PITTSBURGH — When the Steelers traded a fourth-round pick for tight end Vance McDonald in advance of the 2017 season, he figured to support, not supplant incumbent starter Jesse James.
Through two seasons, he did just that, grabbing 14 balls for 188 yards and making 50 catches for 610 yards and four touchdowns in 2018.
This season, though, James has moved on, signing a free agent contract with the Detroit Lions.
It’s now McDonald’s room, and he has a newcomer to work into the fold as a compliment in rookie fifth-round pick Zach Gentry.
Gentry is battling with a pair of first-year players in Kevin Rader and Christian Scotland-Williamson to join McDonald and Xavier Grimble on the roster this fall, and so far, he’s getting positive remarks from his veteran mentor.
“As a rookie, you’re spending so many hours here trying to figure out the offense and the flow and how we operate,” McDonald said. “You’re not even playing football, you’re trying to ace the test. If we get to that point where he knows the playbook and he’s comfortable enough to slow down, I think he’ll definitely find his stride.”
The third tight end on the team isn’t usually a camp battle that fuels a lot of interest, but Gentry’s 6-foot-8 frame and untapped potential after spending just three seasons at tight end make him an intriguing target.
Furthermore, without Antonio Brown’s 104 receptions, it’s a pretty open question what the Steelers offense will look like in 2019, and with two experienced pass-catchers in McDonald and Grimble and an interesting rookie, the tight end position is just as likely to pick up the slack as anywhere else.
“Absolutely,” McDonald said. “Not necessarily playing or calling the game differently, but the things that AB was capable of doing, he was a freak. He’s so good. I think Ben is the best quarterback that will allow us to take that piece that AB was given each game and allow it to be split, whether it’s the tight ends or the receivers. … It’ll be fun and interesting to see how he can create it.”
So acknowledging Brown’s talent level, and that of departed running back Le’Veon Bell, how can the Steelers’ offense fare better in 2019 than it did in 2017 and 2018?
“Because we have to be,” McDonald said. “That’d sound really good if I just left it at that. Great players are great players, but at the end of the day, it takes 11 guys to do the job. If you do that, I think we have the guys that don’t necessarily have Brown and Bell on the backs of their jerseys, but man, if you can play the positions, you can do what you’re asked to do, you can make plays.”
Report: Bud Dupree Files Grievance over Franchise Tag Position
Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree has filed a grievance through the NFLPA over his positional designation with regards to his franchise tender with the team, according to a report by Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.
#Steelers pass-rusher Bud Dupree has filed a grievance with hopes that he’ll be paid as a defensive end rather than a LB, I’m told. Similar to Shaq Barrett. While there is still some time to work something out, the sides are not close on a deal.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 10, 2020
The Steelers list Dupree as an outside linebacker in their base 3-4 alignment, but when the Steelers play their 4-2 Nickel defense, which was their most-used alignment in 2019, Dupree lines up as a defensive end.
The difference could be a significant one.
Franchise tags are paid based on the average of the top five salaries of players at the same position. The linebacker franchise tag is expected to be valued at $15.8 million, while the same tag for a defensive end would cost the Steelers $17.8 million, so Dupree’s grievance is over $2 million. Tampa Bay Buccaneers edge rusher Shaq Barrett has filed a similar motion.
Dupree has already signed his franchise tender, so he is committed to playing for the team in 2020 no matter his salary.
Dupree and the Steelers can also continue to negotiate a long-term contract extension through July 15, when Dupree will be locked into his one-year franchise contract, at whichever value prevails.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has repeatedly said that he wants Dupree to finish his career in Pittsburgh, but Rapoport said the sides are “far apart” on an extension with five days until the deadline.
Chase Claypool’s Madden 21 Rating Released
As is tradition, the Madden video game franchise has begun releasing rookie ratings for the 2020 iteration of the game, including for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool.
Claypool clocks in at 70 overall, which is solid for a second-round wideout. He is ranked as the seventh-best rookie receiver in the game, tied with four others.
Still, the true story with Claypool’s rating requires a little deeper digging. By the look of his attributes, it appears EA believes Claypool will be a mismatch on the real and virtual gridirons this season.
The Notre Dame-product received a speed rating of 92, along with 89 acceleration. At 6-foot-4, 238-pounds, Claypool’s combination of size and speed has Madden players salivating, and hopefully is an indication of what he will provide to the actual Steelers in 2020.
Known for his ability to win high-point balls at his impressive height, Claypool holds the highest jump attribute among all rookie wide receivers at 95.
Claypool also holds the second-highest strength and run blocking ratings in the class at 71 and 56, respectively, which were to be expected considering his imposing frame and elite blocking shown on film.
With regards to receiver specific stats, Claypool received some average, but solid marks. He boasts a 79 catch rating, along with good spectacular catch and catch-in-traffic numbers at 84. Still, his route running leaves some room for improvement with a 73 on short and deep routes, and a 71 on intermediate patterns.
Overall, Claypool’s Madden 21 rating is a strong debut, and his unique skill set should make him a fun player for gamers to utilize all season.
Steelers fans and Madden junkies alike can check out all of Claypool’s ratings and compare him with the rest of the 2020 rookie wide receivers here.
Steelers Will Require Fans to Wear Masks, Announce Season Ticket Refund Option
The Pittsburgh Steelers announced in an email to season ticket holders Wednesday evening they will provide a full-refund option for the 2020 campaign. The team also said that fans will be required to wear masks at Heinz Field if they are in attendance this year.
In addition to offering a full refund, the Steelers stated that season ticket holders will not lose their ability renew their seat locations for the 2021 season.
The organization is still optimistic fans will be in attendance at Heinz Field this year, stating they are “working with both the NFL and public health officials on how fans can attend games in a safe manner.”
While the team would prefer to have the stands full in 2020, the Steelers anticipate “working with a reduced capacity scenario,” as well as the mask requirement. They did not provide an estimate of what the reduced attendance figure would ultimately be.
“Our goal is to still have fans at Heinz Field this year with the understanding that social distancing, as well as all fans being required to wear masks, will play a role in the capacity to ensure a safe atmosphere,” Steelers Director of Communications Burt Lauten said in a statement. “We will continue to work with the NFL and public health officials to finalize plans for fans to attend our home games.”
With rumors that the 2020 preseason slate will be shortened, the Steelers will also refund fans who purchased tickets for any preseason games that do end up being cancelled.
While season tickets are usually sent out in late July, the team will “employ a digital ticketing solution to allow for flexibility” as they and the league navigate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are communicating with our season ticket holders to make them aware of the digital ticketing process we will employ this season at Heinz Field for a more flexible solution as we prepare for potential reduced capacity,” Lauten added. “We will continue the process of allowing our fans to opt out of their 2020 season tickets if they feel they are uniquely affected by the current situation.”
Pittsburgh’s update comes just hours after the rival Baltimore Ravens released contingencies of their own for a potentially coronavirus-altered 2020 season. The Ravens plan to limit available seating to 14,000 per game if fans are allowed to attend in adherence of social distancing guidelines.