Pittsburgh Steelers: Rob Blanchflower

Steelers Camp Report: Day 4

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
LATROBE, Pa. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp:
  • The competition has started. The separation has not. “One unit will have a good day and piss the other unit off. They’ll come back and win the next one,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Wednesday following the second padded practice of training camp. “There’s ebb and flow.” With the first preseason game still more than a week away, Tomlin is using the practices to pit different players against each other and have them hone their technique in the crucible of competition. “We’ve got some guys that have the proper energy and urgency but are still growing in technical areas,” Tomlin said.
  • Troy Polamalu drew a roar from the crowd at St. Vincent College when the veteran strong safety intercepted a pass that would have easily gone for a touchdown had it been an actual game. Rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier nearly intercepted a pass when he arrived at the same time as a short pass over the middle to tight end Matt Spaeth. There was just enough contact between the two to keep Shazier from hanging on to the ball. The first-round pick looked a little gimpy after the near interception, but Tomlin said Shazier did not get hurt on the play.
  • Rookie tight end Rob Blanchflower suffered a setback when he sustained a high ankle sprain. The seventh-round draft pick will miss “at least a week,” Tomlin said. Running back Le'Veon Bell (hamstring), linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (groin) and wide receiver C.J. Goodwin (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday.
  • Rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant flashed his talent a couple of times Wednesday after a quiet start to camp. The fourth-round pick caught a deep ball early in practice after beating cornerback Lewis Toler in one-on-one drills between the wide receivers and defensive backs. Bryant caught several passes Wednesday and nearly made a spectacular sideline grab of a ball that was slightly underthrown and was ultimately broken up because cornerback Antwon Blake had done a good job of establishing inside position. Bryant did have a bad drop near the end of practice.
  • There were several highlights from the pass-rushing/pass-protection competition. Nose tackle Steve McLendon knocked Cody Wallace on his wallet after bull-rushing the reserve center and rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers ran over tackle Mike Adams later in the drill. The offensive line, however, appeared to hold its own as a group in the drill.
  • It’s tough to get a read on how much progress second-year quarterback Landry Jones is making. The 2013 fourth-round pick completed consecutive passes after showing nice pocket awareness and good footwork during an 11-on-11 drill. The former Oklahoma star, however, took a sack and threw a bad interception on the next two plays. He is still very much a work in progress.
PITTSBURGH – Derek Moye spent all of last season on the Steelers' 53-man roster and two of the wide receivers ahead of the Penn State product signed with other teams during the offseason.

Despite this, it is hard not to wonder if Moye actually lost ground in his bid to make an impact this season. Moye, as it turns out, will have a hard time simply making the team again because of the crowd that the Steelers have at wide receiver.

They signed veterans Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey in March and drafted Clemson’s Martavis Bryant in the fourth round. The Steelers also saw 2013 sixth-round pick Justin Brown, who spent last season on their practice squad, make a significant jump during offseason practices.

So where does all of that leave Moye? Pretty much in the same position as last season when the former undrafted free agent had to play his way onto the 53-man roster.

“That’s the way it is,” Steelers wide receivers coach Richard Mann said. “He knows that. Each time he gets on the field he gets better. He has a chance.”

The good news for Moye, who caught just two passes for 25 yards and a touchdown last season, is that the competition at wide receiver won’t really start until Monday when the Steelers wear pads for the first time.

Also, the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder made the team last season after entering camp as a long shot. There is no reason to think Moye can’t do it again with another strong camp and playing well in the preseason games.

Here are four other players who also need to flash during training camp.

OLB Chris Carter. The Steelers’ lack of depth at outside linebacker gives the 2011 fifth-round draft pick an inside track to making the 53-man roster. But Carter is vulnerable because he played primarily on special teams in three seasons and has yet to record a sack for the Steelers. Carter received praise from linebackers coach Keith Butler during offseason practices. He has to show the Steelers during camp that he can play extensive snaps at outside linebacker in the event of an injury.

