PITTSBURGH (AP) — Nick Vannett slipped ever so briefly. And who could blame him really? It's been a whirlwind couple of days for the newest Pittsburgh Steelers tight end.
Vannett woke up on Tuesday in Seattle. By Thursday afternoon he was running with the Pittsburgh starters after a surprise trade that sent a fifth-round pick in the 2020 draft to the Seahawks for the 26-year-old Vannett.
Asked about his impressions of the winless Steelers (0-3), Vannett referred to Seattle's 28-26 victory at Heinz Field on Sept. 15.
"I remember when we played," Vannett said before catching himself. "Not 'we' but when I was with the Seahawks and you know Week 2 and we came in here and played, I remember the game plan like, 'man, the defense is pretty good.'"
Vannett pointed to a hit he took from safety Sean Davis while holding on to a 13-yard gain during a third-quarter drive that ended on the following play with Russell Wilson's touchdown pass that gave Seattle the lead.
"That left a pretty good mark on my back," Vannett said with a laugh.
Maybe, but Vannett held on, one of the reasons the Steelers made the move to bring him in with the plans to have him play right away on Monday night against Cincinnati (0-3).
Starter Vance McDonald is dealing with a left shoulder injury and did not practice on Thursday. The team placed Xavier Grimble on injured reserve on Wednesday with a calf issue, leaving rookie Zach Gentry the only healthy tight end on the roster at the time of Vannett's arrival.
Vannett admitted his head was spinning a bit while trying to absorb Pittsburgh's offense. Thankfully he already has an in with his tutor. Vannett and Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph worked out during the offseason, and after the trade was made official, Rudolph was among the first to send his new teammate a congratulatory text.
Barely 24 hours later they were on the field together, with Vannett practically stapled to Rudolph's side.
"When defense was out there, I was next to him watching the field with him, having him help me about what I need to do or what I should do on a play?" Vannett said. "That's going to continue. I'm going to keep getting in the film room with him and keep developing that relationship with him."
Pittsburgh is in search of something, anything really, to get going. The Steelers are in the bottom seven in the NFL in points (27th), total offense (30th), yards rushing (29th) and yards passing (25th).
While Vannett's numbers in Seattle were relatively modest — 48 receptions for 463 yards and four touchdowns — that could change in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have made the tight end an important part of the offense during the Ben Roethlisberger era, a trend that started with Heath Miller and continued through Jesse James and McDonald, a fact not lost on Vannett, who watched closely while growing up in Columbus, Ohio.
"They utilize their tight ends, something I'm not used to where I've been, even in college," said Vannett, who played at Ohio State. "I just can't wait to show them the player I am in all aspects of the run game, the pass game, pass protection. I see it as a great opportunity."
The trade was the second in as many weeks by the Steelers, who brought in defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick from Miami last week and started him against the San Francisco 49ers. Fitzpatrick had an electric debut, picking off a pass and forcing a fumble. It's unlikely Vannett will play as significant a role, at least initially.
Still, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster pointed out the trade shows the Steelers are intent on turning things around this year and not simply waiting until 2020, when Roethlisberger is expected to return from an elbow injury that cut short his 16th season just two weeks in.
Either way, Vannett is eager to throw his hand in the pile to help the Steelers climb out of a hole they insist hasn't gotten too deep.
"I've always watched them and they've had so much success," he said. "That's going to continue even after the slow start they had. It's a long season. I don't think anybody should be worried about that. That's why I'm here, to come in and just work hard and keep my mouth shut and just contribute any way I can."
NOTES: CB Joe Haden (shoulder), LB Anthony Chickillo (foot), LB Vince Williams (hamstring) and McDonald did not practice because of injury. ... LB Mark Barron and C Maurkice Pouncey were given the day off. ... LB Jayrone Elliot (hamstring) was limited. ... Roethlisberger watched a portion of practice just days removed from having elbow surgery in California.