At the end of the 2017 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and their fan base, got a glimpse of what Vance McDonald can do for the team’s offense. In the playoff loss, McDonald caught 10 passes on 16 targets for 112 yards. It was the first time since Heath Miller retired a tight end for the Steelers actually looked dynamic in the team’s offense.
This offseason the narrative surrounding McDonald has been consistent.
He is the dual tight end, both blocking and pass catching, the team has needed since Miller, but a caveat is always added afterwards...
If he stays healthy.
In 2017, McDonald played in just 11 games, including the playoff game, and missed time due to both ankle and shoulder injuries. As the offseason drags on, McDonald did an interview with Teresa Varley of the Steelers’ official website. In the interview he talked about his playing, and training, style.
Check out what he said when asked what the biggest challenge he has faced in the NFL:
I would say injuries. I guess it’s the way I play the game. You can watch film and see how some guys tiptoe around that max speed. I just slam it all the way down. I am full speed doing everything I do. It’s led to injuries. Each one can wear you down. Overcoming them and getting back, and continuing to develop.
When reading these comments, I can’t help but wonder what might happen if McDonald were to realize playing smarter can ultimately impact his availability on a weekly basis.
It was Franco Harris who was ridiculed by many for running out of bounds rather than taking on would-be tacklers...saving his body from unneeded punishment. This lesson not only has changed current players’ styles like Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, but it has helped with their longevity.
McDonald, much to the skepticism of many fans, can, and should, be a huge part of the Steelers’ 2018 offense. His ability to handle blocking duties, both pass and run blocking, while showing a dynamic catch-and-run ability in the receiving game could be a weapon the Steelers have missed since No. 83 decided to call it a career.
But this is a moot point if he is constantly dealing with injuries. Maybe playing smarter, and not always harder, is the recipe which will keep McDonald in the lineup for a full season.