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Steelers

Steelers training camp preview: Healthy McDonald could make difference

Joe Rutter
| Monday, July 9, 2018, 5:45 p.m.
Steelers tight end Vance McDonald pulls in a catch that quarterback Ben Roethlieberger throws from the end zone against the Chiefs in the second quarter Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017 at Arrowhead Stadium.
Steelers tight end Vance McDonald pulls in a catch that quarterback Ben Roethlieberger throws from the end zone against the Chiefs in the second quarter Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017 at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Tribune-Review will examine each position on the Steelers roster as they prepare to report for training camp July 25 at Saint Vincent. Today’s installment looks at the six tight ends:

STARTER(S)

Jesse James: His 2017 season was defined by the catch that wasn’t against the New England Patriots, a controversial ruling that sparked a rules change. This season, James will have more important issues on his mind. It’s a big season for the tall tight end. James is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He has averaged 41 catches for 355 yards and three touchdowns the past two seasons as a regular contributor.

OR

Vance McDonald: Injuries beset McDonald last year, and he missed minicamp with another malady. He was inactive for six games last year but had the best game of his career in the divisional playoffs, catching 10 passes for 112 yards. The Steelers believe McDonald can be among the top tight ends in the NFL provided he remains healthy.

BACKUP

Xavier Grimble: He served as the No. 3 tight end for the third year in a row and made modest contributions of five catches for 32 yards and one touchdown in 15 games last season. Jake McGee was pushing to unseat Grimble until he suffered a season-ending injury in voluntary practices.

DRAFT PICK

None

ON CAMP ROSTER

Ryan Malleck: He spent three months in the 2017 offseason with the Steelers but was cut in May. He was brought back this spring after the season-ending injury to McGee. He spent time with the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans last season.

Pharoah McKever: Enrolled at North Carolina State as a wide receiver but was switched to the defensive line before settling at tight end behind Jaylen Samuels. He transferred to Florida International for the 2017 season.

Christian Scotland-Williamson: A member of the International Pathway Player program, Scotland-Williamson is a former rugby player who is learning the position. Per the program, he can spend the season on the practice squad as a roster exemption.

CAMP QUESTION

Can McDonald untap his vast potential?: The Steelers thought enough of McDonald to trade for him in the final week of the preseason last summer. Team officials believe a full season learning the Steelers system will benefit McDonald, who has never surpassed 30 catches or 391 receiving yards in five NFL seasons. Of course, he needs to stay healthy, which was a difficulty for McDonald in his first year with the Steelers. He also has been plagued by drops in his career.

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