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Steelers’ tight end Vance McDonald is starting to look like an unreliable player

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It’s late summer and Steelers’ tight end Vance McDonald is dealing with yet another injury. This raises the question of whether his constant physical setbacks make him an unreliable player.

NFL: AFC Divisional Playoff-Jacksonville at Pittsburgh Steelers Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Ever notice how some NFL players just seem so talented and physically gifted, you can’t stop gushing about them or heaping tons of praise and ever-greater expectations upon them? Like a lot of other people this spring and summer, I thought it was a sexy idea to predict tight end Vance McDonald, with his size, speed and athleticism, would be a difference-maker for the Steelers’ already potent offense in 2018.

And he still might be when all is said and done. After all, we’re talking about a player who came into the league as a second-round pick by the 49ers in 2013, a man who was the fourth-rated tight end in that year’s draft class, according to McDonald’s Wikipedia page.

We’re also talking about a player that was given a five-year, $35 million contract extension by San Francisco near the end of the 2016 season — an absolute bargain, given his aforementioned attributes.

But with slightly under three weeks to go before the start of the 2018 regular season, let’s just say I’m not all that confident McDonald will be doing anything but missing a lot of games this year.

Only days into the start of Steelers’ training camp last month, McDonald exited practice with a foot injury, and really hasn’t been heard from since. In and of itself, this would not be much of a concern — after all, injuries happen all the time in football. Only problem is — injuries seem to happen all the time to Vance McDonald.

Through five full NFL seasons, McDonald, 28, has yet to play all 16 weeks of a regular season, and he’s missed 22 of a possible 80 career games.

If you examine McDonald’s injury history, courtesy of the site, Sports Injury Predictor, you’ll see a proverbial laundry list of ailments that date all the way back to college, where he had two shoulder surgeries.

McDonald, who missed five games with the Steelers last season, was placed on Injured Reserve twice in the years before he came to Pittsburgh. Will his latest injury send McDonald to the IR for a third time?

That remains to be seen, but even if he beats this latest physical setback, what confidence could anyone possibly have that McDonald will make it all the way through 2018 unscathed?

That’s the thing about confidence. It’s one thing for the fans and the media to lack it in a player, but when his coaches and teammates start to lose confidence, it’s often curtains.

In addition to his injury-prone history, McDonald also carries the reputation of having bad hands. How can McDonald realize his potential if he can’t hold onto the football? And how can he work on his hands if he misses so much time due to injury? And if he can’t hurdle the two greatest obstacles preventing him from reaching his potential, how can McDonald help the Steelers in 2018?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if some fan or writer has lost confidence in Vance McDonald. But the question is, have the Steelers? If they haven’t already, it might not be long before they finally do.