TE David Paulson. He has just 13 catches for 153 yards in two seasons and Paulson isn’t going to make the team as a blocking tight end. The 2012 seventh-round pick has to show he can become a bigger part of the passing game as he is a prime candidate to fall victim to a numbers crunch. The Steelers return four tight ends from last season and they added to the position by drafting Rob Blanchflower in the seventh round and signing Eric Waters as an undrafted free agent.

DE Nick Williams. Williams did very little during offseason practices because he was still recovering from a knee injury he sustained almost a year ago. The Steelers like Williams’ potential but the 6-4, 309-pounder needs to get on the field during camp and get as much work as possible at a position that is hard for young players to master. The Steelers, meanwhile, need an end to emerge from a young group that includes Williams, Brian Arnfelt and undrafted free agent Josh Mauro.

P Brad Wing. His talent is undeniable and the Steelers think he has matured since going undrafted out of LSU in 2013 and failing to make the Philadelphia Eagles’ team last season. That he is a lefty helps – coach Mike Tomlin seems to prefer those kinds of punters – but Wing has to beat out veteran Adam Podlesh, who signed a one-year contract with the Steelers in April. Since Podlesh has a track record in the NFL Wing will have to clearly outplay him in training camp and preseason games to make the team.

Position preview: Tight end

July, 5, 2014
Jul 5
This is the next in a series that look at every position on offense and defense with training camp approaching. The next look is at tight end.

Returning starter: Heath Miller. The trusty veteran missed just two games despite coming back from a torn ACL, and he caught 54 passes for 593 yards and a touchdown. Miller should be better in 2014 after participating in offseason practices as well as training camp.

New faces: Rob Blanchflower. The Steelers drafted the UMass product in the seventh round and he has a good chance of making the 53-man roster despite four tight ends returning from last season.

On the bubble: David Paulson. The 2012 seventh-round pick has caught just 13 passes for 153 yards in two seasons, and he is an average blocker at best. Paulson and Michael Palmer could battle for one roster spot, with special teams making the difference.

By the numbers: The Steelers averaged 115.3 rushing yards in the four games that Miller and Matt Spaeth played together last season, much better than their season rushing average of 86.4 yards.

Did you know: Miller is one of only six players in Steelers history to accumulate at least 5,000 career receiving yards. He is one of just five players with at least 40 touchdown catches and the only Steelers tight end to achieve that feat.

Quotable: “We’ve got new faces, but from what I’ve seen they’re all more than capable of getting the job done and it’s just a matter of who is going to be out there doing it. It doesn’t matter who it is, I think we’re going to have capable guys out there.” – Miller on the new addition to the Steelers’ passing game.

Outlook: Miller, entering his 10th NFL season, is still one of the best all-around tight ends in the NFL as well as a favorite target of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The 6-foot-4, 256-pounder had been in the midst of his best season in 2012 before tearing his right ACL in the Steelers’ next-to-last game. The Steelers need Miller to re-establish himself as a similar threat this season with Spaeth more of a blocking tight end. Having Miller and Spaeth together for an entire season could be big considering the success the Steelers have had running the ball when both tight ends are in the game. Starting fullback Will Johnson will play more tight end this season, and he could provide some production as a pass catcher.

Breaking down rookie contracts

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
The Pittsburgh Steelers signed all nine of their draft picks before the end of offseason practices when defensive end Stephon Tuitt agreed to terms during minicamp.

A handful of rookies are expected to make an immediate impact -- Ryan Shazier will enter training camp as the starter at weakside inside linebacker -- and they will provide cost-effective labor.

The maximum the rookie contracts will count against the Steelers' salary cap in 2014 is $5.887 million. And that is if all nine of the players they drafted make the 53-man roster, which is unlikely to happen.

