Pittsburgh Steelers: Rob Blanchflower

Mel Kiper Jr. loved the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2014 NFL draft last May, giving it a grade of an A- in his post-draft report card.

Kiper dropped the grade after re-visiting every team’s most recent draft in large part because the Steelers did not get much out of first-round pick Ryan Shazier and third-round pick Dri Archer in 2014.

Shazier, the No. 15 overall pick, missed seven games because of knee and ankle injuries and lost his starting job at inside linebacker to the combination of Sean Spence and Vince Williams.

Archer, the fastest player in the 2014 draft, lost his job as the Steelers’ primary kickoff returner in the first half of the season and played sparingly on offense. The speedy running back managed just 63 yards from scrimmage and will be a major question mark heading into next season.

Kiper did not drop the Steelers’ draft grade much because of what the team got out of fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant. The sleek wide receiver caught 26 passes for 549 yards and eight touchdowns despite not dressing for the first six games of the season.

Bryant tied for fourth among NFL rookies with eight touchdown catches. The Clemson product came within one scoring grab of tying Louis Lipps' Steelers record for most touchdown receptions by a rookie.

Defensive end Stephon Tuitt, meanwhile, came on strong after a slow start. The second-round pick started the final four games after Brett Keisel went down with a season-ending triceps injury. Tuitt recorded 17 tackles and a sack and improved as much as any player on the Steelers.

Team president Art Rooney II said on Wednesday that he was pleased with the contributions the Steelers received from their rookies last season.

“Shazier had some injury issues, which I think slowed him down, but certainly showed the potential to make plays on the field,” Rooney said. “Tuitt, once he got in there did a nice job. Martavis did a nice job. We had some rookies come in and make significant contributions.”

As for my take on the Steelers’ 2014 draft, ask me in three years.

Just as it is too early to criticize the Steelers for drafting Shazier over Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley, who made the Pro Bowl, or advocate dumping Archer, it is also premature to put Bryant in the elite class of NFL deep threats or anoint Tuitt as a worthy heir to No. 91, which former Steelers great Aaron Smith wore before him.

The Steelers certainly got some promising returns from their rookies. Now is a critical time for all of them, especially linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, who spent last season on injured reserve, and tight end Rob Blanchflower, who was on the practice squad in 2014.

Coach Mike Tomlin has said players generally make the most improvement from their first to second NFL season.

That is yet another reason why there is still a ways to go before a fair assessment can be made of the Steelers’ 2014 draft class.

Steelers' midseason rookie report

November, 2, 2014
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Here is a look at the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2014 draft class at the midway point of the season:

Shazier
LB Ryan Shazier: A sprained knee sidelined the first-round pick for four games, but he should make more of an impact in the second half of the season provided he is healthy. Shazier has recorded 23 tackles with two quarterback pressures. The Ohio State product has the speed and ball skills to develop into a real impact player as he gets more comfortable in the defense.

DE Stephon Tuitt: The second-round pick has just two unassisted tackles and has played limited snaps even though he was expected to make an immediate impact. The Steelers, however, are anything but unhappy with Tuitt. They know it takes time for a defensive end to develop in their system, and Tuitt has everything to excel at the position. Mark this down: the Tuitt pick will eventually go down as a steal for the Steelers.

RB/WR Dri Archer: The scatback has not answered questions about how a team with so many needs on defense made what looked like a luxury selection with the 97th overall pick. Archer is averaging just 17.9 yards per kickoff return, and the Steelers replaced the third-round pick with LeGarrette Blount in their 51-34 win against the Indianapolis Colts. It is way too early to call this a wasted pick, but the Steelers have to figure out a way to get more out of the fastest player on the team.

WR Martavis Bryant: It’s hard not to get excited about a rangy, athletic wideout who can actually catch. Bryant has burst onto the scene, catching seven passes for 123 yards and three touchdowns in his first two NFL games. The fourth-round pick should only get better as he strengthens his grasp of the offense. This has been the season of the rookie wide receivers so far, and Bryant’s emergence is one reason why.

CB Shaquille Richardson: The first of the Steelers’ two fifth-round picks is listed on the roster as practice squad/injured reserve. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, however, has reported that the Steelers paid Richardson an injury settlement, and the Arizona product has not been at team headquarters. This looks like another wasted pick on a cornerback.

OL Wesley Johnson: The Steelers lost the fifth-round pick to the New York Jets when they placed him on waivers and promoted safety Ross Ventrone from the practice squad because of an injury to Shamarko Thomas. How much of a loss this is remains to be seen. The Steelers deemed Johnson more expendable than guard Chris Hubbard, a former undrafted free agent who spent all of last season on the practice squad.

