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Steelers News: New TE Vance McDonald just getting settled in with the Steelers

When the Steelers traded for Vance McDonald, hopes were high this new tight end could help make the team’s offense even more dynamic. That hasn’t happened...yet.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

When the Pittsburgh Steelers went on their mini spending-spree before the start of the regular season, the forgotten man in that mix was tight end Vance McDonald, who came to Pittsburgh via a trade with the San Francisco 49ers.

49ers fans were excited to see him go and Pittsburgh fans were anxious to see if McDonald could complete the one position on the team’s offense which represented an evident weakness.

So far, not much has happened.

McDonald played sparingly in Week 1 with only one target (and one drop). He was inactive for the team’s Week-2 game due to a back injury. Nonetheless, he’s healthy again and ready to make an impact. In fact, McDonald feels he’s just getting settled with his new team, and the time for him to break out could be sooner rather than later.

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As of just a few days ago, Vance McDonald was in a considerable amount of physical pain. He didn't have a permanent place to live, he was behind on learning the offense and he wasn't even in uniform for the Steelers' game.

By Thursday, the tight end felt great because he'd moved into a home with his family and had achieved a level of understanding of the Steelers' offense. Now, he might just be starting their next game.

McDonald is back to fully practicing after recovering from a back injury—just in time, too—because the Steelers' other No. 1 tight end, Jesse James, is ailing with an ankle injury.

“I wasn't so great last weekend, but I feel really good (now),” McDonald said after Thursday's practice. “I have been happy with the way my back has responded this week.”

Acquired from the 49ers via trade on August 28th, McDonald received a crash course in the Steelers' offense, along with a frenzied move across the country for him, his wife and 1-year-old son.

“We finally moved in (Wednesday), so we finally have a home and we’re not in a hotel anymore,” McDonald said.

“That's just one less thing to worry about so you can focus on the more detailed things like game-planning and stuff. So it takes a little bit off the plate.”

McDonald played a handful of snaps in the Steelers' preseason finale two days after being acquired, and he served as a complement to James in the regular-season opener 10 days later. Then, the back injury struck.

That could have raised some eyebrows because McDonald had back surgery after missing the end of the 2014 season.

“Not quite the same thing (this time),” McDonald said. “Just a little residual stuff, so I am glad to have corrected it.”

As a rookie, there are a few sure-fire ways to endear yourself to the veterans on the team in a hurry. Keeping your mouth shut to the media and producing on the football field are two of them near the top of the list.

Besides a handful of instances on social media typical of a kid not yet 21 years old, plus an interesting end-zone celebration after scoring his first career touchdown last week against the Vikings, JuJu Smith-Schuster has followed the time-tested mode of operation for a rookie to absolute perfection (well, with just that little twist).

"He's goofy and real happy all the time and there's nothing wrong with that," Le'Veon Bell said.

Did Bell say goofy and happy? Does this block look like a goofy and happy individual? More like a focused and violent kid.

Smith-Schuster’s de-cleating block on Harrison Smith allowed Bell to pick up only a couple of yards on the ground early in the third quarter of last week’s 26-9 win over the Vikings, but what it gained for the rookie was something that was invaluable: respect.

Maurkice Pouncey: “Wow. The first thing I thought of was Hines (Ward). That’s the kind of stuff he would do when I first came in here. That’s was phenomenal.”

Ramon Foster: “That had to be one of the best blocks of the year. You don’t normally see that from a wide receiver, but he knocked him over.”

Darrius Heyward-Bey: “I was hyped over on the sidelines.”

Alejandro Villanueva: “Now that was pretty good. We obviously appreciated it.”

Smith-Schuster, as expected, was a little less impressed with the play, because, well, he was talking to the media, and rookies aren’t supposed to be heard.

“It’s just a part of me and just what I do,” Smith-Schuster said.

In the latest sign that the NFL is easing up on celebrations, the league has confirmed there’s no problem with pretending to roll dice while celebrating.

During Sunday’s game against the Vikings, Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant pretended to roll dice in the end zone, with a couple of teammates joining in. In the past, that would have been taboo in the NFL, both because orchestrated celebrations weren’t allowed and also because the NFL kept anything remotely associated with gambling at arm’s length.

But NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said on a conference call today that the celebration was discussed at the league office, and everyone thought Bryant’s celebration was all in good fun.

“There was an internal debate this morning over whether they were referring to Yahtzee or backgammon,” Lockhart said. “I don’t think we’re in a place to determine that, so I think that’s OK with us.”

So Bryant doesn’t have to worry about losing any money on this dice game.