Here is a breakdown of the draft picks' four-year rookie contracts, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

1. Ryan Shazier, LB. Signing bonus: $5,234,328; Total value of contract: $9,507,204; Total guaranteed: $9,507,204; 2014 cap hit: $1,728,582.

2. Stephon Tuitt, DE. Signing bonus: $1,672,324; Total value of contract: $4,609,444; Total guaranteed: $2,721,844; 2014 cap hit: $838,081.

3. Dri Archer, RB. Signing bonus: $506,016; Total value of contract: $2,748,016; Total guaranteed: $506,016; 2014 cap hit: $546,504.

4. Martavis Bryant, WR. Signing bonus: $439,220; Total value of contract: $2,659,220; Total guaranteed: $439,220; 2014 cap hit: $529,805.

5. Shaquille Richardson, CB. Signing bonus: $190,052; Total value of contract: $2,410,052; Total guaranteed: $190,052; 2014 cap hit: $467,513.

5. Wesley Johnson, OL. Signing bonus: $144,560; Total value of contract: $2,365,560; Total guaranteed: $144,560; 2014 cap hit: $456,140.

6. Jordan Zumwalt, LB. Signing bonus: $104,852; Total value of contract: $2,329,852; Total guaranteed: $104,852; 2014 cap hit: $446,213.

6. Daniel McCullers, DT. Signing bonus: $78,680; Total value of contract: $2,298,680; Total guaranteed: $78,680; 2014 cap hit: $439,670.

7. Rob Blanchflower, TE. Signing bonus: $59,400; Total value of contract: $2,279,400; Total guaranteed: $59,400; 2014 cap hit: $434,840.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers signed two draft picks on Tuesday, leaving five unsigned with two months before the start of training camp.

Offensive lineman Wesley Johnson, a fifth-round pick, and linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, a sixth-round selection, each signed a four-year contract.

Johnson, the second of two fifth-round picks that the Steelers made earlier this month, took part in the Steelers’ first full-squad offseason practice earlier on Tuesday. Zumwalt can’t participate in organized team activities (OTAs) until UCLA completes its school year, and he will miss the majority of the voluntary practices.

The Steelers signed defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, a sixth-round pick, and tight end Rob Blanchflower, a seventh-round selection, to four-year contracts last week.

McCullers’ deal is for approximately $2.3 million, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and includes a $78,680 signing bonus. Blanchflower’s contract is for approximately $2.28 million and it includes a $59,400 signing bonus.

The signing bonus is the only guaranteed money in the contracts signed by McCullers and Blanchflower, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
PITTSBURGH -- This is the next in a series that takes a post-free agency, post-draft look at all of the positions with the exception of quarterback.

Our second look is at a position that returns four players from last season.


Who is new: Rob Blanchflower. The seventh-round draft choice out of Massachusetts has a real chance of making the team despite the glut of players in front of him.

Who is gone: David Johnson. Injuries limited the 2009 seventh-round pick to five games in his final two seasons with the Steelers. Johnson signed a two-year contract with the Chargers in March.

Returning starter: Heath Miller. One of the most respected players in the Steelers’ locker room returned to the field a little more than nine months after reconstructive knee surgery. Miller, one of the best all-around tight ends in the NFL, will become a bigger part of the passing game assuming he is back to full strength for the start of 2014.

Most significant addition: Blanchflower. The Steelers really like this under-the-radar prospect who set UMass’ record for career receiving yards by a tight end (1,164). Blanchflower can block as well as catch passes, and tight ends coach James Daniels said, “He has a high level of aggression.”

Most significant loss: Johnson. He wasn’t flashy but he did a lot of little things that don’t show up in box scores. Johnson could line up in the backfield as well as provide blocking as an inline tight end. He also played special teams.

On outside looking in: David Paulson or Michael Palmer. The former is a pass-catching tight end who is not much of a blocker. The latter does not add much to the passing game but is a solid blocker. If Blanchflower plays his way onto the 53-man roster, Paulson and Palmer are likely battling for one spot.

