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For the Steelers’ offense to reach full potential, the fragile Vance McDonald must stay healthy

Pittsburgh Steelers TE Vance McDonald put on an impressive display Monday night of strength, determination, and athleticism. Hard to believe the same player who demonstrated one of the greatest stiff arms in league history is also one of the most injury prone players in the league.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

There were two impressive tight ends on display during Monday night’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Buccaneers trotted out rookie stud O.J. Howard, a first round draft pick out of football factory Alabama. The young man oozes talent and appears well on his way to being one of the best at his position. In some ways he resembles Rob Gronkowski, in other ways Travis Kelce, but he may actually be faster than both. Like those two great players, Howard is a total mismatch whenever he steps on the field. Anybody fast enough to cover him will never be able to handle his incredible size, likewise any player with the strength to neutralize him will most assuredly struggle to run with him. Howard already looks like a wise investment as a first round selection, and hopefully for him he receives the type of quarterback play necessary for him to reach that elite level.

That may be the only thing that could halt his assent to stardom. Oh, and of course, injuries.

This got me thinking about the other impressive tight end competing on the field Monday night, Pittsburgh Steelers’ own Vance McDonald. His athleticism and vast potential is almost on par with the aforementioned Mr. Howard, but Vance knows all too well that injuries can derail the most promising careers.

If you goggle the word fragile the definition reads as such ‘easily broken or damaged’. You might very well see a picture of Vance McDonald there if one was to be provided. I can’t help but think about the famous scene from the classic movie A Christmas Story whenever I see the word fragile. When the dad opened the crate marked fragile (it must be Italian) to reveal his award, which just so happened to be a lamp that resembled a lady’s leg wearing fishnet stockings and high heels, Young Ralphie and his dad were mesmerized by the unmistakable beauty of it.

That lamp and Vance McDonald have a lot in common.

First, McDonald’s physical prowess and athletic abilities are a sight to behold. They have had a mesmerizing effect on every GM and coaching staff that have witnessed them first hand since he entered the league as a second round draft pick in 2013 out of Rice University by the San Francisco 49ers. I had a work colleague who was a huge Niners fan and he was convinced McDonald was an absolute steal in the second round, and who was I to question his assertion. He definitely looked the part.

Then the games started, and soon after so did the injuries. McDonald was a raw prospect coming out of college, hence his second round selection in the draft, and the injuries greatly hindered his development into a polished NFL caliber tight end, not to mention making him extremely unreliable as a player. Moments before the start of last season the Niners had seen enough and dealt him to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers were instantly impressed by their shiny new lamp, I mean player, and proudly displayed him on the field for everyone to see.

Just like the mom in the movie was less than thrilled with the lamp and thought it was tacky and in poor taste, you can be sure “the Outlaw” Jesse James could have done without the trade for Vance McDonald. James had to be thinking “What am I, chopped liver?” His best ability was availability. He may not be spectacular, but he was most definitely a reliable, solid pro. So what did he do? Did he turn to social media to voice his displeasure, or pout around like a locker room cancer? No, he showed up everyday, worked hard, and competed for playing time. This was an impressive example of being a good teammate on a team which really needed one.

As we know, in the movie tragedy struck. The mom was innocently cleaning the lamp when she accidentally knocked it to the floor where it broke into multiple pieces. Despite the best efforts of Ralphie’s dad to glue the lamp back together, the lamp was beyond repair and had to be thrown away.

This is precisely the situation the Steelers are trying to avoid with McDonald.

Monday night was in many ways a confirmation of what the Steelers already knew. While McDonald did have a strong performance in last season’s playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, which was on the heels of another injury plagued regular season. The Steelers realize they have the talent to be an amazing offensive force if they can somehow keep McDonald on the field. If healthy, McDonald and James provide the Steelers with a strong one-two punch at the tight end position.

But that is a pretty big if.

McDonald the player is akin to a heavy weight boxer who possess a powerful knockout punch, but also happens to be saddled with a glass jaw. The Steelers organization holds their collective breath every time he climbs off the trainer’s table.

So here’s hoping Vance can keep his chin tucked, his gloves up, and he doesn’t hang his jab. Maybe it will help him do something which has eluded him thus far in his young career.

Stay on the field and finally live up to his vast potential.

The Steelers really could use the help, but I wouldn’t bet on it.