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McDonald welcomes a new 'normal'

Winning changes everything.

And for the first four years of Vance McDonald's career, wins didn't come easily.

Sure, in his rookie season the San Francisco 49ers, the team that drafted him in the second round in 2013, went 12-4 before losing in the NFC Championship game. After that, wins were scarce, going 8-8, 5-11 and 2-14 his next three seasons.

When the Steelers finished the regular season with a 13-3 record this year and the AFC North title, he was excited. He then quickly realized, that was the norm.

"Having the success always helps," said McDonald. "That is something I haven't had a ton of in my career. I was learning through that and enjoying it. Pittsburgh has had a lot of success in the past, winning and going to the playoffs. I am looking at everybody in the room and they are like, this is normal. Everyone always says winning makes everything easier."

McDonald was traded to the Steelers on Aug. 29 last year, just a little over a week before the 2017 started. It was a whirlwind time for him, with a lot to learn, and a lot to adjust to.

"You have to learn a new language, there are the relationships, you are coming in like a stranger and guys are just breaking from camp, the one month of a year when you grow relationships more with people than ever," said McDonald. "It's weird. You feel out of place at times, like you are a part of it at others. At the end of the day you have a job to do and you keep it in perspective.

"It helped to have our tight end group. You spend the most time with those guys. Our locker room in general is extremely competitive, there is always talk, it's fun. It's a good way to build relationships with other guys even on the other side of the ball. It's a special place."

It didn't take long for McDonald to also see that the level of talent on the offense was outrageous, loaded with Pro Bowlers and some of the best in the NFL at various positions. Being a part of that group was something he welcomed with open arms.

"It's almost like the level of talent keeps the accountability so high," said McDonald. "You want to be great at practice because you have guys around you at practice who are so outstanding, Pro Bowl guys, the best in the business. Whenever you have that, wherever you look, not only does it make your job easier, because it gives you motivation and an example of how to do your job, how to be the best you can be at practice, games and day to day stuff. It raises your level of play. It's a special group here we have offensively and it's a pleasure to be a part of it."

Injuries plagued McDonald last year, missing four games due to a combination of back, ankle and shoulder injuries. It wasn't what he wanted in normal circumstances, but especially coming to a new team.

"It was frustrating," said McDonald. "It was right when we were getting going and boom, another one would happen. A lot of people talk about other professional sports and how many games they have. A two-week ankle injury wouldn't be as significant in a basketball season, or even in baseball. You have 16 opportunities to play regular season games in the NFL. Missing one week is a big thing. It was tough." 

A now healthy McDonald is anxious to take part in a full offseason program with the Steelers, from OTAs, to minicamp, and finally training camp, and continue to work with Ben Roethlisberger, who he formed a good rapport with as the season wore on.

"You are kind of thrown into it, trying to find your place early on," said McDonald. "I feel like I have been playing a long time, but compared to Ben it's not. To have the wisdom and experience he has been through, and him speak to my game, it's been helpful.

"There is so much potential with this team. I am very excited."

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