Hidden number: Miller caught 58 passes in 2013 but just one of those resulted in a touchdown. The previous season, when he was at full strength, Miller caught a career-high eight touchdown passes in 15 games. He also had a career-high 816 yards on 71 receptions.

Outlook: Having a healthy Miller at the start of the season will be huge for the Steelers and particularly their passing game. Don’t overlook having Matt Spaeth for an entire season too after the eight-year veteran missed all but four games in 2013 because of a foot injury. Miller and Spaeth make a terrific blocking tandem, and the Steelers averaged 115.3 rushing yards in the four games they played together -- almost 20 yards higher than their season average. There aren’t a lot of pass-catching options after Miller so keeping the 2012 team MVP healthy is paramount for the Steelers.

Steelers sign two draft picks

May, 19, 2014
May 19
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are just below the spending ceiling, but that didn’t stop them from signing two of their draft picks a day after the conclusion of rookie minicamp.

Defensive tackle Daniel McCullers and tight end Rob Blanchflower each signed a four-year contract with the Steelers Monday. They were sixth- and seventh-round picks respectively.

The Steelers were $253,896 under the salary cap prior to the signings, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and they will sign most of their draft picks after June 1 when they receive more than $8 million in salary cap room from the release of outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley.

McCullers, the second of the Steelers’ two sixth-round draft picks, recorded 33 tackles, including 4 1/2 for losses, last season at Tennessee. The 6-7, 352-pounder started all 12 of the Volunteers’ games and the Steelers are hoping he can add depth along the defensive line.

Blanchflower, a seventh-round pick, set Massachusetts' record for career receiving yards by a tight end (1,164) despite being hampered by an injury that required sports hernia surgery following his senior season.

The 6-4, 256-pounder will battle for a roster spot at a position where the Steelers return four players from last season.
PITTSBURGH – Here is a closer look at the Steelers’ final five draft picks:

WR Shaquille Richardson

College: Arizona

Round/pick: 5th/157th overall

Ht./Wt.: 6-0, 194

Last season: Recorded 55 tackles with three interceptions while starting all 13 of the Wildcats’ games.

Hidden number: 20 cornerbacks were drafted before the Steelers took Richardson.

Upside: Richardson has good size and speed and the Steelers seem confident that he can develop into a starter down the road.

Possible red flag: Didn’t get invited to the NFL scouting combine and an off-field issue caused Richardson to transfer from UCLA to Arizona before his freshman season.

Defensive backs coach Carnell Lake: “He gives us good size out there and somebody that has the ability to put a lot of pressure on tall receivers that have been drafted in recent years. He’s a smart, young corner that can come in and contribute.”

Richardson: “I’m definitely coming in to learn from Ike Taylor and other veterans and defensive backs they have on the team. I got a lot to prove and I’m ready to work.”

OL Wesley Johnson

College: Vanderbilt

Round/pick: 5th/173

Ht./Wt.: 6-5, 297

Last season: Started 13 games at left tackle and gave up just one sack in helping the Commodores gain 4,765 yards and average 30.1 points per game.

Hidden number: 22 of his blocks in 2013 led to touchdowns.

Upside: Is versatile, having started at both tackle positions as well as at center for Vanderbilt, and is also very athletic for a big man.

Potential red flag: Doesn’t have long arms, which might make him an interior lineman at the next level, and may not get much bigger.

Offensive line coach Mike Munchak: “He is definitely battle-tested playing in the SEC. He has played against guys like Jadeveon Clowney and played well against top-level competition week in and week out for a long time. That gives us the feeling that he will be very comfortable coming into the NFL.”

Johnson: “Being a Nashville guy, growing up [Munchak] was one of my favorite players. I knew all about him obviously because he’s a Hall of Fame offensive lineman and he’s been a great coach for a long time.”

LB Jordan Zumwalt

College: UCLA

Round/pick: 6th/192

Ht./Wt.: 6-4, 235

Last season: Had a career-high 93 tackles with 5 of those behind the line of scrimmage and also forced three fumbles and intercepted two passes.

