When the Pittsburgh Steelers traded for Vance McDonald, there became a legitimate question as to who the starting tight end would be. It would be assumed that the Steelers made the trade because they were unsatisfied with the play of third year tight end Jesse James and his development.
Sure, McDonald is not a dominant force who would shine above James this season. Still, he brings a more diverse element to the game as being more of a downfield threat than James. McDonald was traded a day before the teams fourth preseason game, so it is not a surprise that James got the brunt of the snaps on Sunday. James took those snaps and came out swinging, delivering the first blow in the fight for first team snaps at tight end.
Steelers tight end battle: Jesse James comes out swinging
The two things McDonald has going for him over James is his ability to stretch the field and make contested catches. In 2016, James dropped five contested passes, eight-percent of his targets. McDonald only missed two in 2016, four-percent of his targets.
However, in 2017, James was out to prove that contested catches is not an issue. Early into Week One Roethlisberger gave his tight end James a chance over the middle. James absorbed the hit and made the catch, picking up a first down in the process.
James was rewarded for his big catch with two touchdowns later in the game. McDonald saw his first chance and did not take advantage.
McDonald is open over the middle. However, he gets hit in the back and coughs up the football. He was not spotted on the field after this play.
It is only Week One. However, it is looking like the trade for McDonald is sparking a fire under James, who brought his best play in a two touchdown performance. McDonald does bring that schematic upgrade, and he will be brought in for packages. However, James is proving that he is still a part of this offense, and that at the worst this team will rotate the two situationally.