(Another in a series examining the Steelers' 90-man roster as the team heads to training camp to begin the process of cutting down to 53 players in advance of the 2020 regular season.)
ON THE ROSTER NOW: Eric Ebron, Zach Gentry, Vance McDonald, Kevin Rader. EDITOR'S NOTE: According to reports on July 21, the Steelers will add free agent tight end Dax Raymond to their 90-man roster. Raymond (6-5, 255) signed with the Bears in 2019 as an undrafted rookie from Utah State. Raymond did not make the roster, but the Bears signed him back to the practice squad in October. Raymond signed a futures contract with the Bears after the 2019 season but was waived in April. In 27 games at Utah State, Raymond caught 72 passes for 873 yards and three touchdowns.
ON THE ROSTER IN SEPTEMBER: You would have to go back to 2013 for the only season of the Mike Tomlin era in which he kept four tight ends. During every other year he kept three, and that's going to be the number unless something freaky like "half" an injury occurs, when a player can't play in the opener or soon thereafter and another must be kept temporarily.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT: After catching 50 passes in 2018, McDonald was expected to enjoy a breakout statistical season as Ben Roethlisberger's "security blanket." Roethlisberger, of course, went down during the first half in the second game. McDonald went on to catch seven passes that day, four from Mason Rudolph, but then his catches greatly diminished and he finished with only 38. Even with Ebron around, we should expect better production from McDonald.
KEY DEPARTURES: Nick Vannett was acquired during last season for a fifth-round pick, and seemed to fit as a No. 2. But, he turned out to be just a rental when he left in free agency following the Steelers' pursuit of Ebron. The team also parted ways with Xavier Grimble, who played in the first three games before he was injured, and then released. Christian Scotland-Williamson, who joined the team in 2018 as a part of the NFL's International Player Pathway Program, was released on June 20.
KEY ADDITIONS: Ebron was acquired in free agency. If he can return to his 2018 form (66 catches, 750 yards, 13 touchdowns), he would provide Roethlisberger with a terrific red-zone threat.
THE SKINNY: Two tight ends – McDonald and Ebron – could turn this position into a strength this season. Gentry did show strides as a blocker in 2019, and he felt he could've helped the offense late in the season because his knowledge of the offense had grown immensely. He felt the light had clicked on. Rader is a physical former defensive end from Pine-Richland High School and Youngstown State who shouldn't be counted out.
NEXT: Offensive Line