LB Jordan Zumwalt: The sixth-round pick flashed in the Steelers’ preseason opener before a groin injury sidelined him. The Steelers placed Zumwalt on injured reserve when they set their 53-man in late August, a strong indication that they like his potential. I have a feeling this kid can play, and at least help the Steelers on special teams in the coming seasons.

NT Daniel McCullers: Have the Steelers found the heir to five-time Pro Bowler Casey Hampton with the 215th pick of the 2014 draft? McCullers is enormous, and if the 6-foot-7, 352-pounder can play with good leverage, he is the nose tackle of the future. The sixth-round pick has shown promise in his first two NFL games.

TE Rob Blanchflower: The seventh-round pick is on the practice squad. Blanchflower will spend this season getting stronger and learning the offense. Whether he makes a move during the offseason at a position where the Steelers need some youth remains to be seen.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers have kept all of their 2014 draft picks in some capacity.

Cornerback Shaquille Richardson and tight end Rob Blanchflower were among the 10 players that the Steelers signed to their practice squad on Sunday afternoon.

Joining those two on the practice squad are defensive ends Josh Mauro and Nick Williams, wide receivers Derek Moye and C.J. Goodwin, outside linebacker Howard Jones, safety Ross Ventrone, running back Josh Harris and offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva.

All players had to pass through waivers unclaimed before the Steelers could sign them to their practice squad.

The Steelers did not sign any offensive linemen to their practice squad since they kept nine on the 53-man roster. Moye returns to the practice squad after spending all of last season on the 53-man roster.

Moye essentially switched spots with former Penn State teammate and good friend Justin Brown.

Richardson and Blanchflower are among the seven rookies on the practice squad, and they were fifth- and seventh-round draft picks, respectively.

A knee injury sidelined Richardson for the final three preseason games and prevented the Arizona product from making a serious run at the 53-man roster. The addition of Richardson and Blanchflower to the practice squad means all nine of the Steelers' draft picks in May are still with the team.

Six picks made the 53-man roster and the Steelers placed linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, a sixth-round selection, on injured reserve late last week.

Mauro and Jones are among the undrafted rookies who flashed in training camp and the preseason who earned spots on the practice squad.

The Steelers are off today and return to practice Monday morning.

Observation Deck: Pittsburgh Steelers

August, 28, 2014
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PITTSBURGH -- It certainly looked like a fourth preseason game, from the swaths of empty seats at Heinz Field to the uneven play with many starters from each side playing sparingly, if at all.

Carolina parlayed a big pass play into the game’s only touchdown ,and the Panthers beat the Steelers 10-0 Thursday night with the specter of final cuts looming for fringe players on each side.

Landry Jones started at quarterback and completed 14 of 18 passes for 97 yards before giving way to Brendon Kay midway through the third quarter. Jones, a fourth-round pick in 2013, didn’t lead any scoring drives but probably did enough to make the 53-man roster as the Steelers’ No. 3 quarterback.

No Steelers player battling for a roster spot made a particularly compelling argument to stay with the team beyond 4 p.m. ET Saturday, the NFL deadline for finalizing 53-man rosters.

Brad Wing looked like he was on his way to nailing down a roster spot after pinning the Panthers deep in their own territory several times. Then the Aussie unleashed a 25-yard clunker, something that will make the coaches ponder whether Wing is consistent enough to be trusted.

Players such as Wing have made their final argument as far as making the team.

The Steelers’ coaches and front office personnel will meet on Friday to start paring down the roster and could make some cuts then, with the rest coming on Saturday. The Steelers have to cut 22 players to get to the 53-man limit by late Saturday afternoon.

Some other thoughts from the Steelers’ fourth preseason game:
  • It was a very nice bounce-back game for starting outside linebacker Jarvis Jones after the second-year man struggled a week ago in Philadelphia. Jones made his presence felt early against the pass and the run, and the Steelers coaches had to love his hustle after a snap sailed over the head of Panthers quarterback Derek Anderson in the second quarter. Anderson tried to pick the ball up, and when he couldn’t get a handle on it Jones made a diving recovery. He then got up and started to rumble downfield, drawing a personal foul penalty when former Steelers center Fernando Velasco dragged Jones down by his hair. Jones recorded three tackles, including one for a loss, and the fumble recovery before calling it a night.
  • If the Steelers only keep five wide receivers Justin Brown might be headed back to the practice squad. The wide receiver who created such a buzz during offseason practices caught five passes for 32 yards in four preseason games despite playing more snaps than any other Steelers skill player. Hard-charging Darrius Heyward-Bey caught six passes for 44 yards against the Panthers and solidified his spot on the 53-man roster even if the Steelers only keep five wideouts. His speed and experience -- and his production in the Steelers' final two preseason games -- will make Heyward-Bey too difficult to cut
  • David Paulson and Rob Blanchflower needed to beat Michael Palmer for the No. 3 spot at tight end, and neither was able to do it. Palmer had a couple of nice blocks early when the Steelers were able to run the ball, and the fifth-year veteran is solid on special teams. He solidified his spot on the 53-man roster, and Blanchflower looks like a strong candidate for the practice squad.
  • Cornerback Antwon Blake had played well before getting beat badly on a 53-yard catch by wide receiver Philly Brown, setting up the Panthers’ only touchdown. Blake will make the Steelers as a core special-teams player but Brice McCain has clearly established himself as the No. 4 cornerback assuming the groin injury he suffered against the Panthers isn’t serious.
  • The Steelers showed an interesting defensive look late in the second quarter. Josh Mauro, Roy Philon, Daniel McCullers and Ethan Hemer were up front with Vince Williams and Terence Garvin as the only linebackers in the game. However, Shamarko Thomas played close enough to the line of scrimmage that it looked like the Steelers had their big nickel package on the field with four down linemen.
This is the third in a series that takes a post-training camp look at every Pittsburgh Steelers' position. Next up is tight end.

