NFL from the Sidelines

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O-R Sports reporter Dale Lolley gets you the insider scoop on the NFL.

After hobnobbing around the NFL in the press boxes and sidelines, sports reporter Dale Lolley will let you know the insider scoop. Dale can also be heard on the Steelers radio network pre-game show prior to every game. Follow him on Twitter at dlolleyor.

The making of a trade for a tight end

August 30, 2017

In recent years, the Steelers haven’t been afraid to pull the trigger on a preseason trade. Brandon Boykin and Josh Scobee come to mind as recent deals the team has pulled off in training camp.

This year, the team has twice made deals for players, acquiring cornerback Dashaun Phillips from Washington in a straight-up player swap a couple of weeks ago and tight end Vance McDonald and a fifth-round pick in the 2018 draft for a fourth-round selection.

While Phillips was just a body at a position where the Steelers were looking for a player and isn’t expected to make this roster, the team hopes McDonald will be better than either Boykin or Scobee.

Boykin had trouble getting onto the field because he took time learning the defense and had some injury issues.

Scobee, meanwhile, didn’t last long as the team’s placekicker after blowing a game against the Ravens with a couple of missed kicks.

McDonald is a big tight end with speed. At 6-4, 267 pounds, he’s a better all-around tight end than anyone on the roster. He averaged 16.3 yards per catch last season, second only to Rob Gronkowski among NFL tight ends.

He’s had some drop problems, but that also can be partly attributed to the fact he played with some really bad quarterbacks in San Francisco.

The Steelers felt the need to acquire another tight end because, quite frankly, neither Jesse James or Xavier Grimble had particularly good training camps. Both had a lot of drops in training camp.

David Johnson, who is the team’s best blocking tight end, was the most steady of the group, which wasn’t necessarily a good sign.

As I’ve written before, James is better suited to be a solid No. 2 tight end. Now, he’ll get that chance.

It won’t happen right away. McDonald will only have a week’s worth of practice under his belt when the Steelers roll into Cleveland Sept. 10.

But, eventually, McDonald will take over the position.

And the price, in terms of what the Steelers gave up, was definitely right.

One nice thing about making a trade for a veteran player is that it doesn’t factor into compensatory picks.

And in this year’s draft, the difference between the Steelers’ fourth-round pick and San Francisco’s fifth-round selection was 11 spots. It should be something similar this year.

@ Speaking of players who are going to need to get up to speed quickly, that will not only be McDonald and running back Le’Veon Bell, but safety Mike Mitchell, as well.

Mitchell said Tuesday he’s been taking his time coming back from an ankle injury because he didn’t want the problem to linger throughout the season.

He plans on playing in Cleveland but left the door open that it might not be quite ready yet.

To his point, Mitchell pointed at playing through two torn groin muscles in his first season in Pittsburgh and getting ripped for not playing well because of it.

That’s all well and good, but for the Steelers to get to where they think they can go - the Super Bowl - they need Mitchell on the field.

@ If I had to guess, it would appear Mike Hilton will be the Steelers’ slot cornerback heading into the season, while Ross Cockrell will hold onto the job on the outside.

That might not be what some fans want to hear, but remember that the Steelers play their base defense only about 30 percent of the time.

Typically, they have been in a nickel more than half the time.

This year, I expect more dime. And, right now, that would include Hilton in the slot with veteran William Gay, whom Hilton is replacing, as a defacto inside linebacker.

That defense would give the team a lot of blitzing options as Hilton has shown a nice ability to get there from the slot and Gay is savvy enough to do so as well or help cover for inside linebacker Ryan Shazier if he blitzes.

But the Steelers feel they can get to the passer with their four linemen.

Shazier will be the key to this whole plan. He has to stay healthy because none of the other inside linebackers have his coverage ability.

@ The Steelers placed linebacker Keion Adams on injured reserve today, which was a natural occurance.

Adams, a seventh-round pick, had shown promise early on, but hadn’t practiced in weeks.

Now, he’ll get a year on scholarship while rehabbing and learning the defense. And given the numbers the Steelers have at outside linebacker, he wasn’t making this roster, anyway.

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