Steelers' Vance McDonald took 'steps backwards' in '19


The 2019 season was supposed to be a growth year for Vance McDonald. Instead, the Pittsburgh Steelers tight end believes he regressed.

"I think I took some steps backwards unfortunately as a player," McDonald told Teresa Varley of the team's official website. "I don't even need a coach to give me criticism because I have too much of it already. I think of it as having almost that edge in 2018, being known for having that play with the stiff arm, the run after whenever I would have a reception. I didn't have as many of those. It makes me want to attack this offseason and next season that much harder."

Coming off career highs in receptions (50), yards (610) and touchdowns (4) in 2018, McDonald was supposed to take on an even bigger role with Jesse James leaving in free agency. Instead, McDonald struggled to find a rhythm in a Steelers offense that was off-kilter all season, generating just 273 yards on 38 catches (for a career-low 7.2 yards per receptions) with three TDs. McDonald also missed two games due to concussion.

With Ben Roethlisberger out for all but two games, the Pittsburgh offense was a shell of itself with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges struggling under center. With additional injuries to JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner also affecting the offense, it's not hard to see why McDonald's numbers went down. The entire offense cratered, not one player.

Even with the built-in excuse that the offense wasn't what it was expected to be entering the season, McDonald didn't look for justification for his performance. Instead, the 29-year-old owned the down season and plans to turn it around in 2020.

"I think offensively it was a much different team. It forced players to take a hard look at where we are, our personnel, the ever-changing lineup because of injuries and so forth," he said. "They can all be excuses, but at the same time, they all present specific things we have to overcome and adjust to. It took some adjusting.

"I think overall there was a stretch where we had a lot of success as a team. For me looking back and analyzing it all, I wish I would have done more."

With Roethlisberger on track to return, McDonald should get his shot to do more this season. Historically, whenever Big Ben gets in trouble, he turns to his top tight end. Despite a down year, McDonald remains that target.