With training camp now in full swing, a lot of eyes are fixated on Pittsburgh Steelers rookie tight end Rob Blanchflower, who was drafted in the seventh-round back in May. While the Massachusetts product has yet to really give us anything to write about with three practices now in the books, another rookie tight end has.
Lost in the glowing Monday practice recaps about rookie first-round linebacker Ryan Shazier taking it to veteran running back LeGarrette Blount during the first backs on backers drill of the 2014 season is the fact that Missouri undrafted tight end Eric Waters more than held his own against the speedy Ohio State product during the intense blocking session.
According to Jim Corbett of USA TODAY Sports, Waters “flattened” the Steelers rookie linebacker during one of their matchups and it prompted a response from Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin in the process.
“He doesn’t feel your power, 50,’’ Tomlin told Shazier.
While at Missouri, Waters, who reportedly ran an unofficial 40-yard dash time of 4.58 seconds at his pro day, a time that would have placed him second at the 2014 NFL Combine, was mostly used as a blocking tight end and that resulted in him only registering 14 catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns in the 49 games that he played in.
Prior to the 2014 NFL Draft, Waters viewed his primary usage at Missouri as a blocking tight end as a “blessing in disguise” as a lot of top tight end draft prospects usually struggle with that portion of their game.
“That helped me show a side that not everybody has shown,” Waters told Tod Palmer of the Kansas City Star during a pre draft interview back in May about his blocking ability. “That’s a question for everybody else.”
As far as his ability to function as a receiver, Waters believes that he’s already answered those questions about his game as well.
“I showed at my pro day and I showed at the combine that I went to afterward that I can catch the ball,” he told Palmer. “I have really great hands and I move well. My route-running is great and I can make cuts.”
Palmer used the fact that he wasn’t invited to Indianapolis for the combine as motivation for his stellar pro day.
“I don’t mean to sound cocky when I say this, but I have confidence in myself. Once I saw those numbers coming up, my whole mindset was to beat every single number that was up,” Waters told David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune following his March pro day. “Not being invited, it put a chip on my shoulder. I was dejected. I was wondering why I wasn’t invited. At the time, I understood. I didn’t get the amount of balls everybody else got. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have caught them. I just didn’t get the opportunity.
“That really put a chip on my shoulder, and made it so much easier to come out there and dominate every drill. That was my mindset on everything I approached here. Just dominate.”
The Steelers sorely need a third tight end that can both block and catch. Because of that need, Waters’ path to the Steelers final 53 man roster doesn’t really include many hurdles as veteran Michael Palmer is just a body as is former seventh-round draft pick David Paulson, who has yet to show anything as an inline blocker during his first two seasons in the league. That leaves Blanchflower as being Waters’ primary competition right now and if his blocking is as advertised, that battle could come down to whichever player can contribute the most on special teams.
Waters, who was ranked by Rivals.com as the nation’s No. 27 tight end prep prospect coming out of high school, just so happened to turn 23 on Monday and he talked about his time spent thus far with the Steelers following practice.
“It’s definitely an experience of a lifetime,” Waters told Bo Marchionte of College2Pro.com. “To be blessed like this with this opportunity on the field with legends and coaches, I can’t ask for more on my 23rd birthday.”
If he beats out Blanchflower during training camp, Waters 24th birthday might once again be celebrated at Latrobe with him being a fixture on the Steelers roster.