PITTSBURGH — Tight end Nick Vannett is new to Pittsburgh, having just come into town for his first practice on Thursday after being traded from the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday.
But he’s familiar with the Steelers.
Vannett grew up just down the road in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, and the Steelers’ presence there was ubiquitous.
“Growing up Columbus, Ohio, all you see are Steelers fans,” Vannett said Thursday. “They were always on TV growing up. I always watched them. They just had so much success.
He sees that success continuing now that he’s a member of the Black and Gold.
“Even though it’s been a slow start, it’s a long season,” he said. “I just know I’m going to thrive in this offense. I’ve watched Vance [McDonald] thrive and Jesse James and all those guys that played before me.”
McDonald watched practice in a t-shirt on Thursday, though head coach Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday that he’s optimistic he’ll be able to play. Short of that, it’s going to be McDonald and fifth-round rookie Zach Gentry manning the tight end position on Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Vannett unexpectedly has a leg up on building a rapport with his quarterback. Vannett and Mason Rudolph trained together over the offseason. He also shares and agent with James Conner and Ben Roethlisberger.
“We actually trained the in offseason, right after the season last year,” Vannett said. “So I probably spent two or three months with him, working out with him and stuff. So I already knew him a little bit. When the trade was going public the hit me up and he was excited.”
Vannett seems genuinely excited to be a part of what he perceives as a winning organization. He said that he was floored by the welcome he received inside the Pittsburgh locker room. And perhaps most importantly, as he enters a contract year, he’s excited to be with a team that seems to value and use its tight ends to a greater degree than the Seahawks did.
“Everybody always pegged me as a wide tight end, a blocking tight end,” he said. “I’ve always felt I’m much more than that. I’m not the fastest guy, but I think I run pretty good routes. I’m very quick, I’m very precise at the top end and I’ve got good hands. I see myself the way they used Heath [Miller] and the way they used Jesse James, I can see them using me in a similar way.”