McDonald Prepares For Larger Role In Steelers Offense

After a career year, the Steelers tight end will likely have a bigger workload

Shelby Cassesse
July 31, 2019 - 2:46 pm
Steelers TE Vance McDonald at practice in 2018

Josh Rowntree - 93.7 The Fan

LATROBE (93.7 The Fan) - Though 2017 was Vance McDonald's first year with the Steelers, he seemed to emerge as a household name in Pittsburgh during Week Three of the 2018 season. 

With the Steelers down 7-0 in the first quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Ben Roethlisberger hit a wide open McDonald about ten yards downfield. As McDonald ran toward the sideline, he was met by Buccaneers safety Chris Conte. As Conte went to make the tackle, he was met with a violent stiff-arm from McDonald and wound up on the ground. McDonald went the rest of the way untouched for a 75 yard touchdown. 

McDonald started every game for the Steelers following the stiff-arm, accumulating 50 receptions for 610 yards and four touchdowns. He began to overshadow Steelers tight end Jesse James, who ended his fourth season in Pittsburgh with 30 receptions for 423 yards and two touchdowns, then signed with Detroit in free agency. 

With McDonald seemingly the obvious choice for the Steelers top tight end this season and Antonio Brown now in Oakland, McDonald is using training camp to prepare for a heavier workload. 

"If you look at it number-wise, like you take away the amount of targets that AB had, they have to go somewhere," McDonald said Wednesday. "It just really depends on how Randy's (Fichtner) gonna want to call the game. I think naturally, like yeah, some of them will probably end up landing on our plates, and so we'll make the most of those opportunities going forward."

Entering his third season with the Steelers, McDonald is only in his second training camp at Saint Vincent College. He was traded to the Steelers in late August before the 2017 season, missing all of training camp. 

"Even last year, I think about having to deal with the fact that I didn't have any idea what would happen in a Steelers training camp, and where I was supposed to go," McDonald said. "It's so nice to be able to come into this year and know what to expect, and so I can focus completely on developing and building on last year."

With another year of experience comes an increased leadership role, which McDonald feels he's gained coming into the new season. 

"I think that it takes that certain, I don't know, amount of time before a guy is kind of looked at [by] other people just as sort of that safe, reliable source of information," he said. "I've become that a little bit to some guys, and I appreciate it because I know what it's like to sort of be overwhelmed, to be young. So yeah, I embrace that role." 

McDonald and Xavier Grimble will likely get the bulk of the work at tight end this season. Grimble caught six passes last season for 86 yards. He fumbled what would have been his lone touchdown of the season in Week 11 against Denver in an infamous play at the goal-line.