Players on the roster: Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Michael Palmer, David Paulson, Rob Blanchflower and Eric Waters.

Miller
Projected starter: Miller. The 10th-year veteran is still one of the best all-around tight ends in the NFL. Miller should be better this season after practicing during the offseason as well as in training camp, something he couldn't do in 2013 because of a torn ACL.

Projected number on 53-man roster: Three. That number is a tick low but the Steelers can save a spot at this position since Will Johnson will play a lot of tight end and Mike Adams can be used as a third tight end in the Steelers' jumbo package. What is still very much in question is who the third tight end will be after Miller and Spaeth.

Rookie watch: I think Waters is more on the Steelers' radar than Blanchflower is, even though they drafted the latter. Waters, who signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent, is more athletic and physical than Blanchflower. At worst he makes the practice squad unless his play drops off sharply in the final two weeks of the preseason. It is go time for Blanchflower if the seventh-round pick intends on making a serious push for the 53-man roster or even practice squad.

What we learned in camp: The Steelers are not especially deep at tight end and the opening is there for a promising youngster like Waters to emerge and play his way onto the roster. The Steelers like Palmer, who's a veteran, because he blocks and plays special teams but he is a non-factor in the passing game. Paulson caught a lot of passes at St. Vincent but he is even more expendable than Palmer. Johnson gives the Steelers a solid third tight end and allows them to keep Palmer if they don’t want to lose his special-team contributions, or one of the rookies if they don't think they will be able to sneak that player onto the practice squad.

He said it: “Certainly we have some guys that are talented (but) that doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things because everyone can look at their roster and feel good about where they are right now. We have to work on being cohesive as a unit and we’ll see.” -- Miller on the potential of the Steelers' offense.
LATROBE, Pa. -- What coach Mike Tomlin has twice dismissed as a “boo boo” could delay the Pittsburgh Steelers from getting to see prized rookie Ryan Shazier in his first NFL game.

Due to a knee injury, Shazier is among the Steelers who may not play Saturday night against the New York Giants. Tomlin, who has been coy about Shazier’s condition since the first-round pick limped off the practice field Sunday, did not rule out Shazier -- or any of the other Steelers who are nursing injuries -- from playing in the team’s first exhibition game.

But Tomlin, whose team visits the Giants Saturday for a 7:30 p.m. ET game, did not provide any clarity either when it comes to Shazier’s status.

Tomlin said he doesn’t know if Shazier will practice this afternoon. The eighth-year coach also said that Shazier does not have to practice today to play against the Giants.

In short, he said nothing new about Shazier, who is slated to start this season at inside linebacker, other than that the Ohio State product may not play in the preseason opener.

Others whose status is in question for the game at MetLife Stadium: outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (groin), nose tackle Steve McLendon (concussion), wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (concussion), tight end Rob Blanchflower (ankle) and linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (groin).

“If they’re deemed healthy and ready to play I’d just as soon get that first play out of the way so we can just move on with the process,” Tomlin said Thursday morning at a news conference previewing the Steelers’ first preseason game. “Our intention is to play those guys if it’s at all possible but we’ll wait till the last minute to make those judgments.”

Tomlin said he has yet to determine how much the starters will play against the Giants. Younger players who are projected starters could get more snaps than veteran starters, Tomlin said.

“Our goal is to give these guys what they need or what it is we need to see from them," Tomlin said. "It will be different things for different people.”

Steelers Camp Report: Day 4

July, 30, 2014
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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.

Moye
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
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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.

Miller
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
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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.

TIGHT END

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
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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.

Steelers' final five draft picks

May, 12, 2014
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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
4/29/14
11:00
AM ET
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

Ebron
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

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