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Steelers minicamp was 'initiation by fire' for rookie Rob Blanchflower

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The team's seventh-round draft pick spoke with his hometown paper about all things Steelers.

Joe Sargent

It was familiar, yet all very new to Steelers seventh-round draft pick, tight end Rob Blanchflower.

Most players who set foot onto the field for their rookie minicamps had gone through team practices since November or later. For Blanchflower, the former UMass player, he hadn't practiced since August.

A bilateral sports hernia kept him out of everything but games in 2013, and he still missed six of those. The first practice he had was in front of his new NFL coach Mike Tomlin.

"Minicamp was an initiation by fire for me because I hadn't practiced in almost a year with my injury senior year of college," Blanchflower told Matt Stewart of the Sentinal & Enterprise of Fitchburg, Mass. "Last year I only played on game day, and haven't really practiced since last August. Making it through it was tough, but also proved to me the level of fitness and mental discipline to make it in the league."

It's a very revealing interview, with Blanchflower speaking positively about the Steelers organization ("...most team's owners don't come and meet the draft class or take their players out to a Pirates game to see the city and what the fan base is about.") and his admiration for Steelers TE Heath Miller ("...If I can get anywhere near half of what he's accomplished, that would be a great career...").

The guy UMass fans dubbed "Baby Gronk" (a reference to Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski, which may be a tad hyperbolic) has more potential than his mediocre stats last year indicate. He played hurt throughout the year and missed a considerable amount of time.

The Steelers' third tight end position should be considered an open battle, though. The team re-signed veteran Michael Palmer and still has David Paulson, a former seventh-round pick who made the roster his rookie year, under contract. David Johnson signed with the Chargers in free agency, and his in-line blocking will be missed (while his injuries will not be).

It's cliche and perhaps a bit inappropriate to suggest a seventh round rookie is the heir apparent to Miller's longstanding TE1 position, but Blanchflower was most likely under-drafted. He has a good combination of size and speed and is an aggressive blocker. The Steelers have Miller and Matt Spaeth under contract for the next two seasons, although salary cap considerations may make either of them expendable next season.

Blanchflower may not have practiced for the last nine months, but the following nine months will be what determines his future with the Steelers.