New Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Rob Blanchflower redshirted in 2009 before becoming a four-year starter at college, twice assuming leadership roles for his team.
The Steelers currently have four veteran tight ends on the roster, the youngest entering his third season in the league. Does Blanchflower have enough to overcome the numbers and earn a roster spot as a rookie, or will he redshirt to begin his professional career as well?
Ahead of him are Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Michael Palmer, and David Paulson—perhaps in that order. Miller and Spaeth, of course, are locks, while the presence of the other two merely served to highlight the struggles that the Steelers faced at the tight end position when one or both of them were out with injuries last season.
Miller, of course, was rehabbing a torn ACL into the season, which caused him to miss the first two games. Simultaneously, Spaeth, in his first year back with the team after playing for Chicago for a couple seasons, was working through a Liscranc tear in his foot that caused him to miss three-fourths of the season.
Paulson was given the first crack at making an impact, but it’s fair to say that he largely failed. His blocking is handicapped by his lack of upper body strength, and even his receiving ability was neutralized by a key fumble in the second game of the season.
His biggest contribution on the year came late in the season on a 30-yard reception on a trick play from punter Mat McBriar. By the end of the year, Palmer had seemingly replaced him on the depth chart, but by then, Spaeth was back, and the third tight end rarely played.
Remember, when Spaeth, and then David Johnson, got injured, the Steelers were so hurting for tight ends that they regularly used linemen to serve as the second tight end last season because they didn’t trust the blocking abilities of Palmer and Paulson.
Blanchflower is a 6’4”, 256 pound tight end who tight ends coach James Daniel said “has a high level of aggression”. Asked if he plays with a bit of a nasty attitude, Daniel said “that’s usually what attracts me to them, so yes”.
Perhaps Blanchflower has the demeanor and the makeup to offer the Steelers what they lack when their top two tight ends are off the field. Bob Labriola compared him to Spaeth when speculating where he might fit in on the roster, though Spaeth has him beat in terms of size. But Daniel likes his versatility all the same:
He’s a two-phase guy, which is different than a lot of the guys you have coming at you right now. We look for guys that are either going to be run blockers or they’re going to be pass receivers. He’s adept at both of them so that is something that interests us in him. He’s playing in a multiple formation offense so that gave us a chance to look at him in a lot of things.
Of course he’ll have to earn his way on special teams first and foremost. But I can’t help but feel that the Steelers targeted Blanchflower as a player that offered something they felt they were missing when they were forced to rely upon Paulson and Palmer last year.
At the very least, his presence will provide much needed competition to the bottom end of the tight end depth chart, even if he winds up spending a year on the practice squad.