Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Lolley is a contributor to the Observer-Reporter and has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1993.

The Steelers love the athleticism of tight end Vance McDonald. In fact, he’s the most athletic tight end they’ve had since Heath Miller was in his prime. And McDonald might actually be more athletic than Miller was at his best.

McDonald also is the team’s most complete tight end since Miller was in his prime.

What he is not, however, is as durable as Miller. In his 11-year career, Miller missed eight games. Eight. He was always available.

McDonald, meanwhile, has missed seven games in his two-year career with the Steelers.

Now, part of the reason was because the Steelers’ coaching staff didn’t have a track record with McDonald when he was acquired via a trade in late August of 2017. McDonald was new to the team and if he missed a practice or two with a little injury, the coaching staff wasn’t inclined to play him.

The staff feels much better about that now. But they also know McDonald has never played a complete 16-game schedule in his previous six seasons.

That’s why the Steelers intend to be careful with McDonald’s usage this season.

McDonald played a career-high 564 snaps last season in 15 games compared to 562 for “backup” Jesse James. The two split time almost evenly and even though James left in free agency for the Detroit Lions, the Steelers have no intention of increasing McDonald’s snaps.

“He still won’t,” Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said of McDonald’s playing time increasing substantially this season.

“He’s never going to play the full game. That’s never going to happen.”

Right now, that would mean a whole lot more of Xavier Grimble playing. That’s probably not a good thing for the Steelers.

McDonald had 50 catches last season. James had 30. In 44 career games, Grimble has 22 receptions.

See the disconnect?

Chances are, the Steelers’ No. 2 tight end is still on some other team’s roster right now.

The Steelers will use McDonald in the passing game when he’s on the field. They also know if they want to keep him healthy, they’re going to have to be smart about that usage.

“We’ll use different personnel groups to rest certain guys,” Fichtner said of McDonald’s playing time. “It’s connected. We can steal some reps in the game without him having to be in there. We’ll try to do it thoughtfully and use him the times we have him in there.”

  • Patriots safety Patrick Chung was indicted this week for possession of cocaine at one of his homes in New Hampshire stemming from an incident that occurred June 25.

He’ll have an arraignment hearing on Wednesday. But don’t think for a moment Chung, if healthy, won’t be in the lineup when the Steelers play the Patriots Sept. 8.

The NFL is unlikely to hand down any kind of suspension quickly regarding the issue.

The Patriots? We’ll see.

Chung has been sitting out at training camp because of what everyone assumed was his recovery from a broken arm suffered in New England’s Super Bowl win earlier this year.

Turns out, maybe the Patriots were sitting Chung because they knew they could be without his services for 3½ to 7 years, which is the sentence he’s facing based on what he’s been charged with.

  • The Baltimore Orioles allowed their MLB-record 259th home run of the season Friday night. And they’re not even close to being done. They’ve got 34 games remaining.

At their current pace, the Orioles would give up another 68 home runs given that they are allowing 2.02 homers per game.

The Pirates have been bad – especially in the second half. But they haven’t been that bad.

  • That said, the player who hit the record-breaking home run Friday night for Tampa Bay was Austin Meadows.

It was Meadows’ 21st home run of the season.

That’s the same Austin Meadows who was traded along with Tyler Glasnow and minor leaguer Shane Baz for Chris Archer. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Now, not so much.

  • Ben Roethlisberger will make his preseason debut tonight when the Steelers play the Titans in Nashville, Tenn. It will be his only action of this preseason.

And that’s not a bad thing. More and more teams are not playing their starters at all in the preseason. In fact, the Rams didn’t play a single starter last year in the preseason.

They won the NFC Championship.

It’s a bit of a risk. After all, it’s impossible to replicate game speed in practice.

But teams are figuring out that risk outweighs the reward when it comes to playing starters in the preseason.

  • First Joe Maize at Peters Township. Then Frank Pryor at Beth-Center.

That’s a lot of baseball coaching experience lost at the high school level locally this offseason.

More importantly, it’s two very good men no longer in the coaching ranks.

Dale Lolley covers the Steelers for DKPittsburghSports.com and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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