Hidden number: Zumwalt’s 30 career starts came at four different linebacker positions.

Upside: Big hitter who is passionate about football and is also versatile.

Potential red flag: Not a great athlete and needs to get bigger. Also, is there room for Zumwalt in what has become a crowded field at inside linebacker?

Linebackers coach Keith Butler: “This guy was probably the best player on the board for us (when the Steelers first picked in the sixth round). He’s a long, tall kid but I would see him as in inside guy at this point. He can provide some backup for us and he should be able to play some special teams for us.”

Zumwalt: “I have a lot of passion for the game and if you’ve seen me play then you know what I can bring. I’m going to bring everything that I have possible to bring to the defense. It’s like a dream come true.”

DT Daniel McCullers

College: Tennessee

Round/pick: 6th/215

Ht./Wt.: 6-7, 352

Last season: Made 33 tackles, include 4 for losses, and assisted on a sack while starting all 12 of the Volunteers’ games.

Hidden number: Wears size 18 shoes.

Upside: Enormous and what general manager Kevin Colbert calls an “obstruction,” McCullers also has the position flexibility to play both nose tackle and defensive end.

Potential red flag: It could be tough getting the leverage necessary at nose tackle since McCullers’ height makes it difficult for him to stay low after the ball is snapped.

Defensive line coach John Mitchell: “He’s a big guy but those types of guys are hard to find. I’d rather work with a guy that is too big than one that you can’t see him when he goes down in a stance. I’m excited about that.”

McCullers: “Growing up I was always the big kid. Once I hit my sophomore and junior year of high school that’s when I started getting my growth spurts. I guess I got like four of them each year and just kept growing.”

TE Rob Blanchflower

College: Massachusetts

Round/pick: 7th/230

Ht./Wt.: 6-4, 256

Last season: Caught 27 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns despite playing with an injury that required sports hernia surgery after the season.

Hidden number: Four of the Steelers’ seventh-round picks since 2009 have played at least one season for them.

Upside: Is adept at blocking and catching, which is what attracted the Steelers to Blanchflower as well as his demeanor.

Potential red flag: Has to make the jump from FBS competition (formerly Division I-AA) to the NFL, and the Steelers have four returning tight ends.

Tight ends coach James Daniel: “He has a high level of aggression. He’s played in a multiple-formation offense so that gave us a chance to look at him in a lot of things. I think he’s special-teams capable.”

Draft position needs: Tight end

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have nine picks in the 2014 NFL draft and this is the third in a series that looks at the nine positions they could address in less than two weeks. Keep in mind that the Steelers are likely to draft two cornerbacks so they may not take a player at every position covered in this series.

Our third look is at tight end:

Added: None

Lost: David Johnson

Skinny: It will be real interesting to see what happens if Eric Ebron slides to the middle of the first round and is still on the board when the Steelers pick at No. 15. The former North Carolina star is a suspect blocker but long gone are the days when many tight ends were not much more than glorified blockers. Ebron is part of a new wave of speedy, athletic tight ends who can create mismatches, and he could play right away as well as give the Steelers Heath Miller’s eventual successor. There are a couple of other top-shelf tight ends in the draft but there doesn’t appear to be a lot of depth at the position. The Steelers have four veteran tight ends already, but they could use an upgrade at the position. They hosted Rob Blanchflower of UMass for a pre-draft visit and he might be an option for the Steelers late in the draft.

Draft likelihood: Medium

Extra points

Last TE drafted by the Steelers: David Paulson, seventh round in 2012

Last TE drafted by the Steelers in the first round: Miller, 2005

Last TE taken 15th overall in the draft: Derek Brown, Giants, 1992

TEs drafted under Kevin Colbert/Mike Tomlin: Three

TEs drafted under Colbert/Tomlin still with the Steelers: Two