It’s not exactly how I wanted it to go down, same thing I’m sure with the staff and coach. We just had to adjust.”

Individually, McDonald’s 2017 season ended on a high note, as he caught 10 passes for 112 yards in the Steelers’ playoff loss to Jacksonville. He’s looking for more now, as long as his body allows it.

“I’m obviously hungry and definitely wanting to be out there,” he said. “I’m not trying to take away from that, but it’s from a safety standpoint and the fact that we have a long season and it’s not coming down to one game.”

While McDonald thinks he’ll be able to go agains the Chiefs at Heinz Field this weekend, he is not yet certain if the foot injury will limit him during the game at all.

“I don’t know,” he added. “It will be just one of those things that I’ll have to feel my way through it, honestly.”

Pittsburgh is coming off a disappointing tie in Cleveland in which the offense turned the ball over six times. Jesse James, the Steelers’ starting tight end for that game, grabbed three passes for 60 yards. 

Under new offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, the role of the tight end will very well be a significant one for Pittsburgh. 

“You’ve got explosion at that position, you’ve got playmaker ability,” Fichtner said of McDonald. 

While Fichtner was unable to say if McDonald would be limited in any way, he is just happy with the practice participation.

“I just know it was great to see him here two days, back-to-back,” Fichtner added.

Pittsburgh did not have much diversity in its passing game Sunday. Among the receivers, only Juju Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown had multiple catches. Justin Hunter caught one pass. No other receiver had a reception. So a shot of life in the passing game could give the Steelers a boost. 

“It’s the same story that’s pretty common in sports,” McDonald added. “As the ball starts to roll, we’ll start firing on all cylinders as the season progresses. You always hope to come out and fire on all cylinders at the start, but it’s not always realistic. We wanted to win last week. We’ll just continue to build.”

Hear all of what McDonald had to say below.

More Injury News

For the second straight, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed practice with a bruised throwing elbow suffered towards the end of the Browns game. 

Second-year quarterback Josh Dobbs worked with the first team, he confirmed. 

Joining Roethlisberger on the sidelines for practice was cornerback Joe Haden, who left Sunday's game with a hamstring injury and has not practiced since. Guard David DeCastro, who was able to finish the Cleveland game despite leaving briefly witha broken hand, did not practice as well. 

After missing Wednesday, defensive linemen Cam Heyward (full participant) and Tyson Alualu (limited participant) were both on the practice field Thursday. 

Friday will likely be the determining factor for most players, if not all, as the game status report will be released.