Steelers Need Big Season From McDonald

By Mike Ashcraft

On Thursday, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kennywood Park announced plans for “Steelers Country”, a themed area of the iconic amusement park that will include a record-breaking roller coaster dubbed “Steel Curtain’.

A roller coaster is the perfect analogy for tight end Vance McDonald’s first season wearing the Black & Gold in 2017.

The Steelers traded for the veteran in late August last year, shipping a 2018 fourth-round round to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for McDonald’ services. In his previous four seasons in the NFL with the 49ers, McDonald started 30 games, totaling 64 receptions for 866 yards and seven touchdowns.

McDonald was the type of player Pittsburgh had coveted for the tight end position since the retirement of Heath Miller following the 2015 season, possessing ideal size at 6-foot-4, 267 pounds and intriguing athleticism. Things did not go quite as planned in McDonald’s first season as a Steeler, however.

McDonald found himself hampered by injuries all season long and was inactive for six games, missing five contests due to ankle and shoulder injuries. His roller coaster campaign did reach a high point in the AFC Divisional Playoffs against Jacksonville thanks to a 10-catch, 112-yard breakout performance, though it was not enough for Pittsburgh to overcome the Jaguars as their season ended with a stunning 45-42 defeat at Heinz Field.

With the Steelers shipping talented but troubled wide receiver Martavis Bryant to the Oakland Raiders on the first night of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Steelers’ vaunted passing attack has been weakened. Sure, Antonio Brown remains the best wide receiver in the galaxy and JuJu Smith-Schuster appears to be a rising star. But there is a lot of unknown behind those two, including journeyman Justin Hunter, special teams ace Darrius Hayward-Bey and rookie James Washington. 

The Steelers need McDonald to remain healthy and establish himself as the No. 1 tight end on the depth chart and give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger the weapon at tight end that he’s lacked since Miller hung up his cleats. Roethlisberger got off to a slow start in 2017, throwing six touchdown passes and seven interceptions over the first five weeks before rebounding to finish the season with 28 touchdown strikes and 14 picks en route to a fourth-straight Pro Bowl selection. One way to avoid a repeat of a ragged beginning to the season would be for McDonald to stay on the field and make up for the production lost with Bryant’s exodus.

Here’s hoping McDonald’s next roller coaster ride with the Steelers features more thrilling highs than his first did.


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